Plant Productivity Rates and Cost Effectiveness for Different Soil Tillage Systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2010: $7,766.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Tanya Jurcic
Windfall Farms

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: peppers, cucurbits


  • Crop Production: cover crops, no-till
  • Education and Training: networking, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, feasibility study
  • Production Systems: general crop production

    Proposal summary:

    When choosing a soil management plan, farmers in the Northeast need to take into consideration many factors such as soil and water conservation, practicality of a system, environmental impact, and the economic implications for their farm. The goal of this project is to assess what type of tillage program, in conjunction with a mulching system, produces the highest plant productivity rates and is the most cost effective. We will test three types of tillage systems (tilling with a tractor, roller-crimper, and flame weeder) in a field seeded with a cover crop of winter rye. We will be planting pepper transplants and seeding winter squash into each type of row preparation and also examining how the use of mulch compares to bare ground in all three systems. Results will be measured by calculating the economic costs (time put into preparation, planting, weeding, and harvesting) and measuring the productivity (number and weight of fruits per plant throughout the season) of the plants. Outreach will consist of posting results and including a monthly narrative of the project on our website, hosting a Hudson Valley Growers meeting, and preparing a presentation to take to conferences in the Northeast.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    We propose to set up test plots to determine whether tilling or using the organic no-till method under varying circumstances will provide us with a clear picture of the most economical and environmentally sound system for a small farm in the Northeast.

    In the fall we planted a field with winter rye, which is a cover crop that has been used extensively in organic no-till systems. We intend to set up six planting rows with a width of three and a half feed each. Each row will be 135 feet long and divided into two halves of 67.5 feet in length. Each row will have pepper transplants planted into one half and winter squash seeded into the other half.

    In Row 1, the cover crop will be tilled using a plow and the soil will be left bare.

    In Row 2, the cover crop will be tilled using a plow and then the soil will be mulched with wheat straw.

    In Row 3, the cover crop will be rolled and then the soil will be left bare.

    In Row 4, the cover crop will be rolled and then the soil will be mulched with wheat straw.

    In Row 5, the cover crop will be flame weeded and the soil will be left bare.

    In Row 6, the cover crop will be flame weeded and then the soil will be mulched with wheat straw.

    The tilled rows will act as a control for the bare soil and mulched soil, no-till rows.

    Results will be measured by several methods. First, we plan to calculate the man hours put into maintaining (preparation, planting, weeding, and harvesting) each row. Second, we will record harvest totals (number and weights of fruits per plant throughout the season)from all rows. Third, plant samples from all rows will be collected and sent to a lab for plant tissue analysis. All the data will be entered into an Excel spreadsheet and analyzed at the end of the growing season to determine which methode produced the most cost effective results and what, if any, continued research should be pursued.

    We understand that the results will probably not point to one best way, but we hope that by compiling data on different practices that a resource can be created for us and other farmers to draw from when deciding how to pursue a management plan.

    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.