Integrating Compost Into an Intensive Plasticulture Production System for Vegetables

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2004: $7,262.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $5,786.52
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Laura McDermott
Cornell University Cooperative Extension

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: melons


  • Crop Production: municipal wastes, organic fertilizers, application rate management, tissue analysis
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: soil stabilization
  • Pest Management: cultural control, physical control, mulching - plastic, prevention, sanitation
  • Production Systems: transitioning to organic, holistic management, integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: new business opportunities, partnerships, sustainability measures

    Proposal abstract:

    This project will examine the integration of two different types of compost, a manure based compost and a paper fiber/yard waste based compost, in an intensive plasticulture vegetable production system. We will look at how well each compost suppresses weeds between the plastic mulch covered rows. Both types of compost will be applied to a herbicide treated plot and a no-herbicide treated plot. The response of the crop to fertility differences and water holding capacity of the two different composts will also be evaluated and the effect of the compost on overall soil quality will also be determined. The benefits of compost in vegetable production are well documented, but it can be difficult to incorporate compost into a plasticulture production system. This project will provide data to support the use of compost as a soil amendment and perhaps replace herbicide as a weed control method. This project will also draw attention to the variety and usefulness of compost materials. The value of this project lies in more than the field test. This system will make use of local materials; improve the health and sustainability of our soil resource; and increase the value of locally produced compost. In doing this we will help sustain producers of compost and the vegetable industry.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    According to the 2002 Census of Agriculture, Washington County, New York has over 700 acres of fresh market vegetables, managed by dozens of growers. Most of this production is on sandy and gravely soils, which are low in organic matter. Vegetable growers use a variety of plasticulture production systems to grow their high value crops such as melons, peppers, tomatoes, squash, broccoli, cabbage, onions, and other crops. Plastic mulch offers a variety of benefits including moisture retention, weed control, and an increase of soil temperature. Two problems with a plasticulture system are weed control between the plastic beds and incorporating organic matter into the soil. The use of herbicides in these systems prevents the use of cover crops.

    Washington County also has a growing number of compost suppliers, mostly dairy farms composting manure as a waste management system. This manure-based compost has been well accepted by local vegetable growers and is used to increase organic matter, as a component in seed starting mixes, and as a source of fertility when used as an organic mulch in non-plasticulture systems. As the compost supply grows, the market for it also needs to grow by increasing the number of growers using compost and in the number of uses for compost.

    Locally produced compost can be used to improve vegetable crop production. By applying a three-inch layer of compost between plastic beds, weed control may be equal or better than with the use of herbicides. The compost will then be incorporated into the soil at the end of the season, which will increase soil organic matter on soils, which typically have less than 2% organic matter. This system will make use of local materials; improve the health and sustainability of our soil resource; and increase the value of compost.

    This project would examine the effects of two very different composts in an intensive plasticulture production system. One compost will be a manure-based compost that has a moderate level of nutrients and organic matter (<30%). Another compost used is made from yard waste and paper fiber residuals from papermaking. It is very low in nutrients, moderate in organic matter, and high in clay. We propose to look at the production of a high value, direct market crop – in this case, cantaloupes – and determine if compost applied between plastic mulch rows will control weeds and affect overall crop production.

    It is intuitive that adding large amounts of compost will increase the soil organic matter. To actually measure this effect would require a long-term study. So, by using compost analyses, the increase in soil organic matter will be calculated.

    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.