Get to know the no-tillers
A state-by-state guide to the participants in The Rodale Institute's No-Till Plus project

By Laura Sayre

April 19, 2005: Want to learn more about the participants in The Rodale Institute's No-Till Plus project? You've come to the right place. For the benefit of our readers, here's an annotated list, organized alphabetically by state, of the farmers and researchers working on the project.

For the purposes of the NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant, research collaborators were selected based on their knowledge and experience with conservation tillage, cover cropping and organic methods. Selection of participating farmers was left to the collaborating researchers.

Interest in The Rodale Institute's No-Till Plus project has been truly overwhelming—we've received queries and comments from all over the United States, as well as from Greece, Germany, Australia, Paraguay, and Canada. Over the next three years we'll be sharing more detailed information about each of the research efforts listed here. As always, we welcome reader comments and questions via our No-Till Plus forum or directly to the editors.

CALIFORNIA
researchers
 

Jeff Mitchell, Ph.D. (mitchell@uckac.edu), is a vegetable crops specialist and cropping systems researcher at the University of California's Kearney Agricultural Center in Parlier, Calif. A major focus of Mitchell's current work is finding ways to encourage adoption of conservation tillage strategies in California's San Joaquin Valley, where air quality has become a central public concern. No-till systems using cover crops and organic surface mulches to minimize wind erosion have great potential in California, Mitchell says. "Currently, less than one half of one percent of California's row-crop acreage is in conservation tillage—so we've got a long way to go."

farmers
 
Patrick O’Neil is an agronomist for T & D Willey Farms (www.tdwilleyfarms.com), a 75-acre organic vegetable farm in Madera, California. Certified organic since 1987, Willey Farms grows 50 different crops from artichokes to rutabagas and markets through a CSA and to retail and wholesale outlets in central California. They have sandy loam soils, use plastic mulches to control weeds and regulate soil temperatures, and build fertility with composts made from dairy manure and green waste. Willey Farms is interested in moving towards organic no-till, O'Neil says, as way of enhancing their soils' biotic community, continuing to build organic matter, and reducing their reliance on plastic mulches.
   
Other participating farmers for California have yet to be determined.

 

GEORGIA
researchers
 

Sharad Phatak, Ph.D. (phatak@tifton.uga.edu), is a professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia's Coastal Plain Experiment Station in Tifton, Ga. Phatak has been a leader in organic and sustainable agricultural systems research for many years. In 2001 he received Georgia Organics' Land Steward of the Year award. In addition to research on weed management and alternative crops, Phatak has done breeding work on variety of vegetable crops and cover crops, including velvet bean, a cover crop once widely planted in the American South.

   

Rick Reed (rr_careed@yahoo.com) is a former ag extension agent for Coffee County, in southern Georgia. Reed started working with no-till in 1988, when a group of farmers in his district came to him looking for new ways to farm that would be at once more profitable and better for the environment. By 1994, Reed had helped the farmers form a local Conservation Tillage Alliance, and by 2001 had organized an annual Conservation Tillage School. Today, Reed works as a freelance consultant and is actively involved in a variety of efforts to advance sustainable agriculture in Georgia. He serves on the boards of the Southern Resource Conservation & Development Council and of Georgia Organics. Reed and Phatak have been collaborating on research and extension projects relating to cover cropping and conservation tillage for over two decades. "Weeds are very aggressive in southern Georgia," says Reed. "If you don't cover the soil, the weeds will do it for you—but they don't add any biomass."

farmers
 

Mike Nugent is a medium-scale farmer from Willacoochee, Ga., growing peanuts, corn, cotton and soybeans. He has been experimenting with conservation tillage techniques for many years, uses dense cover crop mulches and has a keen interest in reducing herbicide use in his farming system.

 

Mark Vickers has been growing row crops on a farm in Ambrose, Ga., all his life. He raises poultry and cattle in addition to no-till peanuts, corn, cotton, and soybeans, and uses wheat, rye, and oats as cover crops. He has also begun experimenting with pigeon pea and sunn hemp as summer cover crops, and is looking forward to trying out the crimper/roller system for mechanical knockdown.

 

IOWA
researchers
 

Kathleen Delate, Ph.D. (kdelate@iastate.edu), is Iowa State University extension specialist in organic agriculture and an associate professor in the ISU departments of agronomy and horticulture. Delate's research work is centered at the 160-acre Neely-Kinyon Research Farm in southwest Iowa. (See Leading the way in organic ag research and extension for more on Delate and her research and extension work.)

farmers
 
Participating farmers for Iowa have yet to be determined.

 

MICHIGAN
researchers
 

Dale Mutch, Ph.D. (mutch@msu.edu), is extension specialist for cover crops and IPM at Michigan State University's W. K. Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) in Hickory Corners, Mich. Mutch has more than two decades of research and extension experience in low-input and organic farming systems, and he currently manages eight certified organic research acres. His applied research focuses on participatory projects using farmer advisory teams. Recent Extension publications include "No-till drilling cover crops after wheat harvest and their influence on next season’s corn" (E-2897), "Cover crop choices for Michigan" (E-2884) and "Integrated weed management" (E-2931).

Mutch and his colleagues at KBS have been experimenting with organic no-till methods for several years, so when they read about the Institute's roller they were eager to give it a try. With advice from Jeff Moyer and funding from a Michigan State Green grant, they built a 10-ft roller in 2004 based on the Institute's design and used it to drill no-till soybeans into cover crop of rye and hairy vetch. "We had terrific success with it—we got 62-bushel feed grade organic soybeans, and weed control was excellent," says Mutch. Results like that have sparked strong interest among Michigan farmers, both organic and conventional, but Mutch cautions that some of it may have been luck. This season they plan to test the system again in eight treatments, including wheat and triticale cover crops. "We hope to use the data from this year to give farmers our best recommendations for [using the roller on their farms in] the following year."

farmers
 

Pat Sheridan (pmsheridan@hotmail.com) and his son Pat Sheridan, Jr., farm 1800 acres of no-till wheat, corn, soybeans, and sugar beet in Fairgrove, Mich. The Sheridans first tried experimenting with no-till in the 1970s and went totally no-till in 1992. They have use a variety of cover crops, including rye, oilseed radish, and Austrian winter peas. They have seen a dramatic increase in soil organic matter and tilth and continue to search for the best combination of cover crops and planting equipment to cut costs and increase yields.

 

Jim Kratz (jim.kratz@mi.nacdnet.net) farms approximately 300 acres in the 'thumb' of Michigan, raising corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay. He also works for the Tuscola County Soil Conservation District, overseeing the district drill program and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement program. Kratz has been "one hundred percent no-till" for the past 10 to 15 years, and uses rye, oilseed radish, and Austrian winter peas as cover crops. He's excited about trying out the roller, he says, although he suggests that it should be wider to be more efficient on larger fields.

 

MISSISSIPPI
researchers
 

Seth Dabney (sdabney@ars.usda.gov), Ph.D., is a research agronomist with the Upland Erosion Processes Research unit of the USDA-ARS National Sedimentation Laboratory in Oxford, Miss. A staunch advocate of no-till, Dabney has done work on no-tilling rice into crimson/subterranean clover mixes and on no-tilling cotton into cover crops of wheat. Dabney had the opportunity to travel to Brazil to see the no-till methods in use there, and came back with a heightened appreciation of the potential for herbicide-free, cover crop-based no-till farming. "In South America, they say you can't do no-till without cover crops," he explains, adding, "I like [The Rodale Institute's] roller design better than any one I've seen—and I've seen a lot of different systems."

farmers
 
Perrin Grissom (perrin@tecinfo.com) has been farming since 1974 and practicing no-till since the mid 1980s. He currently grows 400 acres of skip-row cotton on his 880-acre farm in Stoneville, Miss., with the balance of the land enrolled in the Wetland Reserve Program. He also helped found and serves on the board of the Delta Conservation Demonstration Center in Greenville, Miss. He hopes to have 10 acres at the Conservation Center dedicated to testing out the no-till roller using rye as a cover crop. Disease and pest problems—especially lygus bugs—make cotton production in the Delta region a challenging business, says Grissom, but no-tilling with cover crops can help minimize inputs.

 

NORTH DAKOTA
researchers
 

Steve Zwinger (szwinger@ndsuext.nodak.edu) is a research specialist in agronomy at the NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center in east central North Dakota. A native North Dakotan, Zwinger has been working for the CREC since 1982, primarily focusing on new variety evaluation and, more recently, working with cover crops. "There's a lot of no-till out here, and a few people are looking towards organic no-till," Zwinger says, adding that frequently, as farmers become more experienced with no-till, "they start to think about their farms as biological systems, they see their pesticide use going down, and they start to think more like organic farmers."

The North Dakota researchers hope to test the roller system with soybeans planted into a cover of winter rye; and with wheat or oats planted into sweet clover cover crops (a common cropping strategy among the state's organic farmers). In addition, they hope to do some work with irrigated vegetable crops, such as onions and potatoes, and to test systems integrating rolled cover crops with grazing livestock.

farmers
 
Participating farmers in North Dakota are still being determined. Zwinger's plan is to work with at least one conventional and one organic farmer.

 

PENNSYLVANIA
researchers
 

Dave Wilson (dave.wilson@rodaleinst.org), research agronomist at The Rodale Institute®, is a native Pennsylvanian with a background in dairy farming and seed production as well as traditional agronomy. Dave has been the lead researcher involved in developing and testing the TRI organic no-till system, including trialing different cover crop mixtures. Click here for Dave's tips on selecting cover crops.

farmers  
Steve Groff (sgroff@direcway.com) of Cedar Meadow Farm in Holtwood, Pa., is a well known figure within the no-till farming community. Groff has been no-till farming since the mid-1980s and hosts regular workshops and field days describing his "permanent cover cropping system." Today he practices no-till on all 225 of his acres, including 80 acres of tomatoes, pumpkins, and sweet corn. (See Nothing middling about the Mid-Atlantic for a New Farm article featuring Groff and Cedar Meadow Farm; you can also visit Groff's own website at www.cedarmeadowfarm.com.)
 

Kirby Reichert (reichert@paonline.com) farms 800 acres in Grantville, Pa., about 60 miles west of The Rodale Institute farm. Reichert has been gradually transitioning to organic—he currently has 170 certified acres—and says that he's "never liked to plow." A couple of years ago he started no-tilling his conventional corn and soybeans, and the experience has gotten him interested in the possiblity of organic no-till. "I'm real excited about this project," he comments. "Hopefully I can try the roller on both my conventional and my organic fields."

 

Kyle Henninger farms corn and soybeans on over 1000 acres in Breningsville, Pa., just a few miles from The Rodale Institute.

 

VIRGINIA
researchers
 

Ronald Morse (morser@vt.edu) is associate professor emeritus in the department of horticulture at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. A pioneer in the development of no-till vegetable production systems, Morse has written many papers on organic no-till of broccoli, peppers, potatoes, and other crops. He is also currently working on three other organic no-till research projects for vegetable systems, two funded through SARE and one through CSREES. (See Organic no-till for vegetable production for a New Farm story about Morse's pioneering organic no-till work.)

farmers
  Paul Davis (padavis@vt.edu) grew up on a 1000-acre grain and vegetable farm in New Kent, Va. He has an undergraduate degree in Integrated Pest Management and a master's degree in Weed Science, both from Virginia Tech. For the past 15 years he has served as a Virginia Cooperative Extension ag agent for New Kent and Charles City Counties, specializing in grain and forages. He also farms 400 acres of 'never-till' corn, soybeans, wheat and pumpkins.

 

PROJECT ADVISORS

John Teasdale, Ph.D. (teasdale@ba.ars.usda.gov), has been with the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Beltsville Agricultural Research Center for 26 years. A specialist in weed science, Teasdale began working with cover crops in the mid-1980s and today serves as research leader for BARC's Sustainable Agricultural Systems Lab.

 

 

Bill Curran (wsc2@psu.edu), Ph.D., is a professor of weed science in Pennsylvania State University's Department of Crop and Soil Sciences. His current research focuses on the management of herbaceous perennial weeds, herbicide-resistant weeds, and weed management in conservation tillage systems.