5 Keys to Success for Roller-Crimping Covers in Organic No-Till

From getting a thick stand of cover crops to terminating them at the right time, roller-crimping experts explain the key components for weed control in organic no-till.

Rolling and crimping of cover crops is a crucial component to making organic no-tilling work, experts say

Biomass left over from a healthy canopy of cover crops can suppress weeds, while roller-crimpers handle cover crop termination — all without the use of herbicides or tillage.

But ensuring that the cover crop grows enough biomass to suppress weeds and is completely killed requires dedicated management. 

“I’ve gotten a lot of calls over the years from organic farmers who were disappointed in the result in weed control with covers,” says Holtwood, Pa., no-tiller Steve Groff, who has been roller-crimping since 1995. “And, even sometimes in the ability of the crimper to terminate it.”

Groff warns this system can be a little unreliable, as he estimates 1 out of 5 years will be poor, 1 will be excellent, and the other 3 will be decent. But following some guidelines can increase the chances of success.

1. Seed Earlier, Heavier

Succeeding with roller-crimping starts the year before, at cover crop seeding. Because organic no-tillers are relying on covers to control weeds, it’s important to select species that will survive into the following spring and to seed them at a higher rate to provide adequate ground coverage.

Cereal rye is the most popular species for this and the one University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant professor Erin Silva recommends to organic no-tillers. Silva leads the university’s Organic and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension program and has been researching how to succeed with organic no-tilled soybeans.

The reason…

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Laura allen

Laura Barrera

Laura Barrera is the former managing editor of No-Till Farmer and Conservation Tillage Guide magazines. Prior to joining No-Till Farmer, she served as an assistant editor for a greenhouse publication. Barrera holds a B.A. in magazine journalism from Ball State University.

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