Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation
University of California
Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation

Conservation agriculture news

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

CT farmer honored by EPA as 'Sustainable Agriculture Champion'

Hanford dairy farmer Dino Giacomazzi was recognized today for his innovations in conservation tillage at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 12th annual Environmental Awards Ceremony held in downtown Los Angeles, according to an EPA news release.

Giacomazzi was in good company. The 12 businesses and individuals honored included Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin and a 14-year-old boy who recorded a song about global warming that reached children on five continents.

According to the release, Giacomazzi is the fourth generation to manage Giacomazzi Dairy, a family farm of 900 cows and 600 acres, which has operated at the same location in Hanford, Calif., since 1893.

Giacomazzi approaches his farm as a holistic system, and is continually looking for cultural practices that are sustainable both environmentally and economically. Working with USDA-NRCS and the University of California, Giacomazzi initiated the first demonstration evaluation of a strip-tillage corn planting system in the Central San Joaquin Valley, and has been experimenting since with different implements, plant varieties and planting configurations to optimize that system.

Strip-tillage is a farming practice that involves tilling in narrow strips rather than disturbing soil in the entire field. This process radically reduces diesel, dust, and particulate emissions as well as fuel and labor costs. For his corn-wheat rotation, Giacomazzi has reduced the annual number of tillage passes for each of his fields from 14 to 2. Giacomazzi has hosted several demonstrations and field days which have led to strip-till adoption in more than 25,000 acres in California, and has participated in numerous studies that will provide a better understanding of the relationship between dairy operations and air and water quality.

Giacomazzi was presented the Conservation Tillage Farmer Innovator Award for 2008 by the University of California and the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Tillage Workgroup.

The EPA awards were presented on the agency’s 40th anniversary to help celebrate "40 Years of Environmentalism," the news release said.

Giacomazzi, right, receives EPA award from Jarod Blumenfeld, administrator of EPA Region 9.
Giacomazzi, right, receives EPA award from Jarod Blumenfeld, administrator of EPA Region 9.

Posted on Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 4:04 PM

California story one of 2010's most-read

An article about silage corn production using conservation tillage was one of Progressive Forage Grower's Top 10 most well-read online articles in 2010, the magazine announced.

Written by UC Cooperative Extension cropping systems specialist Jeff Mitchell, the article featured vignettes about four California dairy farms where conservation tillage is being applied.

  • Michael and Adam Crowell of Bar-Vee Dairy in Turlock, California, have been no-tilling their winter small grain, twin-row corn and sorghum sudan for five years.

  • Ezequiel Correia Jr. and Sr. of Correia Family Dairy just north of Santa Nella, California, began strip-tilling their silage corn in 2009.

  • Dino Giacomazzi, a dairyman in Hanford, California, in Kings County, has been strip-tilling silage since 2005.

  • Tom Barcellos of Barcellos Farms in Tipton, California, has been in the no-till and strip-till business longer and more consistently than just about any other dairy silage producer in the entire SJV.

In addition, the article outlined "common points" employed by all of the producers, such as advanced planning, laying out appropriately-spaced, shallow irrigation berms, and selecting and adjusting proper strip-till equipment for specific field conditions.

Ezequiel Correia Jr. during a conservation tillage field day.
Ezequiel Correia Jr. during a conservation tillage field day.

Posted on Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 10:02 AM

Nominate no-till farmers for 'Responsible Nutrient' award

Frank Lessiter, editor of No-till Farmer, announced that the magazine is seeking nominations for the third class of no-tillers to be named "Responsible Nutrient Management Practitioners." Winners will be honored at the 19th annual National No-Tillage Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio. To nominate no-till practitioners, fill in this survey. Self-nominations are accepted.

Three no-tillers will be selected by an independent panel of nutrient experts. The winning no-tillers will receive free transportation, lodging and registration to the National No-Tillage Conference in Cincinnati from Jan. 12-15, 2011, on behalf of Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers and No-Till Farmer.

More details are available at The nomination deadline is Friday, Nov. 18.
Posted on Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at 9:10 AM

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