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Daniel C. Brainard and D. Corey Noyes

Management practices that build soil organic matter—including reduced tillage, cover cropping, and compost applications—may be useful for protecting vulnerable crops from extreme weather events, reducing energy costs, and suppressing pests in carrot (Daucus carota subsp. sativa) production systems. The primary objective of this research was to assess the effects of strip tillage, compost, and carrot cultivar on carrot quality, yield, and profitability. An important secondary objective was to evaluate the impact of tillage and compost on establishment of important weeds in carrot systems—including two species that have developed resistance to linuron: Powell amaranth (Amaranthus powellii) and common purslane (Portulaca oleracea). Field experiments were conducted in 2009 and 2010 comparing conventional tillage (CT) to strip tillage (ST) under two rates of mature compost addition (0 or 3 dry t·ha−1) for three processing carrot varieties (‘Canada’, ‘Finley’, and ‘Recoleta’). In the ST system, a pre-established barley cover crop was left to grow as a windbreak between crop rows until carrots were established. Partial budget analysis was used to estimate net returns associated with all treatments. Compared with CT, the ST system resulted in 1) either equivalent or greater (2010, Finley cultivar) total carrot yields and net returns; and 2) either equivalent or lower summer annual weed densities. Addition of compost resulted in equivalent (2010) or higher (2009) carrot yields and gross returns but did not affect net returns as a result of the increased costs associated with compost application. Compost reduced the density of common purslane in 2009 but resulted in a threefold increase in the density of Powell amaranth in 2010. Our results demonstrate that both ST and compost applications are potentially valuable tools for improving the profitability of carrot production systems. Future research examining the mechanistic basis for compost and tillage effects on carrots and weeds as well as the long-term effects of these practices on profitability of rotational crops would be helpful for optimizing their use in vegetable production systems.

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Erin R. Haramoto and Daniel C. Brainard

Strip tillage (ST) is a form of conservation tillage in which disturbance is limited to the crop rows while the rest of the soil remains undisturbed. Compared with conventional, full-width tillage (CT), ST may reduce tillage costs, protect soil from erosion, and benefit cool-season crops including cabbage (Brassica oleracea L. var. ‘capitata’) by improving water retention, reducing soil temperatures, and improving the synchrony of inorganic nitrogen (IN) supply with crop demand. Field experiments were conducted in 2010 and 2011 in central Michigan to assess the effects of tillage (CT vs. ST) and a preceding cover crop (none vs. oats, Avena sativa L. var. ‘Ida’) on soil temperature, moisture, N dynamics, and yields in transplanted cabbage. Oats were sown in April and terminated 2 to 3 weeks before cabbage transplanting in early July. In-row (IR) soil moisture, temperature, and IN content were assessed from transplanting until cabbage harvest in October. In 2010, IR soil moisture was higher season-long in ST compared with CT and in oat compared with non-oat treatments, but these effects were not detected in 2011. Tillage and oat residue had little or no effect on IR soil temperature. Shortly after tillage in both years, soil IN availability was greater in CT treatments without oats compared with both ST treatments and CT with oats. However, these differences dissipated after 3 to 4 weeks, and hypothesized improvements in N release patterns under ST were not observed. No differences in cabbage marketable yield were detected in either year, although the proportion of plants that produced a marketable head was lower in cover-cropped plots in 2010. These findings suggest that soil conservation and input savings potentially associated with ST production systems may be attained without a yield penalty. More research is needed to understand and optimize cover crop management in ST systems to realize potential benefits in N use efficiency, moisture retention, and soil temperature moderation.

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Daniel C. Brainard, John Bakker, D. Corey Noyes and Norm Myers

Living mulches growing below asparagus (Asparagus officinales) fern can improve soil health and suppress weeds but may also suppress asparagus through competition for water or nutrients. The central objective of this research was to test whether cereal rye (Secale cereale) living mulch, in combination with overhead irrigation, could provide comparable weed suppression to standard residual herbicides without reducing asparagus yields. A field experiment was conducted from 2008 to 2010 in a mature asparagus planting on sandy soils in western Michigan to evaluate the effects of irrigation (none vs. overhead) and weed management systems (standard herbicides vs. rye living mulch) on weed suppression, soil moisture content, and asparagus yield. Rye living mulch and herbicide treatments were established immediately after asparagus harvest in late June of each year. Rye living mulch reduced soil-available water in early August by 26% to 52% compared with herbicide treatments but had no detectable effect on asparagus yields. Compared with herbicide treatments, rye living mulch reduced fall-germinating weed emergence and resulted in lower densities of horseweed (Conyza canadensis) during asparagus harvest. However, in 2 of 3 years, the living mulch system resulted in higher densities of summer annual weeds—including Powell amaranth (Amaranthus powellii) and longspine sandbur (Cenchrus longispinus)—during the fern growth period compared with herbicide treatments. After 3 years, the density of summer annual weeds was more than 10-fold greater in rye living mulch treatments compared with standard residual herbicides treatments. Our results suggest that 1) soil-improving rye cover crops can partially suppress weeds but may also compete with asparagus for soil moisture in dry years unless irrigation is used; and 2) successful use of rye living mulches for weed management will depend on identification of complementary weed management practices to avoid build-up of the summer annual weed seedbank.

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Virender Kumar, Daniel C. Brainard and Robin R. Bellinder

Hairy galinsoga [Galinsoga ciliata (Raf.) Blake] has become a troublesome weed in vegetable crops. Field studies were conducted in 2006 and 2007 in central New York to determine the effects of: 1) spring-sown cover crops on hairy galinsoga growth and seed production during cover crop growth grown before subsequent short duration vegetable crops; and 2) cover crop residues on establishment of hairy galinsoga and four short-duration vegetable crops planted after cover crop incorporation. The cover crops [buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum Moench), brown mustard (Brassica juncea L.), yellow mustard (Sinapis alba L.), and oats (Avena sativa L.)] were planted in May and incorporated in early July. Lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) and Swiss chard [Beta vulgaris var. cicla (L.) K. Koch] were transplanted and pea (Pisum sativum L.) and snap bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) were sown directly into freshly incorporated residues. Aboveground dry biomass produced by the cover crops was 4.2, 6.4, 6.8, and 9.7 mg·ha−1 for buckwheat, brown mustard, yellow mustard, and oats, respectively. Cover crops alone reduced the dry weight (90% to 99%) and seed production of hairy galinsoga (98%) during the cover crop-growing season compared with weedy controls. In 2006, only yellow mustard residue suppressed hairy galinsoga emergence (53%). However, in 2007, all cover crop residues reduced hairy galinsoga emergence (38% to 62%) and biomass production (25% to 60%) compared with bare soil, with yellow mustard providing the greatest suppression. Cover crop residues did not affect snap bean emergence, but reduced pea emergence 25% to 75%. All vegetable crops were suppressed by all cover crop residues with crops ranked as: pea > Swiss chard ≥ lettuce > snap bean in terms of sensitivity. The C:N ratios were 8.5, 18.3, 22.9, and 24.8 for buckwheat, brown mustard, yellow mustard, and oat residues, respectively. Decomposition rate and nitrogen release of brown mustard and buckwheat residues was rapid; it was slow for oats and yellow mustard residues. Spring-sown cover crops can contribute to weed management by reducing seed production, emergence, and growth of hairy galinsoga in subsequent crops, but crop emergence and growth may be compromised. Yellow mustard and buckwheat sown before late-planted snap beans deserve further testing as part of an integrated strategy for managing weeds while building soil health.

Open access

Alyssa R. Tarrant, Daniel C. Brainard and Zachary D. Hayden

Growing a cover crop living mulch between plastic-mulched beds may reduce soil erosion while providing other agroecosystem services. However, information regarding the relative differences among living mulch species to maximize services and minimize competition for nutrients and water in adjacent plastic-mulched beds is limited. A 2-year experiment in Michigan evaluated nine living mulch species for biomass production, in-season weed suppression, and potential for cash crop competition. Species included three warm season grasses {Italian ryegrass [Lolium perenne L. ssp. multiflorum (Lam.) Husnot], teff [Eragrostis tef (Zuccagni) Trotter, and sudangrass [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench ssp. drummondii (Nees ex Steud.) de Wet & Harlan]}; three cool season grasses [barley (Hordeum vulgare L.), rye (Secale cereale L.), and wheat (Triticum aestivum L.)]; and three clover species grown in combination with rye {Dutch white clover (Trifolium repens L.), New Zealand white clover (T. repens L.) and yellow blossom sweet clover [Melilotus officinalis (L.) Lam.]}. Although all living mulch treatments significantly reduced in-season weed biomass relative to the weedy control in 2018, weeds were generally a dominant component of total biomass in all living mulch treatments other than teff. Weed biomass was negatively correlated with living mulch biomass, and teff exhibited both the greatest biomass and weed suppression in both years. However, despite spatial and physical separation, all living mulches demonstrated the potential to compete with a cash crop by reducing soil inorganic nitrogen and moisture levels in adjacent plastic mulch–covered beds. Growers interested in integrating living mulches into plasticulture systems must consider desired benefits such as enhanced weed suppression, soil quality, and harvesting conditions alongside potential risks to cash crop yields.