Reducing plastic mulch use by expanding adoption of cover-crop-based no-till systems for vegetable producers

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2010: $144,962.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Northeast
State: Pennsylvania
Project Leader:
Stacy Glackin
Rodale Institute
Alison Grantham
Rodale Institute
Sandra Wayman
Rodale Institute

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: beans, tomatoes


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, technical assistance
  • Energy: energy conservation/efficiency
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: competition, cultural control, field monitoring/scouting, mulches - killed, physical control, mulching - plastic, mulching - vegetative, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    The proposed project, built upon field research at Rodale Institute and at collaborating regional farms, will encourage farmers in the Mid-Atlantic region to experiment with use of mixed cover crop mulches as a replacement for plastic mulches in their vegetable production fields. The goals of this project are to: 1) reduce or eliminating the expense and waste generated by plastic mulches; 2) improve soil quality through use of cover crops; 3) maintain or improve fertility, as well as weed and disease control, through biological systems rather than petroleum-based inputs, and 4) increase profitability for regional vegetable farmers. Rodale Institute will work with three collaborating farmers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to trial a variety of cover crop combinations in conjunction with four methods of cover crop termination (including plowing and covering with black plastic) to assess the ability of these treatments to suppress weeds and disease and to contribute fertility in organic and non-organic vegetable crop rotations. Best management practices, based on this research, will be outreached to other farmers and the public via field days at the Institute and on the collaborating farms, four project articles posted on, a 30-page vegetable-cover crop handbook, and a peer-reviewed manuscript.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    Beneficiary Performance Targets: To benefit regional vegetable growers and increase the environmental and economic sustainability of their production systems this project aims to inform at least 3000 growers about the system and support at least 25 regional farmers to implement the cover crop no-till system on 10% of their collective vegetable production acreage (or at least 20 acres), decreasing their input costs for that acreage by 90%, increasing their net income for that acreage by 50%, decreasing erosion-inducing impervious surface area by 80%, increasing organic matter inputs by 85%, eliminating supplemental irrigation needs, maintaining equivalent weed control, improving soil quality, and supporting equivalent yields relative to the farmers’ standard black plastic-based system. The project will also equip eight extension agents with new information on cover crop use and termination for vegetable production that they will incorporate into regional training programs reaching about 400 growers.

    Research Performance Targets: Four effective cover crops/combinations will be identified for weed suppression and N contribution in vegetable production. Efficiency of cover crop termination techniques, economic returns, and soil health impacts will also be clarified.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.