April 21, 2013

Ways to enhance vegetable production sought

PLATTSBURGH — With funding from the farmer-driven Northern New York Agricultural Development Program, Cornell University researchers are evaluating two methods to enhance fresh-market vegetable production in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties.

One method involves testing for nutrient levels throughout the growing season; the other is fertigation — the delivery of vital nutrients to crops through drip irrigation systems.

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Project leaders say growers who use pre-season soil testing in combination with regular foliar testing (measuring nutrients in plant leaf tissue) throughout the growing season have the opportunity to correct deficiencies before crop yield and quality is damaged.

“A tomato can look perfectly fine, but when you cut into it at harvest you discover the unseen problem that using foliar testing would have alerted you to in time to take corrective measures,” said Cornell Horticultural Sciences professor Dr. Stephen Reiners.

Reiners and Cornell Cooperative Extension Clinton County Executive Director and Horticulture Educator Amy Ivy worked with Cornell University Willsboro Research Farm Manager Dr. Michael H. Davis on the research trials planted with tomatoes and peppers in the 30-by-96-foot-high tunnels at the farm in Willsboro.

“Although early season soil test results indicated sufficient nutrients, without regular foliar testing, one Northern New York grower was not able to see that a deficiency was developing in his tomato plants until the fruit was damaged. He suffered a heartbreaking loss of a large part of his tomato crop to interior white-wall disorder caused by potassium deficiency. A foliar test late in the season confirmed the lack of potassium, but it was too late to save the crop,” Ivy explained.

“Foliar testing is an insurance policy against crop loss,” she added.

“The use of foliar testing here showed the need to increase our nutrient application rate and suggested that an even more aggressive fertigation approach would have benefitted the plants,” said Davis, who managed the research trials on a daily basis at the Willsboro farm. “The leaf tissue testing highlighted how essential it is to regularly sample plant nutrient status and to adjust management practices accordingly to optimize crop yields.”

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