Developing a Cover Crop-Based, No-Till System for Small-Scale Vegetable Producers: Effects on Soil Health, Weeds, Arthropod Communities, and Yield

In the Midwest, one limitation faced by small- and mid-scale organic producers involving cover crop-based, no-till systems is the expense associated with equipment such as a roller crimper needed to terminate the cover crop for spring planting. Thus, the development of an effective no-till system that does not require the use of expensive equipment would be beneficial to producers.

This project has been designed to develop, through research, a no-till system based on a fall-planted hairy vetch/rye mix with four different termination methods: (1) crimper rolled, (2) solar killed, (3) flail mowed, (4) sickle bar mowed, and (5) black plastic mulch on tilled soil (control). We also seek to quantify the effects of termination methods on soil health, arthropod communities, weed suppression, and yield in a summer squash production system.

An innovative component of this research is the use of winter-killed tillage radish to manage the transplanting zone within the vetch and rye for spring transplanting. Economic analyses will be conducted to determine the economic viability of each production system. One cooperating commercial grower will evaluate some components of the cover crop-based system. As a result of the outreach that will be implemented, consisting of 1 workshop, 1 field day, 1 farm tour, and presentations at local and regional growers’ conferences, stakeholders will increase their level of knowledge and awareness (short-term outcomes) of the benefits associated with the use of cover crops as part of a no-till system that can minimize weeds, fertilizer inputs, and arthropod pests, leading to increased farm profitability. The longer-term goal of the project is to support organic vegetable production systems in the Midwest through research and outreach and to increase the ability of organic growers to make informed economic decisions regarding input reduction using cover crop-based, no-till systems that could ultimately increase their profitability.