Effective in-season weed management options are limited for organic cereal farmers. Two alternatives to current farmer practices are improving efficacy of physical weed control through use of interrow cultivation or increasing the competitive ability of the crop through elevated seeding rates and more uniform spatial planting patterns. It is unknown how these two methods affect yield, quality, and economic returns. Field experiments were conducted in the northeast United States to determine whether the yield gain from increased weed control from these contrasting weed management strategies resulted in increased net returns and how these different systems affected grain quality. Wheat was planted at two seeding rates (400 and 600 plants m−2), in three row spacings (11, 18, and 23 cm). A fourth crop arrangement that approaches a more uniform spatial distribution through a combination of drilling and broadcasting seed was included. For weed control, treatments received tine harrowing. Wheat sown in wide rows also received interrow cultivation. Each system was sown in the presence and absence of condiment mustard, which was sown as a surrogate weed. Increased seeding rate reduced weed density 64% compared to a crop-free check and 30% compared to regional farmers' practices of 18-cm rows and 400 plants m−2. Increased seeding rates lowered grain protein 5% compared to standard seeding rates. Wide rows, in combination with interrow cultivation, reduced weed density 62%, increased yield 16%, and net returns 19% compared to regional organic practices. Significant increases in grain N were limited to weed-free plots. While increased seeding rates improved weed suppression, the high input cost of organic seed make this an unsatisfactory alternative to interrow cultivation and current farmer practices, as yield would need to be .15 t ha−1 higher at elevated density to offset the extra cost of seed.
Nomenclature: Wheat, Triticum aestivum L.; white mustard, Sinapis alba L.