Hairy Vetch management for no-till organic corn production
Rolling-crimping to control hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth) may make organic no-till corn (Zea mays L.) possible. This study investigated how rolling-crimping date and growth stage of the cover crop affected hairy vetch control and if a rolled-crimped hairy vetch cover crop could supply weed control for no-till corn. Hairy vetch was planted in late August and was rolled and crimped and planted to corn at four dates ('planting dates') between late May and late June at three Pennsylvania locations. Hairy vetch biomass, measured at each planting date, varied from 2000 to 8000 kg ha–1. Hairy vetch control with the roller-crimper varied through the flowering stage and was consistent after early pod set. The hairy vetch cover crop reduced weed density by at least 50%, with annual weeds being affected more than perennials. Total weed biomass was reduced 31, 93, and 94% in different site-years compared with no-cover plots. As corn planting dates were delayed, greater amounts of vetch mulch and lower weed density helped reduce weed biomass. Corn yields in the organic no-till system with a hairy vetch cover crop ranged from 1.1 Mg ha–1 to 9.6 Mg ha–1. Low yields were attributed to incomplete control of hairy vetch, weed competition, reduced corn plant populations, increased insect pests, and possibly inadequate N supply. This study shows that it is possible to kill hairy vetch with a roller-crimper and provide weed control for organic corn, resulting in reasonable corn yields, but that production risk increases.