Sharing our advances: Evaluating the use of plastic mulch and trickle irrigation systems in Asian vegetable production

2003 Annual Report for ONE03-001

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2003: $9,789.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Region: Northeast
State: Massachusetts
Project Leader:
Amy Carrington
New Entry Sustainable Farming Project

Sharing our advances: Evaluating the use of plastic mulch and trickle irrigation systems in Asian vegetable production


An influx of experienced farmers from Asia has created an opportunity to develop the next generation of New England farmers. Many of these immigrants are unfamiliar with the techniques, growing conditions, and technologies here, and many agricultural specialists are unfamiliar with Asian vegetable production. The project leader will explore the effect of different irrigation methods on tomato, Asian basil, bitter melon, mustard greens, and water spinach by comparing yields on plots managed by recent immigrants. The goal is to teach new farming methods, determine yields per acre and best management practices, and improve outreach to agricultural professionals.

Objectives/Performance Targets

1. Maintain the viability of agriculture in the region by assisting immigrant populations to successfully enter farming in Massachusetts.
2. Build economic self reliance and food security among immigrant populations through production of locally grown foods by members of these communities.
3. Promote sustainable agricultural practices regarding water usage, weed management, pest management, and season extension techniques.
4. Assist immigrant farmers to remain economically viable through on farm demonstrations and implementation of new production methods and new technologies.
5. Determine best management practices for Asian crops by gathering yield data for different production methods.


1. Of the twelve farmers participated in the NESFP’s training farm site program in 2003, five farmers used black plastic mulch and trickle irrigation for the first time.
2. All of the farmers who participated in the training farm site program in 2003 sold their produce to ethnic stores located in their community. One farmer participated in the Lowell Farmers’ Market where he was able to provide ethnically appropriate foods for Farmers’ Market coupon recipients who preferred ethnic vegetables. Three farmers participated in “flea markets.” These open air marketing venues allow bargaining and bartering sales similar to markets in developing countries, therefore, farmers attending flea markets have cashed in on a market that has wide spread popularity among immigrant communities.
3. In March of 2003 the NESFP hired a contractor to grow transplants for the NESFP. These transplants were used by cooperating farmers.
In April of 2003 the NESFP worked with farmers to cover the hoop house and start transplants and herbs and vegetables.
In spring of 2003 the NESFP upgraded irrigation systems at training farm sites and installed main lines for trickle irrigation systems. We had several on farm trainings on the use of trickle irrigation.
In spring of 2003 the NESFP assisted four farmers with installing black plastic mulch for use in crop production. One of these farmers contracted with a local farmer to lay .5 acre of drip tape and mulch.
Through out the growing season NESFP and U Mass staff visited the farm sites to scout for pests and provide information on pest management options.
4. At the start of the 2003 growing season many of the farmers participating in this project believed that plastic mulch could only be used with crops that have an upright growth form (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc.) and were reluctant to use plastic mulch with cucurbits/ vine crops. One participant decided to try my recommendation of using plastic mulch and drip tape for his Asian cucumbers. This grower had success with his trail; he had significantly reduced the weed pressures and decreased the amount of time he spent on irrigation management.
5. In 2003 the data gathered was exclusively qualitative. The immigrant farmers who participated in this project do not keep farm records; therefore maintaining quantitative measurements of crop production was difficult. The NESFP staff responded to this situation by providing all farmers with the New England Farm Account Book, including production and marketing record worksheets that were designed specifically for low literacy populations, and by discussing the many ways that farmers could benefit from good record keeping. During farm visits we experienced many situations where farers would have benefited from looking at records form previous years. Discussing these examples at farmer meetings and having an ongoing discussion of farm records was one of the priorities through out the growing season.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

1. Twelve farmers started agricultural enterprises through their participation in the NESFP’s training farm site program in 2003. Through on farm training, farmers meetings, and site visits with the Khmer speaking intern that was hired through the SARE grant, these farmers shared their knowledge and experiences related to starting a successful agricultural enterprise.
2. In 2003 there were twelve businesses that produced ethnic herbs and vegetables on ten acres of farmland. At least five of these enterprises were operated by an older member of a family where active involvement of younger generations allows for the transfer of knowledge between generations and supports the long term sustainability of the family’s farm business. All twelve enterprises marketed produce within a 30 mile radius of their farm, thus providing fresh produce to members of the local ethnic communities.
3. In 2003, farmers who used transplants purchased from a contractor were able to see earlier and increased crop yields compared to transplants produced in their homes. Due to the added benefits of purchasing transplants many farmers have developed a contract for transplants in the 2004 season.
In 2003, the NESFP staff assisted farmers with set up and management of a hoop house. This season responsibility for the hoop house was turned over to the farmers’ committee. This new arrangement demonstrates farmers’ willingness to use new low cost technology once it has been proven to work for them.
The upgraded irrigation systems at the training farm site will be used again in 2004. Demonstrating the appropriate use of this system has been one of the challenges of this SARE grant project. In February 2004 a training with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff was focused on the location of plant roots and how soil moisture is distributed throughout the soil by different irrigation methods. On farm discussions and measurements of soil moisture will be key in farmers learning to use trickle irrigation effectively.
In spring of 2003 one farmer contracted with a local farmer to lay .5 acre of drip tape and mulch that were purchased as part of this grant. This season three farmers plan to purchase supplies and hire tractor services to lay mulch.
The initial success of NESFP and U Mass pests scouting visits has resulted in a long term plan to develop low literacy pest management training materials such as posters and pictorial fact sheets. In addition the NESFP has developed a contract for U Mass to hire a part time staff member to assist NESFP participants in 2004.
4. In 2003, one farmer demonstrated the potential success of using plastic mulch with cucurbit crops; he had significantly reduced the weed pressures and decreased the amount of time he spent on irrigation management. Other farmers visited his plot throughout the growing season and have decided to use this technique in 2004.
5. In 2003 NESFP participants completed the FSA crop acreage reports with the help of the Khmer speaking intern. However, all other data that was gathered was exclusively qualitative. In the fall of 2003 the NESFP conducted trainings in business management, including two three hour sessions focused on record keeping. Additional on farm record keeping demonstrations and trainings will be needed for farmers to maintain production records in 2004.