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The accuracy of soil and plant analytical results are occasionally called into question by laboratory clientele. Although laboratories generally conduct internal quality assurance procedures, there are few external performance testing programs for the industry. In 1994, a proficiency testing program was initiated for soil and plant samples for agricultural laboratories in the western United States to provide an external quality control for the lab industry. The program involves the quarterly exchange of soil and plant samples on which soil salinity, soil fertility, and plant nutrition analyses are conducted. One hundred laboratories are annually enrolled in the program from 24 states and Canadian provinces. Results of 3 years of the program indicate soil nitrate, soil pH, extractable potassium, soil and organic matter are reproducible within 10% between laboratories. Soil-extractable phosphorus (by five methods), soil-extractable boron, and soluble chloride were only reproducible within 15% to 20% between laboratories. Plant nitrogen and phosphorus results were consistent across samples, laboratories, and methods. Variability in plant nitrate increased with decreasing tissue concentrations. Overall accuracy and precision of reported results, based on the use of NIST certified reference botanical samples, were excellent for N, P, K, Ca, and Cu. Generally, for any given analysis, the results of ≈10% of the laboratories exceed two standard deviations from the mean. Overall, significant improvement was noted in the laboratory industry proficiency through the course of the program.

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Summer cover crops can improve soil fertility by adding organic matter, supplying nutrients through mineralization, reducing nutrient leaching, and improving soil water and nutrient holding capacity. Other benefits include weed suppression and reduction of soil parasitic nematodes. A series of field experiments have been conducted at the UF IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center in Homestead, Florida to evaluate several summer cover crops for use in vegetable production in South Florida followed by field demonstrations conducted in the growers' fields. Best performing cover crops were legumes: velvet bean (Macuna deeringiana) and sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea L. `Tropic Sun') providing 13 and 11 Mt of dry matter/ha, respectively. Sunn hemp supplied 330 kg N/ha followed by velvet been with 310 kg N/ha. Traditional summer cover crop sorghum-Sudan produced 4 Mt of dry matter/ha and retained only 36 kg N/ha. In addition Sunn hemp significantly reduced soil parasitic nematodes for successive crops. Limitations in use of Sunn hemp by more vegetable growers in South Florida include cost and availability of seeds.

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Abstract

When plant nutrition problems are observed in the field, one is faced with the question “What is the best and most economical way to solve this problem?” Traditionally, workers in both agronomy and horticulture have used soil amendments to correct deficiencies of macro- and micronutrients, and to correct soil pH to avoid Al or Mn toxicity. Horticulturists have had few economic limitations in solving plant nutrition problems because they work with crops with higher production costs and potential profit. Philosophically, we must recognize that some nutrients are removed from soils by cropping, and these must be replaced eventually. We can remove stored nutrients from the soil, but this reduces soil fertility. For elements such as Zn, Cu, Mn, B, and Co, addition of elemental fertilizers is both effective and inexpensive in nearly all cases. Boron, Cu, and Zn fertilization are normal horticultural management practices. Soil testing or plant analysis can identify potential microelement fertility problems and deficiencies can be avoided by timely fertilizer application. Similarly, the pH of the surface soil can be economically raised by limestone to reduce the availability of some toxic ions such as Al and Mn. This approach has been called “Change the soil”.

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Abstract

Rapid screening techniques for selecting salt-tolerant plants are heretofore untried, untested, or unproven. Theoretically, we know it is possible to screen plants for this trait. Halophytes and salt-tolerant ecotypes exist in nature and variability in tolerance has been demonstrated in a number of agronomic species (48). However, the complexities of salt tolerance and the multitude of ways in which plants adjust and adapt to it have caused much confusion. The effect of salinity on a plant may depend on ontogeny (3, 11), humidity (21, 22, 34), temperature (21, 35), light (14, 35), irrigation management (8, 9), cultural practices (6, 11), soil fertility (10, 32), air pollution (20, 26), and the particular growth or yield parameter measured (3, 49). If all environmental conditions are optimal it is possible to grow some agricultural crops at seawater salinity concentrations. Barley, wheat, millet, and various other crops have been grown on sandy beach areas using seawater for irrigation (4, 5, 16, 24). The use of sand facilitates leaching and minimizes salinity accumulation. Additionally, coastal areas may be cool and humid, and, if fogs are common, have low light intensities. These factors create a favorable environment and decrease salinity damage. Recently, Epstein and colleagues used such an environment to screen a barley composite for salt tolerance (16). Several lines were selected which seemed to produce higher yields than the test cultivars. It is possible that such research will result in the selection of traits that will enhance salt tolerance in barley cultivars adapted to other environments.

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Intensive rainfall during summer causes substantial nutrient leaching in a subtropical region, where most vegetable lands lay fallow during this period. Also, an excessive amount of irrigation water supplied during the winter vegetable growing season leads to soil nutrient loss, which greatly impacts vegetable yields, especially in soils that possess a low capacity to retain soil water and nutrients. A 2-year field experiment was carried out to evaluate the effects of various summer cover crops and irrigation rates on tomato yields and quality, and on soil fertility in a subtropical region of Florida. The cover crops were sunn hemp [Crotalaria juncea (L.) `Tropic Sun'], cowpea [Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp, `Iron Clay'], velvetbean [Mucuna deeringiana (Bort.) Merr.], and sorghum sudangrass [Sorghum bicolor × S. bicolor var. sudanense (Piper) Stapf.], with a weed-free fallow as a control. The cover crops were planted during late Spring 2001 and 2002, incorporated into the soil in the fall, and tomatoes [Lycopersicon esculentum (Mill.) `Sanibel'] were grown on raised beds during Winter 2001–02 and 2002–03, respectively. Irrigation in various treatments was controlled when tensiometer readings reached –5, –10, –20, or –30 kPa. The cover crops produced from 5.2 to 12.5 Mg·ha–1 of above ground dry biomass and 48 to 356 Mg·ha–1 of N during 2001–02 and from 3.6 to 9.7 Mg·ha–1 of dry biomass and 35 to 277 kg·ha–1 of N during 2002–03. The highest N contribution was made by sunn hemp and the lowest by sorghum sudangrass. Based on 2-year data, tomato marketable yields were increased from 14% to 27% (p ≤ 0.05) by growing cover crops, and the greatest increase occurred in the sunn hemp treatment followed by the cowpea treatment. Irrigation at –10, –20, and –30 kPa significantly improved marketable yields by 14%, 12%, and 25% (p ≤ 0.05) for 2001–02, and 18%, 31%, and 34% (p ≤ 0.05) for 2002–03, respectively, compared to yields at the commonly applied rate, –5 kPa (control). Irrigation at –30 kPa used about 85% less water than at –5 kPa. Yields of extra-large fruit in the sunn hemp and cowpea treatments from the first harvest in both years averaged 12.6 to 15.2 Mg·ha–1, and they were significantly higher than yields in the fallow treatment (10.2 to 11.3 Mg·ha–1). Likewise at –30 kPa yields of extra-large fruit from the first harvest for both years were 13.0 to 15.3 Mg·ha–1 compared to 9.8 to 10.7 Mg·ha–1 at –5 kPa. Soil NO3-N and total N contents in sunn hemp and cowpea treatments were significantly higher than those in fallow. The results indicate that growing legume summer cover crops in a subtropical region, especially sunn hemp and cowpea, and reducing irrigation rates are valuable approaches to conserve soil nutrients and water, and to improve soil fertility and tomato yields and quality.

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Sustainable production systems are characterized as systems that can be physically and biologically maintained in perpetuity, can avoid adverse environmental and health problems, and can be economically profitable. Organic vegetable production systems are one example of sustainable farming enterprises. In California, organic production and postharvest handling techniques are closely defined by legislation. Of the several grower groups representing organic farmers in the state, the California Certified Organic Farmers is the largest, representing 382 growers that farmed a total area of 10,375 ha in 1988. Of these, 200 growers are vegetable producers. Another organization active among organic growers in California, as well as Mexico, Central American countries, and the Caribbean, is the Organic Crop Improvement Association. Marketing organizations such as the Nutri-Clean Program, which tests produce for pesticide residues and certifies specific residue standards, and the Organic Market News and Information Service facilitate the sale of organic produce in California. Cultural practice information for organic vegetable production is difficult to find, particularly techniques that would allow a grower to switch from conventional to organic production. University researchers and extension workers have so far been of little help, although the Univ. of California Sustainability Program at Davis is beginning research and education activities. Funding for these activities is inadequate, and the program is understaffed. There is need for long-term, interdisciplinary, on-farm studies to study organic production techniques in a realistic setting. At present, the reward system in place in land-grant institutions offers little encouragement to researchers to engage in this kind of work. There are formidable obstacles to increasing the use of organic materials for crop fertilization. The nutrient content of the state's manure and organic waste supplies is probably insufficient to meet the fertility needs of California's crops. In addition, since the majority of land currently producing vegetable crops in California is leased, long-term soil fertility investments are a risky undertaking.

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To help develop fertilizer recommendations for organic vegetable production in Hawaii, the effects of organic amendments on basil yield were studied in two experiments. The treatments were synthetic nitrogen applied at 100 kg·ha–1 per crop, organic amendments applied at a rate of 8–160 MT·ha–1, and an unammended control. Each treatment was replicated four times in a RCB design. In the first experiment, chicken manure was the organic amendment at 8 MT·ha–1 with a single basil variety grown. In the second experiment, conducted at the same location immediately following the first experiment, the organic amendment was locally produced compost (0.3% N) applied at 40 and 160 MT·ha–1 with three basil varieties grown. Data taken included soil fertility levels before and after experimental completion, marketable yields recorded weekly over 5–10 weeks, and tissue N and nitrate sap analysis measured at two to three different plant growth stages. In the first experiment, treatments receiving chicken manure or synthetic N showed similar yields (256–289 g/plant), which were significantly greater than the control (197 g/plant). Tissue N levels were greatest in the synthetic fertilizer treatment (4.9%) and lowest in the control (4.5%). In the second experiment, there was a differential response by varieties to treatments with respect to yields. Yields from the compost treatments (292–700 g/plant) were equal to or greater than those receiving synthetic fertilizer (320–651 g/plant) and were generally greater than the control (324–532 g/plant). Tissue N levels were greatest in plants receiving synthetic fertilizer (4.6% to 4.7%) and lowest in the control (4.3% to 4.4%). A positive correlation was found between lab tissue N levels and nitrate sap analysis determination.

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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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Regulatory agencies are concerned about the high levels of P fertilizers used in some agricultural areas because of potential runoff to aquatic habitats. Farmers in Hawaii traditionally make blanket P applications even in soils high in P. Many farmers, especially those growing leafy crops, claim to observe responses to P, especially during the cooler winter months. A series of 15 field experiments were conducted over a 2-year period to evaluate the response of three mustard cabbage varieties to five P fertilizer rates across three locations in the state, and across several planting seasons. All experiments were conducted in soils with P levels that the University of Hawaii determined to be high in P. The experimental design for each experiment consisted of three commercial mustard cabbage varieties, and five P application rates (from 0 to 400 kg·ha-1 of TSP). Each plot consisted of a 3-m double-row, with plants spaced 15 cm within the row, and 30 cm between rows, with four replications per treatment. Each experiment thus consisted of 60 plots (three varietie × five P rate × four replications). After the initial P applications were made on each site, three consecutive crops were planted on the same site without making any additional P applications. Data collected included soil fertility prior to initiation and after experiment completion, tissue nutrient levels, plant height during crop establishment, and individual head weight of 20 plants per treatment. Our data show that even in soils with initial high levels of P, mustard cabbage responded to P applications, especially at high elevations and during the cooler months of the year. From this data we recommend that the University recalibrate its P fertilizer recommendations for leafy vegetable production in Hawaii.

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Home gardening is a popular year-round recreational activity in Hawaii that helps to increase community food security in suburban and rural communities where high levels of poverty and unemployment exist. Updated fertilizer recommendations and accurate information about the latest products allows home gardeners to improve crop growth, and to minimize nutrient imbalances in the soil, pest problems, and environmental risks from nutrient runoff or leaching. Two field experiments were conducted in Oahu, Hawaii, to evaluate several new products in the market for the production of two home-garden Chinese cabbage varieties. The treatments included Miracle Grow, a new Miracle Grow Plus formulation, Plant Power 2003 nutrient solution, a Maui Liquid Compost product, and a standard fertilizer control (150 kg·ha-1 N rate). Each treatment consisted of a 6-m long row with 30-cm plant spacing in the row. Each treatment was replicated four times in a completely randomized block design, for a total of 40 plots (two varieties × five treatments × four replications). Data collected included soil fertility before initiation and after experiment completion, tissue nutrient analysis, plant height collected twice during the growing cycle, and head weight and length measured at harvest time. The variety Pagoda was more responsive to fertilizer applications, showing an average of 30% yield increases between the best and poorest treatment, compared to 20% for `China Express'. Overall, the Miracle Grow formulations outperformed the other products. The tissue nutrient data showed tissue nutrient levels above those recommended by the Extension Service. The treatments with highest yield response also showed greater symptoms of “black heart” from possible boron deficiency.

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