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The Details That Matter: Second Generation Questions On Organic No-Till Practices

Submitted by Dr. Erin Silva, Department of Plant Pathology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Introduction

The amount of land under certified organic management continues to expand in response to growing consumer demand. According to the 2016 United States Department of Agriculture’s Certified Organic Survey, 1.1 million ha of crop land were certified organic (USDA 2017). Additionally, in 2018, 57.8 million ha are managed organically across the globe, a growth of 7.5 million ha from 2015, the largest increase ever recorded (Willer and Lernoud 2018).

Organic farmers must implement a soil-building plan as set forth in the regulations (7 CFR §205.203 and 205.205) of the United State Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program. These strategies include cover cropping, diverse crop rotations, additions of compost and manure, and judicious use of tillage and cultivation. The ability of organic farmers to integrate no-till practices into their crop management strategies would further expand their potential to protect and enhance their soil, as no-till practices have been demonstrated to reduce soil erosion (Langdale et al. 1992a; Moldenhauer et al. 1983), increase soil organic matter and soil carbon (Edwards et al. 1992; Langdale et al. 1992b; Cooper et al. 2016), decrease runoff and improve water infiltration (Uri 1999), and improve soil physical and biological qualities (Angers and Eriksen-Hamel 2008). However, the no-till practices used on conventional farms do not translate well into organic management, as the use of synthetic herbicides are prohibited and tillage and cultivation remain as the primary in-season weed management tools.

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