Competitive production of organic soybeans

01 Apr 2020

A study ensures that organic soybean producers could also be competitive using direct sowing or reduced tillage practices.

A recent study by researchers at the Penn State School of Agricultural Sciences ensures that organic soybean growers could also be competitive using no-tillage or reduced-tillage practices.

According to the principal investigator of the work, John Wallace, assistant professor of weed science, the findings are highly significant as they may contribute to increased sustainable production of organic soy.

The experiment, which focused on finding ways to reduce the intensity or frequency of tillage or soil alteration in organic crop production systems, was conducted on certified organic plots from the Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research Center in Penn State. The researchers compared soybean production under traditional tillage preceded by a cover crop with interseding corn, with soybean production under reduced tillage preceded by a roller-pressed rye cover crop, which was planted after corn silage.

According to the researchers, the reduced tillage soybean sequence resulted in 50% less soil disturbance compared to the conventional tillage-based soybean sequence over the years of the study, promising substantial gains in water quality and soil conservation.

In addition, budget comparisons showed that the reduced tillage soybean sequence resulted in lower input costs than the conventional tillage-based soybean sequence. However, the reduced tillage system yielded $ 100 less income per hectare due to slightly lower average yields.

“Organic grain producers are interested in reducing tillage to conserve soil and lower labor and fuel costs,” said Wallace. “In our research, we examined agronomic and economic offsets associated with alternative strategies to reduce the frequency and intensity of tillage in a cover-soybean cultivation sequence, within an organic maize-soybean-spelled wheat cultivation system.”

Weeds are a serious problem for organic growers since they cannot use herbicides. Significantly, the researchers found that weed biomass did not differ between soybean production strategies. This is important because tillage and cultivation are the main methods used by organic producers to reduce weeds and other pests.

Soybean production based on conventional tillage marginally increased grain yield by less than two quintals per hectare compared to the reduced tillage soybean system.

The study, recently published in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, is the latest in a 15-year series of no-till organic research conducted at the College of Agricultural Sciences and led by William Curran, professor emeritus of weed science. Although he retired last year, Curran also participated in this study. Organic research on no-till field crops continues at Penn State under the direction of Wallace and entomologist Mary Barbercheck.

Wallace argues that finding ways to achieve greater organic soybean production is of utmost importance, since more than 70% of the organic soybean that feeds organically produced poultry in the United States is imported. Mainly it comes from Turkey, India and Argentina.

“There have been many cases of fraudulent imports, crops that were not actually organically produced, from some of those countries, and that has depressed the premiums that American producers get because we are awash in these products,”

Wallace said. Wallace added that he would like to help American organic growers, especially those in the Mid-Atlantic region, grow more soy using environmentally friendly reduced tillage methods.

OIA has organized, since 2015, the Instituto Rodale – OIA training that aims to share the experience in research and agriculture between the United States and Argentina in order to improve organic agriculture and identify new horizons. Argentine delegates travel to the US to visit researchers from the Rodale Institute and Pennsylvania State University, as well as organic tourism farms in Pennsylvania and New York. For more information about the trip, communicate by mail to

If you want to know more about the Rodale Institute, you can enter its website

Sourcee: Revista Chacra