Best management practices for organic orchard nutrition

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2005: $200,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2008
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Curt Rom
University of Arkansas

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: apples, peaches, general tree fruits


  • Crop Production: nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers, tissue analysis
  • Education and Training: technical assistance, demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, agricultural finance, risk management
  • Pest Management: biological control, cultural control, integrated pest management, mulches - killed, mating disruption, physical control, mulching - plastic, traps, mulching - vegetative
  • Production Systems: general crop production
  • Soil Management: organic matter, nutrient mineralization, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: partnerships, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:


    Expansion of sustainable and organic tree fruit production in the southern region is hindered by lack of reliable, regionally appropriate, and scale neutral technologies. Fertility management and tree fruit nutrition are key to successful fruit production. However, most of our understanding about nutrient biology in orchard soils and trees is based upon research in orchards using conventional nutrient management practices. These conventional practices use synthetic soluble fertilizers and a weed-free center strip, while organic orchards are managed using slowly available organic sources of nutrients and a variety of ground covers. While the application of soluble fertilizers can be timed to correspond to periods of critical nutrient needs, a range of soil and climate conditions affect the availability of organic nutrients. Moreover, cover crops or mulches used to protect the soil and control weeds also affect nutrient uptake, water availability, and pest populations.

    We propose to develop effective organic fruit tree nutrient management practices for the South using a combination of subjective and quantitative surveys, on-farm research, and controlled replicated studies. Surveys of transitional and certified organic tree fruit growers in the South will identify nutrient management practices that growers have found effective, nutrient management problems they have encountered, and relationships between these factors and the various agro-eco-regions of the South. On-farm studies will provide preliminary assessments of nutrient mineralization, availability and uptake, pest incidence, and crop yields across a range of fruit tree management practices and environments. These studies will help identify critical characteristics of nutrient management practices that are effective across environments or within specific environments. Finally, replicated, research station assessments will permit detailed analyses of relationships among nutrient management practices, inter-row practices, pest populations, and environmental location.

    Project information will be disseminated through educational documents, a semi-moderated listserv, on-farm trainings, and research station-based educational meetings. Project research activities and interactions will be evaluated through on-going interactions between researchers and participating growers, periodic submission of evaluation forms by growers, and mid-term and final evaluations conducted through a project listserv. Project outreach and educational activities will be evaluated though evaluations conducted at training meetings, recording and analyzing questions and comments made by participants at these meetings, and feedback on written materials posted on the project Web page.

    Throughout this survey and research process, we will work with a group of grower advisors to ensure that survey questions are relevant and understandable. Grower advisors will also act as liaisons between researchers and organic fruit tree growers to encourage participation in the survey and in follow-up research activities. They will also help review, critique, and disseminate research results.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. 1. Identify successful nutrient management practices currently being used by organic fruit growers in the South; 2. Work with Southern region organic tree fruit growers to assess the impact of their nutrient management practices on soil quality, tree nutrient content, fruit yield and quality, pest incidence, and management costs; 3. Based on results of on-farm analyses, conduct a controlled, replicated study to further evaluate ground cover and nutrient management practices and develop locally-appropriate recommendations for organic fruit tree growers in the South; and 4. Assist tree fruit growers in implementing effective organic nutrient management practices by working with grower collaborators, grower organizations, Cooperative Extension, and ATTRA to conduct on-farm trainings and develop informational materials.
    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.