Organic grain production is overly reliant upon soil disturbance and hand labor for weed control, undermining soil health and social justice benefits of organic agriculture. Our group of five organic grain growers currently practices rotational no-till, but wants to take advantage of residue management innovations to disturb even less soil. Over a two year period, on five Midwest organic farms (3 IL, 2 IN), we will evaluate the economic, environmental and labor performance of two organic grain production systems that maintain continuous living cover with different soil disturbance regimes. Both will follow a wheat-corn-soybean-fallow crop rotation. System 1, rotational no-till, will use primary tillage in the wheat and corn phases, but no-till plant soybean into crimped rye. System 2, nearly continuous no-till, will establish a white clover living mulch in wheat, seed fall-tilled strips in the clover with tillage radish for winterkill prior to no-till planting in the corn phase, and no-till soybean into crimped rye. Both systems will have a fallow phase with cool and warm season cover crops, to build soil and eliminate volunteer rye. We will conduct outreach through the IDEA Farm Network site both in real time, and at field days and annual meetings.
- Establish two organic grain production systems with continuous living cover, but differing in soil disturbance intensity, on five Midwest organic farms (all crop rotation entry points present each year on each farm).
- Measure economic [grain yield, non-crop plant residue (cover crop and weed biomass), input costs and labor], environmental (water stable soil aggregates, fuel consumption), and social (hand labor for weeding) dimensions of sustainability in each experimental unit over two
- Host IDEA Farm Network field days and winter meetings to discuss and evaluate the performance of the different production
This project will be a 3 crop and 4 year rotation of corn, soybeans, ley (cover crop fallow) and small grain. All crops will be grown all 3 years of this project. The goal of this project is to maintain a continuous living mulch through the entire rotation to assist in weed management and soil fertility under continuous no-till management in an organic cropping system. This will be compared to the same rotation but with limited tillage.
In the no-till rotation corn will be planted into a mowed stand of white clover. We think that by mowing before planting corn we can kill some early emerging weeds and start a decomposition process which will provide nutrients to the corn. We also plan to plant high populations of corn in order to shade the clover and encourage leaf senescence. A hydrolic powered mowing cultivator will be used to control inter row weeds. This mowing cultivator will be a hydraulic motor mounted to a shaft which powers disk mower knives. Following corn harvest, cereal rye will be no-till drilled at the farmers normal rate for no-till soybeans using the roller crimper method. Soybeans will be no-till planted into the cereal rye cover crop using the roller crimper method and the mowing cultivaor can be used if needed to control inter-row weeds. A ley (cover crop fallow) will be utilized as a method of controlling volunteer cereal rye after roller crimped soybeans and for weed control. Fast growing cover crops will be used based on farmer preference. The ley will be mowed or grazed as often as necessary for weed control. Small grains will be no-till planted into the residue of the ley. Depending on the farmer choice of cover crop, it may be necessary to mow the ley or it may winter kill. White clover will be frost seeded into the small grain and mowed or grazed if needed after small grain harvest to control weeds.
In the tillage comparison, the white clover will be tilled up according to the farmer preference prior to planting corn. The ley will also be tilled up according to the farmer preference prior to planting small grains. The soybeans will still be no-tilled using the roller crimper method and the ley will be no-till planted with cover crops.
This idea came about based on the success of the roller crimper method of no-till planting soybean and the research being conducted at the University of Georgia with no-till planting corn into white clover.
Currently we are just beginning out trial. It took a year in advance to establish the white clover.
Educational & Outreach Activities
No outreach has happened yet so all of these are estimates. We plan to get started this year (2019).
So far the farmer cooperator we are working with have begun to open their minds on the possibility of continuous no till organic farming. All of the farmers have had success with no till soybeans and would like to expand that for the rest of their operations. The farmers have also started looking into different types of clover or legumes to try to find something that can supply both adequate weed control and fertility.
This project has gained a lot of interest from farmers and we are anxious to see how well the crops grow this year.