Optimizing reduced tillage systems for vegetables grown in the upper Northeast

2005 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


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 three years, which included:
1. Coordination and funding of reduced tillage on farm/on station trials to solve some urgent issues relating to vegetables cultivation,
2. Setting up of outreach programs to enlighten vegetable growers on reduced tillage
3. Development of a website and release of newsletters for information dissemination on reduced tillage
4. Advisory services to growers on selection of appropriate reduced tillage system for their specific farm situation
5. 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 third year of this project has focused on following:
1. Continued outreach and extension efforts to disseminate different reduced tillage methods for vegetable production in the Northeast.
2. Experimentation on reduced tillage issues affecting the growers in the Northeast
3. Case studies of growers who have transitioned to reduced tillage documenting their successes and difficulties.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Extension and outreach efforts
During 2005, we were able to use the means of phone conferencing with growers and extension agents to facilitate discussions on reduced tillage. Several growers were linked to one another through this means and several experiences were shared among growers across different NE States. Part of our efforts has led to the formation of reduced tillage grower’s groups in eastern and central New York. These growers work together with local extension educators to discuss challenges faced in adopting reduced tillage and they seek out possible solutions through expert opinions from other growers in the region who have successfully transitioned to reduced tillage. One of such groups was able to secure some donated equipment for reduced tillage demonstrations and this has significantly stimulated the interest of growers on reduced tillage in the region.

Reduced tillage outreach events in 2005 were:

-Reduced tillage field meeting at Cedar Medow Farm Holtwood, PA
A field day was held at Cedar Medow Farm Holtwood, PA on July 26, 2005. Influence of reduced tillage on soil health was discussed. Steve Groff, who is one of our expert growers, also shared his experiences with reduced tillage on his farm. The effect of reduced tillage in reducing soil erosion was also shown. About 50 people were in attendance.

-Soil Health and Reduced tillage tour (Ontario County Farms and the NYS Agricultural Experiment Station, Geneva)
A soil health/reduced tillage tour organized by Carol MacNeil, took place on August 10 2005. The event featured visits to Ontario County Farms and the NYS Agricultural Experiment Station, Geneva. Many presentations were given both by the growers and Cornell faculty and staff. Several reduced tillage equipment were displayed. There was also an active discussion on how these different equipment functions. About 30 growers participated in this tour.

-Vegetable Expo Meeting, Syracuse, NY
The Empire Expo meeting was held from 14 to 17 February 2005. A half day session was held on reduced tillage. Details of the presentations can be found on our website
Apart from presentations on different reduced tillage research efforts, several growers presented their experiences on reduced tillage.
George Ayres, who is one of our expert growers, presented on how to practice zone-tillage for large-seeded vegetables production, highlighting different challenges and how to overcome them.
Garry Sweet from Ohio State also presented his strip tillage techniques for sweet-corn production. Several questions were answered by both the growers and reduced tillage team members on incorporation of reduced tillage methods into vegetable production in the Northeast.

-Valatie Field Day Valatie, NY
Reduced tillage grower’s meeting set up by Chuck Bornt was held on July 6, 2005 at the Valatie Research Farm in Columbia County. The equipment demonstrated were 4-row Unverferth Zone Builder with two fluted coulters and rolling basket on the back of each shank and a 4-row Blue-Jet Sub-Tiller II with Strip Till units. Four weeks ahead of the grower’s meeting, these tillage implements were used to prepare the land with sweet corn planted as the test crop. The corn was about knee high when the meeting took place. This enabled the growers to visualize the possibility of using these reduced tillage implements for vegetable production. About 65 growers attended this meeting.

-Reduced Tillage Twilight Meeting, Stantons Feura Farm, Feura Bush, NY
This meeting organized by Chuck Bornt held on August 9, 2005 with about 28 vegetable growers in attendance. The host farmer (Tim Stanton) demonstrated his reduced tillage experiment with pumpkins and sweet corn. He had previously taken a piece of 4 acre piece of alfalfa sod and cultivated it with Unverferth 4-row Zone Builder with the strip till units. He then moldboard plowed half of it. He then planted half of each tillage treatment to sweet corn and pumpkins. This demonstration enabled the growers to compare traditional versus reduced tillage.

Reduced Tillage Applied Field Research in 2004:
Several reduced tillage trials performed last year were continued this year to get data from second year of trial. Many of these trials compared reduced and conventional tillage for growing vegetable crops. These trials broadly focused on weed management, tillage equipment comparisons, nitrogen management and cover crop effects.
Soil compaction has been a major issue in adopting some reduced tillage methods. Therefore during the past season, soil compaction was intensively studied under different reduced tillage methods.
A brief summary of reduced tillage trials and results are given below:

-Branton Farm reduced Tillage Trial (Le Roy, NY)
A reduced tillage trial was set up last year on Branton Farms continued in 2005. 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.
* Agronomic measurements including yield in 2005 did not show statistical significant difference among the treatments
* However, in both years of trial, the quantitative yield was higher in deep ripped with deep N injection. The grower felt that this difference could made significant financial difference for his practice.
* The result suggest that deep ripping was affecting the yield more than deep N injection

-Fish Farm Reduced Tillage Trial (Farmington, NY)
A reduced tillage trial was set up at Fish Farm. The treatments compared were deep ripping with zone tillage and plow tillage for sweet corn (Argent variety)
* No statistically significant difference in the yield and plant height under treatments. However, the deep ripped treatment gave quantitatively higher yields.
* The lack of statistical difference may have been due to a very low degree of freedom for the error term. The grower seems to be very satisfied with the zone-tilled results and would like to convert his field to zone tillage the next season.

-Long term RT systems trial established in 2004 (H.C. Thompson Vegetable Research Farm, Freeville, NY)
This long-term trial at Freeville, now in the second year, evaluated zone-till, strip-till and plow-till in response to three weed control regimes (conventional, 1/3 rate in-row + cultivation and cultivation only).
The test crops were 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.
* Similar to dry beans, sweet corn did not show any significant difference in tillage or weed control for measured agronomic indices.
* It is hoped that as the trial continues into subsequent years, tillage and weed control systems will begin to impact crop productivity.

-Reduced tillage trial at Aurora experimental station (Aurora, NY)
The experiment in 2005 compared tillage treatments for pumpkins in a well-developed rye cover crop (early head stage, 2.1 ton/a).
Treatments were:
1.Conventional tillage (moldboard plow and rollerharrow),
2. No-till (Roundup at 1 qt/a and flail mowed),
3. Residue Saver with a chisel implement and
4. Residue saver with a field cultivator.
* Yields of marketable fruit was significantly higher in the Residue Saver treatments than in the Conventional treatment
* Unlike 2004 in which No-till under-yielded all of the other treatments, in 2005, No-till did not differ significantly from any of the others
* 2005 was a dry growing season, and likely the rye mulch on the soil surface conserved soil moisture, thereby enhancing the yield in the Residue Saver treatments relative to the bare Conventional treatment

-Penetration Resistance Study in Freevile, NY and Aurora, NY
Penetration resistance (PR) of the soil under different tillage treatments in Freeville and Aurora were measured at planting and just before harvest. The equipment used was a RIMIK self recording penetrometer set to take measurements every 2.5cm as the probe pushes into the soil. The mean penetration resistances for three depth layers (0-10cm, 10-20cm and 20-30cm) were computed from the measurements. Additionally, measurements were taken from the in-row and non trafficked between-row positions during both time periods.
1. Freeville (Gravelly Sandy Loam) Tillage treatments: Plow-till, Zone-till and Strip-till
* There was no significant difference in PR among the tillage treatments at 0-10cm, while there were significant differences in PR at 10-20cm and 20-30cm layers at planting.
* The harvest PR measurement showed only 20-30cm with significant difference in PR among the treatments
* In soil layers with significant differences, zone tillage treatment consistently gave a higher PR than the other treatments while there were no significant differences in PR between plowed and strip tilled treatments
* There were also significant differences comparing the in-row and between-row PR measurements at both time periods for all treatments with between row being more compact than in-row
2.Aurora (Silt Loam) Tillage treatments: Plow-till, No-till, Residue Saver with a chisel and Residue saver with a field cultivator
* At planting, No-Till treatment had significantly higher PR than the other treatments at 10-20cm soil layer, however there were no significant differences at 0-10cm and 20-30cm layers.
* PR measurements at harvest were significantly different among the treatments for 0-10cm and 10-20cm layers with No-till treatment being more compact than the other treatments. There was no significant difference in PR between the treatments at 20-30cm
* There were no significant differences in PR measured from the in-row and between row positions at both time periods.

Case Studies
We are presently compiling case studies of growers who have transitioned to reduced tillage highlighting various challenges being faced by these growers. We have been able to interview 5 growers on this. We intend to complete the interviews this winter.


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