Increasing Cropping System Sustainability through the Adoption of Cover Crop and Rotational No-Till Strategies

Final Report for LNE08-268

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2008: $144,815.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Rita Seidel
Rodale Institute
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Project Information

Summary:

The goals of this 3-year project were to 1) increase cover crop use and decrease herbicide use among non-organic farmers, 2) increase adoption of rotational tillage among organic farmers, and 3) evaluate energetic and economic performances of standard- and no-till organic and conventional cropping systems.

The primary tools used to achieve these goals were field days and workshops held at Rodale Institute and collaborating farms, research trials conducted on organic no-till systems, and on-line articles and conference presentations featuring those events and trials. A booklet and a technical bulletin were also produced to outreach agronomic, energetic and economic information to the local and national farming community.

Field days were held at Rodale Institute in 2008 and 2009 and on a collaborating farm in 2010. Total attendance for the three field days was 195 people. Surveys were conducted immediately following the field days to assess what materials and outreach strategies worked best and were of most interest and use to the audiences.

In 2008, survey results showed that we reached a large number of farmers and extension educators (42 out of 63 respondents), increasing their awareness and understanding of organic and sustainable techniques. Over 87% of participants responded that they were considering incorporating cover crops into their practices as a result of information received at that year’s field day and 41% of farmers said that the field day increased their motivation to try organic practices on their farm.

In 2009, 92% of survey respondents stated that the field day increased their awareness of environmental benefits of organic practices, built their confidence in the topics presented, and increased their motivation to further explore sustainable/organic agriculture practices. In assessing the impact of the field day in advancing knowledge, it was impressive to find that a sizeable 79% of respondents indicated that they learned a new sustainable practice at the field day. And almost all of them indicated that they would make a change in their practices in the next 2 years as a result of attending the field day.

In 2010, 9 out of 10 people attending the field day said that, as a result of the field day, they would change or adopt a new practice in the next two years.

In a follow-up survey conducted one year after the first field day, about half of the surveyed farmers stated that they had made changes in their operations, either by planting cover crops for the first time, trying new cover crops, rolling cover crops instead of plowing them, or setting up an organic test plot. These changes effected close to 5% (70 non-organic acres and 130 organic acres) of the approximately 4000 acres that were being farmed by the interviewed farmers.

Approximately 100 people learned about cover crop and no-till techniques in workshops and conference presentations at Rodale Institute, at the Northeast Weed Science Society Meeting in Baltimore, at the Agronomy Crops and Soil conference in Pittsburgh, and at the Organic Grain and Hay Production Meeting in Maryland, to name a few that were funded with this grant. However, we reach a multitude of people through other off-site speaking engagements at various conferences and trade shows (more than 15,000 per year), and through smaller farm tours and custom programs given at Rodale Institute (400 people for custom tours plus over 2,000 general visitors per year).

For the on-farm portion of this grant we focused on monitoring soil carbon content on 9 local farms before and after conversion to conservation practices like cover cropping and no-till using our newly developed mobile field lab. Results were very variable, with carbon increases ranging from 1% to 222% and carbon losses ranging from 1% to 49%. These results taught us that short-term projects need to measure parameters that can be expected to change within that time period.

Six articles were posted on Rodale Institute’s website, covering changes being made to the long-term Farming Systems Trial, as well as the field days and several of our organic no-till trials. These 6 articles had a total of 17,196 unique views during the project period. In addition we had more than 18,000 unique views of the no-till page in 2011, more than 23,000 unique views of the Farming Systems Trial microsite (which summarizes the main results of the 30-year trial), and 1,700 to 2,600 unique views each for on-line articles describing other research trials with rolled cover crops.

Detailed data collection for the six different cropping systems in the Farming Systems Trial was conducted to determine energetic efficiency and agronomic and economic performance. The energy analysis showed that corn and soybean production in a no-till organic system require approximately 30% fewer energy inputs than tilled organic corn and soybean production. The main energy savings result from reduced fuel and labor inputs due to a reduced number of field operations. Similar results were documented in the economic analysis: Compared to the tilled organic system, total expenses in the no-till organic system are 20-30% lower due to significantly lower labor, fuel and equipment costs.

For corn, a crop that has high nitrogen demands, energy differences between organic and conventional systems are even bigger than between tilled and no-till organic systems: Total energy requirements in a tilled and no-till conventional system are more than 70% higher than their respective organic counterparts. This is due to the fact that more than half of the energy requirements in the conventional systems can be attributed to the production of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides. Results from those analyses are summarized in a booklet on the long-term trial and in a Technical Bulletin on cover crops and organic no-till. These publications are available in print and on-line.

Introduction:

For several decades, sustainable farmers have hotly debated the merits of no-till and organic cropping practices, raising more questions than answers. Proponents of continuous no-till cite improved soil quality and reduced labor and fuel costs as benefits of no-till systems, but no-till farmers rely heavily on herbicide inputs to maintain no-till practices and tend to reduce diversity in their rotations. Herbicide resistant weeds, crop residue build-up, and nutrient management issues are now also hampering the region’s farmers that use these systems.

Similarly, proponents of organic farming also cite soil quality as a benefit from practices such as cover cropping and higher overall organic inputs. However, the intensive tillage associated with organic methods can be energy-demanding and damaging to soil structure. Debate of these issues is further confounded by a lack of research data on the impact and output of either system. Rodale Institute is uniquely positioned to move the science of organic and low-input no-tillage research forward by conducting side-by-side comparisons of best management practices in both systems in the 30-year old long-term Farming Systems Trial. In addition to yielding important research results, the study serves as a vehicle to promote discussion and knowledge-sharing among all interested participating farmers, extension educators, and other agriculture professionals.

Over the past two decades, Rodale Institute has developed a cover crop-based rotational tillage system that can be adapted to organic and conventional operations. This system decreases labor and energy requirements while maintaining competitive crop yields, improving soil health, and conserving water. After years of problem-solving and refining, we were finally ready to actively outreach this system of cover crop-based rotational no-till planting to farmers by integrating organic reduced-till and optimized conventional no-till practices into the Farming Systems Trial (FST). Throughout its 30-year history, this 12-acre side-by-side trial of organic and conventional cropping systems has catalyzed farmer adoption of new techniques by demonstrating innovative farming practices. For this project, we utilized this trial to showcase organic rotational tillage farming and optimized continuous no-till systems, and to actively engage the interest and participation of farmers in the Northeast.

Performance Target:

Beneficiary Targets:

Fifty non-organic farmers will integrate cover crops to reduce herbicide and fertilizer inputs impacting more than 2000 acres. Twenty five organic farmers will strategically utilize rolled/crimped cover crops to suppress weeds in no-till planted cash crops on at least 250 acres. Fifteen county based extension educators will acquire new knowledge of cover crops and rotational no-till practices and incorporate project findings into education programs.

All in all, measuring the exact impact of this project proved to be very challenging, since there is no statistical information on how many farmers switched to a rolled cover crop system or increased their cover crop use, and on how many acres it was done. In addition, it would be especially difficult to determine how many changes could be attributed to this specific project.

In hindsight, we concluded that more follow up surveys via phone, internet, or at conferences, could have been helpful in measuring the effect of this specific project. For our current SARE funded project (“Reducing plastic mulch use by expaning adoption of cover crop based no-till systems for vegetable producers”), we are planning on conducting more surveys (either surveys that are emailed to field day attendants or in-person interviews).

We can, however, try to quantify our impact by assessing the number of people we reach with field days, at conferences, through tours given at the farm, and through the website.

The three field days held in 2008, 2009 and 2010 had a total attendance of 195 people.

Responses from surveys conducted at those field days showed that the presented material increased the awareness and understanding of organic and sustainable techniques for the majority of attendants. In addition, at each field day about 80-90% of survey respondents said that the field day increased their motivation to change or adopt a new practice on their farm.

In 2009 we conducted a follow-up phone survey with the farmers that attended the field day the previous year. Goal of the survey was to determine whether or not farmers had made any changes in their farming operation since they attended the field day. About half of the surveyed farmers stated that they have made changes in their operations. These changes effected close to 5% (70 non-organic acres and 130 organic acres) of the approximately 4000 acres that were being farmed by the interviewed farmers (see section 5 for more details).

Aside from field days, we reach many people through off-site speaking engagements at various conferences and trade shows (>15,000 per year), farm tours given at Rodale Institute (400 people for custom tours plus over 2,000 general visitors per year), and through the website: >18,000 unique viewers of just the no-till page in 2011, >23,000 unique viewers of the Farming Systems Trial microsite (which summarizes the main results of the 30-year trial), and 1,700 to 2,600 unique viewers each for on-line articles describing our research trials with rolled cover crops.

Also, the demand for the roller/crimper, based on sales information from one local manufacturer, can help us quantify how many farmers are implementing this technology. Jake Blank, owner of I and J manufacturing, shared his sales numbers with us, indicating that they sold approximately 40 rollers (various sizes) per year, have sold over 100 in the last three years and are taking advance orders. These numbers do not include other roller manufacturers, people who built their own roller, or farmers who may have rented or shared equipment.

The fact that more than 1400 people have registered on Rodale Institute’s website to download free do-it-yourself blueprint plans for the no-till roller in the past five years shows that farmers from all regions are very interested in this technology.

Research Target:
Elucidate costs and benefits of different cropping systems in terms of energetic efficiency and economic performance and publish rigorous multi-year comparative soil carbon, yield, labor, and input data from standard- and no-till organic and conventional cropping systems that incorporate cover crops.

This target was reached. Energy and economic analyses are attached and we are in the process of writing several manuscripts to be submitted to scientific journals.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Dr. William Curran
  • Jeff Moyer
  • Dr. Thomas Richard

Research

Materials and methods:

The Farming Systems Trial at Rodale Institute

Since 1981 organic and conventional cropping systems have been compared in the Farming Systems Trial (FST) at Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Prior to establishment of the experiment, the site was farmed conventionally with continuous corn for at least 25 years. The soil type is a moderately well drained Comly silt loam. The growing climate is sub-humid temperate (average temperature is 12.4 degrees Celsius and average rainfall is 1105 mm per year).

Three main cropping systems were initiated in 1981:

1. Manure Organic
This system represents an organic dairy or beef operation. It features a long rotation including both annual feed grain crops and perennial forage crops (Table 1). The system’s fertility is provided by leguminous cover crops and periodic applications of manure or composted manure. The system does not use herbicides, relying instead on tillage and cultivation for weed control.

2. Legume Organic
This system represents an organic cash grain system without livestock. It features a mid-length rotation consisting of annual grain crops and cover crops (Table 1). The system’s sole source of fertility are leguminous cover crops. Like the organic manure system, it does not use herbicides, relying instead on tillage and cultivation.

3. Conventional
This system represents a conventional grain operation. It relies on synthetic nitrogen (N) for fertility and herbicides for weed control (Table 1). Fertilizer and pesticide applications follow Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension recommendations.

The experimental design was a split-plot randomized block with 8 replications for the three systems. Main plots were 18 x 92 m, split into three 6 x 92 m subplots, which allowed for comparison of three crops in any given year. The main plots were separated by 1.5 m grass buffer strips. Farm-scale equipment was used for operations and harvesting.

In 2008, each of the original three systems was divided into a “tilled” and “no-till” portion yielding four replicate plots of the subsequent six farming systems (Table A). The organic no-till treatments in the FST are not continuous no-till systems. Small grains and cover crops are still established with tillage while the large seeded crops (corn and soybean) are planted without tillage. In our system winter annual cover crops (hairy vetch and rye) are converted into mulches for corn and soybeans using a roller-crimper. The roller is mounted to the front of the tractor while a planter attached to the tractor’s rear allows the farmer to roll/kill the cover crop and plant the main crop into the rolled cover crop in one field pass without any further seed bed preparation. The rolled cover crop has several functions: weed suppression, soil moisture conservation and nitrogen input (in the case of vetch).

Data collection
Data have been collected on crop yields; cover crop, weed and crop biomass; soil carbon and soil N; biologically active soil organic matter (SOM) pools, and mycorrhizal spore populations. All field operations and inputs have been logged for contribution to overall economic and energy analyses. The economic analysis was conducted using the Mississippi State Budget Generator (MSBG, Department of Agricultural Economics at Mississippi State University, http://www.agecon.msstate.edu/what/farm/generator/).

The energy analysis was performed using the Farm Energy Analysis Tool developed at Penn State University (Camargo, G. G. d. T., Ryan, M. , and T. Richard. 2011. Energy usage and greenhouse gases from commodity and bioenergy crops using the farm energy analysis tool (FEAT). In preparation).

Research results and discussion:

MILESTONES (as listed in the original proposal):
Milestone 1 – 1,000 farmers and researchers learn about the project and planned field day via an introductory article on NewFarm.org (June 2008):

Our first milestone was an introductory web article in June 2008. We reached this milestone by posting the following article on May 29, 2008:
“Organic no-till leads to updating of Farming Systems Trial” – http://rodaleinstitute.org/20080529/gw1
Tracking records for our website showed that we exceeded the goal of 1,000 readers in the first six months after the article was posted, and this article continues to attract a lot of readers: By the end of 2011 it had 5,582 unique views.

Milestone 2 – 70 farmers and researchers participate in a field day at Rodale Institute, demonstrating use of cover crop based rotational no-till and optimized no-till systems in FST (July 2008).

The second milestone was the 2008 July field day for which we had 93 attendants. The field day was titled “Organic No-Till: New Farming Strategy for the 21st Century” and focused on demonstrations of no-till practices and equipment for small farm vegetable production along with various aspects of cultural weed management and cover crops. The following speakers gave technical presentations about the science behind organic no-tillage management:

No-Till Vegetable for Small Farms
Ron Morse, Ph.D. – Professor of Horticulture, Virginia Tech

No-Till Equipment
Jeff Moyer – Farm Director, Rodale Institute

Expressive Weed Management and the Mechanics of Mulch
Steven Mirsky, Ph.D. – Research Ecologist, USDA ARS Beltsville MD
Matthew Ryan – Rodale Agroecologist and Penn State doctoral student

Utilization of cover crops in organic no-till corn
Dave Wilson – Research Agronomist, Rodale Institute
Ruth Mick – Penn State University graduate student.

FST Overview and Jigsaw Learning Activity
Rita Seidel – FST Project Leader, Rodale Institute
Matthew Ryan – Rodale Agroecologist and Penn State doctoral student

People seemed to enjoy the presentations since we received a lot of positive feedback in our surveys. We received back 63 valid surveys, for a response rate of 68%. The respondents were predominantly male (60%), with a median age falling in the ‘40-60 years’ group. Fifty six percent of respondents — 35 individuals — reported full- or part-time farming as their primary occupation. About 11% of survey respondents were educators and 34% reported holding other occupations. The survey results showed that the majority of respondents (almost 70%) learned at least one sustainable agriculture practice at the field day.

Results from the survey were positive, encouraging, and showed interest and involvement on the part of the participants. Respondents rated the quality and usefulness of the presentations: Talks received “Excellent” (highest) quality ratings from 32-54% of respondents and “Excellent” usefulness ratings from 25-47%. Differences emerged in the opinions of farmers and non-farmers, with farmers giving somewhat higher marks than non-farmers. These results suggest that targeted events – with presentations and activities tailor-made for specific occupational groups — may be of interest especially to farmers who show interest in more practical, hands-on approaches.

We also asked whether the field day presentations and format met their professional needs and/or impacted their attitudes, perceptions, and motivations. Results showed that the field day successfully educated a broad audience and increased their awareness and understanding of organic and sustainable techniques. The majority agreed or strongly agreed that the field day motivated them to learn more about the topics presented and to expand their work in sustainable/organic agriculture, and over 87% of participants responded that they would consider incorporating cover crops into their practices as of result of information received at the field day.

Again, opinions differed between farmers and non-farmers on the applicability and utility of the knowledge outreached at the field day. For example, while 29% of farmers strongly agreed that the field day’s content and activities increased their confidence in the effectiveness of organic no-till practices, only 9% of the non-farmers did. Similarly, 41% of farmers strongly agreed that the field day increased their motivation to try organic practices on their farm, while only 12% of the responding non-farmers shared this opinion. None of the 63 respondents had a strong disagreement with any one of the four statements formulated to measure their perceptions and motivations.

In assessing the impact of the field day in advancing knowledge, 70% (44 respondents) indicated that they learned a new sustainable practice and 68% (43 respondents) indicated that they would definitely make a change in their methods in the next 2 years as a results of attending the field day.

Jigsaw activity
Participants in the 2008 Rodale Institute field day got to interact with one another and eight researchers in discussion groups at the end of the information-packed event. Joining Rodale Institute staff to talk with participants were specialists from Penn State, Virginia Tech, and the USDA Agricultural Research Service Beltsville facility. Matt Ryan, Rodale Institute’s agroecologist and doctoral student at Penn State at the time, led an interactive “Jigsaw” exercise in which small groups rotated between four wagons located in FST to share information and anecdotes on weed management, soil fertility, pest management and cover crops with crop and soils systems experts.

“The exercise was a new activity for us and we were not sure how it would go,” Ryan said. “But a number of farmers commented that they really enjoyed the discussion and they learned a lot from one other. One of the best things about the exercise was that farmers identified problems that may not have been covered in the field day presentations.” Group members named their leading problems and questions in the opening moments of the sessions, then spent the balance of their time together discussing possible answers, with input and clarifying questions from the agricultural specialists.

For complete coverage and insight into the diversity of the discussions and farmer-to-farmer learning, see the articles (and slideshows) at the links below:

“Jigsaw report #1: Pests, as in weeds, insects and diseases”
Field-day visitors learn about organic no-till, interact with researchers on worst problems, best answers.
http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20080730/nf2
http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20080730/nf1/ss1
Tracking records for our website showed that this article had 490 unique views by the end of 2011.

“Jigsaw report #2: Cover crops and healthy soil”
Field-day farm, researcher and agribusiness visitors listen, share insights on how cover crops and soil management connect with organic no-till planting systems.
http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20080815/nf1
http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20080815/nf1/ss1
Tracking records for our website showed that we this article had 525 unique views by the end of 2011.

Milestone 3 – 20 participating farmers receive free seed (25 pounds of rye and hairy vetch), and help in a) developing a rotation to fit their needs and b) establishing on-farm research as part of a meta-experiment to evaluate benefits of cover crops (July 2008).

The third milestone was a workshop to be held immediately following the field day in July 2008. The purpose of the workshop was to continue the conversation with individuals who were interested in trying cover crops or the organic no-till systems on their farm, and the goal was to recruit 10 farmers that would allow us to conduct trials on their farm over the succeeding three years. Specifically, researchers planned to measure total soil carbon and chemically labile organic matter effects of the cover crop no-till planting system on the 10 farms.

Unfortunately, attendance was low at the workshop due to the exhausting nature of the very hot and humid outdoor field day that preceded it, and to the fact that the workshop was only announced at the start of the field day. Most attendants probably did not want to change their original travel plans and were not mentally prepared to stay past 4 pm. Of the 8 people that did attend the workshop, only 2 were local farmers, which meant we did not reach our goal of recruiting 10 farmers.

Changes to the original plan of work:
Over the course of the next two years we re-assessed this portion of the project several times. We tried to find a way to do on-farm work that was of value to the participating farmers and supplied us with some new information.
We finally revised our approach as follows: We took our newly developed mobile field laboratory to Pennsylvania farms to conduct on-site soil carbon analysis. We focused particularly on monitoring the carbon content of soil before and after conversion to conservation practices like cover cropping or no-till. We also included the Cornell soil health test on those farms. This work was completed as planned and results are reported below in the “On-Farm Trials” portion of this report.

Milestone 4 – 1,200 NewFarm.org farmer and research readers learn about research results with cover crops and rotational organic no-till via an article on New Farm.org in 2009.

For our fourth milestone, we were hoping to reach 1,200 readers with an on-line article on our research trials. Research results on a trial with rolled cover crops were featured in the following articles.

“Infestation hits first-year multi-variant tomato trial – Heirloom variety outlasts hybrids in test of cover crops, benefical soil fungi, organic fertility and weed suppression.”
http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20100119/nfr_Infestation_hits_first-year_multi-variant_tomato_trial

“Mycorrhiza Matter! – How land management impacts these microbes and how they can impact the world when soil is living and breathing.”
http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20090806/gw1

Our web article tracking records show that we exceeded the goal of 1,200 readers by almost triple in the first six months after posting, and these articles continue to attract a lot of readers: By the end of 2011 they had a total of 7,906 unique views.

Milestone 5 – 80 conference participants learn about cover crop/no-till activities and outcomes via a talk and PowerPoint presentation in 2009:

Matt Ryan gave a presentation at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Northeastern Weed Science Society (NEWSS) in Baltimore, Maryland, January 5-8, 2009. The title of this talk was “Weed community response to no-tillage practices in organic and conventional corn”, and the abstract was as follows:

“No-tillage management practices have become increasingly popular in Pennsylvania, with 48 and 62% of corn and soybean, respectively, no-till planted in 2008. These systems have environmental benefits such as reduced soil erosion; however, they require increased weed management and are thus more dependent on herbicides than tillage-based systems. Organic farmers have expressed interest in no-till management but are prohibited from using most herbicides, and those that are permitted in organic production are usually cost prohibitive. A hybrid system has been developed that utilizes mulch from rolled/crimped cover crops such as cereal rye (Secale cereale L.) and hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth) to suppress weeds in place of herbicides. Although cover crops can provide effective weed suppression in these systems, continuous no-till in organic systems is not yet possible due to incomplete weed control provided by cover crops alone. Therefore, rotational no-till systems may be a more realistic strategy for organic producers. Since these systems are still in their infancy, it is unclear how organic rotational no-till practices will alter weed abundance and community composition.
Conventional no-till and organic rotational no-till systems were tested in a long term cropping systems trial that compared two organic grain operations that differed primarily in the source of N inputs (MNR = manure and LEG = legume) to a conventional (CNV) grain operation that utilized mineral fertilizer. The three no-till systems were incorporated into the long-term trial by transitioning four of the original eight blocks from traditional tillage. The other four blocks were maintained as traditional tillage systems, with chisel plow tillage used in the CNV system and moldboard plow tillage used in the MNR and LEG systems. This approach allowed us to assess the no-till systems while conserving the original tillage systems for comparisons. Here we report results from 2008, the first year of the transition to no-till. Our hypotheses were: 1) organic tillage systems would have fewer weeds than no-till systems and 2) perennial weeds would be more abundant in the no-till systems. Interestingly, there was no difference in total weed biomass between the organic tillage and organic no-till systems. This result shows that organic no-till systems can be competitive with organic tillage systems. Perennial weeds accounted for 27–36% of total biomass in the organic no-till systems, whereas they were completely absent in the organic tillage systems. There was no difference in the abundance of perennial versus annual weeds between conventional tillage and conventional no-till. Additional research is necessary to determine whether observed trends in weed abundance and community composition in organic no-till systems remain consistent over time.”

This milestone was not quite reached: 30 people attended the presentation. However, considering that the conference was small, with only about 200 attendants, 30 people represents 15% of all the conference participants, which is a respectable turn-out.

Excerpt from the NEWSS newsletter:
“The 63rd annual meeting in Baltimore was a great success with graduate students presenting in a joint session for the second time. The overwhelming response to this was again positive. Students enjoyed presenting in this format because they had the opportunity to see all other graduate presentations. Congratulations to all who won awards for presentations and posters and job well done to everyone who presented research.”
http://www.newss.org/docs/newsletter/2009_nl_apr.pdf

Milestone 6 – 70 County based educators and farmers attend 2nd field day at Rodale Institute in July 2009 and learn about project results, and farmer experiences with cover crops and soil testing

The 2009 Field Day, entitled “Cashing in on Soil Health”, attracted 72 participants and we received a lot of positive feed back (see survey summary below). The majority of the event was comprised of a wagon tour of the different research projects at Rodale Institute, with a focus on the Farming Systems Trial, demonstrations of no-till practices and equipment, and presentation of various aspects of soil testing, cover crop selection, and weed management. Several speakers gave technical presentations about the trial layouts and results.

The Field Day was evaluated via a survey that was administered at the end of the event. From the 72 participants we received 64 valid surveys, for a response rate of 89%. Over 40% of the group — 26 individuals — reported full- or part-time farming as their primary occupation. About 9% of survey respondents were educators and 50% reported holding other occupations, most of them with the government.

Results from the survey were, again, positive, encouraging, and showed interest and involvement on the part of the participants. Results showed some variation in assessment of the quality and usefulness of the various presentations, with “Excellent” quality ratings ranging from 40-68%. Again, opinions differed between farmers and non-farmers, with farmers giving higher marks for the field tour and non-farmers giving higher marks for the indoor presentation.

Over 92% of respondents stated that the field day increased their awareness of environmental benefits of organic practices, their confidence in the topics presented and their motivation to further explore sustainable/organic agriculture practices. Seventy nine percent (51 respondents) indicated that they had learned a new sustainable practice at the field day, and the same number (50 respondents) indicated that they would make a change in their practices in the next 2 years as a result of attending the field day. Finally, numerous respondents made suggestions for future topics and/or activities for our educational events which the team can use in designing upcoming field days.

Combined, these findings clearly showed interest in the adoption of new techniques and the need for more information and training in the future.

2009 Phone survey
In the summer of 2009, we also conducted a phone survey with the farmers that attended the field day in 2008. After the 2008 field day, 43 respondents to our survey indicated that they would make a change in their practice in the next 2 years as a results of attending the field day. The goal of the follow-up phone survey was to determine whether or not farmers had actually made any changes in their farming operation since they attended the field day the previous year. While this phone survey was not part of our original milestones, we felt it would be useful in determining how well we are doing in reaching our performance target.

Approximately half of the field day attendants listed “Farmer” as their primary occupation, a total of 58 people from 36 farms. We were able to reach and interview people representing 21 of those 36 farms, a group that spanned the geographical area of Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Kentucky and North Carolina, and whose farms ranged in size from 1 acre to 2,000 acres.

Five of the 21 farms surveyed were managed conventionally, 4 were in transition to organic and 12 were either certified organic or using organic practices. About half of the surveyed farmers stated that they have made changes in their operations, either by planting cover crops for the first time or trying new cover crops, by rolling cover crops instead of plowing them, or by setting up an organic test plot. These changes effected close to 5% (70 non-organic acres and 130 organic acres) of the approximately 4000 acres that were being farmed by the interviewed farmers.

Milestone 7 –1,350 NewFarm.org farmer and research readers learn about research results with cover crops and rotational organic no-till via an article on New Farm.org in 2010.

For milestone 7 we hoped to reach 1,350 readers with on-line update articles that summarized the latest project activities, posted in May and September 2010:

“Wise counsel guides Rodale Institute organic farming research” (May 2010), http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20100405_nfr_Wise-counsel-guides-Rodale-Institute-organic-farming-research

“Tillage and Toxins” (Sept. 2010),
http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20100917_tillage-and-toxins

Tracking records for our website show that we exceeded the goal of 1,350 readers by the end of 2010 and these articles continue to attract readers: By the end of 2011 they had a total of 2,693 unique views.

Milestone 8 – 50 conference participants learn about cover crop/no-till activities and outcomes via a talk and PowerPoint presentation in 2010:

Jeff Moyer gave a presentation on March 9, 2010 at the 5th Annual Organic Grain & Hay Production Meeting, in Centreville, MD. His presentation was entitled “Weed Control, Reduced Tillage, Soil Fertility and Marketing”. Fifty people attended the presentation, fulfilling this milestone.

Milestone 9 – 50 Farmers, educators, and researchers learn about project findings at a field day in 2010.

To fulfill this milestone, we organized our 2010 Field Day, entitled Roll Down for Organic Row Crops”, on August 5th at the Wills Daal Farm in Kutztown PA, owned by Tim and Anne Bock. Thirty people attended the field day, an attendance number that did not quite fulfill our milestone goal, but those that attended provided very positive feedback.

The majority of this field day was comprised of a tour of two field trials on rolled cover crops for corn and soybeans. Tim Bock and several Rodale Institute and Penn State Extension researchers gave presentations about the trial layouts and results. For more details, see the article “Tillage and Toxins” http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20100917_tillage-and-toxins

The Field Day was evaluated via a survey that was administered on-site, at the end of the event. We administered the survey to the total 30 participants and received back 10 valid surveys for a response rate of 33%. Though this response rate is lower than our average rate, it was noted that most farms had sent more than one person to attend the field day and only one evaluation was filled out per farm.

Two respondents reported farming less than 2 acres, 3 were farming between 50 and 500 acres and 3 were farming more than 500 acres (two respondents did not manage any farmland). On these 8 farms, cover crops were grown on anywhere from 10 to 200 acres per farm, totalling 425 acres. Nine out of the 10 respondents reported that they gained a moderate amount of useful knowledge on rotational no-till as a result of the field day. More impressively, 9 out of 10 people said that they would likely change or adopt a new practice in the next two years (for example: rotational no-till, roll down, organic cropping) as a result of the training they received.

ADDITIONAL DELIVERABLES AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Each of the milestones in the original proposal focused on presenting and outreaching information to farmers, extension agents and the general public. The original proposal did not include a milestone timeline for various other deliverables of this project. Therefore, the following is an overview of all additional endeavors carried out during the project period.

Advisory Panel for the Farming Systems Trial
To plan the transition of the Farming Systems Trial (FST) to include no-till treatments, we received advice on experimental design from several leading research scientists. These reviewers generously provided suggestions and verified the soundness of our field plans. To further engage agricultural professionals and verify the soundness of this project, an advisory panel was formed at the end of 2007 to oversee and provide advice on crop, soil, and pest management in the FST. The panel was scheduled to convene twice annually to help guide management decisions in the FST. They were also asked to contribute to project outreach by participating at field days or writing about the project in NewFarm.org articles or extension bulletins.

Though originally intended to convene two times per year, the Panel ended up meeting only once annually. Given the seasonal nature of agronomic research and the busy schedules of the panel members, we decided it would be more efficient to meet once a year to review results and to plan for the coming growing season.

In 2008 we convened the first advisory panel to consult in implementing a massive overhaul of the FST with the goal of making it more relevant to today’s farmers and addressing pertinent research questions that would benefit both organic and no-till farmers. The panel consisted of highly respected farmers and researchers who are committed to sustainable agriculture.

After giving an overview over the history of the FST, we introduced the changes that were planned to incorporate no-till into the trial. These introductions were followed by a number of questions to the Panel, which mainly addressed if and how the current rotations would need to be adjusted from the original plan.

Based on the comments and suggestions from the Panel members, we decided to modify the management of the conventional no-till system so that it represents a hybrid system that bridges conventional no-till with organic practices. For example, the rotation was expanded in the conventional no-till system to include wheat, and a hairy vetch cover crop was also added before corn. We believed these modifications would serve us well in our pursuit to attract a larger, more diverse audience.

In 2009 we reconvened the Advisory Panel to discuss the results from 2008. Based on the comments and suggestions from the Panel members, we decided to use shorter-day corn in all the no-till systems; in the conventional system this would allow the rye cover crop to be planted earlier (and therefore accrue more biomass in the following spring), while in the organic systems it would accommodate the late planting/rolling date. We also discussed the advantages of using a high residue cultivator in the organic no-till crops. Rodale Institute purchased a Hiniker cultivator and started testing it in the summer of 2009.

At the 2010 meeting, after an overview of the results from 2009, we focused on specific challenges encountered during the 2009 growing season (weed pressure in organic oats and soybeans, nitrogen deficiency in corn etc.) as well as outstanding deliverables for the project. We received valuable suggestions from the panel members on how to proceed with the energetic and economic analsyes and how to best disseminate results.

Suggestions included: setting up a meeting with Tom Richard (Penn State) to learn about the energy model they use; maybe arrange an agreement with one of Tom Richard’s graduate students to conduct the energy analysis; using the Mississippi State Budget Generator and help from Jay Harper and Bill Curran (both Penn State professors) to conduct our own economic analysis; engage extension agents by participating in in-service trainings, sending out information for extension newsletters and holding a workshop for farmers and extension agents.

At the 2011 meeting, after an overview of the results from 2010, we addressed specific challenges encountered during the 2010 growing season: poor vetch winter survival, weed pressure in organic wheat (especially Canada thistle in no-till plots), slug damage in conventional no-till beans and harvest losses in organic corn. We also reported on the field day at Wills Daal Farm, gave a demonstration of our newly developed mobile field lab and presented preliminary results for the energy analysis.

2011, the final year of the project, was focused on the economic and energy analyses for the Farming Systems Trial, on the on-farm soil sampling, the fall soil workshop and on writing the technical bulletin.

FST Energy Analysis
Goal of the energy analysis was to quantify and compare energy inputs (i.e. fertilizer, crop seed, diesel fuel, etc.) and outputs (primarily crop grain yield) of each cropping system FST. We signed a collaborator agreement with the Pennsylvania State University to have Dr. Tom Richard and his graduate student Gustavo Camargo conduct the portion of the energetic analysis for this project.

We supplied Gustavo with all the necessary input data for each of the six cropping systems in FST (rates for seeds, compost, mineral fertilizers, herbicides, lime, number and type of field operations and farm machinery used) and he used the Farm Energy Analysis Tool (FEAT), developed by Penn State, to determine energy use and greenhouse gas emissions for each FST system. FEAT is a simple database model that allows you to compare crops and cropping systems that are grown in temperate agro-ecosystems. The model is static, deterministic, based on a comprehensive literature review, and uses Microsoft Excel to store data, perform calculations, and present graphs. Results for this comparison were received in July 2011 and are attached in section 3 (Research Target).

FST Economic Analysis
In order to ensure that practices demonstrated and outreached in this project were feasible in terms of farmers’ bottom line, we conducted an economic analysis to compare the six cropping systems in FST. Originally we were going to hire on outside economist to conduct this analysis. However, based on a recommendation by the FST Advisory Panel we decided to instead use the free on-line Mississippi State Budget Generator (MSBG), developed by the Department of Agricultural Economics at Mississippi State University, (http://www.agecon.msstate.edu/what/farm/generator/).

The MSBG requires users to enter their own inputs into an electronic database; meticulous tracking of costs and rates for inputs, crop sales prices, details on farm machinery, and field operations is therefore very helpful in producing results that apply most accurately to an individual’s farming operation. When available, input and output data for the FST analysis were taken directly from FST’s own records; otherwise default values from the Budget Generator were used.

The MSBG is a tool meant for lay people (=non-economists) but it is not the most user-friendly tool. We received invaluable support from one of the research associates at Mississippi State University’s Department of Agricultural Economics to help us understand the ins and outs of the program. Without her help, it probably would not have been possible to undertake an analysis like this on our own.

Another disadvantage of the MSBG is the fact that it creates budget reports in fixed table format that can be printed but not manipulated in any way. In addition, the results cannot be graphed and comparisons between different systems (or different farms) cannot easily be displayed. In order to make the information we received for each of the crops in each of the FST systems more user-friendly, we entered the data from the budget reports into large Excel spreadsheets, adding formulas wherever possible. This allowed us to create graphs to compare crops to each other and the systems to each other. It also allowed us re-calculate results for all systems quickly by making only some minor changes in the spreadsheets (as compared to basically starting from square one by re-entering a lot of new inputs into the MSBG database).

The FST economic analysis was completed in July 2011 and is attached in section 3 (Research Target).

On-farm trials and soil workshop.
At the end of 2009 we planned on collecting data from cover crop demonstration plots on local farms. However, as 2010 progressed, a revised approach seemed more sensible: With funding from another agency, we were able to develop a mobile field laboratory that allows us to effectively measure soil carbon more quickly and inexpensively than is possible with existing technologies. Thus, we suggested using this newly developed technology for this SARE grant, taking the equipment directly to farms to conduct on-site soil carbon analysis. We focused particularly on monitoring soil carbon content before and after conversion to conservation practices like cover cropping or no-till.

Therefore, for the last year of the project, the main on-farm activities included an initial site assessment on 9 farms, followed by a baseline sampling in late 2010/early 2011, and a follow-up sampling at the end of 2011. As we worked to fine-tune the mobile field lab and its uses, we gathered total soil carbon and nitrogen data on each farm.

To begin, using the newly acquired GPS technology to re-locate previous sampling sites greatly improved the ease and accuracy of sampling the same area as before. This is especially useful in large fields without any nearby landmarks. However, total soil carbon and nitrogen changes were difficult to assess within the one-year monitoring period.

As such, we learned the following lessons from this part of the project: 1) To conduct on-farm research, it is wise to identify some potential farmer collaborators at the time of proposal writing; and 2) Plan multiple, varied, and well-advertised venues to identify farmer collaborators as soon as the grant funding is received; and 3) Propose field trial data collection metrics that can be expected to change in the 2 or 3 year time frame of the project, such as active soil carbon, nitrogen mineralization potential, and/or other soil biological indicators.

The Cornell Soil Health Test measures a series of those parameters and is known to provide a holistic understanding of soil functional behavior to underscore the soil chemical, biological and physical processes. We were able to send soil samples from each farm to Cornell University to be assessed with the Soil Health Test. Results from this test enabled us to provide the participating farms with information on overall soil health, including problem areas like soil compaction, rooting constraints, limited nutrient availability, potential nutrient loss or limited soil biological activity. Unfortunatetly we were only able to take samples for this assessment once, therefore no comparison could be made before and after a change in practice. However, we will continue soil samplings on these farms as part of the partnering grants, so more long-term soil data from these efforts should be available in the next year or two. More detailed results can be found in the attachments “On-farm soil results” and “Cornell soil health test summary”.

Results from the on-farm work, as well as training on how to take soil samples and how to interpret soil health test results, were presented in a workshop on November 17, 2011 to which all collaborating farmers and local extension agents were invited. The primary speaker was Extension Associate Bob Schindelbeck from Cornell University, who discussed soil health, soil sampling, and specifics about the Cornell Soil Health Test. The morning session of the workshop focused mainly on the components of the Cornell Soil Health Test, and attendees then spent the afternoon actually looking at the soils from their farms under the microscope and talking about real-life issues and potential solutions.

The break-out session after lunch divided attendees into three groups for hands-on exercises. Soil samples had been collected on about a dozen farms in the spring and sent to Cornell for the Soil Health Test. Schindelbeck selected results from three of the farms to be used as “case studies” to be discussed in detail by the attendees. This allowed the farmers to address the specific problems on each farm (compaction, high phosphorus, low aggregate stability, etc.) while at the same time keeping the unique situation of each farm in mind.

While saying “just grow cover crops” might work as a theoretical answer to a particular soil health issue, Schindelbeck wanted attendees to consider the other circumstances that might be present when applying a solution to a real-life situation. What are the implications of working a cover crop into an existing rotation, does the farm have the equipment, labor and experience needed to make the suggested changes? He recommends this “context-sensitive” problem solving scenario as part of an adaptive management style – a contrast to the prescription approach.

As part of the day-long workshop, Rodale Institute’s Chief Scientist Dr. Elaine Ingham gave an overview of the life in the soil including information on bacteria, fungi, the importance of the right ratio of these soil microbiota, and examples of what the right biology can do for a farm’s success. Seven farmers also brought soil samples from one of their fields to the workshop for viewing under the microscope. Most of the attendees picked their problem fields to sample and were looking forward to learning more about what the microbiology could tell them.

Dr. Ingham provided a quick training session on how to use the microscope and a 10-minute mini-analysis of their soil microbiology. The farmers all had the opportunity to take a look at their soils under the microscope and get direct feedback from Dr. Ingham on how to interpret what they were seeing. Most of the soils were high in bacteria and low in diversity so each session also brought up an opportunity to troubleshoot their soil health problems personally with Dr. Ingham.

The workshop wrapped up with an overview on organic no-till practices, covering how they work, results from 2011 and prior years, and potential economic benefits of the system. Since three of the attendees were farmers with whom we conducted on-farm no-till field trials, we asked them to share the experiences they had in 2011. Each farmer was pleased with the overall results of the rolled cover crop treatment and all stated yields were basically the same as compared to the standard treatments of black plastic/biodegradable plastic, cultivation or herbicide. There were some challenges with weeds mentioned allowing the attendees to discuss pros and cons and Institute researchers to help troubleshoot. We hope to avoid many of those challenges next year by making a few adjustments to the project.

Several people stayed long beyond the end of the workshop to get additional information from Schindelbeck and Dr. Ingham. The farmers took home information on what is important in terms of soil quality, soil health, how can it be measured and quantified, how can it be improved, what resources are available to them. And, hopefully, they came away better equipped to, as Schindelbeck put it, “invigorate the soil” on their farms.

For the full article (including photos) see “Assessing soil health: Test, observe and talk”, http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20120112_assessing-soil-health-test-observe-talk.

Technical Bulletin
The technical bulletin “Cover crops and no-till management for organic cropping systems” was the final product developed during the project period. The bulletin summarizes the benefits of cover crops in general and how to use cover crops in a no-till system. It is primarily based on past project findings drawn from Rodale Institute research, but also includes results from other institutions. It can be assessed via Rodale Institute’s website and has already attracted numerous readers (1,332 unique views in just the first month).
http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20120118_technical-bulletin-notill-management-for-sustainable-and-organic-systems

Participation Summary

Education

Educational approach:

We used various means to outreach this project: web articles, field days, workshops, and publications.

Web articles
The following six articles were posted on Rodale Institute’s website, covering changes being made to the long-term Farming Systems Trial as well as the field days and several of our organic no-till trials. These 6 articles had a total of 17,296 unique views during the 3-year project period.

1. “Organic no-till leads to updating of Farming Systems Trial” (May 2008), http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20080529/gw1

2. “New farming strategy for the 21 Century (Part 1 and 2)”; 2-part article on Field Day and Workshop (July 2008),
Jigsaw report #1: Pests, as in weeds, insects and diseases
http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20080730/nf2
http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20080730/nf1/ss1
Jigsaw report #2: Cover crops and healthy soil
http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20080815/nf1
http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20080815/nf1/ss1

3. “Mycorrhiza matter” (Aug 2009), http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20090806/gw1

4. “Infestation hits first-year multi-variant tomato trial” (Jan 2010), http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20100119/nfr_Infestation_hits_first-year_multi-variant_tomato_trial

5. “Wise counsel guides Rodale Institute organic farming research” (May 2010), http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20100405_nfr_Wise-counsel-guides-Rodale-Institute-organic-farming-research

6. “Tillage and Toxins”; Article on Tim Bock field day (Sept 2010), http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20100917_tillage-and-toxins

In addition we had >18,000 unique views of the No-Till Page both in 2010 and 2011, and 1,700 to 2,600 unique views each for on-line articles describing other research trials with rolled cover crops.

Matching funds allowed us to post these two additional articles:
Assessing soil health: Test, observe and talk
http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20120112_assessing-soil-health-test-observe-talk

Technical Bulletin: No-till management for sustainable and organic systems
http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/20120118_technical-bulletin-notill-management-for-sustainable-and-organic-systems

Farming Systems Trial booklet and Technical Bulletin
Energetic efficiency and agronomic and economic performances were evaluated for different cropping systems. Results from those analyses are summarized in a booklet on the long-term trial and in a Technical Bulletin on cover crops and organic no-till. These publications are available in print and on-line:
Booklet: http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/files/FSTbookletFINAL.pdf
Technical Bulletin: see link above

The Farming Systems Trial microsite (which summarizes the main results of the 30-year trial) had >23,000 unique views in approximately 6 months, the technical bulletin had 1,332 unique views in just the first month.

Field days, workshops and conference presentations
Field days were held at Rodale Institute in 2008 and 2009 and on a collaborating farm in 2010. Total attendance for the three field days was 195 people. Surveys were conducted immediately following the field days. For more details see section 5.

This grant funded several workshops at Rodale Institute and conference presentations at the Northeast Weed Science Society Meeting in Baltimore, at the Agronomy Crops and Soil conference in Pittsburgh and at the Organic Grain & Hay Production Meeting in Maryland. Approximately 100 people attended these events about cover crops and no-till techniques. As mentioned before, we reach a multitude of people through other off-site speaking engagements at various conferences and trade shows (>15,000 per year), and farm tours given at Rodale Institute (400 people for custom tours plus over 2,000 general visitors per year).

Additional Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Impacts of Results/Outcomes

The verification plan for this project focused on end-of-session questionnaires after each educational activity, implementing a pretest-posttest design and conducting baseline, midterm, and final evaluation surveys with farmer project collaborators to measure knowledge about cover crop and rotational no-till practices, as well as changes in attitudes and behavior. In addition, we planned to monitor patterns of traffic to the online articles and gather information about the volume of visitors. This information can then be used as a resource in designing future online educational materials and resources for farmers.

The verification plan for field day surveys and web traffic monitoring was successful and worked well. Follow up surveys after each annual field day were conducted and supplied valuable information on the overall educational value of the events, the awareness and understanding of the presented farming techniques and any changes attendants planned to make in the future due to information presented at the field day (see survey results in section 5). Web traffic patterns for on-line articles and publications produced during the grant period were also monitiored (see detailed accounts in section 5).

The part of this project that presented the greatest challenge was the farmer recruitement plan and the pre- and post evaluations of farmer collaborators (see section 5, Milestone 3 and “On-farm trials” for more details).

Another part of the project that presented as a challenge was the target to reach a certain number of extension agents. Twenty local extension agents were contacted to determine if they increased their outreach on cover crops or if they have seen an increase in cover crop usage. Despite several follow-up contacts, only minimal feedback was received from the agents contacted. Extension agents generally reported that they do inlcude the subject matter ‘cover crops’ in their outreach, but they were not able to supply any quantitative or other measurable information.

In considering future impacts of our work, we currently are working on another SARE funded project (“Reducing plastic mulch use by expaning adoption of cover crop based no-till systems for vegetable producers”) and are seeing enormous interest from vegetable producers in the no-till system with cover crops. Additionally, the fact that we get almost daily requests on information on cover crops and no-till tells us that the local and national farming community continous to be very interested in this management technique.

Economic Analysis

An economic analysis was conducted for the 6 cropping systems of the Farming Systems Trial for the time period 2008 to 2010. Results show that the two Conventional systems had the lowest annual returns of all 6 systems: $170 and $210 per acre and year for the Conventional no-till and tilled system, respectively. With annual profits between $491 and $653 per acre, returns for the 4 Organic systems were 2.9 to 3.8 times higher than the 2 Conventional systems. The highest returns were achieved by the tilled Legume system followed by the tilled Manure system. This large difference in profits of Organic and Conventional systems was mainly the result of a much higher income in the Organic systems due to organic price premiums. If organic price premiums are taken out of the equation, the net returns for the organic systems decrease to $128-180 per acre and year, with the no-till Legume system at the low end. The other three Organic systems still have higher returns than the no-till Conventional system and remain competitive with the tilled Conventional system with 14-18% lower returns. Across all three major systems (Organic Manure, Organic Legume and Conventional), the tilled systems had higher net returns compared to the matching no-till systems (6% higher in the Manure, 23% higher in the Conventional and 33% higher in the Legume system). This was due primarily to higher income as a result of higher yields in the tilled Manure and Legume systems and higher seed and herbicide expenses in the no-till Conventional system.

The most profitable grain crop in all Organic systems (with price premiums) was wheat ($799-$886 per acre and year) while soybeans were most profitable in both Conventional systems ($303-$331 per acre and year). No-till conventional corn was the least profitable crop at $27 per acre and year.
For more details, tables and graphs see attachment “Rodale FST Economic analysis” in section 3.

Farmer Adoption

Tim and Anne Bock who participated in our Field Day in 2008 were so intrigued by the no-till roller/crimper technology that they decided to purchase their own roller for organic farm in Kutztown, PA where they grow mostly grains (corn, soybeans, and some small grains). In the spring of 2009, instead of plowing under the rye and hairy vetch cover crops, Tim rolled them with his newly purchased roller and no-till planted soybeans into the rye and corn into the vetch, on a total of 25 acres. The soybean crop did really well; populations were high and there were hardly any weeds. The no-till corn did not do as well, mostly due to problems with the planter, which did not cut adequately through the vetch mat and caused low corn populations. Weed suppression of the vetch was also insufficient; the cool spring had prevented vetch from accumulating enough biomass. After two years of using the roller for soybeans planted into rolled rye, the Bocks are now so pleased with this system in terms of weed control, labor reduction and, most importantly, yields, that they decided to use this system from now on and not grow soybeans with tillage any more.

Tim and Anne Bock hosted the 2010 on-farm Field Day and their soybean fields planted with the no-till roller system seemed to convince other farmers of the potential of this technology, too. In a post-field day survey, 9 out of 10 people said that as a result of the field day they will change or adopt a new practice in the next two years.

Steve Schoeniger has been farming at his New Tripoli, PA location for 5 years. He mostly keeps cows (Angus crosses) on pasture for meat production but also has chickens and ducks for meat and eggs. He is not certified organic but uses no mineral fertilizer or pesticides, instead using only composted manure and fish emulsion. The farm is hilly with very shaly soils. Steve planted rye/vetch cover crop mixes in fields to be used for hay production for the animals and as a vegetable garden for his family. He borrowed Rodale Institute’s roller several times to roll his cover crop in the spring.

All in all, Steve was very pleased with the new system. Hay biomass production in the millet field was twice as high in the part that was planted into the rolled rye-vetch mat and he also noticed fewer weeds in this section compared to the millet planted without a previous cover crop. Steve is very interested in working with us in the future and also has been very committed to educating his neighboring farmers about cover crops and the roller.

Jeff Moyer, Rodale Institute Farm Manager, reports that he receives phone calls and emails daily asking for specific information on how to manage cover crops. More and more growers and farmers are seeing the benefits of using cover crops, and farmers who never considered planting them are now asking basic questions on what to plant and when. Farmers who did plant fall cover crops are looking at innovative practices to manage them in the spring, like rolling them for no-till planting. The questions run the gamut from “what species or variety should I be planting and what seeding rate should I use” to more complex questions of how to judge potential stand survival after snow melt, determine nitrogen contribution, or calculate biomass production. Questions like these let us know that the work being conducted at Rodale Institute and at other locations, with the goal and objective of training and inspiring farmers, is succeeding.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

After almost 20 years and 6 research trials, we know that organic no-till systems still need some improvement – weed management and optimum nitrogen supply can still create challenges in some years, for example. It is therefore important to continue this type of research. Rodale Institute is currently working on field trials with the Hiniker high residue cultivator (as a rescue treatment when weeds break through the rolled cover crop mat) and on alternative methods of supplying nitrogen (in addition to the nitrogen that is supplied by the cover crop), funded by a newly received USDA NRCS CIG grant.

Data from this project provide solid energetic and economic foundations to support the viability of organic no-till systems for small and mid-size farms. As such, continued research into improved weed and nutrient management, coupled with outreach that puts system information in formats and venues that farmers can most easily access, are vital to improve farm income and environmental resources throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.

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.