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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Orono, Maine » New England Plant, Soil and Water Research Laboratory » Research » Research Project #425507

Research Project: Improved Crop Production Systems for the Northeast

Location: New England Plant, Soil and Water Research Laboratory

2016 Annual Report

1: Develop crop and cultural management practices to improve crop productivity and economic viability, and reduce diseases for conventional and organic food production systems in the Northeast. 1.1. Develop management practices and cropping systems that maintain or improve productivity and market quality, reduce soilborne and foliar diseases, reduce income variability and economic risk, and improve profitability and competitiveness for potato-based production systems. 1.2. Develop crop, biological, and cultural management practices to improve crop productivity, reduce diseases, and improve economic viability for conventional and organic vegetable production systems. 1.3. Determine activity, mechanisms of action, and improved means of implementation of selected biological and cultural practices for enhanced efficacy, utilization, and sustainability.

Our approach to improving crop productivity and enhancing economic viability for food production systems in the Northeast is through the development of improved biological and cultural management practices and cropping systems. There are many practices and amendments that have been previously identified, in ours and others research, as providing beneficial responses for these production systems. However, much research is still needed to determine the best ways to utilize and implement these practices in production agriculture. In our own previous research, through long-term cropping systems studies, we determined the areas that are the most crucial constraints to productivity in potato production systems, as well as some factors that were less important. Critical constraints were water availability, soil quality, and disease pressure, whereas previously studied criteria such as fertility and soil physical properties (which has already been well-worked out) were not critical factors. This proposed research is building directly on this previous research, further developing and refining management practices that have shown the greatest potential for reducing soilborne diseases, enhancing soil quality, and improving crop yields in a sustainable manner. Management practices of particular importance include the use of disease-suppressive rotation crops, cover crops, green manures, and biological control organisms. Special emphasis will be placed on the biological processes involved and the role of soil microbial communities in developing disease-suppressive, yield-enhancing cropping systems.

Progress Report
Work continues on a series of research studies with the goal of developing crop and cultural management practices to improve crop productivity and economic viability, and reduce diseases for conventional and organic food production systems in the Northeast. Specifically, in fiscal year 2016, the third year of a cropping systems study for potato production was conducted in Presque Isle, Maine that builds on our previous cropping systems research through incorporating proven successful principles and practices into functional rotation systems that can be utilized by growers for improved productivity and disease control. In these trials, 3-year rotations focusing on the management goals of soil conservation (through reduced tillage, cover crops), soil improvement (through compost amendment), and disease suppression (through use of disease-suppressive rotations, cover crops, and biological control) are being evaluated for all aspects of plant growth and crop productivity, tuber diseases, soilborne and foliar diseases, soil microbial community characteristics, and economic viability. In addition, a new organic vegetable management study has been implemented, with bean, summer squash, and pepper plants planted into different cover crop and biological control treatments in trials at Newport, Maine, to evaluate potential improvements in crop management and disease suppression in organic vegetable production. Other component studies assessing biological control and the mechanisms of action for control of soilborne diseases are also continuing this fiscal year. Currently, the field season is ongoing and results will be available soon. Thus, studies are now in place to provide the information needed to improve crop production and sustainability for potato and organic vegetable production, which can lead to improved agricultural viability and rural economic vitality in the Northeast.

1. Improved cropping systems enhance soil health, reduce disease, and increase productivity in potato production. Potato production in the northeast has numerous constraints to productivity, including high potential for soilborne diseases, high pesticide and fertilizer requirements, soil erosion, degrading soil quality, and variable rainfall during the growing season. In the culmination of a decade-long research project evaluating sustainable management practices and cropping systems addressing goals of soil conservation, soil improvement, and disease suppression over time, ARS researchers at Orono, Maine found that incorporating management practices such as increased rotation length, use of cover crops, green manures, organic amendments, disease-suppressive rotation crops, and reduced tillage, into improved cropping systems can effectively enhance potato production and sustainability. Cropping systems had significant and lasting effects on soil physical, chemical, and biological properties, as well as soil microbial communities. Compost amendments were most effective at improving soil properties related to soil health, and disease-suppressive rotations were most effective at reducing soilborne diseases. Effective cropping systems increased yield by 20 to 50% over traditional rotations. This research provided viable and readily implementable options for cropping systems that address the major constraints to potato production in the Northeast, enhancing productivity, sustainability, and economic viability.

Research from this project will benefit small farms, because approximately 26,560 farms in the New England Region (94%) are classified as small farms (2002 Census of Agriculture).

Review Publications
Olanya, O.M., Anwar, M., He, Z., Larkin, R.P., Honeycutt, C.W. 2016. Survival potential of Phytophthora infestans in relation to environmental factors and late blight occurrence. Journal of Plant Protection Research. 56:73-81.