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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Auburn, Alabama » Soil Dynamics Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #342314

Research Project: Sustainable Production, Profit, and Environmental Stewardship through Conservation Systems

Location: Soil Dynamics Research

Title: Effects of integrated polyethylene and cover crop mulch, conservation tillage, and herbicide application on weed control, yield, and economic returns in watermelon

Author
item Price, Andrew
item WILLIAMS, JACOB - Auburn University
item Duzy, Leah
item MCELROY, SCOTT - Auburn University
item GUERTAL, BETH - Auburn University
item LI, STEVE - Auburn University

Submitted to: Weed Technology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/1/2018
Publication Date: 11/13/2018
Citation: Price, A.J., Williams, J., Duzy, L.M., McElroy, S., Guertal, B., Li, S. 2018. Effects of integrated polyethylene and cover crop mulch, conservation tillage, and herbicide application on weed control, yield, and economic returns in watermelon. Weed Technology. 32(5):623-632. https://doi.org/10.1017/wet.2018.45.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/wet.2018.45

Interpretive Summary: Currently few specialty crop producers in the Southeastern United States (US) have adopted conservation practices. The objective of this experiment was to determine if conservation tillage practices could be integrated in watermelon production. A three year watermelon experiment was established in fall 2013 to evaluate integrating cover crop and/or polyethylene mulch, tillage, and herbicide system components on weed control, yield, and profitability. Polyethylene use resulted in yields significantly higher than all other mulching systems in 2014 and 2015, likely due to both agronomic and weed suppression effects. Across all three years, net returns were highest for polyethylene mulch, closely following the yield results. The results of this experiment show that progress still needs to be made in developing integrated conservation systems for watermelon production. However, polyethylene integrated with rye results reveal that this mulching system could have potential in conservation specialty crop production.

Technical Abstract: The lack of conservation adoption in watermelon production reflects the lack of field practice recommendations addressing the challenges associated with producing vegetables in minimally disturbed cover crop residues. A three year watermelon experiment was established in fall 2013 to evaluate integrating cover crop, polyethylene mulch, tillage, and herbicide application components on weed control, yield, and profitability. Conservation tillage with a cereal rye cover crop alone or integrated with polyethylene mulch, was compared to the standard industry practice of conventional tillage with bedded polyethylene mulch. A non-bedded conventional tillage system without polyethylene was also included to determine polyethylene and cover crop residue effects. Within each system, herbicide treatments included: 1) halosulfuron applied at 26.3 g ai ha-1 PRE, 2) halosulfuron applied at 26.3 g ai ha-1 POST, 3) halosulfuron applied sequentially at 26.3 g ai ha-1 PRE and POST, and 4) a non-treated control. In addition, clethodim was applied in all plots, except for non-treated in each system, twice POST at 140.1 gram ai ha-1 to suppress weedy grass emergence. Regardless, large crabgrass weed control was difficult regardless of agronomic or herbicide application. Polyethylene use resulted in yields significantly higher than systems without in 2014 (30,661 kg ha-1) and 2015 (61,223 kg ha-1), likely due to both agronomic and weed suppression effects. In 2016, polyethylene and polyethylene integrated with rye were not different (36,275 kg ha-1 polyethylene in conventional tillage and 31,657 kg ha-1 polyethylene integrated with rye, respectively), and significantly higher than treatments without polyethylene (10,938 kg ha-1 in conventional tillage and 5,311 kg ha-1 in conservation tillage). Across all three years, net returns were highest for polyethylene mulch systems, closely following the yield results.