Biofumigation and Soil Conditioning Effects of Cover Crops in Processing Tomato

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  • 1 1University of California, Department of Plant Sciences, Davis, CA, 95616
  • | 2 2University of California, Cooperative Extension
  • | 3 3University of California, Department of Plant Pathology

Mustard cover crop residue has been reported to have a “biofumigant” action when incorporated into the soil, potentially providing significant disease suppression and yield improvement for the succeeding crop. Such activity could be particularly useful in processing tomato rotations, where consecutive cropping invariably results in yield decline. Agronomic and environmental effects of growing over-winter mustard cover crops preceding tomato production were investigated in three field trials between 2002 and 2004. Two mustard cover crops [`Pacific Gold', a brown mustard (Brassica juncea), and `Caliente', a blend of brown and white mustard (Sinapis alba)] were compared to a legume cover crop mix, a fallow bed treatment (the standard grower practice in this region), and, in two of the three trials, a fumigation treatment using metam sodium. No suppression of soil populations of Verticillium dahliae or Fusarium spp. was observed with the mustard cover crops, nor was there any visual evidence of disease suppression on subsequent tomato crops. In these fields, the mustard either had no effect, or reduced tomato yield, when compared to the fallow treatment. At one of two sites, metam sodium fumigation significantly increased tomato yield. The presence of a cover crop, whether mustard or legume, reduced winter runoff by an average of 50% over two years of trials. No benefit of mustard cover cropping beyond this reduction in winter runoff was observed.

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