Growing organically with continuous no-till is challenging; however, rotational no-till is a way to limit tillage while utilizing cover crops as a grow-in-place mulch while still farming organically. At the Sustainable Cropping Systems Lab, we work on organic rotational no-till in soybeans.
Organic No-Till Soybeans
In most soybean production systems weed management is either through herbicides if conventional, or cultivation if organic. The goal of this project was to test a method of growing soybeans that uses neither tillage nor herbicides for weed management: a rotational no-till cover crop based system. Soybeans were planted into a roller-crimped rye or barley cover crop. This system uses 27% less diesel fuel and 31% less labor than tillage-based systems.
We planted rye, barley, and mixtures of barley and rye at three different ratios in 2012-2014 at our Musgrave research farm. We measured the amount of light penetrating the cover crops while they were growing to see if mixtures of barley and rye provided greater shading, and therefore greater weed suppression, than either species alone. We quantified cover crop biomass production in the spring and then rolled the cover crops into mulch with a roller-crimper. For weed management after soybean planting, the cover crops were cultivated in three different ways: high-residue cultivation, chisel plow (standard plow practice), and no-till (no cultivation at all).
The below presentations, videos, and posters summarize our findings.