28, 2004: The Rodale Institute's organic no-till system,
described in The New Farm in November 2003 (to read the original story,
here), will be replicated and disseminated to farmers across the
country thanks to a grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation
The $541,050 grant, officially announced on September 16, 2004,
was made within the NRCS Conservation Innovation Grants program.
Grant monies will be matched 1:1 from non-federal sources.
"In many ways, organic no-till represents the best possible
farming strategy for temperate systems," says Jeff Moyer, Rodale
Institute farm manager and project director for the grant. "It
brings together the environmental benefits of organic production—eliminating
chemical pesticides and fertilizers and improving soil quality through
composts and cover crops—with the conservation benefits of
reduced or zero-tillage."
Dubbed "No-till Plus," the three-year project is centered
on The Rodale Institute's development of an innovative crimper-roller
implement that converts a standing cover crop into a weed-suppressing,
soil-building mulch. Because the roller is designed to mount on
the front of a tractor, it can be paired with a no-till planter
assembly to knock down cover crops and plant a primary crop in a
Activities to be funded by the grant include continued testing
and improvement of the organic no-till system at The Rodale Institute
farm in eastern Pennsylvania; fabrication and distribution of ten
similar cover crop rollers to cooperating farmers across the country;
and documentation and publicizing of the project on NewFarm.org.
Moyer has been farming organically for more than 25 years and has
long sought to minimize tillage and maximize the use of cover crops
to suppress weeds, supply nitrogen, build soil organic matter and
prevent erosion. The new front-mounted roller was constructed in
2002 and first used on hairy vetch and small grain cover crops in
the 2003 field season. In 2004, Moyer and his farm operations team
used the organic no-till system to plant pumpkins, corn and soybeans.
Collaborating farmers wanted
With the help of the NRCS grant, the system will be outreached
and field-tested in the seven U.S. regions where conventional no-till
is most widely practiced: the Southeast, Delta, Appalachia, Northeast,
Corn Belt, Great Lakes and Northern Plains states. Regional collaborators
will work with a variety of major crops, cover crops and geographies
and will be encouraged to suggest modifications to the system based
on prevailing needs and experiences. Farmers interested in participating
are encouraged to contact Moyer directly at email@example.com.
According to the USDA Economic Research Service, 52.5 million acres
– or 17.5 percent of all U.S. planted cropland – were
in no-till management in 2000. One of the goals of the project is
to discover how many of those acres could potentially be converted
to organic no-till. Although some conventional no-till farmers use
cover crops for fertility and weed suppression, on average, conventional
no-till requires as many or more herbicide and pesticide applications
as traditional tillage systems.
For a complete listing of NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant awards,