Evaluating raised-bed, no-till vegetable production systems for farm profitability, efficiency, and resilience

Project Overview

FNC20-1249
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $17,977.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Middle Way Farm, LLC
Region: North Central
State: Iowa
Project Coordinator:
Jordan Scheibel
Middle Way Farm, LLC

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Crop Production: cropping systems, no-till
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, community-supported agriculture
  • Pest Management: mulches - general
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: composting, organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: quality of life

    Proposal summary:

    Organic vegetable farmers in the Midwest are typically reliant on dry soil and tillage to prepare soil for planting. Increasingly wet, erratic springs are making initial soil preparation by rototiller more difficult. Both Humble Hands Harvest and Middle Way Farm have observed that beds raised by tillage prepared in advance of planting have allowed them to plant sooner in the spring and improved drainage during heavy rainfall. Pairing the practice of raised beds with a no-till approach combines the advantages of both systems. Raising the bed facilitates better drainage for quicker access after rain, while no-till creates a more stable, aggregated soil that is less prone to erosion during heavy rain. Both farms would like to explore the feasibility of transitioning their vegetable farms into raised no-till beds over time. The most important question we will explore is how much more labor and resources it takes to create, cultivate, and maintain no-till beds versus our current tractor-tillage systems. We also want to track production and soil quality characteristics between tilled versus no-till beds to see if there is a difference over time. Finally, we will record our qualitative observations of the work involved and problems encountered in each system.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Develop no-till systems on each of our farms that enables us to build and maintain beds without a tractor.
    2. Compare inputs and labor, quantitatively and qualitatively, between no-till and tillage systems.
    3. Observe production, plant health, and soil health differences between no-till and tillage systems.
    4. Share results with other vegetable farmers, our customers, and our community.
    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.