The Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV), a four-county area in deep south Texas, is a promising region for organic farming with an estimated 2.1 million acres of arable land. With the sub-tropical climate prevailing in the region, the LRGV boasts a year-round growing season. However, this also poses agronomic challenges to farmers: year-round pest management and maintenance of soil health. For organic farmers, the major weed management technique is intensive tillage during the late summer months, exposing soils to the intense heat and high winds characteristic of this season in the region.
Soil health and nutrient cycling, crop yield, and weed competition was evaluated in a perennial living mulch row middle system with different in-crop-row soil/weed management treatments: no-tillage, minimum-tillage, conventional tillage, tillage/sprayed with vinegar, and tillage/mulched with paper (Ecocover). None of the treatments received any fertilizer other than incorporated one-year-old red clover cover crop which was strip-tilled into crop rows in April. No-till red clover was maintained in row middles between strip-till experiment crop rows.
North Carolina is the second largest producer of organic sweet potatoes in the U.S., with a rapid 42% increase in acreage transitioning to organic from 2014 to 2016. Despite a steady demand for organic sweet potatoes, marketable yield often does not reach the yield potential for this region due to challenges in weed, insect and soil fertility management. Through farmer consultation soil borne pests such a wireworm and weed proliferation were identified as two areas of concern for organic farmers in North Carolina.
Soil health is ideally a central part of organic farm management. One key question is how diversification practices (e.g., diversified crop rotations, cover crops, etc.) that build soil health influence how and when nitrogen is made available from soil organic matter. This question is particularly important to consider when determining the timing and choice of organic fertilizer application on diversified organic farms.
As the negative health and environmental effects of chemical soil fumigation become more apparent, it is critical to devise safe, alternative methods of soil fumigation. Organic growers constantly struggle with weed control and need innovative, chemical‐free weed management techniques.
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.
Educating women farmers about certified organic production
Coordinator: Melissa Matthewson, Southern Oregon Research and Experiment Station, Central Point, OR
Project location: Southwestern Oregon
Many women enjoy learning environments that are geared for women only. Recognizing this interest, the Oregon State University (OSU) Extension Small Farms program, with OFRF support, sponsored four on-farm field days hosted by and for women organic and transitioning farmers.
Investigator: Robert Hadad, Cornell Regional Vegetable Program, Lockport, NY
Project location: Four organic farms in upstate New York