Conservation agriculture news
UC scientists presented recent additions to the growing body of research on conservation tillage in California at the second annual Twilight Conservation Tillage and Cropping Systems field day Sept. 8, demonstrating progress in agricultural systems that will help farmers cut production costs, reduce soil disturbance and save water.
UC scientists and their partner farmers are conducting research that address the current needs of the San Joaquin Valley agricultural industry and research that is looking to the future by anticipating changes that may need to be negotiated in coming decades.
During the field day at UC's West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points, Calif., participants visited two primary research areas. The first is the longest-standing conservation ag system study in California, where a cotton/tomato rotation has been farmed for 12 years running. The plots include standard tillage with and without cover crops and conservation tillage with and without cover crops.
“This might be the most-visited research field in California,” said Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension vegetable crops specialist and chair of the CT workgroup. “Many students and scientists have conducted research here.”
For example, scientists have been able to quantify significant improvements in soil quality with the use of cover crops and conservation tillage. UC Davis soil biochemist Will Horwath reported that conservation tillage combined with an off-season cover crop has increased the soil carbon content close to five tons per hectare.
“Is that significant?” Horwath asks. “Yes. In 10 years, we have almost doubled the soil carbon content.”
Because of the valley’s dry, hot climate, the native soils are typically very low in carbon, which is a characteristic of low soil quality. Carbon in the soil acts as a glue, helping reduce wind erosion.
“There are more than 17,000 center pivots in the state of Nebraska, and it is estimated that there are somewhere between 300 and 500 pivots currently in use in California, the No. 1 ag state in the nation,” Mitchell said. “This situation is changing rapidly.”
Overhead irrigation is efficient, automated, allows for diverse cropping and, with soil residues from conservation tillage, permits uniform infiltration.
Four users of overhead irrigation shared their experiences with overhead irrigation at the field day. West side farmer John Deiner said mechanized irrigation has significantly reduced labor input in his agronomic crops while boosting crop yields.
“Our corn grew two to three feet taller under the pivot,” he said.
Will Taylor of King City grows potatoes for In and Out Burger under center pivots. He said his yields are 20 percent higher when using the overhead irrigation system.
“Once you overcome challenges,” Taylor said, “they’re awesome.”
He demonstrated their ease of use by bringing along his 9-year-old son Liam, whom he said can already manage the machine.
Darryl Cordova of Denair uses overhead irrigation in a hilly area on the east side of the valley.
“What used to take three guys six hours of moving pipe is now done with a push of a button on my cell phone,” Cordova said.
Scott Schmidt, who farms across the street from the West Side Research and Extension Center, said he has learned how to successfully use overhead irrigation and conservation tillage from the “school of hard knocks.”
“Most of the problems have been self-inflicted wounds,” Schmidt said. But now, he calls the system “flawless.” “We have seven pivots that I operate remotely from my phone.”
See the video here:
Participants will learn how San Joaquin Valley farmers are using overhead, mechanized, automated irrigation and conservation tillage to cut production costs. Overhead irrigation and conservation tillage also have the potential to improve soil quality, save water and cut back on agricultural dust emissions.
The late afternoon program will include research updates on trials with wheat, corn, tomatoes, onions, cotton and broccoli. Industry presenters will discuss the basics of water delivery devices and initial design and operation considerations for center pivot irrigation systems. Updates on the profitability and impacts of conservation tillage cotton and tomato production systems on soil properties will also be provided by UC and CSU Fresno researchers.
During the barbeque dinner, recipients of the 2011 Conservation Tillage Farmer Innovator Awards will be announced. This year’s session will also feature a number of awards for private sector innovation in CT and irrigation. A farmer panel composed of Armando Galvan, Darrell Cordova, Scott Schmidt and John Diener will discuss recent farm experiences with overhead irrigation and the evening will wrap up with a farm visit to one of the pivots of Scott Schmidt at Farming ‘D.’
For more information, contact institute chair Jeff Mitchell at email@example.com.
The Conservation Tillage workgroup has initiated a long-term study that directly compares the use of subsurface drip irrigation and overhead irrigation in a diverse no-till crop rotation. The drip lines are buried 10 to 12 inches deep, which will allow the scientists to experiment with a number of different crops over the next 6 or 7 years.
"We're trying to look at the flexibility of flat planting, diversity in cropping and drip irrigation, which is becoming the standard in many crops, and comparing this with overhead, automated mechanized irrigation," said workgroup chair Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension cropping systems specialist. "We want to study what the future is going to be."
Currently, nearly all the Central California acreage of processing tomatoes is drip irrigated; cotton, in contrast, is still mostly grown with furrow irrigation. An increasing amount of acreage is also being irrigated with overhead, mechanized irrigation systems in recent years. In addition to cotton and tomatoes, the researchers plan to grow onions, broccoli and wheat on the plots.
Farmers visited the site of the new research during a workgroup meeting June 28 at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center near Five Points. At the first stop, the researchers introduced growers to conservation tillage research that compares no-till cotton and tomatoes planted in the residue of cover crops with crops grown using standard practices. These plots are furrow irrigated.
Data about soil surface water evaporation, soil temperature variances, nutrient differences, weed management, plant growth and yield are being collected.
In addition to generating data about the use of conservation tillage in California production systems, the CT workgroup encourages farmers to try conservation tillage in their own operations.
Jeff Mitchell, in the foreground, addresses participants from a conservation tillage research plot.
Drip-irrigated conservation tillage plots will be managed side-by-side with overhead-irrigated plots.
Jim Burton of AgRobotics Farming Innovations explains his invention, which makes soil sampling fast and easy.
UC West Side Research and Extension Center on April 27. During the meeting, he voiced his support for increasing implementation of conservation tillage farming systems. Costa is a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, which is laying the groundwork for the reauthorization of the Farm Bill in 2012.
Workgroup member Ron Harben, air quality planner and coordinator with the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts, asked the congressman for $5 million over five years to study the adoption process and fund CT extension activities.
Harben suggested U.S. representatives create a California agriculture caucus in order to work together to ensure the state, the No. 1 ag producer in the nation, gets its fair share of federal support for agricultural programs.
Costa said he liked the idea of establishing a California ag caucus.
"The question is how to put it together without it becoming political," he said. "We had such a caucus with 21 bipartisan members. It worked pretty well for a number of years."
Congressman Jim Costa comments about conservation tillage in this 90-second video.