No-Till Plus Project first cropping season wraps up
Farmer and researcher collaborators take stock of what worked and what didn’t and prepare for improvement in 2007.

Edited by Dan Sullivan

Broader roller use
raises new questions

Having no-till roller research in seven places under many situations helps to surface the challenges to having it work effectively over a range of conditions. Here are some of the emerging questions.

What should farmers do:
• When they can’t get their cover crop sown in time in the fall?
• When the timely planted cover crop yields a marginal stand?
• To figure out the critical decision dates for switching to Plan B for each phase of the system?
• When they realize they can’t get their cover crop rolled in timely fashion?
• When they’ve rolled their cover, but missed their late planting date for their cash crop?
• When they are planting in a second pass and can’t see where their planter has already planted?
• When they’ve planted as they’ve rolled, but the cover is not dying?
• When their planned herbicide backup is not effective?

• Should growers new to this system start with shorter-season varieties to allow for replanting as a contingency?
• How can growers learn techniques to improve planter function in heavy residue, and how can they know when they need to go to extraordinary measures to assure proper seed placement?
• Does this system work with a winter legume to supply needed N in areas where summers are typically dry?

We have next summer to start answering these questions where the rollers are operating. It’s likely that meaningful recommendations for a promising tool so tied to the success of two crops in sequence will require several years of experience to develop.

Posted December 14, 2006: Any experimental technology in farming takes time to refine and to be adapted to specific applications. This is holding true in this year’s trials for the no-till roller-crimper developed by The Rodale Institute.

Researcher/farmer cooperating teams across the country outlined some successes, some challenges and a continuing learning process in the first phase of the USDA-NRCS No-Till Plus project. Reports included data on cover crop establishment in the fall of 2005 and this year’s cover crop termination, cash crop establishment and weed management. Harvest and yield data is speculative from most sites until the next reports come in.

Timing is a critical issue when rolling down cover crops. It’s likely that several cooperators had less-than adequate kills due to rolling too early, before cover crops were fully mature and most vulnerable to being killed by rolling. Seeder setting and modification to cover crop mat thickness and soil type is another important variable with a learning curve attached. Drought became a major factor in several areas. And there’s room to improve communication between farmers and researchers to synchronize data collection with necessary field work.

Each collaborator received a roller/crimper and front-mounted hitch for the tractor of their choice. Several rollers were delivered late due to manufacturing problems, and some of the front hitches were delivered too late to use for the season. In spite of these challenges, every site managed to get their plots established by rolling cover crops and planting no-till into them.

While each site had varying degrees of success, we learned a lot in this first cropping year about the no-till roller’s application across a range of geographical settings and about each of the cover-crop/main-crop interactions.

Here at The Rodale Institute’s field site, we experienced our best season ever as we continue to refine our roller operations in response to timing as well as planter setup. The combination of reasonably good weather and our cumulative experience (with using the roller and setting up its complementary no-till planter to get solid seed placement) proved successful.

We know there’s no substitute for this kind of experience, which means learning, observing and fixing what needs fixed. Our direct interaction with the growers has enhanced their ability to adopt this technology to their situations.

As a group, we learned as much about what doesn’t work as about what does. Click the regions below for more detail about how the No-Till Plus Project went for the collaborators in 2006.



Mark Vickers, farmer
Lackluster results with roller/crimper could have resulted from erratic irrigation.

Mark Vickers is a seasoned no till farmer who has been utilizing cover crops since the early ’90s. He has successfully modified his planting from conventional methods to planting in heavy cover crop residue, an evolution that took him almost a decade to perfect. Vickers has come to realize that heavy residue, laid down flat in a uniform direction, enhances this new production system in the Southeast and make it easier for new growers to successfully transition to a new way of doing things. For five years prior to entering this project, Vickers has used a large pipe suspended approximately 2 inches off the ground under the belly of his tractor for rolling down his cover crop (1-2 bushel/acre of rye).

Following cotton harvest, a 1-acre test plot was planted in rye (Wrens Abruzzi) in December 2005 at a rate of 1 bushel/acre of farm-saved seed. Vickers sprayed 2,4-D (1 pint/acre) at 15-20 gallons/acre (at a pressure of 20-25 psi) for scattered winter weed population of less than 1.5 plants per square foot. These weeds consisted of primrose, wild radish and other minor winter weeds.

Rye matured on May 19 (not harvested) and was rolled-down according to the grower’s standard practice and also using the Rodale roller. The peanut crop was planted on May 20 (110 pounds of seed/acre, 2-inch deep, soil temperature of 65°F 68°F). Soil moisture was becoming limited. No fertilizer or chicken litter was applied to the cover crop (1,200-1,500 pounds [0.6 to 0.75 T/A] estimated dry matter/acre).

No pre-plant insecticide or herbicide was used at planting. On June 22, Vickers became concerned with a scattered population of morning glory, pigweed and grasses (Texas millet, patch of Common Bermuda grass escapes) and because peanut were not lapping due to extended drought. A spray of Storm and Select (post-emergent herbicides) at standard rate was applied in 20-25 gallons water/acre at 30-40 psi.

The seeding rate—110 pounds of Georgia Green peanuts—was constant across both plots. At planting, 1 quart of Prowl, Strongarm (medium rate), Valor at 2 ounces and 5 pounds/acre of Thimet were used in the standard plot only. Burn down was accomplished on both plots on June 18 with1.5 pints of Storm; 1 pint 2,4/D was also applied on this date.

As well, the standard and test plots both received same following treatments: Five applications of the fungicicde chlorothalonil at 1.5 pints were made starting approximately on July 10 (at first bloom). Boron at 1 quart per application was sprayed twice. On September 15, 2 ounces of Karate was applied for velvet bean caterpillar control. Spot treatments was made for grass control in the end of August.

During the peanut growing season, fields received 5.8 inches of rainfall and eight applications of irrigation at 1 inch per application. This was a historically dry season, with yields better than we expected under challenging conditions.

The peanut field was scouted weekly for pests, with pictures taken and field notes made weekly.

The yield in the standard plot was 4,311 pounds compared to 3,003 in the test plot. The test plot received no Prowl, Strongarm, Valor or Thimet. All other production practices were same. Weed control and early insect control was similar in the test field of rye rolled-down with Rodale roller as compared to the farmer’s standard practice.

The test plot was located at the end of the pivot where water distribution is characteristically uneven, particularly with heavy summer winds. This could have contributed to the lower yield in the test plot.

Virginia (southern)
Ron Morse, collaborator
Variable kill on covers, planting time issues, more biomass controls more weeds.

Cover crops were seeded in fall 2005 with biomass samples taken in April 2006. With the exception of oats, growth and final yield (biomass) of all cover crops tested were less for late seeding (November 10).

The Rodale Institute roller-crimper arrived in April, but the front mount didn’t arrive until after cover crops were roll-crimped. In a work-around, cooperating farmer Paul Davis constructed an up-front tractor mount, which worked relatively well.

Full-season soybean was seeded May 6, and cover crops were roll-crimped in one pass. Although the farmer-built roller-crimper appeared to function properly, the percentage kill varied considerably as follows: barley (80 percent), rye (70 percent), oats (40 percent) and hairy vetch (20 percent).

Pumpkins were direct seeded June 19 into cover crop residues that were roll-crimped on May 7. This two-pass system was required because maturity of the cover crops occurred four to six weeks before pumpkin seeding.

Weed growth was moderate to high in all no-herbicide-treated plots. Weed pressures were worse with pumpkin than soybean because of the delayed planting with pumpkins. Overall, weed suppression was better with rye and rye/hairy vetch than with barley, oats and crimson clover. Weed suppression was highly correlated with cover crop biomass (Table 1). The greater the quantity and persistence of the cover crop mulch (e.g., rye), the better was the weed suppression in the no-herbicide-treated plots.

Table 1: Cover crop biomass (tones/acre),
Paul Davis farm, late April, 2006.

Cover crop planted
Early seeding (9/30)
Mid seeding (10/20)
Late seeding (11/10)
Crimson clover
Hairy vetch
Rye & Hairy vetch

Preliminary conclusions:

  • The Rodale Institute roller-crimper appeared to function well; however, the thicker and taller the cover crops, the better was the percentage kill by the roller-crimper. Thus, high-biomass, dense residues are highly recommended.
  • In situations where herbicides are not used (e.g. organic farming), using the roller-crimper on high-biomass cover crops (e.g., rye and rye/hairy vetch) could be a valuable tool to improve percentage kill, weed suppression and effectiveness of direct seeding.
  • One-pass systems appear to be ideal when seeding large-seeded crops such as soybean in which seed germination and stand establishment are not severely affected by allelochemicals, pathogens and/or insect pests associated with the high-biomass, green-residue (same-day killed) cover crops.


Kathleen Delate, collaborator
Covers grew but did not die upon being rolled; drought daunted beans.

At the Neely-Kinyon Research and Demonstration Farm in Greenfield, Iowa, two treatments were planted, one consisting of a mix of winter wheat and winter pea, the other consisting of a mix of winter rye and hairy vetch. Both treatments were planted on September 12, 2005; the wheat and pea mix at 75 pounds/acre, and the rye and vetch mix at 96 pounds/acre (64 pounds/acre of the rye and 32 pound/acre of the vetch). As of October 13 (31 days after planting), the legumes in each treatment had an average of three inches of growth above ground. The cover crops were planted for three no-till crops: corn, soybeans and tomatoes.

At the Rosmann Family Farm in Westphalia, Iowa (near Harlan in Southwest Iowa), the same treatments were planted on September 19, 2005, at 94 pounds/acre for the wheat and pea mix and 100 pounds/acre for the rye and vetch mix (at 60 pounds/acre and 40 pounds/acre, respectively).

There was a good stand of cover crops at both sites. Rolling and no-till drilling took place May 29 at the N-K Farm and June 2-3 on the Rosmann Farm. The rolling was conducted when small grains in the cover crops were in the dough stage—headed out but not fully developed, per instructions. The cover crop crushed down well enough but then proceeded to come back up into place, thus negating a "crushed" cover into which the corn and soybeans would be planted. The most unfortunate event that followed, however, was the lack of rain through June and July. The cover crop continued to grow, but the corn and soybeans did not. (The crop is not yet harvested, but the predicted yields are 15 bu/acre for soybeans and 80 bu/acre for corn.)

In order to salvage this experiment, irrigation was purchased for the no-till tomatoes and used when necessary. Roma tomato seedlings were planted on June 15 and compared with a conventional tilled plot. Harvests were heavy: five for each group. Data has not yet been analyzed but predictions are for excellent yields in all treatments. The hairy vetch continued to grow extensively in that treatment and was thus weeded and removed form the plots June 27.

An updated report will be filed when all crops are combined and yields analyzed. A field day was held August 23, where over 225 attendees viewed the organic no-till plots and discussed the project with cooperator.

Dale Mutch, collaborator
“Excess biomass” leads to replanting of soybeans, but results were good

Michigan State University Extension’s Covercrop/IPM Program has been developing an organic no-till soybean system for several years. Here are the results from 2006, utilizing The Rodale Institute’s no-till roller/crimper.

Vetch and rye-vetch were drilled August 24, 2005. Due to drought in 2005, we irrigated about two inches of water on these treatments to stimulate germination. Rye was drilled Sept. 15 at a rate of 2.5 bushels/acre. Vetch was drilled at a rate of 30 pounds/acre. The rye-vetch was drilled at 2 bushels/acre and 25 pounds/acre, respectively. Weed-free controls were drilled to rye at 2 bushels/acre (Table 2).

Table 2:

The first crimping treatment was on vetch alone on May 25, 2006. Treatments 2, 4, 5, 8 and 9 were all crimped on June 2 (Table 2). Treatments 1 and 7 were crimped on June 5. Treatments 2, 4, 5, 8 and 9 were crimped a second time and soybeans drilled at 150,000 seeds/acre on June 5. Treatment 3 had soybeans drilled into standing rye and then crimped/rolled on June 5. Treatments 10 and 11 were controls where the rye was flail mowed on May 25, the stubble rotor-tilled on June 2 and soybeans drilled at 180,000 seeds/acre (Table 2). Soybeans were drilled rather than row planted because there were very few, if any, weed seedlings in these plots. Due to heavy mulch and poor seed-to-soil contact, Treatments 2, 3, 5, 6, 8 and 9 were replanted on June 15, 2006.

Biomass was sampled from these treatments. When rye was drilled, yields averaged 5,262 pounds/acre and vetch averaged 4,573 pounds/acre. Rye-vetch averaged 6,345 pounds/acre (Table 3).

Table 3:

The 2006 growing season has been excellent here at the Kellogg Biological Station. We are extremely pleased with the weed control and soybean growth in our no-till organic soybeans. Replanting soybeans into the existing soybean stand increased soybean populations. Additionally, replanting reduced weed populations in the vetch cover crops. Cereal rye appears to be the cover crop of choice. We have better weed control and soybean stands drilling into rye. Vetch is harder to kill with the crimper/roller system than rye. The combination of rye-vetch resulted in too much mulch/residue and made it difficult to drill soybeans into it.

Plans: Next season we are planning to evaluate two rye varieties and barley. We will not be rolling/crimping vetch.



Seth Dabney, collaborator

Hurricane, poor cover crop stands, planting issues, drought make it a tough year.

Cover crops of balansa clover and rye were broadcast near the beginning of October 2005, after the soil had dried sufficiently following Hurricane Rita (September 24, 2005). No appreciable rain fell again until mid-November. This resulted in thin cover crop stands, particularly of balansa clover.

The decision was made to treat the four clover plots as if they were fallow plots that differed from conventional no-till in that they were flat rather than having hipped rows. Plots are about 1000 feet long and about 25 feet wide, a little more than 1/2-acre each.

Fertilizer (150 pounds 0-0-60) was broadcast applied in March over the entire area based on soil test results. The conventional no-till plots (no cover crop, hipped rows) were chemically burned down on April 13. The balansa clover plots were sprayed the same day. Cover crop biomass and weed ratings were made on May 5.

When the roller and hitch finally arrived and were mounted, the cover crop was rolled twice in the same direction on May 15. Cotton (DP&L 445B BTRR cotton at 42,000 seeds/acre in 38-inch rows) was planted the same day in a separate pass with an 8-row planter traveling in the same direction as the roller.

Herbicide treatments were applied to all plots May 16, including the rye plots.

Fertilizer N was applied to all plots at 120 pounds N/acre on May 25, 2006. Insecticide and herbicides were applied, and the cotton was furrow irrigated according to the farmer’s judgment during the balance of the season.

Cotton stand and weed data were collected May 26, June 11, June 26, July 21 and September 22. Pitted morning glory in the rye plots had already flowered by May and was the reason the farmer chose to spray the cover crop plots. Spiny amaranth was the worst weed late in the season (only in the rye) and was enough of a problem that it is expected to increase weed pressure in the rye plots next year.

Balansa clover and rye were broadcast again for next year’s trials, and the cotton was defoliated September 27.

Generally, the rye cover crop plots were much poorer than the non-cover crop areas. The stands were sparser, the plants were smaller and grew more slowly, the weed control was worse, and the yields will no doubt be less than 50 percent of the conventional no-till plots. This is due to several factors, some of which were due to less-than-optimal management. These include:

  • The delay in obtaining the roller’s front-mount hitch meant that the rye had nearly matured by the time the cover crop was rolled. The soil was dried out, and all available soil N was tied up in the rye.
  • The planter settings resulted in the cotton seed being too shallow in the rye plots. The lack of hipped rows and the presence of cover crop mulch required that the planter be adjusted for deeper planting, and perhaps that the coulter be used, but this was not done.
  • The moderate rather than dense cover crop stand did not completely shade out the weeds, however the mulch did prevent the applied herbicides (cotoran and staple LX in a band, Sequence and Class Act in the middles) from reaching the soil surface and so decreased their effectiveness.
  • The farmer commented that he would not have been able to tell where he had planted into the rye since there were no beds to guide and his row marker didn’t make a visible mark. This would limit the adoption of the technology on a larger scale unless the planter was equipped with a GPS guidance system.
  • The flat-planted balansa clover areas did not have the problems that the flat rye areas did and are expected to yield similarly to the hipped row areas.

In summary, this was a difficult year for the cover crop roller project in Mississippi.



North Dakota
Steve Zwinger, collaborator

Dought, extreme heat, poor cover crop stands: plots abandoned.

Activities during this reporting period were mainly related to the field work of establishing the cover crops, cover crop termination and sowing the cash crop.

One of the cover crop treatments—dormant-seeded (sown in late fall to germinate in spring) oats was not completed since the window in North Dakota to dormant seed is short and the weather conditions did not allow adequate time in the spring to complete with the conditions changing from frozen soils to tillable soils quickly. The cover crop treatments then were fall sown rye, spring sown oats and barley, and a bare check.

The 10-foot roller arrived at the Blaine Schmaltz farm sometime in April; the three-point hitch to hook the roller in front of the tractor did not come in the shipment. With the lack of the proper parts to prepare the implement for later use and spring fast approaching, the focus went into spring planting.

The winter rye, despite the lack of snow cover, came through the winter fine with no winter kill. As the cover crop came out of dormancy it was met with very warm, dry conditions. The droughty conditions lead to a reduced amount of plant tillers which caused an overall reduction in plant biomass. Based off of biomass data from the North Dakota State University Research Extension Center, winter rye biomass (forage yields) in 2006 was reduced by as much as 60 percent from previous years.

The cover crop plot site was soil sampled May 10 to a depth of 24 inches. A complete soil analysis will be run on the soil gathered. Subsoil moisture was estimated to be below normal, especially for this time of the year. Soil moisture levels were at or below 50 percent of field capacity.

The spring cover crops were then sown May 10. The growth stage of the winter rye at this time was the 4-5 leaf stage. ‘Ebeltoft’ spring oats was sown at a rate of 2 bushels/acre, while ‘Lacey’ spring barley was sown at a rate of 2-1/4 bushels/acre in narrow (7-inch) rows. Both spring-sown treatments and the bare check were harrowed prior to planting. No herbicides were used for weed control in the rye as Blaine is a certified organic farmer.

Fall cover crop termination was completed on May 26 with the use of the cover crop roller/crimper. The roller was attached to the rear three-point hitch with the tractor driven in reverse to have the roller operate in the proper direction. In dealing with relatively small plots this worked satisfactory to establish the plots for sowing. The front-mounted three-point hitch had still not arrived to hook the roller on the front of the tractor. Biomass samples were not taken due to miscommunication between the researcher and the farmer. The cover crop had been terminated before biomass data could be collected.

Estimated biomass yields were 2,000 pounds dry matter for the winter rye and less then 300 pounds dry matter for oats and barley. With the hard, dry soil conditions a number of trips across the rye were required to terminate the crop. The short plants of oats and barley terminated easily, although with the low amount of biomass there was very little cover remaining. It seemed the roller firmed the ground after its use, particularly in the no-till plots.

The plots were sown to “Maverick” pinto beans June 5 at a rate of 90,000 PLS/acre. A John Deere no-till drill (15-inch rows) was rented to complete this part of the project. Plant stands were best (thickest) in the bare plots while the rye plots had the lowest plant densities. Pinto bean stands in the oat and barley plots were intermediate to the bare and rye plots.

Growth of the pinto beans was very slow with the drought conditions the area was faced. Temperatures during the later part of June through August were among the highest ever recorded in North Dakota. The only year that was comparable in terms of above-normal temperatures was the summer of 1936, which was during the “dust bowl” years of the “dirty Thirties.” Precipitation data from the Rugby area for 2006 shows that rainfall for the months of April through July was only 40 percent of long-term normal.

Poor pinto beans growth made them uncompetitive with weeds. Weeds were growing at a faster rate then the pinto beans, requiring the farmer to clip the plots a number of times to prevent the weeds from going to seed. Since Blaine is a seed grower, he is very concerned about his weed-seed bank and it is very important for him to keep his land free from weeds. In terms of cover crop effect on weed growth, the rye plots were the cleanest followed by the bare plots, with oats and barley being the weediest.

Due to the drought and weeds, it was decided to abandon the trial on August 15. Competition from weeds and the lack of rain left the dry bean plants with essentially no pods and no yield. The plot area was then worked up on August 16.



Jeff Mitchell, researcher

Good cover crops, poor cash crops in very dry conditions.

Our participation in the Rodale Institute’s No-Till Plus Project in 2006 consisted of evaluations of the 15-foot cover crop roller in conjunction with no-till cotton planting and no-till transplanted eggplant and tomatoes.

Trial locations:

  • The eggplant evaluation was conducted at the organic farm of Tom and Denesse Willey in Madera, California.
  • The tomato demonstration was implemented at Full Belly Farm, an organic farm in Capay, California, with Paul Muller and Andrew Brait.
  • The no-till cotton study was conducted with Anil Shrestha, PhD, University of California Integrated Pest Management Program weed ecologist at the University of California West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points, California.

While a variety of difficulties were encountered during this first year at each of these sites, this project provided considerable learning opportunities for all participants, and we will use the experiences we have gained in 2006 to better plan and conduct work in 2007.

In this first year, we evaluated various mixtures of Merced rye, Trios triticale, Abruzzi rye, Austrian winter pea and balansa clover at each site. These cover crop mixes were planted in flat strips ahead of cotton in Five Points and eggplant in Madera, but onto raised 60-inch beds preceding tomatoes in Capay. Good cover crop stands and winter growth were observed at all sites.

After taking cover crop biomass and height samples, we rolled each cover crop at what we estimated to be an optimal time in early April in Five Points and Madera, and in May at the Capay field. These rolling times corresponded to crop growth stages after flowering, but before viable seed had been set. Rolling of the cover crops was done using a front-mounted hitch in Five Points and Madera, and by pulling the roller behind a tractor in Capay.

We rolled and planted in separate steps. The cover crops did not die immediately at any of the sites and took roughly three weeks to become completely dry and dead. Eggplant and tomatoes were hand-transplanted in the surface cover crop mulch three weeks after rolling, and cotton was no-till seeded following the front-mounted roller with a John Deere 1730 six-row planter.

None of the 2006 summer crops grew well in the rolled cover crops. In Five Points, the cotton stand was less than 10 percent of the traditional tillage crop stand in adjacent plots due to the fact that the cover crop used surface soil water and dried out the surface zone for the cotton seedlings.

There were not enough plants to conduct a useful machine harvest in the cover crop plots for cotton yield determinations. Yield data and observations are currently being discussed for the eggplant and tomato fields, but they were also severely reduced relative to the farmers’ expectations for standard till crops in these fields.

We also determined weed densities and species at the Five Points and Madera sites. In Five Points, there appeared to be more fleabane and mare’s tail in the no-till rolled cover crop plots relative to the standard-till plots, but there also were fewer weeds such as lambsquarter and pigweed, which are common in traditional till systems in this region.

The following findings or lessons emerge from our 2006 experiences:

  • Better timing of the cover crop rolling is needed to achieve quicker kill.
  • No-till planting worked in the rolled cover crops.
  • Assuring adequate soil moisture for no-till cotton germination and emergence is critical.
  • Early season crop growth and vigor need to be improved in the rolled cover crop systems.
  • Possible differences and problems in fertility and soil compaction need to be addressed in the no-till rolled cover crop systems.

We’re having talks with each project participant during the coming month to determine ways to improve our approaches in 2007.



Pennsylvania (north-central)
Bill Curran, advisor

Roller complements herbicide for best results.

Over the past two seasons, most of the efforts at Pennsylvania State University have focused on cereal rye (Secale cereale) control as influenced by planting date in the fall and termination date in the spring. The experiment was repeated in 2006 and although the analysis is not yet complete, it appears that our results are very similar for the two years.

In 2005, cereal rye was successfully controlled with the roller/crimper at about 50-percent flowering or growth stage 55 on the Zadoks scale. Rolling prior to this growth stage was less effective at killing the cover crop. In 2006, additional trials examined reduced rates of herbicide in combination with the roller/crimper for control of both cereal rye and hairy vetch (Vicia villosa). Glyphosate was examined in cereal rye and 2,4-D was used in the hairy vetch trial. A third experiment in 2006 examined the effectiveness of the roller/crimper for control of winter rape (Brassica napus) alone and in combination with glyphosate. In the rape experiment, two application timings based on cover crop growth stage were examined. In all experiments, either Roundup Ready corn or soybean were no-till planted shortly after rolling the cover crops, and glyphosate was used for in-season weed control.

The results of the cereal rye experiment showed that the roller treatment alone only provided about 50 percent control of the cover crop. The rye was just beginning to head and not yet susceptible to control with rolling alone. The combination of glyphosate applied at either.093 pounds ae(acid equivalent)/acre (1/8X) or 0.1875 pounds/acre (1/4X) with rolling provided 85 percent and 94 percent rye control, respectively, 14 days after application. The reduced rates of glyphosate alone provided 67-percent and 89-percent control.

In the hairy vetch trial, rolling alone provided about 75-percent control of the hairy vetch and the addition of 2,4-D LVE increased control to over 90 percent. Again, the hairy vetch was just beginning to flower and not completely susceptible to control from rolling alone. Hairy vetch is very susceptible to 2,4-D and application of 0.25 pounds ae/acre provided effective control regardless of the roller treatment.

Finally, rolling winter rape alone at either the early or mid flowering stages of growth was not very effective for control and a full rate of glyphosate (0.75 pounds/acre) was necessary to achieve greater than 85 percent control. Gylphosate applied half-rate at 0.375 pounds/acre provided about 80-percent winter rape control.

The results of this research show that reduced rate herbicide programs combined with roller/crimper technology can be more effective for control of certain cover crops such as cereal rye than either tactic alone. For other cover crops such as hairy vetch and winter rape, the roller/crimper is less effective for control and will require alternative, complementary tactics or strategies for effective control prior to establishing a cash crop.

Pennsvlvania (southeast)
Dave Wilson, collaborator

Dave Wilson, research agronomist at The Rodale Institute, continued to conduct trails with the Institute’s ongoing organic no-till research initiative. Numerous trials were conducted at The Rodale Institute research farm, and on-farm research was conducted with collaborating farmers at other locations in Pennsylvania.

Trials included evaluations of small grain cover crops (winter cereal rye and winter wheat) which were rolled down for no-till soybeans. Ongoing evaluations included measuring the representative biomass of these cover crops and the corresponding weed biomass in these rolled covers to evaluate weed suppression of the rolled mat. Soybean yields were taken the last week of October 2006, and currently the yield data, weed biomass and cover crop biomass data is being analyzed and compared.

Several ongoing trails include evaluating the cover crop hairy vetch for adaptation, winter survivability and early rolling in a no-till system. In collaboration with Thomas Devine, USDA ARS, 14 hairy vetch accessions received from USDA as well as six other commercially available hairy populations from various seed tag origins were planted and established in the fall 2005.

These replications of small plots were evaluated and screened for winter survivability, biomass and flowering date and percent nitrogen tissue analyses. As a result of collaborative research conducted at The Rodale Institute, USDA/ARS–Beltsville and Penn State, Devine developed “Purple Bounty,” which has favorable winter survivability, biomass production and flowering date for utilization in the rolling/no-till planting system. He will release it as a public variety for development by seed breeders.

Other trials evaluating the cover crop hairy vetch for the organic no-till corn system include:

  • Evaluation of hairy vetch populations from different seed tag origins.
  • Evaluation of effect of planting date of the cover crop.
  • Evaluation for winter survival, biomass, and stage of flowering and tissue analysis for percent nitrogen. These populations were established in larger plots and were rolled and no-till planted in 2006 with organic no-till corn. These plots were harvested and currently the yield data, weed biomass and cover crop biomass data is being analyzed and compared.

Thick mat poses problems

We identified establishing a consistent plant population in the heavy mat of the hairy vetch as a significant issue. Some of our no-till roller corn-planting trials compared seed-furrow closing attachments in this thick bio-mat.

Population counts were monitored across the plots to compare the corn stand in these no-till plots. The adaptation of cast-iron closing wheels on the rear of the no-till planter was more successful in closing the seed furrow under the heavy hairy vetch mat. These closing wheels provided better seed-to-soil contact and led to higher corn populations, which gave higher yields in these systems. This system also prevented stand loss due to birds eating the germinated seed out of the un-closed seed furrow.

Planter changes made a huge difference in our stands. The average corn population in the field plots in 2005 was 17, 578 plants per acre; the 2006 average corn population was 26,511 plants per acre. This is a 51-percent increase over the previous year’s average. Yield data, weed biomass and cover crop biomass data are being analyzed.

Vetch seeding rate

One of the economic factors of the organic no-till system is the input cost of the hairy vetch seed. Wilson has been conducting multi-year evaluations comparing reduced seeding rates of hairy vetch to full seeding rates. The reduced hairy vetch seeding rate was accomplished by planting every other row with hairy vetch-oats.

Additional trials were established which will evaluate the suitability of various small-seeded legumes frost seeded into winter wheat for rotational sequencing into no-till. The winter wheat was over-seeded (frost seeded) with various biennial small-seeded legumes in the early spring of 2006. These will be evaluated as cover crops for rolling in year 2007.

Demonstrating early results

We held a successful field walk/farmer extension program in June, conducted at Kirby Reichert’s farm located in Lebanon County, near Hershey. Penn State Lebanon County Cooperative Extension and The Rodale Institute coordinated this event.

The field visit gave producers a chance to see the result of cover crops that were rolled and the summer crop of corn and soybeans no-till planted. Management practices were discussed concerning planting rates for the cover crops. The no-till roller design and utilization was discussed and test strips let go to roll for the event were rolled that day to demonstrate how the roller and no-till planter combination worked in the field. Improved planter adaptations should help soybean establishment at Reichert’s in 2007 after an unsatisfactory crop stand in the beans in 2006.