Optimizing reduced tillage systems for vegetables grown in the upper Northeast

2004 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


  1. The goal of the reduced tillage project is to increase the profitable use of reduced tillage systems for vegetables grown in the cooler climates of the upper Northeast. The main challenge will be to focus on overcoming some of the problems inherent in adopting reduced tillage systems, and demonstrate that these systems improve soil quality, maintain yields, and reduce costs. The specific objectives of the project are
    1) Promote strategies for adapting reduced tillage (RT) systems for the Upper Northeast
    2) Refine different tillage systems for vegetables, including zone, strip, ridge and the Residue Saver with different vegetable crops, such as sweet corn, cabbage, beans/peas, tomatoes and pumpkins
    3) Integrate case studies of grower experiences and adaptations of RT with other information related to decision making and management of soils, crops, and pests into an educational resource for growers thus developing the ‘tool box’ for growers interested in reduced tillage.
    4) Have new growers transition part of their farm or rotation to reduced tillage systems by the end of the project.

    In order to fulfill the above objectives, the project has under taken several tasks over the past two years, which included:
    1) Survey of reduced tillage needs for vegetables grown in NE united states,
    2) Coordination and funding of reduced tillage on farm/on station trials to solve some urgent issues relating to vegetables cultivation,
    3) Setting up of outreach programs to enlighten vegetable growers on reduced tillage
    4) Development of a website and release of newsletters for information dissemination on reduced tillage
    5) Advisory services to growers on selection of appropriate reduced tillage system for their specific farm situation
    6) Relating reduced tillage methods to improved soil quality.

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 second year of this project was focused on increasing grower’s interest in reduced tillage, sharing of available research results and setting up reduced tillage trials in vegetable systems. To this end, the project has sponsored and co-sponsored some field days and a workshop throughout the Northeast to bring information directly to growers. The project has also funded and c o-funded several vegetable reduced tillage trials in the NE region.

    Reduced tillage events in 2004 were:

    Steve Groff Reduced Tillage Field Day
    A reduced tillage field day was held on August 3, at Cedar Meadow Farms. The meeting featured a poster presentation on the challenges of reduced tillage in cultivating vegetables in NE United States. About thirty people attended this field day.
    The meeting also featured discussions on no-till sweet corn on Steve’s farm. Reduced tillage equipment were displayed. Improvements in soil quality due to no-till were also highlighted and shown in the field.

    Field day at Lynn Fish & George Ayres Farms, Farmington, NY
    A field day was organized by Carol MacNeil at Fish’s and Fresh-Ayr Farms on August 5, 2004. Lynn Fish, George Ayres, Dale Hemminger and Harold van Es from Cornell University gave presentations on reduced tillage and soil health. About 30 people attended this field day. Reduced tillage equipment was seen at three farms as well as a zone till vs conventional vegetable trial.

    Cornell Organic Research Farm Twilight Meeting, Freeville, NY
    A twilight meeting was held at organic research farm at Freeville, NY on August 3, 2004. About 25 people attended. Reduced tillage poster was displayed and handouts were given out during this meeting. USDA funded a new systems research project, examining interactions of tillage, cover crop and nutrient input intensity. The first year of this experiment had sweet corn planted into ridge tillage.

    Innovative Growers Group field day, Ley Roy, NY
    A field day, organized by Innovative Growers Group was held at Branton Farms, LeRoy NY on August 3, 2004. The field day featured presentations from different speakers. Arlie McFaul presented some data from the reduced tillage trial set up at Branton Farms. About 100 people attended this meeting. During this meeting a strong emphasis was placed on the improvement in soil properties due to reduced tillage practices. Field demonstration of reduced tillage for sweet corn production also took place on Branton Farm.

    Vegetable Expo Meeting, Rochester, NY
    The Empire State Fruit & Vegetable Expo was held in February 2004. During this conference reduced tillage session was held during which about 120 people attended.
    Issues discussed included how to adapt reduced tillage to the cooler NE. Issues relating to equipment and weed control were discussed.
    Expert growers Andy Williamson and Gary Sweet (Ohio) presented the reports of their experiences on reduced tillage in vegetables. Andy also brought along a two-row zone till cart that he designed and had built, for growers to examine. This cart can be pulled with a 50 hp tractor and was designed specifically for smaller scaled vegetable growers. This cart was used in the summer at three locations in NY, to establish experiments. Following this event, a group of NY growers traveled to Ohio to learn more about Gary’s approaches to strip tillage for corn production.

    SARE Regional Conference, Burlington, VT
    The SARE regional conference was held in Burlington, Vermont from October 19 – 21 2004. Several topics relating to sustainable agriculture were discussed. Many reduced tillage issues were discussed. Steve Groff and George Ayres, which are expert growers for the Rt project, shared presentations on the reduced tillage practices on their respective farms. About 600 people attended this conference.

    Field day at Valatie Research Farm, Valatie, NY
    This field day was organized by Ted Blomgren and Chuck Bornt and held at Valatie research farm on October 13, 2004. The field day featured presentations from Chuck Bornt on the reduced tillage Pumpkin trial at Valatie research farm. About 25 people attended this field day. John Idowu & Hilary Mayton also presented on the influence of reduced tillage on soil physical and biological properties.

    Agriculture and Food Systems In-Service Education Training, Ithaca, NY
    This in-service training for the Cornell Cooperative Extension staff was held from November 17-19, 2004 at Ramada Inn, Ithaca. During this training, there was a presentation summarizing of results from 2004 reduced tillage trials, for about 50 CCE staff.

    Reduced Tillage Applied Field Research in 2004:

    In the second year of this grant, several reduced tillage trials were implemented on both the growers’ field and research stations. The main objective of many of these trials was to compare the performance of reduced and conventional tillage for growing vegetable crops. Key component of some trials was weed control, which has been challenging under reduced tillage. Several of these trials also served as the focal points for grower meetings described above. For experiments in Freeville, Long Island and Valatie, NY, a two-row zone till cart designed by Andy Williamson was used to establish the plots. This equipment was moved to the three locations, and was also highlighted at field days. A brief summary of reduced tillage trials are given below:

    Branton Farm reduced Tillage Trial (Le Roy, NY)

    A reduced tillage trial was set up on Branton Farms in the spring of 2004. The treatments tested were deep rip with and without deep nitrogen incorporation and no rip with minimum till planter. Sweet corn was the test crop.
     Marketable yields from the deep-ripped treatments were significantly higher than the yield from the non-ripped treatment
     There was no significant difference in the yield of deep ripped treatments with and without nitrogen injection

    Fish Farm Reduced Tillage Trial (Farmington, NY)
    A reduced tillage trial was set up at Fish Farm. The treatments were:
    o Comparison of tomatoes transplanted into plowed/disked field and also into an adjacent zone tilled strip of Roundup killed rye.
    o Comparison of cabbage transplanted into plowed/disked field and also into an adjacent zone tilled strip of Roundup killed rye. Both of the above were planted with a conventional transplanter
     No significant difference in the yield of cabbage in zone-till treatment compared with plow-till treatment
     Significantly higher marketable tomatoes yield in zone-till compared with plow-till.
     Weed pressure was very minimal under both treatments

    Reduced Tillage Trial at Valatie Research Farm (Valatie, NY)
    A reduced tillage trial with pumpkins was set up at Valatie Research Farm in Valatie, Columbia County. The trial sets out to evaluate herbicides and plant establishment alternatives in Pumpkin production systems. The tillage treatments are:
    o Conventional Bare Ground
    o Plasticulture
    o Zone-till + spring seeded oat cover crop
    o Zone-till + clover sod
    Herbicide treatments were
    o Sandea
    o No Sandea
     No significant difference in yields under both cover crops
     There was less weed pressure under rye/vetch cover crop
     The produce was cleaner under rye/vetch cover crop
     Less N application in rye/vetch (50 lbs)

    Cabbage production in RT systems (H.C. Thompson Vegetable Research Farm, Freeville, NY )
    The first experiment examines the effect of several tillage treatments on growth of cabbage in a coarse textured soil. Two zone-till widths (6 and 12 inches) and two tillage depths in the zone (4-6 vs. 12 inches) are being compared to conventional till. This trial is it’s second year.
    Tillage treatments:
    o Conventional – rototilled
    o 15 cm width, 10 cm depth
    o 15 cm width, 30 cm depth
    o 30 cm width, 10 cm depth
    o 30 cm width, 30 cm depth
    Mulch treatments
    o Bare – rye cover cut and removed (roots remained, but killed with glyphosate)
    o Rye – rye cover killed with glyphosate, rolled to create heavy surface mulch

     Mulch, tillage, and their interaction did not statistically impact yields and head weights in 2004.
     This is in contrast to the findings in 2003, where the presence of rye was a significant determinant of yield: average yield in rye treatments for 2003 was 5 tons per acre less than when rye was removed
     Also in 2003, the 30/30 treatment was the best performer, with yields equivalent to or in excess of conventional yields; this trend was reinforced in 2004.
     The difference between 2003 and 2004 response could have been due to different soils and/or different seasonal weather. 2004 growing season was exceptionally wet and this could have had a major impact on the treatments.

    Long term RT systems trial established in 2004 (H.C. Thompson Vegetable Research Farm, Freeville, NY)
    The second trial at Freeville is a long-term reduced tillage trial in which zone-till, strip-till and plow-till will be evaluated in response to three weed control regimes (conventional, 1/3 rate in-row + cultivation and cultivation only).
    The test crops are sweet corn and dry beans.
     Results from the dry beans show no significant differences in tillage or weed control measures for all the agronomic indices measured. The interaction was also not significant.
     It is worth noting that this is a first year trial in this soil, which had previously been well managed with good cover cropping methods. Hence the soil is in very good state at the beginning of this trial.
     Since it is a long-term site, the effects of tillage and weed control will become evident in years to come.

    Reduced tillage trial at Aurora experimental station (Aurora, NY)
    The experiment in 2004 compared tillage treatments for pumpkins in a well-developed rye cover crop (early head stage, 2.1 ton/a).
    Treatments were:
    o Conventional tillage (moldboard plow and rollerharrow),
    o No-till (Roundup at 1 qt/a and flail mowed),
    o Residue Saver with a chisel implement and
    o Residue saver with a field cultivator.
     Yields were best in the Conventional treatment (3,200/a, 22.7 ton/a), good in the Residue Saver treatments (3,000/a, 18.2 ton/a) and poor in the No-till treatment (2,200/a, 9.5 ton/a).
     The No-till treatment also had significantly more culls than the other treatments.
     The largest pumpkin in each plot was significantly heavier in the Conventional treatment relative to other treatments, but other measures of fruit size did not differ among treatments.
     Although yield was significantly higher in the Conventional than in the Residue Saver treatments, the pumpkins were much dirtier in the Conventional treatment, as shown in photographic documentation.
     No-till produced low yields and poor quality pumpkins and does not appear to be a viable reduced tillage option for pumpkin production.
     Although the Residue Saver treatments did not perform quite as well as the Conventional treatment, yields and produce quality were sufficiently high to make this a promising approach to conservation tillage in pumpkins.

    Long term RT systems trial established in 2004 (Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center, Long Island, NY)
    A long-term reduced tillage experiment was set up at Cornell’s Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center by M. T. McGrath to investigate pumpkin production in rye straw mulch and clover living mulch.
    The treatments set up for 2004 were:
    o Conventional tillage (Roto-till)
    o Zone tillage using Andy Williamson Zone-till Cart
    o Zone tillage using Unverferth zone builder
    All the treatments had rye cover crop. The rye was rolled twice in the zone-tilled plots while it was flail chopped in the conventional tilled plots. Clover living mulch was planted between the rows of pumpkins.
     This trial was complicated by exceptionally dry weather during the critical period of pumpkin growth. The stand establishment was poor particularly in conventionally-tilled tilled plots. Although some irrigation water was applied, it was insufficient to overcome the drought stress experienced by the pumpkin plants.
     There was no significant difference in the yields of pumpkins among the different treatments. However the yield values seem to be quantitatively higher in reduced tillage plots.
     It is hoped that a better trend in results will be found when the experiment is repeated next year.

    Pumpkin production at Halsey Farm (Long Island, NY)

    The treatment being evaluated in this experiment were:
    o Rye/Vetch cover crop + Strategy (Ethalfluralin)
    o Sorghum cover crop + Strategy
    Both treatments were sub-soiled & plowed in 2003 before cover crop establishment
    50Ibs less nitrogen was applied in Rye/Vetch.
     There was no significant difference in yields under both cover crops
     There was less weed pressure under rye/vetch cover crop
     The produce was cleaner under rye/vetch cover crop
     Less nitorgen application in rye/vetch (50 lbs) means reduction in cost of inputs

    Pumpkin production at Krupski’s Farm (Long Island, NY)
    Treatments being compared were:
    o Zone tillage (Andy zone-till cart)
    o Plow-till (plow & disk once)
    Both treatment received the same herbicide treatment which was Credit Extra + Sandea
     Yield was better in plow-till treatment than zone-till
     There was a cleaner produce from zone-till treatment due to more mulch residue on soil surface
     There was good weed control in first 2 months of zone-till treatment after which the pressure became higher
     Plow-till treatment was virtually weed free throughout the season.

    Pumpkin production at Harbes’ Farm (Long Island, NY)

    Treatments tested were:
    o Zone-till (Andy’s zone-till cart) + Credit Extra + Strategy
    o Sub-soiled & Plowed once + mechanical cultivation
    Both treatments had rye cover crops. However before the establishment of the cover crop the previous year, both soils were sub-soiled and plowed.

     Yields under both treatments were not significantly different
     Cleaner pumpkins under the zone-till treatment
     Higher weed pressure in zone-till treatments especially after 2 months into the season

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

  • The project has been able to reach over 300 growers during the past year. Four growers have committed to transition to reduced-tillage system. This next year we will focus on using more conference calls and newsletter articles to develop a stronger network of transitioning zone-till growers. Some of the research efforts are coming out with ways to adapt reduced tillage systems to different vegetable cultivation. Some of the basic lessons coming out of the trials include:
    1) Tillage and herbicide response vary with soils, crops and locations
    2) Adopting no-till immediately after continuous plow-till can be a problem when transitioning to reduced-tillage.
    3) Zone tillage looks promising in terms of yield and produce quality of pumpkins, tomatoes, cabbage, dry beans and sweet corn.
    4) Other strategies and equipment for zone tillage need to be developed, to accommodate other farm system issues, such as incorporation of animal manures on diversified vegetable operations.
    5) Deep tillage in narrow zones (subsoiling) can help in alleviating compaction during the initial periods of transition to reduced tillage.


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