Selecting cover crops for diverse functions: an integrated soil management approach for organic strawberry production in North Carolina

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $200,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Michelle Schroeder-Moreno
North Carolina State University

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: berries (strawberries)


  • Crop Production: biological inoculants, cover crops, fertigation, irrigation, nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers, tissue analysis
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: biological control, disease vectors, mulches - killed, mulching - plastic
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, soil microbiology, organic matter

    Proposal abstract:

    In this study, we will examine the use of summer cover crops as an integrated soil and pest management approach for organic strawberry production in North Carolina. Using cover crops in rotation is an important strategy for many sustainable and organic systems to prevent erosion, increase soil organic matter and fertility, enhance biological activity, and break up pest cycles. The use of cover crops is relatively unexplored in practice in organic strawberry production. Selective cover crop species may also improve the arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungal inoculum potential and subsequent crop benefit from AM. Arbuscular mycorrhizas have been demonstrated to benefit strawberry growth by increasing nutrient acquisition and decreasing damage caused by Phytophthora root rot. Selection of cover crops that also function as good AM hosts can increase the activity of indigenous AM fungi, strawberry growth and overall soil community sustainability. We will carry out this study with three approaches: a field experiment at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems in Goldsboro, NC, greenhouse experiments and on-farm research trials. In the field experiment, we will investigate seven cover crop species and combinations (sudan grass, pearl millet, soybean, velvetbean, sudan grass/soybean combination, pearl millet/ velvetbean combination, and a canola species) compared to a control treatment (no cover crop) for their effects on yields of strawberry plants pre-inoculated with the indigenous AM fungi or a commercial inoculum. To develop farm-level practices, we will carry out on-farm trials with selective cover crops in collaboration with three strawberry producers, NC County Extension Agents and with the NC Strawberry Association. Results from this study will be shared with farmers, researchers, extension personal and students through formal and informal presentations and publications. The purpose of this project is to evaluate an integrated approach of cover crop rotation and beneficial mycorrhizal fungi management as alternative soil fertility and pest management practices for organic strawberry production in North Carolina. Although our focus is in organic strawberry production systems, we believe this integrated approach can also be applied to conventionl strawberry production and other similar crops strongly responsive to AM.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. The overall objective of this study is to develop an integrated approach of cover crop rotations and beneficial AM fungi management as sustainable soil and pest management practices for organic strawberry production in North Carolina. Our specific objectives for this initial phase of our work are to: Evaluate seven selected cover crop species and combinations for their impact on strawberry yield and ability to enhance indigenous AM fungi in organic strawberry production systems. Evaluate strawberry yield benefit from indigenous AM fungi and commercial AM fungi inoculum sources. Develop on-farm trials for evaluation of selected cover crop species and their effect on indigenous AM fungal diversity and strawberry yields. Promote technology and education transfer on cover crop and AM fungi management in organic strawberry production systems among farmers, extension agents, researchers and students.
    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.