Combining strip-tillage and zonal cover-cropping for soil and moisture conservation in organic vegetable systems

Final Report · May 2017

Principal Investigators:
  • Daniel C. Brainard, Associate Professor
  • Carolyn Lowry, PhD Candidate
  • Zachary Hayden, Post Doc (now Assistant Professor)
  • Department of Horticulture, Michigan State University
    A440 A Plant and Soil Science Building
    1066 Bogue St, East Lansing, MI 48824
    517-355-5191, E-mail: [email protected], [email protected]
  • Ben Phillips, Vegetable Extension Educator
    MSU Extension One Tuscola St, Suite 100A
    Saginaw, MI 48607
  • Jeremy Moghtader, Director, Organic Farmer Training Program Farm Manger
    Student Organic Farm
    Department of Horticulture & Center for Regional Food Systems
    Michigan State University
  • Tom and Vicki Zilke, Farm Managers
    Zilke Organic Vegetable Farm
    12725 Half Road
    Milan, MI 48160

Project Abstract

The goal of this project was to promote soil and moisture conservation while improving nitrogen use efficiency and weed management through development of reduced tillage systems for organic vegetable growers. Specific objectives included: 1) evaluation of the potential benefits of strip-tillage (ST) and zonal cover-cropping (ZCC) for nitrogen management, soil moisture retention and weed suppression, and 2) development of integrated cultural and mechanical weed management practices for reduced tillage systems, with an emphasis on “in-row” cultivation tools including finger and torsion weeders. In 2014-16, field experiments were conducted to: 1) evaluate the impact of ST and ZCC on nitrogen use efficiency, water conservation and weed suppression in organic sweet corn, snap beans and broccoli, and 2) evaluate the efficacy and selectivity of various mechanical cultivation tools. In general, ST resulted in equivalent or higher total yields of sweet corn and snap beans relative to CT, but resulted in equivalent or lower total yields of broccoli. In sweet corn production systems, segregating rye and vetch into strips increased soil N availability in the in-row zone, but did not affect sweet corn yields or N uptake, nor did it have any detectable benefits for weed suppression. In one of two years, ST increased sweet corn yields by suppressing weed emergence and growth. However, in a second year, ST decreased sweet corn yields and resulted in significantly greater weed biomass compared to FWT. In separate studies, we evaluated the potential for in-row cultivation tools including finger, flextine and torsion weeders to manage weeds in the in-row zone, while relying on rye cover crop residue to suppress weeds in the between-row zone. In general, finger weeders were more effective than torsion weeders or flextine weeders at managing in-row weeds without damaging the crop. In some cases, combinations of tools were more effective than single tools.

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