Optimizing reduced tillage systems for vegetables grown in the upper Northeast

2003 Annual Report for LNE03-189

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2003: $150,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Dr. Anusuya Rangarajan
Cornell University

Optimizing reduced tillage systems for vegetables grown in the upper Northeast


This project seeks to promote strategies for adapting reduced tillage (RT) system to vegetable production in the Upper Northeast. The cool climate in the northern part of the region often makes no-till difficult, since the soil takes a long time to warm. The project manager will use on-farm and experiment-station research, workshops, and field demonstrations to promote other reduced-tillage strategies specific to the climate and soil of this area. Case studies will capture the experiences of individual farmers as they adopt reduce tillage practices and will be used for further outreach and education. Additional research will explore innovative techniques that may allow growers to minimize tillage operations spatially or temporally. Vegetable farmers will learn about and adopt the systems best suited to their farms.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Of the 200 growers who attend workshops and field demonstrations on reduced tillage systems promoted through this project, 20 will engage in on-farm research and demonstration projects and 10 of these growers will change their cropping systems to accommodate reduced tillage for at least one of their crops, within one year after the end of the project.


The first phase of this project was designed to focus on generating grower interest in reduced tillage for vegetable systems. To this end, the project has sponsored and co-sponsored a series of field days and a workshop throughout the Northeast to bring information directly to growers. We targeted attendance by at least 100 growers in 2003, and exceeded that (estimated 250 growers attending events). Key events in 2003 were:

2003 Second Annual Organic Crops and Soils Field Day – Over 150 growers participated in this event. The project presented an informational poster and displayed material targeted towards small-scale vegetable producers. While the field day focused on organic crop management, many conventional growers attended and were interested in any efforts to improve soil quality.

Fresh Ayre Farm Field Day – Expert grower George Ayres hosted a reducted tillage field day that featured excellent examples of zone-till corn and pumpkins. Over 50 attendees participated in discussions and equipment demonstrations on maintaining productive soils with reduced tillage. George shared his experiences, both positive and negative, with the transition to reduced tillage systems for his sweet corn and pumpkin production. He is currently attempting to test other crops in the system.

Branton Farm Field Day – Over 30 processing vegetable growers, industry, crop consultants, extension and faculty participated in this meeting held at Donn Branton’s farm in Genesee County. Excellent discussions ensued around equipment setup and availability. Donn shared his experiences with implementing reduced tillage on sweet corn and peas, as well as field crops.

County Fair Farm Field Day – Grower Andy Williamson showcased his custom-made 2- row zone-till cart and shared his experiences with implementing zone tillage in pumpkins and sweet corn in Maine. Linkages with formed with Maine USDA-ARS researchers who expressed a strong interest in incorporating reduced tillage experiments into their program. The local Maine cooperative extension educators were also present and indicated that they hope to promote conservation tillage systems.

Beech Grove Farm / PASA Field Day – This field day was co-sponsored with the Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture and the Northeast Organic Network. Eric and Anne Nordell are particularly interested in adapting reduced tillage systems for their operation and organic production systems. Approximately 100 individual attended this field day.

Reduced Tillage Farmer to Farmer Roundatable, New England Vegetable Growers Meeting. Steve Groff hosted a roundtable discussion on reduced tillage systems for vegetables. The one-hour session had at least 50 growers attending, and the level of interest was very high. The format allowed for a free flow of discussion on challenges and opportunities for reducing tillage in vegetable systems. At least four growers have indicated interest in participation in the project.

In February 2004, several expert growers are presenting at the NYS Vegetable Conference as part of soil quality and reduced tillage educational sessions.

One challenge in the first year of the project was that at most of our reduced tillage events, the primary attendees were field crop growers or mixed field crop-vegetable growers. These operations tended to be large in scale. We would like to also engage smaller operations and will try to focus on these in the design of the second year field days and educational events. While we have generated a list of interested growers, some of the collaborators believe that we will need to take a more one-on-one approach to engaging participants. This is primarily due to the fairly significant changes needed to implement reduced tillage on farms. We are currently discussing strategies to combine both group and one-on-one type training programs.

We did not implement the reduced tillage survey that was planned in the original proposal for two reasons: 1) delay in project start date with funding and hiring of a project technician (June 1), and 2) existence of another survey that had asked growers about implementation of reduced tillage. We are currently re-examining this data set to determine if another more specific survey will be needed. We would implement this in the early spring of 2004.

Applied Field Research:

We implemented the first year of an experiment comparing variations of reduced tillage strips widths and depths on cabbage growth and productivity. Late-season harvests, which are necessary regardless of the weather, and the consequent heavy traffic on wet soils, make the cabbage system a prime candidate for conversion to conservation tillage. There is a growing interest to adopt practices that promote soil health throughout the season to prevent a net decline in soil quality and productivity and to build the soils to be more resilient when extreme impacts are unavoidable.

The objective of this research is to gain a mechanistic understanding of conditions created by a conservation tillage system and the effects on cabbage growth response, quality and yield. While adverse conditions associated with untilled soils have been quantified, such as the presence of a previously compacted layer that would be temporarily alleviated by conventional tillage, there lacks a direct link to crop response that would establish at what point during growth the impact of these conditions is most significant, thereby suggesting timely management strategies. The goal of our research is to determine if certain zone tillage configurations may improve cabbage performance in a reduced-tillage system. Different zone widths and depths were tested either with or without a rye residue on the surface, to evaluate impacts of both tillage and residue on crop performance.

We will also be collaborating with the Cornell Soil Quality Work Team, to collect additional data in their large scale systems comparison of zone tillage and conventional tillage. We are planning trials for the 2004 season focused on a diversity of crops and using the Residue Saver as well as ridge systems.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Evaluations collected from the field days indicate that there is a general sense of curiosity about the feasibility of reduced tillage systems for vegetables. Ten growers have indicated that they may be willing to host on-farm research plots in 2004. We are on schedule as far as the project milestones and progress towards performance targets.

In the cabbage reduced tillage experiment, the presence of rye mulch reduced cabbage yield by 5 tons per acre compared to rye-free treatments. However, average yield in the rye treatments was 20 tons per acre and therefore still comparable to commercial yields for NYS. Mulch was also a significant determinant of head weight, with head weights in rye treatments 1 lb. less on average than when rye was removed. Tillage was also a significant factor in determining yields. The 12 in. width/12 in. depth treatment, averaged across mulch levels, had the highest yields, even greater than conventional tillage control. Comparisons show that only the least tillage treatment (6 in. width/4 in. depth) had lower yields on average than conventional and the two deeper tillage treatments. In the treatments with deeper tillage (12 in depth), a 12 in. width had significantly higher yields than the 6 in. width.


Charles Mohler

[email protected]
Senior Research Associate
Cornell University
, 907 Bradfield Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072550199
John Mishanec

[email protected]
Extension Associate
Integrated Pest Management
90th State Street
6th Floor Suite 600
Albany , NY 12207
Office Phone: 5184622553
Kevin Sanwald

[email protected]
Extension Associate
CCE Suffolk County
Curt Petzoldt

[email protected]
Senior Extension Associate
NYS IPM Program
IPM Building, NYSAES
Geneva , NY 14456
Office Phone: 3157872206
Donn Branton

[email protected]
Branton Farms
8618 Buckley Road
LeRoy, NY 14482
Charles Bornt

[email protected]
Extension Educator
Cornell Cooperative Extension, Capital District
61 State Street
Troy, NY 12180
Office Phone: 5182724210
George Ayres

[email protected]
Freshayr Farm
4920 Herendeen Road
Shortsville, NY 14548
Office Phone: 5852894957
Carol MacNeil

[email protected]
Senior Extension Educator
Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ontario County
480 North Main Street
Canandaigua, NY 14424
Office Phone: 5853943977
Mark Hutton

[email protected]
Assistant Professor
The University of Maine
Highmoor Farm
Monmouth, ME 04259
Office Phone: 2079332100
Andy Williamson

[email protected]
County Fair Farm
423 Augusta Road
Jefferson , ME 04348
Office Phone: 2075493536
Harold Van Es

[email protected]
Associate Professor
Cornell University
1005 Bradfield Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072555629
Gary Sweet

Expert Grower
8100 Root Rd
North Ridgeville, OH 44039
Office Phone: 4403272676
Robert Schindelbeck

[email protected]
Extension Associate
Department of Crop and Soil Science
1003 Bradfield Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072551706
John Idowu

[email protected]
Project Coordinator
Cornell University
1015 Bradfield Hall
Dept. of Crop and Soil Sciences
Ithaca, NY 14850
Office Phone: 6072551706
Website: http://www.hort.cornell.edu/reducedtillage/
Steve Groff

[email protected]
Cedar Meadow Farm
679 Hilldale Rd
Holtwood, PA 17532
Office Phone: 7175756778
Dale Moyer

[email protected]
Senior Extension Educator
Cornell Cooperative Extension, Suffolk Co.
423 Griffing Avenue
Suite 100
Riverhead, NY 11901
Office Phone: 6317277850