May 12, 2006: Farmers everywhere can now access
the technical drawings for the no-till cover crop roller developed
by The Rodale Institute.
This implement is the centerpiece of an eight-region research project
testing its development in more sustainable crop production systems.
The one-pass mechanical cover kill and no-till planting system offers
fuel and input savings as these costs are trending upwards.
the plans now!
The roller is part of a one-pass approach that allows farmers to
control a soil-conserving cover crop and plant the next season’s
cash crop at the same time by mounting two implements on the same
The system can be used in any farming approach to cut tractor time,
energy consumption and herbicide use. By using a no-till planter,
the system eliminates tillage. By using the roller to push over
and crimp the stems of a standing cover crop that has grown over
winter, the system provides weed control, erosion suppression, moisture
conservation, fertility enhancement, carbon addition to the soil
and an improved growing environment for many crops.
At its highest level of use in organic farming, the “No-till
Plus” system is a no-till, no-spray maneuver that bundles
a suite of environmental and agricultural services into a single
pass. For conventional farmers the system drastically reduces herbicide
By front-mounting the roller, it achieves its maximum impact to
kill standing cover crops without chemicals. The tool is rugged
and capable of being used long-term with virtually no maintenance.
Its relatively simple design should allow adaptations in farm shops
around the world to fit local conditions. (For examples of various
rollers see The
The work by The Institute and its collaborators is supported by
a lead grant from the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)
through its Conservation Innovation Grant award program. The Institute
is seeking additional collaborators to meet the balance of its cash-match
requirements for the $541,050 grant. An environmental organization
which wishes to remain anonymous with interest in sustainable agriculture
recently increased its contribution to $75,000 toward the matching
requirement, based on its support of the project objectives.
Other cash contributors thus far include the Wallace Genetic Foundation,
Inc.; the Toward Sustainability Foundation and two private donors.
In-kind contributions have come from each of the seven collaborating
educational institutions and their cooperating farmers as well as
I&J Manufacturing, Buckeye Tractor Company and the local Berks
The Institute invites further support from the wide array of groups
and individuals who want to see what the no-till roller can do to
improve watershed water quality, boost farm income and create more
sustainable options for innovative farmers. Click
here to help with the No-Till Plus roller project.
Prototype no-till rollers produced by I&J Manufacturing of
Gap, Pennsylvania, arrived at all seven sites in time for use this
spring. Collaborating researchers are paired with one or more farmers
in their regions. The teams combine farmer experience and research
expertise to accelerate local assessment and adaptation of the no-till
roller concept. For an overview of the project and related stories
about cover crops and no-till farming check out our No-Till+ page.
Sharing field observations
Winter and spring conditions reported by the collaborators—
distributed coast to coast—vary widely. Researchers in Mississippi
report a dry winter with their rye showing some drought stress by
heading time. They couldn’t improve moisture conditions over
winter because Hurricane Katrina knocked out their irrigation pumps.
If you need to ask a question—or share an insight—about
making one of these rollers, start at The
New Farm No Till+ Forum. This is an easy way to connect via
computer to others interested in talking about rollers under four
subjects. You can browse the posts by clicking on the topical heading
and post after you’ve registered.
Climbing prices for fuel and herbicides make this project more
timely than ever, according to Paul Hepperly, director of training
and research at the Institute. Research results this season will
help to sharpen the recommendations for use of the roller and the
whole system, as well as show the need for more trials to find “best
practices” in new parts of the country.