- Crop Production: catch crops, conservation tillage, cover crops, no-till, nutrient cycling, nutrient management, tissue analysis
- Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, indicators, soil stabilization
- Pest Management: smother crops
- Production Systems: agroecosystems, organic agriculture
- Soil Management: nutrient mineralization, organic matter, soil analysis, soil microbiology, soil quality/health
Organic farming systems are reliant upon soil biological processes to convert fertilizer applications to mineral forms which crops can use. However, the soil biota responsible for these essential biological processes, and their interactions with one another, are not understood well enough currently for farmers to optimize their fertility regimes. Therefore, farmers need practical information about how their crop management practices effect soil biota and how that in turn impacts nutrient cycling in their fields. Tillage and cover cropping are two widely-used weed management strategies in organic cropping systems that are also known to have important impacts on soil biota. I propose to investigate how these crop management practices impact soil biota and nitrogen cycling in a field experiment that incorporates different cover cropping strategies and tillage practices. I will compare the effects of these treatments to determine how these management practices impact soil biota, nitrogen pools, and crop yield. I will then use modeling to tease out relationships between these factors. Results from this experiment will be used to develop a greater understanding of how soil biological processes are altered by common farming practices, and to begin establishing field management guidelines for farmers that will enhance soil biological processes and improve crop fertility management on their farms. Anticipated benefits will be decreased production costs through greater fertilizer use efficiency and the reduction of negative environmental impacts by decreasing nitrogen leaching. The results of this research will be disseminated through multiple outreach channels including online resources and workshops at farmer meetings.
Project objectives from proposal:
The long-term goal of my work is to improve fertility management on organic and sustainable farms by providing farmers with information and recommendations to enable them to better utilize soil biological processes. To achieve this goal, for this project I will focus on the following objectives:
Objective 1. Quantify the effects of the cover crop and tillage practices on soil microarthropod communities, soil microbial activity, soil and plant tissue nitrogen and carbon pools, and crop yield.
Objective 2. Quantify the impact of soil microarthropods on microbial nutrient cycling and crop productivity under different organic crop production practices.