A Step Forward for Organic No-till

After reading about work in Japan and the US, Andrew Woof is planning to use a roller crimper to turn his cover crop into a weed suppressing and nutrient providing mass of stems. He can then drill directly through it, meaning no plough, and minimum compaction.

What got you thinking about zero-till?

I’ve been interested in reducing compaction for years. But it was listening to Julia Cooper at last year’s Organic Combinable Crops meeting that really got me thinking. She said that the best soil you can find is under the hedge. The leaf litter is constantly enriching the soil, plus with no mechanical disturbance, there’s no compaction or mineralisation of the nutrients. I started looking for a way that I could improve my soil in the same way, by enriching it with biomass and keeping work to a minimum.

And you’re now building a piece of kit to help you with the technique. What is it?

It’s a roller crimper to go on the front of your tractor.  The idea is to crimp and not cut the stems. Once crimped, the nutrients cannot flow, therefore killing the plant. Then, I’ve got a disc drill on the back of the tractor which is heavy enough to slice through all that biomass to place the seed into the soils, whilst conserving moisture. It means I can crimp and drill at the same time, minimising soil compaction. The Roedale Institute in the US has developed a roller crimper designed for maize with a single crimping device. However, this sometimes does not successfully terminate the entire cover crop. But Ted Kornecki at Auburn University, Alabama has developed a device that rolls and crimps the stems multiple times. I’m hoping it should cope with my planned rotation of triticale whole crop silage, into a summer mustard cover crop, followed by winter oats. I’ll then put in another cover crop, probably black oats with some mustard to act as a fumigant, followed by spring beans. Then, I’ll put another cover crop of black oats in before a spring wheat.

The roller crimper developed by the Roedale Institure with s single crimping blade.

Want to know more?

Andrew is linking up with Anglia Farmers for a fieldlab “Looking at alternative methods of terminating cover crops to reduce the use of glyphosate.Andrew and John Pawsey will be trialling crimper rollers, but the group are planning to trial several other treatments. The findings will be useful not only for organic farmers looking to minimise ploughing, but also for those wishing to incorporate soil-regeneration methods while reducing their dependency on glyphosate. 

Find out more about this group, or speak with the coordinator

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