The last decade has produced an amazing growth of organic research projects at both public land-grant universities and private institutions. Now in its fourth year, the Organic Research Forum at the 2013 MOSES Organic Farming Conference, helps bring that research directly to the organic farmers. The Organic Research Forum is a unique opportunity for farmers, students and researchers to connect and discuss current issues in organic agricultural research.
Organic Research Forum Workshops: The 2013 OFC will highlight several workshops where researchers, and often the organic farmers that assisted, will present the findings and implications of their recent work. We have selected a broad range of agronomic, horticultural and livestock research projects from several research institutions throughout the Midwest and beyond. Look for the notation before the titles to find these workshops.
Organic Research Poster Display: In addition to the workshops, additional organic research projects will be featured in a poster display. Check them out at your leisure, or stop by to discuss the work with the researchers in person from 12:30 to 2 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
Organic Research Forum Social: On Friday morning, from 7 until 8:15 a.m., researchers, students and farmers are invited to a breakfast social to network, talk organic farming and current/future organic research projects.
Research Forum Workshops
Economics of Organic Grain Supplementation for Organic Dairy Cows
Organic Treatments in Long-Term Cropping Systems Trials (WICST)
Growing Great Potatoes: Organic Management and Variety Selection
Precision Organics: Opportunities for Improved Field Operations
Unraveling the Mystery of Compost Teas
Tools for Transition to Organic Crop and Dairy Production
Draft Animal and Human Powered Vegetable Production
Flame Weeding Research
Below are the posters and their abstracts that will be presented at this years conference.
Effect of Variety, Fertilization and Crop Protection Protocols on Nutritional Quality of Potato
Potatoes are the most important food crop in the world after rice and wheat. Potato tubers contain many types of essential nutrients The objective of this study, conducted at Nafferton Ecological Farm, Newcastle University (2010-2011), was to determine the effects of the use of different kinds of fertilization (Compost, NPK ) on nutritional quality of two varieties of potato (Sante, Sarpo Mira). The determination of the vitamin C content was carried out using a colorimetric method while evaluation of mineral content was determined in collaboration with Sabanci University, Turkey. Results from the 2010 field experiments revealed a significant effect of variety on vitamin C content (P < 0.001), with Sante exhibiting significantly higher vitamin C content compared with Sarpo Mira. There were no significant influences of other treatments (crop protection, fertility and their interactions) on vitamin C content. Mineral content (N, P, and K) of potatoes was significantly affected by the kind of treatment. N and P contents were increased by NPK application while K content was increased by compost application (P=0.0001, 0.0006 and 0.0338, respectively). In conclusion, influence of treatments on vitamin C content were more obvious with varieties. In addition, mineral content was also affected by the kind of treatments.
The Effects of Mycorrhizal Inoculation on the Drought Stress Tolerance of Corn
In this study corn was inoculated with OMRI certified MycoApply® Endo powder and subjected to a drought. The percentage of water in the soil at time of death was determined using the oven dry method. The findings were compared with an un-inoculated control group. The difference in the amount of water in the soil between the controls and inoculated plants was not significant; however, the inoculated corn plants survived 28% longer during the drought. Inoculating corn plants may be a viable agronomic tool to increase water use efficiency due to the fact that fungal hyphae are much smaller than root hairs and are able to access water from smaller pore spaces than a plant relying on root hairs alone.
Where are the Veterinarians on Organic Farms?
Preventative disease management practices are important on organically managed farms as the availability of USDA-approved products to treat disease is limited. The objective of this project is to provide organic dairy producers with tools to improve health and milk quality of dairy cows through adoption of research-based animal health management practices. In 2008, we received funding from the USDA/NIFA National Organic Program to assess dairy cattle health and well-being on farms that use organic management systems. The ongoing study enrolled 192 organic and 100 size-matched conventional dairy herds in New York, Wisconsin and Oregon in order to better understand the management practices of organic dairy farms in the U.S. Results showed that disease management strategies differed between organic and conventional dairy farms. In particular, when compared to conventional farmers, organic farmers reported less dependence on veterinarians, nutritionists and other dairy professionals for animal health advice and more dependence on the opinion of other organic farmers. Further analysis of the data considered the use of these external professional resources as management tools and evaluated their association with certain herd health indicators, such as average reported somatic cell counts (SCCs) found in bulk milk samples. SCCs are diagnostically used to investigate milk quality problems and predict intramammary mastitis infections—considered the most costly disease of dairy cattle because of its long-term effect on total milk yields. Results showed that dairy farmers who were less likely to utilize outside support reported overall higher SCCs (higher SCCs mean greater risk of mastitis). More than 70% of the herds that participated in our study had less than 100 dairy cows. The fixed cost of scheduling routine veterinary visits is a barrier for smaller dairies. Increasing the perceived value and efficacy of routine veterinary visits is key to expanding service to these farms. Successful preventative health care programs address farmers and veterinarians as equal partners jointly collaborating on herd health issues.
Promoting Agricultural Sustainability through Beneficial Insect Hedgerows:
Restoring Pollination and Pest Control Services on Farms in California's Central Valley
Between 2006 and 2009, the Xerces Society and the University of California launched an effort to research and test hedgerow creation strategies for California farms that benefit pollinating insects. During the first phase of this project, through a NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant, we compared weedy crop field borders with native shrub hedgerows in California's Central Valley for their suitability in supporting pollinators.
Based upon the initial project findings, we extended that work to examine the benefits of hedgerows for other types of beneficial insects—specifically predators and parasitoids of crop pests.
The results of both research components demonstrate a clear finding: native plant hedgerows attracted more beneficial than pest insects, while weedy areas showed the opposite trend, attracting significantly more pest than beneficial insects. We conclude that replacing weedy areas at field crop edges with managed native plant hedgerows will sustain or increase beneficial rather than pest insects on farms. Since one of the barriers to hedgerow adoption by farmers is the concern that they will increase pest insect populations, this project is providing crucial new evidence to help alleviate that concern. To share these findings more widely with farmer-audiences and the agencies that support them we have developed new hedgerow design and management guidelines that are actively being integrated into a nationwide outreach campaign.
Development and Testing of Pollinator Habitat Enhancement Specifications for Six Regions of the U.S.
The inclusion of pollinator conservation as a priority in Farm Bill conservation programs presents a new implementation challenge for agency staff across the United States. While restoration ecologists have refined the process of native plant establishment for many diverse biomes, the creation and long-term management of high-density native wildflower plantings represents a new frontier in habitat restoration. The ability of such plantings to persist over time, the availability and affordability of seed, appropriate planting technology, and the integration of such habitat into working farm systems, all present barriers to adoption.
Through a national NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant, the Xerces Society and partner-scientists conducted field trials to test and document the establishment process for wildflower plantings in New England, Florida, California, the Pacific Northwest, the Upper Midwest, and the Mid-Atlantic. This effort resulted in on-the-ground projects being implemented in 10 states in partnership with berry producers, tree fruit orchards, vegetable row crops, the native seed industry, and NRCS Plant Materials Centers.
As a direct outcome, Xerces and the NRCS have developed new habitat creation job sheets for farms as diverse as California avocado orchards and Massachusetts cranberry bogs. These job sheets (and corresponding real world case studies) are the most comprehensive effort yet to provide pollinator conservation guidance for farm planners across the U.S.
The effect of hog grazing on non-target organisms in Michigan apple orchards
Rotationally grazing hogs in tree fruit orchards has been found to provide partial management of plum curculio Conotrachelus nenuphar (Herbst), codling moth Cydia pomonella, and Oriental fruit moth, Grapholita molesta (Busck). These species spend part of their life cycle in the soil and in dropped fruit, where hogs can disturb them. However, it is not known if hogs impact the abundance of non-target organisms. We investigated whether or not hog grazing impacts non-target organisms. We had three control plots and three grazed plots, each 2 acres, in an organic Michigan apple orchard. Twenty-four Berkshire hogs were rotationally grazed during June, July, and August of 2012. We sampled for non-target organisms at 12 equally distributed points in each plot. At each point, we sampled using pitfall traps and yellow sticky cards. We sampled once before and once after hogs grazed. All organisms were taken back to the lab, preserved, quantified, and identified at least to the family level. On the sticky cards, we found beneficial and pest insect species. Some of the beneficial species we found were lacewings, lady beetles, and parasitoids. Some of the pest species we found were thrips, leafhoppers, and apple maggot flies. In the pitfall traps, we found ground beetles, staphylinid beetles, ants, spiders, and slugs. There was no significant difference between the hog and control treatments for any of the non-target organisms we identified. For a few species, there was a significant decrease between sampling dates in both treatments, which was likely due to sampling during different periods in their life cycles. This preliminary study indicates hogs are not impacting the abundance of the sampled non-target organisms. Hogs can provide a valuable pest management service, while at the same time having no impact on the potential ecosystem services provided by beneficial arthropods.
How and How Well Organic Farming Can Adapt to Climate Change?
Organic farming will be impacted by climate change and may have to undergo structural adjustments to ensure long-term sustainability. In order to minimize the impact of climate change, organic farming needs to rely on locally-developed indigenous knowledge and function within the broader context of multi-disciplinary agro-ecological principles, while adopting scientifically-based, resource-efficient and semi-closed agroecosystem's approach. A comprehensive review of current knowledge suggests that the challenge facing organic farming is to develop measurable and reliable biophysical vulnerability indicators to climate change in order to prioritize adaptation and mitigation efforts. Climatic and environmental concerns, in addition to food security and quality, will shape the research and developmental priorities in organic farming. The overriding question in determining research needs and priorities is how and how well organic farmers can mitigate and adapt to climate change while sustainably producing high-quality food? Organic farmers may have to achieve these goals without increasing the risk of environmental pollution. The presentation will outline, debate and justify integrated research and developmental needs in the following (1) weather information, forecasting and modeling, (2) awareness of climate change hazards and their impact on sustainability, (3) access to more efficient inputs and tools for mitigation and adaptation, (4) access to and use of indigenous knowledge and prior observational studies, including resources for the development of locally adapted seeds and breeds, (5) development and access to regenerative, balanced, and more efficient on-farm energy technologies, including bioenergy crops, (6) documentation, verification and improvement of nutrient use-efficiency; efficacy of farmers' knowledge on nutrient management practices, and how to properly allocate crops, in space and time, within crop rotations for better nutrient management, and (7) smart technologies and biological solutions for weed management. This approach of R&D calls for effective and trans-disciplinary partnerships and strong linkages between natural and social sciences with indigenous knowledge.
University of Minnesota Southwest Research and Outreach Center High Tunnel Organic Vegetable Production
This study evaluated the effects of beef manure compost (compost) and overwintering hairy vetch cover crop (vetch) on soil fertility and variety performance under organic high tunnel. Treatments studied were vetch seeded at 35 lb/acre; compost applied at 100 lb N/acre, and compost (50 lb N/acre) + vetch (35 lb/acre). Vegetable crops grown included lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers. Lettuce yield was greatest in the compost treatment. Cucumber yield was variable, but was highest where either compost or compost+vetch treatments. Determinate tomatoes yielded highest when grown in the vetch treatment; while indeterminate tomatoes had mixed results with Cobra yielding highest in the vetch treatment and Better Boy yielding highest in the compost treatment. For pepper, Ace yielded highest in the vetch treatment, while Carmen yielded highest in the compost treatment. The soil samples collected in the spring 2012 showed that the fertility levels varied based on the previous crop and treatment. The vetch treatment provided more than 100 lb N acre-1 to the beds that were cropped to determinate tomatoes in the 2011. In contrast, some beds that received compost and compost+vetch treatments showed N immobilization from vetch, based on nitrate levels from fall 2011. Among all nutrients measured in the soil, nitrate and sodium were the ions that accounted for more than 90% of the dissolved salts in the soil solution, and therefore, were the ions that affected the most soil EC. Phosphorus levels were lowest in the vetch treatment (44 ppm) treatment compared with the compost and compost+vetch treatments (162 ppm). Nutrient accumulation in the soil inside the high tunnels may lead to unfavorable fertility levels for crop production. In summary, the research conducted in the high tunnels at SWROC showed that managing soil fertility is key in maintaining sustainability and profitability for organic growers.
Boom Irrigation Affects Predatory Mites in Plant Canopies
Boom irrigation is used in greenhouses to water plants. Amblyseius cucumeris, a foliar predatory mite of thrips, is applied to the plant canopy in biological control programs. Plant leaves can be either simple or compound – macrostructure – and have or lack trichomes – microstructure. The impact of overhead irrigation on predatory mites in the plant canopy is poorly understood. We compared mite populations on watered versus not watered plants in two experiments. Basil (simple leaf without trichomes) and rosemary (needle-like simple leaf with trichomes) plants were selected for the first experiment. Tomato (compound with trichomes), cilantro (compound without trichomes), oregano (simple with trichomes), and basil plants were selected for the second experiment. In the first experiment, there were fewer mites on the watered than not watered basil plants immediately after watering, but similar amounts of mites were found on the watered and not watered rosemary plants. In the second experiment, there were fewer mites on the watered than not watered tomato, oregano, and basil plants; however, there were very few mites on the cilantro plants. Different leaf structures affect mite populations in the plant canopy. Overhead irrigation will wash predatory mites off plants that have simple leaves. Plants with a complex leaf structure protect mites from adverse effects of overhead irrigation. Trichomes may not directly affect mite populations in the plant canopy. When possible, overhead water plants before applying predatory mites or use bottom watering.
Use of mob grazing and other control methods for Canada thistle
Canada thistle (Cirsium Arvense) has been identified as a problem weed in Wisconsin pastures, often felt acutely by producers employing Management Intensive Rotational Grazing (MIRG). Many producers have come to rotational grazing because of its proven environmental benefits, including the reduced need for chemical applications, but few alternatives to herbicides have been explored in an academically rigorous setting. This research focuses on four weed control methods suggested by a focus group composed of farmers, Extension agents, and agency staff convened to address this issue. We assessed the effectiveness of a rotationally-grazed control, the application of an herbicide followed by rotational grazing, mob grazing for one year, and mob grazing for two years. Mob grazing, a grazing regime involving very high stocking densities for short periods of time, is reported by users to increase forage utilization, provide more effective weed control, and improve pasture plant community diversity and health. The direct comparison between these weed management strategies makes this study directly useful to a broad spectrum of producers including organic farmers, those transitioning to organic, and those desiring reduced herbicide input. After one field season our data shows a comparable amount of thistle control between the herbicide and mob grazing treatments with a sizeable reduction in Canada thistle shoot density and relative cover when compared with the rotational control. In addition, forage utilization, forage quality, and forage amount were all found to be affected by treatment. This study provides invaluable data on the effectiveness of non-chemical thistle control methods in rotationally grazed landscapes, allowing sustainable pasture management to evolve to include biological, as well as cultural, management strategies. While contributing to the science and practice of weed control, this project also furthers our understanding of mob grazing, an emerging practice that holds great potential for Wisconsin's agricultural landscape.
Genetic Variation and Phenotypic Response of 15 Sweet Corn (Zea mays L.) Hybrids to Population Density
Organic growers face unique challenges when raising sweet corn (Zea mays L.), and benefit from varieties that enable effective weed management. Planting sweet corn at higher densities increases the canopy cover, reducing light transmission to the understory and suppressing weed germination. High planting densities can also negatively impact the crop, however, by decreasing ear size and overall yield. The objective of this study was to determine the potential for increased density tolerance of 15 sweet corn hybrids, estimating the general combining ability (GCA) and specific combining ability (SCA) for traits of interest. In 2010 and 2011, a half-diallel of six historic sweet corn inbreds was evaluated in a split-block randomized complete block design in four Wisconsin environments, with four replicates in each environment. Hybrids were planted at a low density of 29,936 plants ha-1, a medium density of 63,615 plants ha-1, and a high density of 97,293 plants ha-1. Significant differences between hybrids were found for phenomorphological traits and ear characteristics. Inbreds C68, C40 and Ia5125 produced the most tolerant progeny when grown at the highest density. Among these genotypes, high density tolerance may be inherited from parent to offspring, indicating the feasibility of breeding sweet corn for high density tolerance and increased weed competitiveness for organic systems.
Strip Cultivation as a Weed Management Strategy in Grapes
Some grape growers have adopted strip cultivation as a weed management strategy. This method reduces the grower's reliance on chemical inputs. Ideally, it also provides a continually re-growing weed cover to protect against erosion, organic matter loss, and nutrient leaching from the soil, while at the same time doing enough damage to weeds to reduce competition with the vines. We assessed the effects of strip cultivation as a ground management strategy using a Clemens radius hoe at two on-farm sites in the Old Mission AVA, Michigan. Cultivation was demonstrated to be an effective weed control strategy, actually leaving more bare ground than in the herbicide treatment in the relatively dry conditions of 2012. Increases in soil nitrate were also observed post-cultivation.
Performance and economics of pasture-raised broilers in a day-range system
Pasture-raised broiler production should be a profitable enterprise for the sustainable farmer because welfare, food safety, and meat quality attributes of pastured poultry are becoming more widely recognized. However, environmental heat stress has recently been particularly challenging for this type of livestock production. Farmers would benefit from performance benchmarks for broiler production as an aid to enterprise development. This poster will provide performance and cost of production data from broilers grown in a day-range pasture system in central Illinois.
Results and conclusions:
The institutional healthcare market for local produce
The purpose of this research (conducted in 2012) was to measure the size of the healthcare market, identify products in demand, and inform local growers about these market opportunities. Significance and implications of findings: Healthcare institutions (hospitals, assisted living, and long-term care) promise a significant market for local foods as more orient their menus to local and whole food sources. This follows recent trends in schools, although healthcare shows promise through year-round operations. Although many growers realize this opportunity, little market research has been done to quantify the size of the healthcare market.
Seed predators reduce weed germination in cover crops
Weeds are a vegetable grower's ultimate nemeses, and in Purdue's Entomology Department, we're exploring ways to improve natural weed suppression by beneficial insects. It's very well documented that seed-feeding ground beetles aggregate in areas on the farm with protective vegetative cover, and researchers suggest that seed consumption services may contribute substantially to weed reductions in cover crops. Still, a single lambsquarters plant can produce up to 170,000 seeds, so extreme rates of seed destruction are required to reduce the seedbank to a point that would be meaningful for weed control. To put the seed predators to the test, we excluded them from cover cropped areas and measured the differences in weed communities. Last fall, we set up impenetrable beetle fortresses in plantings of cereal rye, oriental mustard, a rye/vetch mix, and fallow control plots. In half the plots, we sowed in about 15,000 weed seeds, to see if seed predation effectively reduced weed cover even at high seedbank densities. After excluding beetles during the fall and spring, we counted seedlings in May and July. Weed seedling counts were 40 percent lower in unfenced plots (where seed predators had access), even at the extremely high seedbank density. Unfortunately, there was no difference in weed biomass between the fenced and open plots, even though there were more individual plants in the fenced plots. We still have more to learn about what seed predation means in the longer term for weed management, but it looks like the resident insect community has the capacity to do some real damage to the seedbank. We'll suggest some ways to promote and protect beneficial weed seed predators on the farm.
Cultivating Connections: Growers, Their Customers, and Short-Form Social Media
The purpose of this project has been to discover how small-scale farms can use social media, especially Facebook, to cultivate connections with their customers. The project is currently in progress and will be complete by December 2012. The farm participating in the research has 26 CSA subscribers, wholesales a specialty product, and has over 500 followers on Facebook. The growers, a married couple, usually post twice per day and it's not uncommon for their posts to be seen by upwards of 400 people (according to Facebook's "insights"). While the growers also blog on behalf of the farm as well as personally, it's on Facebook where they receive the most exposure and where their and their customers' experiences have the most potential to teach other growers about using Facebook for farm communications.
Facebook is an invaluable resource for small-scale farms that seek to establish relationships with their customers. It provides a convenient way to let customers know the goings-on of the farm, publish product updates, and solicit feedback on events or products. Most importantly, it cultivates relationships between the farmers and their customers that can contribute toward farm loyalty, word-of-mouth marketing, and the simple goodness of making connections with like-minded people — all of which would otherwise be difficult for farmers, most of whom live in rural areas away from their customers.
One important outcome of the project is to develop concrete guidelines that growers can refer to when using social media to communicate with their (prospective) customers.
Comparing Feed Costs of Different Dairy Systems (Mainly Wisconsin) From 1995 to 2010
There is a perception that U.S. Agricultural input costs rose slowly and steadily through 2006 before taking a big jump to a new plateau starting in 2007 due to major increases in the prices of inputs directly related to energy costs. Grain-price increases had the most effect on livestock and dairy producers. This jolt caused dairy farmers — especially grazing and organic farms — to question if it pays to feed grain to dairy cows.
Another, longer-term perception among dairy graziers is that their feed costs are substantially lower than those for confinement herds. There is also the belief that the "grazing advantage" increased with the 2006-2007 grain price jolt and that feed costs have threatened profit margins more for organic farms than for non-organic farms.
To test these perceptions, farm financial data from Wisconsin grazing (non-organic) and confinement farms from 1995-2010, and organic farms from 1999 to 2010 was examined to compare feed costs and Net Farm Income From Operations (NFIFO). This study used the Wisconsin Agricultural Financial Advisor (AgFA) data set. AgFA is a sample of Wisconsin dairy farms from which financial and production data are collected annually.
Economics of Grazing, Organic, and Confinement Dairy Farms
The University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Profitability (CDP) summarizes and analyzes financial data from several hundred Wisconsin dairy farms each year using a computer program called Agricultural Financial Advisor (AgFA). A cost of production report for Wisconsin dairy farms is issued each year to help them monitor their competitiveness. Since farms can't be forced to participate randomly, the results may not be totally representative of the entire population.
This project has over 124 farm years of Wisconsin organic dairy farm data, over 317 farm years of grazing data and over 6900 farm years of confinement data summarized into this 12 year average comparison.
The Economic Competitiveness of Dairy Systems Across the U.S.A.
The Great Lakes Grazing Network (GLGN) Grazing Dairy Farms Financial Summary project initially sponsored by USDA IFAFS grant project #00-52501-9708, revealed relatively consistent differences in financial performance between Great Lakes states and between dairy systems, and demonstrated that the official USDA cost of production estimates were far different from the cost of production calculated from actual farm financial data from the same states.
Multiple years of summarized actual farm financial data was gathered from many states in the U.S. and put into a fairly standardized format to compare the cost of production between states and dairy systems. Summarized data was supplied by the accounting firms of Frazer LLP, Genske, Mulder and Company LLP, Cornell University, the Universities of Florida, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Vermont, Virginia Tech and the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Profitability where the comparisons were made.
The primary measure used here to show financial performance of these dairy systems from several states is net farm income from operations (NFIFO) as a percent of income.
Can It Pay to Irrigate Pasture in the Midwest or Northeast USA?
Even in normal years, lack of moisture can substantially reduce pasture yields in the northeast quarter of the United States. Since pasture is often the most economical source of feed, owners of grazing livestock have asked if it can pay to irrigate pasture in this part of the country.
A research project was conducted from 2009 to 2010 to determine the economic return of irrigating pasture, supported by a Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI) grant. The grant paid for monitoring, testing, and for two 12-pod K-line irrigation lines for installation on a cooperating grazing dairy farm that invested in the rest of the irrigation system. Quantity and quality of pasture yield plus rainfall was measured from irrigated and non-irrigated pasture, side by side on the same soil type, on the cooperating farm for two growing seasons, including one that was extremely dry.
The collected data was carefully analyzed and the results have been described to help farmers understand the circumstances required to make pasture irrigation economically feasible. The results should be applicable to most areas in the northeast quarter of the country and possibly beyond.
Evaluating alfalfa mulch as a nitrogen source for corn production
Organic systems without livestock are common throughout much of the Corn Belt, requiring organic corn and grain growers to find ways to supply nitrogen to their crops without manure. While alfalfa and other forage legumes grown in rotation with organic corn can generally meet crop needs, it is difficult for farmers without livestock to justify maintaining the necessary acreage of perennial forage for this practice. When organic alfalfa is grown the hay may be sold, which leads to the fixed nitrogen being exported off the farm. Although alfalfa mulch has been investigated as a nitrogen source for vegetables and small grains, little work has been done to confirm how well it can supply N to organic corn, a high N-demanding crop. The objective of this research, funded by Ceres Trust, was to test effects of varying rates of spring surface applied alfalfa mulch on corn crop yields and nitrogen, weed biomass, and soil nutrient status. Replicated field research was conducted on land at two research stations for a period of two growing seasons. Alfalfa was applied at 0, 50%, 100%, 150% and 200% of the recommended N application rate. Findings indicate that application of alfalfa as surface mulch at the rates of 150% and 200% of the recommended N level was comparable to100% recommended inorganic fertilizer application on corn crop yield, plant and grain nitrogen uptake, and soil nutrient status. Weed biomass levels were significantly lower in the higher alfalfa surface mulch application rates, whereas the lower rates of surface mulch applied (50% and 100%) corresponded to equivalent or higher weed biomass than associated with the recommended 100% N applied from the inorganic fertilizer source.
Conversion to Organic Farm Management: A Dynamic Programming Approach
Many studies have been published that compare the profitability of organic and conventional cropping systems and most have them have found that returns to organic crop management are equal to or exceed those to conventional management. However, relatively few crop farms have undertaken the organic transition required to obtain certification. This study investigates the decision to convert from conventional to organic crop production by modeling the decision as a dynamic programming problem, in which the uncertainty involved in organic production and the upfront transition costs required may discourage transition, despite higher average returns to the organic system. The long run probability of transition is estimated for a baseline scenario and the sensitivity of transition behavior to incentives (i.e. subsidies), farm size, and a shortened time horizon are investigated.
Underlying data are from the long-term VICMS trial in southwest Minnesota and prices for organic and conventional crops are farm-level averages obtained from the FINBIN database. Returns to conventional crop management are assumed to follow a mean-reverting stochastic process and organic returns are modeled as a linear function of conventional returns. Results indicate that the smallest farm size scenario has the highest probability of organic transition, though the average return to organic management is higher than conventional for each farm size. Moreover, there is a large range of inaction in each scenario in which it is neither optimal to transition to organic nor reverse transition to conventional management. This "wait and see" range is largest for smaller farms. Incentives for organic management (similar to EQIP or CSP payments) are shown to increase the probability of transition, though the effect is small when the incentive is only received during the transition years. Results also show that in the short-run a highly profitable conventional system greatly reduces the probability of organic transition.
Determining optimal planting dates following spring cover crop incorporation
The benefits associated with cover cropping stand to enhance organic vegetable production through a variety of well-documented mechanisms. Although cover crops have been shown to improve nutrient cycling, reduce soil erosion, and decrease certain soil borne diseases, some cover crops have been observed to reduce emergence of direct seeded cash crops following their incorporation. Brassica family cover crops have shown a particular affinity for reducing emergence. The primary mechanisms believed to be responsible for this phenomenon are the release of allelochemicals from brassica tissue and the proliferation of seed rotting/damping off pathogens following cover crop incorporation. It is hypothesized that these effects are reduced with time following cover crop incorporation. The goals of this project were to identify safe plant back dates for susceptible crops through staggered planting of cash crops following cover crop incorporation. Experimental field plots were established at the Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center (SWMREC) in Benton Harbor, Michigan to assess the impact of 6 different cover crops on crop emergence. In addition, crop yields were assessed to determine the effect of plant back date on the marketable yields of a long season summer crop (muskmelon), which requires early planting in the upper Midwest to reach physiological maturity.
The results of the study indicate that melon emergence was optimal at 10 days after incorporation (DAI) for some cover crops and 15 DAI for others. Marketable melon yields peaked at 5 DAI and declined with increasing DAI. These results indicate that while a longer waiting period is desired to maximize crop emergence following cover crop incorporation, crop yields can be compromised when growing degree-days are limiting.
Mass trapping: a potential organic management option for Japanese beetles
Area 5. Insect and disease management strategies on organic farms. The Japanese beetle, Popillia japonica, is a highly destructive plant pest of foreign origin. Grubs feed on the roots of grass and adults feed on the foliage producing complete defoliation of more than 300 plant species. In Missouri, damaged caused by this pest has been increasing as populations continue to become established and expand. Because no truly effective organic management options against this invasive pest are available, this study was then aimed at evaluating the potential of mass trapping as an organic control method. In 2012, we assessed the effectiveness of commercial and home-made traps baited with either, one or two lures (a combination of a powerful sex pheromone and floral attractants) at capturing Japanese beetles in two Lincoln University (LU) farms and in one commercial elderberry farm in central Missouri. The level of damage produced by Japanese beetle to blueberry and elderberry plants was estimated. Over the course of five weeks, approx. 1'550,000 Japanese beetles were captured by traps in the two LU farms, and 1'120,000 beetles were captured in the commercial farm. The commercial trap baited with one lure proved to be the most cost-effective. Level of damage caused by Japanese beetle averaged 2.5% in elderberry in one LU farm, and it was minimal in the other LU farm. In the elderberry farm, level of damage was minimal in some areas whereas for other areas not well protected by traps damage was greater but within limits acceptable by the farmer given that zero insecticides were applied. Further refinement of this technique is expected to contribute to more effective management of this pest not only in Missouri, but also in other U.S. regions where Japanese beetle is present.
Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC)
The Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC) is a joint project between Oregon State University, University of Wisconsin, Cornell University, the Organic Seed Alliance, USDA and over 30 organic farms in Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin and New York.
Through NOVIC, researchers, farmers, plant breeders and seed growers collaborate to breed and perform variety trials to select vegetable cultivars best adapted to organic growing conditions and traits conducive to fresh markets with a focus on season extension. A primary project goal is to increase the amount of organic seed available to farmers. Access to quality organic seed is a challenge. Currently, many certified organic farmers use conventional seed because their preferred varieties are not available organically.
The NOVIC breeding goals include developing an open-pollinated broccoli that can thrive in summer heat; a weed-competitive, cold-tolerant 'Nantes'-type carrot; a disease-resistant, heat-tolerant stringless snap pea; a cold-tolerant, sugar-enhanced sweet corn and a butternut squash with good storability. There is a sixth slot open as a "farmers' choice" where collaborating farmers in each region chose a crop to work on. Farmers and researchers collaboratively determine varieties (commercially-available varieties as well as material local breeders have developed) to be included in NOVIC trials. Development of the evaluation criteria for each crop is also a collective effort.
Outreach goals of NOVIC include hosting field days; participatory organic plant breeding, on-farm variety improvement and organic seed production workshops; developing materials to promote participatory plant breeding; variety testing under organic conditions; and high-quality organic seed production.
Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA)
Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA) is a long-term breeding project that addresses the critical needs of organic carrot farmers by developing orange and novel colored carrots with improved disease and nematode resistance, improved weed competitiveness, and improved nutritional value and flavor.
This four-year project will also compare the relative performance of breeding material in organic versus conventional environments and investigate whether some carrot varieties perform better under organic soil conditions. Organic growers require vegetable varieties that are adapted to organic growing conditions and hold market qualities demanded by the organic consumer including superior nutrition and exceptional flavor. In carrots, work has been done to identify and breed for nutritionally superior varieties across multiple color classes including orange, red, purple and yellow. These varieties are in high demand and in a high value crop, however much of this germplasm has not been improved for organic systems in general. Organic producers need varieties that germinate rapidly with good seedling vigor, compete with weeds, resist pests, are efficient at nutrient uptake and are broadly adapted to organic growing conditions. The Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture project will deliver improved carrot varieties; improved understanding of the farming systems influence (organic vs. conventional) on variety performance; and develop a breeding model adaptable to other crops for organic systems.
Potato Leafhopper Response to Manure Amendments on Alfalfa Fields
Wisconsin alfalfa growers have observed, and communicated to county agents, a connection between the application of liquid dairy manure to their fields and a decreased incidence of economically damaging populations of potato leafhoppers. The objective of this study was to follow up on grower anecdotal evidence in order to provide scientific data with regards to this farmer observation. In the summers of 2011 and 2012 at Arlington Agricultural Research station, potato leafhopper response to liquid dairy manure application as well as mineral N-P-K-S application and a control treatment with no soil amendment was studied. In 2011, we saw that when potato leafhopper populations peaked, manure did suppress potato leafhopper populations. In 2012 we repeated the experiment in two fields at Arlington Agricultural research station. Results from one field showed an increase in potato leafhopper abundance in manure plots, before potato leafhopper populations peaked later in the summer, and no difference between treatments when populations reached peak abundance. Results from the other field show no significant difference between treatments at any point in the summer.
The results we observed are inconclusive with regards to the goal of this study. Differences between nutrients or microbiological communities in the manure used could be responsible for the difference in results between site years. Within the context of a growing body of academic literature finding that organic soil amendments can decrease herbivore pest incidence, future research in this study system should attempt to control for differences between manure in order to gain more conclusive results.
Organic management and a new perennial crop to promote soil biology
Understanding what is happening belowground is key for healthy organic crop production. It is often claimed that large amounts of organic materials will support a diverse, active soil community; our research is testing this. We have initiated a field investigation that evaluates organic management of a new type of wheat crop, one that has a massive root system. This relative of wheat is called 'intermediate wheatgrass' (IWG), but it is perennial in nature with a root system that grows over several years. This research was established in 2009 at the Kellogg Biological Station of MSU in southwest Michigan. We planted successive annual wheat crops and compared the growth above and belowground to this perennial relative of wheat, IWG. The Land Institute in Kansas has bred this IWG crop to produce a wheat-like grain but it yields less than wheat. The IWG crop requires further development to produce more grain, but it is already showing the tremendous potential of a perennial root system to support soil biological diversity as it produces almost four-fold more roots. There is some preliminary evidence that the IWG crop also supports the accumulation of new soil organic matter. Increased soil health is obtained when there is an increase in organic matter, whether it comes in the form of root biomass or compost. In the second year of field monitoring, we found the fungal community was substantially different in organically managed crops, both for annual wheat and IWG and when compost was added. It appears that multiple sources of food for microbes have potential to improve soil health. Our next step is to determine how these wheat crops inputs contribute to the total soil organic matter.
Organic Nutrient and Weed Management with Sweet Corn on Sandy Soil
The Central Sands region of Wisconsin hosts commercial-scale conventional vegetable production. Intensive fertilizer application on sandy soil, which has poor nutrient and water retention, results in elevated ground water nitrate concentration and other water quality problems. Organic management appeals to many growers as a means to reduce synthetic fertilizer and pesticide leaching, and is also attractive due to the fast-growing and profitable organic market. However, weed management is an enduring challenge to organic production because herbicide application is not permitted and weeds compete with crops for nutrients in fertilized soils. The purpose of this study was to evaluate organic nutrient and weed management practices in sandy soil such that growers may decrease agronomic and economic risks associated with organic conversion. Three organic inputs were evaluated: spring-seeded field pea (green manure), composted poultry manure, and feather meal. Treatment effects were quantified using sweet corn yield and nitrogen uptake calculations. Results were mixed and highly driven by weather variations between seasons. Yields were comparable to those of conventional management, and demonstrated a positive response to in-season fertilization with feather meal (maximum yields were 1600 dozen ears/acre at 200 lbs/acre of N in 2011 and optimum yields were 1900 dozen ears/acre at 150 lbs/acre of N in 2012). Little or no differences were attributable to pre-growing season green manure or poultry manure applications. This lack of effect was presumably due to asynchrony between N release from organic sources and N uptake by the crop, exacerbated by rapid mineralization and poor retention of nutrients in sandy soil. Manual weed management resulted in a slight yield increase, as evaluated by economic analysis of marginal gain. Based on the results of this study, we cannot recommend use of pre-season organic amendments in sandy soil because plant-available nitrogen was not retained in the surface soil. However, use of organic fertilizer during the growing season results in optimum yields, and manual weed management can marginally increase sweet corn yields on sandy soil.
Potential for Use of Perennial Grasses as Organic Dual-Purpose Forage-Grain Crops in Michigan
New crops could provide crucial opportunities for organic grain and livestock farmers, particularly if perennial properties were incorporated into the crops to provide environmental benefits in combination with novel grain and forage products. Perennial grains are in the process of being developed, using classical breeding to combine annual wheat with wild perennial relatives of wheat to develop varieties of perennial wheat. Another avenue being explored is selection for enhanced grain size in a perennial forage grass, intermediate wheatgrass (IWG). At Michigan State University we are collaborating with perennial grain breeders from The Land Institute and Washington State University to investigate the dual-use potential of these novel crops to produce both forage and grain. We are particularly interested in testing the ability of perennial wheat and IWG to start growth early in the spring; this would combine the highly desirable traits of extended spring forage-availability with a grain crop produced later in the summer. In the fall of 2010 we established a field experiment in southwest Michigan comparing organically-managed perennial wheat and IWG. This is the first investigation to be undertaken to assess the regrowth potential of these novel crops after harvesting a spring forage crop, and the subsequent grain and stover produced. Preliminary findings were that fall-planted perennial wheat produced almost three times as much grain as IWG, but only about two-thirds as much forage and stover as IWG. Both crops did produce substantial quantities of forage; however, forage quality was modest. Overall, the study indicates that breeding improvements are still needed, but there is some potential for these novel crops to provide organic farmers with new options.
Can managing to increase specific soil properties reduce the need for nitrogen?
The way we farm affects soil down to a molecular level, especially in the buildup and composition of soil organic matter. Organic matter in turn affects soil biota, water holding capacity, and supply of nutrients to plants to some extent. A better understanding of nitrogen availability as a result of different management practices, and the relationship between management, dynamic soil properties, and need for nitrogen additions will allow for more precise nitrogen recommendations. The objectives of this study were to: (i) evaluate the effect of management on organic matter, (ii) determine an optimum N rate for corn in each cropping system, and (iii) explore the relationship between soil organic matter measurements and the optimum N rate. The study was conducted within the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trial, which includes continuous corn, strip-till corn/soybean and an organic corn/soybean/wheat rotation. Nitrogen was applied at different rates to the corn phase of each system to determine an optimum N rate. Soil samples were collected in the spring and analyzed for particulate organic matter. Although soil particulate organic matter content did not differ between systems, soil particulate organic matter is significantly depleted in C and N under organically managed corn compared to the other two systems. Under drought conditions in SW Wisconsin, both the strip-till corn and organic corn out-performed continuous corn in yield, with similar N uptake in each system. These results show how organic management may increase organic matter by providing a large and diverse quantity of inputs through rotation, but lose that advantage to tillage, which leads to increased rates of decomposition.
Economics, meat quality, and consumer acceptability, of organic and conventional dairy-beef steers
Bull calves (n=49) were used to compare growth, meat quality, and economics of conventional and organic dairy steer production. Calves were assigned to one of three groups (conventional, organic, and grass-only organic), and were born at the University of Minnesota WCROC from March to May 2011. The conventional dairy steers (CONV) were fed a diet that contained 80% concentrate and 20% roughage. The organically (ORG) raised dairy steers were fed a diet of organic corn, organic corn silage, and organic protein supplement. Also, at least 30% and closer to 50%, of their diet consisted of high-quality organic pasture during the grazing season. The organic grass-only (GRASS) dairy steers were fed 100% pasture during the grazing season and high quality hay or hay silage during the non-grazing season. Growth and carcass measurements, fatty acid profiles, and consumer sensory panel results were evaluated. Performance was total gain (lbs), CONV (1178.4), ORG (947.1), GRASS (790.6); average daily gain (lbs), CONV (2.52), ORG (1.79), GRASS (1.35); and ribeye area (in2) was, CONV (11.7), ORG (10.2), GRASS (7.7). Fatty acid profiles (% in fat sample) differed for Omega 3 fat, CONV (0.21), ORG (0.23) and GRASS (0.53). Consumer overall liking of the beef was higher for CONV and ORG than GRASS, and ORG had the highest flavor scores. Overall, CONV steers had greater gains than organic steers; however, the GRASS steers had the lowest feed costs. GRASS steers were highest for Omega 3 fatty acids. Consumers preferred CONV and ORG meat over GRASS. There is an increase in global demand for organic products, and organic dairy-beef, especially grass-fed, has the potential to address some consumer concerns associated with conventional dairy-beef. Currently, with the high price of organic grains in the US, the male offspring of organic dairy cattle represent a potential resource for pasture-raised beef.
Targeted placement of tillage and cover crops to improve weed and nutrient management in organic sweet corn production
The goal of this project is to evaluate whether targeted placement of both tillage and cover crops can improve nitrogen and weed management in organic vegetable systems. Zone (or strip)-tillage confines soil disturbance to a narrow strip directly in line with future crop establishment, maintaining benefits of both tilled and no-till systems. Legume and cereal grass cover crops are utilized in cropping systems to meet distinct objectives: legumes provide N, and cereal grasses are effective at suppressing weeds and improving soil quality. When segregated into strips, hairy vetch is planted directly in line with future sweet corn rows, thereby providing N directly to the crop. Cereal rye is planted in the between-row, and within zone tilled systems would be mowed and left on the soil surface to provide a thick mulch for weed suppression. In 2012, a field study was conducted to evaluate the effects of cover crop spatial arrangement (standard practice of mixed biculture vs segregated strips), tillage (conventional vs zone), and weed management intensity (low vs high) on weeds and sweet corn yields. We found reduced emergence of both common lambsquarters and giant foxtail, as well as reduced weed biomass, in the between row of zone tilled treatments. Under high weed management, we did not see significant differences in yields based on cover crop spatial arrangement or tillage. However, in zone-tilled treatments (regardless of cover crop spatial arrangement) we had reduced yield loss under low weed management when compared to conventional tillage. Preliminary results indicate zonal tillage used in combination with stripped intercropping of cover crops may be an effective strategy to adapt reduced tillage systems to organic vegetable production.
Planting date and delayed rye seeding affect vetch biomass and winter survival in rye-vetch cover crop mixtures
Cover crop mixtures composed of cereal rye and the legume hairy vetch are becoming more common on organic farms; however, stand characteristics depend heavily on planting dates and the competitive dynamics between the two species. Because competition from rye can limit the growth of vetch in mixtures, staggered (delayed) seeding of rye following vetch could prove useful for managing stand characteristics to improve mixture performance. A two-year study was conducted to investigate how vetch planting date and the length of a rye stagger affect vetch biomass production and winter survival in rye-vetch mixtures. The treatment design was a two-way factorial with three vetch seeding dates (late August, mid September, and late September) and three lengths of rye stagger (0, 120, and 230 growing degree days (GDD) base 4°C after vetch seeding). Later planting of co-seeded (0 GDD stagger) mixtures resulted in cover crop stands with less total biomass and a lower proportion of vetch (higher proportion of rye) biomass in the spring. Staggering rye seeding at earlier planting dates increased vetch biomass without decreasing total mixture biomass, while staggering seeding at later planting dates generally did not affect vetch biomass production and decreased total biomass. Furthermore, at later planting dates, staggering rye seeding by 230 GDD resulted in reduced vetch winter survival compared with co-seeded mixtures. Although some benefits to vetch biomass production were observed with staggered seeding when mixtures were planted earlier in the season, the benefits may not justify the additional management complexity. However, the decreasing proportion of vetch biomass in co-seeded mixtures planted later in the fall is an important consideration for growers, particularly when N fertility derived from the cover crop is a primary concern.
Seed and Plant Breeding for Wisconsin's Organic Vegetable Sector: Understanding Farmers' Needs and Practices
As the organic vegetable sector continues to grow, it is crucial that farmers have access to high quality seed and varieties that are well adapted to organic growing conditions, meet the demands of a variety of markets and farming styles, and are bred and produced in accordance with organic standards. An effort has emerged, led by farmers, organic advocates, university plant breeders, and seed companies serving the organic market, to develop crop varieties that are especially suited to the needs of organic growers and to improve the availability of certified organic seed. For this effort to be successful, more information is needed about the needs and practices of organic growers with regards to seed and plant breeding.
In 2012, we surveyed 247 organic vegetable producers in Wisconsin in order to understand their experiences and opinions about a range of topics related to organic seed. Our survey asked about farmers' usage of and ease of finding certified organic seed, their seed sources including efforts to save their own seed, their priorities with regards crops and traits that need improvement for organic production, and their preferences for open-pollinated or hybrid varieties. This poster will summarize the results of our survey and highlight key findings. We hope it will provide useful insights for farmers, plant breeders, and others who hope to contribute to the effort to strengthen the organic seed supply, and generate conversation about the future of seed and plant breeding in organic agriculture.
Soil fungal and bacterial communities in organic vs. conventional vegetable production: capturing the active players through soil RNA analysis
Soil microbes are fundamental to the productivity of agricultural systems. Organic management may foster more diverse soil microbial communities beneficial for crop production, with the potential to reduce losses to pathogens. We evaluated active microbial community responses in a six-year field experiment with two-year rotation of tomato and Chinese cabbage. We compared microbial communities in organic vs. conventional nutrient management with low and high fertility levels. Low fertility treatments for both organic and conventional managements only received added nutrients through a cover crop. The conventional high fertility treatment was supplemented with potassium nitrate, calcium nitrate, and inorganic pre-plant fertilizer. High organic fertility was supplied by fish hydrolysate and compost pre-plant fertilizer. Using 454-pyrosequencing, we compared total resident fungal, bacterial, and archaeal communities using extracted DNA and the actively metabolizing microbial communities using extracted RNA. This study provides an assessment of microbial communities in organic and conventional soil fertility management, providing a much more complete picture than culturing or other traditional approaches. While most studies using pyrosequencing have sampled DNA to evaluate microbial communities, our study includes a novel comparison of results for DNA and RNA. The preliminary results indicate that soil bacterial diversity is higher in organic management compared to conventional, and in DNA samples compared to RNA in some cases. Ultimately this work may contribute to long-term strategies for managing microbial communities in agriculture by providing new understanding of the structure and dynamics of these communities.
A comparison of feeding strategies on Wisconsin organic dairy farms
The purpose of this study was to group certified organic Wisconsin dairy farms based on general farm characteristics and their feeding regimes during the course of 2010. An on-sight survey containing sections on farm demographics, feeding, pasturing, and economics was conducted on 69 farms. A non-hierarchical clustering method was used to partition the farms into four clusters. Cluster 1 resulted in 8 farms that had significantly larger herds, averaging 150 cows per farm, compared to the approximate 50 cows on the other organic farms. These farms were also more "conventional-like" in their feeding management, utilizing multiple lactating cow feeding groups, supplementing more feed ingredients into their diets, and relying more heavily on concentrates. Cluster 3 (n=32) was similar to cluster 1 in feeding and pasturing, but were smaller in herd size. The predominant breed on these clusters' farms was Holstein. At the other end of the spectrum was cluster 2 (n=5), the seasonal, low-input farms. Farms in cluster 2 relied much more heavily on pasture as a source of feed for their cows, with 80.0% of the farms having all of their operated land in pasture and supplementing significantly fewer feeds. Similar to cluster 2, cluster 4 (n=24) relied more heavily on pasture as a feed source, with 29.1% of the herds utilizing no-grain diets, but the majority of the farms were not seasonal. The farms in these two clusters also rotated their cows to new pasture more frequently than those in clusters 1 and 3. In conclusion, organic dairy farms differ significantly in structure and feeding management. Further analyses need to be conducted to assess the economic viability of each cluster to better assist current and transitioning organic farmers in feeding management decisions.
Getting benefits out of a bad bug: On-farm composting of Japanese beetles
In 2012, the Lincoln University (LU) Integrated Pest Management program evaluated mass trapping using modified traps baited with a sex pheromone and floral attractants as an organic management option for the Japanese beetle, Popillia japonica. More than 540 pounds of Japanese beetles were trapped at two Lincoln University farms and a private elderberry farm in central Missouri. This study was designed to examine (1) the feasibility of composting Japanese beetle carcass on a farm, and (2) the quality of the compost. Three types of high carbon/woody waste stream such as animal (horse) barn debris, cedar wood chips, and aged tree trimming wood chips, were composted with the beetles using the layering and the complete mixing methods. All composting piles showed elevated temperature for two months. Composting beetles with horse barn debris using a layer method generated the highest temperature (above 130° F) which persisted for the longest period of the first three weeks as compared to compost piles using cedar chips and aged wood chips. Beetle exoskeleton remained at the end of composting and the degradation of beetle soft biomass contributed to the increased N, P, K, and nitrate in the final composted products. The level of nitrogen nitrate in the cedar wood chip composted with beetles increased ca. 2,300-fold compared to the initial value of that carbon source. This study demonstrates that beetle carcass can be easily and successfully composted with high carbon/woody farm waste readily available at farms. Composting is also effective in reducing or eliminating odor of beetle decomposition. Beetle-based compost is a good quality soil amendment and can be used to augment fertilization to support organic crop production.
Buckwheat cover crops on Wisconsin vegetable farms: a grower survey and series of experiments
Common buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is a widely used summer cover crop on Wisconsin vegetable farms. Buckwheat cover crops provide a variety of production benefits and agroecosystem services, including improved soil quality, weed suppression, beneficial insect attraction, and erosion prevention. Despite its utility, farmers' perspectives on the benefits and tradeoffs of growing buckwheat cover crops are not well understood. We implemented a web-based survey instrument and conducted grower interviews to identify common practices and concerns. Farmer input was used to design a series of experiments on buckwheat cover crops, including a weed suppression study, a comparison of reduced-tillage killing methods, and a late-planted, overwintered residue study. Experiments included a novel comparison with a cold-tolerant, possibly allopathic relative of common buckwheat, tartary buckwheat (F. tataricum). The survey indicated that farmers grow buckwheat cover crops for a variety of reasons, and associate the practice with improved overall ecosystem health. Experiments did not show marked benefits to planting tartary buckwheat over common buckwheat. Both buckwheats reduced weed biomass in the standing cover crop compared with a fallow check, but had no effects on yield of a subsequent cabbage crop. Reduced-tillage management of buckwheat cover crops proved unsuccessful under our regime, but further experimentation with this system may prove fruitful. While oats outperformed both buckwheats in the late-planted study, tartary buckwheat produced more overwintered residue than common buckwheat.
The Organic Research Forum is funded through the generous support of The Ceres Foundation.