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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Beltsville, Maryland (BARC) » Beltsville Agricultural Research Center » Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #273736

Title: Conservation tillage issues: cover crop-based organic rotational no-till grain production in the mid-atlantic region

item Mirsky, Steven
item RYAN, MATTHEW - Pennsylvania State University
item CURRAN, WILLIAM - Pennsylvania State University
item Teasdale, John
item Maul, Jude
item Spargo, John
item MOYER, JEFF - Rodale Institute
item GRANTHAM, ALISON - Pennsylvania State University
item Weber, Donald
item Way, Thomas - Tom

Submitted to: Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/15/2011
Publication Date: 1/10/2012
Citation: Mirsky, S.B., Ryan, M.R., Curran, W.S., Teasdale, J.R., Maul, J.E., Spargo, J.T., Moyer, J., Grantham, A.M., Weber, D.C., Way, T.R. 2012. Conservation tillage issues: cover crop-based organic rotational no-till grain production in the mid-atlantic region. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. 27(1):31–40. DOI:10.1017/S1742170511000457.

Interpretive Summary: Organic grain producers are interested in crop production strategies that conserve soil resources, improve soil quality, and reduce their overall labor and time requirements for production. Cover crop-based organic rotational no-till grain production shows potential for producers to accomplish these goals. Innovative approaches to weed management are necessary since weeds are a major limiting factor to organic crop production where herbicides are not an option. As a result, primary and secondary tillage is replaced with cover crops and cultural crop management strategies are used to manage weeds in cover crop-based organic rotational no-till systems. However, as production strategies are implemented to manage weeds in high residue systems, the high levels of cover crop biomass create optimal habitats for many crop seed and seedling feeding pests. In addition, advances in farm machinery are necessary for ensuring good crop establishment through heavy residues. The reduction of tillage in organic grain production using a cover crop-based approach must take a systems approach and require reevaluation of proven agronomic strategies to enhance crop performance consistency. New conservation strategies will be used by organic growers and agricultural professionals servicing this segment of agriculture.

Technical Abstract: Organic producers in the mid-Atlantic region are interested in reducing tillage, labor, and time requirements for grain production. Cover crop-based organic rotational no-till grain production is one approach to accomplishing these goals. Advancements in a system for planting crops into a mat of cover crop residue flattened by a roller-crimper make this approach more viable. However, inability to consistently control weeds is a major constraint. Cover crop biomass can be managed by manipulating seeding rate, timing of planting, and fertility to achieve levels necessary for suppressing summer annual weeds (>8000 kg ha-1). However, while cover crops are multi-functional tools, when enhancing performance for a given function there are trade-offs with other functions. While cover crop management for optimal system performance is required, integration into a crop rotation becomes a critical challenge to the overall success of the production system. Further, high levels of cover crop biomass can constrain crop establishment by reducing optimal seed placement, creating suitable habitat for seed and seedling feeding herbivores, and impeding placement of supplemental fertility. Multi-institutional and -disciplinary teams have been working together in the mid-Atlantic region to address system constraints and management trade-off challenges. Here we report on past and current research on cover crop-based organic rotational no-till grain production conducted in the mid-Atlantic region.