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Field Management Effects on Damping-Off and Early Season Vigor of Crops in a Transitional Organic Cropping System

May 2008 , Volume 98 , Number  5
Pages  562 - 570

Fulya Baysal, Maria-Soledad Benitez, Matthew D. Kleinhenz, Sally A. Miller, and Brian B. McSpadden Gardener

First, second, fourth, and fifth authors: Department of Plant Pathology, and third author: Department of Horticulture and Crop Sciences, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, The Ohio State University, 1680 Madison Ave, Wooster 44691.

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Accepted for publication 14 January 2008.

Transitioning farmland to certified organic vegetable production can take many paths, each varying in their costs and benefits. Here, the effects of four organic transition strategies (i.e., tilled fallowing, mixed-species hay, low-intensity vegetables, and intensive vegetable production under high tunnels), each with and without annual compost applications for 3 years prior to assessment, were characterized. Although transition cropping strategies differed in soil chemistry (P < 0.05), the magnitude of the changes typically were marginal and pairwise comparisons were rarely significant. In contrast, the compost amendment had a much greater impact on soil chemistry regardless of cropping strategy. For example, percent C and total P increased by 2- to 5-fold and K increased from 6- to 12-fold. Under controlled conditions, damping-off of both edamame soybean (cv. Sayamusume) and tomato (cv. Tiny Tim) was reduced from 2 to 30% in soils from the mixed-hay transition. In the field, damping-off of both crops was also significantly lower in plots previously cropped to hay (P < 0.05). Although not always significant (P < 0.05), this pattern of suppression was observed in all four of the soybean experiments and three of the four tomato experiments independent of compost application. The compost amendments alone did not consistently suppress damping-off. However, plant height, fresh weight, and leaf area index of the surviving seedlings of both crops were greater in the compost-amended soils regardless of the transitional cropping treatment used (P < 0.05 for most comparisons). These data indicate that mixed-hay cropping during the transition periods can enhance soil suppressiveness to damping-off. In addition, although compost amendments applied during transition can improve crop vigor by significantly enhancing soil fertility, their effects on soilborne diseases are not yet predictable when transitioning to certified organic production.

Additional keywords:soilborne disease suppression, transition treatment.

© 2008 The American Phytopathological Society