Final report for ONE16-287C

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2016: $11,111.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2018
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Dr. Sjoerd Duiker
Penn State University
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Project Information

Summary:

Cover crops are being promoted because they improve soil organic matter content and soil biological activity, reduce soil erosion, soil compaction, and nutrient leaching. In this outreach project, we focused on promoting cover crop use on vegetable and grain farms in Pennsylvania. Adoption of cover crops on dairy farms in Pennsylvania has been widespread due to potential forage utilization and a place to spread manure. On vegetable and grain farms, cover crops are a more difficult sell because benefits may be less immediate than for dairy farmers and challenges for establishment greater. Casual observations suggest soil health in vegetables and grain crops could be improved by greater adoption of no-till and/or cover crops. There are diverse opportunities to include cover crops in vegetable and grain crop production. In vegetable rotations, windows for cover crop establishment are many. It is probably the benefits and management of cover crops that need to be highlighted and addressed. In grain rotations, new technologies have come on line recently for in-crop establishment of cover crops using inter-seeding technology, and new techniques for planting into living cover crops before termination (Planting Green). In this project we promoted the use of cover crops on Pennsylvania vegetable and grain farms and educating farmers about these new opportunities and techniques. In an on-station research project no-till tomatoes and butternut squash were compared with these crops grown in plastic beds. Yields in no-till vs beds were 2.2 lbs/plant and 4.6 lbs/plant of marketable tomatoes per plant and 3.5 lbs/plant and 5.0 lbs marketable squash per plant, respectively. However, because the no-till crops were planted at 4 ft row spacing and in beds on 7 ft row spacing, the yields per acre were either not significantly different (tomatoes) or significantly higher (butternut squash) in no-till (19,187 lbs/A) than in plastic beds (15,444 lbs/A). However, yields were delayed in no-till. Stable infiltration rate was significantly higher in no-till (10.3 inch/hr) than between the beds covered with plastic (3.5 inch/hr). Aggregate stability was significantly higher in no-till (51%) than between the beds covered with plastic (33%). The lessons from this research are 1) that infiltration and soil aggregation is much improved in no-till compared to plasticulture production; 2) that soil compaction caused when making the planting hole may have caused greater transplanting stress in no-till CF plastic bed culture; 3) that yields per plant were lower in no-till than in plastic culture but that per acre yields were either similar or greater due to tighter row spacing in no-till; 4) that development of crops was slower in no-till than plasticulture, due to yet-to understand factors (e.g. soil temperature, slow mineralization of nitrogen from cover crop); 5) that it is very important to have heavy cover crop residue to suppress weeds in no-till vegetables; 6) weed control is the number one issue for success and ways need to be found to control weeds with herbicides and/or manual control. We distributed cover crop seed to 15 grain farmers (triticale) and 6 vegetable farmers (oat/radish mix), asking them to return a data recording sheet, but that was done hap hazardly. We made presentations to 881 participants in 10 indoor presentations and field days. A video of farmers experimenting with no-till potatoes was published on YouTube that was watched almost 3900 times.

Project Objectives:

The objective of this project is to promote the use of cover crops on Pennsylvania vegetable and grain farms by educating farmers about the benefits and management of cover crops in vegetable rotations, and new opportunities and techniques for grain crops including in-crop establishment of cover crops using inter-seeding technology, and new techniques for planting into living cover crops before termination (Planting Green).

Four on-farm demonstrations are planned – three will be on working farms (2 vegetable and 1 grain) and one on the Penn State Horticultural Research Farm.

The first demonstration will be at the farm of Jeff Frey and will demonstrate namely interseeding a cover crop of rye into standing double cropped soybeans. The soybeans will be planted after wheat with a planter on 30” row spacing. The rye will be interseeded with the Penn State Interseeder or with Jeff’s own equipment this fall and a field day will be organized there in the spring of 2017.

The second demonstration trial will be at the farm of Sean McDermott. He has a cover crop of rye which will be rolled down and vegetables will be no-till transplanted into it. Sean is interested in this practice but doesn’t have any experience with it.

The third demonstration trial will take place at Nolan Masser’s Red Hill Farms LLC near Pitman in Northumberland County and will involve no-till potato and cabbage production in rolled rye cover crop. Crop Consultant Gerard Troisi will oversee this and produce a video clip of this practice.

The fourth demonstration trial will be on the Penn State Horticultural Research Farm in Centre County and will involve no-till transplanting different vegetable crops into a rolled cover crop of rye. The demonstrations at the 3 working farms will be whole field or strips (with/without cover crop) but the demonstrations at Penn State will be small plots with 4 replications. Rye cover crops will be established in September/October with a drill or broadcast, except if interseeded in double cropped soybeans which will most likely be in August with an interseeder.

Cover crop biomass will be collected on all sites, and yield of double-cropped soybeans or the crops planted into the cover crops will be evaluated. The soybean yield will be compared with a strip without cover crop, the vegetables by number, the potatoes by weight, and the vegetables at the research farm by number/weight/quality. Participating farmers will receive advice by the consultants or extension personnel with cover crop and economic crop management.

Educational activities will consist of the following:

  • Three field days at demonstration farms: 1) at Jeff Frey farm focused on interseeding cover crop into double-cropped soybeans, 2) at Sean McDermott farm that will demonstration use of a cover crop roller and observation of the vegetables no-till transplanted into the rolled cover crop, and 3) at Red Hill Farms that will feature demonstrations and observations of no-till potato and cabbage into rolled cover crop.
  • Monthly farmer meetings next to Jeff Frey’s farm to discuss cover crops.
  • Field day at the PSU Horticultural Research Farm that will demonstrate no-till transplanted vegetables.
  • Presentations at Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance Field Day and at PASA’s 3rd Annual Summer Conference.
  • Four presentations at winter meetings, to include the 2017 Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention and the Annual Conference of the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance, and possibly the PASA Annual Conference in January or February 2017.
  • 6 articles on aspects of cover crops in grain and vegetable production to be published in Penn State’s Field Crop News and in the Vegetable and Small Fruit Gazette.
  • Three 5 minute video clips posted on the internet – one on interseeding, one on no-till transplanting vegetables and one on no-till potatoes.
  • Two consultants (Steve Groff and Gladis Zinati) will coach several beginning cover crop users on a one-on-one basis to help them adopt cover cropping as part of their rotation.
  • Cover crop seed will be distributed on a trial basis to 15 grain and 20 vegetable farmers. These grain and vegetable farmers will be given a record keeping sheet that they will be required to return to the project director so their experiences and observations can be used for educational purposes.
Introduction:

Cover crops are being promoted because they improve soil organic matter content and soil biological activity, reduce soil erosion, soil compaction, and nutrient leaching. In this outreach project, we will focus on promoting cover crop use on vegetable and grain farms in Pennsylvania. Much of our recent cover crop research and outreach has focused on dairy farms, and the adoption of cover crops on these farms has been amazing (Hively et al., 2015). One reason we believe adoption has been fast on dairy farms is because the cover crops can often be used for forage. In addition, they are a good place to spread manure. Further, there are good windows to establish cover crops on dairy farms, such as after corn silage. On vegetable and grain farms, cover crop uses don’t include forage and manure application, and establishment windows may be smaller, so cover crops may be a more difficult sell because benefits may be less immediate than for dairy farmers and challenges for establishment greater. Although there is a lack of statistics, casual observations suggest cover crop use is very limited on vegetable and grain farms. On vegetable farms, cover crops, or soil management for improved soil health in general, have not received as much attention. The emphasis has been on other management techniques to increase yield, improve timeliness of production (such as plasticulture), or reduce losses by pests and diseases (usually using pesticides). However, there may good establishment windows for cover crops in vegetable rotations, and the need to improve soil health is great. Common grain crop rotations provide few options to establish cover crops on time before the onset of the winter (e.g. corn-soybean rotations or corn-wheat-double-cropped soybean rotations). In addition, there has not been a large recognition for the need for cover crops. Increasingly, however, there are observations suggesting soil health in grain crops is poor. This is even the case in no-till grain crops, where significant soil erosion is being recognized as a threat due to poor residue cover after soybeans and poor surface soil structure.  These are the challenges we plan to address in this project. The opportunities are many. In vegetable rotations, windows for cover crop establishment are many. It is probably the benefits and management of cover crops that need to be highlighted and addressed. In grain rotations, new technologies have come on line recently for in-crop establishment of cover crops using inter-seeding technology, and new techniques for planting into living cover crops before termination (Planting Green). In this project we will be promoting the use of cover crops on Pennsylvania vegetable and grain farms and educating farmers about these new opportunities and techniques.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Andrew Frankenfield
  • Jeff Frey
  • Mark Goodson
  • Steve Groff
  • Sean McDermoth
  • Elsa Sanchez
  • Gerard Troisi
  • Dave Wilson
  • Gladis Zinati

Research

Materials and methods:

Accomplishments

The project started in 2016 and ended in December of 2018. Most activities took place in 2017.

In 2016, a cover crop meeting was held at the Amish Machinery Shop next to Jeff Frey’s farm in early August attended by 5 farmers.

The grain farmer in our project, Jeff Frey, interseeded a cover crop of ryegrass, radish, rape and clover into 30” double cropped soybeans on Aug 16th, 2016. Cover crop was planted deep (1.25-1.5”) so it would come up slowly. Although the cover crop came up well by Aug 23,  the cover crop dried up so the planned field day for April was not possible. The July 25th-2017 Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance Field Day was held at Jeff Frey’s farm.

Sean McDermoth planted a rye cover crop (some mixed with legumes such as hairy vetch or crimson clover) on 8.5 acres of his farm. Mr. McDermoth planned to rolled the cover crop down in May 2017 and transplant tomato in the field. However, due to lack of preparation, access to machinery, and experience with no-till transplanting, transplanting was only done on a small scale and was not successful.  One reason for the failures was that the tomato transplants were not properly inserted in the soil and therefore the rootballs were not placed entirely in the soil leading to desiccation of the young transplants. A field day was held on this farm on July 12th, 2017. A no-till transplanter was demonstrated that day and a seed company representative, two extension educators, and a specialist were present but no farmers came to this meeting.

Tomatoes and butternut squash were planted in a research trial at the Horticultural Research Farm at Rock Springs, PA in the summer of 2017. In this trial managed by Elsa Sanchez and Sjoerd Duiker some plots without cover crop were tilled that were subsequently bedded and covered with black plastic, while other plots were planted no-till into a rolled rye cover crop. The research project was laid out as a randomized complete block design for tomato and for squash with three replications each. The rye cover crop was killed with herbicide after rolling. Beds were created after chiselplowing and driptape laid after which beds were covered with plastic in the bedded treatment. Transplants were planted by hand. Drip tape was also laid in the no-till plots. All plots received supplemental irrigation and fertilizer as needed. Yield was taken as well as infiltration rates measured. Soil samples were analyzed for soil physical properties.

Triticale seed and oat/radish mix with data recording sheets were distributed to interested farmers at the field days on July 12th (McDermoth farm, Bethel) and July 27th (Frey farm, Willowstreet), 2017. Seed was distributed to 15 grain farmers and 6 vegetable farmers to experiment with and were expected to report experiences back to project management in Spring of 2018. The seed was distributed so that farmers could experiment with new cover crops on a small acreage. The protocol was developed by the Committee for this grant that met at the Northeast SARE Cover Crop Initiative workshop in Baltimore, MD in 2016. Seed for grain farmers was selected based on winter-hardiness so that the cover crop could be planted late and yet still would come through the winter and would generate growth in the spring. Seed for vegetable farmers was selected based on earlier planting and winterkill to avoid complications with planting and soil warming in 2018. Data recording sheets asked for information that would help us reach out to other farmers to promote cover crop use. Farmers were asked to return data sheets after spring planting.

 

 

Research results and discussion:

Preliminary 2017 research results from the research trial at the Penn State Horticultural Research Farm showed significantly higher yield per plant for tomatoes and squash planted in beds covered with plastic compared with no-till transplants into rye cover crop. The reason is not completely known but soil temperature may have to do with it as well as greater shock to transplants planted into no-till soil. Yields in no-till vs beds were 2.2 lbs and 4.6 lbs marketable tomatoes per plant and 3.5 and 5.0 lbs marketable squash per plant respectively. However, because the no-till crops were planted at 4 ft row spacing and in beds on 7 ft row spacing, the yields per acre were either not significantly different (tomatoes) or significantly higher (butternut squash) in no-till (11,279 lbs/A) than in plastic beds (8,444 lbs/A). Infiltration was measured between rows with single 13 7/8” diameter infiltrometers in summer. Infiltration rate was measured in 5-min intervals until it stabilized. The stable infiltration rate was significantly higher in no-till (10.3 inch/hr) than between the beds covered with plastic (3.5 inch/hr). Aggregate stability was significantly higher in no-till (51%) than between the beds covered with plastic (33%). The research was repeated in 2018 but no results will be reported due to unacceptable weed infestation, especially in the no-till plots. The lessons from this research are 1) that infiltration and soil aggregation is much improved in no-till compared to plasticulture production; 2) that soil compaction caused when making the planting hole may have caused greater transplanting stress in no-till CF plastic bed culture; 3) that yields per plant were lower in no-till than in plastic culture but that per acre yields were either similar or greater due to tighter row spacing in no-till; 4) that development of crops was slower in no-till than plasticulture, due to yet-to understand factors (e.g. soil temperature, slow mineralization of nitrogen from cover crop); 5) that it is very important to have heavy cover crop residue to suppress weeds in no-till vegetables; 6) weed control is the number one issue for success and ways need to be found to control weeds with herbicides and/or manual control. We observed few weeds in no-till but if they were not controlled (which could be done by hand) they became very large and interfered with crop production. The research showed the potential for no-till vegetables is substantial due to potentially lower production costs, no use of plastic that is a waste product, and better soil health and lower potential for runoff, erosion, and nutrient losses. However, it also showed there are still many questions to be answered, such as ability to control weeds with cover crops, straw mulch, and herbicides, transplant shock in no-till, effect of soil temperature, nitrogen availability and fertilization when transplanting in a vigorous cover crop such as rye with high C:N ratio, how delay in harvest can be avoided, and variety adaptability to no-till.  The research showed us that we need to have a devoted technician or graduate student to manage a trial like this. We therefore applied for a Northeast SARE grant in 2018 to pursue this further. The project (No-till vs Plasticulture Tomatoes: Examining Yield, Earliness, and Soil Quality) was, however, not approved for funding.

Research conclusions:

The research compared no-till vegetables into a rolled cover crop of rye with planting them in plastic beds that did not have a cover crop. The research was done successfully in 2017 but the trial failed in 2018 due to labor shortage that ended up in unacceptable weed infestation. Infiltration rate and aggregate stability were significantly improved in no-till CF plastic culture, and no plastic waste was generated. The potential to reduce environmental impact due to soil erosion and nutrient runoff and less waste show promise for no-till vegetable production into cover crops. However per plant yields of no-till tomato and butternut squash were lower, but per acre yield was similar or higher in no-till due to tighter row spacing. However, yields were delayed in no-till which is a big disadvantage that needs to be overcome by using new approaches. The research showed there are still many questions to be answered before no-till vegetable production can become successful, such as ability to control weeds with cover crops, straw mulch, and herbicides, transplant shock in no-till, effect of soil temperature, nitrogen availability and fertilization when transplanting in a vigorous cover crop such as rye with high C:N ratio, how delay in harvest can be avoided, and variety adaptability to no-till.

Participation Summary
3 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

5 Consultations
1 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
3 On-farm demonstrations
10 Published press articles, newsletters
10 Workshop field days

Participation Summary

881 Farmers
20 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities
Education/outreach description:

Related articles in papers and newsletters:

Dennis Eby and Jeff Graybill. 2017. No-till transplanter available in Lancaster County. Published May 2nd, 2017. Lancaster Farming http://www.lancasterfarming.com/farming/technology/no-till-transplanter-available-in-lancaster-county/article_ef6c98ea-fe47-5931-ade8-2a3fc47256b6.html . This no-till transplanter was used at the field day at McDermoth Farm on July 12th, 2017.

Sjoerd Duiker. 2017. Cover crop winter survival. Field Crop News March 22, 2017. https://extension.psu.edu/cover-crop-winter-survival

Elsa Sanchez and Charlie White. 2017. Growing cover crops for nitrogen on vegetable farms. Published August 8, 2017. https://extension.psu.edu/growing-cover-crops-for-nitrogen-on-vegetable-farms

Sjoerd Duiker. 2017. Time to plant fall cover crops. Field Crop News August 8, 2017. https://extension.psu.edu/time-to-plant-fall-cover-crops

Sjoerd Duiker. 2017. Cover crop species to plant mid-September. Field Crop News September 22, 2017. https://extension.psu.edu/cover-crop-species-to-plant-mid-september

Andrew Frankenfield. 2017. What cover crop should I plant? Posted November 14, 2017. https://extension.psu.edu/what-cover-crop-should-i-plant

Sjoerd Duiker. 2018. Cover crop considerations after small grain harvest. Field Crop News July 11, 2018.

Sjoerd Duiker. 2018. Cover Crop Considerations after Small Grain Harvest. July 19, 2018. No-Till Farmer. https://www.no-tillfarmer.com/articles/8053-cover-crop-considerations-after-small-grain-harvest

Sjoerd Duiker. 2018. Cover crop shortage this fall. Field Crop News. August 28, 2018.

Sjoerd Duiker. 2018. There is still time to plant cover crops. Field Crop News. October 2018. https://extension.psu.edu/there-is-still-time-to-plant-cover-crops

 

VIDEO:

Sarah Troisi. 2017. No-till potatoes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CoV93MmqjFM Video made for this project. Video was posted in 2017. Viewed by 3900 persons on April 30, 2019.

 

WORKSHOPS AND FIELD DAYS:

No-till vegetables. Field Day for Young Growers Alliance, Rock Springs, June 14, 2017. Elsa Sanchez and Sjoerd Duiker presented about the research project that was done at the Horticulture Research Farm. 25 attendees.

Integrating cover crops in vegetable farm production. Field Day. July 12th, 2017. Sean McDermoth Farm, Bethel, PA.  Educators Duiker and Wilson gave overview of cover crops in vegetable production. Farmer Sean McDermoth gave overview of his farm operation, soil management, cover crop use and vision for future. Gladis Zinati presented Cover crop roller to manage cover crops. Educator Jeff Graybill introduced no-till transplanter. Sjoerd Duiker distributed seed to interested farmers. 6 participants.

Healthy soils: Building a strong foundation. Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance Annual Field Day July 27th, 2017 at Jeff Frey farm, Willowstreet, PA. Program included prominent speakers and PA Secretary of Agriculture Russ Redding, a soil pit, no-till planter demonstrations, cover crop mixture plots. Sjoerd Duiker distributed seed to interested farmers. 250 participants.

Cover Crop Demonstrations at Ag Progress Days. August 15-17, 2017 in Rock Springs, PA. This was a self-guided tour of cover crop plots demonstrating a variety of mixtures. Estimated 100 viewers.

Cover Crop Demonstrations at Ag Progress Days. August 14-16, 2018 in Rock Springs, PA. This was a self-guided tour of cover crop plots demonstrating a variety of mixtures as well as a planting green demonstration done by the Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance focused on grain farmers. Estimated 100 viewers and participants.

Using cover crops on vegetable farms. Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Hershey, PA, Jan 31, 2017. This general introduction to cover crops on vegetable farms was given by Elsa Sanchez. 70 attendees.

Healthy Soils: Building a Strong Foundation. Pennsylvania No-Till Alliance Winter Meeting December 7th, 2017 in Shady Maple Smorgasbord, East Earl, PA. Program included presentations by Gail Fuller, farmer from Kansas on cover crops on grain farms, Lamonte Garber from Stroud Water Research Center on cover crop effects on water quality, Jeff Graybill on no-till Transplanting of tobacco, pumpkins and vegetables, and PA Secretary of Agricultue Russ Redding. 115 participants.

Healthy soils and top yields with no-till and cover crops. Penn State Extension Soil Health Workshop held on December 14th, 2017 in Farm & Home Center, Lancaster, PA. The program featured Sjoerd Duiker on importance of no-till and crop diversity for soil health and soil conservation; Leroy Bupp, York County farmer with a soil health demonstration; Dave Dumm from Binkley and Hurst with a planter essentials presentation and a discussion by No-Till Alliance Board members Jim Hershey and Jeff Frey who talked about their cover cropping practices. 43 participants.

Healthy soils and top yields with no-till and cover crops. Penn State Extension Soil Health Workshop held on December 15th, 2017 in Penn State Cooperative Extension Office in Leesport, PA. The program featured Sjoerd Duiker on importance of no-till and crop diversity for soil health and soil conservation; Leroy Bupp, York County farmer with a soil health demonstration; Dave Dumm from Binkley and Hurst with a planter essentials presentation and a discussion by No-Till Alliance Board members Jim Hershey and Jeff Frey who talked about their cover cropping practices. 22 participants.

No-Till vs plastic bed vegetables. The Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Conference, Hershey, PA, Jan 31, 2018. Elsa Sanchez presented the results of the vegetable research of this grant. 150 attendees.

Consultations

Steve Groff consulted with a young Amish farmer who produces no-till sweet corn and brocolli, and consulted with a large grain and forage producer on use of cover crops. Three articles describe what he learned:

No-Till Sweet Corn and Broccoli Case Study- Part 1

No-Till Sweet Corn and Broccoli Case Study- Part 2

Taking Cover Crops to the next level

 

Learning Outcomes

Key areas in which farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitude, skills and/or awareness:

We did not do evaluations for this project.

Project Outcomes

5 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant applied for that built upon this project
21 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Impacts

This project contributed to awareness generation and stimulated innovations among farmers. Planting green has become a fairly common practice among farmers in Pennsylvania. A farmer is experimenting with use of cover crop and reduced tillage for potatoes as was recorded on a video for this project. A farmer that was coached for this project is experimenting with sunnhemp as a cover crop between sweet corn harvest and broccoli planting, to improve soil and provide all the nitrogen for the broccoli. The same farmer used winter killed cover crops prior to plastic bed shaping, and broadcast oats after the beds were laid to provide cover and improve soil structure between beds. A large grain farmer was experimenting with broadcasting radish/crimson clover mix just prior to soybean leaf drop. One farmer experienced many challenges planting no-till into a tall rye/vetch cover crop. These experiences will continue to stimulate farmers to use cover crops in vegetables and grain crops, although much more work is needed before cover crop use becomes the new normal in these crops.

 

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

The project delivered more than envisioned in some areas such as presentations, workshops, field days, and articles, but less in some other areas. We did observe great interest from vegetable and grain farmers alike in the topic of no-till and cover crops so this will stimulate us to pursue this venue in the future. The researchers learned a lot from the research project on no-till vegetables which generated a lot of research questions. Looking back we believe we promised too much for the resources available. We needed a person to manage the no-till/cover crop research trial, for example. Although distribution of cover crop seed to farmers was done the return of data recording sheets was marginal so this is probably not something we will do again. The area of improvement in soil management practices for vegetable production seems to be a high priority area for future work.

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.