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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Florence, South Carolina » Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #342349

Research Project: Improvement of Soil Management Practices and Manure Treatment/Handling Systems of the Southern Coastal Plain

Location: Coastal Plain Soil, Water and Plant Conservation Research

Title: Conservation agriculture in high tunnels: soil health and profit enhancement

item Sigua, Gilbert

Submitted to: Sustainable Crop Production Intensification (SCPI) FAO Online Bulletin
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/29/2017
Publication Date: 6/30/2017
Citation: Sigua, G.C. 2017. Conservation agriculture in high tunnels: soil health and profit enhancement. Sustainable Crop Production Intensification (SCPI) FAO Online Bulletin. 71-72: Available:

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: In 2013, through the USDA’s Evans-Allen capacity grant, the high tunnel became an on-farm research laboratory for conservation agriculture. Dr. Manuel R. Reyes, Professor and his research team from the North Carolina Agriculture and Technology State University (NCATSU), Greensboro, North Carolina (1890 school) and Dr. Gilbert C. Sigua, Research Soil Scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service, Coastal Plains Soil, Water & Plant Research Center, Florence, South Carolina, USA has formed a research collaboration to study the continuous yield performance of different agricultural crops and enhancement of soil health inside and outside the high tunnels under the conservation agriculture and tilled systems. The goal of this collaboration was to ensure USA food production is sustained from stressors due to climate change, water availability, food security, and crop production. Improving agronomic and ecological management guidelines for better soil health and soil quality will strengthen food availability and security parameters. High tunnels are situated at Charles Lucas farm in North Carolina. Charles is an African American farmer and a Vietnam War veteran who is originally from South Carolina. He bought the property in 1975 and started growing zucchini, corn and water melons. High tunnels were constructed in 2007 through a funding provided by the NCATSU and became a multi-project laboratory for research, outreach and student services. High tunnels at Lucas farm have been aiding important farm research on many fronts of conservation agriculture and soil health enhancement while maintaining a profitable all year-round supply of produce in the Carolinas. Dr. Sigua provided the technical expertise through innovative knowledge and technology for environment-friendly, efficient and profitable agricultural production through optimized conservation and use of natural resources. A research team composed of Dr. Manuel Reyes, Dr. Don Edralin and Dr. Gilbert C. Sigua conducted research and transferred solutions that improve agricultural production, protect the environment and enhance the conservation agriculture in high tunnels. Results of our study supported the overall concepts and/or premises of conservation agriculture. We observed improvement in soils’ enzymes, carbon and nitrogen contents, nutrient supplying capacity and microclimate for soil microorganism. These favorable changes of soil’s functionality in conservation agriculture when compared with conventional tillage are seemingly associated with the following: (a) keeping the disturbance impact between the mechanical implements and soil to an absolute minimum; (b) using effective crop rotations and association; and (c) leaving crop residues as carbon source on the soil surface.