Dig Deeper

Overcoming Challenges of Reduced-Till Organic Corn

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Gladis Zinati1, Ph.D., Mr. Jeff Moyer1, Mr. Guillaume Tant2
Associate Research Scientist, Executive Director, Visiting Intern
1Rodale Institute, 611 Siegfriedale Road, Kutztown, PA 19530
2ISARA-Lyon 23 rue Jean Baldassini, 69007, Lyon, France

Published December 11, 2015

Organic grain producers have been relying on mechanical cultivation to manage weeds, using row cultivators between rows and rotary hoes or harrows over the rows. However, frequent soil cultivation weakens soil health [1]; brings buried weed seeds to the soil surface where they are more likely to germinate and compete with crop plants; potentially reducing yields and growers’ profits.  Organic grain growers are becoming interested in improving soil health, by reducing tillage frequency, and covering the soil surface with cover crops over the winter season.

Using cover crops along with reduced or no-tillage improves soil health and profitability. This can be achieved by the integration cover crops and roller-crimper technology [2].

The role of the roller-crimper (Photo 1) is to roll and crimp the standing cover crop forming a soil covering mulch.Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 1.02.15 PM

This approach has many advantages:

- reduces or eliminates cultivation,
- reduces soil temperature fluctuation,
- promotes weed suppression,
- builds soil organic matter content and soil structure; and
- conserves soil moisture.

Ecosystem services of cover crops 

Cover crops play multiple roles in improving system performance through increased nitrogen fixation and nutrient cycling, soil biodiversity, water infiltration and storage, and soil organic matter content; reduced soil erosion, compaction, and pest and weed pressure; and improved soil structure [3-5].

Legume cover crops, such as hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth) and Austrian winter pea, provide nitrogen (N) to cash crops though rarely provide sufficient N for high N demanding crops such as corn. Cereal cover crop mulches such as rye (Secale cereale L.) can have the opposite effect by immobilizing N and have a longer impact on soil moisture and weed dynamics. Physical [6] rather than allelopathic [7] influences from cereal rye residue have been shown to inhibit weed germination and growth processes of many plant species especially because the active phytotoxic compounds may not be present in soil more than 2 weeks after rye termination [8].

A dense uniform cover crop is needed to create a soil covering mulch that enhances suppression of weeds. For effective suppression of annual weeds, research has shown that there must be at least 8,000 kg ha-1 of rye aboveground dry biomass to create a mulch of at least 10 cm deep at time of rolling [9].

Cover crop management is a key

Successful weed suppression using cover crop mulches is highly dependent, not only on the amount of biomass but also on the rate of decomposition.  Upon rolling the cover crops, decomposition starts. Decomposition rate of rolled cover crops may vary with the type of cover crop. Legume mulches decompose at a faster rate (50% dry matter can be lost in first three weeks) than those with cereal cover crops (50% dry matter can be lost in nine weeks) [10]Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 1.02.29 PM Planting a mixture of legumes and grass cover crops (Photo 2) will provide a fast growing, dense ground cover and thicker residue mulch upon rolling (Photo 3). Cover crop biomass can be manipulated mainly with seeding rate and time of planting. Early planting of cover crops in September rather than later in October (in the Northeast) provides enough biomass to cover soil surface and establishment of good root biomass before soil freezes in the winter. In spring, cover crop mixtures such as cereal rye with hairy vetch continue to grow and increase in biomass. Residue of rolled cover crop mixtures that include hairy vetch and cereal rye supply N and decompose at a slower rate than when the biomass is tilled into the soil in a corn production system. Such a cover crop mixture can yield above ground biomass production of between 8,922 to 10,706 lb/acre (10,000 to 12,000 kg per hectare).

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 12.17.54 PMImportance of proper equipment

Jeff Moyer modified a Monosem® corn planter and included the Pequea turbo disc soil slicers and 130 pounds of added weight per row unit to cut through the rolled cover crop.

Despite many successes in rolling leguminous cover crops at Rodale Institute, planting no- or reduced-till corn into dense cover crop residue that includes cereal–legume cover crop mixtures can be challenging. A thick layer of plant residue on the soil surface may impede planter performance and seed-to-soil contact (Photo 4), reduce corn plant population and consequently yield.

To overcome this problem, Mr. Moyer included residue slicers in the front to ensure cutting through the dense cover crop residue before drilling in corn seeds (Photo 5).

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Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 12.18.17 PMThe residue slicer is compatible with John Deere 7000-7200-1750 planters. The combination of down spring pressure, a straight blade, and the rubber wheels to hold the thick residue will make a clean cut.

In addition, the Yetter shark-tooth residue managers (i.e., row cleaners) (Yetter Manufacturing Co Inc., IL), placed in front of each Pequea turbo soil slicer (Photo 6) can be used to improve plant establishment.

This modification enhanced slicing through the rolled cover crop, seed bed preparation, drilling of corn seeds without missing (Photo 7), seed germination and plant growth (Photo 8).

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Frequent soil cultivation disrupts soil biota and structure and eventually degrades soil biota† health. The integration of using cover crops and roller crimper technology provided growers with alternative management system to reduce or eliminate tillage. This system provides extended ecosystem services of cover crops by increasing duration of the living cover crop during the winter time and rolling it into mulch in spring. This system reduces tillage, improves soil health, suppresses weeds and increases profitability. In organic systems, grain growers are interested in adopting reduced- or no-till practices to improve crop and soil productivity. For successful weed suppression, a dense uniform cover crop biomass is needed. Planting corn grain into thick cover crop mulch can be challenging. These challenges can be overcome by using proper equipment. In this article we highlighted the challenges and the modifications made to Monosem® corn planter. By integrating the roller crimper, residue slicers, Pequea slicers, and YetterTM shark-teeth to the corn planter, we were successful in rolling-crimping and slicing through the dense layer of mulch and consequently increasing corn establishment and improving weed management throughout the growing season without tillage.  This system also allowed us to plant corn and fertilize with pelleted chicken manure in one pass rather than running several passes with machinery over soil surface in order to conduct these operations. In the long-term, applying these practices would improve soil carbon sequestration, water and nutrient plant use efficiency, reduce fuel and labor costs, and consequently increase yields and profitability.


[1] Grandy, A. S., G. P. Robertson, and K. D. Thelen. 2006. Do productivity and environmental trade-offs justify periodically cultivating no-till cropping systems? Agron. J. 98:1377–1383.

[2] Davis, A.S. 2010. Cover-crop roller–crimper contributes to weed management in no-till soybean. Weed Sci. 58:300–309.

[3] Dabney, S.M., Delgado, J.A., and Reeves, D.W. (2001) Using winter cover crops to improve soil and water quality. Commun. Soil Sci. and Plant Anal. 32: 1221–1250.

[4] Torbert, H. A., D. W. Reeves, and R. L. Mulvaney. 1996. Winter legume cover crop benefits to corn: Rotation vs. fixed-nitrogen effects. Agron. J. 88:527–535.

[5] Vieira, F. C. B., C. Bayer, J. A. Zanatta, J. Mielniczuk, and J. Six. 2009. Building up organic matter in a subtropical Paleudult under legume cover-crop-based rotations. SSSAJ 73:1699–1706.

[6] Teasdale, J. R., C. P. Rice, G. Cai, and R. W. Magnum. 2012. Expression of allelopathy in the soil environment: soil concentration and activity of benzoxazinoid compounds released by rye cover crop residue. J. Plant Ecol. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11258-012-0057-x.

[7] Barnes, J. P. and A. R. Putnam. 1987. Role of benzoxazinones in allelopathy by rye. J. Chem. Ecol. 13:889–906.

[8] Rice, C. P., G. Cai, and J. R. Teasdale. 2012. Fate of benzoxazinoids in soil treated with rye cover crop. J. Agric. Food Chem. 60:4471–4479.

[9] Teasdale, J. R. and C. L. Mohler. 2000. The quantitative relationship between weed emergence and the physical properties of mulches. Weed Sci. 48:385–392.

10] Herbert, S.J., Y. Liu, and G. Liu. 1997. Decomposition of Cover Crop Biomass and Nitrogen Release. http://ag.umass.edu/sites/ag.umass.edu/files/research-reports/1997-01-decomposition-of-cover-crops-biomass-and-nitrogen-release.pdf Accessed online October 10, 2015.

† Soil biota: It is the biologically active powerhouse of the soil. It includes a diverse range of micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi, and algae) and soil “animals” (nematodes, protozoa, spiders, earthworms and mites), interacting with plant roots.

“This material is based upon work supported by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under Grant Agreement Number 69-3A75-11-193.”

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#COP21 Paris: Updates from Rodale Institute Chief Scientist on Climate Summit

Rodale Institute's Chief Scientist, Dr. Kris Nichols is in Paris to present information to world leaders on how regenerative organic agriculture can reverse climate change. Please stay tuned for more updates during her time in Paris.

Paris poster

Update #3: December 11, 2015

Le REcyclerie is commited to recycling, reusing, and urban farming.

Le REcyclerie is commited to recycling, reusing, and urban farming.

Regeneration International, a group founded on Bob Rodale’s principles of regeneration, held a Cool the Planet, Feed the World rally at a restaurant called Le REcyclerie on Monday evening. The restaurant is focused on using products from their on-site urban farm and recycling and reusing (see photo); for example, wine is bottled on-site and presented to the table in reusable bottles. The leftovers are feed to the chickens who were sleeping in their coop (poulailler) in the backyard (see photo). An outdoor path leads you through the on-site garden, which was not actively growing in December, passed the chicken, and an aromatic garden to a multi-level bar and market area.

Speakers at the rally included Dr. Andre Leu, president of IFOAM, Vanadana Shiva of Navdanaya, Hans Herren of the Millennium Institute, and Laura Lengnick author of the book Resilient Agriculture – Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate which is being made into 4 minute videos featuring farmer stories in their own words, along with Precious PhiriWill Allen, and Ronnie Cummins of the Organic Consumers Association.

Blue Zone Entry

The delegates met in the high security blue zone where pillars adorned with flags from countries attending guided participants to the entrance. The green zone buildings were behind the blue zone with access to the general public after passing through security which included metal detectors and baggage scanners similar to going to the gates at an airport.

Among other things Andre pointed out Rodale research from the Compost Utilization Trial and Farming Systems Trial™ as key research to support regenerative organic agriculture. At this event, I also met the founders of the Hummingbird Project who travel to remote areas in India to show farmers the hidden world beneath their feet often carrying a microscope and portable generator.


I spent the remaining days of COP 21 at the main conference location in Le Bourget. The main conference site was constructed at Le Bourget Airport to hold the over 50,000 expected attendees for COP 21. There were two main areas – a high security blue zone (see photo) and an open to the public green zone, called Climate Generations (see photo). The blue zone is where the delegates met while the green zone had various conference sessions, demonstrations, and over 120 exhibitors are (see photo).


Nature as a solution to climate change was on display, but agriculture and soils were underrepresented.

Nature as a solution to climate change was on display, but agriculture and soils were underrepresented.

Most of the speakers and exhibitors were focused on reducing emissions, including changing diets to reduce meat and overall calorie consumption, and providing energy alternatives. Others described mitigation potential through carbon capture and storage where carbon dioxide is captured during energy production and then transported to a location where it can be injected deep underground into various geologic formations and through reforestation. Current and future issues arising from climate change regarding changes in biodiversity, species loss, and human health risks also were discussed.

On Thursday, I was part of a distinguished panel (see photo) on Agro-Ecology and Soil which described how regenerative organic agriculture can reduce emissions, while mitigating climate change through carbon capture by plants and storage by soil biological processes. These processes also provide  resiliency for the agroecosystem to thrive under climatic uncertainty. Soils, if managed appropriately, can capture and store carbon when photosynthetically-derived sugars are feed to soil microbes.

The distinguished panel of speakers for the Agro-Ecology and Soils session included: Debbie Barker, Center for Food Safety, Dr. Kris Nichols, Rodale Institute, Dr. Hans Herren, Millennium Institute, and Precious Phiri, Africa Center for Holistic Management.

The distinguished panel of speakers for the Agro-Ecology and Soils session included: Debbie Barker, Center for Food Safety, Dr. Kris Nichols, Rodale Institute, Dr. Hans Herren, Millennium Institute, and Precious Phiri, Africa Center for Holistic Management.

In addition, eliminating synthetic pesticides and fertilizers in regenerative organic agricultural systems directly reduce GHG emissions that normally come from creating these synthetics and from higher methane and nitrous oxide emissions due to management. By providing mechanisms to both reduce emissions and capture carbon, these systems provide true solutions to climate change.

From dining to charging your cellphone, COP 21 was focused on reducing greenhouse emissions from holding such an event. Bicycles and solar power were used to charge everything from blenders at the Juice Bar to music in the main hall. Food items were provided in compostable materials using recyclable or reusable utensils, plates, and trays.



More photo updates:

Chicken coop (poulailler) at Le REcyclerie in Paris

Chicken coop (poulailler) at Le REcyclerie in Paris









If you needed to charge your phone while at COP 21, human power was required.

If you needed to charge your phone while at COP 21, human power was required.


From the very young to adults, everyone at COP 21 was hopeful that an agreement would be reached to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change.

From the very young to adults, everyone at COP 21 was hopeful that an agreement would be reached to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change.


People from around the world could work or talk and exchange ideas.

People from around the world could work or talk and exchange ideas.

Update #2: December 5-6, 2015

IMG_3122On Saturday, December 5, I met with the Kiss the Ground film crew in Paris who were at COP21 to film the presentation and respond to the French Government’s 4 per 1000 Initiative. At the announcement of this initiative, the Center for Food Safety’s Soil Solutions team showed their new video, Soil Solutions to Climate Problems, narrated by Michael Pollan. This was the kick-off of not just the 4 per 1000 Initiative, but also a series of events where I joined the team along with Dr. Han Herren of the Millennium Institute and Precious Phiri with Regeneration International. However, it was disheartening to note that no one from the U.S. Government was present at the launch of the 4 per 1000 initiative which 40 countries and several other organizations have signed onto.
After meeting with the Kiss the Ground crew, I walked to the Eiffel Tower where evidence of COP21 was again apparent on the Paris streets. As seen by a COP21 sign with the Eiffel Tower in the background and a COP21 promoting peddle cabs. Unfortunately, much of the focus at COP21 is still on reducing emissions and not using regenerative organic agriculture as a viable solution to reducing greenhouse gases. Part of the solution could be identified on this ‘green’ building near the Eiffel Tower where plants are capturing carbon (i.e. carbon dioxide) and transforming it into sugars. Some of these sugars are feed to micro-organisms in the soil who provide water and pant-available nutrients to the green, growing plants.

The evening of the fifth was spent in a typical French flat discussing the importance of the Soil Solution and developing strategies with the Center for Food Safety’s Soil Solutions Team: Organic Farmers Will IMG_3133Allen and Kate Duesterberg of Cedar Circle Farms in Vermont, author and freelance writer Judith Schwartz who wrote Cows Save the Planet, and others. Will Allen was featured recently in the article ‘A Secret Weapon to Fight Climate Change: Dirt’ written by Debbie Barker of the Center for Food Safety and Michael Pollan for the Washington Post.

Wine and fresh bread, cheese, meats, fruits, vegetables, and pastries from the open-air market down the block were enjoyed by everyone. Fresh produce is brought into Paris daily by local farmers to these markets where customers can sample the products prior to choosing. In fact, when attempting to choose a cheese or meat, the vendors will make sure that you sample each of their wares before making your final choice. Walking to this market daily has been one of my favorite activities in Paris.

IMG_3130Sunday, December 6 was filled by the Global Landscapes forum at Le Palais des Congrès de Paris where I gave a brief presentation highlighting research conducted at Rodale Institute, specifically the Farming Systems Trial, and conducted a demonstration on water infiltration and water holding capacity with soils generously provided by Guillaume Tant, whose family owns an organic farm in France and who conducted an internship with Rodale Institute this past summer, and by organic tobacco farmers in France working with Mr. Thomas Harding of AgriSystems International. The demonstration showed more rapid water infiltration in the biodynamic soil from Tant’s farm followed by the organic tobacco farm,and lastly by a conventional farm near Tant’s farm.
Dr. Hans Herren of the Millennium Institute and Debbie Barker and Diana Donlon of the Center for Food Safety also spoke at this event. These talks were specifically focused on agro-ecology and the soil solution for climate change. Attendees at this panel discussion included farmers, students, scientists, or NGOs from France, Germany, Nepal, the U.S., and several other countries.



Update #1: December 4, 2015

On the Rue Saint Germaine in downtown Paris, the United Nations Council of the Parties (COP) 21 efforts are not far from Parisians' minds. Even as the streets are alive with restaurant goers and preparations for the holidays, billboards and posters throughout the city reminded people of the critical  importance of solving climate change.

Paris sunsetThe French government opened the conference on December 1 by announcing the global 4/1000 initiative which is focused on increasing carbon storage in the soil by 4/1000 per year. Several studies, including Rodale Institute's Farming Systems Trial, show that regenerative, organic farming practices are the way to achieve this goal.

So as the sun rises over Paris, the world stands at the beginning of a new era where agriculture, which was responsible for human civilization to evolve, will be responsible for human civilization to survive. As Andre Leu, the current president of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) noted, 'Dec. 1, 2015 will be seen as one of the most important days in history ... as the tipping point when the world was saved from catastrophic climate change.'

Dr. Kristine Nichols

New York Times Op-Ed Cites The White Paper

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 12.50.19 PMRead here about Rodale Institute's research on reversing climate change through regenerative organic agriculture in this recent op-ed in the New York Times.

Click here for the white paper, cited in this article, which contains our research on how regenerative organic agriculture can reverse climate change. For more information, please visit our climate change page.


Agriculture.com Article Features Rodale Institute

Screen Shot 2015-11-25 at 1.40.32 PM"This farm destroys any preconceived notion of organic farms you may have," Bill Spiegel says of Rodale Institute in his Agriculture.com review. The praise for organic farming practices comes after Spiegel attended Executive Director Jeff Moyer's presentation at the Kansas Rural Center's Farm and Food Conference this November. Moyer's presentation shed light on the advantages of organic no-till practices, even for conventional farmers. Spiegel calls for farmers to "keep an open mind." Read the full article here and learn more about organic no-till on our webpage.






Organic Management of Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB)


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To download a PDF of this report, click the image.

Dr. Gladis M. Zinati and Jeff Moyer
Associate Research Scientist, Executive Director
Rodale Institute, 611 Siegfriedale Road, Kutztown, PA 19530

The brown marmorated stink bug, Halyomorpha halys (Stål) (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae), native to Japan, South Korea, and China, has emerged as one of the most devastating pests of northeastern United States agriculture. Since its introduction in the mid-1990’s to Allentown, Pennsylvania (PA), BMSB has spread across North America and is now present in 42 states and eastern Canada, causing the greatest crop damage in the mid-Atlantic region and has become a homeowner nuisance (map below). In 2006, BMSB caused severe damage in fruit trees in New Jersey and PA and large populations were found in soybeans and ornamentals. In 2010, BMSB affected 90% of peach crops at some mid-Atlantic farms and caused an estimated $37 million in losses to other mid-Atlantic fruit orchards. Due to diverse host plants, BMSB has established itself as a primary pest in various crops and population pressures continue to increase.


Identifying BMSB

Brown Marmorated Sting Bug adults are relatively large compared to other stink bugs, measuring 1/2 - 2/3” long and 5/16” wide (Photo 1A). The name “marmorated” means banded or streaked, as in their appearance. The two white bands on their antennae, black and white banding on the abdomen, smooth shoulders, and mottled brown legs are distinguishing characteristics of BMSB that can help differentiate them from native stink bugs (Photo 1B).


BMSB adults and nymphs use their straw like mouthparts to feed on internal plant tissues. The action of sucking out the juices from fruits, vegetables, and seeds creates cork-like pockmarks and deformations that make fruits (such as apples, peaches, and pear) and vegetables (tomato, pepper (Photo 2), sweet corn) unmarketable.


BMSB Biology 

In the spring, BMSB adults emerge from overwintering sites (houses, barns, storage buildings, and dead trees) and become active on nearby crops such as peach, hardwood trees, and shrubs during warm sunny days. Adult BMSB have the capacity to fly more than a mile and some have been shown to have the ability to fly over 31 miles. In the spring and throughout the summer, BMSB adults feed, mate, and lay eggs. The adult female BMSB lays barrel-shaped, white to pale-green eggs in clusters of 28 on the underside of plant leaves. The BMSB female can lay 4-10 egg masses in her lifetime. BMSB have five nymphal growth stages, known as instars (Photo 3). Development from egg to adult takes approximately 32-35 days.


The first instar BMSB nymphs have an orange abdomen with brown rectangular markings. As the nymphs get older, they show banded antennae and legs with rust-colored abdomen and broad brown markings. Adults and all nymphal instars can feed and cause injury to their hosts. Nymphs and adults can be found on a wide range of plant species that bear buds, pods, and fruiting bodies. Their wide range of hosts include soybean, sunflower, cayenne pepper, tree of heaven, eggplant, tomato, Swiss chard, corn, cherry, moth orchid, mimosa, mulberry, and crabapple.

Monitoring Temporal and Spatial Dispersal of BMSB Adults

The high number of host plants that this pest feeds on, its high mobility, and lack of natural enemies make monitoring this pest in both conventional and organic agricultural systems a critical, yet challenging task. In October 2012, Dr. Anne Nielsen, an Extension Entomologist at Rutgers University, and collaborating institutions including Rodale Institute were awarded a grant funded by USDA – NIFA OREI program # 2012 51300-20097, entitled, Whole-farm Organic Management of BMSB and Endemic Pentatomids through Behavior-based Habitat Manipulation.

As part of a multi-state project, Rodale Institute participated in the investigation of the temporal and spatial movement of BMSB and native pentatomids and their aggregation in order to identify potential organic pest management strategies. In 2012 and 2013 we investigated overwintering structures and fabrics, cone traps on wooden pyramids, trap crops, and overwintering bug houses to better understand stink bug dispersal and aggregation. Below are the details and results of these tactics:

Overwintering structures and fabrics

In November of 2012, we surveyed structures such as buildings, offices, attics, sheds, greenhouses, barns, and garages at Rodale Institute for overwintering BMSB and recorded the number of dead and live adults per structure. We found living overwintering BMSB adults in the book store, the Rodale House, and the pavilion. Within these structures we also identified fabrics in which BMSB preferred to hide and overwinter. Overwintering BMSB were generally found hiding in dark-colored and water proof rain coats and black fabric “Grow Bags” (Photo 4).


Cone traps on wooden pyramid

After an overwintering period, in the early spring BMSB adults emerge from wooded areas and human-made structures and begin sucking on green plants to nourish themselves and mate. They then move to crops such as peaches, then to berries, tomatoes, and peppers, then to apples and field crops. To monitor the temporal and spatial dispersal of BMSB adults from the overwintering structures to nearby outdoor areas, we set up four cone traps, each attached to black wooden pyramids (Photo 5) in spring of 2013.


A combination of vapor tape (to kill insect) and pheromone “Dead-Inn” trap from AgBio were placed within the cones. The traps were deployed on each side of the Rodale Institute Siegfriedale House (four cardinal directions). The house is surrounded by a wooded area from the north and a small herb and vegetable garden from the west (Photo 6). We collected and recorded bugs trapped in the cones twice a week between April 18 and June 10. Our first collected BMSB adults (four females) were in the west trap on May 20. Four and 10 days later, two male adults were also caught in the west side cone trap. By June, more males and females were seen in the east and south cones.


Trap Crops -Monitoring BMSB by crop and direction 

Early June of 2013, we tested five different plant species (admiral pea, sorghum, sunflowers, okra, and millet) as potential trap crops. We assessed the relative attractiveness of these different potential trap crops to BMSB by monitoring and recording BMSB abundance and life stages per crop.

We monitored weekly and did not see any BMSB egg masses, nymphs or adults until August 21, 2013. On September 4th the first BMSB adult and nymphs were seen on fruit heads of sorghum (Photo 7), sunflower, and millet. The last BMSB adult was observed October 2nd on the east side of sorghum (which was senescing) in a plot close to the wooded area. Among the tested trap crops, admiral pea flowered and died quickly and it was not a good candidate for trapping BMSB. Okra and millet did well in trapping, however, sunflower and sorghum were found to trap BMSB of all developmental stages as well as beneficial insects that feed on their eggs and nymphs. BMSB8

In addition, brown stink bugs, (Euschistus servus) were also seen on millet, sunflower (Photo 8), okra, and sorghum planted towards the south plots, near the woods.

Other beneficial insects (natural enemies of BSB) (Photo 9) such as katydid, spiders, lady bugs, praying mantis, and wasps were also found on the plants where BMSB adults and nymphs were feeding.


We participated in a multi-state project to monitor BMSB adult preference for overwintering location and cardinal direction of overwintering structures. The idea was to use materials that are commonly found on farms to create a shelter to “trap out” overwintering BMSB. Based on our scouting record from fall 2012, we identified two structures to setup and deploy overwintering BMSB shelter traps at Rodale Institute: the pavilion and the Siegfriedale House. These two structures are surrounded by a wooded area and organic crops. The shelter traps were made of wood, coated with white weatherproof paint and filled with 1m2 of used row cover (Photo 10) and deployed on September 16, 2013. We installed two sets of four trap houses: one set inside the selected structure (one trap on each side of the structure) and a second set outside of the structure.


On November 8, 2013, we checked and counted BMSBs in trap houses. At the garden pavilion, in outdoor houses, overwintering female adults were mainly in the east side, and fewer in the south and west sides. Interestingly, only one male adult was found in the trap house located on the northern side. Indoor, however, female adults aggregated in the north and west trap houses and the male adults were on the south and east side. At the Siegfriedale House, BMSB adults were not seen in either the outdoor or indoor trap houses.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB) feeds on a diverse array of crops, which may result in the damage of various fruits and vegetables for farmers, particularly those in the mid-Atlantic region. Populations of this pest may increase with food availability, warm climate, sunny days, absence of natural enemies, and lack of management.

Organic farmers should scout their homes and farm structures during the fall/winter season to discover overwintering sites for BMSB adults. In the spring, growers can monitor for BMSB using observational sampling. Additionally, growers can set up pheromone traps, such as the “Dead-Inn” trap from AgBio or the stink bug trap from Rescue.

After testing multiple plant species as potential trap crops for BMSB, we have identified sunflower and red sorghum to be two crops that are highly attractive to BMSB. These crops are tall, brightly colored, and have seeds that are good protein sources. Brown marmorated stink bug movement into cash crops may be reduced by planting sorghum and/or sunflower around the perimeter of a production area. Additionally, these trap crops attract and provide resources for natural enemies (i.e. katydid, lady beetle, and wasps), which may help enhance their populations and naturally reduce BMSB abundance. The integration of above-mentioned management tactics can be viable strategies for both organic and conventional farmers to reduce crop losses.

For information related to this article contact Dr. Gladis Zinati at the email address: gladis.zinati@rodaleinstitute.org

This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, under Prime Award Number 2012-51300-20097, Subaward Agreement Number 4819.

Published on November 18, 2015.

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The Dirt on Biodegradable Plastics

The Dirt on Biodegradable Plastics: Are they compatible with organic practices?

By Johanna Mirenda, OMRI Technical Director

With the proliferation of plastic in the environment and in our lives generally, it’s no wonder that interest is growing in biodegradable forms of plastic. However, there is an ongoing debate concerning how completely these items biodegrade, and how compatible they are with organic principles. One example occurs with biodegradable dishware and cutlery. Although many such products are “biodegradable” and “compostable,” OMRI is not aware of any products that meet the organic standards for compost feedstock. These products generally contain prohibited ingredients as binders, or otherwise as part of the manufacturing process. As such, biodegradable dishware is not allowed as a feedstock in compost for organic growers. This means that composters are required to remove such items from any compost intended for the organic market – a time consuming and challenging step for waste handlers. In order for a compost to be OMRI Listed, the compost manufacturer must first demonstrate this type of “removal step.”

An even more complex debate surrounds the use of biodegradable “bioplastic” mulches on organic farms. The USDA organic regulations currently permit “mulching with fully biodegradable materials” as well as “Plastic or other synthetic mulch: Provided, that, they are removed from the field at the end of the growing or harvest season.” Some organic producers have misunderstood the allowance for biodegradable mulches to mean that any mulch that is fully biodegradable would be allowed under this section. However, the allowance currently only applies to nonsynthetic materials such as straw and specific synthetic substances like paper mulches.

There are several advantages to plastic mulches, including warmer soil for early season planting, water conservation and weed suppression, all with minimal impact on the surrounding soil and water resources. They even protect the underlying soil from compaction by air and water, reducing the need for tilling and protecting soil health. However, most plastic mulches are removed and discarded at the end of the growing season, and disposal is a concern. Recycling is possible, but transportation is an issue, and it can be hard to find plastic recyclers in all areas. In addition, the application and removal of plastic mulches requires significant additional labor. All in all, it adds up to a lot of plastic waste and a search for better solutions.

Earlier this year, an effort to allow leave-in-place, biodegradable mulches for organic use generated a lot of enthusiasm and support from all types of stakeholders, and resulted in a change to the organic regulations. The 2014 addition of biodegradable biobased mulch films to the National List permits their use in organic production as long as they meet the following criteria, and are not derived from genetically modified organisms:

  1. Meets the compostability specifications of one of the following standards: ASTM D6400, ASTM D6868, EN 13432, EN 14995, or ISO 17088;
  2. Demonstrates at least 90% biodegradation absolute or relative to microcrystalline cellulose in less than two years, in soil, according to one of the following test methods: ISO 17556 or ASTM D5988; and
  3. Must be biobased with content determined using ASTM D6866

In January 2015, National Organic Program (NOP) Memo 15-1 further clarified that these mulches cannot contain any prohibited ingredients. OMRI researched the availability of such mulches and found no product on the market that meets the standard as written.

Bioplastic mulches are generally made up of several polymers, some derived from renewable vegetable biomass and others from biodegradable fossil fuel materials (petroleum products). For example, some currently available biodegradable mulches are made primarily with polylactic acid, an ingredient derived from corn starch, tapioca root, or sugarcane, but they also contain feedstocks derived from petroleum chemicals. More details about the makeup and manufacturing process are available in OMRI’s Report on Biodegradable Biobased Mulch Films, authored for the USDA.

While manufacturers continue to work on developing a technology that will meet the standards, the debate continues about whether the benefits are worth the costs. If and when there is an OMRI Listed biodegradable, bioplastic mulch, that will be big news indeed!

Jo front 3 medJohanna Mirenda holds a bachelor's degree in Horticultural Science with a minor in Biology from Pennsylvania State University, and is currently enrolled in a master's program in Sustainable Food Systems at Green Mountain College. She studied agriculture and ecology in Peru and New Zealand, and has several years of academic research experience in plant nutrition. Prior to joining OMRI, she served as the Policy Director for Pennsylvania Certified Organic (PCO), a USDA-accredited certification agency. Johanna works remotely from New Hampshire, where she lives with her husband Jason and their dog Moose.


About OMRI

Founded in 1997, the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) provides organic certifiers, growers, manufacturers, and suppliers an independent review of products intended for use in certified organic production, handling, and processing under U.S. and Canadian organic standards. OMRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. When companies apply, OMRI reviews their products against the organic standards. Acceptable products are OMRI Listed® and appear on the OMRI Products List© or OMRI Canada Products List©. OMRI also provides technical support and training for organic professionals.

Fourteen Graduate From The Master Composter Program

On October 7, Rodale Institute graduated fourteen volunteers from its inaugural Master Composter program. This class series was designed to train individuals from the community into composting and waste educators. Rodale Institute’s Compost Production Specialist, Rick Carr, taught the program through six lectures, hands-on composting activities, and field trips to local waste management facilities. This education program was funded by the Environmental Resource Management (ERM) Group Foundation which supports environmental initiatives and activities. The Rodale Institute Master Composters will engage the community through public education and outreach on the benefits of composting, recycling and waste diversion.


The Master Composter class takes a field trip to the Allentown Yard Waste Processing Facility.

Composting is the controlled decomposition of organic materials and its practice has many benefits for both organic agriculture and waste management. Compost is rich in micro-biology and nutrients, which are used to build soil health. Rodale Institute’s founder J.I. Rodale wrote, “Healthy Soil=Healthy Food=Healthy People” and rather than using chemical fertilizers, composting regenerates our soil health and assists in many soil functions such as preventing plant disease. The practice of composting diverts organic material from waste management facilities and thereby mitigates green-house gas emissions. Organic materials destined for landfills will decompose anaerobically producing methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas, and more importantly, the valuable nutrients from the organic material are lost and unused.


For another field trip, the class tours the Pioneer Crossing Landfill.


Over the next year, the newly graduated Rodale Institute Master Composters will volunteer a minimum of forty hours of public service ranging from waste separation and diversion education at public events to consulting organizations or individuals on their composting practices. The volunteers who attended the class had various motivations to learn about composting. Some individuals were avid gardeners looking for ways to improve the health and abundance of their crops and others were interested in more advanced composting topics such as compost extracts (teas) and vermicomposting.

Congratulations to our graduates! To learn more about composting, click here.

Rodale Institute Seeks Interns in ASC and Communications Department


Rodale Institute is seeking interns in both the ASC and Communications department.

Since we are a small staff, our internships provide an opportunity for real hands-on experience! Click below to learn more about our internship programs and how to apply.

Check out our other job, internship, and volunteer opportunities here!

Rodale Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to pioneering organic farming through research and outreach.  For more than sixty years, we’ve been researching the best practices of organic agriculture and sharing our findings with farmers and scientists throughout the world, advocating for policies that support farmers, and educating consumers about how going organic is the healthiest option for people and the planet. And we are an equal opportunity employer.

CFO of the year award goes to…

LVB CFO 2015 072-32 - LR(Kutztown, PA, September 17, 2015) Elaine Macbeth, Director of Finance and HR at Rodale Institute, won a CFO award at the Lehigh Valley Business CFO of the Year awards this Wednesday.

Macbeth was selected winner and top financial executive of the Nonprofit Small category based on her career achievements, impact of her contributions, and her leadership in other areas of management.

Created by Lehigh Valley Business, the awards recognize financial executives at all levels who contribute to the region’s economic growth and stability.

“It is such an honor to receive the CFO of the year award from Lehigh Valley Business,” says Macbeth. “I want to thank all that have supported me over the many years but I also couldn’t be more proud to represent Rodale Institute.”

For 22 years, Macbeth has guided Rodale Institute in long-term financial gain. She became a director ten years ago, a position she continues to skillfully lead in.

Rodale Institute is proud and thankful for Macbeth’s work and leadership.

A complete list of the Lehigh Valley Business CFO of the year awards winners and nominees can be found here.

Rodale Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to pioneering organic farming through research and outreach. For more than sixty years, we’ve been researching the best practices of organic agriculture and sharing our findings with farmers and scientists throughout the world, advocating for policies that support farmers, and educating consumers about how going organic is the healthiest option for people and the planet.


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