Exploring the Economic and Environmental Sustainability of No-Till Organic Sweet Potato Production

Project Overview

FNC16-1029
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2016: $7,115.00
Projected End Date: 01/30/2018
Grant Recipient: Buller Family Farm
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Tom Buller
K-State Research and Extension-DG Co

Annual Reports

Information Products

Commodities

  • Vegetables: sweet potatoes

Practices

  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Soil Management: general soil management

    Summary:

     This project was conceived as a way to explore ideas that are commonly called no-till organic production and attempt to test how well those ideas would integrate into sweet potato production.  In order to trial minimal tillage on my farm, I decided to compare 2 different systems of “no-till” organic agriculture with my standard tillage based production system.  One of these systems consists of a deep straw bed that is planted into, and the deep mulch provides ample cover to smother any weeds that could germinate.  The second system is often referred to under the moniker no-till but is really more intermittent tillage, in that the field is tilled in the preceding season to plant a cover crop, which is then rolled prior to planting and ideally that residue will prevent weed competition for the crops. This project tested these ideas in trial plots in 2016 and 2017 and presented the information to other farmers in a field day, as well as numerous workshop and conference presentations to share what was learned. The basic conclusion from our trials is that neither of these two no-till options are feasible for our farm to use to produce sweet potatoes.  Much can be learned in failure and the research report highlights several challenges that could be helpful for anyone considering working with either of these two systems. These include mulch sourcing, cover crop termination, weed control and wildlife management.    

    Project objectives:

    At the end of the two years, this project succeeded in the following objectives:

    • Determine that organic no-till production systems for sweet potatoes are challenging to manage and until the challenges can be overcome not economically viable for Northeast Kansas.
    • Highlight specific challenges of implementing no-till production practices for further research and refinement
    • Provide this information to over 70 growers and agriculture professionals
    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.