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Agronomy for Sustainable Development

Integrating a complex rotation with no-till improves weed management in organic farming. A review

Randy L. Anderson

USDA, 2923 Medary Avenue, Brookings, SD, USA.


No-till practices are restoring and protecting soil health and are considered critical for achieving sustainability of global agriculture. Organic producers in the USA would like to no-till, but are concerned about managing weeds without tillage. In conventional agriculture, no-till improves weed management in diverse rotations when crops are arranged in 2-year intervals of cool season and warm season crops. A similar approach with organic rotations may enable producers to also accrue the weed management benefit of no-till in organic farming along with restoring soil health. Here, we review the benefits gained for weed management when a complex rotation is integrated with continuous no-till. The complex rotation included 3 years of a perennial legume and 6 years of annual crops arranged in 2-year intervals of warm season or cool season crops. The no-till, complex rotation can (1) reduce weed emergence 3- to 4-fold in some annual crops; (2) delay weed emergence 2 to 4 weeks; (3) reduce yield loss due to weed interference; (4) suppress invasion of dandelion into cropland; and (5) enhance soil restoration, improve nutrient cycling, and increase soil porosity. Furthermore, perennial red clover can be converted to no-till cropland with fall mowing; thus, organic producers can include a perennial legume in a no-till rotation. The complex rotation increases the impact of no-till on weed seed decay in soil and provides numerous opportunities for cover crops to replace tillage for controlling weeds. These benefits suppress weed growth and interference such that organic producers may be able to continuously no-till in their farming systems, thus accruing restoration of soil health and long-term sustainability gained with no-till.

Keywords: Crop diversity, Perennial legume, Rotation design, Soil health, Systems approach.

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