Making Roller Crimping a Reality in the Southwest

Project Overview

FW13-122
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2013: $9,155.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Western
State: New Mexico
Principal Investigator:
Dale Rhoads
Rhoads Farm
Co-Investigators:
Joran Viers
New Mexico State University

Commodities

  • Additional Plants: herbs, ornamentals

Practices

  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization, carbon sequestration
  • Production Systems: holistic management, organic agriculture, permaculture
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, soil chemistry, organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, partnerships, sustainability measures

    Summary:

    The following are evident from the trials comparing roller crimping to conventional tillage and weeding:

    1. There is significantly less weeding in the roller crimped areas.

    2. Some crops seem to perform better in the crimped areas than in the conventional tillage areas.

    a. Tomatoes and chilis in the crimped areas tend to produce larger harvests but several days to a week later for first harvest due apparently to cooler early season soil temperatures. This was also true for cantaloupe.

    b. Cooler season crops like kale, chard, cabbage and potatoes produce larger yield with larger plant size in the crimped areas due to cooler soil temperatures.

    3. Some crops produced better yields in the conventional ‘bare earth’ cropping system. These were summer hot weather-liking flowers, basil, early season cilantro.

    4. Squash has presented some problems with growth and harvest size in the roller crimped areas in the past. Part of this year’s trials was comparison between roller crimped, bare earth, roller crimped with crimped cover removed and roller crimped with a 12” tiller row in the crimped cover. It seems evident from the results, which were similar between the crimped with a 12” tilled row planted into and the bare earth, that the difficulty with squash harvest size in the past in crimped areas is mostly a matter of soil ‘looseness’ for the shallow-rooted squash plants. While it is seen that the crimped areas have smaller yields and several day later yields compared to bare earth, the roller crimped with 12” tilled area has similar first harvest dates and yields to the bare earth, while also giving better weed control in the paths and area between plants than the conventional tillage areas.

    5. Soil appearance, nutrition and organic matter continue to be impressive in the crimped areas over the bare earth, especially now that three years of bare earth compared to crimping has been done in the same plots. The table below shows the differences in the bare areas to the areas that have been crimped-grown for the last three years. Each year the nutrient analysis shows more nutrients accumulating in the roller crimped areas. It is proposed that this is due to the breakdown of the cover crop that occurs over the entire growing season rather then being ‘dumped’ into the soil in the spring when a cover crop is incorporated into the soil all at one time and leaching of unused nutrients occurs. The bare areas had the same cover crop on them as the crimped areas, only at crimping time the bare areas were mown and tilled under.

    SOIL NUTRIENT BARE AREAS CRIMPED AREAS
    soil ph 7.8 7.8
    Salts (mmhos/cm) 0.4 0.6
    Organic Matter % 3.8%   4.7%
    Nitrogen ppm   5.3 19
    Phosphorus ppm 110 175
    Phosphorus ppm 66 97
    Potassium ppm 214 620
    Sulfur ppm 23 32
    Nitrogen Needed for Next Year lbs/acre 120 62

    See soil tests 

    These are very impressive numbers. In three years of growing, the roller crimped areas need half as much nitrogen for the next growing season and no other soil amendments. It would seem that the vegetative matter decaying on the top of the ground assists in tying nitrogen into the soil. Weed management on the crimped areas only took about 50% of the time in weeding than the bare earth areas. Crop sizes were similar in both areas, with the crimped having slightly larger crops with carrots, kale, cabbage and potatoes, and slightly larger but several day later crops with chilis, tomatoes and cantaloupe. And the bare earth weeding produced better flowers, basil and cilantro.

    6. The eventual near-elimination of weeds in the growing areas was demonstrated by this year’s trials. The roller crimped areas had only one weed, sheep’s head (Tribulus terrestris), appearing in any numbers compared to the adjacent bare earth conventional weeding area, which still has a variety of weeds. These two trial areas purposely had weed seeds introduced three years ago in applied horse manure fertilizer. In the three years of using roller crimping on half of the area, the weed density and variety has been significantly reduced in the crimped areas, while increasing soil quality. Numbers and varieties of weeds in the non-crimped areas is still similar after three years.

    **note: past year’s data are from a previously funded project FW11-021

    Cover crop before crimping and half to be tilled in, May 10th Cover crop before crimping and half to be tilled in, May 10th

    The crimped area crimped and the conventional tillage to be mowed and turned under The crimped area crimped and the conventional tillage to be mowed and turned under

    weed free cover at planting time Weed free cover at planting time

    Late May, everything planted, things starting to grow. Late May, everything planted, things starting to grow.

    Tomato plants growing in crimped cover. Tomato plants growing in crimped cover.

    Trasplatanted cabbages in cover Transplanted cabbages in cover

    Canteloupe in bare areas at first weeding compared to few weeds in cover area Canteloupe in bare areas at first weeding compared to few weeds in cover area

    Squash in bare areas showing weeding needed at first weeding Squash in bare areas showing weeding needed at first weeding

    9749327- Typical weeds in bare conventional tillage areas in June Typical weeds in bare conventional tillage areas in June

    Chili's and cabbage in weed free crimped cover areas 2-6 Chili’s and cabbage in weed free crimped cover areas 2-6

    Beets in weed free cover July Beets in weed free cover July

    Growing Potatoes, tomatoes and flowers in weed free crimped cover Early July Growing Potatoes, tomatoes and flowers in weed free crimped cover Early July

    Spinach in conventional tilling area at a July weeding Spinach in conventional tilling area at a July weeding

    Cilantro in crimped with smaller harvests than bare tillage areas Cilantro in crimped with smaller harvests than bare tillage areas

    Potatoes gorwing in crimped area weed free Potatoes growing in crimped area weed free

    Tomatoes July 14 Tomatoes July 14

    Weeds around chili in conventional area in Early July Weeds around chili in conventional area in Early July

    Chard, potatoes, flowers, lettuce in crimped areas, still weed free in early August Chard, potatoes, flowers, lettuce in crimped areas, still weed free in early August

    August pic of kale on bare area… weeds now only in rows that need control, crimped areas weed free August pic of kale on bare area… weeds now only in rows that need control, crimped areas weed free

    Squash in crimped area with tilled strip producing good Squash in crimped area with tilled strip producing good

    Beet harvests, non crimped area harvest on left and crimped area harvest on right in each type… crimped areas produced larger, but fewer tubers, Beet harvests, non crimped area harvest on left and crimped area harvest on right in each type… crimped areas produced larger, but fewer tubers,

    Potatoes in crimped area Potatoes in crimped area

    Harvest size in non-crimped area, 3/4 size of crimped area harvests. Harvest size in non-crimped area, 3/4 size of crimped area harvests.

    Harvest in non crimped area that is 1/2 size of crimped harvest areas. Harvest in non crimped area that is 1/2 size of crimped harvest areas.

    Cabbage head in crimped area, 20% more weight than conventional tillage areasCabbage head in crimped area, 20% more weight than conventional tillage areas

    Harvest tables and weeding time table

     

    Introduction

    Roller crimping is a method of manipulating or killing an over-wintered cover crop that kills and flattens the cover crop during the late spring flowering growth plant stage so it remains on the soil surface, making an in-place weed suppressing mulch that lays flat on the ground. There have been two years of formal trials and three years of using this technique in a trials plot area. That area was ‘seeded’ with weed seeds through horse manure in fall 2010. Half of the area has had the cover crop incorporated into the soil each spring with conventional mechanical and hand-weeding techniques used. The other half of the trials area has for three years had the cover crop crimped into an in-place mulch. For two of those years, there was no tillage done on the crimped area. This made, in 2012 and 2013, the crimped area a no-till, roller crimped growing area. In the trials in 2012, weeds on both of the adjacent crimped and conventional areas were managed with minimal weeding, only enough to ensure no weeds produced seeds. In this year’s trials, all weeds were eliminated through weeding methods until the last several weeks of the growing season.

    Project objectives:

    The goals of this project were:

    1. Get researchers interested in trying crimping.
    2. Get interested farmers data and a project they can see.
    3. Inform farmers that may not be interested about this technique.
    4. Gather field data through replicated field trials with a wide variety of plant family and plant types representative of the major vegetable crops in the southwest. This data was to measure:

    a. Production of each major family of vegetable crops to test suitability of crimping on various vegetables.
    b. To measure if soil nutrients are different in the two different treatments: crimping and conventional cover crop incorporation earlier in the season for conventional growing methods.
    c. To gather specific data on squash production with roller crimping, no-till organic farming. Gather more specific data about why squash has problems with crimping based on several years of trials by Rhoads.

    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.