ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

How’s my rotation look?

Posted August 10, 2006

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

Got a question of your own? Click here to send it to Jeff.

Dear Jeff,

I'm looking for information on building nitrogen and supressing weeds with cover crops. I live in zone five close to Dayton, Ohio. My planned rotation is as follows: Year 1 soybeans / fall planting of a barley or wheat; year two harvest small grain / plant a mix of hairy vetch and oats or rye grain; year three plow under cover and plant corn, repeat year one. Is this feasible? At what rate and date should the covers be planted / plowed under? Also, can rye be used before the beans to suppress weeds? If so, how?

Thanks for any information.
Tom Cail

Dear Tom,

Thanks for the email and the great questions about rotations and cover crops. Your rotation plan looks good, with the following provisions. You may have trouble getting your barley or wheat in after soybeans due to timing issues. You'll probably need to plant a group two or early group three soybean in order to get them off in time to plant wheat. I would think barley is out of the question since it usually get planted in September and it's tough to get the beans out of the field that early. Since you are using the vetch or vetch small-grain cover crop for nitrogen production, I suggest planting it alone or with the oats. Plant the hairy vetch at around 25 to 30 pounds of seed per acre. If you plant it with oats, add about 1.5 bushels of oats with it. Rye can be tough to handle in spring, since you'll want to wait till the vetch really gets going, and by then the rye can be fairly tall.

Other than that I'd say you're off to a good start with your plan. If you find the timing doesn't work, you can easily change this rotation by moving the soybeans to follow the corn, add spring oats or rye to the rotation following the beans, then plant wheat and go into hairy vetch.

Good luck, and let us know how things work out.