Yield and net returns during the transition to organic feed grain production

Richard G. Smith, Mary E. Barbercheck, David A. Mortensen, Jeffrey Hyde, Andrew G. Hulting

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29 Scopus citations


In the mid-Atlantic region, the demand for organic dairy has provided incentives for farmers to transition their land to organic feed grain production. At the same time, interest in minimum-tillage organic production is growing. Two field experiments were conducted to assess the effects of a first year cover crop and tillage system on weed populations, cash crop yield, and net returns over the 3-yr transition period in a cover crop-soybean (Glycine max (L.) Merr.)-corn (Zea mays L.) feed grain rotation. The cover crop treatments were rye (Secale cereale L.)-hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth) (here after RYE) and timothy (Phleum pratense L.)-red clover (Trifolium pratense L.) (here after TIM). Tillage system treatments were moldboard plow (full tillage, FT) and chisel plow (minimum tillage, MT). Across both experiments, soybean yields ranged from 1190 to 3721 kg ha-1. Corn grain yields were affected by tillage in the first experiment only, and were 59% higher in FT (9370 kg ha-1) compared to MT (5906 kg ha-1). Weed abundance was primarily affected by tillage, with densities in corn being 244% higher in MT compared to FT. Cumulative net returns in the first experiment were profit-generating in systems where TIM was the initial cover crop (mean = U.S. $ 317 ha-1). Mean cumulative net returns were positive in three of the four treatment combinations in the second experiment (U.S. $ 74-299 ha-1). Improved strategies for minimizing the costs associated with fertilization and management of weeds in minimal tillage will be necessary to improve the profitability and sustainability of reduced-tillage organic systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)51-59
Number of pages9
JournalAgronomy Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Agronomy and Crop Science


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