[Market-farming] No-till in the organic mainstream

Tradingpost tradingpost at lobo.net
Mon Jan 29 11:28:08 EST 2007

I agree it's wise to try anything new on a small section before trying to
convert an entire farm to it. And it's true reduced tillage is old news.
However, much mainstream production is stuck in that rut. They still have
to shell out big bucks for equipment and/or chemicals, and neither is
getting any cheaper. That said, there's nothing mysterious about no-till
annual organics. Evidently the NOFA-NY crowd didn't include Eliot Coleman
from Maine, who's been doing it for years, and quite successfully as in my
original post from his book. Esp interesting to me is the fact he doesn't
go into debt for expensive tractors and all sorts of specialty
transplanters. It's done by hand. 

Certainly, relying on mulch alone for very large areas would be
impractical. Thing is, when you're doing it in a smaller area by hand you
can intercrop intensively and use optimum planting distances to shade any
weeds that germinate through mulch or cover crops. This is well researched.
Herbicide then becomes just another unnecessary expense. And you get a lot
more production over the entire growing season - if you're interested in
overall production rather than just one crop. 

paul tradingpost at lobo.net

*********** REPLY SEPARATOR  ***********

On 1/29/2007 at 10:28 AM road's end farm wrote:

>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, 
>> and
>> 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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