The use of tarps on small farms in the North East is the subject of a new extension publication
ORONO – A new publication of the cooperative extension of the University of Maine, “Tarping in the Northeast: A Guide for Small Farms,” provides the latest information on an emerging practice of tarping – applying reusable tarps to the soil surface between crops, then removing them before planting – for weed management. grasses and soil. Aimed at both new and experienced farmers, and based on research and farmer experience, the guide highlights successful tarping practices, as well as situations to avoid.
Topics include basic information on how and why tarps work in the field; a range of management practices, from weed seed depletion to reduced tillage; and case studies of six farmers currently using tarps.
This guide is the result of a working group project on tarping and soil solarization initiated by Sonja Birthisel, researcher at UMaine and director of the Wilson Center, who did her thesis on the ecological management of weeds, including the effects of tarping and solarization on weed dynamics.
Along with colleagues, she successfully applied for a working group grant through the Northeast IPM Center at Cornell University to gather resources, identify knowledge gaps, and discuss future research. Birthisel also formed a task force made up of extension professionals, farmers who were expanding their use of tarping, and researchers from six northeastern states who were investigating aspects of tarping.
“My goal in forming this working group was simply to establish lines of communication, so we could coordinate research and outreach in the North East, and make sure we’re not all reinventing the same wheel. I was really excited to put together a team of people with different types of expertise – farmers, extension staff and researchers with expertise in various fields, from weed management to entomology to soil microbiology – so that we can take a really comprehensive look at tarping practices from multiple perspectives and all learn together,” says Birthisel.
The guide was produced over 18 months, under the direction of Natalie Lounsbury, postdoctoral research associate at the University of New Hampshire’s Laboratory of Agroecology, then graduate student; Jason Lilley, Sustainable Agriculture Professional, UMaine Extension; Ryan Maher, Cornell Small Farm Program Extension Specialist; and Birthisel.
“This research group has worked with farmers who have pioneered the use of tarps to improve their vegetable production systems and soil health. The guide includes the practical setbacks and successes of these farmers, as well as research-based data to highlight both why this system works and how to make it work. Farmers who are new to the practice will be able to leverage this resource to ensure increased success sooner,” says Lilley.
This publication was supported in part by the Northeast IPM Center through National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Grant #2018-70006-28882, Crop Protection and Pest Management, Regional Coordination Program. Additional funding was provided through Northeast SARE Project LNE18-371, Northeast SARE Project LNE19-382, USDA NIFA OREI 2014-51300-22244, USDA NIFA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (Niles, 2018-68006-28098), USDA NIFA Hatch Projects 100682. , 1004501 and 1013971, and the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station.