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Tina Gray Teague and Gail S. Lee

Soil fertility studies conducted in commercial vegetable fields to examine alternative uses of mid-south agricultural wastes as soil amendments included work with poultry litter, cotton gin trash, and rice hulls. Poultry litter applications ranging from 0.3 to 0.9 Mg·ha–1 resulted in significant increases in spinach, cabbage, turnip greens, and collard yields grown in soils damaged by precision leveling or in sandy soils with low organic matter; however, positive yield response to litter applied to undamaged soils was variable. Raw rice hulls applied at rates ranging from 2 to 44 Mg·ha–1 resulted in reduced cabbage yield. Trials with cotton gin trash and cover crops on yield of cabbage, broccoli, southern pea, snap bean, and cucumber indicate significant problems with weeds following use of raw gin trash. Composting alleviated most weed problems, but no yield response was apparent at composted gin trash rates ≤9.6 Mg·ha–1. High rates (60 Mg·ha–1) of composted gin trash on damaged soil significantly improved cabbage yield. There were increases in soil pH and Ca levels. Research was supported by a SAREIACE grant.

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Christopher Worden, George Elliott, Bernard Bible, Karl Guillard, and Thomas Morris

A composting facility in New Milford, Conn. (NMF), utilizes food-processing residuals, including spent tea leaves, coffee grounds, cocoa shell and cleanings, wastewater treatment sludge from a food ingredients manufacturing plant, and past-expiration processed vegetable products. Materials are composted in aerated, frequently turned windrows under cover. The range of inputs, combined with time constraints on the composting process, has resulted in a variable, immature compost product with a high rate of microbial activity. Users have expressed concern about potential phytotoxicity or nutrient immobilization from using NMF compost. Therefore, research was conducted to determine the influence of cured and uncured NMF compost amendments on potentially sensitive crops with high nutrient requirements. Arugula (Eruca vesicaria) and green bibb lettuce (Lactuca sativa) were grown on two Connecticut organic farm research sites in 1998 and 1999. Both sites have soils classified as coarse loamy over sandy or sandy-skeletal, mixed, mesic, typic, Dystraudepts. Farms differed in the length of time under organic farm management. One farm has been an organic farm since 1988 and consequently has high soil fertility, while the other was a first-year organic farm in 1998, and had relatively low soil fertility. Three amendment types were applied: cured compost, uncured compost, and organic fertilizer (5N-3P2O5-4K2O). Amendment application rates were estimated to provide a comparable range of plant-available nutrients for the amendments and a control without fertilizer. Compost application rates were 3.4, 6.8, 20.2, 35.8, and 71.7 Mg·ha-1 (dry-weight basis) in 1998 and 11.2, 22.4, 44.8, and 89.6 Mg·ha-1 (dry-weight basis) in 1999. Organic fertilizer application rates were 1.34, 2.68, 5.36, 10.72, and 21.44 Mg·ha-1 in 1998 and 1.34, 2.68, 5.38, and 10.72 Mg·ha-1 in 1999. Soil organic matter and nutrients increased with amendment application rate at both locations. Crop yields increased with amendment rate at the new, lower-fertility farm, but yields did not respond to amendments at the older, higher-fertility farm. Yield differences were minor between the uncured and cured compost treatments at both locations. This indicates that either cured or uncured NMF food-processing residual compost can be successfully used as an organic soil amendment for salad green production.

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R. Terry Jones and David C. Ditsch

Tomato fertility trials (1992–94) showed no yield response to fertigation N rates between 101–393 kg·ha–1. In 1995, soil Cardy NO3-N readings taken just prior to fertigation showed 53 kg NO3-N/ha in the top 30 cm. Laboratory test on the same sample showed 72.4 kg/ha (NO3 + NH4-N). Forty percent of the available nitrogen was NH4-N, which is not detected by Cardy meters. Soil mineral N levels were measured at fourth injection, second harvest, and 9 days after last harvest. On these dates the 0 kg N/ha treatment had 28, 24, and 8 mg N/kg available in the top 15 cm of soil, similar to the N fertigation treatments. As the growing season progressed, soil mineral N levels decreased, and 9 days after the last harvest residual soil N levels were close to those seen initially. Tomato petiole sap Cardy NO3-N readingsshowed a significant difference between the 0 kg·ha–1 treatment and those (84, 168, and 252 kg·ha–1) receiving N (512 ppm vs. 915, 1028, and 955 ppm NO3-N, respectively). Treatments receiving fertigation N gave petiole sap NO3-N readings higher than those listed by Hochmuth as sufficient for tomatoes. While the data showed a clear separation between the three N treatments and 0 N rate, no significant difference in yield of US #1 or US #2 large fruit occurred. This suggests that adequate N fertility was provided from O.M. mineralization. The highest N rate also had significantly more US #1 small and cull tomatoes than the other treatments. Some Kentucky soils have adequate residual N capable of producing commercial fresh-market tomato crops with little or no additional N. In addition to potential ground water pollution, overfertilization of tomatoes may decrease fruit size and reduce fruit quality by causing NH4-K + ion competition, as well as increase the risk of certain fungal and bacterial diseases.

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James Leary and Joe DeFrank

An important aspect of organic farming is to minimize the detrimental impact of human intervention to the surrounding environment by adopting a natural protocol in system management. Traditionally, organic farming has focused on the elimination of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and a reliance on biological cycles that contribute to improving soil health in terms of fertility and pest management. Organic production systems are ecologically and economically sustainable when practices designed to build soil organic matter, fertility, and structure also mitigate soil erosion and nutrient runoff. We found no research conducted under traditional organic farming conditions, comparing bareground monoculture systems to systems incorporating the use of living mulches. We will be focusing on living mulch studies conducted under conventional methodology that can be extrapolated to beneficial uses in an organic system. This article discusses how organic farmers can use living mulches to reduce erosion, runoff, and leaching and also demonstrate the potential of living mulch systems as comprehensive integrated pest management plans that allow for an overall reduction in pesticide applications. The pesticide reducing potential of the living mulch system is examined to gain insight on application within organic agriculture.

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M.D. Richardson and J.W. Boyd

Establishment of zoysiagrass (Zoysia japonica Steud.) from sprigs is often impractical for golf courses and sports fields because of the slow growth rate of the species and subsequent long establishment period. A study was conducted at two different sites in Arkansas to evaluate the effects of soil topdressing and post-plant fertility rates on establishment of zoysiagrass from vegetative sprigs. Each site was planted according to standard methods using freshly-harvested sprigs (18 m3/ha) and either top dressed with 1.0 cm of native soil or maintained without topdressing. Beginning immediately after establishment, N was applied monthly at rates of 0, 1.25, 2.50, 3.75, or 5.0 g·m-2 as urea. Rate of cover was monitored throughout the growing season and elemental analysis of plant tissues was determined 120 days after planting. Topdressing the sprigs with native soil significantly improved establishment compared to traditional sprigging at both sites, presumably because of enhanced sprig survival. Applications of N during the establishment period had little or no overall effect on establishment, although the 0 g·m-2 rate was slightly inferior to all other rates. This study indicates that methods that enhance sprig survival are more important than added fertility for the rapid establishment of zoysiagrass sprigs.

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James J. Ferguson, Elizabeth Lamb, and Mickie Swisher

With funding to increase support for organic farming research at land grant universities, organic growers have collaborated with faculty and administrators to develop an undergraduate, interdisciplinary minor at the University of Florida. Required introductory courses focus on general concepts of organic and sustainable farming, alternative cropping systems, production programs, handling, and marketing issues. An advanced horticulture course requires intensive examination of certification procedures, farm plans, soil fertility, and crop management, all of which are integrated into a required field project. Extension faculty have also fostered development of this new curriculum by coordinating regional workshops and field days in collaboration with organic growers and by developing educational materials on organic certification and related issues.

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C.A. Sanchez, G.H. Snyder, and H.W. Burdine

Diagnosis and Recommendation Integrated System (DRIS) norms were derived for crisphead lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) from field fertility experiments conducted over the past 20 years on mineral and organic soils in Florida. Preliminary testing indicates that DRIS diagnoses generally agree with diagnoses using the sufficiency range approach, with the advantage of predicting the degree of nutrient limitation. DRIS also appeared to correctly predict a response to K where sufficiency ranges currently used did not. Overall, DRIS appears to be a useful adjunct to the sufficiency range approach currently used to diagnose nutritional deficiencies in crisphead lettuce.

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Chad M. Hutchinson and Milton E. McGiffen

The goals of sustainable agriculture include decreased reliance on synthetic nutrients and pesticides and improved environmental quality for the long-term benefit of the land, livelihood of growers, and their communities. Cropping systems that maximize these goals use alternative fertility and pest control options to produce crops with minimal soil erosion and nutrient leaching. Cropping system elements that can help achieve these goals include: reduced tillage, cover crops, and organic soil amendments. Cover crops are grown before the cash crop and used to replenish the soil with nitrogen and organic matter. Cover crops often also influence pest populations and can be selected based on site-specific growing conditions. Cover crops can be mulched on the soil surface to prevent erosion and weed emergence or can be tilled directly into the soil to incorporate nitrogen and organic matter. Green waste mulch is an increasingly used soil amendment. Many municipalities are encouraging farmers to use green waste mulch in farming systems as an alternative to green waste disposal in landfills. Reduced tillage was once restricted to large-seeded field crops but recent technical advances have made it a feasible option for vegetables and other horticultural crops. Alternative farming practices; however, are still only used by a small minority of growers. Increases in price for organic produce and changes in laws governing farming operations may increase adoption of alternatives to conventional agriculture.

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Ian A. Merwin, Warren C. Stiles, and Harold M. van Es

This study was conducted to compare various orchard groundcover management systems (GMSs)—including a crownvetch “living mulch” (CNVCH), close-mowed (MWSOD) and chemically growth-regulated (GRSOD) sodgrasses, pre-emergence (NDPQT) and two widths of post-emergence (GLY1.5 and GLY2.5) herbicides, hay-straw mulch (STMCH), and monthly rototillage (tilled)—during the first 6 years in a newly established apple (Malus domestica Borkh.) planting. Mean soil water potential at 5 to 35 cm deep varied substantially among treatments each summer, and treatment × year interactions were observed. During most growing seasons from 1986 to 1991, soil water availability trends were STMCH > NDPQT > GLY2.5 > GLY1.5 > tilled > GRSOD > MWSOD > CNVCH. Soil organic matter content increased under STMCH, CNVCH, and MWSOD and decreased under NDPQT and tilled treatments. Water infiltration and saturated hydraulic conductivity after 4 years were lower under NDPQT and tilled, and soil under STMCH and GRSOD retained more water per unit volume at applied pressures approximating field water capacity. Mid-summer soil temperatures at 5 cm deep were highest (25 to 28C) in tilled and NDPQT plots, intermediate (22 to 24C) under GRSOD, and lowest (16 to 20C) under CNVCH and STMCH. These observations indicate that long-term soil fertility and orchard productivity may be diminished under pre-emergence herbicides and mechanical cultivation in comparison with certain other GMSs.

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Bielinski M. Santos, Joan A. Dusky, William M. Stall, Donn G. Shilling, and Thomas A. Bewick

The effects of different smooth pigweed and common purslane removal times and two phosphorus (P) fertility regimes were studied under field conditions. Head lettuce (cv. South Bay) in organic soils low in P fertility. Smooth pigweed and common purslane were grown at a density of 16 plants per 6 m of row (5.4 m2) and five removal times (0, 2, 4, 6, and 8 weeks) after lettuce emergence. Phosphorus (P) was applied broadcast (1200 kg P/ha) and banded 2 inches below each lettuce row (600 kg P/ha). Lettuce fresh weights were collected 8 weeks after emergence. When smooth pigweed was removed after 4 weeks, significant reductions (–17%) were observed for P banding. However, these reductions occurred after 2 weeks if P was broadcast. No significant differences were observed if removal was imposed later for P broadcast, whereas lettuce yields gradually decreased as removal time was delayed. These findings indicate that P banding can counteract the negative impact of smooth pigweed on lettuce and may allow farmers to delay weed control (if necessary) for another 2 weeks without significant yield reductions. Common purslane interference did not cause significant lettuce yield reductions as compared to the weed-free control for 6 weeks when P was banded, whereas this was true for P broadcast up to 4 weeks. Phosphorus fertility regime significantly influenced the period of weed interference of common purslane with lettuce, reducing its impact when P was banded.