Extreme weather events are increasingly common due to climate change. In the Upper Midwest, climate models predict more frequent heavy rainfall in the spring and fall, coupled with longer dry periods in the summer. Extreme rainfall erodes soil, interferes with timely fieldwork, and reduces crop yields; drought denies crops essential access to water. These changes can be devastating to diversified vegetables for which succession planting, continuous field access, even moisture, and harvest quality are critical to success. Reduced tillage systems are more resilient to severe storms, flooding, and drought due to improved water infiltration and water holding capacity, allowing more timely field access after weather events, more even soil moisture, and higher harvest quality.
Formal research on reduced tillage techniques for organic vegetables has increased, but these systems are far from proven and the farmers themselves are at the cutting edge of experimentation. “Exploring innovations in climate resilient organic vegetable production systems through collaborative research and knowledge building” couples replicated research station trials with farmer-led on-farm studies to address farmer-identified challenges with reduced tillage systems. This project builds on previous work through the Climate Resilient Organic Vegetable Production (CROVP) Community of Practice (CoP) established in our 2019-2023 SARE project.
Two replicated trials will focus on a cover-crop based reduced tillage system using crimped rye as an in situ mulch for no-till vegetable planting. Our current research identified adequate rye biomass for weed control and supplemental fertility for the no-till vegetable crop as ongoing challenges. Trials will investigate the effects of rye variety, vetch in cover crop mixes, and establishment methods on cover crop biomass and weed suppression, and the effect of rye termination method and supplemental fertility on vegetable crop success. Farmers in the CROVP CoP advised on trial design, and a farmer advisory group will help guide ongoing trials.
Farmer-led working groups will focus on three separate reduced-tillage systems for which they have identified the need for more peer information sharing and support: 1) mechanizing cut-and-carry mulch systems, 2) managing multi-year rotations of reduced tillage production techniques to accommodate management needs of diverse vegetable crops , and 3) managing winter-killed cover crops in deep compost mulch.
Research outcomes will be shared through the CROVP CoP and through sustainable agriculture networks, conferences, and publications. Through this project, we will support and multiply the innovative potential of a community with intimate knowledge of the food systems on which we all rely.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Assess agroecological outcomes for a cover crop based reduced tillage system with a focus on increased weed control and vegetable yield.
- Facilitate farmer working groups within the Climate Resilient Organic Vegetable Production (CROVP) Community of Practice (CoP) to focus on reduced tillage techniques for diversified vegetable production.
Learning outcomes for growers are knowledge and skills in using reduced tillage techniques. Action outcomes are adoption of reduced tillage techniques that increase vegetable production resilience. System outcomes are greater resilience of vegetable production in the Midwest to extreme weather events and increased peer-to-peer information flow about production innovations that increase resilience.