Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation
University of California
Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation

Soil health experts to speak to California farmers Dec. 10 and 11

'Biotic farming' considers all living things, not just the crop being grown.
Update: View a video of the two-hour program online.

Innovative soil enhancement practices are being researched and implemented around the world, but haven’t caught on yet in most of California. Free workshops at UC Davis and Five Points will feature new ways of managing soil that promise long-term sustainability, better crop quality and reduced use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

The Davis workshop is at 11 a.m. Dec. 10 in the Plant and Environmental Sciences Building 3001; the Five Points workshop is at 11 a.m. Dec. 11 at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center, 17353 W. Oakland Ave., Five Points.

The UC Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation program (CASI) has invited nationally known proponents of soil health to share their experiences and knowledge about soil-supporting practices. Brendon Rockey of Rockey Farms in Center, Colo., will be talking about practices for which he has coined the term “biotic farming systems.”

Brendon Rockey
“My presentation will revolve around the idea of biotic farming, which to me means looking at all living things, not just the crop being grown,” Rockey said. “Once you recognize the biotic system, you then have two paths from which to choose, antibiotic or probiotic.”

Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, said Rockey is not an “organic” farmer, but an “extremely innovative” farmer. Rockey and his uncle grow 30 varieties of potatoes on 250 acres in the San Luis Valley of Colorado

“He’s somebody who is questioning and challenging the way things have always been done,” Mitchell said. “Rather than relying on heavy hammers like herbicides, fungicides, tillage and other inputs to solve problems, Rockey is helping people realize that there might be a more integrated, biological way to address problems and reduce inputs.”

For example, Rockey advocates the use of multi-species green manure, either as a winter cover crop or, in the case of his own farm, right alongside the crop during the growing season.

“We know that … diverse plant populations bring life to the soil,” Rockey shares on his website Soilguys.com. “They create an ideal environment for a variety of microbial populations, increase water uptake and retention, fix nitrogen and cycle nutrients and attract predatory insects to the field.”

Jay Furher
Rockey will be joined by Jay Fuhrer, district conservationist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services, Bismark, N.D., who has addressed soil health in speaking engagements around the U.S., in Canada, France and Russia.

“The principles of building healthy soils are the same everywhere — you have to stop tilling the soil and switch from a monoculture crop to a diversity of crops and rotations,” Fuhrer said. “But the path to soil health is different on each farm. Cover crop and cash crop selections and sequences are chosen to fit the farmer’s resource concerns and priorities, and the means available at that farm.”

For more information, contact Jeff Mitchell at jpmitchell@ucdavis.eduor (559) 303-9689.

Posted on Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 11:16 AM

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