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SUSTAINABLE FARMING

EDEN, in collaboration with Dr. Gordon Johnson, a fruit and vegetable specialist at the University of Delaware, will work to engage Delaware produce farmers in a program of research combined with education and outreach. Our focus is two-fold: education to promote a wider use of compost on fruit and vegetable crops; and statistical verification to contribute to a database developed by the parties for the chemical composition and volume of compost used per acre on Delaware crops with an agronomic plan.

The Sustainable-Farming Program:

This is a three-year program of collaboration between EDEN and the University of Delaware at the Carvel Center in Georgetown. The Sustainable Farming program examines the crop yield related to the application of organic material in the form of compost. The program design is a series of field strips with different crops, with different densities of soil supplement. The goals of the program will be to “track” how well the different crops do with a greater or lesser density of organic matter. The program objective will be to start with field strips of single crop, examine how the crop yield responds to the proper density of organic material. Once the optimal density of organic matter produces the desired crop yield, then the scientist will expand the program, planting more field strips with three or more crops, such as watermelon, lima beans, and strawberries.

By year two, the program proponents will apply for a USDA SARE grant or an NCRS grant. These grant programs have two common characteristics: a) their ability to bring farmers into workshops in exchange for nutrient management credits, and b) engaging farmers in learning about the benefits of organic matter on crop yield. The end goal will be to encourage more farmers to volunteer their fields for testing, and then teach this captive audience about the “soil supplement” characteristics of organic materials:

  • Compost retains moisture;
  • Compost reduces compaction;
  • Compost is generally successful and eliminating parasites and disease;
  • Compost applied over time reduces the need for inorganic fertilizer.

EDEN and the University of Delaware will implement educational programs for produce farmers who would utilize the compost products. Seminars and workshops will include overview of new practices, proposed benefit to yield, and cost analysis for crop benefits. Selected farmers will participate in on-site demonstrations and research with collaborative ongoing support from research team. Obstacles to overcome include farmers’ hesitation regarding changing habits of how high yield is attained. Financial incentives will be demonstrated by workshops, where volunteer farmers will report their experience with the economics of the cost of compost, versus the increased yield on specific crops.