Low Input No-Till Vegetable Production in the Shenandoah Valley

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2007: $9,988.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Southern
State: Virginia
Principal Investigator:


  • Vegetables: broccoli, sweet corn


  • Crop Production: crop rotation, cover crops, no-till, nutrient cycling, application rate management
  • Education and Training: extension
  • Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement
  • Pest Management: biological control, mulching - plastic
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil quality/health

    Proposal summary:

    A wholesale market, the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction, began in 2005 and as a result the Valley, especially Rockingham and Augusta Counties, have seen significant increases in the number of vegetable and produce operations. However, current production practices often fail to provide for beneficial insect habitat, degrade soil organic matter and soil quality, encourage soil erosion and nutrient runoff, and may not be sustainable in the long run. The majority of commercial vegetable production operations in the valley do not incorporate or provide any form of beneficial insect habitat. Most operations rely heavily on commercial pesticides, and do not utilize cover crops or refuge areas. Almost all of the produce operations in the valley rely heavily on tillage, do not leave any surface residue, and do not utilize cover crops. As a result, soil quality, particularly soil structure, aggregate stability, soil organic matter, and inherent soil nutrient cycling capabilities decline rapidly. Furthermore, the majority of our valley farms are on moderate to severely sloping land, and the heavy reliance on tillage encourages both soil sediment loss and nutrient runoff. Many of our streams are currently listed as impaired waters, and thus runoff and sediment loss must be minimized. Currently, the majority of commercial vegetable production in the valley takes place on plastic mulch, and relies heavily on tillage and commercial pesticides and fertilizer inputs. Adoption of a reduced tillage vegetable production system that relies heavily on cover crops and insect refuges could both significantly decrease input costs and increase sustainability of these operations. In order to determine the effectiveness of a no-till, low input vegetable production system, I will compare these production practices to a conventional plasticulture production system side by side on my farm. Working with local Virginia Cooperative Extension agents, I will measure the differences in these production systems in terms of soil, crop and pest management outcomes. I will also develop detailed economic analyses between the two systems in order to validate economic savings. Overall goals of this project are to examine the effects of increasing beneficial insect habitat, building soil quality, and decreasing input costs for a two year vegetable crop rotation on my operation. The specific objectives of this project are to: 1. increase beneficial insect habitat by utilizing farmscaping, establishing refuge areas, using cover crops and reducing pesticide applications for a two year vegetable rotation; 2. increase soil quality and soil organic matter by utilizing high biomass cover crops, eliminating tillage, and minimizing pesticide applications; 3. decrease input costs by promoting pest predators, minimizing weed infestations, and reducing fertilizer costs by enhancing soil nutrient cycling dynamics; 4. quantify economic differences between cropping systems Brian Jones and Maria Ignosh from Virginia Cooperative Extension will assist in developing the outreach and dissemination for this project. A field day will be held at my farm in the summer of 2008 to present the results of the project and demonstrate the methods and techniques involved in a low input no-till vegetable production system. This project will also be highlighted in a field day to occur in the summer of 2007 on my farm for another unrelated project. In order to meet the goals of this project, I will establish a field scale replicated split-strip trial on my operation. A vegetable rotation consisting of sweet corn and broccoli will be established, with each component of the rotation beginning each of the two years of the study, in order to have both spatial and temporal replication. Main effect treatments will be either conventional vegetable production under plastic mulch, or a low input, no-till vegetable production system that utilizes high biomass cover crops. Within the low input system, cover crops will be established and managed in a “never fallow” system, where the soil surface is never left bare. Sub-treatments will be two levels, a high and low, of fertilizer applied through a drip irrigation system. This will allow us to determine if the low input system is providing adequate fertility needs from the inherent soil nutrient cycling process.

    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.