Sustainable Agriculture News

Converting Perennial Legumes to Organic Cropland without Tillage

Organic producers are interested in developing a no-till system for crop production. In this study, we examined management tactics to convert perennial legumes to annual crops without tillage. Our hypothesis was that reducing carbohydrate production in the fall by mowing would favor winterkill.

Mowing treatments were imposed in the fall of the third year of alfalfa or red clover, and corn planted in year 4. The conventional practice of tillage to convert legumes to cropland was also included as a treatment. Mowing in autumn reduced red clover biomass 93% compared with alfalfa when measured 3 weeks after corn planting (WAP). Red clover biomass was still 75% less than alfalfa 6 WAP.

Fall mowing suppressed red clover sufficiently to enable corn seedlings to establish, but corn seedlings did not survive in mowed alfalfa due to alfalfa competition. Corn grain yield following red clover was similar in the mowed and tilled treatments when weeds were present. Late season clover and weed growth reduced corn yields 46% compared with weed-free corn.

Weed emergence in corn was three times higher after tillage compared with the mowed treatment. Converting red clover to annual crops with fall mowing will support a no-till system for organic farming.

Source: Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems