Evaluation of early maturing cereal rye / hairy-vetch cover crop varieties and their effects on subsequent cash crop planting date, maturity and yield in organic no-till summer squash production

Final report for GNC17-241

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2017: $11,703.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2018
Grant Recipient: Lincoln University
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Freida Eivazi
Lincoln University
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Project Information


Cover crop-based no-till vegetable production is gaining popularity with organic growers. One common bi-culture used to facilitate this system is that of hairy-vetch and cereal rye. The cover crops are planted in the fall and terminated the following spring through crimper-rolling or mowing, at full bloom for hairy vetch and anthesis for cereal rye. While this bi-culture offers the benefit of readily degradable nitrogen-rich vetch residue, as well as weed-suppressive rye residue, it can pose management challenges such as delayed cash-crop planting and maturity, and reduced yields due to cover crop maturity dates that occur after ideal spring planting times for some crops.  In recognition of this challenge, earlier maturing varieties, Aroostock Rye and Purple Bounty Vetch have been developed.

The objective of the proposed study “Evaluation of early maturing cereal rye / hairy-vetch cover crop varieties and their effects on subsequent cash crop planting date, maturity, and yield in an organic no-till summer squash production system”, is to compare a bi-culture of common hairy-vetch and cereal rye with a Purple Bounty Vetch/ Aroostock Rye bi-culture and record their effects on the stated parameters in central Missouri crop fields. All cover crops will be planted in late September, and cover crop treatments will be terminated at their respective maturity dates by sickle bar-mowing, with summer squash plants transplanted immediately after. Field tasks will be completed with a walk-behind tractor, demonstrating to small growers the efficacy of implementing these systems at their scale.  Cover crop biomass, maturity date, as well as cash crop planting and maturity dates will be documented, and yield data will be recorded.

A multi-dimensional outreach plan will include one fact sheet, one extension document, one field-day at the Lincoln University Busby farm, one workshop, and one presentation at the Great Plains Growers Conference. It is anticipated that this project will inform and impact the decision-making of at least 1,000 vegetable producers within and outside Missouri. Extension and educational outcomes will increase grower knowledge, awareness and adoption of early-maturing cover crop varieties that fit the needs of their production system. Extension activities will be evaluated by qualitative means due to the nature of the effort. Quantitative evaluations (to be recorded at workshops/trainings/field days) will focus on changes in farmer knowledge, confidence level, behavior and willingness to implement early maturing cover crops after program delivery using appropriate instruments such as tests of knowledge (pre- and post-tests) and questionnaire surveys.

Project Objectives:

This project will result in new science-based knowledge on the effects of using early-maturing cover crop varieties in no-till vegetable production systems.  Demonstration of an organic no-till system that uses early-maturing varieties of cover crops and small-scale equipment will help growers at a variety of scales learn how these systems can be implemented on their farms.  Increased knowledge and awareness of the benefits of early- maturing cover crop varieties’ will make organic no-till systems more appealing to vegetable growers.

Early-maturing cover crop varieties can diminish one obstacle impeding more wide-spread adoption of these systems, by facilitating an earlier planting window for subsequent cash crops. Therefore, dissemination of our project findings, through a variety of means, will inform and educate growers as well as encourage adoption of these innovative and soil-conserving production systems. Organic vegetable farmers are more likely to adopt cover crop-based no-till production. Additionally, these management techniques can be implemented on conventional vegetable farms, having equal receipt of the well-known benefits to soil health and soil functional capabilities.  Increased adoption of these types of systems will help enhance the sustainability of crop production. Implementation of no-till systems helps reduce erosion, and contributes organic matter to organically and conventionally managed crop fields in Missouri and beyond. Adoption of cover-crop based no-till systems will help build soil functional capacities on farms through reduced disturbance, increased aggregate stability and water infiltration.   The broader benefits to society are improved environmental stewardship and enhanced and continued productivity of farms in the central Midwest.


Materials and methods:

Treatments: The following cover crop termination treatments and two controls were evaluated: (1) crimper rolled, (2) occultation (3) flail mowed, (4) sickle bar mowed, (5) rotary mowed (6) black plastic mulch on tilled soil (control 1) and (7) bare tilled soil (control 2). Each treatment will be replicated four times following a randomized block design.

Site Preparation, Fertility, Irrigation management: The research site has been cover cropped and cash-cropped intermittently over the past 6 years. In early September of 2017, an area was disked and tilled as necessary to facilitate a seeding bed for cover crops in treatment plots. Each treatment unit  comprised a 20 feet-long raised bed that created with a bed hiller/shaper at 48” width.  In control plots for summer squash transplant beds, a mixture of hairy vetch and rye will be broadcasted and harrow-incorporated to simulate standard organic grower practices. In treatment plots, hairy vetch and cereal rye will be planted with a push seeder in September (2017) down the length of each bed seeded in alternating rows on 5” centers. The middle 12” of the bed will be reserved for two rows of tillage radishes at approximately 4” in row spacing.

The area between the beds will be 72” wide to facilitate tractor mowing and it will be planted with rye and a biennial clover. These bed alleys will be broadcast-seeded and incorporated through harrowing. Bed alleys will be planted in fall of 2017 and mowed the following spring and as needed throughout the growing season of 2018 to reduce competition with the cash crop and allow for ease of foot traffic.

Research results and discussion:

The experiment was initiated in the Fall 2017 as it is outlined in the material/method section.  However, in March 2018 Dr. Pinero the graduate student advisor left Lincoln University which left a vacancy and that followed by illness of graduate student who intended to carry on the experiments in summer and collect data.  Therefore, unfortunately, this project was not completed during the life of the grant and no results to report. 



Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

none for this project

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

None to report.

Knowledge Gained:

None to report

Success stories:

None to report.

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.