Conservation tillage for organic cabbage: Yield, weed growth, and management costs

Project Overview

FNE12-736
Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2012: $4,561.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Northeast
State: Connecticut
Project Leader:
Janna Berger
Adamah/Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center
Co-Leaders:
Arthur Schwab
Adamah / Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center

Annual Reports

Commodities

  • Vegetables: cabbages

Practices

  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: green manures

    Proposal summary:

    Soil loss is a pressing issue in all annual agriculture. The sloped uplands and flood prone valleys of the Northeast make it of great concern in our region. Organic vegetable farmers use many techniques to protect their soil but in the absence of herbicides, frequent tillage is a common weed control method. This experiment seeks to build on previous work in cover crop mulches and organic no-till farming by growing cabbage after oats and vetch in three tillage treatments: conventional tillage, zone tillage, and no-till. Three cabbage varieties will be grown in the three treatments in four replications of 12 by 5 foot plots in a randomized complete block design for each cabbage variety. During the growing season we will measure cabbage growth and yield, soil nitrate, and weed density to assess the effects of the tillage treatments on weed control and cabbage production. This research will also focus on quantifying the labor and equipment costs of each treatment by closely measuring the amount of time each production activity (like transplanting and weeding) takes on a per plot basis. The results of the experiment will help other farmers to assess the short term costs of their conservation practices and we will undertake to share our results as widely as possible by presenting them at organic farming conferences and producing a summary bulletin.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project will help other farmers by assessing the feasibility of zone tilled and no-tilled organic cabbage in terms of their effect on yield and management costs relative to conventionally tilled organic cabbage. Many farms in the Northeast are located on sloped land or in floodplains and it is easy to see soil loss in eroded channels on tilled hillsides or after overland floods. While the costs of soil loss are high in the long run and motivate many farmers to employ conservation practices already, the short term cost of these practices, such as reducing tillage, must maintain the farms year-to-year financial viability. If we find that zone tilled or no-tilled organic cabbage out-yield the conventionally tilled control and require less labor during production then the choice is an easy one for us, and other farmers, to make going forward. However, it could also be that we see a reduction in yield or increase in management cost in the conservation tillage treatments. If this were to be the case, it will be essential for farmers to know the short-term cost of their long-term conservation practices. By measuring these effects, this research will allow farmers to compare the costs and benefits of conservation tillage for organic cabbage both to conventional tillage and to other conservation practices they might undertake or already implement.

    Outreach will be accomplished both by educating the participants in Adamah’s sustainable agriculture fellowship and other visitors on-site and reaching the greater farming community through conference presentations or poster (at the NOFA summer conference and state specific NOFA winter conferences) and the dissemination of a short summary bulletin. By educating our fellows in research methods and conservation tillage practices, they will be able to take this knowledge into the larger world after they leave the program. The summary bulletin will be available on our website, as a hard copy when we present the results and on-site at Adamah, and be submitted to the CT-NOFA newsletter as an article. We will also share the results of this experiment with our email network of alumni, many of whom work at other farms, and with other researchers, whether farmers or professionals, who are working in the area of conservation tillage in organic agriculture. We will share our raw data and analysis thereof with anyone who would like to use it.

    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.