Report for FS05-187
The increasing amounts of inorganic fertilizer and the resultant expense that many limited resource and minority farmers use has become a financial burden. They feel they must use these expensive inputs because they farm nutrient poor soils. Some of the producers in the Selma-Dallas Small Farmers Association believe that if they could reduce the amount of money spent on the purchase of chemical fertilizer, they would be able to earn more from their individual operations. They will try to accomplish this through the use of cover crops. They will use cover crops as the primary way to increase the fertility of the soil and to lower the cost incurred by our members in providing nutrients to the soil for the growing of our crops. Pest management and weed control are additional benefits that may be derived from the cultivation of cover crops, and contribute to the reduction in the cost of producing the crops. The project will be carried out on five separate farms with each farm devoting a half-acre of land to this on-farm research. The land will be divided into two quarter-acre treatment plots with one devoted to the conventional, chemical-dependent approach, and the other to cover cropping. The Selma-Dallas Small Farmers Association will demonstrate the result of its proposed solution by comparing the percentage of soil organic matter, the level of biodiversity in the soil, and the general fertility of the soil of the two treatment plots. Soil test analysis will be carried out on the treatment plots to show the extent to which cover cropping can build soil fertility, while remaining cost-effective. In the area of pest management, they will determine the extent to which the environmentally friendly, natural pest management approaches worked by recording the plant damage and the recording of the presence beneficial insects in the treatment plots. The evidence of success in sustainable weed management will be determined by the reduction in the number of hours spent removing weeds from the treatment plot, the extent to which the cover crops suppressed the weeds or disrupted their growing cycle, and the cost-effectiveness of doing it.