Addressing Challenges of a Reduced Tillage Organic Vegetable System: In-row Weed Control and Fertility Management

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2010: $8,949.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Grant Recipient: Cornell University
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Anusuya Rangarajan
Cornell University


  • Vegetables: peppers


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance
  • Pest Management: mulches - killed
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Soil Management: nutrient mineralization, soil analysis

    Proposal abstract:

    Organic vegetable production has traditionally relied upon deep plowing for primary field preparation. Grower interest in conservation tillage methods is increasing due to the reduction in fuel and labor costs and improved soil health. Deep zone tillage is a conservation tillage method that minimizes the soil disturbance to the planting row. It has been successfully adopted by conventional vegetable growers. Two challenges to reducing tillage in organic vegetables are in-row weed control and fertility management. A cover crop may by integrated to suppress weeds and fix N (if legumes are included), but efficacy depends on the aboveground biomass of the cover crop. This project will examine if concentrating cover crop biomass into crop rows will improve in-row weed control and soil fertility in an organic conservation tillage system. Two cover crop combinations (oat pea mix and hairy vetch rye mix) will be sown on two different planting dates and at two rates to assess biomass produced and influence of biomass to in-row weed control and nutrient supply of a deep zone tilled bell pepper crop. Oat pea covers server as a control, bareground treatment, with some fertility contribution. Hairy vetch-rye plots will be flail mowed. After deep zone tillage and transplanting, cover crop biomass in half of the hairy vetch-rye plots will be raked to concentrate it in-row. The effect of this cover crop management on pepper plant growth, yield, weed suppression, and soil N fertility and temperature will be monitored over the season. An economic analysis will determine feasibility.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The overall goal of this study is to evaluate management strategies of cover crops to enhance weed suppression and nitrogen fertility in organic, reduced-till vegetables.
    The specific objectives we have are to:
    1. Determine if planting a cover crop at a higher rate compensates for later planting date to generate adequate biomass for weed suppression in and nitrogen contribution to conservation-tilled organic vegetables.
    2. Assess effectiveness of a hairy vetch and rye mulch moved in-row to suppress weeds.
    3. Evaluate pepper growth and fruit earliness and yields under different cover crop management systems.
    4. Compare total soluble and potentially mineralizable N and soil temperature between overwintering hairy vetch and rye and the non-overwintering oats and pea cover crops to determine if N levels or temperatures are sufficient for good yields in this conservation tillage system.
    5. To determine which cover crop systems is most feasible for use in organic conservation tillage, through a comparison of partial enterprise budgets and crop yields.
    6. Share results with growers through field days and winter conferences.

    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.