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A Systems Approach to Optimize Organic Crop Production: Enhancing Soil Functionality and Plant Health to Suppress Plant Diseases and Pests


<OL> <LI> To improve crop production through a combination of sustainable practices promoting soil regeneration, reduction of disease pressure, and enhancement of plant growth; <LI> To better understand the individual and collective contributions and ecological processes occurring as a result of these sustainable practices; <LI> To evaluate the profitability of these systems.

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Non-Technical Summary: Organic crop production needs to be safe, effective, profitable and durable (sustainable) to be embraced by growers. This research includes some of the most promising strategies for a successful organic program, and is designed to provide critical information needed to accelerate adoption of sustainable pest management strategies that are safe and profitable. The purpose of this project is to understand the ecological processes occurring as a result of the proposed practices and their interacting components (when used in combination) for the development of effective pest management strategies. These strategies will improve yields, conserve the environment, enhance the farmers' knowledge of the agro-ecosystem, help them become stewards of the land on which they live, and provide safe and nutritious food to their fellow citizens. <P> Approach: The anticipated impacts attained by addressing the above goals are as follows: 1) Soil fertility and quality will be enhanced by the addition of organic matter as compost and cover crop residue, which will bring about an increase in soil biodiversity, improved water infiltration, improved water-holding capacity. 2) Suppression of soil-borne and, perhaps, foliar diseases will be achieved through competition, antibiosis, parasitism/predation, and induced systemic resistance brought about by increased soil biodiversity, introduction of biocontrol organisms, and composts. 3) Rapeseed cover crop-mediated biofumigation is expected to nullify the need for Metam-sodium as it suppresses soil-borne diseases. In addition, biofumigation, increases yields (by contributing biomass as a green manure), enhances soil microbial biomass, increases the bacteria:fungal ratios by enhancing the levels of aerobic bacteria (including Pseudomonas sp.), and nitrogen-fixing bacteria. 4) Suppression of the Colorado potato beetle and other insect pests will be through increasing plant resistance to herbivory by optimizing nutrient balance in affected plants, and increased beneficial insect populations, thus diminishing the need for synthetic insecticides. 5) Enhanced crop yields will be brought about by improved soil fertility and quality, and suppression of soil-borne diseases and insect pests, thus reducing the need for synthetic fertilizers.

Tavantzis, Stellos
University of Maine
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