Evaluating Scale-appropriate Technology for Organic No-till Vegetable Production

Project Overview

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2019: $14,904.00
Projected End Date: 03/14/2021
Grant Recipient: Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Karen McSwain
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association


Not commodity specific


  • Crop Production: no-till
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health

    Proposal abstract:

    The purpose of this project is to evaluate the performance of small-scale (less than 5 acres), organic, no-till vegetable production systems, using scale-appropriate equipment, alongside their larger scale counterparts to determine the scale and financial thresholds that make no-till production feasible for small-scale vegetable growers.

    Farmers routinely identify weed management as the biggest obstacle in organic production systems and rank the need for information on organic pest, disease, and weed management and soil health on organic farms as the top new resources needed to successfully transition to certified organic production. The inability to use conventional herbicides, combines with a lack of effective bio-herbicides, results in organic farmers relying heavily on tillage and cultivation to control weeds, often leading to soil erosion and degradation, and are interested in reducing tillage to improve soil health. In step with this interest, new management strategies are being developed to control weeds in organic systems while reducing tillage intensity. While organic no-till systems have been researched over the last two decades, the vast majority have been geared toward larger scale grain production systems. Information on small-scale vegetable production is lacking, therefore limiting adoption of no-till practices among small-scale organic vegetable growers.

    Because the majority of vegetable farms in North Carolina are less than five acres, with many not relying on herbicides for weed control, it would be useful to understand how organic no-till vegetable production systems perform based on a variety of scale-appropriate equipment, and to define the spatial scale at which each system is profitable. This project will provide quantitative information to investing in new equipment, leading to wider adoption of no-till practices among organic growers, and reducing soil erosion and improving soil health across North Carolina.

    No-till production practices, especially those based on cover cropping, offer many benefits to soil health and conservation but are currently limited to the large-scale production systems in which they were developed due to the lack of information and experience relevant for small-scale growers. This project will help to make no-till practices available to smaller-scale growers by providing a range of quantitative information about the feasibility of several smaller-scale no-till vegetable production systems.

    Specifically, growers will know how well they can terminate cover crops, control weeds and produce a cash crop, as well as the financial inputs required to do so, with several technologies appropriate at different spatial scales. Moreover, the will have insight into the technology that will be most profitable or least labor-intensive at a given acreage, as well as the acreage required to justify investing in larger-scale equipment. With this information, small-scale growers in North Carolina, as well as regionally, will be able to make informed decisions about which technology will best allow the adoption of no-till practices, as well as the acreage needed to maintain or improve profits. This will allow wider adoption of no-till practices among small-scale growers, leading to better soil health and conservation outcomes across North Carolina and the region.



    Project objectives from proposal:

    This research project will test the performance of three organic, no-till cropping systems alongside a conventional-tilled one in a complete randomized block design, at two on-farm locations, using equipment appropriate for two spatial scales.

    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.