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Let it Roll – 2023 Production Videos

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Rolling, crimping, weed zapping, mowing and transplanting – the production teams and the tools they depend on are in perpetual motion out on Farm Hub fields from spring to fall.  These short video clips capture some of the mechanics of planting, weeding, and harvesting in organic and no-till systems for dry beans, sweet corn, soybeans, rye, and small grains.  Read about some of our field practices and trials in the text accompanying each video below.

Organic No-till Dry Beans

Tillage, despite its declining reputation, remains standard practice in agriculture for getting fields ready for planting. Farmers till to incorporate soil amendments, weeds, cover crops and crop residue.  Working the soil creates favorable conditions for roots to grow and for beneficial bacteria to cycle nutrients. On the other hand, tillage can also destroy soil structure, lead to wind and water erosion, and even create conditions for weeds to germinate.

At the Farm Hub we practice some alternatives to annual tillage. We have steadily incorporated a planting system called organic no-till into our crop rotation.  This year we applied this to our pinto and black bean production.  Normally to plant beans, one prepares a field by working the soil with discs and harrows over the course of several weeks. To control weeds after the beans germinate, we make another three or four cultivation passes. Organic no-till planting uses an implement called a roller crimper to ready the field for planting, and the beans rely on the biomass of a preceding cover crop to provide weed control.  Cover crop based no-till is more nuanced than tillage, and most farm equipment is designed for tillage systems.

Last year in September, we planted the fields with winter rye, an overwintering annual cover crop, that grew through to the spring of this year.  The rye grows 5-6 feet tall and is in full bloom by June. This is the best time to terminate the rye with the roller crimper. As the name describes, this implement is essentially a barrel with dull blades that rolls the rye and crimps it, bruising cell walls, along the length of its flattened stalks. The rye, prostrate in the field, desiccates under the sun, and becomes a tidy straw blanket across the field. For the next 2-3 months this mulch prevents weeds from germinating, sustains soil structure, and protects soil life from heavy rains and extreme heat.

Immediately after roll/crimping we plant bean seeds with an 8 row no-till planter. The planter slices furrows through the mulch and plants rows of beans an inch deep.  The bean seeds have enough stored energy to germinate up through a few inches of rye straw.  Straight rows of beans can be seen emerging from a field of dried grass in late June. 

Techniques like organic no-till can help farmers reduce annual tillage. It can perform less favorably in drought years and is not always competitive in yield with tillage-based systems, but it greatly reduces the number of tractor hours compared to standard organic bean production and has added benefits to soil health and water. We are still learning how to best incorporate no-till systems into our greater crop rotation and will continue to experiment with reduced tillage practices.  We are a host site for multi farm trials led by Cornell University’s Sustainable Cropping Systems Lab looking at organic no-till and will continue to share our results with the agricultural community in field days and on our website. Our dry pinto and black beans are sold to Milestone Mill and can be found at regional farmer’s markets. Additionally, beans are donated to local food pantries and other emergency food system partners.

Video by Andrew Casner, Agricultural Data and Projects

Making Straw

Making straw bales happens once a year at the Farm Hub, usually in late May. We use the straw as mulch in our vegetable fields. This year we are using rye that we planted last September. Rye makes great vegetable mulch due to excellent early-season biomass and high lignin content. Lignin can resist decomposition very well, so the mulch stays nice and thick for the entire growing season. Each bale weighs about 700 pounds and this year we made about 120.

Video by Andrew Casner, Agricultural Data and Projects Manager

Weed Zapper

The Weed Zapper is a cultivation tool that kills weeds using electricity. It has two main parts: A 125-kilowatt generator mounted to the rear hitch that is powered by the tractor’s PTO, and a 20-foot-wide front mounted copper electrode boom. The copper electrode is energized by the generator and when it contacts a weed, the electricity is transferred from electrode to earth via the weed’s stem, causing the weed’s vascular tissue to rupture and die.

At the Farm Hub, we primarily use this tool to target late season weeds that have grown above our soybeans and dry beans. The tractor drives with the boom just above the height of the crop, so it only contacts the taller weeds. It’s a great tool because we can use it to target weeds in both our till and no-till plantings, and it gets the in-row weeds that are otherwise very challenging to cultivate out. As an organic farm, we choose not to use GMO crops or herbicides that can make weed control much easier.

Inter-row Mower

Roll and crimp no-till systems are inherently good at suppressing weeds, but if adequate biomass is not provided from the rolled cover crops, or if weeds manage to break through the mulch, weeds can become a substantial obstacle to a successful harvest.

For these situations, we have been trying a tool called the inter-row mower. The inter-row mower is a front mounted rotary disc mower that mows weeds in between four crop rows at a time, without mowing the crops themselves. While it has shown to be effective in controlling weeds in our roll and crimp dry beans, it is a fairly slow operation, so this year we are working on a trial with Cornell University looking at optimal timing and frequency of mowing, so that labor efficiency, fuel consumption, and weed suppression can all be maximized.

Small Grains Field Trials

Members of Cornell University’s Department of Plant Breeding & Genetics recently came to the Farm Hub to harvest spring grains. 

Last fall the team planted a variety of winter grains including barley (both malting and food varieties), wheat, and oats as part of the ongoing Small Grains Field Trials. The detailed process of planting included prepping the fields by measuring the plots using a “squaring transit,” a precision measurement tool that guides the team as to where to plant 4-meter plots. The seeds were organized into envelopes and labeled. A Drill Strip Planter, developed at Cornell, was used to plant the seeds into the ground.

Now in its ninth year, the trials are a joint research project between the Farm Hub, Cornell University, and Cornell Cooperative Extension Ulster County. As part of the project, the spring and winter grains are planted and harvested annually. After harvest, the grains are brought back to the lab at Cornell and cleaned, dried down (if necessary), and tested for quality and performance.

Transplanting Corn

In June our production crew transplanted sweet corn with a mechanical transplanter. Corn, as with much of our produce, is distributed into the emergency feeding system in Kingston and surrounding communities.

This video was produced by Devin Pickering/Oceans 8 Films

To learn more about our crop production read more about What’s Growing this season or click on the 2023 Interactive Map.

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