In the production of fresh-market vegetables, off-farm inputs, such as, plastic, nitrogen fertilizer, fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides are routinely used. One aim of the sustainable agriculture program at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center is to develop systems that reduce these inputs. We have completed the second year of a study designed to examine foliar disease progress, foliar disease management, and marketable fruit yield in staked fresh-market tomatoes grown in low- and high-input production systems. Specifically, four culture practices (black plastic mulch, hairy vetch mulch, dairy manure compost, and bare ground) were compared in conjunction with three foliar disease management treatments (no fungicide, weekly fungicide, and a foliar disease forecasting model, TOMCAST). Within all culture practices, use of the TOMCAST model reduced fungicide input nearly 50%, compared with the weekly fungicide treatment, without compromising productivity or disease management. With regard to disease level, a significant reduction of early blight disease severity within the hairy vetch mulch was observed in 1997 in relation to the other culture practices. Early blight disease severity within the black plastic and hairy vetch mulches was significantly less than that observed in the bare ground and compost treatments in 1998. In addition, despite a 50 % reduction in synthetic nitrogen input, the hairy vetch mulch generated yields of marketable fruit comparable to or greater than the other culture practices. It appears that low-input, sustainable, production systems can be developed that reduce the dependence on off-farm inputs of plastic, nitrogen fertilizer, and pesticides, yet generate competitive yields.
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