Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation
University of California
Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation

Conservation agriculture news

New Horizons for Conservation Cropping in California Conferences March 9, 10 and 11

California’s Conservation Tillage and Cropping Systems Workgroup will present educational tours and programs at three locations in California March 9-11 to convey information on innovative conservation tillage crop production systems that are being developed in irrigated regions of South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado and Washington.

In addition to sharing information about the conservation cropping systems in these states, the speakers will discuss how the principles and practices can be implemented on California farms.

The first conference will be held March 9 at the UC Davis Western Center for Agricultural Equipment. The second meeting convenes on March 10 at the SCE Ag-TAC facility in Tulare and continues in the afternoon with tours of three Central Valley farms. The final session is March 11 at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points. The presentations at the three locations will be the same. There is no registration fee and no pre-registration necessary.

The three featured speakers, all national leaders in the practice of conservation tillage, are:

  • Dwayne Beck, manager of the Dakota Lakes Research Farm in Pierre, South Dakota. Beck has been inducted into South Dakota’s Hall of Fame for introducing cost-saving conservation tillage practices to the region’s agricultural industry when, in the early 1990s, farms were closing due to a lack of economic viability.
  • Mike Peterson, retired USDA NRCS Conservationist and currently the California precision tillage specialist for Orthman Mfg.  Throughout his career, Peterson has researched and developed information on strip-till approaches.
  • Andy McGuire, cropping systems advisor with Washington State University in Moses Lake, Washington.  McGuire has been working to evaluate and develop high-residue cropping systems for the irrigated crops of the Central Washington region.

“The main reason we invited these out-of-state experts is to learn how the conservation tillage systems they have developed relate to California,” said Jeff Mitchell, UC Davis Cooperative Extension cropping systems specialist and coordinator of the conference. “All of them come from areas where farmers practice irrigated agriculture. We are planning to very thoroughly and thoughtfully consider with them, through a series of dialogues and discussion, the relevance and application of their work on farms in California.”

Conservation agriculture systems reduce overall tillage or soil disturbance, maintain surface residues, seek make production systems more efficient, and reduce costs.  Speakers will address the integrated management of the conservation production systems.

Conference details:

March 9, 12 noon to 4 p.m.: UC Davis Western Center for Agricultural Equipment, off Hutchison on Hills Drive, just west of 113.

March 10, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Southern California Edison AgTAC, 4175 S. Laspina St., Tulare, Calif.

March 11, 9 a.m. to 12 noon: UC Westside Research and Extension Center, 17252 W. Oakland Ave., Five Points, Calif.

For additional information on these conferences see the Conservation Tillage and Cropping Systems Workgroup website or contact Mitchell at, (559) 646-6565.

Posted on Monday, January 31, 2011 at 8:21 AM

CT and Cropping Systems Workgroup to be at M-52 at this year’s World Ag Expo

California’s Conservation Tillage and Cropping Systems Workgroup will once again maintain a site at the 2011 World Ag Expo coming up February 8-10 in Tulare. The workgroup booth will be at site M-52, which is about 30 yards due south of the main North Gate 6 entrance.

This year, we will be providing a series of live presentations on various aspects of conservation agriculture through much of each day in addition to our other information offerings.

Presentations include:

  • Local workgroup farmer members Jesse Sanchez, Tom Barcellos, Dino Giacomazzi, and Scott Schmidt talking about their CT and irrigation systems
  • NRCS conservationists providing information on available USDA programs that support conservation agriculture systems and practices
  • UCCE advisor Dan Munk sharing information about CT cotton
  • UCCE advisor advisor Gene Miyao talking about cover crops in tomato systems
  • UC Davis soil science professor Will Horwath talking about soil carbon and GHG’s
  • Ladi Asgill and Ron Harben discussing conservation agricultural systems related to production and business models
  • Jerry Rossiter discussing overhead, mechanized irrigation systems.

The presentations will start at 10 a.m. each day and cycle through the day at the M-52 Workgroup tent.

For more information, contact Jeff Mitchell at (559) 303-9689 or

Posted on Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 10:39 AM

An invitation to dairy silage producers to step up in 2011 and gain experience with CT production systems

If you’ve been at all interested in or curious about conservation tillage systems for silage crop production, now is the time to begin preparations and to gear up for the 2011 season.

In recent years, members of California’s Conservation Tillage and Cropping Systems Workgroup have been working directly with a number of Central Valley dairy silage producers and together they have learned how to most effectively and successfully adopt a variety of CT practices for silage production. During this time, there have been considerable gains in the overall knowledge base that is needed for successful and sustained CT silage management. There is now also a decent experience base that can help new CT farmers avoid problems and mistakes that can lead to trouble.

Through an NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant program called the “BMP CT Challenge,” dairy silage producers once again have an opportunity this year to gain experience with CT systems, to work with CT advisors, to borrow CT equipment and to secure risk management support if CT test strip yields are lower than standard till yields.

For more information and to take part in one of our workgroup’s upcoming dairy silage breakfast meetings in your region, please give any of the following folks a call or send an e-mail to them at the addresses indicated below.

Ladi Asgill
(209) 604-6554
Jeff Mitchell
(559) 303-9689
Johnnie Siliznoff
(559) 252-2192 Ext. 121

Information is available for dairy operators interested in conservation tillage.
Information is available for dairy operators interested in conservation tillage.

Posted on Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 9:35 AM

CT can limit greenhouse gas emissions from farm fields

Using no-till and corn-soybean rotation practices in farm fields can significantly reduce field emissions of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, according to a Purdue University study.

Tony Vyn, a professor of agronomy, found that no-till reduces nitrous oxide emissions by 57 percent over chisel tilling, which mixes crop residue into surface soil, and 40 percent over moldboard tilling, which completely inverts soil as well as the majority of surface residue. Chisel plowing is the most widely used form of tilling before planting corn in Indiana, he said.

"There was a dramatic reduction simply because of the no-till," said Vyn, whose findings were published in the Soil Science Society of America Journal. "We think the soil disturbance and residue placement impacts of chisel plowing and moldboard plowing modify the soil physical and microbial environments such that more nitrous oxide is created and released."

During early season nitrogen fertilizer applications on corn, no-till may actually reduce nitrous oxide emissions from other forms of nitrogen present in, or resulting from, that fertilizer.

Nitrous oxide is the third-most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere but, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has about 310 times more heat-trapping power than carbon dioxide in part because of its 120-year lifespan.

"This suggests there is another benefit to no-till beyond soil conservation and improving water quality," Vyn said. "There is an air quality benefit as well."

Using a corn-soybean rotation instead of continuous corn decreased nitrous oxide emissions by 20 percent in the three-year study. Vyn said the reduction could be even greater, though, because for the long-term experiment, both continuous corn and rotation crops were fertilized based on the needs of continuous corn. A rotation cornfield would normally receive 20 percent less nitrogen.

Vyn said finding ways to reduce nitrous oxide emissions is important because food production accounts for about 58 percent of all emissions of the gas in the United States. Of that, about 38 percent is coming from the soil.

"There is more nitrous oxide emission coming from agriculture than the tailpipes of cars and trucks," Vyn said. "And there is likely to be more nitrous oxide emission if we increase nitrogen application rates to increase cereal yields."

The study took place on a consistently managed 30-year-old rotation/tillage experiment near Purdue.

The next step in Vyn's research is to develop integrated management practices to reduce nitrous oxide emissions even more. He's also studying additives that slow the conversion of nitrogen-based fertilizers to chemicals that can emit nitrous oxide.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to the Consortium for Agricultural Soil Mitigation of Greenhouse Gases at Kansas State University funded the research. The Indiana Corn Marketing Council and Dow AgroSciences are funding his present on-farm studies of integrated management practices to reduce nitrous oxide emissions.

News release written by Brian Wallheimer, Purdue University, (765) 496-2050,

Posted on Monday, January 10, 2011 at 9:16 AM

Workgroup chair Jeff Mitchell's annual address

By Jeff Mitchell, workgroup chair
Dec. 14, 2010

What I would like to do with you briefly this morning is take a minute to tell the story of the Conservation Tillage and Cropping Systems Workgroup, - who we are, what we’ve done, and why you should believe us. We’re now at a time within the workgroup that a number of very strong and clear benefits of conservation tillage have been demonstrated and documented and there have also been numerous successful examples of CT working in a variety of Central Valley cropping systems. Our workgroup has had a clear role in helping to develop, chronicle and get information on various aspects of CT out to broader spheres of influence, and I’d like to take stock in some of our recent efforts in this regard.

Since the workgroup was formed back in 1998, there have been undeniably a number of important changes in tillage management in California. Prior to that time, we have documented through rather extensive interviews with several truly “old timer” workgroup members, tillage practices had not changed much during the previous 60 or so years.

It was in the mid-90’s and early 2000s when not only were new, revolutionary minimum tillage implements being introduced, but also research was underway documenting the performance of CT systems in California, and farmers were themselves beginning to develop systems that reduced tillage even more.

The “Case for CT” in California has gotten considerably stronger in recent years due to progress both from research as well as from farmer innovation. Today, peer-reviewed publications have documented the following clear benefits of CT in California:

  • Cutting costs

  • Reducing dust emissions

  • Cutting fuel use

  • Increasing soil carbon

In addition, very recent work now being prepared for publication, has shown that residues in CT systems can reduce about ½ inch of evaporation per week relative to bare ground, and that when highly efficient irrigation, such as overhead mechanized center pivot irrigation is used with CT, water savings on the order of 35 percent for wheat and also savings for corn compared to furrow irrigation can be achieved.

Workgroup farmer pioneers have also themselves demonstrated more severe forms of CT – no-till and strip-till can be possible and profitable in California for the dairy silage production sector and for tomato production systems.

The knowledge and experience bases for CT in California are thus rapidly expanding and farmers such as Dino Giacomazzi are being recognized for their contributions to the development of increasingly sustainable food and feed production systems.

During this time, there has been a rise in contributions from several domains of the private sector and also increased introductions of CT equipment in California.

To continue to be responsive and relevant to the emerging demands for information on the range of CT systems being developed over these years, our workgroup has done a number of things to enhance its effectiveness.

In 2008, it developed a Strategic Plan that identified four key long-term goals and it set specific, concrete adoption goals for the coming years.

It has recognized the sheer importance of electronic information dissemination vehicles, and thus, in 2010, under the expert work of Jeannette Warnert, it has completely renovated its website.

This website now has a number of features that we are hoping will be useful to folks seeking information on CT and we’re also constantly working to add features such as an interactive “CT farmer to farmer forum” and a tab for K-12 resources.

In 2010, through two grants that support the Workgroup, we are now working with a number of farmer partners on farm demonstration evaluations of CT and cover cropping systems for tomatoes.

We were also one of the founding members of CASA - the Conservation Agriculture Systems Alliance - a tremendously important group of very progressive farmer association leaders in conservation agriculture in North America.

Our involvement in CASA and the more local Central Valley Multi-commodity Project allows us to provide input on and receive information on efforts that are underway aimed at developing mechanisms and programs enabling farmers to receive credit and payment for their conservation systems.

An additional outcome that was achieved in 2010 was the partnership our workgroup has established with the California Overhead Irrigation Alliance, a group of farmer, private sector, and public agency folks who have come together to develop and extend information on overhead irrigation.

The so-called “Case for CT in CA” is thus, being made.

Benefits from CT production systems are being seen and realized each and every day.

The challenge ahead is to collectively find and work on ways to increase the adoption of these profitable and resource-conserving CT systems even more and to do this efficiently and effectively.

To better help us do this, we’re in the process of developing a number of instruments and activities aimed at surveying barriers to CT adoption and eventually using information from this effort to better guide us in developing our workgroup programs.

We have recently met with a statistician up at UC Davis and have also created collaborations with the John Muir Institute of the Environment at Davis to initiate this survey of barriers to adoption program, which we hope will not only guide our workgroup, but also it may help agencies such as the NRCS itself in their conservation planning efforts.

We have made good progress this past year, but we have much yet to do.

We are going to need a greater and better level of commitment and contribution from all of us in the workgroup to accomplish these goals. 

The challenges are truly large, but we must focus and dedicate ourselves to achieving solid, lasting impacts. 

Together, we can do it!

Posted on Wednesday, December 15, 2010 at 11:08 AM

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