641 Preliminary Evaluation of Organic Desert Vegetable Production Systems

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  • 1University of Arizona, Yuma Ag. Center, Yuma, AZ 85362; 2Dept. of Botany and Plant Science, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521

Experiments were conducted during 1998–99 seasons to evaluate the potential for organic vegetable production in the low desert of the southwestern United States. The experimental design included three summer management options [fallow, cowpea (Vigna sinensis), and sudangrass (Sorghum vulgare)] in factorial combination with alternative production systems, which included organic and conventional systems. The crops cultivated were iceberg lettuce (Lactuca sativa L) during the fall–winter period and melons (Cucumis melo Reticulatus Group) during the spring. The organic plots were managed with strict adherence to California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) guidelines. Summer cover crop management seemed to influence the early growth and N uptake of lettuce, but had no final effect on yield and quality. The organic production system resulted in lower yields and inferior product quality compared to the conventional system. Generally, disease and weeds were not limiting factors, although labor costs for weed control would be slightly higher in organic plots. Insects, primarily aphids (various types) and thrips (Frankliniella Occidentalis Perancle), and fertility, primarily N, were factors limiting yield and quality in organic systems. Control of whiteflies (Bemisia argentifoli) was the limiting factor for melons. Studies during 1999–2000 are focused on overcoming the challenges of the insect and fertility management in organic systems.

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