Organic No-Till Soybean Production: Making it Work in Ontario

Growing cover crop-based organic no-till soybeans requires a different system approach than for standard organic production. Three years of extensive research trials in Ontario have guided the development of four key best practices for growing no-till organic soybeans following a cereal rye cover crop. This tip sheet is designed to provide practical advice for Ontario growers.

Read on to learn more or click below to view a video on the project results.

soybean plants with rye mulch below
  1. Seed cereal rye early and thick
    • Drill rye by September 20 at 110-170 lb/ac for a strong, competitive stand
  2. Have a plan B ready
    • If rye is too thin, till under before jointing
    • If spring conditions are dry but the rye stand is strong, cut for feed or harvest as grain
  3. Use equipment that can plant into high residue
    • Seed into standing rye before crimping with a well-maintained no-till drill or plant into rolled rye mulch with a planter modified for high residue conditions
  4. Bump up soybean seeding rate
    • Plant soybeans at 250,000-300,000 seeds/acre to close canopy and maximize yield

Organic no-till soybean timeline

Preparation for growing organic no-till soybeans begins well in advance of crop planting. Here is the typical seasonal timeline.

images showing timeline of organic no-till soybean system

Four best practices for organic no-till soybean production in Ontario

1. Seed cereal rye early and thick

In April:

overhead view of thick stand of cereal rye

Seed by mid-September to target 6,000 lb/ac biomass.

2. Have a plan B ready

decision tree showing options if rye is too thin or weather too dry

3. Use equipment that can plant into high residue

thick rye mulch not cut through by seeder
full stand of soybeans in thick rye residue

Keys to success

  • Sharp disc openers cut through rye
  • Sufficient down-pressure gets seed to depth
  • Effective closing wheels close the seed slot
closing wheels at the back of a planter

4. Bump up soybean seeding rate

A thick soybean stand helps to close the canopy more quickly and compensate for delayed early season growth. It also results in a stand that is more competitive with any weed escapes from the rye mulch.

bar graph showing increased soybean stand and yield with higher seeding rate
weed biomass decreases with increasing soybean population

1Liebert and Ryan. 2017. High Planting Rates Improve Weed Suppression, Yield, and Profitability in Organically-Managed, No-till–Planted Soybean. Weed Technology. DOI: 10.1017/wet.2017.35

Organic no-till performance in Ontario, 2019-2021 trials

From three years of trials, we know that organic no-till soybeans must be integrated as part of a system. Adjustments in crop rotation and agronomic practices are key. We learned that experience helps growers achieve higher yields with organic no-till.

9 Replicated strip trials

  • On-farm and research station sites
  • Compared organic no-till vs. tillage-based organic or no-till with herbicides
  • Yields averaged 32 bu/ac and were 40% lower for cover crop-based organic no-till soybeans than soybeans grown with tillage or herbicides for weed control
rows of young soybeans beside a strip of rye being roller-crimped

10 Observational sites

  • Full or partial fields planted no-till on certified organic farms
  • Monitored throughout each season
  • No-till soybeans at all 10 sites over three seasons averaged 39 bu/ac
field with trees in background and thick mulch with young soybeans in foreground

“Good base fertility and planting the rye thick are key. Don’t go in with the assumption that it’s going to work the same way every year – be ready to alter your plans if needed.”

Project cooperator, Morris Van De Walle, St. Marys, Ontario

For more detailed information:

See the full-length article on Field Crop News or contact:

Jake Munroe
Soil Management Specialist (Field Crops)
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs

four logos of project sponsors
a series of logos

This project was funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a five-year federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

The views expressed in the publication are the views of the Recipient and do not necessarily reflect those of the Province or Canada.