Sweetpotatoes, Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam. (Convolvulaceae), are typically grown on bare soil where weeds and erosion can be serious problems. Conservation tillage systems using cover crop residues as mulch can help reduce these problems, but little is known about how conservation tillage affects yield and quality of sweetpotato or how these systems impact populations of beneficial and pest insects. Therefore, field experiments were conducted at the U.S. Vegetable Laboratory, Charleston, SC, in 2002–2004 to evaluate production of sweetpotatoes in conventional tillage versus a conservation tillage system by using an oat (Avena sativa L. (Poaceae)–crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum L.) (Fabaceae) killed-cover crop (KCC) mulch. The four main treatments were 1) conventional tillage, hand-weeded; 2) KCC, hand-weeded; 3) conventional tillage, weedy; and 4) KCC, weedy. Each main plot was divided into three subplots, whose treatments were sweetpotato genotypes: ‘Ruddy’, which is resistant to soil insect pests; and ‘SC1149-19′ and ‘Beauregard’, which are susceptible to soil insect pests. For both the KCC and conventional tillage systems, sweetpotato yields were higher in plots that received hand weeding than in weedy plots. Orthogonal contrasts revealed a significant effect of tillage treatment (conventional tillage versus KCC) on yield in two of the 3 yr. Ruddy remained resistant to injury by soil insect pests in both cropping systems; and it consistently had significantly higher percentages of clean roots and less damage by wireworm-Diabrotica-Systena complex, sweetpotato flea beetles, grubs, and sweetpotato weevils than the two susceptible genotypes. In general, injury to sweetpotato roots by soil insect pests was not significantly higher in the KCC plots than in the conventionally tilled plots. Also, more fire ants, rove beetles, and carabid beetle were captured by pitfall traps in the KCC plots than in the conventional tillage plots during at least 1 yr of the study. This study suggests that a sweetpotatoes can be successfully grown under a killed-cover crop production system.
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Vol. 101 • No. 6