The problem with using conventional tillage practices for onion production on muck soils is that it results in the subsidence of muck via wind and water erosion and oxidation of organic matter at a rate of one foot every 10 years, which is not sustainable for preserving these non-renewable natural resources for long-term productivity. Onions are one of the most valuable vegetable crops produced in New York State with the majority of the 13 000 acres being grown on muck soil. Producing onions using conventional tillage practices results in degradation of soil health and increased subsidence. This leads to increased fertilizer and crop protection chemical input to maintain productivity, resulting only in increased subsidence and declining productivity at ever increasing costs. It is a scientifically proven fact that wind and water erosion, and subsidence decreases as ground cover increases and cultivation decreases. The proposed project is a collaborative effort among two onion growers and a Cornell Cooperative Extension Vegetable Specialist in one of the major onion growing regions in New York. We will develop a reduced tillage production system for onion production on muck soils and evaluate the effects of using reduced tillage and cover crops on soil health, which are essential to the long-term profitability of muck soils.
Project objectives from proposal:
In this study, we will develop a reduced tillage production system for onion production on muck soils and evaluate the effects of using reduced tillage and cover crops on soil health. Replicated side-by-side comparisons between reduced and conventional tillage systems will be made for both transplanted and direct seeded onions. Stand establishment, ground cover, yield, size and quality will be evaluated in both tillage systems. There is opportunity for more efficient use of fertilizer in zone tillage production systems where fertilizer is banded compared to a conventional system where it is broadcast. Therefore, we plan to assess soil nutrient levels at critical times during the growing season. We anticipate that there may be changes in weed, insect and disease pressure between reduced and conventional tillage systems, and plan to evaluate any differences. A simple economic analysis of each system, which will include the expenses associated with the use of equipment and pesticides will be conducted. The trials will be show-cased on summer tours and results will be presented statewide. The challenges inherent in adopting a reduced tillage system will be addressed and more grower cooperators will come on-board in future years of study as muck growers strive to preserve the long-term profitability of muck soils.