A New System for No-till Soybean Production

In an organic setting, soil health is integral. However, current organic systems rely heavily on tillage and cultivation to keep weeds down; both of these techniques disrupt soil structure, which can cause soil to erode and nutrients to run off. They also cause compaction, which can hinder plant root establishment.

A new guide to growing organic soybeans from Cornell’s Sustainable Cropping Systems Lab is intended to reduce tillage and keep weeds down by utilizing a cover crop, rye (Secale cereale).

The 4-chapter “Organic No-Till Planted Soybean Production,” which can be found on the New York Soil Health website, begins with an overview of soil health and management, as well as a timeline for the entire system throughout the year. The guide then takes the reader through planting a cover crop, rolling the cover crop, and planting the soybeans. In each chapter, a “farmer feature” is included to detail one farm’s experience using the system.

In the winter and spring, the rye roots keep the soil from eroding, and when the rye is rolled over, the crop residues act as a natural mulch to keep weeds down, seal moisture in, keep preventing erosion, and provide a source of organic matter for the growing soybeans. In addition, reducing tillage decreases labor requirements by 34% and fuel requirements by 26%.

Things are not always perfect on a farm, and conditions change rapidly. Luckily, the guide also incorporates an adaptive management framework which helps farmers make decisions when things don’t go exactly as planned — when perennial weeds dominate, or the rye fails, or the growing season is forecasted to be dry.

The guide also includes advice on sowing in a no-till system, recommending equipment that reduces collection and dragging of cover crop residues. Sowing equipment also has to penetrate the layer of residue on top of the soil in order to plant the seeds, which means that planters, with increased, evenly distributed pressure are ideal.

In implementing this new system, farmers may have to purchase new equipment, such as roller-crimpers and no-till planters; however, this initial cost will be offset by the benefits this system yields for many years of crops to come.

According to Dan Gladstone, production manager from Oechsner Farm (featured in the guide), “The way rolled rye no-till soybeans is going to pay for itself is not in better soybean yields, but in leaving the field in better condition for future crops.”

Read more about this new guide on CALS News.

Avatar of Jules Hart

Jules Hart

Posted in