Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation
University of California
Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation

Conservation agriculture news

Enhanced irrigation and crop management technologies developed in Five Points, Calif.

Fresh market onions growing under overhead mechanized irrigation in Five Points, CA.
The Issue

The need to produce more food, feed, fiber, and fuel with less water now looms as perhaps the greatest challenge ever faced by farmers worldwide. Our ability to meet this challenge may well determine not only our overall quality of life, but also our very survival in the future. Developing and adopting enhanced irrigation and crop management technologies that achieve greater water-use efficiencies is essential.

What Has ANR Done?

For the past several years, a team of researchers, farmers, and private sector partners has been working at the University of California West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points, Calif. to develop enhanced water and crop management systems for a range of crops commonly produced in the central San Joaquin Valley. This work has focused on the coupling of advanced sustainability technologies (such as precision overhead and subsurface drip irrigation systems) with strip-till and no-till planting to achieve cheaper and more sustainable systems.

The use of overhead irrigation (sometimes called "mechanized" irrigation) is not new in many parts of the world. Overhead pivot irrigation is widely used in the Pacific Northwest, the Great Plains, and the southeast U.S. as well as in many other places around the world. It is the most widely used irrigation system in the U.S. and has been successfully adopted in those regions for decades, but it is not widely used in California.

The Five Points research team is working to couple the proven benefits of overhead irrigation, including labor, cost and water savings, with additional benefits derived from preserving high amounts of surface crop residues. "Our goal," says UC Davis researcher Jeff Mitchell, "is to follow in the steps of legendary South Dakota State University researcher Dwayne Beck, and the no-till farmers he works with, to have crops use water more efficiently."

The Payoff

Coupling precision overhead irrigation with no-tillage increases efficiencies

Working with colleagues at Valley Irrigation in Omaha, Neb., the California team found that irrigation water application uniformity for the overhead system is 93 percent. This excellent level of application uniformity allows for less water use to meet irrigation demand than systems that are less uniform, such as surface or gravity flow furrow irrigation. In addition, the team showed that 13 percent (4 inches) of soil water evaporation can be saved in the soil during a typical summer season when a thick matte of residues is on the soil surface. This research shows the potential for California farmers to reduce water use and evaporation by combining overhead irrigation and no-till practices.


Supporting Unit:

Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis, Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, Fresno County Cooperative Extension
1. Jeff Mitchell, Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis
2. Wes Wallender, Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, UC Davis
3. Will Horwath, Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, UC Davis
4. Dan Munk, Fresno County Cooperative Extension


Posted on Tuesday, June 30, 2015 at 11:01 AM

CASI’s Diener and Mitchell, and CalCAN’s Renata Brillinger on Drought Resilience Panel at the Berkeley Food Institute

Food Exchange Flyer




CASI members, John Diener and Jeff Mitchell, both of Five Points, CA, and Renata Brillinger of CalCAN, were part of a panel that discussed farming practices to reduce risks tied to drought that was put on by the Berkeley Food Institute on April 13.   A video recording of the panel discussion including the question and answer session that followed can be seen at the following link:

Jeff Mitchell, John Diener and Renata Brillinger head panel discussion of farming practices related to drought. Photo by Jonathan Fong.



Posted on Monday, May 11, 2015 at 9:26 AM

CASI’s Diener and Mitchell in UC Berkeley forum on “Resilience and Health of Food Systems in the Face of Drought” Monday, April 13, 2 – 6 PM

Our CASI Center's John Diener, a Five Points, CA farmer and long-term workgroup member, along with Jeff Mitchell of UC Davis, will be participating as panelists on Monday, April 13th, from 2 – 6 PM in the Tampalpais Room of the David Brower Center at 2150 Allston Way at Oxford Street in Berkeley, CA as part of the Berkeley Food Institute's Food Exchange Series on “Farming practices to reduce risk tied to drought.” 


Posted on Monday, April 6, 2015 at 9:33 AM

Cover Crop Field Day – March 10th from 9 to 11:30 AM at the USDA NRCS Plant Materials Center in Lockeford, CA


Dr. Margaret Smither-Kopperl, Director of the USDA NRCS Plant Materials Center in Lockeford, CA, has organized a public field day on cover crops Tuesday, March 10, from 9 to 11:30.


The agenda for this field day is attached.


Additional information is available by calling Margaret at 209-727-5319 ext 102, or emailing her at


Posted on Monday, March 9, 2015 at 8:57 AM

Cover Crop Mixtures Showcased in Los Banos

Audience at Lucero Farms Field Day, February 26, 2015.
With only five years of experience with cover crops under their belts, Danny Ramos and Jonathan Guido of Lucero Farms in Los Banos, have come quite far in terms of learning to manage cover crops to achieve considerable advantage in their processing tomato production systems. They shared their cover crop knowledge and experiences with a group of about forty visitors at a field day held on February 26th in one of their 2015 tomato fields just south of Hwy 152.

Ramos and Guido count on a number of “systems benefits” from their use of cover crops including better overall soil tilth via cover crop-derived inputs of carbon, better water movement throughout their 60-inch drip-irrigated tomato beds, and this year, - they are actually making money from the sale of the above ground portion of their cover crops to a nearby dairy as silage.

Ahead of their 2015 tomato crops, they've grown various mixes of cover crops that range from their standard triticale, mustard and vetch blend, to five very diverse mixtures including triticale-, rye-, barley-, and black oats-based, - and an especially high diversity mix of sixteen species.

In the field day that they hosted with Jeff Mitchell of the CASI (Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation) Center at UC Davis, they talked about how they managed their 2015 cover crops and what they are hoping to get from them. Each of the mixtures was drill-seeded last October on the tops of their tomato beds, - not in the furrow bottoms, at rates ranging from 60 to 70 lbs/acre. They sprinkler-irrigated their fields as pre-irrigation ahead of this year's tomato crop and said that they applied only one and a half to two inches of additional water for the cover crops. After chopping and removing the above ground materials for silage that is going to a dairy in the Chowchilla area, they will run a strip-tiller to till the centers of their beds and to apply herbicide, before transplanting tomatoes. Later during the tomato season, they'll shallowly work in the remaining cover crop stubble during one of their weed cultivation operations.

Long-term research conducted by a team of UC researchers in Five Points has shown that cover crops, - and particularly cover crops coupled with no-tillage practices, - have increased soil carbon from about 8.8 tons/acre at the start of the study in 1999, to about 12.9 tons/acre in the top foot of soil after eight years.

Further information on the February 26th cover crop field day is available at the CASI website ( and by viewing a summary video available at


Posted on Monday, March 2, 2015 at 9:47 AM

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