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 (DZT) can address all of the problems mentioned above and more.
In 2009, 4 DZT educational events and 11 conference presentations were conducted reaching over 675 attendees. Three DZT newsletter articles were published and mailed to 860 growers/educators and were posted on the UConn IPM Web Site. Four additional articles on DZT were published in the New England Vegetable Management Guide (1,500 hard copies), on its web site, in the New England Vegetable & Fruit Conference Proceedings (800 hard copies), and on the conference web site. Soil Health baseline Tests were conducted on three new DZT farms, 5 DZT growers were surveyed and raved about the new system, and 8 new grower-identified benefits of DZT were documented. By the end of 2009, a total of 12 farms were equipped to use DZT, and Extension Educators in all 6 New England states and beyond were promoting the new reduced-till system.
To achieve the goal of hastening the adoption of zone tillage in CT and New England, we expected 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 hoped to convert at least 10 New England growers to deep zone-till to serve as examples and mentor growers.
In 2008, we conducted 3 educational events on deep zone tillage: a Reduced-tillage farmer-to-farmer discussion group, a DZT twilight meeting and a ‘Soil Health and Deep Zone Tillage Conference.’ We also spoke about DZT at 5 additional farm tours and twilight meetings, published a newsletter article introducing DZT, conducted a soil compaction and organic matter survey on 55 CT farms, and identified/documented 22 potential benefits of using DZT compared with conventional tillage. However, we only converted 2 growers to DZT the first year due to dramatic fuel/steel/equipment price increases.
Here are the highlights of our 2009 efforts:
• 12 Preliminary Soil Health Tests were conducted prior to the start of the 2009 season on 3 new DZT farms in CT (1) and MA (2) and 1 potential convert (MA). These tests were conducted to provide pre-zone-till data on chemical, biological and physical soil health indicators, so that the results can be compared with additional tests after several years of DZT.
• Post-season surveys were sent to the 5 southern New England growers using DZT in 2009 to assess the advantages and disadvantages of DZT. All the growers were very happy with the new system, and stated that they would “never go back to conventional tillage.” They saved time (up to 83% less time), fuel (up to 77%), and fertilizer compared with using conventional tillage, and all felt that DZT resulted in higher yields and/or better crop quality. Eight new grower-identified benefits of the new system over conventional tillage were listed in the survey, bringing the total number of DZT benefits to 30.
• At least 12 farms will be using DZT in New England by 2010, including the Plant Science Research Farm at UConn. One of these growers intends to borrow a neighbor’s machine to plant up to 50 acres of pumpkins in 2010, but all the others own zone builder machines. This exceeds the original goal of converting 10 farms to DZT by the end of this project.
• A talk entitled, ‘DZT: What is it and What are the Benefits,’ was presented at the New England Vegetable & Berry Growers’ Association meeting in Chicopee, MA on 9 January 2009. UMass and UConn Educators organized and conducted a MA DZT Grower Advisory Group on 26 March 2009 in Westminster, MA to help support future grant proposals. A Farm Day on DZT was conducted at the UMass Research Farm in Deerfield, MA on 16 July 2009.
• The grant partners succeeded in convincing the steering committee to include a full educational session entitled ‘Grower Experiences with Deep Zone Tillage’ in the 15-17 December 2009 New England Vegetable & Fruit Conference (NEVFC). A total of 138 growers attended the session on 17 December. Jude Boucher and Chuck Bornt co-moderated the session and Jude presented the first talk on ‘Why Deep Zone Tillage’ is important. Four growers (Nelson Cecarelli, Tom Scott, George Ayres, and Gary Sweet) from CT, NY and OH, then described their own variation of how to DZT in talks entitled: ‘Transitioning to DZT’, ‘Stabilizing Profits on Our Farm’, ‘Zone-Tillage – 12 Years Later’ and ‘Why We Switched from Conventional to Strip-Till.’ Jude, Nelson and Tom are all partners on this grant.
• The NEVFG session was followed by a 1 hour farmer-to-farmer discussion group, where 10 growers and educators experienced in DZT, provided answers for growers considering this system of tillage. According to equipment dealers, as many as 6 growers may have purchased DZT machines after the NEVFC events.
• The following additional DZT presentations were made in 2009:
-Cecarelli, N. 2009. Do’s & Don’t of DZT in Vegetables. CT Vegetable & Small Fruit Growers’ Conference, 22 January 2009, Vernon, CT.
-Boucher, J. 2009. Weed Control Using Zone Tillage. CT Farm Fresh Cooperative Association Annual Meeting. 7 February 2009. Glastonbury, CT.
-Durgy, R. and J. Boucher. Soil Compaction and Reduced Tillage on Organic Farms. CT NOFA Annual Conference. 21 February 2009. Windsor, CT.
-Boucher, J. 2009. A Sustainable Approach to Working with Farmers. USDA Outlook Forum, 27 February 2009. Arlington, VA.
-Boucher, J. and L. Los. 2009. Dzen’s Farm Tour. Northeast IPM Center Advisory Council Annual Meeting. 4 November 2009. Ellington, CT
• The following DZT proceedings, manual sections and newsletter/web site articles were published in 2009:
-Boucher, J. 2009. 2008 Compaction and Organic Matter Survey Results for CT Vegetable Farms. Crop Talk: Commercial Vegetable & Fruit Crops Newsletter, Vol. 5, No. 1, p. 1-3. www.hort.uconn.edu/ipm/.
-Boucher, J. 2009. Measuring Soil Health before Converting to Deep Zone Tillage. Crop Talk: Commercial Vegetable & Fruit Crops Newsletter, Vol. 5, No. 1, p. 3-5. www.hort.uconn.edu/ipm/.
-Holm. D. 2009. Deep Zone Tillage: Improved Cultivation Options for a Cold Climate. Innovations, Winter 2008/2009, p. 8-10.
-Boucher, J. and N. Cecarelli. 2009. Case Study: Deep Zone-Tillage, Cecarelli Farm, Northford, CT. Crop Talk: Commercial Vegetable & Fruit Crops Newsletter, Vol. 5, No. 1, p. 1-5. www.hort.uconn.edu/ipm/.
-Boucher, J. 2009. Why Deep Zone Tillage/Vertical Tillage. Proceedings of the New England Vegetable & Fruit Conference and Trade Show. December 15-17. Manchester, NH. p. 147-150. www.newenglandvfc.org.
-Ayres, G. 2009. Zone Tillage – 12 Years Later. Proceedings of the New England Vegetable & Fruit Conference and Trade Show. December 15-17. Manchester, NH. p. 151-152. www.newenglandvfc.org.
-Sweet, G. 2009. Adapting to the 21st Century: Switching from Conventional Tillage to Strip Tillage. Proceedings of the New England Vegetable & Fruit Conference and Trade Show. December 15-17. Manchester, NH. p. 153. www.newenglandvfc.org.
-Boucher, J. 2009. Reduced Tillage to Improve Soil Health. New England Vegetable Management Guide. New England Coop. Ext. Sys. Pub. pp. 11-12. www.nevegetable.org.
• Additional Extension Educators in VT, MA and RI became interested in DZT and submitted grants to fund more research and outreach work. Extension Educators in NH and ME have invited the grant partners to present talks on DZT in 2010, as have educators in Nova Scotia, PA, NY and CT.
We have vastly exceeded every performance target that was set for this project. We applied for a project extension through 2010, because until the December 2009 NEVFC educational events, we did not think we had succeeded in converting 10 farms to DZT and we had already booked events for 2010 to achieve this goal.
We learned through the course of this project that most growers need to hear about DZT on multiple occasions before converting to this new system for field preparation. It also proved to be very important for mentor growers to allow interested farmers to visit their farms and see and learn about DZT first hand. Thus far, every grower that has tried DZT loves it!
By observing changes in field conditions brought about by DZT, we also learned that replicated, small-plot work conducted in grower fields should be done both on “good” land and through poor (wet holes) areas of the field. Most researchers tend to unintentionally bias their results by choosing good land to conduct field studies. However, most of the benefits that can be measured from DZT occur in the very worst areas of the field that start out as unproductive ground. Therefore, the best representation of DZT changes would be to use the average results of duplicate studies conducted on both productive and unproductive areas. For example, Nelson rents a 9-acre field that contains a 1.5-acre wet hole that tends to flood at some time during each season. With conventional tillage, corn was always stunted or died outright in that wet hole and it interfered with side-dressing, cultivating, and spraying operations because it bisected long rows. In 2009, after 3 years of DZT, and in the wettest season ever, the corn growing in that wet hole was the same size and maturity at harvest time as the rest of the crop. DZT destroyed the plow pan and allowed the low area of the field to drain. Nelson figures that this is happening in every field on his farm, resulting in much more productive acreage, and helps account for yield increases he has experience with DZT (up to 50 bags per acre).
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
This grant is succeeding in its mission to hasten the adoption of DZT in CT, New England, and beyond. We have succeeded in converting 12 farms to DZT. If we can get 30 New England farmers to adopt this technology, then we feel it will begin to spread by itself on its own merits. The first 5 farmers using this technique have described 30 benefits that DZT provides over conventional tillage and we expect new converts to add to the list. These 5 growers have identified the following potential benefits of their new tillage system: reduced fuel, labor, and machine hours; reduced chemical/nutrient 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 (less Phytophthora and black rot); fewer planting delays; better water infiltration (turns wet holes into productive ground); can plant wet fields in wet seasons (increased acreage); can avoid wet areas when planting (fewer stuck machines); conservation of soil moisture in dry spells; increased organic matter, soil structure and beneficial organisms (i.e. earthworms); reduced dust and noise; fewer annual weeds; fewer rocks to pick; eliminates dead furrows; better seed emergence and yields; improved crop quality (straighter/longer carrots, cleaner pumpkins and butternut, no dry tip on sweet corn); and rental of land trust/municipal property which prohibits conventional till. We have also succeeded in interesting Extension Educators in all 6 New England States (and beyond) in joining in our mission of helping us spread DZT technology throughout the region. Not bad for $9,000!
Upcoming events/presentations/publications scheduled for 2010 (or already conducted):
-Boucher, J. 2010. IPM for Pest, Crop and Farm. Long Island Agricultural Forum, 14 January 2010, River Head, NY.
-Boucher, J. 2010. 30 Reasons to Switch to Deep Zone Tillage. Scotia Horticultural Congress. 25 January 2010, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada
-Boucher, J. 2010. Deep Zone Tillage. Mid-Atlantic Fruit & Vegetable Conference, 2 February 2010, Hershey, PA.
-Boucher, J. and Nelson Cecarelli. 2010. Deep Zone Tillage for Dairy. Crop Production Services Dairy Workshop. 23 March 2010, Storrs, CT.
-Cecarelli, N. 2010. Transitioning to Deep Zone Tillage. Crop Production Services Dairy Workshop. 23 March 2010, Storrs, CT.
-Boucher, J. 2010. 30 Reasons to Switch to Deep Zone Tillage. Maine Vegetable & Fruit School, 24 March 2010, Portland, ME (postponed)
– Boucher, J. 2010. 30 Reasons to Switch to Deep Zone Tillage. Maine Vegetable & Fruit School, 25 March 2010, Bangor, ME (postponed)
-Woolley, D. 2010. Deep Tillage. Fruit & Vegetable Magazine (www.fruitandveggie.com). (In Press).
-Boucher, J. and C. Bornt. 2010. Will provide DZT farm tour for Nova Scotia educator and farmer. 19-20 May 2010.
-Boucher, J. and G. Hamilton. 2010. Zone Tillage and Soil Health Farm Twilight Meeting. 2 June 2010, Wilson Farm, Litchfield, NH.
-Boucher, J., N. Cecarelli and T. Scott. 2010. Deep Zone Tillage on New England Farms (PowerPoint Presentation). www.hort.uconn.edu/ipm/ (soon to be posted).
-Boucher, J. 2010. Grower Contact Information for Deep Zone Tillage in New England. www.hort.uconn.edu/ipm/ (soon to be posted).
-Boucher, J. and T. Scott. 2010. Case Study: Deep Zone Tillage at Scott’s Yankee Farmers. Crop Talk: Commercial Vegetable & Fruit Crops Newsletter, Vol. 6, (to be written, fall 2010).
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