Hastening Adoption of Zone-Tillage on CT/ New England Vegetable Farms
The extensive tillage practices used on vegetable farms in the Northeast are expensive and result in problems with soil compaction, soil degradation and soil erosion. Deep zone tillage/vertical tillage systems can address all of the problems mentioned above and more.
This project will consist of a soil survey and a sequence of outreach meetings, and articles, all with the goal of hastening the adoption of zone tillage in CT and New England. Reduced-tillage growers and Extension Educators will partner and use workshops, twilight meetings, conferences, discussion groups, newsletter/web site articles and case studies to disseminate zone-tillage information. Soil health base-line surveys will be conducted on new zone-till farms and samples will be taken on an additional 30 farms across CT to help document problems such as low organic matter levels and soil compaction (i.e. plow-pans).
To achieve the goal of hastening the adoption of zone tillage in CT and New England, we expect to record preliminary soil health data and transitional challenges/benefits for CT growers converting to deep zone tillage; record compaction and organic matter data on 30 CT farms; have over 200 growers attend workshops, twilight meetings and conferences; reach over 1,000 growers through web sites, case studies and newsletter articles; and hope to convert at least 10 New England growers to deep zone-till to serve as examples and mentor growers.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
To date, a total of 3 educational sessions (discussion group, twilight meeting and conference) have been conducted specifically for zone-tillage which were attended by 168 growers, while an additional 5 talks on this subject were presented at other twilight meetings and farm tours for growers and administrators (70 people). An additional 860 people were reached with a newsletter article. Only 2 vegetable growers have transitioned to zone-till thus far, largely because the price of steel doubled from 2007 to 2008, as did the price of the Zone Builders. These two growers have identified a total of 22 potential benefits from their new tillage system and have made presentations at 2 or 3 of the educational sessions to help convince new growers about the value of the system.
A farmer-to-farmer discussion group entitled, an ‘Introduction to Reduced Tillage for Vegetable Growers,’ was conducted in early 2008 in Vernon, CT. Eighteen people took part in the discussion. The program began with two five-minute clips from Vern Grubinger’s new DVD on ‘Vegetable Growers and their Innovative Tillage Practices.’ J. Boucher (Extension Educator) then presented a pictorial tour of reduced-till systems in CT. The discussion was lead at different times by the following growers: N. Cecarelli from Northford, T. Jones from Shelton, J. Halfinger from Higganum and B. Collins from Rocky Hill, who talked about zone-tillage, no-till pumpkins, no-till corn and no-till beans, respectively. N. Cecarelli reported his highest yields ever on 55 acres of sweet corn using zone-tillage in a very dry season. Yields increased by 50 bags per acre over previous record highs: worth $26,125 ($475/acre). Fuel savings estimated at $32/acre, totaled $1,760, and will increase as oil prices rise. E. Weil, a western NY equipment dealer, then presented a talk on the hardware needed to transition to reduced-till, which was followed by a long, lively discussion about the pros and cons of different reduced-tillage methods, with all participating. T. Scott, from E. Lyme, CT, purchased a Zone-Builder after attending the meeting and agreed to join this SARE Partnership Grant and help educate others transitioning to deep zone-tillage technology.
In April, Preliminary Soil Health samples and penetrometer (compaction) readings were taken in all fields where deep zone tillage may be used on the farms of N. Cecarelli and T. Scott. The plan is to compare these preliminary results with the results of tests conducted in 5 or 10 years to confirm soil improvements over time.
The first of a series of newsletter articles/fact sheets, entitled ‘Soil Health and Deep Zone Tillage,’ was published in Crop Talk: UConn’s Commercial Vegetable and Fruit Crops Newsletter (Vol. 4, No. 1: 2-4), and the first “Zone-Tillage Twilight Meeting” was advertised. The twilight meeting took place at N. Cecarelli’s Farm in Northford, CT on 5 June and 70-80 people attended. Speakers included J. Boucher, N. Cecarelli, T. Scott, E. Weil, and an NRCS staff member, R. Kszystyniak. Updates on the transitions and progress of the CT deep zone-till growers were presented at additional twilight meetings in eastern CT and at the University of Rhode Island in August (50 growers). In September and October, additional farm tour talks on zone-till were provided for UConn’s Provost, Vice-Provost and Dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and for the USDA NRCS National Director, A. Lancaster, the State NRCS Conservationist, D. Zehner, and the CT Commissioner of Agriculture, L. Prelli. Also, an interview and farm tour was provided to J Hibma for a future zone-till article in ‘Growing’ magazine.
Additional soil and penetrometer tests were taken on 55 vegetable fields across CT starting between June and August 2008, primarily to assess soil organic matter content and compaction problems. Forty-six conventional fields were compared with 9 reduced-till fields. Eighty-nine percent of the conventional fields had a plow-pan at an average depth of 11 inches, while 98% showed some evidence of a plow pan forming (multiple penetrometer readings > 300 p.s.i.). Only 33% of the reduced-till fields had plow pans and these fields had almost twice the organic matter as the conventional fields (7.5% vs. 3.9%, respectively).
Finally, a conference on ‘Deep Zone-Tillage & Soil Health’ was conducted on 1 December in Sturbridge, MA. A total of 75 growers and agricultural educators attended. Speakers included: J. Idowu, A. Rangaranjan and J. Capron from Cornell University; J. Boucher from UConn, and growers G. Ayres, N. Cecarelli and T Scott. Talks were presented on: improving soil health; zone-tillage for large and small seeded crops, root crops and organic systems; equipment adjustments; the CT soil compaction survey, the different techniques used at 3 zone-till farms in NY & CT, and a grower panel.
The two CT growers that transitioned to deep zone-tillage have identified the following potential benefits of their new tillage system: reduced fuel, labor, and machine hours; reduced chemical runoff and soil erosion; soils that warm faster than conventional or no-till; elimination of compacted layers (plow pans); improved drainage; deeper, healthier crop roots; reduced disease incidence; fewer planting delays; better water infiltration; conservation of soil moisture; increased organic matter, soil structure and beneficial organisms (i.e. earthworms); reduced dust and noise; fewer annual weeds; fewer rock to pick; better seed emergence and yields; improved crop quality; and rental of land trust/municipal property which prohibits conventional till.
Upcoming events: At the New England Vegetable & Fruit Conference Steering Committee Meeting on 18 December, J. Boucher and N. Cecarelli will request a zone-till session and farmer-to-farmer discussion group for the next New England conference the following December (2009). J. Boucher is scheduled to present a talk on ‘Deep Zone-Tillage: What it is and What are the Benefits’ at the New England Vegetable and Berry Growers’ Association Winter Meeting in Chicopee, MA on 9 January. N. Cecarelli is scheduled to present a talk on the ‘Do’s and Don’ts of Deep Zone Tillage in Vegetables’ at the CT Vegetable & Small Fruit Growers’ Conference in Vernon, CT on 22 January. J. Boucher will present a talk at USDA’s Ag Outlook Forum in Washington D.C. on February 27 on a ‘Practical, Farmer-Oriented Approach to Growing Vegetables in CT.’ The full results of the CT Soil Compaction and Organic Matter Survey will be presented in a January 2009 newsletter article. A case study of N. Cecarelli’s transition to deep zone-tillage will be prepared for the newsletter and web sites this spring.
291 N. Bride Brook Road
East Lyme, CT 06333
Office Phone: 8607390247
S. C. Hansen Inc.
110 Old Ithaca Road
Horseheads, NY 14845
Office Phone: 6077398741
P.O. Box 155
Boston Post Road
Northford, CT 06472-1526
Office Phone: 2034107155
489 Candlewood Hill Road
Higganum, CT 06441-4279
Office Phone: 8603454609