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California farmers see conservation tillage success stories

The Issue

California farmers face increasing challenges due to labor and water availability, environmental regulations, and competition. Cheaper and more resource-conserving systems that rely on less labor are needed for profitable and sustainable production. Reducing tillage may significantly cut fuel use, labor, and costs in intensive production systems. However, most California farmers have little experience with these techniques.

What Has ANR Done?

The University of California’s Conservation Tillage (CT) Workgroup -- an association of more than 1,000 university researchers, extension educators, farmers, USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and private sector partners -- took a four-day tour of irrigated regions in Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado, and Wyoming where farmers have developed a variety of successful no-till and strip-till production systems that are more efficient and cost-effective.

Eleven CT Workgroup members visited several farmers and South Dakota State University (SDSU) and University of Nebraska researchers during a 1,400 mile tour in 2007. Participants learned about the mechanics of successful no-till and strip-till planting, the important role surface residues play in water conservation and weed management in this region, and the benefits of merging or coupling conservation tillage technologies with overhead, low-pressure center pivot systems to save water, reduce labor and cut costs.

Dwayne Beck, manager of SDSU’s Dakota Lakes Research Farm, demonstrated why, in the early 1990s, after switching to no-till, residue-conserving systems, South Dakota farmers were able to conserve more water and thereby diversify and intensify their crop rotations. This change ultimately led to their being able to farm profitably and sustainably.

The Payoff

Greater knowledge about conservation tillage

Participants in the first CT Workgroup farmer tour received very practical information on successful no-till and strip-till strategies. They learned how residue-preserving production approaches may be useful in reducing costs associated with tillage and how, over time, these practices may improve soil structure and conserve water.

These California farmers have committed to implementing sustained CT production systems on their farms, and University of California researchers are beginning long-term economic and soil-quality monitoring at the farms to gauge the performance of the CT approaches. A series of CT Workgroup conferences and field days throughout the Central Valley, based on the local studies, are being conducted by the CT Workgroup to increase the adoption of cost-cutting and resource-conserving CT production systems in California.


Supporting Unit:

Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis
Jeff Mitchell; jpmitchell@ucanr.edu; tel (559) 646-6565; cell (559) 303-9689