Managing continuous living cover in Midwest organic grain production systems to balance productivity with soil health

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2018: $29,753.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2021
Grant Recipient: IDEA Farm Network (Prairie Rivers Network, fiscal agent)
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Will Glazik
Cow Creek Farm


  • Agronomic: corn, rye, soybeans, wheat


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage, no-till, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    Organic grain production is overly reliant upon soil disturbance and hand labor for weed control, undermining soil health and social justice benefits of organic agriculture. Our group of five organic grain growers currently practices rotational no-till, but wants to take advantage of residue management innovations to disturb even less soil. Over a two year period, on five Midwest organic farms (3 IL, 2 IN), we will evaluate the economic, environmental and labor performance of two organic grain production systems that maintain continuous living cover with different soil disturbance regimes. Both will follow a wheat-corn-soybean-fallow crop rotation. System 1, rotational no-till, will use primary tillage in the wheat and corn phases, but no-till plant soybean into crimped rye. System 2, nearly continuous no-till, will establish a white clover living mulch in wheat, seed fall-tilled strips in the clover with tillage radish for winterkill prior to no-till planting in the corn phase, and no-till soybean into crimped rye. Both systems will have a fallow phase with cool and warm season cover crops, to build soil and eliminate volunteer rye. We will conduct outreach through the IDEA Farm Network site both in real time, and at field days and annual meetings.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Establish two organic grain production systems with continuous living cover, but differing in soil disturbance intensity, on five Midwest organic farms (all crop rotation entry points present each year on each farm).
    2. Measure economic [grain yield, non-crop plant residue (cover crop and weed biomass), input costs and labor], environmental (water stable soil aggregates, fuel consumption), and social (hand labor for weeding) dimensions of sustainability in each experimental unit over two
    3. Host IDEA Farm Network field days and winter meetings to discuss and evaluate the performance of the different production
    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.