Optimizing organic cover crop-based rotational tillage systems for early soybean growth

  • Erin Marie SilvaEmail author
  • Léa Vereecke


Cover crop-based rotational tillage (CCBRT) practices continue to be adopted on organic farms across the globe. In these systems, fall-planted cover crops are mechanically terminated in the spring and used to suppress weeds and eliminate the need for tillage and cultivation in the soybean (Glycine max L.) phase of the rotation. However, challenges remain as to maximization of soybean yields due to later planting dates of soybean and delayed early soybean growth. In this study, soybeans were planted into cereal rye (Secale cereale L.) using two strategies (planting at Zadoks’ stage 45 and 69), with termination with the roller-crimper occurring at Zadoks’ stage 69 for each rye variety which differed in their time to maturity. The impacts of cover crop variety and planting strategies were compared through measurements of (1) cover crop biomass; (2) the regrowth of cover crops; (3) soybean plant populations; (4) weed densities and biomass; and (5) soybean nodulation. Biomass production of each cover crop differed significantly by year, ranging from 7907 kg DM ha−1 to 11,466 kg DM ha−1. Significant differences in weed densities and weed biomass were found between rye varieties and control treatments across the different planting strategies. Soybean nodulation was suppressed by CCBRT management, potentially impacting early soybean growth. Soybean yields were equivalent from both the earlier vs. late maturing varieties of rye. Soybean yields varied across planting strategies of soybeans when cereal rye reached Zadoks’ stage 45 versus stage 69, with greater or equivalent yields of the early planting strategy beans in 2016 and lower or equivalent yields in 2017. Further work must be conducted to understand the benefits and risks of earlier planting of soybeans in the CCBRT system and to develop best management practices to promote early soybean growth.


Cover crop-based rotational tillage Roller-crimper Organic no-till Soybean Organic agriculture 



  1. Abberton MT, Michaelson-Yeates TPT, MacDuff JH (1998) Characterization of novel inbred lines of white clover (Trifolium repens L.). I. Dynamics of plant growth and nodule development in flowing solution culture. Euph 103:35–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Angers DA, Eriksen-Hamel NS (2008) Full-inversion tillage and organic carbon distribution in soil profiles: a meta-analysis. Soil Sci Soc Am J 72:1370–1374CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ashford DL, Reeves DW (2003) Use of a mechanical roller-crimper as an alternative kill method for cover crops. Am J Alt Agric 18:37–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bastidas AM, Setryono TD, Dobermann A, Cassman KG, Elmore RW, Graef GL, Specht JE (2008) Soybean sowing date: the vegetative, reproductive, and agronomic impacts. Crop Sci 48:727–740CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bauer TL (1989) Use of the allelopathic and mulch properties of rye as a method of weed control in soybean. M.S. thesis. Univ. WI-MadisonGoogle Scholar
  6. Bernstein ER, Posner JL, Stoltenberg DE, Hedtcke JL (2011) Organically managed no-tillage rye-soybean systems: agronomic, economic, and environmental assessment. Agron J 103:1169–1179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Collino DJ, Salvagiotti F, Perticari A, Piccinetti C, Ovando G, Urquiaga S, Racca RW (2015) Biological nitrogen fixation in soybeanin Argentina: relationships with crop, soil, and meteorologicalfactors. Plant Soil 392(1–2):239–252.
  8. Collins D, Benedict C, Corbin A, Cogger C, Bary A, Wyman S, Myrhe L (2012) Reduced tillage in organic agriculture and winter cover crops field day. Accessed 20 August 2018
  9. Cooper J, Baranski M, Stewart G, Nobel-de Lange M, Bàrberi FA, Peigné J, Berner A, Brock C, Casagrande M, Crowley O, David C, De Vliegher A, Döring TF, Dupont A, Entz M, Grosse M, Haase T, Halde C, Hammerl V, Huiting H, Leithold G, Messmer M, Schloter M, Sukkel W, van der Hejden MGA, Willekens K, Wittmer R, Mäder P (2016) Shallow non-inversion tillage in organic farmer maintains crop yields and increases soil C stocks: a meta-analysis. Agron Sustain Dev 36:22–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. De Bruin JL, Pedersen P (2008) Soybean seed yield response to planting date and seeding rate in the upper Midwest. Agron J 100:696–703CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. De Bruin JL, Porter PM, Jordan NR (2005) Use of a rye cover crop following corn in rotation with soybean in the upper Midwest. Agron J 97:587–598CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Delate K, Cwach D, Chase C (2011) Organic no-tillage system effects on organic soybean, corn and irrigated tomato production and economic performance in Iowa, USA. Renewable Agric Food Syst 27:49–59Google Scholar
  13. Delate K, Cwach D, Chase C (2012) Organic no-tillage system effects on soybean, corn and irrigated tomato production and economic performance in Iowa, USA. Renew Agric Food Syst 27:49–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Doll J, Mueller D (2005) Rye: the all-purpose integrated weed management crop (p 304–309). In: Proc. Wisconsin Fert. Aglime and Pest Management Conf., Madison, WI. Coop. Ext. Univ. Wisconsin, Ext. and College Agric. Life Sci., Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, 18–20 Jan 2005Google Scholar
  15. Edwards JH, Wood CW, Thurlow DL, Ruf ME (1992) Tillage and crop rotation effects on fertility status of a Hapludult soil. Soil Sci Soc Amer J 56:1577–1582CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Elmore RW (1984) G84-737 Soybean inoculation–When is it necessary? Paper 743. Historical materials from Univ. of Nebraska Lincoln Ext. Accessed 16 Feb 2017
  17. JMP (2018) JMP, Version 14.0.0. SAS Institute Inc., Cary, pp 1989–2018Google Scholar
  18. Keene CL, Curran WS, Wallace JM, Ryan MR, Mirsky SB, VanGessel MJ, Barbercheck ME (2017) Cover crop termination timing is critical in organic rotational no-till systems. Agron J 109:272–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Langdale GW, West LT, Bruce RR, Miller WP, Thomas AW (1992a) Restoration of eroded soil with conservation tillage. Soil Tech 5:81–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Langdale GW, Mills WC, Thomas AW (1992b) Use of conservation tillage to retard erosive effects of large storms. J Soil Water Cons 47:257–260Google Scholar
  21. Liebert JA, Ryan MA (2017) High planting rates improve weed suppression, yield, and profitability in organically-managed, no-till—planted soybean. Weed Technol 31:536–550Google Scholar
  22. Mirsky SB, Curran WS, Mortensen DM, Ryan MR, Shumway DL (2011) Timing of cover-crop management effects on weed suppression in no-till planted soybean using a roller-crimper. Weed Sci 59:380–389CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mischler R, Curran W, Duiker S, Hyde J (2010) Use of a rolled-rye cover crop for weed suppression in no-till soybeans. Weed Technol 24:253–261Google Scholar
  24. Moldenhauer WC, Langdale GW, Frye W, McCool DK, Papendick RI, Smika DE, Fryrear DW (1983) Conservation tillage for erosion control. J Soil Water Cons 38:144–151Google Scholar
  25. Mourtzinis S, Edreira J, RattalinoI GP (2018) Sifting and winnowing: analysis of farmer field data for soybean in the US North-Central region. Field Crops Res 221:130–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Neu K, Nair A (2017) Effect of planting date and cultivar on cereal rye development and termination for organic no-till production systems. Farm Progress Reports. Accessed 20 August 2018
  27. Pan B, Smith DL (1998) Genistein and daidzein concentrations and contents in seedling roots of three soybean cultivars grown under three root zone temperatures. J Agron Crop Sci 180:77–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Rueber D, Holmes JD (2011) Timing of land rolling for soybeans. Iowa State Research Farm Progress Reports. Accessed 20 August 2018
  29. Ryan MR (2010) Energy usage, greenhouse gases, and multi-tactical weed management in organic rotational no-till cropping systems. The Pennsylvania State University, State CollegeGoogle Scholar
  30. Schipanski ME, Drinkwater LE, Russelle MP (2010) Understanding the variability in soybean nitrogen fixation across agroecosystems. Plant Soil 329:379–397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Silva EM (2014) Screening five fall-sown cover crops for use in organic no-till crop production in the Upper Midwest. Agroecol Sustain Food Syst 38:48–763Google Scholar
  32. Silva E, Delate KA (2017) Decade of progress in organic cover crop-based reduced tillage practices in the Upper Midwestern USA. Agric 7:44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Smith AN, Reberg-Horton S, Place GT, Meijer AD, Arellano C, Mueller JP (2011) Rolled rye mulch for weed suppression in organic notillage soybeans. Weed Sci 59:224–231.
  34. Steel RGD, Torrie JH (1980) Principles and procedures of statistics. A biometrical approach, 2nd edn. McGraw-Hill, New York, pp 20–90Google Scholar
  35. Teasdale JR, Mohler CL (1993) Light transmittance, soil temperature, and soil moisture under residue of hairy vetch and rye. Agron J 85:673–680CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Uri ND (1999) Conservation tillage in U.S. Agriculture, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  37. USDA (2017) 2016 Certified organic survey. Issued September 2017, updated October 4, 2017Google Scholar
  38. Vincent-Caboud L, Peigné J, Casagrande M, Silva EM (2017) Overview of organic cover crop-based no-tillage technique in Europe: farmers’ practices and research challenges. Agriculture 7:42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Weber JF, Kunz C, Peteinatos GG, Zikeli S, Gerhards R (2017) Weed control using conventional tillage, reduced tillage, no-tillage, and cover crops in organic soybean. Agriculture 7:43–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wells MS, Reberg-Horton SC, Smith AN, Grossman JM (2013) The reduction of plant-available nitrogen by cover crop mulches and subsequent effects on soybean performance and weed interference. Agron J 105:539–545CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wells MS, Brinton CM, Reberg-Horton SC (2015) Weed suppression and soybean yields in a no-till cover-crop mulched system as influenced by six rye cultivars. Renew Agric Food Syst 31:429–440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Williams IIMM, Mortensen DA, Doran JW (1998) Assessment of weed and crop fitness in cover crop residues for integrated weed management. Weed Sci 46:595–603Google Scholar
  43. Willmer H, Lernoud J (2018) The world of organic agriculture: statistics and emerging trends 2018. IFOAM. Accessed 22 August 2018
  44. Wisconsin State Climatology Office (2018) Arlington university farm, Arlington, WI weather records. WSCO, MadisonGoogle Scholar
  45. Zadoks JC, Chang TT, Konzak CF (1974) A decimal code for the growth stages of cereals. Weed Res 14:415–421CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Zhang F, Smith DL (1994) Effects of low root zone temperatures on the early stages of symbiosis establishment between soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] and Bradyrhizobium japonicum. J Exp Bot 45:1467–1473CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Zhang F, Lynch DH, Smith DL (1995) Impact of low root temperatures in soybean [Glycine max. (L.) Merr.] on nodulation and nitrogen fixation. Environ Exp Bot 35:279–285CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Plant PathologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

Personalised recommendations