A farmer-researcher collaborative effort to design no-till systems appropriate for small-scale organic producers in Alabama and the Deep South

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2009: $250,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Region: Southern
State: Alabama
Principal Investigator:
Joseph Kloepper
Auburn University
Dr. Jan Garrett
Auburn university

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: conservation tillage
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Pest Management: mulches - killed, smother crops, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, permaculture, transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    The purpose of this project is to improve the sustainability of small-scale farms in AL and other areas of the Deep South by expanding the use of organic no-till (NT) practices. NT systems utilizing high residue cover crops are known to be effective for building soil organic matter content by leaving plant residues on the soil surface where they decompose more slowly than when incorporated into the soil by tillage. Soil organic matter is often the limiting factor for organic producers, especially in the humid southeast where climatic conditions promote rapid decomposition rates. Off-farm sources of organic matter, such as chicken litter and mulch, can be prohibitively expensive for small-scale farmers who often have slim profit margins. If organic matter can be produced on the farm and conserved through NT practices it would save the farmer time and money and improve the sustainability of small-scale organic farms. Despite the benefits of NT and the desire of most small-scale farmers to practice sustainable agriculture, organic NT has not been adopted by this group of farmers in Alabama. Obstacles to adoption include weed control issues, lack of specialized equipment, and paucity of information on organic NT practices specific to growing conditions in the Deep South. More research is warranted, but that conducted at Agricultural Experiment Stations often has little relevance to small-scale farmers who have limited access to specialized equipment. More useful results can be obtained by involving farmers as partners in research. We have identified some small-scale farmers in Alabama who practice organic production methods and want to implement NT. We will assist them by providing NT equipment for their use and by advising them on various technological aspects of NT, including cover crop choices, planting, and termination dates, in order to facilitate their success. The farmer will modify these practices to best suit their needs. This feedback, augmented by research on certified organic plots on two Auburn University Agricultural Research stations, will result in effective organic NT methods for different crops, soil types, and physiographic provinces of AL. Such a systems approach, involving researchers of various disciplines and farmers evaluating the components as well as the whole effect of the farming practice will produce results that will facilitate the adoption of organic NT by other small-scale farmers throughout the state.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Objectives 1. Establish a collaborative effort between farmers and researchers to identify NT production methods that are appropriate for a variety of crops, soil types, and farming scales suitable for organic vegetable production in the Deep South. 2. Evaluate the effectiveness of various high residue cover crops and mixtures for ease of growth, maintenance of soil fertility, and weed control. 3. Evaluate tillage treatments across various soil types, cash crops, and cover crops, with respect to soil fertility, weed control, crop yield, and farmer acceptance. 4. Evaluate the effects of different pre-plant fertilizer rates on crop yield, weed populations, and cover crop growth. 5. Expand NT production practices in AL by assisting small-scale farmers in the state with the implementation of organic NT practices.
    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.