Rodale Institute’s current no-till research is focused on finding ways to better understand and educate farmers on the timing of these practices and proper calibration and use of equipment, identifying cover crops that produce great biomass and mature earlier to allow for earlier planting in the spring, developing tools and techniques to manage weeds if they do become a problem later in the season, and addressing and resolving potential pest issues.
The goal of this work is to increase farmers’ familiarity and comfort with organic no-till techniques, clarify their true conservation and financial benefits, and encourage their adoption on both organic and conventional farms across the country.
Nutrient Management in Organic No-Till Systems (CIG Nutrient Management)
Rodale Institute, the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Beltsville Agricultural Research Center (BARC), and North Carolina State University (NCSU) are collaborating on a demonstration and outreach project to integrate current reduced-tillage organic corn production practices with pre-existing corn planter fertilizer delivery technology. The goals of this work are to 1) optimize the use of animal waste products as fertilizers in sustainable and organic corn no-till production, 2) improve retention of animal-based crop nutrients by reducing volatilization and run-off into waterways, and 3) reduce farmers’ labor and input costs to increase their economic returns.
Farming Systems Trial
The Farming Systems Trial began in 1981 as a 5-year controlled study of what a typical American grain farmer would go through to give up chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and it has matured into a complex, interdisciplinary, collaborative project. The Farming Systems Trial (FST) has provided fundamental research data on topics ranging from drought-tolerance to yield potential to water quality to economic viability, and has inspired similar long-term trials at research institutions nationally and internationally.
The trial is a 12-acre, 72 plot trial that currently compares four replications of six farming systems. The farming systems vary in their crop rotations, inputs and tillage practices. The goal of FST is to demonstrate sustainable, consistent yields in the organic systems while building ecosystem services.
So far, FST has demonstrated that, compared to conventional farming systems, organic systems can:
• produce competitive crop yields,
• improve soil and water quality,
• reduce crop damage in drought years, and
• sequester more carbon in the soil.
Developing carbon-positive organic systems through reduced tillage and cover crop-intensive rotation schemes (Integrated Organic Program)
This project, funded by the USDA Organic Research and Education Initiative (OREI) Program through Iowa State University, includes the coordinated evaluation of four reduced tillage, organic grain crop rotation sequences through field trials implemented at Rodale Institute and an organic farm in Dauphin County, PA, as well as at research stations and on farms in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan.
Reducing Plastic Mulch Use by Expanding Adoption of Cover crop-based no-till Systems for Vegetable Producers (SARE Veggie)
The Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NE SARE) Program provided funding in 2010 to launch a three-year vegetable trial focusing on cover crop alternatives to petroleum-derived disposable black plastic mulch. The vegetable trials compare weed-suppression, yields and soil effects of rolled or mowed vetch and rye cover crops against the commonly-used black plastic mulch. Rodale Institute works with three collaborating farmers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to trial a variety of cover crops in conjunction with four methods of cover crop termination (including plowing and covering with black plastic) to assess the comparative ability of these treatments to suppress weeds and disease and to contribute fertility in organic and non-organic vegetable crop rotations. A field experiment of the systems has also been implemented at Rodale Institute. Best management practices, based on this research, are being outreached to other farmers and the public.
Reduced-Tillage Weed Management for Organic Farming Systems (SASL)
Research is being performed to develop improved agronomic approaches for terminating cover crops, establishing cash crops and suppressing weeds in organic no-till soybean production systems. The two primary focuses of these experiments are:
• Soybean Establishment: How and when to roll rye cover crops and plant organic no-till soybeans.
• Soybean Supplemental Management: How and when to manage weeds after planting in organic no-till soybeans.