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Soil Health

CVP Soil Health

Excess rains and droughts of the past decade pointed out the poor health and productivity of soils on many local vegetable farms. Coupled with high fuel prices and high fertilizer prices, growers have been eager to improve their soil management efforts. Reduced tillage leads to less fuel use and legume cover crops allow the farmer to grow nitrogen fertilizer, reducing their need for conventional fertilizer and the fuel and labor to apply it.

The Cornell Soil Health Test can be used to determine your field's soil management for percentage of water-stable aggregates. A soil with low % water-stable aggregates has  poor crop emergence, more crusting, more runoff, reduced root growth, increased root diseases, and fewer beneficial microbes to cycle soil nutrients.

Vegetable farms using conventional tillage and few cover crops had an average of just 18% water-stable aggregates, while farms using reduced tillage or extensive cover cropping averaged 36-39%. Innovative growers are now beginning to adopt both strategies to improve soils even more.

In addition, the Cornell Vegetable Program is working with a number of conventional and organic vegetable growers on increasing the use of a wide range of cover crops to fill open niches in rotations to improve soil health and grow nitrogen.






Video: Winter Cover Cropping in High Tunnels -- March 2021 Update

Judson Reid, Extension Vegetable Specialist
Cornell Vegetable Program

Last Modified: March 16, 2021

To meet the year-round demand for locally produced food, vegetable farmers have embraced protected agriculture to extend their growing season, improve yields, and enhance crop quality. However, a statewide survey found that after several growing seasons, farmers struggle to maintain productivity due to challenges in long term soil health and fertility management. Cornell Cooperative Extension is exploring practices that high tunnel growers can adopt to better manage soil fertility and improve soil health. 

One practice is including winter cover crops in rotations as a way to scavenge leftover nitrogen and/or fix nitrogen. In turn, this could lead to less fertilizer use and result in higher crop health, yield, quality, and profitability. As part of this work, we are investigating suitable cover crop species, seeding dates, and seeding rates. This video highlights this project's goals and preliminary updates as of March 2021.


How to Take a Soil Sample

Amy Ivy, Vegetable Specialist
Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture

Last Modified: January 14, 2019
How to Take a Soil Sample

Soil sampling is an important part of managing your crops, but it's important to do it correctly. In this video, ENYCHP vegetable specialist Amy Ivy demonstrates how to take a soil sample.


High Tunnel Best Management Practices for Long Term Soil Health and Fertility

Judson Reid, Extension Vegetable Specialist
Cornell Vegetable Program

Last Modified: March 19, 2018
High Tunnel Best Management Practices for Long Term Soil Health and Fertility

These best management practices were selected by experienced high tunnel growers and extension staff as a result of a four year project tracking economic, soil and irrigation water data from high tunnels across New York State. They can be used remedially, or implemented in a new high tunnel system.

Adding Cover Crops to Your Farm? Consider the Herbicide Rotation Restrictions

Darcy Telenko, Extension Vegetable Specialist
Cornell Vegetable Program

Last Modified: December 19, 2016
Adding Cover Crops to Your Farm? Consider the Herbicide Rotation Restrictions

One challenge to adding cover crops to your vegetable production system is that herbicides with residual activity may interfere with cover crop establishment and growth. Residual herbicides are a key management tool in vegetable production, especially for management of difficult weeds and their potential to help control herbicide-resistant weeds. Here are some questions to consider when utilizing a cover crop and how well it will work with your herbicide program.

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers Website

Carol MacNeil, Extension Vegetable Specialist
Cornell Vegetable Program

Last Modified: August 17, 2015
Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers Website

This website enables growers to use a broader range of cover crops to improve soil health in many ways. Cover crop descriptions, seeding, seed sources, cost and management challenges are included.




Soil Health Grant Offers Cover Crop Evaluations and the Cornell Soil Health Test

Carol MacNeil, Extension Vegetable Specialist
Cornell Vegetable Program

Last Modified: December 22, 2014

The Cornell Vegetable Program just received a two year grant to work with vegetable, potato and dry bean growers in the Cornell Vegetable Program Region to increase or diversify their cover cropping, and/or to reduce tillage. For cooperating growers soil sampling, soil testing, and interpretation for the Cornell Soil Health Test (CSHT) will be free. Evaluation of biomass, weed growth, nitrogen produced, crop response, etc. can be done for new cover crop plantings being tried. Reduced/zone-tilled crops planted side by side with conventional crops can also be evaluated. Field days are part of this grant, as is assistance for grower discussion groups/grower-to-grower networking.

More money than ever is available as an incentive for adoption of good soil health practices!

SARE Cover Crop Topic Room: Current Research from Across the Nation

Carol MacNeil, Extension Vegetable Specialist
Cornell Vegetable Program

Last Modified: June 7, 2013
SARE Cover Crop Topic Room: Current Research from Across the Nation

A section of the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) website, the cover crop topic room provides educational materials developed from cover crop research. Topics include selection and management, economics, establishment, rotations, soil and fertility management, water management, pest management, and no-till.

Making the Most of Cover Crop Mixtures

Last Modified: April 22, 2013
Making the Most of Cover Crop Mixtures

Cover crops are an important tool that farmers can use to generate benefits and services on the farm and for society, including improved soil health, nutrient supply to cash crops, weed suppression, insect pest management, forage production, pollinator resources, and clean water and air. There are many different cover crop species to choose from, and each cover crop species has different abilities to provide the services described above. Planting a mixture of cover crop species is one strategy that can be used to enhance and diversify the benefits that a cover crop provides. This article will describe some of the basic concepts to consider when planning a cover crop mixture, such as meeting different farm management objectives, selecting complementary species, and methods for establishing cover crop mixtures.

Preventing Muck Soil Erosion by Reducing Tillage in Onion Production

Christy Hoepting, Extension Vegetable Specialist
Cornell Vegetable Program

Last Modified: January 7, 2013
Preventing Muck Soil Erosion by Reducing Tillage in Onion Production

The problem with using conventional tillage practices for onion production on muck soils is that it results in the subsidence of muck via wind and water erosion and oxidation of organic matter at a rate of one foot every 10 years, which is not sustainable for preserving these non-renewable natural  resources for long-term productivity. Onions are one of the most valuable vegetable crops produced in New York State with the majority of the 13,000 acres being grown on muck soil. Producing onions using conventional tillage practices results in degradation of soil health and increased subsidence.


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Eastern Broccoli Market Opportunity Assessment

Is there an opportunity for New York growers and marketers to invest in broccoli production and distribution as a way to diversify and strengthen their businesses, while adding jobs, dollars, and resilience to the economy and rural communities?

The Eastern Broccoli Market Opportunity Assessment for New York State sought to answer this very question. The study was made possible by the initiative of three partner organizations: Hudson Valley AgriBusiness Development Corporation, Red Tomato, and the Eastern Broccoli Project, with funding provided by Empire State Development.