Our lab focuses on developing strategies that enhance crop production, soil health, and cropping system profitability in vegetable cropping systems in Iowa. One of the key research area is the use of cover crops in building soil organic matter and improving soil quality. Our lab is studying various summer and winter cover crops and their impact on soil properties and subsequent vegetable crops. Our primary emphasis is to help growers understand uses of cover crops and how they can effectively fit in their crop rotations. Our lab closely works with growers and is involved in many on-farm grower collaborator trials focusing on cover crops. In addition to cover crops we focus on how soil amendments, such as compost and biochar, affect long-term sustainability of our soils. Research is needed to better understand the use of biochar and its effects on crop growth, yield and soil properties.
Our lab is also conducting experiments on high tunnel production. High tunnels are simple, plastic-covered, greenhouse-like structures that are passively ventilated and heated and the crops are grown directly in the soil. Over the last 4-5 years, an increasing number of fruit, vegetable, and flower growers have added high tunnels or are considering adding them to their farming operation to extend the season in the spring and fall. High tunnels have become an important tool for Iowa’s specialty crop producers to extend the growing season, increase production of quality crops, and increase profitability. The environment without rainfall, limited space, and potential climate control in a high tunnel calls for unique set of crop management skills and serious attention towards management of soils.
Nutrient management, both in high tunnels and in field production, is a key area of our research program. Our lab constantly strives to provide growers with new and relevant information on vegetable production by organizing workshops, field days, and engaging with industry partners and grower organizations. In order to disseminate our research results and educate vegetable growers we collaborate with Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, Practical Farmers of Iowa, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and Natural Resources Conservation Services .The primary aim of our lab is to help and support vegetable growers and the vegetable industry in Iowa through our research, teaching, and extension activities.