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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Cover crops prove effective at increasing soil nitrogen for organic potato production


Many farms in northeast California are experimenting with organic production to take advantage of price premiums and niche markets. A common challenge in organic farming is finding dependable nitrogen sources to meet the needs of vegetable and grass crops, especially in fields with low soil nitrogen. This study assessed the use of cover crops and organic amendments for increasing soil nitrogen for potato production at the Intermountain Research and Extension Center in Tulelake. Researchers evaluated several cover crop species, three planting dates and multiple cover crop mixes. Amendments included composts, manures, bloodmeal and soymeal. The data collected in the study included total nitrogen from cover crops and amendments, plant-available nitrogen in the soil, potato petiole nitrate and crop yield and quality. Vetches and field peas, managed as green manure, were successful at satisfying potatoes' in-season nitrogen demand. These cover crops, grown alone or in mixes with non-legume species, produced potato crops whose yield and quality were similar to crops grown with conventional fertilizers. The cover crops' influence on potato pest pressure was neutral. Chicken manure was the most cost-effective amendment for satisfying potatoes' in-season nitrogen demand.

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