Impacts of Silage Tarps on Soil Arthropods, Soil Properties and Crop Yields

Project Overview

GNE19-205
Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2019: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2022
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Gillian Galford
University of Vermont

Commodities

Not commodity specific

Practices

  • Crop Production: silage tarps
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: biological control
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: soil physics, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    Silage tarps are impermeable black plastic films placed over crop beds before planting to cover soil, decompose cover crops, and suppress weeds and diseases. In the Northeast, popularity of tarps on farms of various sizes is increasing, but their impact on soil arthropods (mites, springtails, beetles, ants, and millipedes) is widely unknown. Beneficial soil arthropods are an integral part of the soil food web, acting as natural enemies to pests and key players in soil health. Sustained decreases in soil arthropod populations could contribute to crop pest vulnerability or poor soil conditions. In this project, we will test the impacts of silage tarps on soil arthropods, soil conditions, and crop yields in Vermont farms. We compare silage tarps to clear plastic tarps, which are less popular but are a potential alternative due to their availability on farms from hoophouses. At each farm we will test three treatments: 1. silage tarps, 2. clear plastic tarps, and 3. bare soil (control). Treatments will be replicated on three farms with different soil types, and we will sample at multiple times during and after tarp cover to assess lasting impacts. This project will be conducted with a Participatory Action Research framework, meaning that partner farmers will be included in method and knowledge creation. This will ensure relevancy and actionability of this project to the farming community. Our results will directly contribute to agricultural sustainability by informing management decisions that enhance environmental stewardship and bolster long-term production success.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1: Measure the effects of silage tarps and clear plastic tarps on soil arthropod diversity and soil properties.

    Hypothesis 1A: Overall soil arthropod diversity will be lower under both tarp treatments than in the control. Certain soil arthropod species will be enhanced by the treatments.

    Hypothesis 1B: Soil temperatures will be higher under both tarps as compared to the control. Soil temperatures will be hotter under clear plastic tarps than silage tarps. Soil moisture will be higher and more variable in the control but not significantly different between clear and silage tarps.

    Objective 2: Measure the effects of silage tarps and clear plastic tarps on crop outcomes of relevance and interest to the farmers.

    Hypothesis 2A: Weed prevalence will be lower under both treatments as compared to the control. Weed prevalence will be higher under clear plastic tarps than under silage tarps during tarping treatment, but there will be no significant difference of weed prevalence between treatments after tarp treatment.

    Hypothesis 2B: Crop yield will be higher in the tarp treatments than in the control, but not significantly different between treatments.

    Hypothesis 2C: There will be higher pest damage on crops in the tarp treatments than in the control treatment.

    Objective 3: Determine the relationships between soil arthropod diversity, soil properties, and crop properties.

    Hypothesis 3A: Soil arthropod diversity will be negatively correlated with soil temperature.

    Hypothesis 3B: Soil arthropod diversity will be positively correlated with weed prevalence and negatively correlated with crop pest damage.

    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.