Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Effect of Cover Crops, Soil Amendments, and Reduced Tillage on Carbon Sequestration and Soil Health in a Long-Term Organic Vegetable System
2011 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416)
1. Encourage organic transition by developing organic vegetable cropping systems that improve carbon sequestration and soil health through cover crops, composting, and reduced tillage.

2. Enhance ecosystem services on organic farms by increasing biological management leading to suppression of pests (weeds, pest insects, nematodes, diseases) in cover crop-intensive systems.

3. Develop recommendations for methods to improve soil quality on organic farms based on results derived from horticultural and soil data and simulation models:

a. Develop nitrogen and carbon budgets; b. Develop relationships between individual/integrative indicators of soil quality and environmental/productivity endpoints; and c. Calibrate and validate the EU-ROTATE_N model for organic horticultural cropping systems in Iowa and Florida.

4. Determine how product quality and shelf life are affected by different management practices in organic systems and identify linkages between soil properties, crop health, and postharvest quality.


1b.Approach (from AD-416)
This project is driven by two broad research hypotheses. They will be tested using a comprehensive approach including the collaboration of researchers and growers over two distinct environmental conditions.

Hypothesis 1: Organic vegetable systems with integrated management strategies, including composted animal manure, cover crops, and reduced tillage, will lead to increased C sequestration, improved soil quality and crop health, and greater economic viability, by reducing production costs and increasing carbon sequestration rates for potential economic value.

Hypothesis 2: Different management practices within organic or conventional systems, fundamentally linked to soil conditions and crop health, will exhibit differential effects on postharvest quality attributes of vegetables. Research will begin in 2011 on University Experiment Station sites in Iowa and Florida, and on grower-cooperator fields in each state. An equivalent experiment will be established in each state to investigate the effect of different vegetable cropping systems on carbon sequestration, soil quality, environmental quality endpoints, crop health, weed, insect pest and nematode populations, yield, food quality attributes of crops, and economic performance. The experiment will evaluate three-year vegetable cropping rotations consisting of tomato(spring)-lettuce(fall)-yellow squash(spring)-broccoli(fall)-onions(spring)-beans(fall). Treatment combinations will evaluate the effect of reduced tillage, black plastic mulch, fall-planted cover crops, and animal manure compost on agroecosystem parameters.


3.Progress Report

Forty-eight plots were established at the Neely Kinyon Research Farm for an experiment to evaluate effects of no-tillage, cover crops, compost amendment, and mulch within three-year organic vegetable rotations on carbon sequestration, root-zone water quality, soil quality, and vegetable quality. Soil samples were collected to a depth of 120 cm in five depth increments prior to the installation of suction cup lysimeters within each of the 48 plots in October 2010. A rye/hairy vetch cover crop was planted within one week after lysimeter installation. Collection of water samples from lysimeters began in April 2011. Compost was applied on May 9, 2011. Surface soil cores and cover crop aboveground biomass were sampled just prior to tilling or roller/crimping in May 2011 to kill the cover crops. Tomatoes and onions were transplanted in June 2011. Analysis of soil samples, plant samples, and water samples is in progress.


Last Modified: 10/22/2014
Footer Content Back to Top of Page