Strip-till flue-cured tobacco production in Virginia
Brown, Emily Bruce
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Flue-cured tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L.) is an intensively cultivated crop that typically receives four to eight primary tillage passes before being transplanted on a raised row-ridge. Strip-tillage, a conservation tillage system that only requires tilling a small strip before transplanting, has been shown to be effective for tobacco producers in southside Virginia. The cost of fertilizer in recent years and the loss of applied nutrients has brought new attention to the impact of cover crops used in conservation tillage on the nitrogen fertilization of tobacco. A two-year study conducted at the Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center evaluated a strip-tillage production system on agronomic performance of flue-cured tobacco and evaluated the impact of cover crop management on soil nitrogen cycling and nitrogen uptake by plants. Treatments evaluated whether a wheat cover crop was broadcast or strip killed, topdressing a wheat cover crop with 0, 22, or 45 kg ha-1, and tobacco fertilization rates. Additional treatments included a soybean residue treatment, and a conventional tillage control. Topdressing wheat with nitrogen resulted in nitrogen being released late in the growing season. Whether a wheat cover crop was strip or broadcast killed had no effect on yield or cured leaf quality. Soybean residue did not provide adequate soil cover, but was shown to be a suitable ground cover option for tobacco production. Wheat not topdressed with nitrogen and tobacco receiving normal fertilization had adequate soil surface residue cover, good cured leaf quality, and yields that were comparable to those of conventional tillage.
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