Organic agriculture is one of the fastest growing agribusinesses in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV) and the LRGV has the highest concentration of certified organic farms in the state of Texas. Farmers, collectively, rank weeds and pests as the two major barriers to successful and economically viable organic production (Finney and Creamer, 2008), and managing weeds and insect pests with acceptable techniques is considered a major challenge and potentially requires the highest labor input.
Cover crops have proven to provide multiple agroecosystem services, however, there is relatively little information available for farmers to be able to make informed decisions about the right strategy for their farms, especially regarding cover crop selection (Snapp et al., 2001), management (Singer et al., 2007), and evaluation of benefits (Bergtold et al., 2009). This information gap is quite obvious and severe in the subtropical South Texas. We believe that right selection and establishment of single or a mixture of cover crop species has the potential to suppress weed and pest populations, and to break crop associated pests and weed build up, thereby assisting the farmers to overcome these critical challenges in organic vegetable production systems.
Project objectives from proposal:
With a participatory approach, we will conduct on-farm research to decipher and quantify the benefits of single species cover crops and cover crop mixes examining three key aspects of sustainable crop production: soil health, indicated by soil compaction, organic matter content, carbon-nitrogen ratios, and soil microbial community; pest and weed management; and yield of subsequent cash crops.
The specific objectives are to determine the right cover crop species or cover crop mix; by evaluating the agronomic, environmental and economic benefits; and ultimately address the local farmers’ priorities to overcome the barriers, weeds and pests, to organic agriculture in this region.