Organic grain management strategies explored

Results from the organic grain research trial now informing future research in the Upper Peninsula.

December 29, 2017 - Author: Ashley McFarland, Michigan State University Extension

In 2017, the Michigan State University Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center in Chatham, Michigan along with MSU Extension Field Crop Educator Monica Jean were recently awarded a grant through the Organic Farming Research Foundation. The primary goal of the grant is to develop a framework of research and knowledge of organic grain systems in the region and to determine the market potential for farm adoption. Two research projects were launched: 1) examining oat production with various underseedings for weed control and forage establishment at the Guindon Farms (Cornell, MI) in field-scale plots and 2) examining grain variety and management trials at the MSU Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center North Farm in small-scale plots. Both research trials were managed organically and were planted on certified organic land.

This article will share the results of the two replicated organic grain management trials at the MSU North Farm. The first studied organic weed management strategies in oats, and the second tested various fertility inputs for organic barley production.

Weed Management in Organic Oats

The weed management oat trial was planted May 23, 2017, with five treatments plus a control in a randomized complete block design with four replications. The variety Shelby 427 was used, and the seeding rate was 96 lbs./acre. The five treatments were:

  • Mechanical weed management (tine weeder)
  • Underseeding of Alsike clover
  • Underseeding of Red clover
  • Underseeding of Yellow blossom sweet clover
  • Plowdown (3-clover mix)

Significant knowledge was gained with the use of the tine weeder, which was employed June 13, 2017, with the oats at Feekes stage 4.5. The implement was run in both directions in order to maximize the effectiveness of the tines. Based on other experiences with the weeder that season, it was learned that it can be best utilized until the crop hits Feekes stage 7, but hitting the weeds as early as possible is important. High ground speeds (six to seven mph) are also more effective than slow (three to four mph). Broadleaf weeds are best controlled in the emergence to 2-leaf vegetative stage. Soil moisture also plays a significant role in the weeder’s efficiency. As for the underseeding, the greatest yield was achieved with the yellow blossom sweet clover, but that was also the treatment that was most difficult to harvest due to the excessive clover growth. Yield, lodging and weed control are summarized for each treatment in Table 1. The oats were harvested on September 12, 2017.

The results were inconclusive from the organic oat weed management trial, so another year of research is planned for 2018 now that the research team knows more about the performance of the various underseeding options and the best practices for utilizing the tine weeder for weed control.

Table 1. Organic Oat Weed Management Trial results from the MSU North Farm (Chatham, MI)

Treatment

Oat/Legume Seeding Rate (lbs/acre)

% Weed infestation1

Lodging2

Yield (bu/acre)

Control

96/NA

2

3

71

Mechanical

96/NA

3

3

66

Oats/Alsike Clover

96/6

4

4

70

Oats/Red Clover

96/8

2

4

68

Oats/Yellow Blossom Sweet Clover

96/10

2

4

76

Oats/Plowdown

96/10

4

4

68

1Weed infestation scored as a percentage using a 1-10 scale, 1= 0-10% weed infestation, 10 = 100% weed infestation

2Lodging scale 1-10, 1 = no lodging, 10 = grain completely lodged

Fertility Management in Organic Barley

The barley fertility trial was planted May 26, 2017, with two treatments and a control in a randomized, complete block design with four replications focused primarily on nitrogen. The variety Robust was used, and the seeding rate was 120 lbs./acre. The two treatments below were spread and incorporated on June 1, 2017, just as the barley was starting to emerge.

  • Compost – screened, 3.5 lbs./plot applied by hand (12 lbs./acre plant available N)
  • Midwestern BioAg – 300 lbs./acre (4-1-11) with Gandy drop spreader

The tine weeder was used on June 13, 2017, to help control annual weed pressure and no visual differences were observed across treatments throughout the growing season or at harvest, which occurred on September 12, 2017. Results are summarized in Table 2.

Table 2. Organic Barley Fertility Trial results from the MSU North Farm (Chatham, MI)

Treatment

Yield (bu/acre)

% Moisture

Test Weight (lbs/bu)

% Crude Protein

Control

53

14.4

47.4

12.3

Compost

55

14.4

47.4

12.5

Midwestern BioAg

59

14.2

47.5

12.0

No significant differences were observed across the fertility treatments, supporting the need for additional research on nitrogen management in organic barley. The research team acknowledges that the high cost of fertility inputs in an organic system may impact system profitability, however it would be interesting to look at not only different types of amendments, but also at different rates. The team looks forward to additional work in 2018 so that recommendations can be developed to assist in the expansion of organic grain production in the Upper Peninsula to support the local organic meat industry.

If you are interested in organic research in the Upper Peninsula, contact Ashley McFarland at 906-439-5176 or ashleymc@anr.msu.edu. McFarland is the Coordinator of the Michigan State University Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center in Chatham, Michigan. 

Tags: agriculture, community food systems, field crops, msu extension, organic agriculture

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