A Research/Extension Awareness Program for Low-Input Agriculture in Ohio
1) Establish sets of replicated plots at two locations in Ohio to compare two crop rotations under
several levels of external inputs, and provide continuing sites for developing less
chemical-intensive crop production systems.
2) Investigate changes in crop performance, biological activity, and soil characteristics
associated with low-input production strategies on different soil types.
3) Disseminate the best available information on low-input systems to farmers of Ohio through
field days, a reference bulletin, and other Extension activities.
Experimental plot sites were established at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development
Center Branches at Wooster, in northeast Ohio, and Hoytville, in northwest Ohio. Both sites
were cropped with two-year corn-soybean and four-year corn-soybean-wheat-clover rotations,
arranged so that every crop appeared every year and replicated three times at each location.
Each rotation received three "input" treatments: 1) no chemical inputs except to prevent crop
failure, 2) extension-recommended rates of fertilizer and pesticides, and 3) manure before corn
rather than fertilizer, and extension-recommended rates of pesticides. Manure was applied at
sufficient rates to provide all P and K needed by all crops in the rotation.
A series of county level Extension meetings dealing with low-input agriculture were conducted
across Ohio during the project period. The major emphasis of these meetings was to teach
farmers how to recognize and make use of resources already available on the farm, such as high
nitrogen test levels, available manure, and legume forage stands. Field days were sponsored by
the Experiment Station, and attended by 300-400 people at each site.
Perhaps the most significant finding of this project was the observation that apparent N
mineralization can be affected significantly by alteration in soil microclimate. In the relatively
cool, wet spring of 1990, mineralization from clover and manure was rapid enough to produce
competitive corn yields on the well drained soil at Wooster, but not on the poorly drained soil at
Hoytville. While such effects seem intuitively obvious, they are not usually considered when
making recommendations that involve N credits from organic N materials. The results also
indicated that the potential response of a crop to additions of fertilizer declines as planting is
delayed. Both soybeans at Wooster in 1990 and corn at Hoytville in 1989 showed no response to
fertilizer additions, because they were planted extremely late. This effect has been fairly well
recognized for N on corn but not for P and K on crops in general.
Another significant contribution of this project was the "Crop Production Alternatives" bulletin,
a publication which has enjoyed wide success and acceptance. Many advisors, county agents,
and consultants have commented that it provides a reference for them to find a set of
information that was previously scattered across a range of resources.
Farmer Adoption and Direct Impact:
Farmers were generally excited about using available resources to cut fertilizer purchases. Few
were interested in using cover crops or cultivation for weed control. Lack of time for cultivation
and the risks associated with using unproven and undeveloped cover crop techniques were
reasons for lack of interest in alternative weed control practices. The idea of banding herbicides
as a means of reducing costs was greeted favorably, particularly by farmers who were already
cultivating row middles to manage soil crusting.