Improving fall vegetable crops and soils with summer cover crops

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2010: $245,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Southern
State: Louisiana
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Carl Motsenbocker
Louisiana State University Agricultural Center

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: broccoli, cabbages


  • Crop Production: cover crops, multiple cropping, tissue analysis
  • Education and Training: extension, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: organic matter

    Proposal abstract:

    The influence of summer cover crop systems on fall/winter organic vegetable crops for local sales will be studied in field studies. Southern soils have high organic matter oxidation rates and are generally low in organic matter; often less than 1 percent. The NOP states that farmers must implement practices that improve or stabilize soil health (USDA, 2007). Important measures of soil health include soil bulk density, aggregation, soil organic matter, microbial biomass and activity, and soil friability, structure, nutrient concentration, and buffering capacity. Numerous reports of the benefits of cover crops have been published over the years and the use of cover crops is increasingly important in order to enhance sustainability of organic production systems. Louisiana, Mississippi and surrounding states are seeing a large increase in demand for local produce. Increasing crop productivity outside of the summer season would improve availability of produce, increase grower income, and enhance the value of farmers markets to their communities. In addition to four cooperating universities, we have agreements from two grower cooperators (one in each state) for on-farm summer cover crop and fall/winter vegetable research. Two university sites will include six cover crops planted with four replicates at each location the first year. Fall vegetable crops (lettuce, cabbage) will be planted into the plots after incorporating the summer cover crops in the fall. vegetable crop yield and quality, total crop biomass, weed and pest pressures will be documented. Experiments at two farm sites will compliment the university sites, but with some flexibility in design and layout as needed for the farming system in place. Research designs and protocols will be approved for statistical validity and relevance to the objectives by the LSU Department of Experimental Statistics. Soil and tissue data will be gathered to determine aspects of nutrient and carbon dynamics in the systems and soil health, soil biological activity and nutrient analysis will be measured. Organic cover crops and vegetable crops production budgets will be generated based on the project research. The research will be presented at workshops and field days, through extension and scientific outlets and the programs will be available to agriculture professionals participating in SARE PDP programming. A grower advisory panel will be initiated as the first step of the project to formulate specific project objectives and the on-farm and university organic research and outreach activities of the investigators. The advisory panel will meet at a minimum twice a year to discuss progress of the project activities. Invitations to join the advisory committee will be open to all organic growers, both certified and not certified as many growers have elected not to become certified at this time. Aggressive and multifaceted outreach tools, including internet-based, live, and traditional media/teaching and extension programming, will be used to bring results and information from the project to as many audiences and end users as possible.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Determine the relative productivity and soil building properties and soil health of summer cover crops in Gulf Coast organic specialty crop systems.
    2. Determine the influence of summer cover crops on subsequent vegetable crop productivity.
    3. Enhance the knowledge base of area outreach and educational professionals serving the needs of organic and similarly minded farmer-marketers in the Gulf States.
    4. Develop production budgets for the various summer cover crop treatments and the fall/winter organic vegetable crops.

    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.