Final report for ONC16-018

Partnering to Refine Organic No-Till Production in Wisconsin

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2016: $29,813.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2019
Grant Recipient: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Erin Silva
University of Wisconsin-Madison
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Project Information

Summary:

In response to growing market demand, organic farming continues to expand across the US. Organic farmers, however, continue to rely heavily on tillage and cultivation to manage weeds, which can be destructive to soil quality. Through research and outreach partnerships with farmers, this project further refined the organic no-till technique using cover crops in order to enhance soil quality, improve soil biological processes, and maximize weed management potential while minimizing the possibility for soil erosion. With on-farm research and demonstration activities, the experiences gained by the farmers throughout this project will allow others be able to use this technique more effectively through improved management guidelines. The objectives included: 1) through farmer-designed treatments, evaluate crop performance and soil quality of organic reduced tillage systems through the measurements of several key indicators; 2) with on-farm field days, promote these soil-building practices to organic farmers; and 3) co-develop outreach materials with farmers, using lessons learned through “on-the-ground” implementation of this technique on working farms. The farms involved in this project are established organic row crop farms with a strong commitment to soil stewardship, serving to showcase model practices to the target audience of organic farmers through northern IL, WI, MN, and IA.

Project Objectives:

Our project objectives included:

  1. Evaluate the impact of various fall-seeded cover crop combinations (cereal rye, cold-tolerant field pea, sorghum-sudan grass, and tillage radish), terminated through rolling-crimping or cold temperatures, on weed suppression, yield, and soil quality of no-till organic corn and soybean (Doudlah Farm).
  2. Evaluate the impact of cover crop termination date and cash crop seeding date on the performance of the cereal rye/soybean organic no-till system using the roller-crimper.
  3. Educate farmers across WI, IL, IA, and MN about the technique, through on-farm field days, farmer case studies, written and web-based materials, and video.

 

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand

Research

Materials and methods:

2016/2017 Update

Field trials on the Wilson, Siverling, and Doudlah Farms: In late summer 2016, cover crops were planted with the intention of rolling-crimping. In spring 2017, cover crops that adequately survived the winter and had appropriate biomass were crimped and planted to soybeans or corn.  Dr. Silva’s program visited the fields with Mark, Jared, and Keith, collecting data with respect to stand establishment, number and types of weeds, soil physical and fertility characteristics, and yield. Farmers recorded data related to seed, input, and labor costs, which will be included in an economic analysis for each system as compared to their baseline practices.

Update for 2016/2017: Field trials established on the farms of 3 farmer collaborators: Mark Doudlah, Jared Siverling, and Keith Wilson. The Siverling and Wilson Farms focused on the production of cereal rye, while the Doudlah farm experimented with several cover crop mixes, including winter-hardy field peas and hairy vetch. The Wilson’s also experimented with several planting and termination methods.

Dr. Silva’s program regularly visited the fields with Mark, Jared, and Keith, collecting data with respect to stand establishment  number and types of weeds, soil physical and fertility characteristics, and yield. Trials were not replicated in the field, but will be replicated again in 2018.  Farmers have collected data related to seed, input, and labor costs, which will contribute to an economic analysis for each system as compared to their baseline practices.

2018 Update

Field trials were implemented on five farms: Doudlah Farm (Evansville, WI); Wallendal Farm (Grand Marsh, WI); Siverling Farm (Bloomer, WI), Wepking Farm (Ridgeway, WI); and Wilson Farm (Cuba City, WI). Farmers planted organic no-till soybeans using winter cereal rye and other cover crops in the fall, crimping the cover crops and planting soybeans in the spring, with farmers varying their rotation, planting dates of cereal rye and soybeans, cover crop seeding rates, and fertility management. Observational data was collected in partnership with the farmers (cover crop weed suppression, problematic weeds, labor savings, and productivity). Field days were held in partnership with the farmer plots.

 

Research results and discussion:

Research Results and Discussion/Success Stories

Doudlah Farms

Unfortunately, Mark’s plans for no-till organic corn did not reach fruition – the winterkilled cover crops did not leave adequate residue on the soil surface to suppress weeds and proceed with no-till corn. However, Mark did continue to trial mixes of ‘Aroostock’ cereal rye and ‘Purple Bounty’ hairy vetch with success.

Mark’s standard crop rotation for his highly erodible land (HEL) is to crimp cereal rye and plant soybeans (Aroostock/vetch planted in mid-October), harvest the rye and vetch seed for further use, seed down more vetch,  disk down the vetch in year 3 and plant to corn, then after corn harvest apply manure and again go to a cereal rye/vetch crop.

On his other fields, Mark disks vetch or medium red clover in the spring, then plants corn. Aroostock rye (3 bu/ac) follows corn in the fall (drilled directly into the corn with an air seeder, working the residue to get good seed to soil contact). Then, Mark crimps the rye with a Riteway crimper and no-tills soybeans. This is followed by a oat/mustard cover crop, and the pea or dry edible beans the following year, with winter wheat and daikon radish planted after pea harvest. Medium red clover is planted into the wheat.

The most challenging weeds in his fields are thistles (in places), foxtail, and a little giant ragweed, with foxtail being the most challenging weed for soybean.  Manual weeding and the weed zapper are used to augment weed control in the soybeans. No-till soybeans allow for the elimination of the typical tine weeding, rotary hoeing, and flame weeding that his does in his typical organic soybeans.

His cover crop cultivars of choice are ‘Aroostock’ rye and ‘Purple Bounty’ hairy vetch.  With respect to his fertility management program, for his Corn-soy-wheat rotations, he adds 3-4 tons manure on corn, and humates and a dry micronutrient pac on the soybeans.

He finds the biggest benefit to the system is that it allows him to farm his HEL fields. His biggest challenge has been getting a consistently thick rye stand to suppress weeds. However, if the cereal rye stand in the spring is too thin for roller-crimping, his Plan B is to disk the rye and co-plant spring seeded cereal rye with the soybeans for an alternative reduced tillage organic technique.

The biggest challenge in this system is to find the appropriate cover crops to allow for a no-till organic corn phase. The biggest lesson that he’s learned is if you do not get the cover crop right (planting, seeding rate, etc), organic no-till will not work.

Wallendal Farm

Megan and Erik Wallendal are the next generation of farmers on the Wallendal farm. Overall, the farm has existed for 52 years, with Megan and Erik farming for 5.5 years and doing organic since 2016. They have 750 organic acres out of 2500 total acres farmed. Their standard rotation includes silage corn, soybean, potato, snap beans, pumpkin, dry edible beans, and other produce. Their rotation for organic includes forage crops and fewer vegetables. The most challenging weeds in their fields are lambsquarters, marestail, purslane, and bindweed.

Typical weed management for organic soybeans tine weeders, rotary hoe, Lilliston cultivarors, and aDanish tine with finger weeders, with manual labor used as needed. Their cover crop varieties include ‘Aroostock’ rye (with vetch in no-till pumpkins). They don’t add extra fertility in their organic cover crop-based no-till fields, but will irrigate if needed. In their conventional cover crop-based no-till fields, they will add 32%N when the rye is 6-7 inches tall. Rye is planted at a rate of 2.5 bu/ac, and vetch at 10 lbs/ac.

They have found the biggest benefit of the system to be reduction in cost and labor, management time, and not having to run cultivation equipment. If the organic no-till fields are weedy, they will do some high-residue cultivation. They use a Rodale-style roller-crimper from I and J Manufacturing.

The biggest challenges they’ve faced has been getting the Aroostock rye to the right maturity stage to hit their target planting dates for soybean and pumpkins. The biggest lesson they’ve learned is to match the roller-crimper width with the width of the planter to avoid disturbing the rye.

John and Halee Wepking

John and Halee have been farming since 2015 and farming organically that entire time. Their standard crop rotation includes alfalfa hay, winter wheat, corn, buckwheat for seed (with winter wheat drilled into the stubble), beans, spring cereal grains, and seed corn.

The most challenging weeds in organic fields have been velvetleaf and other broadleaves, and foxtail. They have found that their diverse rotation tends to keep giant ragweed down (especially the inclusion of hay and cereal grains that provide different row/plant spacing versus corn and beans). The broadleaf weeds tend to go away in the organic no-till system. Their biggest weed management challenge in their typically-managed organic fields has been cultivating early enough to get ahead of the broadleaf weeds. While they do not use manual labor for weeding of soybeans, they do use manual labor for seed corn and dry edible beans. Their weed management tools in the standard organic soybean fields include the rotary hoe, the row cultivator, and a harrow, although they just invested in a tine weeded.

Their cover crop varieties are simply ‘variety not stated’. Thus far, they have not added any fertility to their rye cover crop, but are now trying a liquid product. They plant the rye at 3 bu/ac.

They’ve found the biggest benefit of the system is the time savings they gain due to the reduced weed management, especially with respect to spring tillage. They’ve had better success drilling the rye versus establishing the cover crop with a broadcast seeding. A challenge that they’ve faced is the management of the rye thatch after combining the soybeans.

Participation Summary
3 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

60 Consultations
5 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
3 Journal articles
5 On-farm demonstrations
2 Published press articles, newsletters
5 Tours
30 Webinars / talks / presentations
4 Workshop field days

Participation Summary

450 Farmers
80 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

Throughout the project, four field days were held on partners’ farms that highlight organic no-till techniques, as well as other events that included the information gained by this project (see table below). Videos highlighted farmers in their fields were filmed and distributed through Dr. Silva’s website and social media outlets, including the OGRAIN listserv and website.

The following research talks included the data and observations included in the SARE Partnership grant:

Silva, E.M. and L. Vereecke. 2018. Optimizing organic no-till production of soybean in the upper Midwestern USA. 2nd International GRABIT Conference “Organic farming and agroecology as a response to global challenges”. June 27-29, Capri Island, Italy. Competitive Oral Presentation.

Silva, E.M. Organic No-Till Production Research Updates. Green Lands, Blue Waters Conference. November 28-29, 2017. Invited Speaker.

Silva, E.M., S. Wells, and J. Stute. 2017. Cover Crop Research Updates. Green Lands, Blue Waters Conference. November 28-29, 2017. Invited Speaker.

Silva, E.M., C. Reberg-Horton, and D. Treadwell. 2017. Cover Crops for Organic and Specialty Crops. National Cover Crops and Soil Health Conference, Indianapolis, IN. Invited Speaker.

Silva, E.M., Organic No-Till Production. 2017. Organic Farming Conference Organic University, La Crosse, WI. Invited Speaker.

Silva, E.M.  2017.  Grazing and Organic No-Till in Wisconsin. Grazing Workshop, Hungry Turtle Institute, Amery, WI.

Webinars

Silva, E.M. 2019. Building Organic Conservation Cropping Systems through Crop Rotations and Cover Crops. NRCS Professional Training Webinar, June, 2019.

Silva, E.M. 2019. Growing organic soybeans using cover crop-based no-till. NEOGRAIN webinar series, January, 2019.

Silva, E.M. 2018. Understanding Soil Health in Organic Production Systems. National Association of Conservation Districts Soil Health Champions webinar, July 17, 2018.

The following field days and speaking events highlighted or demonstrated the data and demonstrations included in the SARE Partnership grant (events highlighted in yellow held on partners’ farms or included partner as co-presenter):

Date

Role

Event and Location

Presentation Title

Attendance

2019

 

 

 

 

Jan

Speaker

Minnesota Organic Conference

Interseeding and Intercropping

With cover crops

100

Jan

Speaker, organizer

OGRAIN Winter Conference

(with Megan Wallendal)

Advanced techniques for cover crop-based no-till

100

Feb

Speaker

National Cover Crop Summit

Rolling Cover Crops Successfully in No-Till Systems

 

600

Feb

Speaker

Wisconsin Cover Crop Conference

Using the roller-crimper to manage cover crops

125

Feb

Speaker

Midwest Organic and Sustainable Services Conference

Reduce Tillage & Cultivation for Soil Health

 

150

March

Speaker

Land Stewardship Project

Roller-Crimper Workshop

75

March

Speaker

Cover Crop/Soil Health meeting, Fond du Lac County Land & Water Conservation Department

 

Using the roller-crimper to manage cover crops

150

2018

 

 

 

 

Jan

Speaker

Franks’ Organic Feed and Supply Winter Meeting, Jefferson, WI

Organic No-Till Soybean Production

50

Jan

Organizer, Speaker

OGRAIN Winter Conference

(with Keith Wilson)

Cover Crops and No-till in an Organic Cash Grain Rotation

200

Mar

Speaker

Wisconsin Land and Water Conference, Lake Geneva, WI

Cover Crop-based No-till Production

60

Jul

Organizer, Speaker

OGRAIN Field Day, Cuba City, WI (Wilson Farm)

Integrating Cereal Grains into the Dairy Forage Rotation

150

Aug

Speaker

Oneida Indian Reservation, Seymour, WI

Integrating Organic No-Till techniques into Heritage Corn Production

15

Aug

Speaker

UW Extension Twilight Field Walk, Spooner, WI

Organic Vegetable Production

100

Aug

Speaker

Western Wisconsin Technical College Organic No-till Farm Tour, Arcadia, WI

Organic No-Till Soybean Production

25

Aug

Speaker

Agronomy and Soils Field Day, Arlington, WI

Cover Crop-based No-Till Production

200

Aug

Organizer, Speaker

Arlington Organic Agriculture Field Day, Arlington, WI

Organic Agriculture Research at UW-Madison

75

Sep

Speaker

Albert Lea Seedhouse Dealers’ Meeting

Cover Crop-based No-Till Production

30

2017

 

 

 

 

Jan

Organizer, Speaker

OGRAIN Winter Conference

Organic No-Till Production

150

Feb

Panelist

Grazing Workshop, Hungry Turtle Institute, Amery, WI

Grazing and Organic No-Till in Wisconsin

60

Jul

Organizer, Speaker

OGRAIN Field Day, Ridgeway, WI (Wepking Farm)

Diversifying Organic Crop Rotations with Cereal Grains

150

Aug

 Speaker

FarmRite Organics Field Day, Evansville, WI (Doudlah Farm)

  Organic No-Till Production

200

Aug

Speaker

Cover Crop Field Day, Liberty Pole, WI

Cover Crop-based No-Till Production

45

 Aug

Organizer, Speaker

OGRAIN Field Day, Grand Marsh, WI (Wallendal Farm)

Large-Scale Organic Grain Production

125

Aug

Speaker

Arlington Organic Agriculture Field Day, Arlington, WI

Organic Agriculture Research Field Day

75

Peer reviewed papers:

Vincent-Caboud, L., Casagrande, M., David, C., Ryan, M.R., Silva, E.M., and Peigné, J. 201X. Using mulch from cover crops to facilitate organic no-till soybean and maize production – a review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development. In press.

Silva, E.M. and L. Vereecke. 2019. Optimizing organic cover crop-based rotational tillage systems for early soybean growth. Organic Agriculture. Firstview 1-1

Silva, E.M. and K. Delate. 2017. A decade of progress in organic cover crop-based reduced tillage practices in the Upper Midwestern USA. Agriculture. 7:44.

Learning Outcomes

500 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Key changes:
  • soil health

  • soil conservation

  • tillage

  • no-till production techniques

  • cover crops

Project Outcomes

200 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
2 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

It is anticipated that this project will result in less tillage, cultivation, and overall reduction in soil disturbance in organic crop rotations. This will reduce the risk of soil erosion, fossil fuel consumption, and soil compaction, while improving soil organic matter and soil health. By reducing fuel and labor inputs, adoption of this technique will increase economic returns of organic crops.  Additionally, the reduction of labor contributes to the improvement of farmer quality of life, thus contributing social benefits as well.

In addition, information generated through this project was integrated into a successful large grant to the NRCS-CIG program, which builds on many of the themes explored in this project.  This new project is briefly summarized here:

https://www.agron.iastate.edu/research-department/new-grant-will-help-researchers-define-best-practices-no-till-organic-grain

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.