Filling soil health prescriptions with targeted cover crops

2009 Annual Report for ENE09-110

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2009: $98,158.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Dr. Thomas Bjorkman
Cornell University

Filling soil health prescriptions with targeted cover crops


In 2009 we trained eight extension educators in interpreting the Cornell Soil Health Test for the purpose of finding opportunities for using cover crops to overcome production limitations identified by the test. We collected Soil Health Tests on 39 farms with the expectation of testing cover crops and subsequent vegetable growth on many of those farms. Extension field staff worked with growers to interpret their tests and chose cover crops to plant in a split field.

Objectives/Performance Targets

The performance target is that participating growers will, by increasing their soil health through the use of appropriate cover crops: Increase yield by 10% on targeted fields due to better tilth, lower root disease, lower weed pressure and more effective cultivation. Increase the value of their early crops by 10% due to timelier planting and higher quality. Reduce their applied N fertilizer by 20% due to nitrogen scavenging or fixation by the cover crop. Reduce the cost of mitigating runoff.


Milestone 1. Train team.

Held an all-day workshop in Troy, NY on August 17, 2009 for training and to use actual soil health tests for workshopping solutions. We engaged two additional extension educators new to the Capital District team. Training continued with a 90-minute workshop session at the annual November CCE Food and Agriculture In Service. As a result of that session, we added three extension cooperators who will mount an allied effort in the northern 6 counties of NY with other funding.

The New York State Executive budget for FY2011 would eliminate funding for IPM specialist John Mishanec, a major participant. We will need contingency plans should he not be able to continue in the project.

Milestone 2. Improve decision tool.

Increase integration with Managing Cover Crops Profitably. An HTML version was recently put online by the National Agricultural library and SARE, so that we can begin integration. Reaching this milestone is somewhat delayed because there is no longer an in-house web editor available for hire. We are looking for an outside contractor who can meet the institutional requirements.

Strengthen the basis for recommending specific cover crops. The field research has continued with a bean crop grown after the first season of cover crop, then replanting to the same cover crop on the identified plots. We expect to raise cucumbers as the vegetable in 2010, which should be sensitive to changes in soil health. Summer growth produced roughly one ton per acre of shoot biomass for all the cover crops. The first cycle of cover crops had no statistically significant effect on soil health parameters, except that yellow mustard increased aggregate stability. There was no statistically significant difference in yield with a mean yield of 6.5 tons per acre and the statistical power to detect a change of 1.0 tons per acre. We expect the second and third cycle of cover crops to begin giving detectable changes.

Milestone 3. 43 growers get Cornell Soil Health Tests.

Soil health tests were collected for 39 growers in spring 2009. One extension cooperator was unable to collect tests due to other commitments but expects to enroll growers based on CSHT samples taken in 2010 for other purposes. Twenty four growers are in New York, ten in Pennsylvania, four in Massachusetts, and one in Vermont.
Soil health reports were received by growers and extension cooperators in September and early October 2009.

Milestone 4. 30 Growers will plant a cover crop based on their soil health test.

Extension cooperators are discussing the results with growers in Fall 2009 and winter 2010. One grower has already planted a cover crop; most are expected to do so during 2010.

Milestone 5. 24 growers will raise a cover crop successfully and evaluate the effect on their farm.

Split-field trials are anticipated for the 2011 growing season.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

The primary outcome thus far is an increase in the skill of the extension staff at interpreting soil health tests to find opportunities for cover crop use to reach management goals.

A second outcome is greater attention to the soil health test by vegetable growers. Grower feedback during the soil health session at the 2010 Empire Fruit and Vegetable Expo indicates high demand for management recommendations, which we will be providing through this project.


Amy Ivy
CCE Association Director
6064 Route 22, Suite 5
Plattsburgh, NY 12901
Office Phone: 5185617450
Chuck Bornt
Extension Associate
Cornell Cooperative Extension
61 State Street
Troy, NY 12180-3412
Office Phone: 5182724210
Laura McDermott
Extension Associate
415 Lower Main St.
Hudson Falls, NY 12839
Office Phone: 5187462562
Carol MacNeil
Extension Vegetable Specialist
Cornell Cooperative Extension
480 N. Main St
Canandaigua, NY 14424
Office Phone: 5853943977
Tianna Dupont
Sustainable Agriculture Educator
Penn State Cooperative Extension
14 Gracedale Avenue
Nazareth, PA 18064
Office Phone: 6107461970
Jeff Miller
Extension Educator
121 Second Street
Oriskany, NY 13424
Office Phone: 3157363394
Ruth Hazzard
Vegetable IPM Specialist
University of Massachusetts
Department of Plant Soil and Insect Science
250 Natural Resources Rd.
Amherst, MA 01003
Office Phone: 4135453696
Molly Shaw
Fruit and Vegetable Specialist
Cornell Cooperative Extension
56 Main St
Owego, NY 13827
Office Phone: 6076874020