Alternative Rotation System for Vegetables

Final Report for FNE96-146

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 1996: $2,960.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1996
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $9,110.00
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Allen G. Matthews
Farmer's Alternative Resource and Market Cooperative (FARM Coop)
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Project Information

Summary:

Note to readers, attached is the complete final report for FNE96-146

Mr. Matthews grows vegetables on hilly terrain in southwestern Pennsylvania. His USDA-approved soil conservation plan called for rotating vegetables with two years of corn, a small grain, and three years of hay, to give a 7-year rotation. In his area, however, vegetables are by far the most profitable crop. He was reluctant to devote only one-seventh of his acreage to them each year, so he designed an alternative cropping system, rotating peppers with pumpkins, sweet corn, and clover on a 4-year schedule. He started a long-term 7-year experiment to compare the 7-year rotation, managed conventionally, with the 4-year rotation, managed according to the principles of sustainable agriculture. He is running this experiment now on side-by-side fields and collecting data on yields, profitability, and soil erosion. The two systems are compared below:

Conventional Sustainable
Rotation 7-year 4-year
Crops veg., 2 yrs corn, small grains, 3 yrs hay veg., sweet corn, pumpkins,clover
Cultivation moldboard plow mulch-till, strip-till, and no-till
Irrigation overhead and trickle trickle
Pesticides "traditional" use minimal, plus lure traps,pheromones
Fertilizer soil-test recommendations small applications of calcium nitrate
Mulch black plastic hay, and living mulch between rows
Contours broad narrow

Based on the first four years of the experiment, Mr. Matthews reports profit averaging $906 per acre per year on the conventional plots, and $1754 per acre per year on the sustainable plots, with virtually the same low level of soil erosion (0.18 ton per acre per year) under both systems. Yields per-acre of those crops grown under both systems, namely sweet corn, pumpkins, and peppers, were nearly identical. The greater profitability of the sustainable, 4-year rotation is attributable to 1) devoting more time and acreage to high-value vegetable crops, and 2) cost savings on inputs. Further advantages of the sustainable system are that by depending less on chemicals it is more environmentally-friendly, and at the end of the season there is no plastic mulch to be disposed of.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Gary Stokum

Research

Participation Summary
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.