Modified Method for Roller-Crimper No Till System in the Southeast Coastal Plain

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2016: $8,327.00
Projected End Date: 03/14/2018
Grant Recipient: Farmer
Region: Southern
State: South Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Mary Connor
Three Sisters Farm


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, cover crops, cropping systems, crop rotation, drought tolerance, fallow, no-till, nutrient cycling, nutrient management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, networking, on-farm/ranch research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: cultural control, mulches - killed, mulches - living, mulching - vegetative, prevention, smother crops, soil solarization
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter, soil microbiology, soil quality/health

    Proposal summary:

    This project attempts to implement a successful roller-crimper no-till routine for the coastal plain of the southeast United States where tropical conditions are common most years.   Because of the high annual rainfalls which typically occur in concentrated time intervals, all agriculture in this area of South Carolina is typically done on raised beds to prevent complete water saturation of  plants.  Converting to no till has many obstacles in the coastal plain as most no till equipment is not designed for raised beds.   In order to enhance and improve soil quality, no till methods are imperative.  Sandy soils in the coastal plains need protections provided by no till to maintain nutrients and carbon in the soil structure.  While rainfall is robust, there are also typically periods of extreme heat and drought which make moisture retention imperative. To enhance moisture retention, humus in the soil must be retained by some method. 

    One method of no till agriculture utilizes a specially designed farm implement called a roller crimper.  The roller crimper is designed to crimp a cover crop thus terminating the growth of the crop.  The timing of the crimping is important in order to completely terminate the growth of the plant.  Once the cover crop has been terminated a cash crop can be planted into the crimped cover crop.  The crimped cover crop will form a mulched layer which will protect the new plants from weeds and also help retain moisture as any mulch would. 

    Roller crimping is a relatively new technique for use in no till applications.  However, no till applications were not typically in use for raised beds due to the design of roller crimpers which are flat.  Fortunately, a roller-crimper was developed that fit our needs. Jeff Moyer at the Rodale Institute developed a roller-crimper designed to work raised beds.  Jeff’s design is a 3-part roller-crimper and  was being manufactured by I & J Manufacturing (Gap, PA).   We purchased this model in the spring of 2013. This roller-crimper is able to be adjusted to follow the contours of our raised beds.  We were able to use the roller crimper successfully, however, producing successful crops in the crimped areas was never successful.  In our particular coastal zone  annual rainfall is around 50 inches much of which is in the form of heavy thundershower. Large rain events, combined with our sandy soil over an impenetrable clay layer make raised beds an important safeguard for plants from water inundation.  In the years of this study our farm experienced not only one, but two major hurricanes in 2016 and 2017 (Mathew and Irma) and a major tropical storm (Hermine) in 2016.  In the years of the study our farm also experienced two consecutive years of drought.  One could not have asked for more challenges to the study than this.  Despite all the setbacks which occurred with the extreme weather for the study period, the results were highly promising.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Beginning in the first year, the seed bed and rows would be prepared using plowing and tilling. After this, rows would be formed using a bed shaper.

    After the beds are shaped, a dense cover crop would be planted over the entire section. The cover crop would consist of a combination of winter cover crops. This combination would consist of winter pea, cereal rye, oats, and a winter wheat or triticale.

    At the appropriate time in the spring, the cover crop would be roller crimped, leaving the seed beds intact and raised. This method using our current roller-crimper implement has already been tested and proven to be successful.

    Following the crimping, seedlings would be planted directed into the roller-crimped cover and crops requiring direct seeding would be planted into a crease cut into the cover using a cultivating disk. The crops to be planted would be short lived crops such as summer squash and bush beans. These crops are generally growing and producing between 30 and 60 days. Typically these varieties have completed their fruiting cycle after 90 days or have succumbed to disease which have damaged the plants.

    After the crop has been harvested, the crop would be flail mowed and subsequently covered with a clear polyethylene film or silage film to solarize the soil, thus allowing decomposition of the crop and cover crop and preventing weeds from growing and re-seeding. Additionally there would be some suppression of soil-born disease due to the high heat under the film.

    The film would be left over the mowed crop throughout the summer and not removed until the next winter cover crop is ready to be planted.

    After removal of the solarizing film, another cover crop is planted and the system is repeated with the exception of plowing and tilling. If the raised bed has deteriorated, it may be necessary to re-pull the rows either by hand or by using a bed shaper implement.

    In order to compare the efficiency of the plants, we will plant at least one identical row of each planting from the roller-crimped rows using the same varieties of plants.

    In order to record and analyze data, we will rely on photos, video recordings, soil sampling, data recording and recording our observations. The collaborating extension agent will make periodic visits to the site to observe and lend advice or suggest solutions to problems which we may encounter. Throughout the term of the project, periodic reports will be given at the Coastal Organic Growers monthly meetings and members of this group will be invited to observe the project at various intervals. This group will also advise us.

    Harvest data will be recorded and compared to harvest data from a control group of the same plantings from the same time.

    A report with our findings including data and photo evidence will be produced.

    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.