In the Fall of 1998 Steve planted 20 acres to a cover crop of rye and hairy vetch. The following spring he rolled the cover crop twice and planted processing tomatoes into it. Clyde Kreider, another farmer nearby who cooperated with Steve on this project, planted 50 acres of tomatoes according to conventional practice, with no preceding cover crop. For the sake of comparison they kept track of costs, pest problems and pesticide use, erosion, yields and other relevant information. The summer of 1999 proved very dry in the beginning, as almost everywhere on the East Coast, but in Lancaster County ended with a record-breaking rainfall in September.
The following table gives a comparison of the costs and yields of the two systems on a per-acre basis:
No-Till Total: $279
Conventional Total: $412
Yields: 23.7 Tons 21.3 tons
Pre-plant operations consisted, in the no-till system, of rolling the cover crop twice and in the conventional system, of plowing and discing and harrowing twice with a packer. In the no-till system operations during the growing season involved nine sprays, while the conventional system eleven sprays were done, plus two cultivations. Fewer pesticides were used in the no-till field, though this many have had more to do with the inclination of the farmer, than with any mitigation of pest pressures that could be attributed to no-till. In any case pest pressures were mild this year, on account of the extended drought.
The mulch from the dead cover crop on the no-till field help conserve moisture, which was important during this dry summer. It also helped prevent run-off of irrigation water and concomitant soil erosion. The conventional field lost more water to evaporation and experienced some mild erosion. Also, late in the season when the weather turned wet, tomatoes in this field that were lying on the bare ground were susceptible to fungal rot. Those in the no-till field were protected by a layer of mulch. An agronomist consulting on the project concluded that the no-till system was advantageous for 1) retaining more water, 2) reducing losses to fungal rot, 3) providing a measure of weed control. He believes however, that the mulch slowed plant growth.