Using cover crops and crop diversity to optimize ecologically based weed management
This project builds on activities being conducted as part of a USDA Transition to Organic (Transition) funded grant and a Northeast Region Integrated Pest Management (NEIPM) Research and Extension grant. A component of both the Transition and NEIPM studies involves the characterization of soil surface dwelling arthropod populations and how these populations may be impacted by various cultural weed management strategies such as cover cropping and crop rotation as well as by mechanical weed control methods. This NESARE grant is building on this work by expanding our research efforts at understanding the impact of cropping system diversity and disturbance on weed seed predation by beetles. The education project is focusing more broadly on demonstrating how cover crops and increased crop diversity promote ecologically-based weed management (EBWM). On-farm demonstrations and field days are focusing on cover crop management, cropping sequence, tillage, and other cultural management impacts on weed management. We are conducting university-based and on-farm research and demonstrations that examine the relationship between cultural practices, abundance and activity of weed seed predators, weed populations and crop yield in sustainable crop production systems. Farmers, extension agents and other agricultural professionals are attending field days and learn first-hand about the opportunities and benefits for EBWM strategies.
Of the 500 farmers attending a field day, 25 will adopt some aspect of ecologically based weed Management (EBWM) identified through this research. Of the 100 extension and other agricultural professionals attending field days, 50 extension and other education professionals will incorporate knowledge into their educational programming, and 15 will work with farmers or farm youth to actively promote EBWM.
-Twenty-five county agents and other agricultural professionals along with some key farmers will help identify and select eight farms to participate with the farm-based research and field day activities.
County extension educators and select farmers were contacted in 2005 and asked for input in identifying potential farmer participants. From this list, three farms in Pennsylvania and three farms in Maine were identified and contacted to participate. This included a university research/education facility in each state.
-Six farmers will cooperate with the project team to create on-farm research and demonstrations in Pennsylvania and Maine. Selected farmers will respond to interviews providing detailed crop management information.
-The research and education planning team will initiate the weed seed predation research project at the university research farm and at the selected farms.
Members of the team met with and visited potential farms and gathered detailed crop management information about the farm operations. In the fall of 2005, field demonstrations were established at two farms in Pennsylvania and two in Maine for the field day activities in 2006. In Maine, an organic dairy and an organic vegetable farm were selected for field demonstrations. In Pennsylvania, an organic vegetable farm/CSA and a conventional no-till vegetable-grain-livestock farm were selected for the demonstrations and field days. The primary emphases in the demonstrations were 1.) Showing how the size of the weed seed bank influences effective control, 2.) The impact of cover crops on weed germination and establishment, and 3.) Timing of tillage and cover crop termination and its impact on weed control and, 4.) Mechanical vs. chemical control of cover crops. In addition several Pennsylvania PI’s traveled to Maine in September, 2005 to view Maine activities and discuss the 2006 expected activities and outcomes. Weed seed predation trials were conducted at both university research farms during 2005 and seed predator abundance was assessed on select participant farms.
-Five hundred farmers and 100 extension and secondary education professionals and 200 other agricultural professionals and will attend one or more field days and learn concepts and techniques for EBWM.
In 2005 and 2006, a total of 6 educational field days were held in Pennsylvania and 4 in Maine that focused on the role of cover crops for ecologically-based weed management. Research and/or demonstration plots were utilized at each location to help communicate the educational message. Field days took place at the PSU Russell E. Larson Agricultural Research and Education Center near Rock Springs and on three farms in different regions of the state (Charlestown Cooperative farm in Chester County, Cedar Meadow farm in Lancaster County, and Village Acres Organic farm in Mifflin County). In Maine, a field day was held at the University of Maine Roger’s Farm in Stillwater and at three Maine farms, one diversified organic vegetable farm, and two organic dairies: The Peacemeal farm in Dixmont, the Morrison farm in Charleston, and the Perkins farm. A number of topics were presented at these events including weed seed predation and the use of the seed predator test kit. A total of about 585 individuals attended one or more of the events. Attendees included farmers, vo-ag teachers, cooperative extension personnel, and other ag professionals. Preliminary results from the research project “Using cover crops and crop diversity to optimize ecologically-based weed management” were presented at the field days and attendees had an opportunity to view field experiments/demonstrations. Of particular interest to the group was the seed predation work and the potential impact of ground beetles, the focus of our seed predation research. “Ecologically-Based Weed Management: Strategies for Managing Weeds Without Herbicides,” was developed as a bulletin and served as an outline to guide the discussion and observation of crops at each site in Maine. A total of 100 copies of the bulletin were distributed at related meetings and farm visits. In addition, handouts entitled “Cover Crops and Weed Management” and “When do Weeds Wake Up” were developed for the Pennsylvania educational activities.
-One hundred farmers and ag professionals will respond to evaluative surveys that determines how actively they have adopted or promoted EBWM.
Evaluations were conducted and participants responded very positively about the educational activities (see Outcomes). In addition, Maine hosted the Northeast SARE PDP/AC summer tour/meeting in 2006. Two of the farm visits on the stop are participating in this project. One stop included a presentation and demonstration of the weed predator test kits and a brief presentation by Bill Curran and Rick Kersbergen. The SARE group also visited Peacemeal farm, also a cooperator on the project.
-A focus group of extension educators will be chosen to provide more detailed information about program assessment and ideas.
-Of the 500 farmers attending a field day, 25 will adopt some aspect of ecologically based weed Management (EBWM) identified through this research. Of the 100 extension and other agricultural professionals attending field days, 50 extension and other education professionals will incorporate knowledge into their educational programming, and 15 will work with farmers or farm youth to actively promote EBWM.
The milestones above are still in progress. Additional field day activities will take place in 2007 and will continue to focus on EBWM trying to document impacts and outcomes.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
A number of successful field day activities were conducted over the last two years. Participants were evaluated at these events to gauge success of the events. A portion of the evaluation asked individuals to gauge their understanding of several concepts before and after attending the educational program. As specific examples, 70% of the participants at a PSU field day increased their understanding of 4 to 5 concepts in ecological weed management. At a farmer hosted field day, 61% of the participants increased their understanding of 4 to 5 topics in cover crop management and soil quality including the role of seed predators in suppressing weeds. The evaluation results will be summarized and included in the final report and in extension program impact reports and in other appropriate venues. Several extension publications have been developed and more are in the works.
Publications to date
Mortensen, D., W. Curran, M. Ryan, A. Hulting, and S. Mirsky. 2006. Weed germination periodicity: When do weeds wake up? Dept. Crop & Soil Sciences, College of Agricultural Sciences, University Park, PA 16802.
Galladt, E. and R. Kersbergen. 2006. Ecologically-based weed management – strategies for managing weeds without herbicides. College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture, University of Maine, Orono.
University of Maine
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Plant, Soil, and Environmental Sciences
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