• Environmental Quality

    Integrating Specialty Crops in Organic Culture on Delmarva

    NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Excessive amounts of poultry waste on the Delmarva Peninsula have prompted the need for its effective conversion and use. Composted poultry waste is often used as an organic fertilizer in the production of several crops because it has high nitrogen content, is inexpensive and can suppress soil borne pathogens. Current demands for specialty crops such as vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices have been increasing due to consumer preferences, the public outcry for healthy eating habits to help abate the national obesity crisis, desires for alternative sources of industrial products such as medicine and oil, and pressures to diversify crop production. Consequently, the need to determine optimum and safe practices for some of these crops under conditions such as organic culture, for which consumer demand is growing, has been created.

    Nationally, organic food sales have increased by about 20% per year since 1990. The population on the Delmarva Peninsula and neighboring metropolitan areas has been increasing rapidly due to the influx of many immigrant groups and booming recreational areas such as Ocean City and surrounding communities. These groups include people of Hispanic and Caribbean descent as well as various others from Africa, Asia, and Europe, each having a preference for crops from their native countries. Several alternative crops are imported and along with limited quantities of organic produce can be found in the produce section of grocery stores.

    Limited amounts of organic specialty crops are grown in the Delmarva region because few producers have organically certified farms, a process which takes at least three years. The concomitant availability of vast amounts of poultry compost and the need for organic specialty crops present an opportunity for testing the production of these crops in compost and other organic media, such as green manure vegetation and yard waste. However, because of the high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in some of these media, the potential for heavy metal content, and the possibility of carrying microorganisms that are pathogenic to humans, it is highly desirable that the persistence of these environmental and biological constraints be determined. Therefore, this project seeks to study various organic practices for the safe production of selected specialty crops on the Delmarva Peninsula.

    Expected outcomes/impacts are: new knowledge for stakeholders about Delmarva's public perception of organic agriculture and related food safety; use of a new certified organic site on UMES' experiment station; new knowledge for stakeholders on the safety of spinach, tomato and, tatsoi grown in poultry amended composts; new knowledge for producers on the value of beneficial organisms in the organic production of spinach, tomato, and tatsoi; and new knowledge for producers on the production of ginger in the field in a temperate location.

    FUNDING:  Evans-Allen Research Program

    CONTACT: Dr. Lurline Marsh, Professor, Department of Agriculture, Food and Resource Sciences, lemarsh@umes.edu