Author Topic: Cover Crops Can Help Improve Sweet Potato Production  (Read 1177 times)

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Cover Crops Can Help Improve Sweet Potato Production
« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2014, 05:28:55 AM »
Cover Crops Can Help Improve Sweet Potato Production
By Candace Pollock
SSARE PR Coordinator

Incorporating winter cover crops in sweet potato
production may save farmers input costs, as well as improve soil fertility,
increase land use efficiency, and help control insects.

Ramon Arancibia, a horticulturist with the North Mississippi Research and
Extension Center at Mississippi State University, received a Southern
Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SSARE) grant to study winter
cover crops as a low-cost, environmentally friendly practice for farmers
interested in sustainable agriculture or who are looking for an alternative
to conventional production.

Arancibia collaborated with University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff to work with
farmers in Mississippi and Arkansas for on-farm trials.

The idea behind the project was to promote stewardship in the production
system, and to find ways to reduce costs associated with land preparation,
fertilization and insect control, said Arancibia. Among the main problems
expressed by sweet potato farmers in Mississippi are the lack of effective
methods to control soil insects and nematodes, and high production costs,
specifically labor costs. The issues for Arkansas farmers were similar, and
they expressed a lack of resources on sweet potato production technologies
that are adapted to their needs.

In the SSARE Research & Education grant, Developing Low-Cost Sustainable
Sweet Potato Production Strategies to Facilitate Adoption in the Mid-South,”
selected winter cover crops along with a control fallow treatment were
evaluated for three years on their effect on summer sweet potato production
both in a conventional and no-till system. The cover crops were selected
based on their potential advantages in suppressing nematodes and weeds,
attracting beneficial insects and on their role as a source of nitrogen. The
crops chosen included wheat, ryegrass, crimson clover, hairy vetch, mustard,
and radish.

Legumes planted in early September resulted in biomass production of 4-6
tons per acre compared to a later November planting, which resulted in 1-2
tons per acre. Legumes, radish and rape produced consistently more biomass
than the weedy fallow, said Arancibia. Legumes and radish were the best
biomass producers. This is useful information for sustainability of sweet
potato since it requires 40 to 60 pounds/acre of nitrogen and legume cover
crops may provide 60 to 150 pounds/acre of nitrogen depending on biomass

The radish cover crop performed the best at suppressing nematodes and insect
pests, in addition to loosening the soil. Loose soil, said Arancibia, is
required for proper and marketable sweet potato root shape.

While yield measurement wasn't a specific goal of the study, Arancibia found
that, overall, sweet potato production following a winter cover crop
produced comparable yields in both a conventional and no-till system
compared to fallow treatment. In some cases, yields were higher.

Our results suggest that cover crops and conservational tillage may help in
soil conservation and improvement, and in reducing production costs without
sacrificing yield, said Arancibia.

The most successful aspect of the grant project was farmer adoption of cover
crop systems as a result of the farmers involvement in the study. Many of
the growers involved in the study found that cover crops improve soil
quality and suppress insect populations.

Arkansas grower Stephan Walker discovered that sweet potatoes yielded well
behind a cover crop, insect populations were very low, and fewer nutrients
were required after a cover crop.

As a participant in the cover crop project, I feel that valuable
information was gathered, said Walker.I recommend that these types of
demonstrations be done again, whenever the opportunity arises.

Arancibia said that studies on cover crops will continue, including how
cover crops affect the incidence of soil-borne diseases and how cover crops
change biology to improve soil health.

Additional project collaborators include William Burdine, MSU Extension
agronomist; Fred Musser, MSU assistant professor; Mark Shankle, MSU
associate research professor; and Obadiah Njue, University of Arkansas-Pine
Bluff Extension horticulture specialist.

For more information on the SSARE-funded project, visit the national SARE
database and search by project number LS09-215

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