- Agronomic: rye
- Vegetables: cucurbits, tomatoes
- Additional Plants: ornamentals
- Crop Production: conservation tillage
- Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
- Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
- Pest Management: mulches - killed, mulches - living, mulching - plastic, mulching - vegetative, weed ecology
- Production Systems: agroecosystems
- Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health
It is critical that we reconsider the intensive tillage used in our current cropping systems. Ironically, as farmers work towards more sustainable cropping systems by reducing their reliance on herbicides, the frequency and intensity of tillage often increases and, consequently, soil quality declines. In northern agronomic zones, the surface residues in no-till systems result in cool spring soil temperatures resulting in poor crop emergence and generally unacceptable yields. The “hybrid-mulch” system described by Louis Lego offers a solution to the soil temperature problem by exploiting the thermal properties of black plastic-covered beds. We propose systems comparison and associated “component” experiments to be conducted at the University of Maine Farms, and commercial farms. These experiments will investigate cash crop performance, selected soil quality parameters and weed seed bank dynamics over the three-year life of a hybrid-mulch system. A 3-year vegetable rotation will be grown in hybrid mulched perennial beds, in hybrid mulched annual beds, and in conventional spring-formed beds.
Performance targets from proposal:
1) On-farm and Experiment station research will demonstrate and develop refinements to the hybrid mulch production system tailoring it to Maine and other northern growing conditions.
2) Three hundred farmers will observe the hybrid mulch cropping system. Thirty-five farmers will use the hybrid mulch system in at least one of their fields resulting in: decreased tillage, improvements in soil health, decreased weed competition, and increased economic returns.