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ARS Home » Northeast Area » Orono, Maine » New England Plant, Soil and Water Research Laboratory » Research » Research Project #435647

Research Project: Building Sustainable Cropping Systems for the Northeast

Location: New England Plant, Soil and Water Research Laboratory

Project Number: 8030-12210-001-000-D
Project Type: In-House Appropriated

Start Date: Sep 9, 2018
End Date: Sep 8, 2023

Objective 1: Develop sustainable cropping systems that include effective management practices to improve soil health, crop productivity, and economic viability, and reduce soil borne diseases for food production systems of the Northeast. Sub-objective 1.1. Develop and implement sustainable cropping systems consisting of effective management practices that maintain or improve soil health, productivity and market quality, reduce soilborne diseases, and enhance profitability for potato-based production systems. Sub-objective 1.2. Develop and evaluate crop and soil health management practices for conventional and organic vegetable production systems to improve crop productivity, economic viability, and reduce impacts on the environment.

Our approach to building sustainable cropping systems for 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 incorporating these into integrated 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 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 health, and disease pressure, whereas previously studied criteria such as fertility and soil physical properties were not critical factors. Further research indicated that a specific 3-yr cropping system containing a disease-suppressive rotation crop and a small grain could maintain low disease while achieving high yield, and be profitable. In addition, a system with organic amendments added periodically could substantially increase yield and productivity. 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 health, 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 organic amendments. Focus will be placed on developing practical cropping systems that can be readily implemented and provide useful benefits to growers. 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.