Development and Evaluation of Biologically-Integrated Conservation Tillage Systems for Organic Vegetable Production

A primary goal in developing environmentally sound and profitable farming systems has been to prevent soil degradation and erosion loss, and wherever possible, enhance soil quality through organic matter management. Conventional tillage practices currently used for vegetable production in the Willamette Valley involve from 5-8 passes over the field. For the past four years we have been working with vegetable growers in the Willamette Valley to develop an integrated system of vegetable production using winter annual cover crops and rotary strip- tillage. The strip-till system uses a single pass of a striprototiller and tills approximately 30% of the soil surface. In nine on-farm trials in 1997 and 1998, this strip-till system produced a net average increase in profit to the participating sweet corn growers of approximately $50 per acre compared to standard tillage practices. These trials have been conducted on "conventional" farms, however, and herbicides have been used to suppress cover crops and control weeds. In the experiment described here, we wanted to evaluate the feasibility of strip-till vegetable production in an organic system using no herbicides.