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Conservation tillage systems for California cotton

The Issue

Cotton production in California’s San Joaquin Valley (SJV) relies on soil tillage for seedbed preparation, weed control, and postharvest pest management. Intensive tillage practices throughout the production season contribute to the crop’s yield and help producers manage risk. But these practices are costly, requiring considerable labor, specialized tillage implements, and adequate tractor horsepower.

Despite incentives programs through the Farm Bill and USDA encouraging tillage reduction, along with rising costs of tillage, most SJV cotton continues to be produced using traditional, heavy tillage practices. Cotton is one of the most tillage-intensive agronomic crops produced in California; tillage systems for cotton have changed little over the past 50 years.

What Has ANR Done?

UC researchers have evaluated a number of reduced-input Conservation Tillage systems (CT) in the San Joaquin Valley. These studies address “learning curve” issues for cotton producers such as the need for well-timed seeding techniques, adequate soil moisture for crop establishment, and postharvest crop management practices that comply with state-mandated pink bollworm regulations.

Once successful seeding techniques are worked out and adequate crop stands are established, yields of CT cotton are comparable to cotton produced through conventional tillage practices.

The Payoff

Conservation Tillage can provide savings in cotton production

Recent UC studies show that CT cotton systems can reduce fuel use by more than 70 percent, increase soil carbon by more than 20 percent, and reduce dust emissions by more than 60 percent, relative to conventional till approaches.

The cost savings and resource conservation benefits provided by CT production systems in cotton warrant further evaluation. Provided yield and profitability are maintained, various conservation tillage systems are becoming attractive to producers and more common in SJV cotton-growing areas. More information on CT options and practices is available at http://ucanr.org/sites/ct.


Supporting Unit:

UC Davis, UCCE Fresno, West Side Research and Extension Center
Jeff Mitchell (mitchell@uckac.edu), Dan Munk (dsmunk@ucdavis.edu), Karen Klonsky (klonsky@primal.ucdavis.edu), Robert Hutmacher (rbhutmacher@ucdavis.edu), Richard DeMoura (rdemoura@ucdavis.edu), and Jon Wroble (jfwroble@ucdavis.edu)