New Iowa State Lab Looks at Sustainable Vegetable Production

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Posted: Monday, August 26, 2013 8:51 pm | Updated: 3:58 pm, Mon May 12, 2014.

AMES, Iowa -- Increased demand for locally grown fruit and vegetables has attracted many new growers in Iowa. Ajay Nair, a vegetable production specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, is sharing information to help them adopt sustainable production practices to improve their bottom line as well as the environment.

A new website highlights the results of Nair’s research over the past two years in the ISU Department of Horticulture. In partnership with the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and ISU Extension and Outreach, Nair has explored the use of soil amendments such as compost and biochar, various ways to extend the growing season including high tunnels and colored plastic mulch, cover cropping systems and transplant production.

“I see an increasing number of growers who are interested in practices that will make their production systems resilient, strong and ecologically sound,” said Nair. “But knowing what will work best in Iowa, given our climate, soils and growing season, is critical. This research can create opportunities for growers to lower their input costs, improve crop and soil health and influence cropping system efficiency.”

Nair’s program emphasizes strategies that enhance vegetable production and cropping system sustainability by building soil organic matter and improving soil quality. His broad research topics include transplant production, season extension, cover cropping, plasticulture, biochar, soil biology, nutrient management and food quality aspects.

One project for beginning growers looked at the ease of producing radishes in a greenhouse or high tunnel. Another project considered strategies for producing sweet potatoes, popular vegetables that have been grown with limited success in Iowa due to the need for a long, frost-free growing season.

Currently, Nair works with a team of graduate and undergraduate students to conduct projects at several Iowa State research farms and on private property of farmer-cooperators. He also works with the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service.

SOURCE: Leopold Center for Sustainable Agricutlure

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