A farmer from Carroll County noted that there were still 26″ of snow on the ground at his farm, but he still made the trek from Carroll County on Feb. 15 to the Maryland Organic Food & Farming Association’s Winter Meeting. Throughout the day, the skies spit snow and a mist. Still, many organic farmers and their supporters gathered to learn the latest in organic research, food handling and food policy.
Dr. Shirley Micallef led off the research presentations. She gave an update on Good Agricultural Practice (GAP) research on microbials in tomato and leafy greens production in the Mid-Atlantic. She and her team have studied produce from 24 tomato farms and 32 leafy greens farms in the Mid-Atlantic region. Her team collected 999 samples and considered the impact of various cropping practices on the levels of harmful microbial activity. Some of the preliminary conclusions:
-No difference in microbial activity between the farming systems- organic or conventional though there were lower levels of e.coli on organic than conventional.
-Tomatoes touching the ground had the highest coliform counts.
-No greater presence of harmful microbes at post-harvest.
Dr. Amanda Buchanan reported on the results of her team’s study using cover crops for pest
suppression in crookneck squash. I reported on this following my attendance at the Organic Vegetable Twilight Tour last summer. Having more time to compile the results, Amanda has drawn further conclusions and recommendations:
-Crimson clover is effective for weed suppression, soil nutrients, plant growth and yield.
-Barley is potentially effective for pests and beneficials.
-Grass + legume cover crops can complement each other.
-Sufficient cover crop biomass is important for crop yield.
For those considering the use of cover crops in organic vegetable productions, Dr. Guihua Chen‘s presentation should be of interest. The team she worked with investigated the influences of different tillage systems for organic vegetable production on soil moisture and temperature, soil mineral nitrogen dynamics, weed suppression, crop establishment and growth, and crop yield and quality. Their study was also conducted at the Upper Marlboro Experimental Station in fine loamy Annapolis series soils and using mixed cover crops planted in mid-September 2012. They compared four ground treatments: Bare ground, black plastic, no-till and strip till and compared these in the production of sweet corn and squash. My simple summary doesn’t begin to highlight all the great graphs and analysis, but here it is:
–Bare ground had moderate to high N mineralization, not efficient weed suppression, good plant establishment, moderate plant growth, high to moderate marketable yield, high insect damage, and high N2O -N emission.
–Black Plastic had high N mineralization, better weed suppression, moderate plant establishment, better plant growth, moderate marketable yield, high insect damage, and high N2O -N emission.
–No-Till had low N mineralization, best weed suppression, moderate to low plant establishment, moderate to low plant growth, moderate marketable yield, least insect damage, and least N2O -N emission.
–Strip Till had moderate N mineralization, better weed suppression, good to moderate plant establishment, best plant growth, high marketable yield, moderate insect damage, and moderate N2O -N emission.
For me, Strip Till was the winner, but I realize that means getting your crop in the ground a little later.
Too much was covered to present in a blog. Of course, one of the many highlights of the day was the potluck lunch. If you didn’t attend, you missed my local organic wheat bread (flour from Next Step Produce) and local organic sweet potato spread (sweet potatoes from Sassafras Creek Farm.) After all, great healthy food is an objective of MOFFA and the proof is in the pudding. . .and bread! Great meal, great discussions and a great way to spend a snowy February day.