- Agronomic: corn, rye
- Crop Production: cover crops, no-till, organic fertilizers, conservation tillage
- Education and Training: demonstration, on-farm/ranch research
- Energy: energy conservation/efficiency
- Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
- Pest Management: mulches - killed
- Production Systems: organic agriculture
- Soil Management: organic matter
Three farmers construct a roller-crimper and demonstrate no-till organic weed control methods on organic corn, curbits and sunflowers. Each will measure crop response, yield, weed and insect pressure and conduct a cost/benefit analysis as compared to herbicide or tillage-based control plots.
Farmers Jackie de Batista, Andrea Hazzard and Kathryn Brown grow a wide variety of sustainable and organic crops on farms ranging in size from 255 to 5 acres. Weed pressure is our biggest problem. Major weeds on our farms include pigweed, lambsquarter, Canada thistle, horsetail, nutsedge, grasses, and giant ragweed. All of the participating farmers have limited production, and in many cases the number of acres transitioned to organic, strictly because of weed pressure. To control weeds, they currently rely upon toxic herbicides (conventional) that have a detrimental effect on water, soil and air quality, or tillage (organic) which destroys soil microorganisms, increases soil erosion, uses fossil fuels, and releases carbon.
Since 2002, The Rodale Institute and the National Soil Dynamics Laboratory have studied no-till farming for conventional systems, drawing on technology from both North and South America. They are testing a new piece of equipment called the Roller-Crimper. It is used to flatten and crimp an annual cover crop every seven inches along the stem when the crop is at the flowering stage, effectively killing the plant and creating a mat of thick residue that suppresses weeds. This reduces the use of herbicides which are commonly used to kill overwintered cover crops. We want to show that the Roller-Crimper can also eliminate the need for multiple passes with tillage equipment in organic systems.
A Roller-Crimper will be constructed for use on all three farms. Jackie de Batista will plant winter wheat on 3/4-acre in fall 2009. She will use the Roller-Crimper on the wheat in spring 2010, at which time she will plant the plot to organic corn. She will compare weed pressure between the no-till organic corn and the herbicide-based conventional corn grown on her farm.
Andrea Hazzard will plant winter wheat on 2 acres in fall 2009. She will use the Roller-Crimper on the winter wheat in spring 2010, at which time she will plant the field to organic squash. She will compare the weed pressure in no-till organic squash to traditional organic squash production that utilizes tillage, and hand-weeding.
Kathryn Brown will plant winter wheat on 2 acres in fall 2009. She will use the Roller-Crimper on the cover crop in spring 2010, at which time she will seed her organic sunflowers. Kathryn will compare weed pressure in the no-till organic sunflower production with her current sunflower/cover-crop inter-seeding method.
Every two weeks, the farmers will measure and record weather conditions, weed pressure, crop health, soil moisture, insect pressure and invertebrate response. A cost/benefit analysis will be conducted between the no-till and traditional weed control method, taking into account overall yield. The farmers will publicize their results using photographs, videos, updates on a website, and a farmer outreach and education day at each farm. Various agricultural entities listed in section 3 have agreed to partner with the farmers to disseminate the results to a wide audience of both sustainable and conventional farmers.
No-till research trials using the Roller-Crimper are taking place in other regions of the country. Few, if any, farmers in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin are aware of these trials. Our demonstration will be based on research conducted in SARE Project # LNE06-244 Integrated cover crop innovations for biologically based no-till. We have identified other projects specific to curbit and sunflower production that will be utilized as well. We strongly believe this technology could revolutionize organic agriculture practices.
Jackie de Batista’s corn trials will test the efficacy of using rolled and crimped cover crops in a no-till system against conventional no-till. She hopes to illustrate that no-till organic is an environmentally friendly and economically feasible method of weed control. At a time of unstable markets, high input costs, and rising greenhouse gases, the research outcomes are very relevant.
Andrea Hazzard’s Cucurbitaceae demonstration will utilize the early results from SARE Project# LN07-276 No-till pumpkins using cover crops. The no-till technique is very applicable to vegetable & specialty crop growers.
Kathryn Brown has tried many innovative approaches to weed control in her sunflower fields. She is in a unique position to compare the varied benefits of no-till weed suppression with her successful inter-seeding program, where cover crops are seeded alongside her sunflowers. Her research is clearly applicable to the Dakotas and many western states where most sunflowers are grown, and may be a solution to their erosion and soil fertility issues.
Due to the variety of crops tested and the applicability of this technique to transitional, conventional, no-till, and organic farmers, information will be disseminated to a wide audience through the help and support of the following collaborators:
- Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training (CRAFT)
- Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)
- Northern Illinois Green Growers Group (G3)
- Michael Fields Agriculture Institute (MFAI)
- University of Illinois Extension-Winnebago County
- University of Illinois Extension Educators
- Winnebago County Forest Preserve District (WCFPD)
- Winnebago County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD)
- Winnebago County Farm Bureau
All three farmers are members of the Farm Bureau, CRAFT, and G3, and have collaborated with the SWCD and NRCS doing CRP projects on our farms. These relationships will facilitate increased participation and information sharing. In addition, a website and newsletter will feature progress reports, demonstration results, photographs and videos. Field days will be hosted at each farm and Power-Point presentations offered to interested parties.