Integrated cover crop innovations for biologically based no-till

2007 Annual Report for LNE06-244

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $118,310.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Stacy Glackin
Rodale Institute
Jeff Moyer
The Rodale Institute

Integrated cover crop innovations for biologically based no-till


In 2007 the “Integrated Cover Crop Innovations for Biologically-Based No-Till” project continues to outpace our performance targets and goals. This is predominantly due to the energy of the staff of The Pennsylvania State University (PSU) and The Rodale Institute (TRI) as well as our cooperating farmers. Farmers who are looking for tools and technologies that will improve their ability to manage cover crops without tillage, whether they practice conventional, sustainable or organic agriculture methods, are all intrigued by this project and the use of the roller/crimper. Our field work, both on-site at our research stations as well as on our farmer cooperator’s sites, is not only adding to the body of knowledge on how best to utilize this tool but also aids in our outreach efforts through farmer-to-farmer contact. Although it is too early in the project to predict whether or not we will reach our target of removing herbicides on 1,500 acres, we have exceeded our targets many times over in reaching numbers of farmers. Farmers like Ernest and Jack Winslow in North Carolina (and who are outside the project area) have already adopted cover crops and the roller/crimper on that many acres on their farm alone, based on information gathered at a meeting in Maryland.

Objectives/Performance Targets

While this technology will impact many farmers across the region, we will track the 160 farmers who attend training events to determine their adoption of the practices. Of the 25 farmers who have been targeted as early adopters and who will use the techniques and tools demonstrated in this project, 10 will experience enough success that they will increasingly adopt the technology during the subsequent 3 years and will greatly reduce or eliminate the use of herbicides annually on at least 1,500 acres.


Milestone 1 - Project staff will identify seven farms for potential collaboration. Selected farmers will be interviewed about their crop management practices, interest in research and willingness to share information and experiences with other agriculture professionals. Three farmers will be confirmed as collaborators for on-farm research, demonstrations and field days on acres in grain production in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York.

This project continues to meet or exceed its projected milestones. This is due primarily to the fact that farmers are inspired by the simplicity of the technology and its ability to manage weeds without the use of primary tillage. To this end, our outreach efforts have expanded far beyond those first envisioned, as seen in the extensive list of presentations on the subject of the project.

Farmers were identified in 2006. The Penn State On-Farm Research Coordinator, graduate student, and faculty members visited Kirby Reichert’s (PA) farm in May 2007, Bill Mason (MD) late May, September and mid-October, and Peter Shuster (NY) early June and at the end of August. These three farmers make up our 2007 collaborators. In the summer of 2007, we identified a fourth participant, Klaus Martens (NY), who worked on establishing field planted cover crops with the expectation of rolling and planting cash crops in the spring of 2008.

Milestone 2 - Researchers will initiate projects at The Rodale Institute Experimental Farm, Penn State’s research farm, and the three collaborator farms. Project participants will implement detailed monitoring plans to collect relevant agronomic data.

Data from The Rodale Institute site is included as an attachment to this report. We continue to focus on noted areas of concern, particularly timing of cover crop rolling, cover crop variety and species selection for nitrogen contribution in corn, cutworm management in no-tilled corn, and effects of this technology on cash crop variety selection. This data is completely relevant to farmers as they are beginning to adopt this technology ahead of the development of crop selection criteria and best management practices.

On May 3rd the Penn State and Rodale researchers met to discuss research plans for the year. Penn State had already established two field trials at The Penn State Larson E. Russell Agronomy Research Farm in Rock Springs, Centre Country, PA, and two at the Penn State Southeast Research and Extension Center in Landisville, Lancaster County, PA in 2006.

At each location, a trial was established to determine the potential to reduce herbicide use in soybean production if the soybeans were planted in rye that was rolled down. As reported in the 2006 annual report, the treatments were no rye, rye that was dessicated with a ½ rate of glyphosate, and rye that was dessicated with ½ rate of glyphosate followed by a post-emergence application of glyphosate. These soybeans were planted early and mid-May immediately after the rye was rolled down. Rye biomass that accumulated in Rock Springs was about 5000 kg DM/ha at the early roll date and slightly more than 7000 kg DM/ha at the late roll date. In Landisville, these values were 2500 kg/ha and 5500 kg/ha, respectively. Weed pressure was low at both locations, but nonetheless some interesting observations were made. Planting date did not influence weed biomass, but rye cover crop did. The weed biomass was approximately 1,100 g/m2 in Rock Springs in the absence of rye cover. In the presence of rye, weed biomass was less than 100 g/m2 with rye cover crop but without post-emergence herbicide application, and 11 g/m2 if a post-emergence herbicide application was applied as well. In Landisville, weed biomass was only 148 g/m2 without rye and 126 resp 22 g/m2 in the presence of rye w/o post, or with post-emergence herbicide application. The Rock Springs data suggest that the rye cover crop can significantly suppress weed growth and may make the application of a post-emergence herbicide application unnecessary. The soybean stands did not vary among treatments, nor did soybean yields, showing the low weed pressure in this trial.

The other trial established at both PSU research stations involved hairy vetch as a cover crop prior to corn. Unfortunately, the hairy vetch winterkilled in our southeast location and this trial had to be discontinued. An observation made by farmers and researchers alike is that hairy vetch tends to winterkill if it produces a lot of biomass prior to hard frost. Unfortunately, the fall was very mild in 2006 resulting in the death of the vetch in Landisville. In this trial no herbicide was used nor any tillage, and the roller was relied upon to kill the vetch. The vetch was then relied upon to provide season-long weed control and provide nitrogen for the corn. The vetch was rolled at four times from the end of May to mid-June. Control of the vetch was unsatisfactory (<85%) at all roll dates except the last one (90% control). On average, weed density was about 85 weeds/m2 without the vetch, and sligthly less than 50/m2 with vetch. However, there were large differences between rolling time. After the first and second rolling, weed density was much higher in the absence of hairy vetch cover crop (approx 140 weeds/m2) compared to that with hairy vetch (40-50 weeds/m2). After the third and fourth rolling date there was no difference in weed density between the plots with and without cover crop (approximately 50 and 30 weeds/m2, respectively). Corn yield without the vetch cover crop was 4500 kg/ha and with cover crop about 3500 kg/ha. Post-season stalk nitrate tests showed that the corn in all treatments lacked sufficient nitrogen for production, indicating that the vetch did not release enough nitrogen to meet corn needs. It is not clear why the vetch did not release enough nitrogen for corn needs because in a nearby trial corn produced 8800 kg/ha grain after vetch with only a small starter nitrogen fertilizer application. The on-farm research projects met with mixed results. The drought and poor field crops at Kirby Reichert’s farm (PA) resulted in no usable data. The trial at Peter Shuster’s farm (NY) was completely lost due to farmer oversight. Soybean yield data from Bill Mason’s in MD are yet unsummarized. The corn harvest at Bill Mason’s farm after cover crops were in the range of 35-52 bu/ac (2200-3300 kg/ha) and there were no treatment differences. In the latter case there were multiple problems with planter set up, thin mat of rolled crimson clover or crimson cl + wheat resulted in poor stands, many weeds and poorly formed ears. Presently, there are two studies in the ground at Bill Mason’s, 2 or 3 studies at Kirby’s (Dave Wilson from Rodale has been overseeing these). A different collaborator (Klaus Martens) was identified in NY. Hopefully 2008 will be better for on-farm research than 2007. Milestone 3 - Results from the on-farm research will be shared among project collaborators and prepared for dissemination to farmers and agriculture professionals. This past year several other presentations were given about roller technology as well:
Cover crop selection for weed control and soil quality – D. Wilson, R. Hoover, and W. Curran, 2007 PASA Conference, State College with 100 in attendance.

The art and science to timely cover crop control – W. Curran. 2006 CMEG Train the Trainer Educator Inservice, State College with 30 in attendance.

Curran, W., S. Mirsky, and M. Ryan. 2007. Effectiveness of a roller/crimper for control of winter annual cover crops. Proc. NEWSS 61:29.

Curran, W., S. Mirsky, and M. Ryan. 2007. Effectiveness of a roller-crimper for mechanical control of cereal rye (Secale cereale) and hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) cover crops. Abstracts, EWRS Physical and Cultural Weed Control Workshop, Salem, Germany.

Information obtained from these and previous years trials concerning cover-cropping practices, weed management and organic no-till was outreached by Dave Wilson and Jeff Moyer at the following events.

1. January 20, 2007 – NOFA NJ – Organic Weed Management Workshop – 60 farmers
2. January 23, 2007 – Texas Conference on Organic Food Production Systems – 300 farmers
3. February 2, 2007 – Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Conference Workshop – Cover Crop Selection and Management for Improved Weed Control and Soil Quality – Audience size 163
4. February 9, 2007 – No-Till planter workshop, Berks County Conservation Dist. – 64 farmers
5. February 23, 2007 – Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference – Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, 17th Annual Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference – Workshop: The art of cover cropping: building soil, resiliency and biodiversity. Audience Size 213
6. February 23, 2007 – Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference – Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service, 17th Annual Upper Midwest Organic Farming Conference – Workshop: “Organic No-Till, is it possible”. Audience Size 200
7. March 2, 2007 Michigan Organic Growers Conference, Organic No-Till Is It Possible. 45 farmers
8. March 13, 2007 – Maryland Organic Grain Workshop, Centerville MD, 50 farmers
9. June 6, 2007 – The Pennsylvania State University – Cover Crop Research and Management Summit –In the field Workshop: Cover Crop species attributes and selection. Audience size 250, conventional and organic farmers.
10. July 20th, we hosted 112 farmers, extension and other agricultural professionals participating in our 2007 Annual Field Day focused on No-till practices, field demonstrations and equipment review, farmer panel discussions of successes and challenges encountered by farmers, and the latest Rodale Institute research results.
11. August 2, 2007 – Looking back farm location, Northeastern NC Organic grain farm, power point presentation: Cover crops for fertility and weed management. Audience size 25
12. August 3, 2007 – 2007 Northeastern NC Ag Expo Field Day, Shawboro, NC – Organic field Corn Management, cover cropping practices for soil fertility and weed management. Audience size 80
13. August 6, 2007 – Organic Grain Production in Northeastern NC, Rolling Cover Crops in Organic No-Till, 70 farmers
14. August 21, 2007 – Iowa State University - !0th Anniversary of LTAR Plots at Neely-Kinyon Research Farm – Field Day Event – Power point presentation concerning organic practices including cover crops and organic no-till and interaction with extension from Iowa State and Question and Answer session with farmers. Audience size 200
15. September 15, 2007 - Pennsylvania, Dauphin County Farm Bureau field day. Field day presentation field walk of cover crop strips, farmer interaction, question-answer session and roller-crimper use discussion. Audience size 50, primarily conventional farmers.
16. November 6, 2007 – ASA-CSSA-SSSA 2007 International Annual Meetings, New Orleans, LA. Power point presentation and discussion: Cover Crop management with specialty equipment for organic no-till. Audience size 35

Milestone 4 - Two field days will be attended by 160 farmers who will learn the new concepts and techniques through lectures, workshops, and farm demonstrations. At least 120 farmers will respond to baseline surveys to gauge their interest in the new techniques. At least 80 farmers will respond to evaluation follow-up surveys to assess rates of adoption of the techniques.

On July 20th, 2007 The Rodale Institute hosted an on-site field day event specifically focused on cover crops and the roller technology as a management tool to eliminate the need for tillage as a weed management tool during specific cropping years. The day was attended by 112 farmers, educators, and policy folks.

Penn State staff taught about the cover crop roller at several outreach events: a breakout at the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture (Feb 1-3, 100 attendants), The Penn State Cover Crop Summit in Rock Springs (June 5th, 96 attendants), The Rodale Field Day in Kutztown (July 20th), and The Diagnostic Field Clinic Certified Crop Advisors training in Rock Springs (July 24-25th, 175 attendants), The Penn State Ag-Industry Field day (July 6th, 300 attendants), The Keystone CCA School (Oct. 23+24, approx 20 attendants), and the Crop Management Extension Group Agronomy Agent In-Service (Nov 1-2, 30 attendants).

Milestone 5 - At least 25 farmers will enroll in a collaborative program to try one of several rollers on their farms during the project period. Project staff will provide technical assistance and monitor progress and adoption of the new techniques.

We are tracking the attendees to our workshops and presentations but it is too early in the project to predict

Milestone 6 - Eight users will fully incorporate the techniques into their cropping plans on 1,500 acres.

Too early to predict success.

Milestone 7 - Research results with case studies will be published in The Rodale Institute’s online magazine New Farm and on Penn State websites. Over 100,000 visitors (world wide) will learn about the project and the new techniques. Over 150 farmers and 50 Extension specialists from around the country will request more information from project staff.

We are well on track and our Webtrends tracking figures indicate we have already surpassed our goal of having 100,000 visitors to the New Farm web site where four new stories appeared on the no-till projects. In 2007, 20,000 of those visitors specifically went into the no-till forum section for more detailed information on the subject. We also launched a new frequently asked questions (FAQ) section allowing farmers direct access to the pieces of information they need to move their own field projects forward. We also continue to see activity on the downloadable drawings section of our site by farmers wishing to build their own rollers.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Primary outcomes include collection of data from all sites (research station and farmer collaborator) on many experiments, hosting of a major field day event, posting of several New Farm articles to expand our outreach effort, and an overwhelming request for speaking engagements on cover crop management and the roller/crimper technology.