Crop rotation is a common practice among farmers, but no-till agricultural producers often avoid disturbing their soil to maintain its health. Now, new research from Penn State suggests that field plowing after a series of crop rotations may actually help sustain soil health. Furthermore, it may eliminate the need to use large amounts of herbicide to control weeds and pests, reducing environmental harm.
“When you use herbicides again and again to burn down the cover crops and kill the perennials, that selects for herbicide-resistant weeds and contaminates the environment,” research leader Heather Karsten told Penn State. “There is growing evidence that herbicides such as glyphosate and 2,4-D that are commonly used to burn down cover crops and control weeds pose some human-health problems, such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma and endocrine disruption. These and other herbicides used to control herbicide-resistant weeds also are toxic to soil organisms and wildlife.”
Over a span of six years, Penn State researchers compared the use of a continuous no-till herbicide strategy for weed management and a weed control system based on inversion tillage with fewer herbicides. The experiment was carried out at a dairy farm in the northeast, which implemented crop rotation and cover crop practices. Throughout the study, the researchers measured soil health according to factors such as soil carbon and soil-clumping quality. With the exception of labile carbon, they concluded after the sixth-year rotation that soil health properties remained relatively consistent.
Their findings indicate that no-till producers might be able to avoid using large amounts of herbicides to control weeds. In turn, they can prevent potentially disrupting their local ecosystem while maintaining the health of their soil.
To learn more about tilling equipment and other equipment that can help support your agricultural endeavors, contact your local John Deere dealer today.