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

Can you provide more details on planting organic no-till rotations?

Posted September 13, 2007

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 NewFarm.org 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 am interested in no-till organic farming with corn, soybeans, wheat for the transition period. It concerns me to have to wait on the rye to mature to plant and the amount of moisture it can pull from the ground and the consequences of dry weather to follow after the cash crop is planted. Is there an earlier maturing rye for rolling? (Please respond quickly, as I am ready to order the seed.) What is the rye rate of planting for soybeans to follow and the rye-hairy vetch-oats rate for corn to follow? Do you use straight blades instead of wavy coulters in front of the planter row units and small wheels on each side to hold the mat down and slice through it? Have you found the foam marker to suffice as a marker for planting in the tall cover crop? I have a GPS system also. The roller is the only thing I need to give this idea a good try. I have the bulk fertilizer storage and containment system, front 3 point hitch and no-till drill and am ready to order the roller for next spring. 160 acres has been set aside for the three year rotation to test this no-till organic concept. There are so many reasons to go this way, it behooves me to search this out and give it an honest try. Is there a phone number I can call for quick information for in-season help?

Vaughn Jackson
Ohio


Dear Vaughn,

You have asked a bunch of good questions here, so I’ll break them down and try to answer them one at a time.

Q# 1. It concerns me to have to wait on the rye to mature to plant and the amount of moisture it can pull from the ground and the consequences of dry weather to follow after the cash crop is planted. Is there an earlier maturing rye for rolling? This is a good point to consider in this system. We all have seen where rye can pull moisture out of the soil. I have not experienced any negative impact in soybeans but certainly have if I try to follow corn into the rye. I don’t know of any specific rye that will mature earlier. I have noticed that rye planted earlier in the fall rather than late will tend to mature sooner in the spring. It is often the case with small grains that the earlier maturing varieties have shorter straw lengths. Here is where you’ll need to balance out the amount of biomass (the straw) versus the early maturing traits. It’s the biomass that suppresses the weeds. If your rye is expected to be a short-strawed type I’d bump the seeding rate up to 3.5 to 4 Bu/A to compensate.

Q# 2. What is the rye rate of planting for soybeans to follow and the rye-hairy vetch-oats rate for corn to follow? I normally plant my rye cover crop at 2 to 2.5 Bu/A. I’ve also been planting vetch as a straight stand without any small grain at about 28 lb/A. If I were to mix in oats or rye I’d reduce the rate down to 20lbs of vetch and about 1.5 Bu of the rye or oats.

Q# 3. Do you use straight blades instead of wavy coulters in front of the planter row units and small wheels on each side to hold the mat down and slice through it? I use blades that have a slight wave to them, about 1 inch. I don’t have the small wheel system on my planter to prevent “hair pinning” but I haven’t had that problem with the planter I use. The potential for this condition to happen is certainly there and some folks have experienced that problem. There is a small planter manufacturer in Pennsylvania who is working on a wheel system for planters, Pequea Planter. They might have more information on how their system is working out.

Q# 4. Have you found the foam marker to suffice as a marker for planting in the tall cover crop? I have a GPS system also. I use conventional row markers on my planter. I would think foam markers might help, especially on wider planters. A GPS system isn’t needed but if you have one and you already are set up to use it, why not.

Q# 5. Is there a phone number I can call for quick information for in-season help? You can call me anytime at 610-683-1420.

Jeff