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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Cover crop and mulch practices reduce agricultural pollutant loads in stormwater runoff from plastic tunnels


Macrotunnel production systems contribute over $1 billion to California's economy, but despite increased use, guidance to help macrotunnel growers limit agricultural pollutant loads in rainfall-induced runoff is sparse. Using raspberry as a model crop, we evaluated four runoff management practices during two rainy seasons of the normal 3-year raspberry production cycle: barley cover crop seeded at 500 pounds per acre, weed barrier fabric, yard waste mulch spread 2 to 3 inches thick, and polyacrylamide (PAM). Treatments were applied to 300-foot-by-6-foot-wide post rows. Barley cover crop and mulch reduced combined nitrate and nitrite nitrogen in runoff by 21% to 48% at some runoff events and reduced nitrate nitrogen in soil and leachate to groundwater by 52% to 90%. All treatments reduced turbidity and phosphorus levels in runoff and had 75% to 97% less sediment accumulation compared with bare soil. Additionally, all treatments except PAM reduced weed densities by 48% to 87% compared with bare ground, which reduced the costs of weed management. Barley cover crop had the lowest estimated costs (~$60.00 per tunnel period), while PAM and mulch were highest (~$193.00 per tunnel period).

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