Diversification research of small and medium sized farms at Mellinger Farm is currently being run by the Agroecosystems Management Program at OARDC. Designed experiments at relatively small scales are needed to put sound figures on the expected returns and costs of ecosystem services on diversified and diversifying farms. This research replicates relatively common diversification scenarios on a University experimental farm to measure the associated costs and returns, in terms of new marketable production, reduced input costs that are replaced by new ecosystems services, and new costs of production. The goal is to create a controlled environment that includes each of these (replicated) elements and in which capital requirements and ecosystem service returns can be carefully quantified and documented with replication.
Four replicates of seven plot treatments are currently installed west of the farmstead at Mellinger farm. Three years of pasture are in rotation with hulless oats and an oilseed crop (which was sunflowers in 2016 but may rotate to camelina if conditions allow). Half plots of the 3rd year pastures are planted in vegetables and half plots of the 1st and 2nd year pastures are grazed by chickens during the summer. Careful accounting of all inputs, outputs and costs will add to understanding of how diversification proceeds and reveal challenges in transitioning to diverse agricultural systems that farmers trying to diversify can use in their own planning.
OARDC researchers are analyzing the impacts of the rotations on soil, arthropod diversity, plant diversity, biomass, and productivity. The project also includes collaborators in social science, education and economics who are incorporating the field trial into their interviews, classrooms and analyses.The total acreage of Mellinger farm is 270 acres with the replicated research area consisting of 2.63 acres. The replicated plots just west of the farmstead include three years of pasture in rotation with hulless oats, oilseed crops, and sunflowers. Half plots of the third year pastures are planted in vegetables and half plots of the first and second year pastures are grazed by chicken.
Image 1: Vegetable plot preparation starts during late Spring
Image 2: Vegetable plot after planting
Image 3: Maintaining vegetation rows in between vegetable plots encourages natural enemies of vegetable pests
Images 4-6: Summer vegetables include: bush beans, Toscano kale, Mariachi peppers
Image 7: Mellinger farm vegetables delivered to Café Carmen at ATI generate additional revenue
Image 1: Cross Striped Cabbageworm (XSCW) -Evergestis rimosalis on Kale
Image 2: Cabbage worm Pieris rapae larvae collected from Broccoli plants
Image 3: Tomato hornworm damage
Image 1: Diverse insect populations offer many services in the Mellinger farm ecosystem
Images 2-4: Large number of ground beetles, Wolf spiders, and Tiny mites were collected during the 2017 insect collection survey
Images 6-7: Diverse insects provide pollination services to sunflowers and many other crops
Parasites and predators
Parasites and predators keep Mellinger pest populations in check.
Image 1: Parasitic pupal cases were observed on almost every Kale plant
Image 2: Pupal cases of a Braconid wasp on tomato Hornworm Manduca quinquemaculata
Image 3: Cotesia glomerata pupal cases on kale. Cotesia is a parasite of White butterfly larvae, Pieris rapae.
Image 4: Giant Araneus spp. (Cross-spider) on kale is also responsible in controlling many pest species
Image 1: Cucumber Downey mildew was common during summer 2017
Image 2: Few zucchini plants died probably due to Ca intake problem
Image 1: Nine-week-old sunflower plants
Image 2: Many insects provide pollination services for sunflower and vegetable plants
Image 3: Sunflower harvesting
Image 4: Mellinger Farm sunflower seeds were pressed using a small hand press. Different heating treatments and different seed lots were used along with commercial oil for comparison. The oils were presented to the AMP staff for tasting in 2018
Pasture raised chickens
Chickens in "tractors" provide pasture grazing, insect control, weed control, and fertilization services.
Image 1: Chicken tractor cleaning prior to introduction of chickens to the field during mid-August
Image 2: Day old chickens in the OARDC poultry unit
Image 3: Chicken drop off to Mellinger Farm when they are 3 weeks old
Image 4: Five-week-old chickens
Image 5: Seven-week-old chickens
Image 6: Chickens were fed shelled sunflower seeds as a part of their diet
Image 7: Chicken serviced and un-serviced pasture
Image 8: Loading frozen chicken after processing at Pleasant Valley Poultry in Berlin, OH
Image 1: Student worker collecting biomass samples using Rising Plate Meter (RPM)
Image 2: Identifying and quantifying different weed species in research plots helps to understand the ecosystem richness, evenness, and diversity indexes of the Mellinger Farm
Other fauna at Mellinger
Image 1: A flock of wild geese picking grains from one of Mellinger's fields
Image 2: Bucks are a common sight on Mellinger Farm
Image 3: A large swarm of midges emerged on the morning of September 26th, 2017