A farmer-researcher collaborative effort to design no-till systems appropriate for small-scale organic producers in Alabama and the Deep South

Final Report for LS09-218

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2009: $250,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
Joseph Kloepper
Auburn University
Co-Investigators:
Dr. Jan Garrett
Auburn university
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Project Information

Abstract:

The purpose of this project was for farmers and researchers to collaborate to develop effective strategies for organic no till management in small scale vegetable production systems. Since each farm is unique in its location, soil type, crops grown, and the inclusion of livestock into their farming operation, and since the farmer is the expert about his/her particular farm ecosystem, he/she should have the best chance at success in developing an organic no-till (NT) system. Researchers, on the other hand, have more flexibility to experiment with cover crops and planting methods without having to risk losing their income. This project attempted to combine the strengths of both parties: farmers chose their cover crops and cash crops with some advice from the researchers, equipment was supplied for the farmers’ use and combined with field trips to demonstrate no-till techniques, and researchers evaluated various cover crop and cash crop combinations on the research stations.

Five small-scale farmers that practice organic production methods were chosen to participate in this NT research project. They represented a variety of situations and farming systems, some are certified organic, some Naturally Grown, some not certified, some are experienced, some are new farmers, but they are all committed to sustainable organic production methods.

The collaboration for the present project involved site visits to all participating farms by researchers and farmers at the beginning of the project to view the site and to discuss the farmers’ plans. USDA-ARS and AU provided assistance to farmers with implementation of NT as needed. The farmers maintained the tillage treatments for the duration of the study and corresponded with researchers about problems and updates. Researchers visited the farms periodically throughout the year to assess progress and collect data. Field days were held at participating farms and the results of the project were presented at the Annual Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network conference the final year.

Participating farmers in the state were assisted in the implementation of organic NT by providing them with equipment, technical information, and site specific recommendations. The Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network (ASAN) owns and manages a pool of NT equipment and a trailer for hauling it. The equipment: seed drill, roller, crimper, and transplanter, and the trailer, was made available for use by growers in the state. A walk-behind tractor with a flail mower attachment was added to the equipment pool by funds requested from this grant.

Four of the five participating farmers achieved partial success at developing organic NT systems. They produced a good cover crop stand and planted crops into the residue. However, none of them experienced a high degree of success. The lesson that was learned was that organic NT vegetable production is very challenging the Deep South due to the rapid decomposition of the cover crop residue and the amount of space left between subsequent vegetable crop rows. The combination of these two factors leaves ample opportunities for weeds to invade and interfere with the vegetable operation. The residue, though not in sufficient quantities to suppress weeds, was present in sufficient quantities to interfere with NT weed management strategies such as mowing.

The overall conclusion was that the common vegetable production row crop systems, as practiced in the Deep South, with aisles left between crop rows for harvesting and equipment passage is not conducive to organic NT with the tools that we presently have at our disposal, such as the cover crop species now on the market. There are no known living mulch alternatives that can withstand summer heat, drought, and traffic. At some point in the future, there may be crops that can be used in the aisles to suppress weeds in summer vegetable row crops.

It became apparent during this project that a different strategy was needed for organic NT vegetable production. Field crops that are planted closely together can rapidly form a closed canopy and shade the soil which helps in weed suppression. Fall vegetable crops are not impacted by weed competition to the degree that summer vegetable crops are. Winter grains and cole crops are good candidates for organic NT systems.

A new collaboration was established between Auburn University and the USDA-ARS National Soils Dynamics Lab to implement and manage long term organic vegetable tillage trials at E.V. Smith Research Station. This research is producing some promising results. The first year the NT plots did not perform as well as the tilled plot, but the second year the seed drill was adjusted so that the small kale seed made better soil contact and the result was that the no till yield was comparable to that of the tilled treatments. Cereal rye grain biomass was also similar between tillage treatments indicating that tillage is not necessary for winter grain production or for fall vegetable field crops in the Deep South.

Some factors that may be responsible for the greater success of this NT cropping system compared to the vegetable row crop systems include the following. This experiment was planted as a field crop, with the rows close together. There were no aisles left unplanted for weeds to invade. The summer crop, sunn hemp, is drought tolerant and grew well without irrigation, and is very effective at suppressing summer weeds. We were growing is winter crops which are not impacted by weed competition to the extent that summer crops are and they did not require irrigation.

A new implement was designed by Ted Kornecki, engineer for the USDA-ARS Soils Dynamics Lab (NSDL) for small-scale farmers to be able to implement NT: a roller/crimper for a BCS walk behind tractor. This implement has a patent pending and is offered for sale by Earth Tools.

The roller crimper was demonstrated at the 7 field days held during the project period. Other methods of terminating cover crops were demonstrated as well: using a tiller with the tines unengaged, using the bottom of the front end loader bucket to lay down the cover crop, using a flail mower powered by a BCS to cut the cover crop, as well as a full size roller crimper powered by a category II tractor for farmers with larger areas in NT production. The other tool that is needed for small-scale NT production is a seed drill that can be operated by a small tractor.

The results of this project have helped to identify the constraints to implementing successful organic NT vegetable production systems and the areas where more research and educational effort is needed. For example, growers need more information on cover crops and they need more encouragement to value their cover crops as much as their cash crops. Another important achievement of this project was the recognition that grain crops or field crops may be more appropriate for organic no-till systems in the Deep South and the progress made in developing a viable model.

Project Objectives:

1. Establish a collaborative effort between farmers and researchers to identify NT production methods that are appropriate for a variety of crops, soil types, and farming scales suitable for organic vegetable production in the Deep South.
2. Evaluate the effectiveness of various high residue cover crops and mixtures for ease of growth, maintenance of soil fertility, and weed control.
3. Evaluate tillage treatments across various soil types, cash crops, and cover crops, with respect to soil fertility, weed control, crop yield, and farmer acceptance.
4. Expand NT production practices in AL by assisting small-scale farmers in the state with the implementation of organic NT practices.

Introduction:

The purpose of this project was for farmers and researchers to collaborate to develop effective strategies for organic no till management in small scale vegetable production systems. Since each farm is unique in its location, soil type, crops grown, and the inclusion of livestock into their farming operation, and since the farmer is the expert about his/her particular farm ecosystem, he/she would have the best chance at success in developing an organic no-till (NT) system. Researchers, on the other hand, have more flexibility to experiment with cover crops and planting methods without having to risk losing their income. This project attempted to combine the strengths of both parties: farmers chose their cover crops and cash crops with some advice from the researchers, equipment was supplied for the farmers’ use and combined with field trips to demonstrate no-till techniques, and researchers evaluated various cover crop and cash crop combinations on the research stations.

For the purposes of this project, the term “organic” was used to indicate farming practices that would be acceptable in certified organic systems, those that do not use chemical inputs such as herbicides, insecticides, or fertilizers. No till farming techniques have been worked out for large scale conventional farmers that rely on the use of herbicides and roller crimpers to kill the cover crop, chemical fertilizers to make nutrients more available to the emerging cover crop, and no till seeders and transplanters for planting the cash crop into the cover crop residue; but appropriate techniques have not been developed for small scale vegetable farmers in this area of the country who do not have these chemical inputs and large equipment at their disposal.

There are significant challenges in adopting no-till to small-scale organic vegetable systems. For example, timing becomes critical in organic systems. Without the use of herbicides, the cover crop must be terminated by rolling and crimping or mowing at the exact time when it is most vulnerable to kill, which is the soft dough stage of grains, for example, and it must be left to dry down for a couple of weeks before planting the next crop into the residue. Since fast-release chemical fertilizers are not used in organic systems, nitrogen and other nutrients that will be needed for the subsequent cash crop to get a fast start, will have to be supplied by either a legume in the cover crop mix, or abundant amounts of compost for pre-plant application. Since herbicides and tillage are not available in the tool box of organic no-till farmers, the system relies on a heavy cover crop residue to keep weeds from emerging in the cash crop during the growing season. Also, most small scale farmers do not have the need for or access to the large, expensive implements that have been designed for NT farming on a large scale. Category 1 tractors, which are appropriate for small scale production may not be large enough to operate some of the NT equipment. Therefore, another aspect of this project was to design equipment suitable for small scale NT farming, and for
farmers to invent their own ways to get the job done. For example, one farmer used her tiller with the tines unengaged and also tried using the bottom of her front end loader to roll and crimp her cover crop.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Ted Kornecki
  • Andrew Price
  • Frank Randle
  • Dove & Russell Stackhouse
  • Gary Weil
  • Karen Wynne
  • Karen Wynne

Research

Materials and methods:

Materials and Methods
1. Farmers and researchers came together at the Annual Alabama Organic Vegetable Production
Conference to discuss research priorities of farmers. NT was identified by farmers as a research priority.
Five small-scale farmers that practice organic production methods agreed to participate in this NT research project. Some of them had experimented with NT in the past. They represented a variety of
situations and farming systems, some were certified organic, some Naturally Grown, some not certified, some were experienced, some were new farmers, but they are all committed to sustainable organic production methods. They are all developing farming systems that suit their soils, equipment, and available soil amendments, and they are all experimenting with new, improved production methods. Gary Weil, Red Root Farm, grows 5 acres of vegetables for a CSA. He wanted to work with an Austrian winter pea cover crop terminated with a row tiller and transplant early spring crops such as cole crops, lettuce, and fennel into the residue. Karen Wynne, Rosita Farms, wanted to grow open-pollinated corn for feed, seed, and fresh use. She planted test strips seeding corn into a living mulch of crimson clover, a rolled winter cover such as Austrian winter peas, and a tilled plot. She would move the cows into the area to graze after the corn was harvested in the fall and before it was planted in the spring. Simon Bevis, Noah Valley Farm, wanted to use rye, hairy vetch, and crimson clover for his fall cover crop, flail mow it, and transplant tomatoes and peppers or direct seed corn into. Dove and Russell Stackhouse, Clean Food Network, have a smaller acreage of vegetables that they currently mulch with leaves gathered from the landfill. Cover crops would enable them to grow their organic matter on site. The obstacle for them had been lack of equipment for mowing the cover crop. They did not have a tractor at the beginning of the project and planned to use the walk behind tractor purchased through this grant to mow down their cover crops. Bryan Hunt, BC Hunt Farms, is a beginning farmer with very sandy soil. He was willing to try whatever was recommended and would need more advice from the researchers on designing his NT system. These farmers illustrate the diversity of small-scale organic farming systems that recommendations needed to be developed for. The farmers would be responsible for providing advice on field designs, for implementing the field work, for collecting some data, hosting a field day, attending workshops, and for presenting results at the Annual Organic Conference. AU researchers would be responsible for collecting some data, analyzing data, preparing reports, attending field days, workshops, collaborating with farmers, and participating in presentations.

The AU investigators and the research station staff participating in the proposed project were initially involved in the final stages of a CSREES Integrated Organic Program Grant developing integrated
production systems for mid-summer organic tomato and pepper production. That project was initiated at the request of a group of farmers in the state and is being conducted on three agricultural research stations.

Research for the current project that was conducted on the AU Agricultural Research Stations was directed by Dr. Kloepper. Dr. Garrett, senior research fellow who was formerly coordinating the research plan of the CSREES Integrated Organic Grant, was responsible for coordinating the research activities at all locations, collecting and analyzing data, and preparing reports. Arnold Caylor, superintendent of the North Alabama Horticultural Research Station in Cullman, was responsible for providing advice on field designs and for implementing the field work, and Jason Burkett, Associate Director, E.V. Smith Agricultural Research Station was responsible for providing advice on field designs and for implementing the field work at E.V. Smith.

The USDA-ARS Soils Dynamic Lab partners included Andrew Price and Ted Korneki. They had been actively working with farmers to implement NT practices throughout the state. Dr. Price has expertise in weed ecology in NT systems and Dr. Kornecki in engineering implements appropriate for NT production.

They were formerly conducting a pilot NT project investigating herbicide-free production methods with a local farmer. The results of this pilot study helped to inform the proposed project. Drs. Price and Korneki provided technical assistance to farmers and consulted with AU researchers. Weed species and distribution were recorded at all locations at the beginning of the project. Site-specific strategies were developed for each location and cropping system.

The collaboration for the present project involved site visits to all participating farms by researchers and farmers at the beginning of the project to view the site and to discuss the farmers’ plans. USDA-ARS and AU provided assistance to farmers with implementation of NT as needed. The farmers were responsible for maintaining the tillage treatments for the duration of the study and corresponded with researchers about problems and updates. Researchers visited the farms periodically throughout the year to assess progress and consult with the farmers. Field days were held at each participating farm and the results of the project will be presented at the Annual Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network conference the final year.

2. Since high residue cover crops are the foundation for a successful NT system, an important component of the project was to evaluate the performance of cover crops in different cropping systems, growing
conditions, and planting schedules. By conducting research trials at the research stations and by simultaneously having farmers in different locations within the state as research partners conducting on-farm trials, we were able to evaluate several alternatives for summer and fall production in order to find the most effective selection for each cropping system and location.

Several cover crop monocultures and mixtures were evaluated in trials conducted on the AU research stations and on-farm by farmers. The supervisors, Arnold Caylor and Jason Burkett, who have had many years of experience growing vegetable crops and several years of experience growing organic NT tomatoes, peppers, and cover crops, provided substantial advice in the cropping system design.

Preliminary results of research at E.V. Smith and at Cullman suggested that rye performs well in NT systems for weed suppression, but may tie up nitrogen for subsequent crops, and can interfere with subsequent transplant establishment. A heavy surface residue of rye may necessitate modification to transplanting equipment, which Dr. Kornecki will assist with. Austrian winter pea has other benefits; it produces a large amount of biomass and nitrogen and releases a large amount of nitrate-N, but weeds move in quickly to take it up. It may be a good option for planting in the crop row or in a mixture with rye for weed suppression. Current research is aimed at improving the system with the most effective combination of rye/legume/fertilizer combinations.

Participating farmers chose which cover crops they would plant with recommendations from researchers when needed. AU researchers and farmers evaluated cover crop effectiveness in establishment and
residue production. Weed control was evaluated by the farmer and by researcher observation. Dr. Price collaborated with AU researchers on evaluation of weed populations and advised farmers on weed control methods.

Field days were scheduled to include cover crops as well as cash crops. Photos were taken to be used in presentations. Project results will be presented at the Annual Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network Conference and published in the Organic Vegetable Production e-newsletter.

3. Tillage treatment evaluations must be site-specific and also cropping system-specific in order to determine if organic NT is a viable option for the small-scale vegetable farmer. We expected to find that NT works better with some soils and cropping systems than with others. This information would help us to provide informed recommendations for other farmers and for future research.

NT was compared with the farmers’ usual tillage methods with respect to yield of cash crops, cover crops, weed populations, labor, and farmer acceptability. Farmers were responsible for recording observations on their farms. Tillage treatments will be evaluated by USDA-ARS, AU researchers,
and farmers annually.

Replicated tillage treatments were established in certified organic research plots at E.V. Smith Agricultural Research Station in the east gulf coastal plain in Macon County, and North Alabama
Horticultural Research Station in the Cumberland Plateau, Cullman, AL. USDA-ARS researchers will provided advice on field design of NT trials on research stations. Field technicians were responsible for recording yield on research stations. AU researchers and field technicians were responsible for collecting soil, weed, and cover crop data from research stations. Project results will be presented at the Annual Alabama Organic Vegetable Production Conference and published in the Organic Vegetable Production enewsletter.

AU researchers were responsible for organizing presentations and preparing publications ASAN helped to publicize field days.

4. Small-scale vegetable farmers in the state were assisted in the implementation of organic NT by providing them with equipment, technical information, and site specific recommendations. The Alabama
Sustainable Agriculture Network (ASAN) owns and manages a pool of NT equipment and a trailer for hauling it. The equipment: seed drill, roller, crimper, and transplanter, and the trailer, were made available for use by growers in the state. A walk-behind tractor with a flail mower attachment and a flail mower was added to the equipment pool by funds received from this grant. The USDA-ARS transported the equipment to farms for demonstrations during field days.

The USDA-ARS works extensively with farmers throughout the state to implement NT. They had begun to explore organic NT methods in a pilot project at a local farm previous to the current project. This pilot project equipped them with some knowledge and skills they needed in order to assist farmers with organic NT techniques. Dr. Kornecki has extensive experience with mechanical methods of cover crop
termination in NT. He provided technical advice on equipment use, design, and modification for smallscale applicability in this project. Dr. Price has extensive experience with weed control in NT systems and is very knowledgeable about weed identification, life histories, and ecology. He advised farmers and AU researchers on the design some ecologically-based weed control strategies. These two USDA-ARS researchers are probably the most qualified of any researchers in this state to address the largest obstacles to organic NT implementation: availability of appropriate equipment and weed control techniques. They collaborated with AU researchers and farmers on ecologically-based weed control strategies and other production techniques that will facilitate the wide-scale adoption of organic NT among small-scale vegetable producers in the state.

Each farm participating in this project hosted a field day the final year of the NT project. Many agricultural service providers attended one or more of these workshops. They will transfer knowledge about organic NT to the farmers that they consult with. USDA-ARS will transfer beneficial information from this project as they continue to work with farmers throughout the state in NT implementation. AU researchers were responsible for disseminating research results through the website, Annual Alabama Organic Conference, and Extension publications.

Research results and discussion:

The project was initiated in the fall with a visit by Dr. Andrew Price (weed ecologist) and Dr. Jan Garrett (grant coordinator) to each farm to view the project site and discuss project plans with the farmer. The farmers planted fall cover crops and decided what type of summer crop would be planted on the site. BC Hunt Farm went out of business so we solicited another farmer, Frank Randle of Randle Farms, to take his place. Dove and Russell Stackhouse moved their farm so they did not begin the project until the summer of 2010.  

During the initial farm visits, Doctors Price and Garrett conducted site evaluations, recorded field history, weed history and made general observations, discussed plans with the farmer, made recommendations on fall cover crops based on the farmers’ plans, assisted with the planting of cover crops where needed, and discussed plans for summer crops with the farmer.  The farmers planted their fall cover crops.

Results of Farm Trials:
Farm 1:  Randle Farm

Size of project area:
.5 – .75 acre (100’ X 150’)

Field History:
Rye/crimson clover – planted in fall 2009.  Sheep grazed cover crop during the winter and early spring.  Prior crops include tomatoes, carrots, beans and fallow.  Sheep manure was tilled in prior to planting the fall cover crop.  PH = 6.5+.

Weed history:
Crabgrass, sicklepod.

Plans:
Summer:
In the fall Frank and I discussed planting sudan-sorghum in the areas that would be aisles (between the rows of garlic) for weed control and sunn hemp where the rows of garlic would be planted.

In the spring Anne (Frank’s daughter-in-law) assumed responsibility for the organic NT project.  Anne and I communicated by email and she told me that she and Frank had decided to plant brown top millet on ¾ of the plot and sunn hemp on the other 1/4.   They were not familiar with sunn hemp and did not want to plant a very large area to it, probably due to the cost of the seed.

Fall:
Plans:  Roll the cover crop and plant garlic in October.

Activities Record:  

Farm Visit:  10/18/10
Observations:
The NT plot has been mowed.  The summer cover crop of brown top millet and sunn hemp did not do very well due to the extreme drought and sandy soil.  Sunn hemp did better than the millet but they did not have much seed so there was not a lot planted.  There was not much cover crop residue present.  There are a lot of weeds present.

The Randles plan to till the plot, plant garlic in October (or as soon as it rains), and mulch the garlic with wood chips using a manure spreader.  A small area of the field is infested with nutsedge.  They intend to leave that area out of the planting.

Recommendations:
The Randles have a sound plan.  The plot is not yet ready for NT, so tilling will be necessary to prepare for garlic planting.  If they can keep enough wood chips on the ground, it might be successful in setting up the plot for NT.  They might try covering the nutsedge area with black plastic or some other type of material to smother the nutsedge since it is a relatively small area.  Here is an idea for how to kill nutsedge with sugar:  http://www.ehow.com/how_5150857_kill-nutsedge-grass.html

Planting: 11/30/10
Lack of rain pushed planting back until now. The entire plot will be planted and mulched this week.

The garlic grew well, weed pressure took a toll on production in comparison to clean/hoed beds.

May 5, 2011
Randle Farm field day to demonstrate transplanting into cover crop residue on the large NT plot managed by USDA-ARS for the Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG).  The garlic looked good.  The Randles had worked hard mulching the plot with wood shavings.

June, 2011
The garlic was harvested in June.  It was hand pulled.

July 9, 2012:
Sunn hemp was planted.  It was drilled with a cultipacker/seeder into tilled ground.

July 12, 2011
I met Kirk and Corey at the Randles’ farm.  They showed me their NT plots for the CIG grant.  The NT plots were weedy; the rye mulch had mostly disappeared.  The NT crops did not perform as well as the CT (conventional till) crops.  Corey had spent a lot of time that summer weeding the plots.

There was a good stand of sunn hemp growing on the SARE NT plot.

August 29, 2011
I spoke with Frank on the phone about his plans for the NT plot this fall.  He has already mowed down the sunn hemp and tilled it in and is waiting for a rain to plant rye and crimson clover.  He will fertilize it with sheep manure and straw from his barn.  He wants to get a good fall cover crop stand.  He is thinking of planting peppers or okra next spring but he plans to fertilize it with fish emulsion through the drip tape.

October 2011:
Planted rye/crimson clover into tilled ground.
At about 90#/acre.  Planted with a no-till drill.
Produced an excellent cover crop stand.  The sunn hemp provided ample nitrogen for a good stand.

Plans for Spring 2012:
Plant squash.

Farmer’s impression of NT experiment:  (01/05/12)
Was it a success? Yes.
How could it be improved?  Perennial weed pressure is beginning to build.  He will need to do some tillage to suppress weeds.  Significant problem with nutsedge.

Spring 2012:
The fall cover crop was rolled in the spring with a roller crimper by the NSDL (USDA-ARS National Soils Dynamics Lab). The farmer planted okra into the cover crop residue. He also planted okra into a conventionally tilled area of the field nearby. The okra in the conventionally tilled (CT) area outperformed the NT okra. This farmer has very poor soil that is sandy and low in organic matter. It has not been in production long. The rye cover crop did not produce a lot of biomass. The NT okra appeared stunted and produced a low yield. It had been fertilized with fish emulsion delivered by the drip irrigation system. The farmer was disappointed in the results and stated that he would probably not try NT again.

Farm 2:  Red Root Farm
Farm Visit: Fall 2009.

People present:  Gary Weil (farmer), Andrew Price, and Jan Garrett

Size of project area:
About 1/8 acre.

Type of equipment:
tractor, NT transplanter, row tiller

General Observations:  May 2010
The research plot was planted in an Austrian winter pea cover crop, which Gary row-tilled in February and transplanted lettuce and brassicas into.  There was not much cover crop residue left on the ground at this time; it decays fairly rapidly.  Consequently, there were a lot of spring weeds growing in the plot.  We discussed trying a winter-killed cover crop next year for early spring cash crop planting.

Field History:
Potatoes had been grown there in the spring, since then it has been fallow.  

Weed history:
Nutsedge, grass.

Plans:
Fall 2009:
Plant Austrian winter pea
Februrary 1, 2010:  
Plant brassicas with row tiller into AWP.
Summer, fall 2010:  Plant iron clay peas and let them winter kill
Winter 2011:  Plant lettuce and brassicas.

Results: The Austrian winter pea did not grow back and present a problem to the establishment and growth of the subsequent cash crop, but it decomposed rapidly and did not prevent the growth of summer weeds.

Recommendations:
May 2010:
Establish summer cover crop after harvesting brassicas to keep weeds from invading and taking over the plot.  The plot needs more weed control before it will be ready for NT.  Presently, Gary is using minimum tillage to establish his cover crops.

Notes:
Field Day in May 2010:
About 5 acres were planted in a winter cover crop mixture of black oats and lupine.  There was a good cover crop stand.  The cover crop was rolled with a crimper/roller brought by the Soils Dynamics Lab.  After the cover crop is rolled, it will be left to dry in the field for a couple of weeks before transplanting into the residue.  Gary plans to transplant squash and cantaloupe plants into the residue.  Gary demonstrated the use of the row tiller, which is a tractor implement with a shank or ripper in the center and a short basket on either side of it.  The baskets rotate and lightly till two rows for planting.  There is a minimum amount of soil disturbance, though more than with the use of the no-till transplanter, which just makes a single slit in the soil into which the transplants are placed.  
Gary’s notes:
On the oat/lupine area – 2 acres were row-tilled then transplanted with melons and summer crops.  There was a good success overall – low weeds and high transplant survival.  The large “mulch” area seemed to maintain a more consistently lower temperature than the rest of the field.  Moisture was definitely more consistent and greater here than in the rest of the field.  This area also made for a much more pleasant and easier picking period.  It was less hot, mulch could be driven on with harvest trucks even when wet, low dust, and easier than walking on sand.  The cucurbits are on the list for a possible solid, sustainable, NT schedule.

Gary’s notes from August 6, 2010
He plans to plant iron and clay peas on the NT plot in the next few days and let it winter kill.  Then he plans to plant early spring crops, such as lettuce and brassicas into the mulch.

Farm Visit on July 13, 2011
Gary planted sunn hemp on the NT plot.  There was not enough rain for it to germinate and grow.  There were only a very few sunn hemp plants growing there.  I advised him to till and plant another summer cover crop since it has begun to rain more regularly.  He plans to let the summer cover crop winter kill and then plant early spring crops here again as he did last year, lettuce and brassicas.  I did not see any velvet bean growing; I think he said that he had just recently planted it.

There were no summer cover crops and no cash crops growing on most of his crop field at this time due to the drought at the beginning of the summer.  Gary does not appear to be irrigating.  The soil had been tilled and was bare.  Erosion gullies were present.

Farm Visit:  2/3/12
Gary had winter crops in the field.  He had quit harvesting them for his fall CSA.  The part of the field that was not planted to winter crops was bare.  Gary said that he was keeping it fallow and tilling as often as he could between rains in order to kill weeds.

Gary’s Evaluation 2/14/12:
In 2010 Red Root Farm had a very successful two acres of no-till summer crops.  Within this crop various small sections showed weed pressure through the thickly grown and rolled down cover crops.  Bermuda and nutsedge were 2 of the major weeds.  However, the summer crop of melons, tomato, and other crops were able to be harvested and sold.  The weed pressure did impact some parts of the plot by making harvest more difficult and time consuming, including a drop in yield of certain areas.
In the belief that an area clean from these persistent weeds will yield a more consistent harvestable area, the year of 2011 no cover crops were planted on most of the field.  The thinking was to decrease the weeds by freezing or starving them out.  This technique has worked well for him at other times.

Now that the weed pressure has been reduced summer 2012 the field will be planted with oilseed sunflowers.  In September 2012 the cover crop will be turned under and the main part of the field will be planted with a cover crop, most likely Austrian peas, and no-till will be attempted in 2013, anticipated with greater success than in the summer of 2010.

Crops grown for NT project in 2011:
Sunn hemp and iron and clay pea and Austrian winter pea.
Sunn hemp – light germination, good large growth, moderate nitrogen fixation.
AWP:  good germination, and coverage

No other crops grown in NT in 2011.

What problems were encountered in your NT experiment:  sunn hemp nitrogen level seemed low (due to low germination rate) and the residue, though large, did not lay straight, but flail mowing would fix this.  

What are your plans for remedying these problems next season?
Use a lighter (less coarse) crop for summer, plant the winter cover a bit earlier.

What is your evaluation of the potential of using NT on your farm in the future?
The potential is very high, this year did not work 100%, but adds to education for future plantings.  The 2012 crops will work off 2011’s addition of plant matter.

Red Root Farm Field Day:  July 26, 2012
Organic Conservation Tillage Field Day – Demonstrated rolling and crimping sunflower cover crop and drilling brown top millet seed into the residue.  Presented information on NT benefits, equipment, and techniques, and NRCS programs to help farmers cover the cost.

Gary reported that the brown top millet went to seed quickly (probably because it was planted late) and later became a weed.  He said that he would not plant it again.

Farm 3:  Noah Valley Farm
Size of project area:¼ acre

Type of equipment:
34 HP tractor.  Bring transplanter for brassicas in fall.

Farm visit:
9/28/09

General Observations:
Fall 2009:
The project area is a low area.  The higher portion has a higher fertility level; the low area has poor drainage.  Sudan sorghum was grown here during the summer.

Field history:
The field has formerly been in deer feed, buckwheat, and now sudan sorghum.

Weed history:
Fall – First field:
Spiny pigweed, morning glory, Bermuda, foxtail.

Present vegetation:
Fall:  Sudan sorghum

Plans:
Plant Austrian winter pea in sudan/sorghum field; plant corn in the spring.  Roll the AWP.  Plant corn with a NT drill.

Results: The Austrian winter cover crop failed due to very cold weather and it was in a low-lying area that stayed too wet this winter. It was decided to move the project to a higher field.

Spring Visit:  5/17/10
The project area was moved from this field in the spring to a different field with better drainage.  This field had been in winter squash, okra, corn, and watermelon late in the summer.  

Present vegetation:
Wheat, grass

Plans:
Summer 2010:  Plant sunnhemp.

The new field was tilled and planted to iron and clay peas due to farmer’s inability to source sunn hemp. Due to drought and deer, it was a mediocre summer cover crop, but there was enough weed control to sow a winter cover crop of rye and hairy vetch into the standing peas and let them winter kill or mow over the seed to cover it. This field is set up now to the point where NT could succeed if care is taken to keep the soil covered with either a cover crop or a crop.

Fall 2010:
Plan:  Plant cauliflower and broccoli
Result:  Wheat was planted in the fall.

Recommendations:
Till the field to get grass under control.  Attempt to get a good, thick stand of sunn hemp this summer to suppress weeds and build up nitrogen.  Roll sunn hemp and plant brassicas with NT transplanter in the fall.  Try to keep all soil covered and let no weeds invade in the spring.

Activity Record:

07/24/10
Field mowed to 3” with brush cutter

07/26/10
Field spaded on 24” centers

08/04/10
Field disk harrowed, 2 passes

08/05/10
20lbs iron-clay peas broadcast (wasn’t able to source sunnhemp seed locally, would like to try this cover crop in summer 2011)
Field disk harrowed lightly once

08/06/10
2” rainfall on field

08/09/10
Germination of cover crop

Farm Visit:  10/4/10
The NT plot is planted in iron and clay peas.  The stand is mediocre due to drought and deer damage.  Some weeds are present but there is enough bare soil present so that fall cover crop seed may be successfully broadcast into the stand.   Simon’s field is set up now so that he may be able to achieve success with NT if he can get a good winter cover crop established.

Recommendation:
Broadcast rye and hairy vetch around the first of November when rain is more likely.  Mow peas over the seed or let the peas winter kill.  

Spring 2011:  Noah Valley Farm dropped out of the project because the farmer decided to suspend his farming enterprise and go to graduate school.   Sunbright Farm participated in the project this year to replace Noah Valley Farm.

Farm 4:  Rosita’s Farm

First farm visit – 9/28/09

Size of project area:
About 1 acre.

Type of Equipment:
40 HP and 6 HP tractors, plow, disk.

General Observations:
Pasture – Bermuda.

Field History:
For the past 5 years that they have been farming this plot, the first year was mixed vegetables, second year mixed vegetables and chickens, third year fewer mixed vegetables, sorghum-sudangrass, Austrian winter peas, plus chickens and cows, fourth year part sunflowers and iron and clay peas, part fallow, fewer vegetables and chickens, more cows.  Buckwheat has been planted also.  The field was limed twice during the past 5 years, fall 2008 and probably fall 2006.  Small amounts of rock phosphate and greensand have been applied.

Present Vegetation:
Bermuda grass, also Johnson grass.

Recommendations:
Farmer wanted to plant AWP so we recommended that she till to kill grass and try to get good stand of AWP and go NT from there.

Plans:
Fall 2009:
Plant ½ in Austrian winter pea and ½ in rye.

Summer 2010:
Plant open-pollinated field corn.

This farmer started with a field of Bermuda grass, which was tilled and planted to Austrian winter pea in the fall. The objective was to try to get a good cover crop stand that would produce enough mulch to suppress the grass. The following summer, one half of the field would be tilled and the other half not tilled.  One half of each tillage treatment would be planted to corn and the other half to a summer cover crop.

Field Plan for summer:

Till
Corn
Over-seed
Cover crop Till
Summer cover
Fall crop NT
Corn
Over-seed
Cover crop NT
Summer cover
Fall crop

Results:  5/17/10
The AWP did not produce well – very cold winter, seed was broadcast.

So, the farmer started over and tilled the whole field in the spring and planted corn and buckwheat.

Four treatments established:  CT and NT, and Buckwheat and corn.

Till Till NT NT
Corn Summer Cover Crop Corn Summer Cover Crop
Over-seed Oats Fall crop Over-seed Oats Fall Crop

Buckwheat will be over-seeded with sunflower and iron and clay pea.  Karen may need the roller/crimper.  She plans to plant garlic in the fall.

Corn plots – broadcast oats in the fall.

Fertilizer:  Chickens, cows, Neptune’s Harvest.
Due to the drought, neither summer crop produced enough biomass to suppress the Bermuda grass and it grew back. Pigeon pea was also overseeded into the corn, but it failed. At the end of the summer, the field was full of Bermuda grass. The farmer overseeded oats into the grass, but at the time of the farm visit in October, none of it
was visible in the grass cover.
This farmer needs to get an alternative crop established in the field to suppress the Bermuda grass before practicing NT.  Start over and till to get a good cover crop stand.

Activities Record:  Farmer’s Notes:
July 21, 2010:  (Karen): We were doing okay with the buckwheat and corn, but neither did any smothering of the grass (I didn’t expect the corn to). I let the buckwheat go to seed thinking that I would try to harvest it but didn’t, so it has reseeded itself. I also tried to overseed pigeon peas, but I don’t think a single one came up.

Recommendation:  
If you have any land to spare, I suggest taking a couple of seasons to get good cover crop stands.  Can you get any chicken litter?  Sounds like you need to till again and start over and try to get a good fall cover crop stand.  It is hard to beat rye for weed suppression, but vetch is good as well.  Depends on what you want to plant there next summer.  You could plant rye if you want to plant legumes in the summer; you could plant vetch if you want to plant grains in the summer.  You could try wheat if you need it for feed.  What fits into your farm needs?

Fall Farm Visit:  Oct. 4, 2010

People present:  Dr. Andrew Price, Dr. Jan Garrett, Karen Wynne (farmer)

Observations:
The project field is full of bermuda grass with little corn residue present.  Karen broadcast oats recently but none had come up yet.  The bermuda grass was too thick and it has been very dry.

Plans
Karen plans to till part of the field and plant garlic.  The garlic will be mulched.  She will plant rye in the NT area.

Recommendations:
Till and re-till to kill bermuda grass.  Plant a heavy residue cover crop like rye.  The major consideration is getting control of the grass.  Oats finally came up at end of October after rain.

April 21, 2011 Farm Visit
Good stand of oats.  Karen wanted them to winter kill but they didn’t.  Now she plans to gather seed from them and then plant melons into the residue.  The melons will be planted by digging holes with a soil auger.

August 4, 2011 Farm Visit
There were some small melon plants growing in a field of grass.  The oat residue did not suppress the grass.  The melons had been direct seeded into the field.  Karen plans to let the oats re-establish from seed left from last year’s crop.  I advised Karen to go ahead and till the whole field and try to get a good fall cover crop established so that there would be sufficient residue to suppress weeds next summer.  Rye was recommended as a good fall cover crop producing a lot of residue.  I also advised her to plant transplants rather than seed when possible to give the crop an advantage over the weeds.

Karen’s evaluation 3/29/12:

Fall 2011/2012
Crops grown: only cover crops: oats, “Big Buck Blend” (BBB)
Date Planted:  Oats were not planted; last year’s cover crop went to seed and then mowed. We planted melons over the summer and then allowed the oats to germinate.
BBB was planted in October.

Approximate seeding rate:
Oats seeded at a high rate – few hundred pounds per acre at least
BBB – 100 lbs/ acre

How was it planted?  (Broadcast, tilled…)
BBB – plowed, disked and hand broadcast

Farmer’s Evaluation (How did it do?)
BBB got a slow start but seems to be doing well now (end of March). I probably should have fertilized it.
Oats in Q1 (quarter 1) did not do as well as I expected – germination was spotty. There is more and more volunteer vetch but it was not a good enough stand to plant into.
The sunn hemp mulch in Q3 prevented the oats from growing. There is still a pretty good cover that hopefully we can still plant into and then mulch over.

How was it terminated?  (Mowed, tilled, etc.)
Q1 was mowed and will be tilled. We are installing a high tunnel there.
Q 2 & 4 hopefully will be rolled and summer crops will be planted into it.

Additional observations?
Dock was the most prolific winter weed.

Spring 2012
Plans:  What crops do you plan to grow?
Potatoes, greens, garlic, squash, melons, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant
Hopefully we can use the no-till veggie transplanter at some point this spring, maybe as part of a demonstration.

Overall Observations of NT Trial in 2011
Was your NT trial a success?
Not really, though I think the sunn hemp plot was promising
How could it be improved?
I should have tilled a lot in the beginning of the project to get the fields as clean as possible, and then planted dense well-fertilized stands of cover crops. I think we would still need to till at some points in the rotation and mulch with supplemental straw in the rolled crops.

2012:
This farmer failed to establish a successful fall cover crop again this year. She was reluctant to till at the beginning in order to establish the cover crop, did not fertilize the cover crop, and as in former years, the cows got into the field and ate the cover crop that did manage to grow through the bermuda grass. She planned to plant sunn hemp for a summer cover crop in 2012 and plant a fall crop into the residue but due to drought, weeds, and other factors, the sunn hemp cover crop failed and the NT experiment was terminated.

Farm 5:  Whirlwind Farm (Formerly Clean Food Network), Dove and Russell Stackhouse

Dove and Russell recently purchased and moved onto this property.  This was the first year in production.  Their participation in the SARE project was delayed until spring when they had moved to this new property.

General observations:
The land was in grass and appeared to not have been cultivated for a while.  

Field history:
Pasture.  Fallow for a few years.  Terraced during the 40’s, but the project area is relatively flat.

Weed history:
Pasture, fescue.

Size of project area:
About 1 acre.

Equipment:
25 HP tractor and Grillo walk behind tractor.

Farm Visit:  5/17/10

People present:
Dove, Russell, and Jan Garrett

Observations:  A good, robust summer cover crop will be needed in order to control summer weeds.  During the fall brassica planting, efforts should be made not to leave soil bare between plants or rows.  Mulch in NT area and till between rows in CT area.

Plan:  Summer 2010:
The land was tilled, chisel plowed, tilled again in March, and limed.  This summer peas will be planted:  pink-eye-purple-hull, crowder, big boy, whippoorwill.  In the fall brassicas, such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage, will be planted into the standing peas.  Half of the acre will be CT and ½ will be NT.

Activities Record

Farm Visit:  10/4/10

People present:
Dove, Russell, Andrew Price, and Jan Garrett.

Dove & Russell had cultivated and then planted a mixture of southern peas.  They were irrigating them and the peas looked good.  They are now planting brassicas between the rows of peas and leaving the peas to try to get a crop before the frost.  They will let the peas winter kill.  They may undersow the brassicas with clover.  They also plan to plant some beets and carrots in the field.  We brought some soil samples back to the lab.  

If they can keep the soil covered to prevent grass and weeds from invading, they are off to a good start with their NT experiment.

11/8/10 (Email from Dove).
We aren’t going to plant anything else in the field because it is too late. We will transplant early crops in March.

On the section of the field that isn’t planted we have put vetch and rye (about 1/2 of the field). As the cash crops come off we will seed with rye and vetch and start our spring planting at the oldest planted cover crop end of the field and by the time we work our way to the other end of the field that newest planted will be at the same stage of growth when it is mowed (flail mower). I want to keep a record of our soil tests done at the same time of year so we can have a base line.

The reason I am interested in no-till is I want to see how disease and insect pressures build and do we have to till every 3-4 yrs. to break up life cycles? Can we survey the insects and diseases to compare? How do we do that? The peas by the tree line had ants farming the aphids, aphids really like peas so no surprise there. We also had really bad grasshoppers but they didn’t seem to like the peas so when we planted our brassicas they were confused I think and didn’t eat it, where in the tilled areas they devoured our crops.

The peas have frost killed and the brassicas look great. Will take pictures.

Farm Visit  July 6, 2011
Half of the field has been tilled and is bare except for a small amount of bermuda grass creeping up in spots.  Dove & Russell plan to plant pumpkins and squash here.

The other half of the field is in weed cover.  They have made trenches in the planting rows and have planted squash in some of the trenches among the weeds.  At the far end of the field some potatoes have been planted and mulched with leaves.

Dove & Russell had no winter cover crop in this field because they had fall crops here.  They said that some wild vetch and yellow clover had volunteered.  The field is now in weeds.  The plans are to plant into the weed cover and then mow or lightly till between the rows.

The rye field that was to be managed NT was tilled.  Their tractor is broken down and Dove is recovering from surgery.  They are behind in planting their crops this year.

Following is my communication with Dove by email on July 11:
Hi Dove, I have been thinking of the status of your NT project and we need to regroup and plan out the next steps.  Planting into a stand of weeds is not an effective NT system.  You need to establish a good cover crop stand one season and plant into the residue the next season.  You still have time to plant iron and clay pea.  Till it in to get a good stand.  That would suppress the weeds and improve the fertility of your soil.  Then you could mow it down in the fall and plant fall crops into the residue, or you could use that N to help establish a good fall cover crop that produces a lot of biomass, like rye.  Or you can start over in the fall with a cover crop, such as cereal rye, or rye/hairy vetch and plant summer crops into the residue.  You have some choices, but a very key component of the organic NT system is a cover crop that produces a lot of mulch that will not decompose very rapidly and will offer some weed suppression for the summer crops.  If you want to try this we will give it another go, otherwise, I don’t feel we are accomplishing anything to continue planting crops into stands of weeds.  I recommend you doing whatever you need to do to get your crops established this summer; the NT project needs to be started over with a good cover crop stand.  Success hinges on a good cover crop stand.  

Annual Evaluation of Results (By Grower, Dove Stackhouse)
Date: 3-27-2012
Cover crops grown for NT project in 2011: spring vetch and clover, Fall crimson clover
How did they do? Spring did very well, fall didn’t germinate.  First planting was mid- November, a little late, we planted before a rain and we were supposed to have warm weather for a couple of weeks. It rained and we had good germination then it went below freezing and we believe killed the sprouts, then it started to rain and we planted again with no germination, we questioned the seed but we planted the same seed in our high tunnel and it did well. It stayed wet until mid-January and we tilled because the grass had taken over and planted again with no results. So in the history of our farm it was the first time a cover even a late planted one hasn’t come up.

Other crops grown for NT project in 2011: Potatoes w/leaf mulch, tomatoes, winter squash.
How did they do? The potatoes did well, everything else did poorly, too much grass completion.

What problems were encountered in your NT experiment?
Too much grass competition, summer Bermuda and winter fescue, but not as much as the year before.
Had we started with a cultivated field the competition would be a different profile of plants and a little easier to deal with. We had broken sod the first year of the grant, in an old pasture that was predominantly fescue when we plowed it down which released the Bermuda.

What are your plans for remedying these problems next season?
The mulched areas have kept the grass under control and we have had 3 previous seasons of legumes including summer peas the year before. So we are going to plant corn for seed this year because it is out of rotation with the conventional farmers in my area. We are going to under sow with white clover to provide completion for the grass , nitrogen for the corn, even though the clover will summer kill but well after the corn has gained height and provide shade for the clover so it will live longer, provided temperatures are favorable, it will last well into the summer. The rest of the field will be planted in sun hemp for the summer and rolled in the fall with equipment supplied from Auburn. Then we will fall plant brassicas.
 
What is your evaluation of the potential of using NT on your farm in the future?
Once we get the grass competition down (one reason for sun hemp this summer) and  regular vegetable rotation going on and change the evolution of the plant mix we are dealing with the better. This is the direction we wish to go in but we will be incorporating a leaf mulching program along with seasonal cover crops, basically composting in the field. The mulch provides great carbon/organic matter, weed control, beneficial microbes, water retention (on our sandy soil) and the green cover provides the nitrogen, organic matter and soil building. So basically we are going to be building soil on top of our soil. We do want to work with small equipment for transplanting and seeding into the residue. We have worked with the limited equipment we have.

We planted Sun Hemp this summer, and had a good stand, it was 7’-8’ tall when we rolled it down.  It suppressed the bermuda very well and rolled down well with our tractor tiller without the blades engaged. The stems are hollow so they just broke and laid down nicely, which lends itself to the use of small equipment unlike sudan grass or sunflowers that have thick stems.

September 12th was the field day and we had rolled down the Sun Hemp a couple of weeks before and Auburn brought up the no till transplanter and planted some of our fall transplants.

We planted Kale, Chinese cabbage, Broccoli, and Brussel Sprouts.  Our soil blocks that we make are square and didn’t fit the pointed transplanter cup that they fall from into the field  so many were upside down, sideways, we righted them with the help of those who attended.  When we tried some bigger transplants the top weight helped to counterbalance it and that went better. On the whole our transplants didn’t do well; the kale and Chinese cabbage did the best, the kale didn’t get very big.

My theory is that maybe the 10” shank depth on the transplanter (planting into sand) created an air gap at the bottom that the wheels couldn’t press together after the plant was planted. The plants were planted early enough and our other hand planted transplants planted even later fared better. We harvested about 1/2 of the Chinese cabbage and harvested a few lbs. of kale over the winter. The mulch that the sunn hemp left is still doing a good job and very few winter weeds have crept in. We really liked the the sunn hemp for ease of establishing a stand, use of small equipment to get it down, that it is a legume with sufficient carbon mass to produce a long lasting mulch. It is also great goat browse.

We are going to continue to pursue no-till. We have an older transplanter that will work with our soil blocks better but with a little modification we think we can make a no-till transplanter out of it.

We are adding 2.5 acres into production in rotation with cover crops, and intensively grazing goats and chickens on it before planting back into vegetables. As we have it designed right now we will have 5 seasons of cover crops and animals on a plot before it is planted back into vegetables. We are hoping our modified transplanter will work. There are also some small seed drills showing up on the market. So maybe the main barrier to no-till on a small scale being small equipment is finally coming into its own. It has never been a question of whether mulches work we have used them for years and we couldn’t farm without them but the question has been how to plant back into them. We have learned some things about insects, and equipment.

Farm 6:  Sunbright Farm

Size of Project area:
¼ acre

General Observations:
Sandy loam soil, open field, 30’ X 72’ hoop house at one end of field.  On the north side of a vegetable garden.

Soil test:
7/13/09
Soil was low in P and K.  pH = 5.8.
Limed fall 2009.

2/2012:
Soil was high in P, low in K, and pH = around 7.

Field History:
In grass for the past couple of years.  Formerly was planted in cover crops.

Fall 2009:
Crimson clover was broadcast.  Due to abundant fall rains, a good stand was obtained.

Spring 2010:
Millet, buckwheat, and velvet bean were broadcast into the crimson clover residue after mowing.  Due to lack of rain, the cover crops did not survive.

Summer 2010:
Grass and weeds were mowed.  Hoop house was built on the northeast side of the field.
Field was fertilized with broadcast chicken litter.
Iron clay pea and sunflower were broadcast and disked in lightly.
Due to continued drought and deer grazing the cover crop did not thrive.

Summer Vegetation:
Bahia grass, horse nettle (Solanum carolinense), Bermuda grass, pearl millet.

Fall 2010
Cereal rye (Abruzzi) was broadcast into field.  Field was mowed over seed.  Additional seed was later planted.  A good stand of rye was established.

Spring 2011
April 14:  The rye cover crop was rolled during a field day on April 14th.  The compact tractor with roller crimper was demonstrated, the BCS with roller crimper, and also my compact tractor with tiller (tines unengaged) and curve of front end loader were used to lay down the rye.

Drip irrigation was installed in all crop rows.

April 19th:  Tomatoes were planted.  A layer of compost was placed in the planting row.  Holes were dug into the mulch with a post hole digger large enough to accommodate the transplant root balls.  Plants were 2 feet apart.  A mix of heirloom indeterminate varieties and determinate hybrids, such as Celebrity and Early Girl were planted.  

Prior to planting, all planting rows were amended with a layer of compost consisting of chicken litter, horse manure and bedding, weeds, grass clippings, and vegetable scraps.

April 20th:  Planted squash, cantaloupe and watermelon transplants.

April 22nd:  Planted pepper transplants.

April 25th:  Planted eggplant transplants.

April 26th:  Direct seeded corn, cucumbers.  Corn seed was planted by digging holes with the post hole tamper.

April 27th:  Beans and peas were planted the same way as the corn.

July 26, 2011
Field has been weed-eat a couple of times alongside the crop rows, also mowed a couple of times.  Some weeds were hand-pulled.  Grass has come through the rye mulch.  Got a good crop of squash early, then the squash bugs and vine borers killed the plants.  Re-planted in the same row but the squash bugs were there waiting on the young plants.  Most of the second crop died without producing any squash.  The squash bugs were kept in check by hand removal of eggs and adults for a few weeks, then efforts trailed off and the bugs prevailed.  A net house was set up by Ayanava and I to keep the squash bugs out.  The plants inside did live longer and produce more squash than those outside the house.  The plant closest to the door and the rest of the squash row (outside the tent) consistently had more bugs than the others.  The net house made it difficult to manage the weeds and grass grew very tall around the sides and inside the net house.  A copperhead snake got tangled up in the netting and died.  The net house was eventually removed.

There has been a good tomato crop.  Some plants got tomato spotted wilt virus and other diseases, but overall, had a good yield.  One row had fence cages, the other row was held up with stakes and string.  The fence cages worked the best.

The peppers were slow to produce.  Removing the grass from beside the rows and staking them up and mulching with hay helped them a lot.

The Cherokee trail of tears beans did very well.  They produced a lot of beans and they were good young as green beans and produced a good black bean when mature.

The peas looked sickly when they were very young, as if they had a virus.  However, they soon outgrew this stage and began to produce healthy, vigorous vines.
The corn grew to be about 12’ tall and produced abundant ears.  It was an heirloom variety from KY composed of a cross between hickory king, and a red colored kernel, maybe bloody butcher, some blue, and some sunburst orange kernels.  They are good roasting ears at about 80-85 days and make good corn meal and grits when mature.   (Daymon Morgan KY Butcher)

The okra did not come up with the first planting so it was replanted in June.  May and June were very dry this year; rains began in July and have been coming on a regular basis since then.

Beans were planted in the corn rows in June.  They looked very water stressed until the rains began.  They eventually made a good crop.

Results:
The NT garden performed well.  Weeding was not required for a few weeks but eventually grass and other weeds needed to be controlled with the lawnmower and weedeater.  The weeds completely obscured the melons.  Many of them rotted from being kept damp by the weeds.  The garden was tilled at the end of the season and Georgia Gore wheat and Hulless oats and a small amount of crimson clover planted as cover crops.   Though I had started the growing season with a good stand of rye cover crop, the residue did not effectively manage the weeds for the entire growing season.  Additional mulch or regular weeding would be required within a few weeks after planting the cash crop into the cover crop residue.  

Farmer’s Evaluation of Project:
I did not have any no-till equipment and since this was a relatively small area (about 100’ X 70’) I did all of the planting by hand.  I used the front end loader of my compact tractor to bring compost to the edge of the field and transported it by wheelbarrow and dispensed it on the planting rows by shovel.  I dug the transplant holes with a post hole digger and made the holes for direct seeding with a post hole tamper.  It was very laborious work compared to tilling up the whole area and planting seed into till and prepared soil.  The soil was fairly hard and compact since it had not been tilled in a few years.

Though I started the season with a good rye cover crop, and a good ground cover of residue, it was not enough to prevent weeds from becoming a problem.  The plot would have needed additional mulch applied to manage the weeds.

It is possible that if I had grown cover crops continuously for a couple of years prior to planting the NT vegetable crops, the weeds would not have been as bad a problem.  The fall cover crop had been planted into a field of grass in the fall.  Though the rye cover crop did establish a good stand, the grass was still alive and eventually grew through the mulch.  It would have been better to grow a good summer cover crop stand for a couple of years to suppress summer weeds.  It is also possible that anytime space is left uncovered, as between rows of vegetables, weeds will invade and eventually become a problem as the cover crop residue decomposes.  Field crops, which are planted closely together, may be the way to go with organic NT in the Deep South.

Research station results:
Cullman:

Cullman Cover Crops
Planted fall 2009
Sampled April & May 2010

Introduction:
In the fall of 2009 the field was divided into two cover crops:  rye and rapeseed.  Each fall cover crop has 6 replications.  The entire field was tilled to begin the experiment and then the entire plot will be maintained with no till.  These two fall cover crops were chosen because rye has consistently produced the greatest amount of biomass than the other fall cover crops that we have planted in former years and it has been a good summer weed suppressor.  Canola was chosen because it has also been observed to be effective in suppressing summer weeds.  Canola is also reported to inhibit some soil borne diseases.
Summer 2010 – Six summer cover crops will be planted in each of the two fall cover crop plots:
1. Iron clay pea/sunflower
2. Millet/iron clay pea
3. Sorghum/velvet bean
4. Sun hemp
5. Bush velvet bean – changed due to lack of seed.
6. Lab lab/sunflower
Two years of cover crops will be planted in order to decrease weed populations.  The third year a cash crop will be planted.

Objective:
To determine the effect of different summer cover crops and two different fall cover crops on weed suppression, cash crop yield, and soil properties.
Results of fall cover crop biomass sampling:

Fall Cover Crop Biomass
Cullman RP2 Spring 2010
Cover crops Biomass
(grams per 1/4 square meter)
Rye 151.73*
Rape seed 120.61
LSD @ P = .05 19.11
*Significant difference at P = .05

The rye cover crop produced more biomass than the rape cover crop.  Planting was delayed in the fall due to rains.  Very cold temperatures in January slowed cover crop growth.  Hot temperatures in the spring caused the rape to bolt early.  Consequently, there was not much vegetative growth in this crop.  It was sampled the last week of April because it had already flowered.  The rye crop was not yet mature; it had not flowered so it was sampled the second week of May.  It grew substantially during that 2 week interval, but neither cover crop produced as much biomass as in former years.

RP1
Objective:  The objective was to determine how many seasons of cover crops it would take to gain control of the weeds in an organic no-till system. Conventional till and no-till systems were compared.

To determine changes in cash crop yield, soil properties, and weed suppression over the 3 year period of this grant.

The field was divided into 3 sections as follows:
1. Corn planted in year one
2. Corn planted in year two
3. Corn planted in year three
So that in section 1 corn followed 1 season of cover crops, in section 2 corn followed 3 seasons of cover crops, and in section 3 corn followed 5 seasons of cover crops.

Fall 2009 – Rye, hairy vetch, crimson clover mix on entire plot

Summer 2010 – Keep tillage treatments as they were in 2009.  Plant summer cash crop in one CT and one NT row of each replication.  Plant summer cover crop in the other two CT and NT rows of each replication.  Iron clay pea/sunflower.

Fall 2010 – Rye, hairy vetch, crimson clover mix on entire plot
Summer 2011 – Keep tillage treatments as they were in 2009.  Plant summer cash crop in one CT and one NT row of each replication.  Plant summer cover crop in the other two CT and NT rows of each replication.

Fall 2011 – Rye, hairy vetch, crimson clover mix on entire plot
Summer 2012 – Keep tillage treatments as they were in 2009.  Plant summer cash crop in one CT and one NT row of each replication.  Plant summer cover crop in the other two CT and NT rows of each replication.

Fall 2012 – Rye, hairy vetch, crimson clover mix on entire plot

Summer 2013 – Keep tillage treatments as they were in 2009.  Plant summer cash crop in one CT and one NT row of each replication.  Plant summer cover crop in the other two CT and NT rows of each replication.

RP1 Baseline Data:
Results of Cover crop biomass sampling:
The conventionally tilled cover crops produced more biomass than the no-till cover crops.
Fall Cover Crop Biomass
RP1 Cullman Spring 2010
Tillage         Biomass (grams per 1/4 square meter)
CT         208.39*
NT         161.73
LSD @ P = .05  29.01
*Significant difference at P = .05

There were no significant differences between the plots in biomass production at the beginning of the experiment.

Baseline Data for Plots
RP1 Cullman Fall Cover Crop Biomass
Spring 2010
Plot Biomass grams per 1/4 square meter)
1 166.89
2 186.83
3 201.46
LSD @ P = .05

Results:
The first year (2010) the corn crop was a failure due to pests, droughts, and weeds.  A tornado hit the research station the following spring and did a lot of damage.  The experiment was terminated shortly afterwards.

E.V. Smith:
Various cover crops were grown and biomass and weed suppression were compared.
Results:

The Effect of Tillage on Grain Biomass Production in an Organic Cropping System in the Upper East Gulf Coastal Plain of AL

E.V. Smith Cover Crops
Fall 2009
Sampled 5/5/10
Introduction:
Three different grain and 3 legume cover crops were planted at E.V. Smith in the fall of 2009.  The planting was delayed until November 19 due to rain.  Cold temperatures in January slowed growth consequently the cover crops matured later than usual.  The purpose of the cover crop trials is to compare tillage effects on cover crop establishment, and to compare the effects of different cover crops on weed growth and subsequent crop growth.  Biomass samples were taken on May 5, 2010.  The samples were taken from a ¼ square meter plot and dried.  The grains were hull-less oats, cereal rye, and Georgia gore wheat.  The legumes were crimson clover, Austrian winter pea, and hairy vetch.  The Austrian winter pea crop failed due to extremely cold temperatures.  The crimson clover plot was very weedy.  Of the legumes, only the hairy vetch grew well and suppressed weeds.  Weed suppression was a visual estimate based on values from 1 to 5:  

1 = 90% reduction in weeds
2 = 80-90% reduction in weeds
3 = 70-80% reduction in weeds
4 = 60-70% reduction in weeds
5 = < 60% reduction in weeds

Grain Cover Crops RP1 (Rotational Plot 1):
Effect of tillage on grain cover crop growth and weed suppression.

Tillage had no effect on cover crop biomass, height, or weed suppression in the grain cover crops.

Effect of tillage on grain cover crop biomass and height
E.V. Smith 2009/2010
Tillage Cover crop biomass (g)   Cover Crop       Weed Biomass
                                   height (inches)
CT 128.11                     40.50              1.83  
NT 128.17                     39.31              2.05                          
LSD

Effect of tillage on grain cover crop biomass
E.V. Smith 2009/2010
Biomass (g)
Tillage CT NT LSD
Oats 110.41 108.84 NSD
Wheat 130.50 152.15 NSD
Rye 132.26 121.74 NSD
There was no significant difference between tillage treatments on biomass production for any of the three grain cover crops.

Effect of tillage on grain cover crop biomass
E.V. Smith 2009/2010
Biomass (g)
Tillage (# samples) CT (# samples) NT LSD
Oats (6) 117.77 (8) 112.81a NSD
Wheat (4) 133.4 (5) 151.68b NSD
Rye (4) 136.03 (5) 115.18ab
LSD     NSD     38.38
Different letters represent significantly different values at p = .05.

There was no significant difference in biomass production between cover crops in the CT plots, but wheat produced significantly more biomass than oats in the NT plots.
Growth and weed suppressive abilities of different grain cover crops:
Wheat produced more biomass than oats or rye, but rye grew taller than oats or wheat.  Wheat grew taller that oats.   Rye and wheat suppressed weeds better than oats.

Biomass and height comparisons of different grain cover crops
E.V. Smith 2009/2010
Cover Crop Biomass (g) Height (inches) Weed biomass
Oats        109.56a        32.22a          2.58a
Rye        123.03a        52.42b          1.42b
wheat        150.29b        35.08c          1.83b
LSD @ P = .05  26.13         2.31          0.64
Different letters designate significantly different values.

Conclusions:
Tillage had no effect on cover crop biomass production, mature height, or on weed suppression.   Wheat produced the most biomass, significantly more than oats in NT, rye grew tallest, oats were the shortest, and rye and wheat suppressed winter weeds the best.  

Legume Cover crops: RP2 (Rotational Plot 2)

Tillage had no effect on cover crop growth or weed suppression.
Effect of tillage on legume cover crop biomass and height
E.V. Smith 2009/2010
Tillage   Cover crop      Cover crop      Weed biomass
           biomass (g)    height(inches)                        
CT     120.26     22.28    2.17
NT     145.21     22.08    2.50
LSD

Growth and weed suppressive abilities of different legume cover crops:
The Austrian winter pea crop failed due to extremely cold temperatures.  There was no difference between crimson clover and hairy vetch in biomass production.  Hairy vetch grew taller and suppressed weeds better than crimson clover.

Biomass and height comparisons of different legume cover crops
E.V. Smith 2009/2010
Cover Crop Biomass (g) Height (inches) Weed biomass
Crimson clover 112.43           20.00   3.33
Hairy vetch 153.04           24.36*   1.33*
LSD @ P = .05             1.52   0.61
*Significantly different at P = .05

Conclusions:
Tillage had no effect on fall cover crop growth or weed suppression.  Wheat produced more biomass than oats in NT.  Hairy vetch grew taller but did not produce more biomass than crimson clover.  There were more weeds in the crimson clover samples, which probably accounted for the lack of difference in biomass between the two cover crops.  Oats likewise produced less biomass than wheat and had more weeds than wheat and rye.

Fall Cover Crops
E.V. Smith
Planted fall 2010
Sampled 5/19/11
Grain cover crops:  (RP1 &amp; RP2)
Three cover crops:  Georgia Gore wheat, hull-less oat, and elbon rye were planted in fall 2010.  Comparisons of biomass production and tillage effects were made.
The biomass produced in grams/one half square meter for each crop are shown in Table 1.

Biomass produced by fall cover crops
E.V. Smith 2011
Crop Number of samples Wt. (grams)
oats    14                266.77a
rye    24                234.72ab
wheat    21                209.33b
L.S.D.    P = .05
Different letters denote significantly different values.

Oats produced significantly more biomass than wheat, but not rye.
Biomass produced by fall cover crops
CT vs. NT
E.V. Smith 2011
Crop Number of samples Wt. (grams)
CT NT CT   NT

oats 12 2** 272.00a   235.33**
rye 12 12 233.59ab   235.85
wheat 11 10 200.02b   219.57
L.S.D.  P = .05
Different letters denote significantly different values.
**Insufficient number of samples.

Effect of tillage on cover crop biomass production
Biomass produced by fall cover crops
E.V. Smith 2011
Tillage   Number of samples Wt. (grams)
CT       35           236.21
NT       24           229.03
L.S.D.      P = .05

There was no effect of tillage on biomass production for wheat or rye.  There were not enough NT oat samples to compare the two tillage treatment effects on this crop.  Ten out of twelve NT oat plots experienced crop failures.

There was no tillage effect on biomass when all crops were combined though there were more crop failures in the NT plots.  Ninety seven percent of the CT plots produced successful crops; only 67% of the NT crops produced successful crops.  Successful crops were those that produced at least 10% ground cover.  Only 2 out of 12 or 17% of the NT oat plots were successful, 83% of the NT wheat plots were successful, and 100% of the NT rye plots were successful, whereas 100% of the CT oat and rye plots were successful and 92% of the CT wheat plots were successful.  

Conclusion:
The results of the fall grain cover crop trials indicate that wheat and rye can be established successfully without tillage but oats are most successfully established with tillage.

Comparison with last year’s results:
In year one, wheat produced more biomass than oats, and rye was intermediate.  In year two, the status of wheat and oats were reversed, wheat produced less biomass than oats, and rye was again intermediate.  In both years, oats did not perform well in NT.  In the second year there were not enough samples of NT oats for analyses.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

The project was initiated in the fall of 2009 with a presentation on organic NT during the annual Alabama Sustainable Agriculture (ASAN) Food and Farm Forum by Ron Morse of Virginia Tech.

Six on-farm field days were held as well as one field day on a research station. The public was invited to come and observe the no-till trials. Equipment was demonstrated. The benefits of no-till production were explained and participants were shown a variety of cover crops growing in the field.

The NSDL had booths at the major sustainable agricultural conferences each year with photos and information about the project and displayed equipment, especially the newly designed roller/crimper for the BCS walk behind tractor.

Dr. Garrett did a presentation cover crops at an Extension workshop for farmers.

Dr. Garrett did a presentation on compost at the Tuskegee University 121st Annual Farmers’ Conference.

Dr. Garrett wrote an article on cover crops for the ASAN newsletter.

The supervisor of the North AL Horticultural Research Station did a presentation of the NT research at Cullman during the Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Gulf Shores.

A poster of the project was displayed at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas in January, 2013.

Information on organic NT and the results of the research station cover crop and tillage trials were disseminated through the monthly Auburn University Organic Vegetable Production e-newsletter.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

The assumption going into this project was that since the farmer is the expert about his/her particular farm ecosystem, he/she should have the better chance at success in developing an organic no-till (NT) system that suited their needs and equipment than researchers at research stations.  Four of the five participating farmers did follow the protocol and recommendations and produced a good cover crop stand and planted crops into the residue.  However, none of them experienced a high degree of success.  Neither did the USDA-ARS achieve much success with organic NT vegetable production in their on-farm trials in a similar on-farm CIG grant.  The lesson that was learned was that organic NT vegetable production is very challenging the Deep South due to the rapid decomposition of the cover crop residue and the amount of space left in between subsequent vegetable crop rows.  The combination of these two factors leaves ample opportunities for weeds to invade and interfere with the vegetable operation.  The residue, though not in sufficient quantities to suppress weeds, was present in sufficient quantities to interfere with NT weed management strategies such as mowing.  The overall conclusion was that the common vegetable production row crop system with aisles left between crop rows for harvesting and equipment passage is not conducive to organic NT with the tools that we presently have at our disposal, such as the cover crop species now on the market.  There are no known living mulch alternatives that can withstand summer heat, drought, and traffic.  At some point in the future, there may be crops that can be used in the aisles to suppress weeds in summer vegetable row crops.  

It became apparent during this project that a different strategy was needed for organic NT vegetable production.  Field crops that are planted closely together can rapidly form a closed canopy and shade the soil which helps in weed suppression.  Fall vegetable crops are not impacted by weed competition to the degree that summer vegetable crops are.  Winter grains and cole crops are good candidates for organic NT systems.  

The third year of the project a new collaboration was established between Auburn University and the USDA-ARS National Soils Dynamics Lab to implement and manage long term organic vegetable tillage trials at E.V. Smith Research Station.  The plots were redesigned to accommodate the equipment and the plan is to continue the tillage treatments for long term studies.  This research is producing some promising results.  The first year the NT plots did not perform as well as the tilled plot, but the second year the seed drill was adjusted so that the small kale seed made better soil contact and the result was that the no till yield was comparable to that of the tilled treatments.  Cereal rye grain biomass was also similar between tillage treatments indicating that tillage is not necessary for winter grain production or for fall vegetable field crops in the Deep South.

Some factors that may be responsible for the greater success of this NT cropping system compared to the vegetable row crop systems include the following.  This experiment was planted as a field crop, with the rows close together.  There were no aisles left unplanted for weeds to invade.  The summer crop, sunn hemp, is drought tolerant and grew well without irrigation, and is very effective at suppressing summer weeds.  We were growing is winter crops which are not impacted by weed competition to the extent that summer crops are and they did not require irrigation.  

The tillage trials have been conducted for 2 consecutive years.  They will be repeated for one more year and then the results published.  If the NT treatment continues to perform as well as the tilled treatment, we will be able to make recommendations to organic farmers about how to be successful with NT using high residue summer cover crops followed by fall planted field crops.  

Organic NT field crop systems are showing promise for adoption by farmers of the Deep South.  These systems can be direct seeded, eliminating the need for a transplanter, the plants are grown close together, eliminating the open space for weed opportunities, and the system under study does not require irrigation.  It requires a summer field crop that is drought resistant, such as sunn hemp (for seed) or sorghum (for feed or syrup), and fall crops that can be grown as field crops, such as kale, turnips, barley, wheat, oats, etc.  Alternative crops can be identified that would fit into this model.  There is a demand for locally grown organic grains so this may represent a viable method for Alabama’s organic farmers to grow on a larger scale.

Though the farmers achieved a limited amount of success with organic NT, they developed some new farming skills.  Some of the farmers in this project were not skilled at growing cover crops but the project provided them an opportunity to develop these skills.  A major limiting factor of successful organic NT vegetable production was identified as a lack of sufficient effort to establish good, high residue cover crop stands. A good cover crop stand is a prerequisite for success in organic NT systems. However, the results of the on-farm trials indicate that even good stands of high residue cover crops will not suppress weeds for the entire growing season for the subsequent crop, requiring additional mulching, mowing and/or weed-eating.  Success would have probably been greater if two consecutive years were devoted to growing high residue summer cover crops to suppress summer weeds before attempting NT.

Most of the farmers were not willing to plant rye as a cover crop, which is the one that we have had the best success with as a high residue, weed smothering cover crop at the research stations.  They preferred to plant a legume for nitrogen or oats for feed.  Neither of these cover crops performed very well.  Austrian winter pea did not survive very cold temperatures very well and the residue decomposed too rapidly.  

A new implement was designed by Ted Kornecki, engineer for the USDA-ARS Soils Dynamics Lab (NSDL) for small-scale farmers to be able to implement NT: a roller/crimper for a BCS walk behind tractor. This implement has a patent pending and is offered for sale by Earth Tools. This implement is suitable for small scale growers,
which includes all of the organic farmers in this state. The roller crimper was demonstrated at the 2 field days held during 2011. Other appropriate methods of terminating cover crops were demonstrated to farmers.  Other methods of terminating cover crops were demonstrated as well: using a tiller with the tines unengaged, using the bottom of the front end loader bucket to lay down the cover crop, using a flail mower powered by a BCS to cut the cover crop, as well as a full size roller crimper powered by a category II tractor for farmers with larger areas in NT production.  The other tool that is needed for small-scale NT production is a seed drill that can be operated by a small tractor.

A different strategy for organic NT vegetable production was investigated by one of the farmers: planting early spring crops into winter killed cover crop residues. This had appeared to be a sound strategy, and one that needed investigating, but the result was that the residue did not last long enough the subsequent season to prevent severe weed infestations as soon as the weather warmed up. Therefore, as a result of this project, I would not recommend it unless there was a good strategy for intercropping to prevent weed infestations.

The results of this project have helped to identify the constraints to implementing successful organic NT vegetable production systems and the areas where more research and educational effort is needed. For example, growers need more information on cover crops and they need more encouragement to value their cover crops as much as their cash crops.  Another important achievement of this project was the recognition that grain crops or field crops may be more appropriate for organic no-till systems in the Deep South and the progress made in developing a viable model.

Economic Analysis

N/A

Farmer Adoption

Several farmers in Alabama have experimented with organic NT production, but not on a commercial scale.  One farmer attended a field day and explained how he used a board which he pulled with ropes to roll his cover crop.  This was in response to a comment by one of the field day participants that organic NT required such large, expensive, and fuel-consuming equipment.  Another farm installed about seven acres of double dug beds, planted them with cover crops, and then began cash crop and cover crop rotations.  Their plan was to not till the beds again, but the soil had a high clay content and may require additional mixing in the future.  This method is very labor intensive at the beginning, but not so much afterwards.

In summary, the on-farm trials did not produce any viable organic NT methods for small scale vegetable production that are ready for farmer adoption.  Cover crop residue decomposition and subsequent invasion by weeds is a problem.  Lack of equipment continues to be an obstacle.

The field crop trials at E.V. Smith Research Station, however, hold a lot of promise for farmer adoption of organic NT for field crops.  One more year of research is needed for verification before presenting to the farmers.  This method is not labor intensive and is competitive with tillage treatments.  Since the soil is kept covered at all times, there is little opportunity for soil loss due to erosion.  The model that was used on the research station was self-sustaining; the sunn hemp summer cover crop produced enough nitrogen for the subsequent crop, could be grown without irrigation, and it effectively suppressed weeds.  The fall crops also were effective in suppressing weeds and needed no irrigation.  There is a market demand for kale and for organic cover crop seed, such as sunn hemp and rye.  Other grains could be substituted for rye.  Auburn University has released a variety of sunn hemp that produces seed in our climate.  Though it is probably under patent at this time, presumably in the future farmers will be able to grow their own sunn hemp seed.  There is a demand for locally grown organic grains so this may represent a viable method for Alabama’s organic farmers to grow on a larger scale.

Recommendations:

Areas needing additional study

The present project was making progress at developing an organic NT system for field crops when the project period ended. The trials at E.V. Smith Research Station need to be continued for another year before presenting to the farmers as a viable system. Then demonstrations, field days, conference presentations, and poster presentations are needed to get the information out to farmers. When the final results are analyzed, they should be published on e-Organic.

The model needs to be tried with other crops possessing the qualities that enabled the success of this model. The basic model includes:
1. Summer and fall crops that can be grown as field crops, that is, planted close together without leaving space between rows for weeds to invade, and crops that can thrive without irrigation (due to close spacing of rows).
2. Summer crop that can be grown as a field crop, is drought tolerant, needs no irrigation to thrive, and is effective at suppressing weeds (high residue cover crop).
3. Fall crops that can be grown as field crops.
4. One of the annual crops needs to be a legume or more compost will be required.

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.