In 2016, Rodale Institute initiated the Vegetable Systems Trial (VST), a long-term side-by-side comparison of biologically-based organic and chemically-based conventional vegetable production systems.The goal for this project is to develop economically viable vegetable production systems which improve soil, plant, human and planetary health through the application of regenerative organic management techniques.
The Farming Systems Trial at Rodale Institute, a side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional grain production, now in its 37th year, has begun to analyze nutrient densities (concentrations of minerals, vitamins, and proteins) in oat grain produced in all systems. The Vegetable Systems Trial, similarly designed, will provide irrefutable data demonstrating the superior nutritive quality of organically grown produce and investigate the human health benefits of eating an organic diet.
The specific crops grown in the trial will be: Potato, Butternut Squash, Lettuce, Green Beans, and Sweet Corn.The systems are designed to replicate labor intensive production that includes tillage and the use of black plastic mulch, and lower labor, mechanized production that integrates reduced tillage technology.
Early this May, potatoes were planted in the newly initiated trial. Winter squash and snap beans will be planted in mid-May and next sweet corn will be planted right after Memorial Day.
The treatments are further split between tilled, plastic mulch plots and reduced tillage plots. The plastic mulch plots were tilled with a moldboard plow that fully inverts the soil to bury the sod and cover crop so they do not interfere with plastic mulch. This plowing method has been proven beneficial in organic production since it buries weed seeds and reduces mid-season weed pressure. Reduced tillage plots were chisel plowed, a form of plowing that reduces compaction and allows cover crop residue to remain on the soil surface before plots are prepared for planting. Prior to planting, organic plots received an organic fertilizer blend and the conventional plots received applications of urea and potassium chloride. Additional fertilizer will be applied through drip irrigation lines.
Herbicides have been applied to conventional reduced till plots. In the organic reduced till plots we are waiting for the rye-hairy vetch cover crop to reach the critical stage before rolling and crimping to create a weed barrier before planting butternut squash and green beans.