Learning from farmer innovation in nitrogen fixation for improved nutrient management on organic farms

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $99,108.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Julie Grossman
Cornell University
Laurie Drinkwater
Cornell University

Annual Reports


  • Additional Plants: trees


  • Crop Production: cover crops, nutrient cycling
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: green manures, soil microbiology

    Proposal abstract:

    Biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) is the major source of new nitrogen in organic agriculture and conventional growers are also becoming increasingly interested in cover crops due to the increasing costs of purchased fertilizers. However, there has been almost no research devoted to determining how soil management practices impact this process on working farms. This project will benefit vegetable growers in two main ways: 1) We will conduct a survey of BNF on working farms to provide farmers with rates of N-fixation in their fields; and together with Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY), 2) we will develop two farmer learning opportunities – a workshop series and a newsletter column. For the survey, we will conduct in-depth interviews with 25-30 collaborators from whose farms we will sample BNF using natural abundance stable isotope methodology to learn about their cover crop management. The farmer learning opportunities will be designed together with NOFA-NY. We will develop workshops for growers to learn about BNF from both basic and advanced perspectives. The first workshop will be designed to share the current state of knowledge about green manures in the Northeast region, while the second will address advanced topics of cover crop management for BNF. We will also develop a newsletter column to be published in NOFA-NY quarterly newsletter. Combined, it is expected that of the 50-60 farmers involved as workshop attendees or survey collaborators, 25 will plan to adjust their management of green manures within 6 months of workshop and survey completion. Over 2000 growers are expected to learn about cover crop BNF in our column. We will verify the changes in management practices through personal phonecalls.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Performance Target Pyramid

    Our performance target has three tiers, very similar to a pyramid. The bottom tier is the activity that impacts the largest grower stakeholder group, while the top tier is a more focused activity with a smaller group of stakeholders. For a diagram of our performance targets that was included in our original proposal, please contact the Project Coordinator, Julie Grossman. email: [email protected] Bottom Tier: Over 2000 growers and those working as grower educators will read answers to farmer questions on green manure management for BNF in our column Middle Tier: Overall, the 60 farmers trained in green manure management for BNF will act as informal educators to another 60 farmers who were not directly trained Top Tier: Of the 50-60 farmers involved as workshop attendees, collaborators, or advisors, 25 will adjust their management of green manures within 6 months of project completion.

    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.