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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: ENHANCING SUSTAINABILITY OF FOOD PRODUCTION SYSTEMS IN THE NORTHEAST

Location: New England Plant, Soil and Water Research Laboratory

2013 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416):
1. Quantify land availability and soil suitability for selected food production systems in the Northeast.

2. Develop management practices that maintain or improve productivity and market quality, reduce soilborne and foliar diseases, reduce income variability and economic risk, and improve profitability and competitiveness.


1b.Approach (from AD-416):
Research will be conducted to.
1)identify the constraints to sustainability of selected food production systems and.
2)develop practices and management strategies to overcome or reduce those constraints. Limitations to sustainability will be identified through interdisciplinary evaluation of selected food production systems designed and managed as a) Status Quo, b) Soil Conserving, c) Soil Improving, and d) Pest Suppressive Systems under both irrigated and rainfed management. Each system will be evaluated for its impacts on soil physical, chemical, and biological properties; plant growth; plant diseases; human pathogens; profitability and risk; nutrient availability; and their interactions. Simultaneously, research will be conducted to overcome or reduce these limitations through enhanced plant disease control, manure-borne zoonotic pathogen control, management options to increase productivity and improve economic viability, and by incorporating bioenergy crops into the cropping systems. The sustainability of each system and alternative management practice will be evaluated and transferred to growers in a decision support system through multiple avenues, including distribution on compact disks, hands-on demonstration at grower meetings, and on-farm trials. The research and technology transfer endeavors proposed in this project are expected to enhance food system sustainability, thereby improving agricultural viability and rural economic vitality in the Northeast.


3.Progress Report:
Agricultural production in the New England Region has seriously declined in recent years. Sustainable cropping systems and management practices are needed to improve agricultural viability and rural economic vitality in this region. To identify constraints to potato system sustainability, we evaluated Status Quo, Soil Conserving, Soil Improving, and Disease Suppressive cropping systems under both irrigated and rainfed management for their impacts on soil physical, chemical, and biological properties; plant growth and yield; plant diseases; plant nutrient availability and uptake; and their interactions. To develop management practices to reduce these constraints, we evaluated several crop rotations and amendments to enhance plant disease control, as well as different soil and crop management options to increase productivity and improve economic viability. Through the course of this project, we identified the primary constraints to potato production as soil quality, water availability, and disease pressure, and demonstrated that management practices that address these constraints, including compost amendments, irrigation, and disease-suppressive cropping systems, substantially improved crop production and sustainability. In particular, a disease-suppressive rotation in conjunction with irrigation resulted in yield increases and soilborne disease reductions of >50% over several years of production trials. Research was also conducted to quantify our past and current production and potential future capacity to produce food in the Northeast and New England Region. Geographic Information Systems of crops, soils, water use, and land use were developed and linked for the entire region (covering 13 states from VA to ME), such as county-level, five-year production footprints for key indicator crops (corn, potato, small grains, broccoli, cabbage, soybean, alfalfa, and ‘other hay’), to provide integrated information on past and present farmland extents and productivity, and are being used with forecasting models for improving future farm and crop productivity. Through integration of multiple layers of data, these geodatabases refine our understanding of cropping systems and land use patterns, and help determine potential soil and water resource impacts to improve production capacity for crops across the Northeast region. Overall, this project provided useful and readily-implementable information, practices, and tools that are being used to significantly enhance the productivity and sustainability of food production systems in the Northeast.


4.Accomplishments
1. Determined best practices for implementing disease-suppressive rotation crops into potato production. Previous research had identified Brassica and other disease-suppressive rotation crops with potential for substantially reducing soilborne diseases and increasing yield in potato cropping systems. However, the most effective and practical ways to utilize and incorporate these crops into commercial potato production in the Northeast were not yet established. In a series of experiments focused on determining which rotation crops were most effective, and how to implement and manage them (as cover, harvested, or green manure crops), ARS researchers at Orono, Maine determined that crops managed as green manures produced overall lower disease and higher yields than other practices. Crops harvested for seed then incorporated also provided significant benefits, but rotations managed strictly as cover crops were least effective. Mustard blend, sudangrass, and rapeseed all effectively reduced black scurf disease and increased yield. Overall, the combination of mustard blend managed as a green manure was most effective, reducing scurf by 54% and increasing yield by 26% relative to a soybean cover crop. However, due to the short growing season, Brassica crops were not effective when grown as a fall-only cover crop. This research provided useful information needed by growers regarding the implementation of disease-suppressive rotation crops for enhanced productivity and reduced disease problems in potato production systems.

2. Developed new geospatial databases assessing food cropping and production patterns in the Northeast. Development of effective regional food systems holds much potential for improving health, nutrition, and poverty problems. But before progress can be made towards improving the access, affordability, and appropriateness of locally-produced food in the Northeast, better tools are needed for the analysis and assessment of current and future food production capacity within the region. In cooperation with a team of University researchers and ARS researchers from Beltsville, Maryland, ARS researchers from Orono, Maine developed a collection of geodatabases that provides county-level, five-year production footprints for key indicator crops (corn, potato, small grains, broccoli, cabbage, soybean, alfalfa, and ‘other hay’) throughout the entire 13-state region, and brings together all available spatial information on cropping systems and crop production, soils, land use and quality, and water resources. These spatially-layered, user-friendly map products provide integrated information on past and present farmland extents and productivity, and are being used with forecasting models for improving future farm and crop productivity.


Review Publications
Halloran, J.M., Larkin, R.P., Defauw, S.L., Olanya, O.M., He, Z. 2013. Economic potential of compost amendment as an alternative to irrigation in Maine potato production systems. American Journal of Plant Sciences. 4:238-245.

Larkin, R.P., Tavantzis, S. 2013. Use of biocontrol organisms and compost amendments for improved control of soilborne diseases and increased potato production. American Journal of Potato Research. 90:261-270.

Defauw, S.L., Larkin, R.P., English, P., Halloran, J.M., Hoshide, A. 2012. Geospatial evaluations of potato production systems in Maine. American Journal of Potato Research. 89:471-488.

Last Modified: 8/1/2014
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