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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Auburn, Alabama » Soil Dynamics Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #378587

Research Project: Conservation Systems to Improve Production Efficiency, Reduce Risk, and Promote Sustainability

Location: Soil Dynamics Research

Title: Equipment development for small and urban conservation farming systems

item Kornecki, Ted
item REYES, MANUEL - Kansas State University

Submitted to: Agriculture
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/26/2020
Publication Date: 12/2/2020
Citation: Kornecki, T.S., Reyes, M.R. 2020. Equipment development for small and urban conservation farming systems. Agriculture. 10(12):595.

Interpretive Summary: A scientist at the USDA National Soil Dynamics Lab in Auburn, Alabama developed, prototyped, and tested three no-till implements for small farms. With the increased demand for organic produce, small farms need appropriate machinery designed for two-wheel or walk behind tractors. In this study, the three implements were tested to ease cover crop adoption barriers in conservation agriculture systems. A no-till seed drill, roller/crimper, and no-till vegetable transplanter were used to plant the cover crop, terminate the cover crop, and direct transplant tomatoes, respectively. The results showed good rye germination, 95% crimping termination without herbicide, and acceptable tomato yield. This paves the way for conservation vegetable production systems adoption in small farms globally, and especially, on the organic farms in the United States.

Technical Abstract: The number of local small farms in the USA is on the rise due to a consumer demand for locally grown produce such as tomatoes. These farms often use small walk-behind tractors, but most field activities are still performed by hand requiring heavy physical labor. Recent efforts from USDA have been encouraging producers to adopt no-till techniques using cover crops for benefits such as reduced runoff and soil erosion, increased infiltration and water holding capacity, increased soil organic carbon, decreased soil compaction and improved weed control. However, lack of specialized no-till equipment inhibits widespread adoption of cover crops. To help small farms reduce hand labor and adoption of conservation systems with cover crops, no-till equipment such as a no-till drill, powered roller/crimper, and no-till transplanter have been developed for walk-behind tractors at the National Soil Dynamics Laboratory in Auburn, Alabama. A replicated three-year field test (2017 - 2019) was conducted to evaluate effectiveness of the experimental powered coulter drill to plant cereal rye cover crop (Secale cereale, L.), patented powered roller/crimper to terminate rye, and transplanting cash crop tomato seedlings (Solanum lycopersicum L.) with a patented no-till transplanter. These three pieces of equipment were compatible with BCS 853 walk-behind tractor. The experiment was conducted on two different soils: Hiwassee sandy loam soil and Davidson clay to determine the performance of developed machines under different soil types. Results have shown that the powered coulter drill generated effective rye seed emergence (83%) for optimum biomass production. The experimental powered roller/crimper generated 95% rye termination rate three weeks after rolling, and the no-till transplanter performed as anticipated providing less than 10% variation of plant spacing uniformity. Tomato yield varied among years ranging from 15,858 kg ha-1 to 28293 kg ha-1 and was related to different soil and weather conditions at each growing season. Numerically higher tomato yield on Davidson clay might be associated with less insect/pathogen pressure, higher plant available water, and reduced weed pressure due to greater cereal rye biomass production. Results from this experiment indicate that developed experimental equipment can be a practical solution for small no-till farming operations with cover crops.