Organic No-till Pumpkins with Roller/Crimper Rye and Oat Cover Crops

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2015: $3,751.00
Projected End Date: 02/15/2017
Grant Recipient: Springtown Ranch Ltd
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Nelson Smith
Springtown Ranch Ltd


  • Agronomic: oats, rye


  • Crop Production: cover crops, no-till

    Proposal summary:


    Organic pumpkin production requires large amounts of time and equipment usage in a short window of opportunity. Due to weather constraints and the fact that in organic production the period of time prior to vines extending out is the only time that mechanical cultivation ( rotary hoe, cultivating) is able to be utilized. Since the operation is organic, no chemical weed control is able to be used.

    Creating a mat of residue (crimped rye) will be attempted to be used to create a weed suppressing cover that will stop weed competition for the entire pumpkin growing season. The pumpkin vines will also form a canopy to assist in suppression of weeds.

    Since the pumpkins are mechanically harvested, a mat of residue will assist the pumpkins rolling into a windrow for loading and will assist in keeping the pumpkins from direct ground contact which will facilitate the loading of cleaner pumpkins.

    25 acres of winter rye is planted in the fall for a residue mat. Rye’s height at crimping time can leave open areas of ground coverage. A 5 acre test area will have oats planted into the winter rye in the spring to attempt to have fuller ground coverage with two types of cover crops.

    Planting into a high residue mat can have a problem of “hair-pinning” which reduces seed-to-ground contact and results in a lower germination/population of the crop. A 5 acre test area will have the pumpkins planted in the standing rye prior to crimping. The rye cover crop will then be rolled/crimped. The remaining 20 acres will be planted after the rye is crimped.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Test cover crops residue mats to suppress weeds in an organic pumpkin operation to reduce field passes, reduce weed pressure and promote cleaner harvested pumpkins.
    2. Provide environmental benefits including reduced soil erosion, less tractor traffic on the field (and less fuel usage), increased crop diversity and a longer crop rotation will reduce plant pest numbers and reduce plant disease outbreaks.
    3. Investigate potential economic benefits of using cover crops for organic pumpkin production by comparing yields to pumpkins grown with conventional tillage.
    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.