[Market-farming] No-till in the organic mainstream
road's end farm
organic101 at linkny.com
Mon Jan 29 10:28:07 EST 2007
On Jan 28, 2007, at 12:20 PM, TradingPostPaul wrote:
> It's interesting to see influential sources coming around on the
> subject of
> no-till. Mainstream organics is beginning to admit digging, tilling,
> cultivating degrades soil structure and organic matter.
"Mainstream organics" has known for quite some time that tillage can
cause problems, and minimizing tillage is certainly encouraged by most.
To the best of my knowledge, nobody has come up with an entirely
no-till organic system that works for annual crops. I'm just back from
the NOFA-NY conference, at which this subject came up in at a session
on soil health I attended. There were a number of highly experienced
people in the room, some of whom had been working on this, but without
success. It's possible to reduce tillage significantly, but getting rid
of it entirely is a different matter.
Several people mentioned that, (as has been my own experience), killed
cover crop mulch systems are a disaster if herbicide is not used,
unless they are tilled at about the point at which the herbicide is
applied in non-organic systems. Extremely heavy straw etc. applications
might work on a home garden scale, but the amount of mulch needed (I
can guarantee that four or five inches won't do it, if you have
significant weed pressure to start with) makes this prohibitive on a
farm scale; though mulches are helpful in reducing tillage needs.
Every organic discussion that I've heard for years has emphasized
caution with tillage: staying off wet soils; reducing the amount of
tillage; choosing the tillage equipment that will do the least damage
in the particular situation when tillage is required (which equipment
that is in a given case depends on a lot of factors); mulching and
cover cropping (including underseeding) to protect soils and soil life;
etc. Many growers have had significant improvement in soil tilth and
organic matter since converting from conventional systems to organic,
even though they are using tillage in the organic systems.
Those who want to do further research on no-till organic: this is
certainly an area worth working with. But don't bet a significant
portion of your crop on a system till you've tried it a couple of years
on a small portion first.
-- Rivka; Finger Lakes NY, Zone 5 mostly
Fresh-market organic produce, small scale
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