Integrated cover crop innovations for biologically based no-till

2008 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 2008, all the partners involved in this project continued to expand the research and the outreach dealing with the concept of using roller/crimper technologies to manage cover crops for reduced tillage systems. While the work is far from complete, through this report, we trust you will find the results as inspiring and exciting as do we and the farmers who come in contact with the information.

In 2008, 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 Rodale Institute (RI) 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. As this project unfolds and more farmers gain access to the information, we are beginning to see greater adoption and interest. This adoption has created a genuine “stir” among both organic and conventional growers who are looking for ways to eliminate tillage and reduce their dependence on herbicide. It is still too early in the project to predict whether or not we will reach our target of removing herbicides on 1,500 acres; however, we have exceeded our targets many times over in reaching numbers of farmers. Farmers from North Carolina to New York and from Iowa to Pennsylvania (some who are outside the project area) have already adopted cover crops and the roller/crimper on many more acres than that, 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.

In 2008, Ruth Mick completed her graduate studies at PSU to satisfy her requirements for a Master's Degree. As of this writing Ruth is defending her dissertation (Dec.18th 2008). Abstracts from her dissertation are included below.

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.

Data from all the research trials conducted at Rodale Institute is not completely compiled or analyzed. For that reason I’m including only a summary of the information here for the Time of Planting Trial. The data from all the experiments is included in Attachment #1.

2008 NE SARE Time of Planting Trial,
Field 71-72, Rodale Institute, Kutztown, PA

Rodale Institute researchers implemented three (3) on-site organic no-till field corn trials: an organic corn variety trial, a time of planting trial, and a cover crop and compost trial. The organic corn variety trial included 15 different certified organic hybrid varieties of varying relative maturities (RM 93 to RM 116) that were no-till planted into rolled down hairy vetch on 6-18-2008. Population, weed biomass, and yield data were collected but have not yet been analyzed. The cover crop-compost trial compared cover crop biomass, cash crop population, weed biomass, and yields for mixes of hairy vetch with spring oats or buckwheat or Austrian winter peas/crimson clover with spring oats or buckwheat, either with or without compost amendment. These data also have not yet been analyzed.

The time of planting trial tested twelve treatments of four variables: 1. tillage (standard and no-till); 2. planting date (five within the period of 5/30 to 6/27); 3. two corn varieties (40M21 and 68F32); and 4. two hairy vetch varieties (NE origin and Steve Groff’s selection of Auburn Early Cover vetch). The twelve treatments were replicated four times. A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) showed that vetch variety had a significant impact on weed biomass (p=0.029), corn variety had a significant impact on yield (p=0.017), and an interaction of vetch variety and corn variety had significant impact on weed biomass (p=0.039).

Weed biomass in the first planting, which was standard-tilled, was significantly higher than for all the subsequent planting dates, which were no-till planted (p<0.0005 for all pair-wise comparisons). The impact on yields were predictable as tilled yields were significantly lower than no-till yields for each planting date (p<0.0005, p=0.001, p=0.002, and p=0.015, p=0.02 respectively). Finally, regression analysis indicated that weed biomass had significant impact on yield (R2 = 0.5635, p<0.05)), while regression analysis of corn population was insignificant and showed only a weak correlation (R 2= 0.4597, p>0.05). Tillage regime also did not significantly impact corn population (p>0.05). Graphs, figures and greater details on these data can be found in Attachment #1.

Some of the above research was repeated at two collaborating farms in Grantville, Pennsylvania and Ruthsburg, Maryland. Data from these locations has not yet been analyzed but will be included in a later report.

The information here is cited from the abstracts of Ruth Mick’s disseratation for PSU.
Rye cover crop for weed suppression: Rolling a rye (Secale cereale) Cover Crop for Weed Suppression in no-till Soybeans (Glycine max)

In this study, the weed suppression from a rolled cereal rye cover crop was compared to no cover crop with and without postemergence weed control in no-till soybean. The study examined two different soybean planting dates (early and late) and was conducted at two different locations (Rock Springs and Landisville) in Pennsylvania over two years. Aroostook rye was drill-seeded in late September and managed using glyphosate and the roller/crimper the following spring. Soybean was no-till seeded after rolling and glyphosate was applied six weeks after planting to selected plots. Weed density, weed biomass and soybean grain yield were collected from each plot. The results showed that delaying rye kill by 10 to 20 days in late spring produces almost twice as much rye biomass resulting in a thicker weed suppressive mulch. In 2007 and 2008 total weed densities and biomass were reduced by a rye cover crop compared to the fallow treatment. In 2007, total weed density at Rock Springs was reduced 6 fold with the cover crop compared to no cover crop and a similar trend was observed at Landisville in 2008. In addition weed biomass was the same in cover crop treatments with and without a postemergence herbicide where the rye reside alone provided effective weed suppression at Rock Springs in 2007 and Landisville 2008. In 2007 no differences in yields were observed between treatments while in 2008, yield was lower in plots without a rye cover crop. In 2007 and 2008, at both locations, using a rye cover helped suppress weeds, reduce herbicide use and achieved acceptable weed control. We compared a conventional no-till system of bare fallow with burndown and postemergence herbicide applications, to two alternate systems 1) using a rye cover crop with a burn down herbicide and 2) using a rye cover crop with a burn-down and postemergence herbicide. The first system incurred a net added cost of $63.68 ha-1 which would require between 178 and 408 kg ha-1 (depending on the price of soybeans) of extra production to off-set the cost of the rye cover crop. The second system incurred a net added cost of $118.14 ha-1 which would require between 330 and 756 kg ha-1 to off set the rye cover crop.

Effectiveness of Rolling Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa) for Weed Suppression in No-till Corn (Zea maize)

Field studies across three locations in Pennsylvania examined rolling/crimping hairy vetch in no-till corn systems. Hairy vetch was planted in late August and was rolled and planted to corn at four different dates between the end of May and the middle of June. Hairy vetch biomass was collected at each termination date to determine dry wt and tissue samples were analyzed for nitrogen content. Weed density by species was collected 4, 8, and 12 wks after planting (WAP) and total end of the season weed biomass was collected 12 WAP. Corn population was assessed 4 WAP and grain yields were collected from each plot in late fall of each year. At two of three locations, no cover crop and herbicide controlled plots were included for comparison. The results showed that hairy vetch control with the roller/crimper varied through the flowering stage, but was consistent once pods began to develop. The hairy vetch cover crop reduced annual broadleaf and grass weed density and reduced total weed biomass dramatically compared to no cover plots, but perennial weeds were often not controlled by the cover crop. Corn population decreased at later cover crop termination dates in some instances, because of difficulties planting through the thick vetch residue and maintaining good seed to soil contact. At Rodale in 2007, corn population was reduced at the earlier cover crop termination dates due to competition with the vetch regrowth and black cutworm damage. When hairy vetch was not effectively controlled, corn yield was reduced. At one location in 2007, plots that received the residual herbicide yielded over twice as much as the plots managed organically (2,227 vs. 6,539 kg ha-1). In most instances hairy vetch did not meet the nitrogen demand of the corn crop and would require additional nitrogen fertilizer to achieve optimal yields. Overall, results showed that it is possible to control hairy vetch with a roller/crimper and manage cover crops in organic or reduced input systems. However, later corn planting dates and appropriate no-till planting equipment are necessary to achieve successful cover crop control and corn population.

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.

In 2008, using funds from an NRCS innovations grant, Jeff Moyer wrote a book on the subject covered in this report. The expectation is for the book to be published in 2009 and will contain information generated from work covered by this grant and many more as we seek to outreach the information to as many farmers as possible.

Information obtained from these and previous years trials concerning cover-cropping practices, weed management and organic no-till was outreached by Dave Wilson, Paul Hepperly and/or Jeff Moyer at the following events: Keystone Farm Show, York, PA; The Practical Tools and Solutions for Sustaining Family Farms Conference - SSAWG, Louisville, KY; Midwest Organic Conference, Urbana, IL; 2008 Minnesota Organic Conference, St. Cloud, MN; Visit to Bill Mason's Farm with PSU students, Queen Anne, MD; Ecological Farming Association, Watsonville, CA; NOFA - NY, Saratoga Springs, NY; Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Inc. - NOFA NY, Saratoga, NY; NOFA - NJ, New Brunswick, NJ; PASA - Conference, State College, PA; Keep Farming First & Farm Show, Malvern, PA; Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service and Organic Research Symposium, La Crosse, WI; Maryland Organic Grain and Forage Workshop, Libertytown, MD; Korea IFOAM/ISOFAR Conference, Seoul, South Korea; MD Organic Grain and Forage Workshop, Centerville, MD; University of Pennsylvania - Regenearting Agriculture as a basis for Sustainable Agriculture - invited guest lecturer, Philadelphia, PA; NRCS Cover Crop Field Day, Grantville, PA; Maryland Field Day, Queen Anne, MD; IFOAM Organic World Congress Conference, Modena, Italy; Rodale Institute Field Day, Kutztown, PA; NCSU Organic Grain Tour, Kutztown, PA; Soil and Water Conservation Society 2008 annual conference, Tucson, AZ; Mahlon Clements visit, Morristown, NY; Blue River Dealer Field Day, Ames, Iowa; MOFGA Conference, Unity, Maine; Organic Farmers of Maui, Maui, HA; SunBelt Ag Expo, Moultrie, GA; Society of Environmental Journalists, Roanoke, VA; National FFA Convention, Indianapolis, IN; Keystone Crops & Soils Conference, Grantville, PA; Bill Mason's Field Day, Queen Anne, PA; Carolina Farm Stewardship Conference, Anderson, SC; Tilth Producers of Washington State - Conference, Bellingham, WA; PSU - Organic Seminar Series, State College, PA.

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 18th 2008, 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 120 farmers, educators, and policy folks. In assessing the impact of the field day in advancing knowledge, it is impressive to find that a sizeable 70% (44 respondents) indicate that they learned a new sustainable practice at the field day. What is even more impressive is that 68% (43 respondents) indicate that they will definitely make a change in their practice in the next 2 years as a results of attending the field day. Finally, 100% of respondents made suggestions for future topics and/or activities for our educational events. Combined, these findings clearly show interest, potential for measurable impact in the adoption of new techniques, and the need for more information and training in the future. The complete results from the field day survey are included in Attachment #3.

We were also fortunate to be able to host (2) extremely successful field day events on the farm of Mr. Bill Mason on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The first event was held on May 22nd when the roller/crimper was demonstrated and soybeans were planted. Then the second event took place on October 23rd when farmers were invited back to see the end result of the growing season as the soybeans were harvested. This two-part field day format was well received by the farmers as it allowed them to be able to experience the entire process.

Penn State also held field day events at the Landisville research facility in Lancaster County. This event also brought in farmers from across the region, exposing them to this technology.

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 which farmers will fully adopt the technology. To that end, we know that several farmers have already adopted the technology in all three target states. These include farmers that span the spectrum of large scale, small scale, Amish and English.

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.