Organic No-Till Farming

What we’ll be doing today is rolling
this rye, here in the background, with a what’s called a roller crimper, and we’ll
be showing that in a minute here. The system is called organic no-till because
as many people know, organic is growing and it leaps and bounds, and everybody wants
to get into it, and we are working on the best ways to grow crops, and particularly
emphasizing weed management, which seems to be a critical issue in organic
farming. So one of the ways that you can help maintain weeds, or manage
weeds, is to use this system called organic no-till. The system was
actually developed by the Rodale Institute in Kutztown Pennsylvania. In
2005 they gave us a roller as part of this national project, and the the idea
is that this cover crop of rye is planted in the fall, so this was planted
last October, and now here we come in the Spring and crush it, and
immediately plant into it, the soybean crop, and as a soybean crop grows the
mulch dies down and becomes this protective layer to prevent weeds, but
also to help soil quality. So if you look at the soil, underneath these organic
no-till plots, you’ll see that it’s a very high quality. It’s very rich and
crumbly, and if you squeeze it together it holds its shape, and you can see that
there are a lot of roots there too, from the Rye cover crop. In addition, it’s a
very high quality as far as organic matters concern, has a very dark color,
and we’ve done analysis looking at the microbial population levels in the
organic no-till soil, and found it to be much higher than in the conventionally
tilled organic soil. We’ve been doing research on it since 2005 as I mentioned,
and we’ve seen higher soil quality where we use the organic no-till system, and
lower labor costs, because you’re not in there tilling. The typical organic soybean system you use at least four passes for tillage, you’ll do two rotary
hoeings, two rotary cultivations, and ideally with this system, if
the rye dies down, once it’s been rolled or crimped, then you won’t have to go
back with any weed management. Occasionally you may have to walk your
soybeans if you’re selling them into the tofu market where they require perfect
beans with no staining weeds, such as nightshades, so that may happen later in
the season, but early on we’ve had really good emergence of the soybeans in this
role mulch, and one other thing that’s really important is to roll it at the
proper time. You have to roll it when the rye is ready to die, as I tell people. So it’s ready, it’s already forming, it’s starting format seeds, and it’s putting
out the anthers, as shown here, and this stage is called anthesis. So you
want to wait until all the heads of the rye or in the stage of anthesis. That is
all the are showing pollen shed, and once they are at that stage you can roll the
crop and it will stay down. You want it to be a one-pass operation where you
wait for anthesis, crush it, and it will stay down, and the objective of the
rolling machine is to actually crimp the stems. So when you, at once we’ll see after
its rolled we can pick up a stem and look how they’re all crushed crimped
like that. So it’s actually called a roller crimper and that’s the objective,
is just to break the water flow between the roots and the stem, and it will stay
down crushed, dead, and within two weeks it should turn into this dry mulch that
serves as a protection against the weeds for the rest of the season. So once the
roller goes through you want to make sure it’s, you have that uniform layer of
cover crop mulch, because if the rye pops up you may have to roll it again. An
alternative to rolling crimping is just to move the rye cover crop, as shown here
with a disc mower where the rye is mowed at the same stage as the rolling
crimping, that is in anthesis, and it should form a relatively uniform mulch.
However, many times through the mowing process the stems are scattered too widely,
and if there’s any gaps between the rye stems on the ground, that’s an
opportunity for the weeds to grow. As opposed to with rolling crimping, you
have a pretty solid mat or mulch of the rye cover crop that’s been rolled
primped and weeds have a harder time growing through it. Here we are planting
the soybean crop into the rolled, crimped, cover crop or into the mode rye crop.
It’s the same principle, and you want to set the planter so that the planting
furrow is only wide enough for the seeds to be able to emerge easily, because if
you plan into too wide of furrow you will have a lot of problems with weeds coming up
in that open space. Here you see the soybeans and the organic no-till plots
at 45 days after planning, and then the same field at the end of the season, and
then in our statistical analysis we’ve shown that the organic no-till yields
have averaged 20 to 45 bushels per acre, with no statistical difference with
organic till plots. In 2014 I conducted a sabbatical study in Italy, where I looked
at the many variations of roller crimpers, such as the one shown here,
where you can see they added on a toolbar two sets of knives that cut
through the roll cover crop, and here’s a close-up of that knife, which opens up
just the right size of a furrow for the vegetable transplants to go in. And today
we’re continuing to work on this knife here at Iowa State University, and
possibly get a patent on it for the U.S.

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