Optimizing reduced tillage for root, leafy, and organic vegetables grown in the Northeast

2006 Annual Report for LNE06-245

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2006: $164,628.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Dr. Anusuya Rangarajan
Cornell University

Optimizing reduced tillage for root, leafy, and organic vegetables grown in the Northeast


It is our long term goal to increase the adoption of reduced tillage (RT) systems in vegetable crops grown in the upper Northeast, to help reduce soil erosion, compaction and improve soil quality on these farms while maintaining crop yield and quality. The specific objectives of the project are:

1)Promote strategies for adapting reduced tillage (RT) systems for small seeded and root vegetables and organic production systems;

2)Engage the expertise of our team in the design of appropriate RT equipment for small-seeded or root vegetables and organic farming systems in the Northeast;

3)Facilitate on-farm research network and farmer-to-farmer learning groups in the region;

4)Explore specific questions through applied research on adapting RT for small seeded and root vegetables and organic systems;

5)Have new growers transition part of their farm or rotation to RT systems by the end of the project.

In this first year of the project, our focus has been to address some pressing soil/crop management issues inherent in applying reduced tillage in small-seeded or root vegetable crops and organic systems. These issues include weed management, equipment and systems testing and soil quality. Additionally, we have continued to build upon our successes in the first reduced tillage project (LNE03-189) which officially ends in 2006.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Out of the 500 growers that get exposed to the reduced tillage methods for vegetable cultivation of small-seeded crops, transplants and organic systems, 30 will implement reduced tillage practices on a permanent basis within one year after the end of the project.


To achieve the milestones of this project, we have continued to reach several growers in the region through farm visits, conferences, field meetings and other outreach activities. We reached approximately 200 growers during 2006. The RT project has also continued to sponsor and co-sponsor on-farm and on-station trials during 2006. The trials in this report focus on both the new RT project (LNE06-245) and the on-going trials from the previously funded RT project (LNE03-189). The field meetings held during the year focused on these different trials. During our field meetings, challenges associated with RT in vegetables were discussed and reduced tillage equipment were demonstrated to different growers. Growers were also able to observe the on-farm trials that were conducted during the season.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Reduced tillage events in 2006:

– Vegetable Expo Meeting, Syracuse, NY
The Empire Expo meeting was held from 13-16 February, 2006. A full day session was held jointly for RT and Soil Health. Discussions were focused on incorporating cover crops into RT systems and strategies for RT in organic systems. About 150 people attended this session.
– Field Day at Branton Farm, Leroy, NY
A RT field day was held on August 10, 2006 at Branton Farm, Leroy, NY. About 30 people attended this meeting. The meeting focused on the deep nitrogen placement in RT and the adaptation of strip tillage to carrots and beets.
– Field day at Fish Farms, Farmington, NY
A RT field day was held on August 17, 2006 at Fish Farm in Shortsville, NY. The meeting was focused on the on-farm trial comparing conventional systems to RT for sweet corn, squash and cucumbers. About 35 people attended this meeting.
– Field Day at Freeville, NY
A field day was held on August 1, 2006 at Freeville Farm. About 50 people attended this field meeting. During this meeting, the long-term RT trial with sweet corn and dry beans, RT trial with beets and organic RT trial with cabbage were discussed with participants. The challenge faced in implementing RT in organic system was highlighted.

Reduced tillage applied field trials in 2006:

Branton Farm RT Trial (Sweet Corn) (Le Roy, NY)
A RT trial was set up on Branton Farms since 2004, to evaluate the effect of deep ripping and deep nitrogen placement on the growth of sweet corn. This trial has been repeated for the past 3 years. The details of the three treatments tested are:
– Deep rip, deep N – Ripped ~10” deep with an Unverferth zone builder; 15 – 20 gals/acre of 30% liquid N was injected 9 – 10” deep into the ripped slots, where sweet corn would later be planted.
– Deep rip, N with cart – Deep ripped as above; same N rate applied as above, 2 – 3” to both sides of the seed with a Kinze zone till planter.
– No deep rip, N with cart – Zone tillage with no deep ripping; N as above, applied 2 – 3” to the sides of the seed.
– Sweet corn yields and returns over 3 years were significantly higher with deep ripping and/or deep nitrogen placement.
– Subsurface compaction may have a significant yield limiting factor for the growth of sweet corn.

Branton Farm RT Trial (Beets and Carrots) (Le Roy, NY)
Another trial was performed on Branton Farm in which beets and carrots were tested for their adaptation to strip tillage method.
Twenty-four 30” rows each of Ruby Queen beets and Eagle carrots were planted in an Ontario loam soil. The field was deep ripped and strip tilled and twenty gallons/acre of a 30% liquid N fertilizer was injected deep into the ripped slot. A Flexicoil was used to break up lumps and firm the seedbed. Twenty gallons/acre of a 30% liquid N fertilizer was applied to both sides of the row with the zone till cart. Five to 10 gallons/acre of a 7-25-3 pop-up fertilizer was put in the seed furrow.
– On 8/22 the marketable beet yield was 7.3 tons/acre, with 52% #1s, 45% #2s and 3% #3s. Spray drift from an adjacent field severely injured the beets shortly afterwards.
– On 9/22 the marketable carrot yield was 16.1 tons/acre, with 92% #1s and 8% #2s/oversize. Marketable carrots made up 75% of the total yield, with the remainder divided between splits and forked carrots. Carrots ranged from 4-10 inches long.
– The results show lower yields for beets than the normal expected yields in conventional systems on the second harvest date. Herbicide drift/injury prevented a later harvest when more beets may have been of marketable size. The results also show lower yields for carrots than the normal expected yields in conventional systems but plant stands were thin. The grower who performed this experiment was not a conventional small-seeded or root vegetable grower and had modified some of his equipment to plant these crops.

Fish Farm RT Trial (Sweet Corn, Cucumber, Squash) (Farmington, NY)
A RT trial was set up at Fish Farm. The treatments were:
– Comparison of zone tillage with deep ripping and moldboard plowing for sweet corn production
– Comparison of zone tillage with deep ripping and roto-tilling for cucumber and squash production.
– No significant difference in the yield of sweet corn between the tillage treatments.
– Cucumber and squash plots had equal stands under both tillage treatments.
– There was some indication of higher cucumber yields with zone till/rip compared to rototilling but all plots went down with disease early

RT Trial at Valatie Research Farm (Valatie, NY)
This trial compares conventional tillage (moldboard plowed and disked) to zone tillage for sweet corn, with and without row cover (DuPont 5131, formerly know as Typar 518 @ 1.25 ounces per square yard).
Half of the field was plowed using a Ford 101 set of 3-bottom moldboard plows. The other half was not plowed, but was prepared using a four row Unverferth Ripper Stripper. Sweet corn variety, ‘Temptation’ was planted in both tillage treatments with a four row John Deere 7200 Maxi Merge Vacuum planter and Bicep Lite II Magnum was applied for weed control.
– Although the minimum tilled plots had higher number and weight of marketable ears than the conventional tilled plots, this difference was however not statistically significant. The number of marketable ear was about 20% higher while the weight of marketable ear was 16% higher in minimum tillage treatment compared to conventional tillage.
– The row cover led to significant higher number and weight of marketable ears.
– Row cover combined with minimum tillage gave the highest number and weight of marketable ears compared to other treatment combinations (no cover conventional tillage, no cover minimum tillage, and row cover conventional tillage)

RT Trial at Feura Farm (Feura Bush, NY)
The trial evaluates different varieties of pumpkins under two different tillage methods which are minimum/strip tillage and conventional tillage (moldboard plowing/disking).
The experiment took place on a four acre field in the spring of 2006 at Feura Farm. This field was previously cropped to sweet corn in 2005 and planted to rye after the corn was harvested. The rye was then mowed and baled in the spring of 2006. It was then sprayed with a non-selective herbicide and divided in half. One-half of the field was moldboard plowed and fitted for planting, while the other half was strip tilled using a 4-row Unverferth Zone Builder Ripper Stripper. In each of the halves, 2 rows length of the field (900’) of the different pumpkin varieties were planted with a 4 row finger pick-up John Deere MaxiMerge planter. Varieties evaluated were Super Herc, Gold Medal, Gold Medallion, Aladdin, Phat Jack, Wolf and Racer.
In the Fall of 2006, plots were harvested and the number of fruit, total marketable weight, fruit length, diameter and stem diameter were recorded. The results are still being analyzed and will be made available at a later date.

Long term RT systems trial established in 2004 (H.C. Thompson Vegetable Research Farm, Freeville, NY)
The long-term trial on sweet corn and dry beans in Freeville, NY comparing zone-till, strip-till and plow-till evaluated in response to three weed control regimes (conventional, 1/3 rate in-row + cultivation and cultivation only) was conducted for the third year. This year, in addition to tillage and weed control treatments, two varieties of sweet corn (“Temptation” and “Precious Gem”) and two varieties of beans (“Redkanner Light Red Kidney” and “California Early Light Red Kidney”) were evaluated in RT systems.
– While there was no significant tillage effect on the yield of sweet corn, the effects of weed control and sweet corn varieties were statistically significant. Conventional weed control method gave the highest yield (20.2 tons/ac) followed by 1/3 rate in-row + cultivation (17.6 tons/ac), while the cultivation only gave the lowest yield (15.2 tons/ac). The “Precious Gem” variety gave significant higher yield (25.7 tons/ac) than the “Temptation” variety (9.6 tons/ac).
– Similar to sweet corn, the seed yield of beans did not show any significant difference for tillage, but significant differences were detected for variety and weed control effects. The cultivation only treatment had lower seed yield (2785 Ibs/ac) than conventional (3289 Ibs/ac) and1/3 rate in-row + cultivation (3291 Ibs/ac) treatments. The “Redkanner Light Red Kidney” variety had higher seed yield (3297 Ibs/ac) than “California Early Light Red Kidney” variety (2911 Ibs/ac).

RT trial (Beets) in H.C. Thompson Vegetable Research Farm, Freeville, NY
A RT trial in Freeville NY compared the performance of beets in zone tillage systems with and without ripping to conventional management. Additionally, two weed control methods were also tested. The tillage treatments were: i) conventional tillage which was done by moldboard plow and disking, ii) strip tillage (deep zone tillage) which was performed with a deep rip, zone builder with deep ripping up to 14” and iii) zone tillage which was done with a zone builder without ripping. The depth of soil tillage in zone tillage treatment was about 8.5”. The weed control treatments were conventional and banded methods. The beets were harvested twice in early and late August 2006.
– Results show the effect of tillage to be significant for total plant weight, total root weight and harvest index during the first and second harvest of beets.
– The conventional tillage had similar root yields to the strip tillage treatment but significantly higher yields than zone tillage during the first harvest. However, during the second harvest, the conventional tillage had significant higher root yields than both the strip and zone tillage treatments.
– There was no significant difference between the yields of zone and strip tillage treatments for both harvest periods. While the weed control method was significant for total root weight during the first harvest, it was not significant for the second harvest.
– The conventional weed control method gave a significant higher yield than the banded method for the first beet harvest.
– During the first harvest, the zone tillage treatments had more of the smaller grades of beets (< ¾” and ¾ – 1.5”) than the other tillage treatments while the conventional tillage had more of the larger grades (1.5 – 2.5” and 2.5 – 3”). For the second harvest, differences in grades among the tillage treatments were observed only for grade between 2.5 -3”, with conventional tillage treatment having a higher distribution in this grade than the other tillage systems.

RT Systems for Organic Vegetable Production at Freeville Organic Research Farm, NY
A trial on cabbage was also set up in Freeville, NY to test the performance of RT methods in organic system. The treatments tested were:
– Conventional vs. Strip tillage (14 inch deep ripping under 8 inch disturbed surface area)
– Three cover crop/mulch combinations (Rye/vetch mow killed, oat/pea winter killed, oat/pea winter killed plus straw)
– Two levels of soil disturbance from weed management (High and Low)
– Result from this first year of trial showed that the treatments applied did not affect plant growth and yield. There were no significant differences in weed pressure among treatments.
– As expected there were fewer weeds in the higher soil disturbance plots which received two cultivations but this did not prove statistically significant compared to the lower soil disturbance.
– The weather conditions during the season affected the growth and development of the plants in this trial. The cabbage did not mature due to low levels of nitrogen during the season. The excessive precipitation during June and July contributed to inadequate nitrogen levels. In addition, the long season, large framed variety (‘Mandy’120 DTH) that was used proved to be unsuitable for our growing system. In the future, a smaller, earlier maturing variety will be grown and our nutrient strategy will be reconsidered.

RT Pumpkin Production Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center, Cornell University
This is a long-term trial, testing zone tillage for continuous pumpkin production using clover living mulch as a component part of the system. The location of clover and pumpkin strips are switched each year. Using clover living mulch between rows of a crop provides an opportunity to put some land into a cover crop where rotation out of crops is not feasible due to the value of the land, as is the case for many Long Island fields. Living mulch also can suppress weeds.
The treatment tested were
– Zone tillage with the pumpkins seeded into rye straw mulch with a Dutch white clover living mulch planted between the pumpkin rows. The zone tillage equipment used was Unverferth zone builder with ripping shanks to break the subsurface pan
– Conventional tillage with moldboard plow and twice disking
– Early in the season a bacterial disease (bacterial leaf spot caused by Xanthomonas campestris p.v. cucurbitae) was found in a nearby experiment. This led to yield reduction in all the treatments across the entire field.
– Weeds were also aggressive especially in the zone-till plots. The control measures applied were ineffective due to weather problems.
– There was no significant difference in yield between the conventional-till plots and the reduced-till plots. The number and weight of fruit per plant were statistically equivalent, although numerically lower for the reduced-till plots, and the average fruit weight was also the same for both treatments. There were significantly fewer rotten fruit per plant in the reduced tillage plots.
– Because of the severity of plant diseases and weed control problem, we could not come to a definite conclusion on the effectiveness of the reduced tillage system being tested. We plan to repeat this experiment next year.


Charles Mohler

Senior research scientist
Cornell University Crops and Soil Sciences Dept
907 Bradfield Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
Mark Hutton

Assistant Professor
University of Maine
Donn Branton

Branton Farms
8618 Buckley Rd
Leroy, NY 14482
George Ayres

FreshAyr Farm
4920 Herendeen Rd
Shortsville, NY 14548
John Idowu

Research Associate
Cornell University
1015 Bradfield Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
Office Phone: 6072551706
Website: www.hort.cornell.edu/reducedtillage
Harold VanEs

Cornell University Crops and Soil Sciences Dept
1005 Bradfield Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
Eric and Anne Nordell

Beech Grove Farm
Carol MacNeil

Senior Extension Educator
Cornell Cooperative Extension
480 N. Main Street
Canandaigua, NY
Office Phone: 5853943977
Steve Groff

Cedar Meadow Farm
Charles Bornt

Extension Educator
Cornell Cooperative Extension
61 State Street
Troy, NY 12180