For organic farmers, the need to manage weeds presents a limited set of options. While cultivation and tillage remain primary tools, fossil fuel use and soil erosion issues make these practices less than ideal.
But new options are emerging.
Researchers at UW-Madison's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences have been studying a device known as a roller-crimper, which may help farmers avoid the need to perform in-season cultivation of soybean fields by using a cover crop such as ryegrass. When pulled over the grass, the roller-crimper flattens and kills the rye, creating a layer of mulch that prevents weeds from germinating and protects the soil.
Growers can get a firsthand look at the equipment - along with other recent advances in organic agriculture - during CALS' Organic Workshop and Field Tour, which takes place from 1-5:30 p.m. on Sept. 4. For the second year in a row, the college's Arlington Agricultural Research Station will host a series of discussions and demonstrations that offer a glimpse of where organic agriculture may be headed.
"We're seeing an exponential growth in the number and variety of organic research projects on campus," says CALS agronomist Erin Silva, who is organizing the event. "It's an exciting time."
Silva says this year's workshop is focused around two main themes: weed management and soil fertility. The afternoon kicks off with presentations from national experts in these areas, who will lay out the latest research findings on weed-control strategies, crop health and the relationship between soil fertility and insect feeding. Speakers include:
- Jed Colquhoun, a CALS associate professor of horticulture, who will discuss weed management in organic vegetable production;
- Michelle Wander, a University of Illinois soil scientist, addressing issues related to soil fertility; and
- Dale Mutch, a researcher with Michigan State University's Kellogg Biological Station who will discuss the results of field trials using the roller-crimper technology.
Following the presentations, it's time to hit the fields. Attendees will get the chance to see a handful of ongoing research sites, including a soybean field that has employed the roller-crimper equipment for the past two years.
"Our hope is that growers come away with tools that they can put to use on their farms," says Silva. "But it's also a great opportunity to meet other growers and network."
The event is free, and reservations are encouraged, but not required. To sign up or for more information, contact Silva at (608) 890-1503 or firstname.lastname@example.org.