Improving Soil Health Through Cover Crop Based No-Till Organic Vegetable Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2013: $9,997.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Grant Recipient: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Erin Silva
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: beans, peppers


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: organic matter

    Proposal abstract:

    No-till techniques have gained attention as a means to reduce the negative impacts of intensive tillage, which is routinely used by organic farmers for weed control, but significant questions remain about the viability of no-till techniques in organic vegetable systems. The Improving Soil Health Through Cover Crop Based No-Till Organic Vegetable Production project will compare cover crop species used in organic no-till vegetable systems, as measured by impacts on vegetable quality, yield, and soil health. Outcomes will include the development of best management practices for organic no-till vegetable production in the upper Midwest. Long-term impacts include increased no-till adoption among growers, leading to more effective organic weed management, improved soil health, and greater long-term financial and environmental sustainability. Research will be conducted on a university research station with input from a grower advisory committee. Outreach will be conducted through field days and information disseminated through websites, conference presentations, and publications directed toward grower audiences. Evaluation will be conducted at the field days, and through the grower advisory committee and data collected with distribution of publications and web resources.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The Improving Soil Health Through No-Till Organic Vegetable Production project for research in no-till organic vegetable systems is expected to have several integrated outcomes.


    Improve soil health (long term) and reduce soil and nutrient loss by erosion (short term): The use of no-till and cover cropping practices have been shown to increase soil organic matter, improve soil biology and soil health, reduce erosion, and improve soil aggregate structure. Research to identify successful applications of no-till on organic farms will lead to increased knowledge among growers about successful practices, in turn allowing increased implementation of this technique, ultimately resulting in improved soil health and reduced erosion and nutrient run-off.


    Increased environmental sustainability and farmer profitability: In the short term, this research will provide data, education and outreach that will providefarmers with reliable information about vegetable specific no-till systems, leading to increased farmer adoption of sustainable no-till techniques. Implementation of organic no-till and mulching practices will provide farmers with a more cost effective and environmentally sustainable tool for weed management and a low-cost source of slow release soil organic carbon resulting in increased farmer environmental sustainability and profitability.


    Increase productivity and profitability on organic farms: Increased adoption of no-till vegetable systems will reduce labor costs associated with tillage, weed management, and spreading mulch (medium term). In addition to reducing labor requirements and associated costs, no-till retains soil nutrients, minimizing the need for off-farm fertility and weed management inputs and fuel.

    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.