Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation
University of California
Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation

Conservation agriculture news

CASI hosts no-till pioneer, Francis Akolbila, of Ghana's Center for No-till Agriculture!

August 30, 2018

CASI hosts no-till pioneer, Francis Akolbila, of Ghana's Center for No-till Agriculture!

August 27 – 28, 2018


A number of CASI Workgoup members graciously hosted a true pioneer in no-tillage conservation agriculture systems, Francis Akolbila of the Center for No-till Agriculture in Ghana ( this past week at their farms here in California.  Francis is a dynamic, very passionate and dedicated leader of conservation agriculture in Africa.  He is in California for an 6-month internship that he will soon be completing at Singing Frogs Farm in Sebastopol, CA with Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser before moving on to spend two months this fall at the Dakota Lakes Research Farm with Dwayne Beck in Pierre, SD.  It was a pleasure and great honor for many of us to host him and we had great interactions with him in what turned out to be a whirlwind set of visits throughout California's Central Valley.

Francis first had a chance to meet and talk with local UC Cooperative Extension Soil and Water Advisor, Dan Munk, along with NRCS Fresno Area Conservationists Brook Gale and Rob Roy, for a lunch discussion at the legendary Five Points, CA “El Ranchero Café”  (Figures 1 and 2).  He explained what the Center for No-till Agriculture does and he shared with the group how it developed from the vision of Director Kofi Boa and with the support of the Howard Buffett Foundation.

Figure 1. CASI Workgroup members hosting Francis Akolbila of Ghana’s Center for No-till Agriculture in El Ranchero Café in Five Points, CA (left to right, Sara Rosenberg (Singing Frogs Farms, Sebastopol, CA), Francis Akolbila, Rob Roy, Derek Riley (Ag Engineering intern from Fresno State working with Rob and Brook in the NRCS Fresno Area Office), Dan Munk and Brook Gale


Figure 2. Local Fresno County CASI Workgroup members hosting Francis Akolbila in El Ranchero Café in Five Points, CA

 Following this very nice visit with local Fresno County folks, Francis toured the longstanding NRI no-till project in Five Points where he saw up close and personal our Workgroup's research and development work with no-till systems (Figure 3).  He also had a very nice opportunity to ride in a tractor with field station no-till expert, Jaime Solorio, and he learned about GPS guidance systems that were being used for the project's tillage work in the standard, conventional high disturbance tillage systems (Figure 4).  

Figure 3. UC Five Points field station staff Tracy Waltrip (left) and Jaime Solorio (right) hosting Francis Akolbila (center) at the NRI Project field


Figure 4. Francis Akolbila riding in the Five Points field station tractor with Jaime Solorio and learning about global positioning systems (GPS) guidance

Francis was then hosted by Jesse Sanchez of Sano Farms out in Firebaugh, CA.  While there, he saw Jesse and Alan Sano's cover crop fields and he learned how they extract drip tape from fields after seven or eight years of use.  He also had the opportunity to learn how Jesse is now using a new fixed-wing drone to help with field management and irrigation at Sano Farms (Figures 5 and 6).

Figure 5. Francis Akolbila learning about new fixed-wing drone that Jesse Sanchez now uses at Sano Farms in Firebaugh, CA


Figure 6. Sano Farms’ Jesse Sanchez showing Francis Akolbila how he uses images from drone flights to decide when to replace drip irrigation tape in his fields

Next, Francis headed up to the Madera, CA farm of Tom and Denesse Willey, where he met with Tom and Madera County NRCS Conservationist, Priscilla Baker (Figure 7).  While there, Francis learned of the reduced disturbance work that Tom is planning as part of the new NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant project that he's involved in with a group of pioneering reduced disturbance farmers throughout California.  Francis, Tom and Priscilla also discussed cover crop options and how they're being used to good effect in Ghana. 

Figure 7. Priscilla Baker (NRCS Madera) (left), Francis Akolbila (center) and Tom Willey (left) at T & D Willey Farms in Madera, CA

Very early the next morning, Francis made the trek up to Turlock, CA where he met with long-time no-tillers, father and son farming team, Michael and Adam Crowell, at Bar Vee Dairy (Figure 8). 

Figure 8. Adam Crowell, Michael Crowell and Francis Akolbila having breakfast in Huckleberry Restaurant in Turlock CA

There, Michael and Adam showed Francis their recently-planted double-crop no-till corn crop and the three of them talked at good length about no-till equipment and techniques (Figure 9).  The visit was not complete without Michael getting down on his hands and knees and showing Francis his soil (Figures 10 and 11). 

Figure 9. Francis Akolbila, Michael Crowell and Adam Crowell (left to right) viewing no-till double-crop corn cropping at Bar Vee Dairy in Turlock, CA
Figure 10. Francis Akolbila, Michael and Adam Crowell (left to right) inspecting no-till soil at Bar Vee Dairy in Turlock, CA
Figure 11. Michael Crowell, Adam Crowell, and Francis Akolbila at Bar Vee Dairy in Turlock, CA

 Finally, Francis had a chance to stop by the PLS110 vegetable production class field laboratory on the University of California, Davis campus for a short visit with field Jim Jackson, Rich Peltzer, and Derrick Lum of the University's Department of Plant Sciences (Figure 12).  He learned about the field prep work that these guys are doing to get ready for the fall class that will evaluate aspects of conservation agriculture systems in their cropping systems comparison demonstration field. 

Figure 12. Francis Akolbila (center) discussing no-till conservation agriculture systems with Rich Peltzer (left), Derrick Lum (next to Rich), and Jim Jackson (right) at PLS110 class demonstration field on the University of California, Davis campus

CASI was honored to host Francis Akolbila this past week and we wish him all the very best as he now completes his internship and returns to Ghana for his very important and pioneering work with conservation agriculture systems there with Kofi Boa.  We thank Dwayne Beck for encouraging this meeting with Francis and we look forward to staying in touch with him into the future!

Posted on Thursday, August 30, 2018 at 9:17 AM

Conservation Agriculture Update - Global Spread of Cons. Ag. in 2018

This link below will open the on-line published article entitled "Global spread of Conservation Agriculture" authored by A. Kassam, T. Friedrich and R. Derpsch.

Posted on Friday, August 17, 2018 at 9:58 AM

Managing Soil Health for Sustainable Agriculture

Managing Soil Health for Sustainable Agriculture

“Managing soil health for sustainable agriculture covers virtually the entire range of soil health topics. Dr Don Reicosky, himself an internationally distinguished soil scientist, has assembled an impressive roster of chapter authors. Each is a world-class specialist in the topic of the chapter. This collection of diverse chapters by highly respected authors promises to be a most interesting read

• Puts soil health in the broader context of ecosystem services, conservation and climate change

• Summarises current research on soil structure and composition

• Reviews latest developments in understanding nutrient and other cycles in soil


Posted on Monday, August 13, 2018 at 1:28 PM

Colorado soil health expert visits CASI's NRI field in Five Points!

August 13, 2018

Kelly O’Neill (left), Patrick O’Neill (center) and Jeff Mitchell (right) visiting the CASI NRI Project field in Five Points, CA on August 13, 2018
Patrick O'Neill, certified crop and soil health advisor in the San Luis Valley in Colorado, took time from his busy travel schedule in California to stop by the NRI Project study field and talk with Jeff Mitchell on August 13th 2018.  He works in CO with a group of 15 farmers who are themselves trying to evaluate opportunities for improving soil function through the use of what they call “fungal-dominated compost” and cover crops in the largely potato, onion and grain food production systems that they have.  This is a region that is in many respects like California's San Joaquin Valley in terms of water availability and farmers there have had to constrain the actual amount of land that they now farm due to water allocation cutbacks.  Surprisingly perhaps and in contrast to what is commonly seen in the SJV, many farmers in the San Luis Valley are now using cover crops on lands that are fallow due to restrictions in irrigation water allocations as means to stabilize them and to keep some measure of soil biology active for when they rotate back to these fields for their cash crops.  We have invited Patrick to take part in future information exchanges with us in the new NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant and we look forward to very informative exchanges between him and folks in his region and the core group of farmers who are now working on this CIG effort.  Patrick took part in the “Health from the Soil Up – Bridging the Silos of Health and Agriculture” three-day conference that just concluded in Berkeley and Paicines, CA along with CASI's Jeff Mitchell.  This forum of folks from agriculture and the medical professions is now working together to look at creative ways to improve not only soil health, but also human health and opportunities for improving the overall health of the soil as well as the health of humans.  Much more will come from these sorts of collaborations and we welcome Patrick to being part of our work in California!

Posted on Monday, August 13, 2018 at 11:07 AM

16 farmers from Uzbekistan visit CASI and the NRI Project in Five Points

July 31, 2018

News Release

Uzbek visitors tour the UC CASI NRI Project field in Five Points, CA
Sixteen farmers from the Fergana and Jizzakh regions of Uzbekistan visited five farms and toured the NRI Project in Five Points, CA July 30th and 31st as part of a project sponsored by the World Bank to improve wheat and cotton production in their country through the use of no-till and conservation agriculture approaches.  The tour group was hosted by CASI's Jeff Mitchell who was asked by John Bradley, formerly of the University of Tennessee's legendary Milan Research Center and Monsanto, to coordinate the tour.  Bradley had visited CASI back in the early 2000's when he spoke to us regarding the advances that farmers in Tennessee had made with no-till systems. 

Soil aggregation demonstrations provide to Uzbek visitors in the CASI NRI Project field in Five Points, CA
The Uzbek farmers were hosted by Danny Royer of Bowles Farming in Los Banos, Gary and Mari Martin in Firebaugh, Don Cameron in Helm, Mark and Connor McKean in Riverdale, and John Diener in Five Points.  They also took part in a presentation/discussion on conservation agriculture and a field tour of the NRI Project at the Five Points field station that was hosted by Jeff Mitchell and Geoff Koch, a graduate student at UC Davis who is working with the Martins in Firebaugh and Mitchell in Five Points on a new CDFA Healthy Soils Project study of cover crop impacts on soil function.

Uzbekistan has a very similar climate to California's San Joaquin Valley and thus, the tour group visited largely arid regions of the US including stops in Lubbock, TX, Goodyear, AZ and Five Points, CA.  The World Bank is working with Uzbek farmers with the transition to no-till cotton systems and technologies as a means of invigorating the private sector agricultural economy. 

Uzbek farmers with Danny Royer at Bowles Farming, Los Banos, CA
Don Cameron of Helm, CA hosts farmers from Uzbekistan July 31, 2018
Mark McKean, Riverdale, CA, showing Uzbekistan farmers his cotton fields
Uzbekistan tour group visiting John Diener of Red Rock Ranch in Five Points, CA


Posted on Thursday, August 2, 2018 at 4:26 PM

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