Mulching Strategies using Conservation Tillage for Weed Management in Tropical Organic Hot Pepper Cropping Systems

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2012: $223,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Southern
State: U.S. Virgin Islands
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Stuart Weiss
Tarleton State University
Soil conservation and effective weed management are generally conflicting objectives in tropical organic cropping systems where tillage is the primary means for weed suppression. Cover crops, conservation tillage, and mulching are known practices that provide numerous ecosystem services, but are seldom incorporated together into an integrated cropping system plan. The primary objective of this research is to evaluate a holistic approach to soil conservation that provides weed suppression in tropical organic cropping systems. Experiments were conducted at the Agricultural Experiment Station on St. Croix, USVI in 2015 and 2016 at two independent field sites. Trials began with the establishment of sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea L.) in all experimental areas on October 16, 2015 and terminated on January 11, 2016. Four treatments were arranged in a RCBD split with two weed removal frequencies (1 and 3 weeks), and replicated three times. Treatments included: 1) sunn hemp mulch (SHM), 2) sunn hemp mulch plus hay (SHM+hay), 3) sunn hemp mulch plus black landscape fabric (SHM+fabric) and 4) sunn hemp mowed and incorporated that served as a check plot (SH+none). Sunn hemp mulch was generated using a no-till roller-crimper. Peppers (Capsicum annum L.) were transplanted into treatments on January 14, 2016. Following treatment establishment, irrigation was performed using weather-based evapotranspiration calculations and fertigation was used in accordance with best management practice recommendations. Above-ground biomass of sunn hemp at termination did not differ between fields; and measured 3,717 kg ha-1 in field 1 and 4,367 kg ha-1 in field 2. In-bed weed suppression at three weeks after pepper transplant (WAT) was greatest for SHM+fabric, followed by SHM+hay, and lowest for SHM and SH+none treatments. At six WAT, SHM+fabric provided the greatest weed suppression with similar results for the remaining three treatments in field 1. In Field 2, SHM+fabric suppressed weeds as well as SH+none and SHM+hay. A similar trend was observed at nine WAT for both fields as described for field 1. Low frequency weeding at three-week intervals was generally as effective as weekly weed removal resulting in similar pepper yields. Overall, the SHM+fabric and SHM+hay treatments had the greatest Jalapeno yields with no differences between the SHM and SH+none treatments. Serrano pepper yields were greatest in the SHM+fabric, SHM+hay, and SH+none treatments; with the lowest yields recorded in the SHM treatment. Results indicate that soil conservation need not be compromised at the expense of weed suppression through the implementation of integrated mulching strategies.
Conference/Presentation Material
Target audiences:
Farmers/Ranchers; Educators; Researchers
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.