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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES FOR PLANT-PARASITIC NEMATODES: COVER CROPS, AMENDMENTS, AND INTERNAL MOLECULAR TARGETS

Location: Nematology Laboratory

Title: Single season effects of mixed-species cover crops on tomato health (cultivar Celebrity) in multi-state field trials

Authors
item Summers, Carly -
item Park, Sunjeong -
item Dunn, Amara -
item Rong, Xiaoqing -
item Everts, Kathryne -
item MEYER, SUSAN
item Rupprecht, Shannon
item Kleinhenz, Matthew -
item Mcspadden Gardener, Brian -
item Smart, Christine -

Submitted to: Applied Soil Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: January 24, 2014
Publication Date: May 30, 2014
Citation: Summers, C.F., Park, S., Dunn, A.R., Rong, X., Everts, K., Meyer, S.L.F., Rupprecht, S.M., Kleinhenz, M.D., Mcspadden Gardener, B., Smart, C.D. 2014. Single season effects of mixed-species cover crops on tomato health (cultivar Celebrity) in multi-state field trials. Applied Soil Ecology. 77(1):51-58.

Interpretive Summary: Plant-parasitic nematodes (microscopic worms that attack plants) and other plant pathogens cause major economic losses in vegetable crops. Cover crops can be beneficial for suppressing diseases, but little is known about the suppressive effects of cover crops planted for a single season, or of cover crops that include more than one plant species. Therefore, effects of mixed species and single species cover crops on organic tomato production and soilborne diseases were recorded over three seasons (2010, 2011, and 2012) at sixteen field sites in Maryland, New York and Ohio. The results showed that a single season of cover crops affected tomato yields in only about 1/4 of all site years, and diseases in less than half of the fields. Some effects were specific for a field. For example, in New York in 2010, tomato yields following mixed cover crop treatments were greater than yields following a rye cover crop in one field, but the pattern was reversed in the adjacent field. The results are significant, indicating that no specific cover crop can be generally recommended for short-term enhancement of tomato productivity or disease reduction. Therefore, growers should focus on their locations and on variables specific to their farming operations when choosing cover crops. This research will be used by scientists and growers involved in tomato production.

Technical Abstract: Cover crop use can help mitigate the deleterious effects of common cropping practices (e.g., tillage) and is, therefore, an important component of soil health maintenance. While known to be beneficial in the long term, the short-term effects of cover crops, specifically mixed-species cover crops in organic systems at multiple locations, are less clear. Cover crop effects on tomato productivity and disease severity were recorded over three field seasons (2010, 2011 and 2012) at sixteen field sites in three states with distinct soilborne disease pressure: Maryland, New York and Ohio. Plots with five state-specific cover crop treatments were established the season prior to tomato production; the resulting plant residue was incorporated the following spring approximately four weeks before tomato planting. Total fruit yield along with early-season shoot height and fresh weight were used to compare treatment effects on productivity. Disease severity ratings relied on natural inoculum. Interestingly, the effect of a single season of cover cropping on total yield was significant in no more than 25% of all site years. Similarly, cover crop effects on tomato disease levels were significant in 0 to 44% of the sixteen field sites. However, significant field-specific patterns were observed in every state across multiple years for some treatments. For example, in New York in 2010, tomato yields following all mixed cover crops were greater than the single rye cover crop in one field, but this pattern was reversed in the adjacent field. Thus, no general recommendation of a specific cover crop mixture can be made for near-term enhancement of tomato productivity or for reduction of disease. Therefore, growers should focus on location and operation-specific variables when choosing cover crops.

Last Modified: 9/10/2014
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