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Sustained conservation tillage tomato systems show promise

The Issue

California tomato producers need profitable technologies that guarantee long-term viability in the marketplace and on the farm. Production practices used by tomato farmers need to be affordable and also preserve or improve the long-term sustainability of production fields.

Two practices that can help producers with economic and sustainability goals are covercropping and conservation tillage. While widely used in the 1940s, cover crops were not a mainstay of California production systems during the last half of the twentieth century. In recent years though, their potential benefits have received renewed attention by researchers and farmers, and there is interest in integrating them into tomato production systems.

Cover crops provide soil cover, scavenge and recycle nutrients, break up monocultures, and add organic matter to production fields. But they require additional costs and careful management to be successfully integrated into tomato production systems. Conservation tillage (CT) practices include a number of tillage management approaches that reduce overall operations and costs. CT systems are also frequently associated with adjunct benefits such as lower dust and diesel emissions, reduced equipment maintenance, and lower total labor requirements. CT systems also require management “know-how” and up-front planning.

What Has ANR Done?

To help tomato producers learn about conservation tillage and covercropping, UC researchers conducted long-term studies on these practices (http://ucanr.org/sites/ct). UC research and extension teams partnered with pioneering Central Valley CT farmers to analyze the economic and conservation performance of the innovative production systems.

The Payoff

Production costs cut and soil carbon increased

Studies with CT farmer innovators Alan Sano and Jesse Sanchez (Sano Farms, Firebaugh, Calif.) showed that their CT cover-crop systems, used for over six years, cut production costs by about $80 per acre relative to conventional tillage systems in the San Joaquin Valley. Long-term studies at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center (Five Points, Calif.) showed similar reductions resulting from lower fuel use in CT tomato systems, and a 20 percent increase in soil carbon (after eight years when CT is coupled with covercropping).


Supporting Unit:

UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, UC Cooperative Extension Yolo County
Jeff Mitchell (mitchell@uckac.edu); Karen Klonsky (klonsky@primal.ucdavis.edu); Gene Miyao (emmiyao@ucdavis.edu); Rich DeMoura (rdemoura@ucdavis.edu)