Assessing Productivity and Profitability of Vegetable Production in the Central Missouri River Bottomlands: Tools for Farm Transitions

Project Overview

FNC15-1023
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2015: $11,917.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Grant Recipient: Small Farm Systems LLC
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Coordinator:
Emily Wright
Small Farm Systems LLC

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Agronomic: potatoes
  • Fruits: melons
  • Vegetables: cucurbits, sweet potatoes

Practices

  • Crop Production: cropping systems, intercropping, multiple cropping
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, budgets/cost and returns, business planning, feasibility study, labor/employment
  • Sustainable Communities: community development, employment opportunities, local and regional food systems

    Proposal summary:

    Problem/Solution

    Missouri’s agricultural lands are dominated by commodity crop production systems. In 2012, only 20,000 of Missouri’s 28,000,000 acres of agricultural land were used to grow vegetables (USDA Census of Agriculture 2012). Diversifying land use and transitioning more of Missouri’s fertile farmland to vegetable production has many potential benefits including higher profits, job creation, and a more robust local food system with positive ecological and social benefits. We feel that the time is ripe to promote diversified vegetable production in the Midwest. We hope to collaborate on this project to create a model that can serve as the basis for transitioning farmland in our community and beyond.Our project aims to assess the productivity and profitability of four different low-input crop systems on a property recently transitioned from commodity crop production in the Missouri River bottomlands.We’ve selected potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and dry black beans for our assessment. We will conduct a cost-benefit analysis for each crop. These analyses will be used to put together locally relevant, customizable enterprise models. These models will function as basic planning and financing tools for diversified crop systems and, ideally, as justification for new and existing farmers to transition more land to vegetable production. Concurrently, we will work to identify markets and distribution networks to support opportunities for local food production. We define “low-input” as a system that utilizes on-farm resources for productivity and reduces the need for external inputs such as conventional fertilizers, pesticides and fossil-fuel based energy. As such, this system will forgo the use of herbicides, inorganic pesticides, and chemical fertilizers - focusing instead on local organic inputs of manure and cover crops, crop rotation, mechanical cultivation, flame weeding, wheel and hand hoeing, and integrated pest control methods to solve everyday agricultural problems. Our proposal uses vegetable crops from different families, allowing for a robust multi-year rotation. To build soil fertility, increase nitrogen availability, and reduce erosion, we will use a diverse set of cover crops prior to planting. After the vegetable crops are harvested, we will act quickly to sow cover crops in their place. To control weeds, we do plan to use mechanical cultivation with a tractor between rows. On a slightly smaller scale, we will use targeted and well-timed flame weeding to give our crops an early advantage. While flame weeding utilizes propane, it has been shown to be dozens of times more efficient than hand hoeing weeds (Deese, California Polytechnic Institute, 2010) and thus a valuable asset to small-scale vegetable production systems. Flame weeding is a new weed control system for this site. Once plants are established, wheel and hand hoes will be our primary tools. For control of pests such as the squash vine borer, hornworm, and Colorado potato beetle, we will apply Bacillus Thuringiensis on a targeted, as-needed basis. In addition, research has also shown that buckwheat cover crops promote beneficial insects that can help control Colorado Potato Beetle. (Hadad,Cornell 2010) We plan to use a small Blue Hubbard squash trap crop to trap and remove as many squash beetles as possible. We acknowledge that these methods will require more labor and attention than the conventional row-cropping systems that currently dominate the landscape. However, if these methods generate more income from farmland, there could be substantial opportunities for creating attractive and fulfilling agricultural jobs in rural Missouri.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Assess vegetable crop productivity on a property transitioned from commodity production, using cost-benefit analyses for each crop to build locally-relevant, customizable enterprise models that can expand low-input diversified crop production in the Missouri River bottomlands.
    2. Determine whether these growing systems might improve environmental health by measuring any changes in organic matter percentage, total organic carbon, macro and micro nutrients, and soil erosion.
    3. Share results through on-farm and community field events
    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.