by Mark Dempsey, CFSA Farm Services Manager | Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021 —
Two cover crops growing side-by-side at Lomax
Winter cover crops approaching termination time

This fall, we completed the second year of CFSA’s organic no-till project determining production costs, yields, profitability, and scalability of growing no-till butternut squash after a cereal rye cover crop. We used several cover crop and weed management methods that were implemented using a tractor, walk-behind tractor, or done manually.

If you aren’t familiar with cover crop-based organic no-till, the premise is to grow a large cover crop, such as rye, lay it down as a mulch by crimping or mowing, plant your cash crop into it, and rely on the cover crop mulch to suppress weeds. It is effectively a “grow your own mulch” production system. But many questions remain about the best termination method to kill the cover crop, how well the resulting mulch suppresses weeds, and the scale at which it makes financial sense to use a tractor, a walk-behind tractor, or manual methods.

For a thorough explanation of our research questions, methods, and first-year results, see our write-up from earlier this year

by Mark Dempsey, CFSA Farm Services Manager | Wednesday, May 26, 2021 —

Research plots at Lomax Farm. Mowed and crimped plots, implemented using different equipment, straddle a plot covered with landscape fabric.

We’re excited to soon kick off the second year of CFSA’s organic, no-till research project at Lomax Farm, studying how well different cover crop-based, organic no-till systems perform, and the acreage at which each makes sense. If you’re a small- to  mid-scale grower who wonders about which organic, no-till method or equipment to use, and whether it makes sense to invest in larger-scale equipment, it is our hope that this research will inform some of your decisions. While our research is not definitive – it covers only one crop and needs another year of data at least – it will hopefully provide a framework for navigating the decision-making process when taking on organic no-till or scaling up.

But, before getting into project results, let’s visit some of the questions that inspired this research. You may have asked yourself many of these questions already:

  1. What’s the best method to pull off a successful no-till crop: roller-crimper, flail mower, or something else?
  2. How do production costs and profits compare across different methods and acreages?
  3. At what acreage should I consider “buying up” and investing in a tractor or walk-behind tractor, and does cover crop termination method matter for acreage?
  4. How big can I go with different methods before I run out of time?
  5. How does all of this stack up against the organic industry standard: tilled and bedded with plastic mulch? 

Interested in no-till production, but unsure of how to manage cover crops so they don’t become a problem for the crop that follows?


by Mark Dempsey, CFSA’s Farm Services Coordinator | Jun. 8, 2016 –

High-residue cultivator in action. Photo by Claire Keene

In no-till ground, where cover crops are used to suppress weeds, weed control after the crop is planted is limited to hand weeding or using specialized equipment like a high-residue cultivator. Credit: Claire Keene

The summer cropping season is here and, depending on where you are in the Carolinas, you may have planted your summer crops many weeks ago, or you may be just put them in the ground. For organic growers, the first 4-6 weeks after planting are the most important ones for beating the weeds: maintaining weed-free fields during this time gives your crop a chance to get established, canopy over, and stay ahead of the weeds throughout the cropping season. While this is sometimes easier said than done, weed control during this time is accomplished with weed-free planting conditions, robust transplants, rapid and uniform seedling emergence, and persistent weeding once the crop is up.


by Mark Dempsey, CFSA’s Farm Services Coordinator | Feb. 5, 2016 – 

Rolling and planting at the same time. Credit: Clair Keene

With February here, most growers are spending their time out of the field planning next year’s crops, making now a great time to take a step back to assess soil conservation on the farm.

We all want to treat our soil well, keep it on the farm, and maintain or increase fertility. The current, best practices to increase your soil fertility and reduce erosion are to decrease the amount you till and increase cover cropping.  The best option is to try to integrate both of these practices to the extent possible on your farm.