Mission Statement and Project Aims
The 2010 4th Annual Stinner Summit, an event promoting sustainable agriculture and communities, resulted in the selection of a proposal entitled "The Poly-Farming Project." The premise of this project is the diversification of a corn farmer's field. In an experimental plot, corn will be planted in strips, between which other vegetables will be cultivated by a specialty crop farmer. This increase in crop diversity may create ecological benefits: by diversifying the field, structural and animal diversity will increase. This may also produce economic opportunities for local farmers, as the manner of developing the land should positively impact the net productivity of the field and thus propagate economic benefits. Overall, it will increase interactions between the two farmers, providing learning opportunities for both.
In addition to the progression and development of the poly-farming project, several other research opportunities will be pursued in this field. Many of these additional investigations will establish preliminary data and observations for future studies. Currently, there are five such investigations taking place: the production and evaluation of three edamame (edible fresh green soybean) cultivars in muck soil; the contribution of herbicide weed control in edamame; soil management and the spatial distribution of beneficial soil invertebrates; sunlight portals to measure the increase in corn yield from increased planting density and light availability at the edges of strips; and the economic investment, risk and gain from the this diversified production system. Future integration of pasture poultry production into the system has been discussed as well.
Production and Evaluation of Three Edamame Cultivars:
Three different edamame cultivars have been planted in one of the ten strips in the strip-intercropping system (the diversified plot). These are BeSweet 292, BeSweet 2001, and BeSweet 2015. Their relative growth, yield and edamame quality will be evaluated, providing unique observations in muck, high organic matter, soils.
Contribution of Herbicide Weed-Control on Edamame:
The analysis of BeSweet 292, BeSweet 2001, and BeSweet 2015 will further help establish the effects that herbicide has on the different cultivars of edamame and weed control. The northernmost 100+' feet were sprayed with Dual Magnum, the rest of the strip was left unsprayed.
Soil Management and Spatial Distribution of Beneficial Soil Invertebrates:
Entomopathogenic nematodes can be very beneficial as both nutrient cyclers and biological controls for insect pests. Encouraging their populations could decrease the need for fertilizers and other chemical applications to the soil, such as herbicides and pesticides. In this investigation, the presence of entomopathogenic nematodes as well as their maintenance in a diversified field will be studied.
Generally, mono-crop cornfields are planted as continuous rows of corn on a farmer's land, uninterrupted by any other plants. An alternative, however, is to plant the corn in strips with a shorter crop between the corn strips. The exposure to light on an increased number of edge rows positively impacts the corn yields; however, not all farmers are convinced that planting fewer rows of corn will give enough of a boost in yield to be worth their while. Sunlight portals are a simple means for farmers to test that yield increase in their own fields. Small areas of corn in a mono-crop cornfield are removed early in the season. This increases the edge rows, light interception, and air movement in small areas within the field, while not drastically reducing the amount of corn planted. At harvest, the increased yield at the edges of the portal can be used to calculate what the farmer would have achieved by using strips throughout the field. Ultimately, if the per acre yield is increased enough by leaving more edges within the field, skeptical farmers may be convinced to plant in strips.
Crop diversification in a field must demonstrate cost-effectiveness to farmers. To estimate the economic benefits possible from adopting the diversified farming methods under investigation, an economic analysis will be conducted. The economic analysis will consider the production budget of the diversified plot as compared to that of a continuous, monoculture corn field, the risk factors for both farmers involved in the production scheme, and transport-related costs for the fruit and vegetable crops produced. Improvements to local food supply chains will also be investigated through produce sent to the Local Roots Market, located in Wooster, Ohio.