Soybean production is among the fastest rising of all organic crops grown in the Upper Southeast, but weed control has been an Achilles Heel in sustainable, consistent conservation grain production.

North Carolina State University Organic Crops Specialist Chris Horton says, “Organic animal products comprise the fastest growing sector of the organic food industry. This market has created a large demand for organic soybeans. The selling price for organic soybeans can be more than twice that of conventionally managed crops.”

Controlling weeds is critical to production of soybeans in an organic system and what growers have been doing over the past few years has only worked about half the time, Horton says.

The most often used weed management system among organic growers has been some combination of 3-4 ‘blind’ cultivations in which the soil is lightly disturbed and 2-3 in-row cultivations. At best this has been a 50-50 proposition, with no real answer to controlling perennial weeds in soybeans, he adds.

A more practical and efficacious approach is a multi-faceted one that includes use of cover crops and higher seeding rates to continuously shade out weeds.

A critical component of this approach is fall tillage, which Horton says disrupts development of perennial weeds. By following fall tillage with a cover crop, a grower can make the window of opportunity for perennial weeds very small.

 

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The North Carolina State researcher says rye has worked well in their tests with organic soybeans. “Keeping the cover crop well fertilized and growing strong throughout the winter and early spring is important. Then, come back, mash the cover crop down good and plant soybeans immediately,” he says.