Conservation agriculture news
Tomato producers interested in cutting costs, reducing inputs and improving their soil, received a strong jump start to planning their 2011 seasons by participating in a recently-held “how to get started with conservation tillage and cover crop systems” discussion held at Sano Farms in Firebaugh.
The open house event was conducted by Alan Sano and Jesse Sanchez and sponsored by California's Conservation Tillage and Cropping Systems Workgroup. Sano and Sanchez were the Workgroup's 2009 Farmer Innovator award recipients and have been refining and perfecting their conservation tillage, drip-irrigated, and cover crop-containing tomato systems for over five years with both economic advantage and resource conservation benefits. The systems that they’ve developed are cheaper, have increased soil organic matter and improved soil tilth, and have actually increased processing tomato yields at their 4000-acre farm in western Fresno County.
Sano and Sanchez started their quest for improved tomato production practices when they switched to subsurface drip irrigation as a means to improve irrigation management. Once they learned how to manage and gain advantage from their drip system, they then began introducing winter cover crops into their tomato system to add organic matter to the soil and break up their tomato monoculture. Cover crops have now actually become such a valuable and integral part of their system, that they typically dedicate the equivalent of a 3 inch pre-irrigation to get the cover crop started in the early fall of each year ahead of the following season’s tomatoes. Triticale has been the cover crop of choice to date, but this fall following the 2010 tomato harvest, they’re going to experiment with a late summer legume cover, cowpeas.
Their goal is to kill the cover crop before it grows too large with RoundUp® and then let it “melt” down before they come in with an Orthman 1-tRIPr strip-tiller just ahead of transplanting tomatoes. By managing the cover crop so as to kill it before it grows too big, they are able to gain advantages of the additional crop in terms of winter weed control and extra carbon into their soil system. They’ve increased soil organic matter by 50% since they started with this approach.
Additional information and assistance in planning and implementing these sorts of cost-saving conservation tillage approaches in the coming 2011 season is available through the Conservation Tillage and Cropping Systems Workgroup by emailing Workgroup Chair, Jeff Mitchell, at email@example.com, or by phoning him at (559) 303-9689.
Strip-tillage under optimal soil moisture conditions is critical, - meaning not too dry, but hopefully not too wet. Using GPS to align planter units with strip-till rows is necessary, as is the timely (usually within one week of corn seeding) application of herbicide. Finally, anticipating and applying irrigations earlier and perhaps more frequently than with standard till systems.
Gordon Foster (pictured at right), a Barcellos Farms employee, has done the bulk of the farm’s no-till and strip-till corn seeding since Barcellos started with CT in 1993.
“The bulk of our corn is now strip-tilled,” he said, “due to the overall advantages we’ve seen with this system.”
Time and costs between crops are reduced. One of the primary lessons that Barcellos has learned through his years of using CT is the absolute need to be on top of water management.
“You may end up putting on less water with CT than conventional tillage systems, but you’ve really got to be prepared for earlier and perhaps more frequent irrigations," has been a learning-curve consideration that he reinforces to folks who are interested in getting into CT.
Their experience in that year showed enough promise for success that in May of 2010, they used a 6-row Unverferth Ripper Stripper to strip-till over 100 acres of corn ground prior to irrigating and planting. This implement allowed them to strip-till to a depth of about 14 inches which was deeper than the 8 or so inches that they achieved in 2009.
Ezequial Jr. spent considerable time and put much effort into optimally adjusting the Ripper Stripper and ended up staggering the two wavy coulters that follow the subsoiler parabolic shanks so as to allow better “flow of soil and residue” through the coulters and less balling up.His measure of success for his 2010 strip-till fields will be 40 tons/ac of corn silage.
They use a John Deere 1590 no-till drill to seed wheat or triticale in the fall and also they use the same drill to establish a sorghum sudan triple crop following corn chopping. Corn is direct seeded with a Monosem twin-row planter that staggers two seed lines every 30 inches in flat plantings (pictured below right).
One problem that has surfaced in the Crowell’s CT system is the natural consolidation or settling of their largely sandy soil that has created low spots where irrigation water tends to collect resulting in poor crop growth.To address this problem, they will do a shallow landplaning following this summer’s crops.