Use of High-Residue, Winter-Killed Cover Crops in No-Till Organic Tomatoes

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2016: $29,998.00
Projected End Date: 05/03/2018
Grant Recipient: FairShare CSA Coalition
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Claire Strader
FairShare CSA Coalition

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Agronomic: sorghum sudangrass
  • Vegetables: tomatoes


  • Crop Production: cover crops, no-till
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    One common criticism of organic agriculture is that it relies too heavily on tillage.  While there has been some success with organic no-till row crops, organic no-till vegetables are still a conundrum.  Inadequate weed control, narrow cover crop termination windows, and planting delays related to termination are all challenges.  This research explores using season-long managed fallow followed by high-residue, winter-killed cover crops to create a weed-free mulch that does not need exact timing or special equipment for termination.  The vegetable crop is tomatoes.  The main cover crop is sorghum sudan grass (known for weed smothering and high biomass).  Because no-till research generally shows better results with grass/legume combinations, cow peas and sunn hemp are trialed with the main cover.  The control plots are managed with conventional tillage and plastic mulch.  While effective, affordable, and allowed in organic production, plastic mulch is problematic because it is a petroleum based product that is difficult to recycle.  If successful, this research will not only help organic vegetable growers reduce tillage but also offer a sustainable alternative to plastic mulch.  Organic vegetable farmers in south central Wisconsin are cooperating on this research.

    Project objectives from proposal:


      • Assess three cover crop combinations of high-residue, winter-killed mulch for production of no-till organic tomatoes as compared to conventionally tilled plastic mulch


      • Evaluate the management costs of the no-till systems compared to the conventionally tilled plastic mulch


      • Share information with growers through a field day in 2017 (expected attendance of 35 to 40)


      • Create an illustrated info sheet and short video with project results and recommendations to be posted on the FairShare website and disseminated through the FairShare listserv (218 subscribers)


      • Contribute information to the development of longer, multi-year reduced tillage vegetable rotations


    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.