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#Fridaysonthefarm: Iowa Farmer Uses Roller Crimper in Organic No-Till System

#Fridaysonthefarm: Iowa Farmer Uses Roller Crimper in Organic No-Till CoverStory and photos by Jason Johnson, NRCS Iowa; videos by Laura Crowell, NRCS Iowa

Each Friday, meet farmers, producers and landowners through our #Fridaysonthefarm stories. Visit local farms, ranches, forests and resource areas where NRCS and partners help people help the land.  CLICK HERE to view all #Fridaysonthefarmstories.


This Friday, we meet Levi Lyle and his daughter Olivia on the family farm in Keota, Iowa. Levi never thought he would be a roller crimper go-to person for eastern Iowa farmers. But with his interest in eliminating herbicides on portions of his family’s cropland, he now has two crimpers that he uses and rents to farmers from Waterloo to Bloomfield.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Iowa Farmer Uses Roller Crimper in Organic No-Till Map

 

A Family Affair

“I would like to be a farmer when I grow up," says Olivia Lyle as she climbs into the tractor cab.

During this year's planting, Olivia counted seed bags as dad and farmer Levi Lyle poured seeds into the bean drill.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Iowa Farmer Uses Roller Crimper in Organic No-Till Photo 1

 

Levi and Olivia, the oldest of four children, sat side-by-side in the family tractor as he roller-crimped the cereal rye and planted the soybeans. And the entire family manages small plots of sour cherry trees and aronia berry bushes.

“The kids can help me pick the fruit, and then I take them with me when we sell it fresh at the farmer’s markets and to grocery stores,” Levi says.

“The more time my kids can be on the farm, the more time I get to spend with them,” says Levi. “I want them to have a future where they are on the farm, and the only way to do that is by involving them now.”

#Fridaysonthefarm: Iowa Farmer Uses Roller Crimper in Organic No-Till Photo 2

 

Levi Lyle wants his young children involved in the family farming operation. With four kids, the youngest two-years-old, Levi doesn’t feel comfortable with them around when he is using chemicals or when he's covered with surfactants from the seeds. 

“The kids can’t be with me when I’m doing that,” he says. “Transitioning to organic, the kids can be part of it.” 

The Right Tools

After reading the book Organic No-Till Farming by Jeff Moyer, Levi was motivated to reduce the use of chemicals and tillage when he moved back to the family farm about five years ago.  

“Roller crimping is an essential part of making Moyer’s ideas work,” says Levi. “To be organic no-till, you’ve got perennial weeds that begin to creep in. By growing cover crops and rolling them down, you start to deal with that pressure.”

Levi purchased his first crimper in 2016 from a manufacturer in Pennsylvania, since no local companies built them. With roller crimper demand increasing, he worked with local Keota agricultural equipment manufacturer Vittetoe, Inc. to develop one locally.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Iowa Farmer Uses Roller Crimper in Organic No-Till Photo 3
 
Roller crimpers include two key components – a blunt edge and Chevron pattern. The blunt edge snaps the stem without cutting it. Severing the stem would essentially be mowing the cover crop, allowing it to potentially grow back. The Chevron pattern includes four pressure points that provide the right weight distribution for matting down the cover crop without kicking up soil.

Levi says both conventional and organic farmers are using roller crimpers. Conventional farmers typically crimp the earliest – in the Spring, prior to planting – since they don’t need cover crops to grow as tall to form a weed-suppressing mat. Some organic farmers crimp and plant simultaneously in early June, while others plant into standing cover crops and then roll them when soybeans are up to the V3 stage (3-5 inches). This type of operation typically occurs in mid-June, or 15-20 days after planting soybeans.

The differences in timing of cover crop termination and planting dates between the two systems opens a window of opportunity to make the crimpers available to all types of farmers.

A Solid Plan

With financial and planning assistance through the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Organic Initiative, Levi and his family are transitioning about 66 of their 750 cropland acres in Keota, Iowa to organic production.  

Their new conservation plan addresses resources concerns specific to their land through several practices, including: a conservation crop rotation that includes a small grain, corn and soybeans; cover crops; and a field border.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Iowa Farmer Uses Roller Crimper in Organic No-Till Photo 4

 

Levi is in his first year transitioning to certified organic production. He started by planting soybeans in 15-inch rows, and rolled 6-foot tall cereal rye simultaneously on June 1. 
 
“In three years, this will be certified organic ground, and the soybeans are a big part of that rotation,” he says. “This ground will be in a 3-year rotation, with soybeans every third year.”

In Levi's system, cereal rye is an effective cover crop because it produces great amounts of biomass and can be crimped easily. “It lays down and serves as a mat thick enough to inhibit weed growth, providing an excellent herbicide alternative,” he says. “Cereal rye is also great for soil health and nitrogen uptake.”

For next steps, Lyle is looking at ways to successfully grow organic no-till corn with cover crops. 

Added Benefits

“Since I moved back to the farm five years ago, I’ve been thinking about the farm differently (than when I was growing up),” Levi says. “Small farms are shrinking in number. There is more pressure on our ecosystems and our waterways. We need to find ways to reduce the strain on the environment.”

#Fridaysonthefarm: Iowa Farmer Uses Roller Crimper in Organic No-Till Photo 5

 

Reducing chemical use and keeping the soil in place through no-till and cover crops are his way of benefiting the environment. “Cover crops are helping the soil profile. We haven’t been cover cropping long, but some farmers around here who have been using them for more than 20 years have completely eliminated erosion on their hillsides.”

With organic crops, Levi sees an opportunity to create more profitability on his farm, but that’s not his primary reason for the change. “I see very few farmers transitioning to organic solely for profits," he says. "A lot of times it’s for health and nutritional reasons – the additional profit margin is just an added benefit.”

A Community of Practice

Levi Lyle shared his ideas and experiences with other local farmers at a NRCS field day in June. And he participates in the Practical Farmers of Iowa – a farmer-led organization that uses information sharing and field days to bring about new ideas to benefit its members and the environment.

To learn more about USDA conservation planning and programs available in Iowa, visit your local NRCS office or go to www.ia.nrcs.usda.gov. Read more about Levi Lyle on his website at aronialife.com.

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