Balancing fertility management and economics in organic field vegetable rotations

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    BACKGROUND: Organic field-scale vegetables are among the most profitable enterprises in organic farming systems. They are also some of the most nutrient-demanding crops, and many organic arable systems with field-scale vegetables are stockless. Without livestock manure inputs, nutrient supply depends on fertility-building crops, which generate only costs and no income. Different strategies of fertility management were compared on a central England research farm. Fertility management treatments consisted of different lengths of fertility building with green waste compost additions. Outputs and inputs in terms of nutrients and economics were monitored for 31 rotations during 1996-2002. RESULTS: N, P and K rotational nutrient balances, as well as C inputs, showed a negative relationship with rotational gross margins. Variable and allocated fixed costs of fertility building were low, between 2 and 5% of variable costs (£0.5-2 ha-1 for 1 kg N ha-1 supplied to the rotation). The intensity of vegetable cropping in these rotations was moderate (25-40% vegetable crops in the rotation) and balancing of fertility management and economics was possible at this intensity without livestock manure or other permitted fertiliser additions. CONCLUSION: Completely stockless systems (in analogy may be called vegan) are possible in organic vegetable production without compromising on fertility or economics. However, for a higher vegetable-cropping intensity (up to 90%) a more sophisticated mix of short-term fertility-building and N-trapping crops will be needed and such rotations may require further external addition of green waste or livestock manure.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2791-2793
    Number of pages3
    JournalJournal of the Science of Food and Agriculture
    Issue number15
    Early online date9 Nov 2007
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2007

    Bibliographical note

    This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Schmutz, U, Rayns, F & Firth, C 2007, 'Balancing fertility management and economics in organic field vegetable rotations' Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, vol. 87, no. 15, pp. 2791-2793., which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.

    Copyright © and Moral Rights are retained by the author(s) and/ or other copyright owners. A copy can be downloaded for personal non-commercial research or study, without prior permission or charge. This item cannot be reproduced or quoted extensively from without first obtaining permission in writing from the copyright holder(s). The content must not be changed in any way or sold commercially in any format or medium without the formal permission of the copyright holders.


    • Fertility building
    • Fertility costs
    • Nutrient balances
    • Nutrient management
    • Organic vegetables
    • Rotational gross margin
    • Rotations

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
    • Food Science
    • Chemistry (miscellaneous)


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