Hostname: page-component-8448b6f56d-dnltx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-18T00:40:57.328Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Conservation tillage issues: Cover crop-based organic rotational no-till grain production in the mid-Atlantic region, USA

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 January 2012

Steven B. Mirsky*
Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory, USDA-ARS, Beltsville, MD 20705, USA.
Matthew R. Ryan
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.
William S. Curran
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.
John R. Teasdale
Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory, USDA-ARS, Beltsville, MD 20705, USA.
Jude Maul
Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory, USDA-ARS, Beltsville, MD 20705, USA.
John T. Spargo
Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory, USDA-ARS, Beltsville, MD 20705, USA.
Jeff Moyer
The Rodale Institute, Kutztown, PA 19530, USA.
Alison M. Grantham
Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.
Donald Weber
Invasive Insect Biocontrol and Behavior Laboratory, USDA-ARS, Beltsville, MD 20705, USA.
Thomas R. Way
National Soil Dynamics Laboratory, USDA-ARS, Auburn, AL 36832, USA.
Gustavo G. Camargo
Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.
*Corresponding author:


Organic producers in the mid-Atlantic region of the USA 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 accomplish these goals. This approach is becoming more viable with advancements in a system for planting crops into cover crop residue flattened by a roller–crimper. However, inability to consistently control weeds, particularly perennial weeds, is a major constraint. Cover crop biomass can be increased by manipulating seeding rate, timing of planting and fertility to achieve levels (>8000 kg ha−1) necessary for suppressing summer annual weeds. However, while cover crops are multi-functional tools, when enhancing performance for a given function there are trade-off with other functions. While cover crop management is required for optimal system performance, 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 fertilizers. Multi-institutional and -disciplinary teams have been working 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.

Research Papers
Creative Commons
This is a work of the U.S. Government and is not subject to copyright protection in the United States.
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012. This is a work of the U.S. Government and is not subject to copyright protection in the United States.

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1EPA 2007. Mid-Atlantic Water: Basic Information About Agriculture [updated 2007; cited June 2011]. Available at Web site (accessed December 18, 2011).Google Scholar
2Horowitz, J.R., Ebel, R., and Ueda, K. 2010. No-till farming is a growing practice. Economic Information Bulletin No. 70. USDA-ERS, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
3Peigne, J., Ball, B.C., Roger-Estrade, J., and David, C. 2007. Is conservation tillage suitable for organic farming? A review. Soil Use and Management 23:129144.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
4Ashford, D.L. and Reeves, D.W. 2003. Use of a mechanical roller–crimper alternative kill method for cover crops. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture 18:3745.Google Scholar
5Mirsky, S.B., Curran, W.S., Mortensen, D.A., Ryan, M.R., and Shumway, D.L. 2009. Control of cereal rye with a roller/crimper as influenced by cover crop phenology. Agronomy Journal 101:15891596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
6Clark, A.Managing Cover Crops Profitably. 2nd ed. Handbook Series 9. Sustainable Agriculture Network, Beltsville, MD.Google Scholar
7Teasdale, J.R., Devine, T.E., Mosjidis, J.A., Bellinder, R.R., and Beste, C.E. 2004. Growth and development of hairy vetch cultivars in the northeastern United States as influenced by planting and harvesting date. Agronomy Journal 96:12661271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
8Wilkins, E.D. and Bellinder, R.R. 1996. Mow-kill regulation of winter cereals for spring no-till crop production. Weed Technology 10:247252.Google Scholar
9Ruffo, M.L. and Bollero, G.A. 2003. Residue decomposition and prediction of carbon and nitrogen release rates based on biochemical fractions using principal-component regression. Agronomy Journal 95:10341040.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
10Decker, A.M., Clark, A.J., Meisinger, J.J., Mulford, F.R., and McIntosh, M.S. 1994. Legume cover crop contributions to no-tillage corn production. Agronomy Journal 86:126135.Google Scholar
11Mischler, R., Duiker, S.W., Curran, W.S., and Wilson, D. 2010. Hairy vetch management for no-till organic corn production. Agronomy Journal 102:355362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
12Mirsky, S.B., Curran, W.S., Mortensen, D.A., Ryan, M.R., and Shumway, D.L. 2011. Timing of cover crop management effects on weed suppression in no-till planted soybean using a roller–crimper. Weed Science 59:380389.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
13Ryan, M.R., Curran, W.S., Grantham, A.M., Hunsberger, L.K., and Mirsky, S.B. 2011. Effects of seeding rate and poultry litter on weed suppression from a rolled cereal rye cover crop. Weed Science 59:438444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
14Clark, A.J., Meisinger, J.J., Decker, A.M., and Mulford, F.R. 2007. Effects of a grass-selective herbicide in a vetch-rye cover crop system on corn grain yield and soil moisture. Agronomy Journal 99:4348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
15Clark, A.J., Decker, A.M., Meisinger, J.J., Mulford, F.R., and McIntosh, M.S. 1995. Hairy vetch kill date effects on soil-water and corn production. Agronomy Journal 87:579585.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
16Clark, A.J., Decker, A.M., and Meisinger, J.J. 1994. Seeding rate and kill date effects on hairy vetch cereal rye cover crop mixtures for corn production. Agronomy Journal 86:10651070.Google Scholar
17Yeater, K.M., Bollero, G.A., Bullock, D.G., and Rayburn, A.L. 2004. Flow cytometric analysis for ploidy level differentiation of 45 hairy vetch accessions. Annals of Applied Biology 145:123127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
18Yeater, K.M., Bollero, G.A., Bullock, D.G., Rayburn, A.L., and Rodriguez-Zas, S. 2004. Assessment of genetic variation in hairy vetch using canonical discriminant analysis. Crop Science 44:185189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
19Maul, J., Mirsky, S., Emche, S., and Devine, T. 2011. Evaluating a germplasm collection of the cover crop hairy vetch for use in sustainable farming systems. Crop Science 51:111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
20Ewing, R.P., Wagger, M.G., and Denton, H.P. 1991. Tillage and cover crop management effects on soil-water and corn yield. Soil Science Society of America Journal 55:10811085.Google Scholar
21Kornecki, T.S., Price, A.J., Raper, R.L., and Arriaga, F.J. 2009. New roller crimper concepts for mechanical termination of cover crops in conservation agriculture. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 24:165173.Google Scholar
22Teasdale, J.R. and Mohler, C.L. 1993. Light transmittance, soil temperature, and soil moisture under residues of hairy vetch and rye. Agronomy Journal 85:673680.Google Scholar
23Flury, M., Mathison, J.B., Wu, J.Q., Schillinger, W.F., and Stockle, C.O. 2009. Water vapor diffusion through wheat straw residue. Soil Science Society of America Journal 73:3745.Google Scholar
24Clark, A.J., Decker, A.M., Meisinger, J.J., and McIntosh, M.S. 1997. Kill date of vetch, rye, and a vetch-rye mixture 0.2. Soil moisture and corn yield. Agronomy Journal 89:434441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
25Dabney, S.M., Schreiber, J.D., Rothrock, C.S., and Johnson, J.R. 1996. Cover crops affect sorghum seedling growth. Agronomy Journal 88:961970.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
26Hammond, R.B. and Cooper, R.L. 1993. Interaction of planting times following the incorporation of a living, green cover crop and control measures on seedcorn maggot populations in soybean. Crop Protection 12:539543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
27Dabney, S.M., Delgado, J.A., and Reeves, D.W. 2001. Using winter cover crops to improve soil and water quality. Communications in Soil Science and Plant Analysis 32:12211250.Google Scholar
28Stinner, B.R. and House, G.J. 1990. Arthropods and other invertebrates in conservation-tillage agriculture. Annual Review of Entomology 35:299318.Google Scholar
29Wilson, H.R. and Eisley, J.B. 2001. Early season pests of field corn. Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet-FC-ENT-0012-01.Google Scholar
30Hammond, R.B. 1997. Long-term conservation tillage studies: Impact of no-till on seedcorn maggot (Diptera: Anthomyiidae). Crop Protection 16:221225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
31Capinera, J.L. 2001. Handbook of Vegetable Pests. Academic Press, New York.Google Scholar
32Leonard, B.R., Clay, P.A., Hutchinson, R.L., and Graves, J.B. 1994. Cultural management of cutworms in conservation tillage systems for cotton. Louisiana Agriculture 37:1415.Google Scholar
33Laub, C.A. and Luna, J.M. 1991. Influence of winter cover crop suppression practices on seasonal abundance of armyworm (Lepidoptera, Noctuidae), cover crop regrowth, and yield in no-till corn. Environmental Entomology 20:749754.Google Scholar
34Laub, C.A. and Luna, J.M. 1992. Winter cover crop suppression practices and natural enemies of armyworm (Lepidoptera, Noctuidae) in no-till corn. Environmental Entomology 21:4149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
35Teasdale, J.R. and Mohler, C.L. 2000. The quantitative relationship between weed emergence and the physical properties of mulches. Weed Science 48:385392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
36Mohler, C.L. and Teasdale, J.R. 1993. Response of weed emergence to rate of Vicia villosa Roth. and Secale cereale L. residue. Weed Research 33:487499.Google Scholar
37Ryan, M.R., Mirsky, S.B., Mortensen, D.A., Teasdale, J.R., and Curran, W.S. 2011. Potential synergistic effects of cereal rye biomass and soybean density on weed suppression. Weed Science 59:238246.Google Scholar
38Liebman, M. and Davis, A.S. 2000. Integration of soil, crop and weed management in low-external-input farming systems. Weed Research 40:2747.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
39Ryan, M.R., Mortensen, D.A., Seidel, R., Smith, R.G., and Grantham, A.M. 2009. Weed community response to no-tillage practices in organic and conventional corn. Proceedings of the Northeastern Weed Science Society 63:94.Google Scholar
40Teasdale, J.R. and Abdul-Baki, A.A. 1998. Comparison of mixtures vs. monocultures of cover crops for fresh-market tomato production with and without herbicide. Hortscience 33:11631166.Google Scholar
41Liebman, M. and Gallandt, E.R. 1997. Many little hammers: ecological management of crop–weed interactions. In Jackson, L.E. (ed.). Ecology in Agriculture. Academic Press, San Diego, CA. p. 291343.Google Scholar
42Wells, M.S., Reberg-Horton, C., Smith, A.N., and Grossman, J.M. 2011. Effects of Rye Cover Crop Mulches on Nitrogen Dynamics in Soybean. North Carolina State University.Google Scholar
43Clark, A.J., Decker, A.M., Meisinger, J.J., and McIntosh, M.S. 1997. Kill date of vetch, rye, and a vetch-rye mixture 0.1. Cover crop and corn nitrogen. Agronomy Journal 89:427434.Google Scholar
44Tsai, C.Y., Dweikat, I., Huber, D.M., and Warren, H.L. 1992. Interrelationship of nitrogen nutrition with maize (Zea mays) grain-yield, nitrogen use efficiency and grain quality. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 58:18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
45Follett, R.F. and Hatfield, J.L. (eds.) 2001. Nitrogen in the Environment: Sources, Problems, and Management. Elsevier, Amsterdam.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
46Drinkwater, L.E., Janke, R.R., and Rossoni-Longnecker, L. 2000. Effects of tillage intensity on nitrogen dynamics and productivity in legume-based grain systems. Plant and Soil 227:99113.Google Scholar
47Blackshaw, R.E., Molnar, L.J., and Janzen, H.H. 2004. Nitrogen fertilizer timing and application method affect weed growth and competition with spring wheat. Weed Science 52:614622.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
48Kibet, L.C., Allen, A.L., Kleinman, P.J.A., Feyereisen, G.W., Church, C., Saporito, L.S., and Way, T.R. 2011. Phosphorus runoff losses from subsurface-applied poultry litter on coastal plain soils. Journal of Environmental Quality 40:412420.Google Scholar
49Bernstein, E.R., Posner, J.L., Stoltenberg, D.E., and Hedtcke, J.L. 2011. Organically managed no-tillage rye–soybean systems: agronomic, economic, and environmental assessment. Agronomy Journal 103:11691179.Google Scholar
50Bending, G.D., Turner, M.K., and Jones, J.E. 2002. Interactions between crop residue and soil organic matter quality and the functional diversity of soil microbial communities. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 34:10731082.Google Scholar
51Maul, J. and Drinkwater, L. 2010. Short-term plant species impact on microbial community structure in soils with long-term agricultural history. Plant and Soil 330:369382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
52Maryland Department of Agriculture 2011. Maryland's Winter Cover Crop Program. Available at Web site (accessed December 18, 2011).Google Scholar
53Boody, G., Vondracek, B., Andow, D.A., Krinke, M., Westra, J., Zimmerman, J., and Welle, P. 2005. Multifunctional agriculture in the United States. BioScience 55:2738.Google Scholar
54Uri, N.D. 2001. Conservation practices in US agriculture and their impact on carbon sequestration. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 70:323344.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
55Follett, R.F. 2001. Soil management concepts and carbon sequestration in cropland soils. Soil Tillage Research 61:7792.Google Scholar
56Franzluebbers, A.J. 2005. Soil organic carbon sequestration and agricultural greenhouse gas emissions in the southeastern USA. Soil Tillage Research 83:120147.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
57Teasdale, J.R., Coffman, C.B., and Mangum, R.W. 2007. Potential long-term benefits of no-tillage and organic cropping systems for grain production and soil improvement. Agronomy Journal 99:12971305.Google Scholar
58Camargo, G.G.d.T. 2009. Modeling Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions for Farm Scale Production. The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.Google Scholar
59IPCC 2006. Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use. Available at Web site (accessed December 18, 2011).Google Scholar