Organic farming has increased to a $6 billion industry in the U.S. and continues to expand 20% annually. In Iowa, organic acreage for all crops has increased from 13,000 in 1995 to 130,000 in 1999. Most organic farmers rely on crop rotations, compost, or manure applications, and cover crops to maintain soil fertility. In our trials at the Iowa State Univ. Muscatine Island Research Farm, a cover crop of hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) and rye was seeded in the fall and incorporated 2 weeks prior to transplanting `Lantern' pepper plants. Other organic and conventional soil treatments were applied at transplanting and at 3 weeks post-planting. Four replications of 40 peppers transplanted at 31 × 61-cm spacing under seven fertilization treatments were observed for plant growth and yields. The fertilization goal was to obtain equivalent nitrogen and calcium rates in the organic and conventional systems. Plants fertilized with the compost at 88 kg/ha N plus BioCal® (a liming industry by-product) were not significantly greater in leaf biomass than plants conventionally fertilized with equal amounts of N. All organic and conventional treatments had greater biomass and yield than the organic and conventional controls (no fertilizer), respectively (P = 0.05). Pepper fresh weight was greater in the vetch-strips treatment than in the vetch-incorporated, and the 44 kg/ha N compost treatment, but significantly less than the conventionally fertilized plants. Second year results demonstrated similar results to the 1998 trial where the greatest yields in the organic system occurred in the compost at 88 kg/ha N plus BioCal® treatment, demonstrating to organic farmers that comparable yields can be obtained in systems employing alternatives to synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.
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