Organic soybean producers can be competitive using little or no tillage

March 31, 2020

Organic soybean producers using no-till and reduced-tillage production methods that incorporate cover crops -- strategies that protect soil health and water quality -- can achieve similar yields at competitive costs compared to tillage-based production.

That's the conclusion of a new study by researchers in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. These findings are significant, according to lead researcher John Wallace, assistant professor of weed science, because they may contribute to increased sustainable domestic production of organic soybeans.

The experiment, which focused on finding ways to reduce the intensity or frequency of tillage or soil disturbance in organic field crop production systems, was conducted on certified organic land at Penn State's Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center. Researchers compared tillage-based soybean production preceded by a cover crop mixture interseeded into corn, with reduced-tillage soybean production preceded by a roller-crimped cereal rye cover crop that was sown after corn silage.

According to researchers, the reduced-tillage soybean sequence resulted in 50% less soil disturbance compared to the tillage-based soybean sequence across study years, promising substantial gains in water quality and soil conservation. In addition, budget comparisons showed that the reduced-tillage soybean sequence resulted in lower input costs than the tillage-based soybean sequence. However, the reduced-tillage system was about $46 per acre less profitable because of slightly lower average yields.

"Organic grain producers are interested in reducing tillage to conserve soil and decrease labor and fuel costs," Wallace said. "In our research, we examined agronomic and economic tradeoffs associated with alternative strategies for reducing tillage frequency and intensity in a cover crop-soybean sequence, within a corn-soybean-spelt organic cropping system."

Weeds are a serious problem for organic growers of field crops because growers are unable to kill them with herbicides. Significantly, researchers found that weed biomass did not differ between soybean-production strategies. That matters because tillage and cultivation are the primary methods used by organic producers to reduce weeds and other pests.

Tillage-based soybean production marginally increased grain yield by fewer than three bushels per acre compared with the reduced-tillage soybean system.

The study, recently published in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, is the latest in a 15-year-long line of organic no-till research conducted in the College of Agricultural Sciences and led by William Curran, professor emeritus of weed science. Although he retired last year, Curran also participated in this study. Organic no-till field crop research continues at Penn State under the direction of Wallace and entomologist Mary Barbercheck.

Finding ways to allow more domestic production of organic soybeans is a huge issue, Wallace contends, because more than 70% of the organic soybeans that feed organically produced poultry in the U.S. are imported. They primarily come from Turkey, India and Argentina.

"There have been many cases of fraudulent imports -- crops that were not really produced organically -- coming from some of those countries, and that's depressed the premiums that U.S. producers are getting because we're being flooded with these imports," Wallace said. "And they're driving down the prices that U.S. producers can get."

Wallace added that he'd like to help American organic growers, especially those in the Mid-Atlantic region, produce more soybeans using environmentally responsible no-till and reduced-tillage methods.
Also involved in the research were Rebecca Champagne, a master's degree student in plant science, now a doctoral student at the University of Maine, and Barbara Baraibar, postdoctoral scholar in plant science.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative grant program partially supported this research.

Penn State

Related Water Quality Articles from Brightsurf:

A watershed moment for US water quality
A new federal rule that determines how the Clean Water Act is implemented leaves millions of miles of streams and acres of wetlands unprotected based on selective interpretation of case law and a distortion of scientific evidence, researchers say in a new publication.

'Pregnancy test for water' delivers fast, easy results on water quality
A new platform technology can assess water safety and quality with just a single drop and a few minutes.

New process could safeguard water quality, environment and health
Swansea University researchers have developed a new way to quickly find and remove wastewater pollutants, which can reduce their impact on the environment.

23 years of water quality data from crop-livestock systems
Researchers summarize runoff water quantity and quality data from native tallgrass prairie and crop-livestock systems in Oklahoma between 1977 and 1999.

Lessening water quality problems caused by hurricane-related flooding
June 1 is the start of hurricane season in the Atlantic, and with 2020 predicted to be particularly active, residents in coastal regions are keeping watchful eyes on the weather.

Control of anthropogenic atmospheric emissions can improve water quality in seas
A new HKU research highlighted the importance of reducing fossil fuel combustion not only to curb the trend of global warming, but also to improve the quality of China's coastal waters.

Pharma's potential impact on water quality
When people take medications, these drugs and their metabolites can be excreted and make their way to wastewater treatment plants.

Study: Your home's water quality could vary by the room -- and the season
A study has found that the water quality of a home can differ in each room and change between seasons, challenging the assumption that the water in a public water system is the same as the water that passes through a building's plumbing at any time of the year.

Researchers create new tools to monitor water quality, measure water insecurity
A wife-husband team will present both high-tech and low-tech solutions for improving water security at this year's American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Seattle on Sunday, Feb.

How anti-sprawl policies may be harming water quality
Urban growth boundaries are created by governments in an effort to concentrate urban development -- buildings, roads and the utilities that support them -- within a defined area.

Read More: Water Quality News and Water Quality Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to