Organic No-till in Perennial Cover

Progress report for FNC20-1248

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $8,826.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2022
Grant Recipient: owner
Region: North Central
State: North Dakota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Description of operation:

Former dairy in ND on 320 acres, organically certified, transitioning from alfalfa-hay and grain/pea rotation to reduced cultivation using a perennial cover base with taller grains for harvest.


Using a form of organic no till--the planting of annual grains in perennial cover--we wish to learn if we might achieve a “consistent and reasonable” crop yield above our break even bushels, as well as achieve additional soil and ecological benefits over a two year period.  

With the assistance of NRCS and Fish and Wildlife advisors in Spring 2019, we chose diverse species (12) on a 120 acre portion of our 260 acres in cropland, and soil samples (37 acres) were submitted to both Ward and Logan Labs to serve as a benchmark. Historic soil tests for the farm are also available.

Crops of millet and dry peas, as well as pea-pigeon grass hay were harvested in 2019, and all pea land was seeded to winter wheat and additional cover in Fall 2019, using our small Haybuster 107 no till drill.   We will incorporate additional soil tests from terminated 40 acres of alfalfa fields (5 years duration) beginning in Summer 2020 through Spring 2022, insect numbers over time, as well as complimentary carbon sequestration data on 260 acres provided by Indigo, a carbon credit aggregator with whom we are contracted.

Project Objectives:
  1. Perform ongoing assessments: water infiltration, soil testing/microbial ratios with both Ward and Logan Labs, obtain recommendations from consultants, worm counts, soil compaction levels and carbon sequestration provided by Indigo.
  2. Monitor insect and species population changes on one key 37 acre field with Minot State University instructor.
  3. Assess grain germination in perennial cover and measure crop yields on fields converted to perennial cover. 


Materials and methods:
Steps/tools Logic
Perennial cover Current research indicates a linear relationship in soil health and yield benefits as the numbers of species are increased. Eight species are considered minimum. It also allows for a longer season (earlier in Spring and later in Fall) for plants to feed the soil roots/microbes and consequently build carbon.
No-till drill for seeding This insures that crop residue remains on surface to provide soil erosion protection, increased water infiltration, insect habitat and weed control due to less soil disturbance and shading by the residue.  Grain and cover crop seed, as well as any soil amendments may be applied in a one pass operation.
Data collection Soil mineral sampling; water infiltration; microbial, insect, carbon and yield numbers demonstrate whether or not the proposal is successful in achieving its goal of an economic return over expenses.
Research results and discussion:

Results to date include:

Carried out all seedings: peas, winter wheat, millet, began rye after alfalfa termination and oats.

Harvested as grain or hay. Tabulated yields.

Took representative soil tests on all crop acres except for rye on cultivated ground. Sent to Lance Gunderson's Regen Lab for Haney plus soil health testing.

Took water infiltration readings with NRCS on home fields.

Noticed declining yields and increasing weed pressure; lack of rain was severe and numerous perennial cover crops that had persisted for years died off.

Indigo--carbon credit company decided to use predictive algorithms rather than boots on the ground carbon readings as originally promised. Terminating the relationship.

Although some no till will be continued, it will be done on a smaller scale, primarily with native grasses, and the farm adapted to contract grazing/hay with some initial cultivation for perennial weeds as needed. Although fencing and water infrastructure needs to be re-established, I am making arrangements with a friends to use his 100 pair for mob grazing.

Participation Summary
1 Farmer participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 On-farm demonstrations
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.