Innovative conservation tillage strategies in organic cropping systems for improving soil health and microbial activity

Peyton Ginakes, Applied Plant Science PhD student
Dr. Julie Grossman, Dept of Horticultural Sciences


Strip tillage in combination with living mulches have gained traction in recent years due to possible environmental benefits and associated soil fertility enhancement, particularly for organic systems. This study examined two separate living mulch systems and the effect of reduced/strip-till management on cover crop nutrient contribution, soil quality, and crop yields. In one systems, a perennial kura clover living mulch was managed with four different tillage strategies for field corn production: no-till (NT), strip till (ST), zone till (ZT; a novel, PTO-driven rotary zone tiller), and double till (DT; ST and ZT). The other was a vegetable production system using winter annual cover crops, wherein a winter rye/hairy vetch mix (RV) and oat/field pea mix (OP) were either conventionally tilled (CT; full-width) or strip tilled (ST) before plastic mulch was laid and summer squash were directly seeded. In strip till systems, between-row cover crops were left to continue growing, indefinitely for kura clover and until legumes flowered for winter annuals. In both systems, cover crop biomass and carbon/nitrogen content were measured. In addition, soils were analyzed from in and between row areas for permanganate oxidizable carbon (POX-C), an assay indicative of soil quality and microbial activity, and crop yields were analyzed.