Combining Alternative Cover Crop Strips, Living Mulches and Strip Tillage for Effective Weed and Nutrient Management in Organic Sweet Corn Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2010: $9,960.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Grant Recipient: Michigan State University
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Daniel Brainard
Michigan State University

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: sweet corn


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: display, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Energy: energy use
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Pest Management: competition, mulches - living, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: green manures, nutrient mineralization

    Proposal abstract:

    Despite the benefits of reduced tillage for fuel savings and soil health, adoption by organic farmers has been limited due in part to the challenges created for weed management. The objective of our proposed research is to improve weed suppression and nutrient management in production of organic sweet corn by using a novel approach of alternating cover crop strips in strip-tillage systems. N-fixing hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth) will be planted in the in-row space to be incorporated and supply N directly to the sweet corn, thereby limiting N availability to competing weeds. The between-row strips will consist of cereal rye (Secale cereale L.), which will be mowed to produce a thick mulch for early weed suppression. A white clover (Trifolium repens L.) living mulch will be frost-seeded in the between-row area for further weed suppression and addition of supplemental N. Cover crop species and location (rye, rye-vetch, rye-clover, or rye-vetch-clover) and tillage (strip till versus rototilling) will be examined for their effects on soil quality, N and water availability, weed suppression, and crop yield. Two levels of cultivation will be assessed for their ability to suppress weeds and the clover living mulch to prevent competition with sweet corn. We believe that segregating legume and cereal cover crops into strips will increase the synchrony between N availability and crop demand. This has potential to decrease fertilizer costs, N losses to the environment, and costs associated with weed management. Project outcomes will include an increased awareness of the benefits of alternating cover crop strips, reduced tillage, and living mulches. Results will be widely disseminated through peer reviewed publications, extension bulletins, and on-farm demonstrations.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objectives: Evaluate the effect of vetch and rye alternating strips (both with and without white clover living mulch) and strip-tillage on:
    1. Weed suppression and community composition within the in- and between-row environments.
    2. Cover crop contribution of N and soil N-dynamics.

    3. Yield and quality of organic sweet corn.
    4. Soil quality by utilizing short-term indicators of changes in soil health.

    Profitability of farmers will be improved through: i) a reduction in fertilizer and legume seed costs, and ii) a decrease in costs associated with weed management. Environmental benefits will be two-fold. First, improved synchrony of N release and crop uptake will reduce the amount of N lost to the environment. Second, development of a more effective reduced tillage system will increase adoption, thereby reducing fuel use and increasing carbon sequestration.

    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.