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

2007 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
Through applied on-farm and on-station research, we continue to address the pressing soil/crop management issues inherent in applying reduced tillage for vegetables systems in the Northeast. We have focused on designing/fabricating new equipment and the adjustment of the already existing equipment to address the concerns of growers on reduced tillage in the region. We have also engaged many vegetable growers in the region in discussions relating to specific management problems that they are facing in adopting reduced tillage.

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 300+ growers during 2007. The RT project has also continued to sponsor and co-sponsor on-farm and on-station trials during 2007. 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. As a part of our outreach efforts, our team released a fact sheet on Zone Tillage to help growers throughout the region understand the basics of this reduced tillage method. Our team together with growers and a local equipment dealer built two 2-row zone tillage implement. These units were used extensively for demonstration during 2007 field meetings and also served the growers who wanted to test out zone tillage method on their farms.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Reduced tillage events in 2007:
– Vegetable Expo Meeting, Syracuse, NY
The Empire Expo meeting was held from 13-15 February, 2007. A full day session was held jointly for RT and Soil Health. Topics discussed focused on how to make reduced tillage work in diverse soil conditions and deep nitrogen placement in zone tillage systems. About 100 people attended this session.
– Reduced Tillage Equipment Field Day at Branton Farm, Leroy, NY
A reduced tillage equipment field day held on August 10, 2007 at Donn Branton’s Farm, Le Roy, NY. About 40 people attended this meeting which focused on displaying, explaining and demonstrating different reduced tillage equipment.
– NYS Dry Bean Field Day and Tour
A dry bean field day and tour took place on September 6, 2007. One of the topics covered during this event includes zone tillage techniques for dry bean. Trials comparing zone and conventional tillage dry bean were also visited by the growers. About 30 people attended this event.
– Minimum Tillage Field Day
The Capital District Vegetable Program on July 6, 2007, held a minimum tillage field day at the Valatie Research Farm. The meeting was attended by 52 growers. The growers were shown the minimum tillage plots including a cover crop trial and fertility placement trial. A two row zone builder was also demonstrated. A two row planter was then pulled behind the zone builder to allow growers to see how a planter actually pulls in reduced till systems and to observe how uniform the seeds were placed. Growers had a hands-on experience using a penetrometer to compare compaction between conventionally tilled and zone tilled fields.
– Minimum Tillage Field Day
Another minimum tillage field day was held on July 24, 2007 in the Capital District Area. During this field day, three international companies displayed and demonstrated their reduced tillage implements to 25 vegetable, dairy and field crop producers: Unverferth Zone Builder manufactured by Unverferth Manufacturing Company, Aerway® Advanced Aeration Systems manufactured by Holland Equipment Limited, and the Salford RTS unit manufactured by Salford Farm Machinery Limited. Growers were able to see how each of these machines functioned in rye stubble.
– Rhode Island Field Day
A field meeting was held at Rhode Island on November 8, 2007. One of the 2-row zone tillage units built by our team was hauled to this meeting. Growers were able to see a demonstration of hoe the zone tillage equipment works. About 30 growers attended this meeting.

Reduced tillage applied field trials in 2007:
Branton Farm Le Roy, NY (Sweet Corn and Peas)
Donn Branton, planted deep zone tilled processing sweet corn and no till drilled processing peas in trials where the use of Jump Start, a phosphate-solubilizing inoculant containing Penicillium bilaii, was compared side by side with uninoculated seed. The pea field was a Cazenovia silt loam with a very low phosphorus soil test. A high rate of 80 lbs/acre of P2O5 fertilizer was applied. The sweet corn field was a Palmyra gravelly loam with a medium – high phosphorus soil test and a low rate of 15 lbs/acre of P2O5 fertilizer was applied.
The treatments were Jump Start, No Jump Start, and Jump Start – No Phosphorus.
– At 30 days post-plant the sweet corn averaged 20 cm tall for the Jump Start and No Jump Start treatments and 18 cm. tall for the Jump Start – No Phosphorus treatment.
– There were no significant differences in yield or ear quality except that the average ear length was significantly shorter in the Jump Start – No Phosphorus treatment (19.6 cm), compared to the Jump Start and No Jump Start treatments, 20.1 and 20.3 cm, respectively.

Lynn Fish, Shortsville, NY (Sweet Corn & Summer Squash)
Lynn planted side by side trials of reduced till vs. moldboard plow for sweet corn (Mirai variety) and summer squash (Cougar variety) on an Ontario loam soil. The treatments were moldboard plow, deep zone till/hill, and parabolic rip/disc.
Results (Sweet Corn)
– Compaction data collected in-row at planting showed that while the moldboard treatment reached the critical compaction level for surface soil at the 5 inch depth, the zone till treatment did not reach this point until the 11 inch depth.
– The parabolic rip/disc treatment emerged later that the two other treatments.
– Plant stand/4 meters squared at 30 days varied from 23 plants in the zone till, to 20 and 21 in the moldboard and parabolic treatments, respectively.
– Plant height 30 days post-plant were 39 cm. for zone till, 34.5 cm. for moldboard, and 37.5 cm for parabolic.
Results (Summer Squash)
– Emergence was slightly earlier for the moldboard plow treatment than the zone till treatment.
– The final stand was lower for the moldboard plow treatment (25 plants/4 meters squared) compared to zone till treatment (47 plants/4 meters squared).
– The plants in the zone till treatment were larger than those in the moldboard treatment and this remained consistent throughout the season
– The fresh top weight at 30 days after planting was 662.5g/4m2 for the zone till treatment and 331g/4m2 for the moldboard plow treatment
– The in-row penetrometer measurements from 6 to 18” depth showed higher levels of soil compaction in the moldboard plow treatment compared to the zone till treatments.
– At the time of harvest it was discovered that the moldboard treatment had been seeded to a combination of yellow and zucchini squash, and Phytophthora root/crown rot had shown up, so yield was not taken.

LBrooke Farms, Byron, NY (Carrots)
Grady Vincent planted zone till and conventional carrots in different fields on his farm. Moldboard plowing (9”+ deep) was compared to zone tillage with ripping up to14” deep. Carrots for dicing were planted on an Ontario loam soil in Batavia; Canandaigua silt loam in Byron; and on the muck soil in Elba, NY. The Elba carrots followed field corn while the other carrots followed soybeans. Rows were 24” apart in all cases and seeding depth was 1/8 – 1/4”.
– The Batavia moldboard plowed field had the highest compaction and were above critical levels from 6 – 18” deep. The Byron zone till field, though being the heaviest soil type, was intermediate in compaction and below critical levels until the 12” depth.
– Because of the extended and unprecedented dry weather in May, June and beyond, carrot stands were poor. However, some good rows of carrots were selected for field data collection.
– Plant stand was in the normal range for dicers in the Batavia moldboard plowed field while it was half of normal for slicers in the zone tilled fields,
– Eighty-one percent of the total dicer yield was marketable in the Batavia moldboard plowed field, with culls being undersize (less than 1 ½” in diameter) or forked. Marketable yield was 30.3 tons/acre, with 65% of that being the more valuable carrots 2+” in diameter. Average length was 6.8”
– Ninety-five percent of the total slicer yield was marketable in the Elba muck zone tilled field, with culls being undersize (less than ¾” in diameter) or forked. Marketable yield was 30.9 tons/acre with 34% of that being #1 grade and the rest being over-size. Average length was 6.3”
– Seventy percent of the total slicer yield was marketable in the Byron silt loam zone tilled field, with culls being forked, oversize, undersize or twisted. Marketable yield was 18.6 tons/acre with 74% of that being #1 grade. Average length was 6.3” Twenty-two percent of yield that was forked, with most of it beginning 2 – 4” from the soil surface.
– The dry weather affected the carrot stands in this trial. The results may therefore not be typical of what to expect in years with well distributed rainfall.

Tom Jeffres, Wyoming, NY (Dry Bean)
Tom planted two trials comparing zone tillage to conventional tillage dry bean (east and west trials) on a Conesus gravelly silt loam. Variety planted was the “black turtle soup bean T-39” in 30” rows. Conventional tillage was moldboard plowing and disking. Reduced tillage included 14” deep ripping, and the preparation of the planting strip with a zone builder a day or two before planting.
– Moldboard plow treatment had higher compaction levels at all depths.
– Zone tillage plots showed signs of delayed growth at the early part of the trial. This may have been due to improper planting operation. It was observed that most seeds of the zone till treatment were not planted in the prepared rows (zones) but somewhere between the rows. The seeds that miss the zones may have encountered a more compacted soil leading to growth delays.
– At 30 days after planting, the average green weight and dry weight in 4m2 plots for the moldboard treatments were higher (936g/plot) than the zone till (751g/plot).
– Yield was assesses by going through the length of the east and west plots once with a combine. Yields for zone till were very close to those for moldboard plowing: East Field Moldboard-820lbs; East Field Zone Till-800lbs; West Field Moldboard-600lbs; West Field Zone Till-600lbs
– However, there was difference in yield between the east and west trials. The West trial was on a hill, while the East trial was in a lower area. Moisture differences between these two areas could have accounted for the large yield difference observed.

Reduced tillage Trials at Valatie Research Farm (Valatie, NY)
A. Cover Crop Selection and Timing of Zone Building for Sweet Corn Production:
In the fall of 2006, the following tillage/cover crop treatments were established at Valatie Research Farm in Valatie, NY, Columbia County.
– Rye cover crop with fall zone building
– Rye cover crop with spring zone building
– Triticale cover crop with fall zone building
– Triticale cover crop with spring zone building
– Oat cover crop with fall zone building
– Oat cover crop with spring zone building
– Conventional spring moldboard plowed
Plots were 10ft wide x 200ft long strips. After rye and triticale was established, a 4-row Unverferth Deep Zone Rippper/Stripper unit was used to prepare half of each plot for spring 2007 planting, as was the unplanted oat plot. In the spring of 2007, the oat cover crop was established and the spring zone built plots were prepared with the same zone builder unit. Due to the density of the rye, these plots were mowed in early June to leave about 6” of stubble in the field and the residues was removed. The triticale and oats did not need to be mowed, leaving anywhere from 14-18” of top growth in the plots. Sweet corn was planted into each of the plots and sprayed with Lumax and Round-up the same day.
Penetrometer readings were taken in the spring of 2007.
– Due to droughty conditions, sweet corn was not harvested.
– In general, plots that were zone built in the fall had “tighter” soil than those zones built in the spring. Even though fall built zones were marked with flags, it was difficult to determine in all the cover crops where the fall zones were at the time of planting sweet corn in the spring.
– The plant population was very low in the fall zone built rye plots, compared to the rest of the treatments.
– Regardless of cover crop, stands in the spring zone built and conventional tilled plots were acceptable.

B. Demonstrating the Effects of Tillage and Environmental Modifications for Early Sweet Corn Production:
This is a second year trial evaluating early sweet corn grown in reduced till systems covered with floating rowcovers versus more traditional moldboard plowed with rowcovers or grown under plastic.
– Although the data is still being analyzed, it appears that growing early sweet corn in reduced tillage systems under floating rowcovers results in no yield or ear quality differences, but does reduce labor and production costs compared to conventional till systems and plastic.

C. Deep Nitrogen Placement with Zone Tilled Sweet Corn
A trial was established at the Valatie Research Farm in Valatie, Columbia County, NY in the spring of 2007 to evaluate the following treatments:
– 50 lbs Nitrogen surface applied in the row (dribbled in front of the coulters on the zone builder)
– 100 lbs Nitrogen surface applied in the row (dribbled in front of the coulters on the zone builder)
– 50 lbs Nitrogen injected 8-10” deep in the row using the zone builder
– 100 lbs Nitrogen injected 8-10” deep in the row using the zone builder

The rates mentioned above were to take the place of a later sidedressing event. There was 250 lbs or 19-19-19 applied at planting through the planter. The data is currently being analyzed and will be available soon.

D. Demonstrating the use of a Two-row Zone Builder for Smaller Vegetable Producers in the Capital District
Reduced tillage equipment tends to be geared towards larger growers and requires large amounts of traction energy (≥120hp). Many of our vegetable farms in the Capital District are smaller (≤30 acres) and do not have tractors capable of lifting or pulling this larger reduced tillage equipment. Therefore, a local grower, an equipment salesman and the local extension educator decided to build a 2-row zone builder that uses significantly less horsepower for farm operations. Growers were allowed to borrow the machine and see for themselves how reduced tillage could fit into their farming operation. There were 3 growers that tried the unit and were very pleased with the results. So far, 3 different growers have expressed an interest to try the unit in the spring of 2008.

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, deep zone 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. The yields of conventional weed control method (7.1tons/ac) and 1/3 rate in-row + cultivation (6.8tons/ac) were not significantly different. However, cultivation only had significantly lower yield (5.9tons/ac) than the other treatments. The “Precious Gem” variety gave significant higher yield (6.9tons/ac) than the “Temptation” variety (6.4tons/ac).
– The biomass of dry bean showed significant difference for tillage and weed control but not for variety. The biomass for zone till was significantly lower than the conventional tillage plots. There was no statistical difference in the biomass from deep zone till and conventionally tilled plots. Similar to sweet corn, the cultivation only treatment had lower biomass than the other treatments, while there was no significant difference between the biomass of conventional weed control method and 1/3 rate in-row + cultivation treatments.

RT Systems for Organic Vegetable Production at Freeville Organic Research Farm, NY
A trial on cabbage was also set up for the second year 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 the second year of trial showed that the cover crop treatments applied did affect plant growth, weed pressure and yield. Plant growth in rye vetch plots were significantly lower resulting in lower total yields (14.2 tons/a) than oat/pea winter killed plus straw and oat/pea winter killed.
– As expected there were fewer weeds in the higher soil disturbance plots which received one cultivation and this did prove to be statistically significant compared to the lower soil disturbance.
– Changing to an earlier maturing variety resulted in good yields of high quality cabbage this year.

The second trial in Freeville, NY focused on optimizing RT for organic peppers. 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)
– Results from the first year showed that tillage treatment only affected growth on July 10 and 31. Conventional plots had significantly higher total fruit yield.
– Cover crop treatment affected mid and late season growth (July 31 and October 15), early and total fruit yield. The straw mulch applied produced large oat plants that smothered the pepper plants. In the future, we will choose cleaner straw to eliminate this problem. Applying clean straw should increase yields in those plots.
– Total yield was significantly higher in the plots which received one cultivation.

RT Systems for Beet Production at H.C. Thompson Vegetable Research Farm, NY
The long-term trial was established in 2006, to comparing zone-till, deep zone till and plow-till and two weed control regimes (conventional, 1/3 rate in-row + cultivation) for impacts on beet quality and yield. As observed last year, the conventional tillage system supported earlier and higher total yields of beets. Beet yield is related to the date of harvest. In both years of trials, the distribution of beets in different size classes, over two harvests, did not vary overall. Instead, beets grown in the zone and deep zone till system developed more slowly than those in conventional till. This data is now being summarized for publication.

The Milk Pail in Watermill, NY (Reduced-till Pumpkin Production with Controlled Release Nitrogen Fertilizer)
An on-farm project was established to evaluate pumpkin yield under reduced tillage practices with controlled release nitrogen fertilizer at The Milk Pail in Watermill, NY, in cooperation with the grower Jennifer Halsey-Dupree. The demonstration project evaluated Nitamin 30L (30-0-0), a liquid controlled release nitrogen fertilizer from Georgia Pacific, at two nitrogen (N) rates, 80 and 100 lbs N/A, to the grower’s standard fertilizer practice of 100 lbs N/A. All pumpkins were grown under reduced tillage practices. In June, pumpkins were transplanted and 40 lbs N/A 10-10-10 granular fertilizer was band applied to all treatments. Subsequent fertilizer applications were made via drip tape along each pumpkin row. The controlled release fertilizer program at 80 and 100 lbs N/A involved half as many fertigation applications as the grower program and at double the amount of N/A applied per application.
The treatment summary is as follows:
Treatment 1: Nitamin at 80 lbs N/ac – initial band application + 5 fertigation (8 lbs N/ac)
Treatment 2: Nitamin at 100 lbs N/ac – initial band application + 5 fertigation (12 lbs N/ac)
Treatment 3: Grower’s practice (100 lbs N/ac) – initial band application + 10 fertigation (6 lbs N/ac)
– Pumpkin varieties for the three treatments were unfortunately not the same. Only treatments 2 and 3 had the same variety (Goldrush) while treatment 1 had a different variety (Mystique Plus).
– The average fruit weight was 4 lbs for treatment 1; 24 lbs for treatment 2; and 19 lbs for treatment 3.
– The controlled release fertilizer at the same rate as the growers program but half the frequency of application seems to produce better results. This could translate into time and labor savings on the farm.

Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center (LIHREC), Cornell University (Reduced-Till Sweet Corn Production at Two Nitrogen Rates)
An experiment was set up at LIHREC, NY to assess sweet corn performance to two nitrogen rates in both conventional and reduced tillage systems. The field used for the trial was previously sown to rye cover crop. Before establishing the plots, the rye cover crop was rolled twice with a coulter packer for the reduced-till strips and was flail chopped and roto tilled in the conventional-till strips. Roundup WeatherMAX was applied at a rate of 22 oz/A to the reduced-till strips in order to kill any emerged weeds and any rye that was not killed previously by the rolling process. An Unverferth zone builder was used to cut, fertilize, and prepare the reduced-till strips. The sweet corn variety used was ‘Providence’. 75 lbs N/ac of nitrogen was initially applied to all the treatments at planting. Only the sidedress rate was varied.
For both tillage treatments, Urea (34-0-0) was applied as sidedress at 2 rates of 25 lbs N/ac and 75 lbs N/ac, bringing the total N application up to 100 lbs N/ac for the lower and 150 lbs N/ac for the higher sidedress rates respectively.
– Stand counts in the reduced tillage plots averaged 450 plants per plot while conventionally tilled plots averaged stands of 290 plants.
– The poor stand count in the conventional-till plots was attributed to poor seed-soil contact due to improper incorporation and breakdown of the rye residue.
– The reduced tillage yields were higher than conventional tillage yields at the same nitrogen rates. This should be interpreted with caution especially that the conventional tillage plots suffered poor seedling establishment.
– Yields were not significantly different at the two nitrogen sidedress rates for both tillage treatments.
– The trial will be repeated next season to confirm the sweet corn response to different sidedress rates.


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