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A cereal rye cover crop mulch can suppress summer annual weeds early in the soybean growing season. However, a multi-tactic weed management approach is required when annual weed seedbanks are large or perennial weeds are present. In such situations, the weed suppression from a cereal rye mulch can be supplemented with the use of high-residue cultivators which can prolong the weed-free period during soybean growth. Research trials were conducted to determine the optimum timing of high-residue cultivation for weed control in rolled-crimped cereal rye mulches. Treatments included three cultivation timings with a high-residue cultivator: early (3-4 wk after soybean planting (WAP)), intermediate (5-6 WAP), and late (7-8 WAP), a weed-free and no-cultivation control. Crop and weed measurement included cereal rye biomass, weed biomass, soybean population and biomass, and yield. Cereal rye biomass was 50% lower and weed biomass was three times greater in 2011 than in 2010 and 2012 due to 2011 being a dry year. There was no significant effect of cultivation timing on soybean population when compared to no-cultivation or hand-weeded treatments. While cultivation reduced weed biomass by 67% compared to no-cultivation, soybean yield was only improved by 12% in early and late cultivation treatments and 22% in intermediate cultivation treatment when compared to no-cultivation. Effective strategies for improving weed management by integrating the use of a high-residue cultivator in no-till organic systems could help existing organic field crop producers to reduce tillage while also encourage adoption of organic crop production by conventional growers who prefer reduced-tillage systems. Unlike traditional organic cultivation equipment, therefore, optimal timing of cultivation should be delayed several weeks in organic cover crop-based no-till planted soybean production as compared to the typical tillage-based approach to ensure both weed control and optimal yield.
Growing enough cover crop biomass to adequately suppress weeds is one of the primary challenges in reduced-tillage systems that rely on mulch-based weed suppression. We investigated two approaches to increasing cereal rye biomass for improved weed suppression: (1) increasing soil fertility and (2) increasing cereal rye seeding rate. We conducted a factorial experiment with three poultry litter application rates (0, 80, and 160 kg N ha−1) and three rye seeding rates (90, 150, and 210 kg seed ha−1) in Pennsylvania and Maryland in 2008 and 2009. We quantified rye biomass immediately after mechanically terminating it with a roller and weed biomass at 10 wk after termination (WAT). Rye biomass increased with poultry litter applications (675, 768, and 787 g m−2 in the 0, 80, and 160 kg N ha−1 treatments, respectively), but this increased rye biomass did not decrease weed biomass. In contrast, increasing rye seeding rate did not increase rye biomass, but it did reduce weed biomass (328, 279, and 225 g m−2 in the 90, 150, and 210 kg seed ha−1 treatments, respectively). In 2009, we also sampled ground cover before rolling and weed biomass and density at 4 WAT. Despite no treatment effects, we found a correlation between bare soil before rolling (%) and weed biomass at 4 WAT. Our results suggest that increased rye seeding rate can effectively reduce weed biomass and that ground cover in early spring can influence weed biomass later in the growing season.
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.
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