Organic no-till soybean production: is it possible in Ontario?

Apr 07, 2021

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In this article, we will take a look at using a roller crimper for organic no-till soybean production and the results of on-farm trials in Ontario.
 
Why organic no-till?
 
Organic soybean production relies on a significant amount of tillage. When done well, yields can rival conventional production. There are drawbacks, however, including a high labour demand in the spring and the potential for soil degradation over time. Cover crop-based organic no-till soybean production techniques have been developed in recent years and proven to work in parts of the US. The question is: will they work under Ontario’s climate and soils?
 
Cover crop-based organic no-till soybean production uses a roller crimper, a drum with chevron-shaped blades (Figure 1) that crimps rye (or another suitable plant) once it’s flowering and kills it. Soybeans are seeded into the mulch. If it’s thick enough, the mulch provides season-long weed suppression. The cover crop-based organic no-till system offers advantages in terms of labour savings and soil health improvements but comes with additional risk.
 
Ontario trial
 
On-farm experiences with organic no-till soybean production in Ontario over the past decade have yielded mixed results. As part of a two-season OSCIA Tier 2 trial, Heartland Soil and Crop Improvement Association evaluated cover crop-based organic no-till soybean production using best practices. The goals were to evaluate performance, identify barriers to success and develop Ontario-specific recommendations.
 
Seven replicated and randomized strip-trials were used to compare cover crop-based organic no-till soybeans to standard production practices in 2019 and 2020. Nine observational field sites were also monitored. At all sites, rye was seeded on an angle (> 20 degrees) relative to the direction of roller crimping and soybean seeding. Common cereal rye was drilled in September or early October across the sites and seeded at a rate of 3 bushels/acre (168 lbs/acre) for the strip-trial sites.
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