Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation
University of California
Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation

Conservation agriculture news

Tillage practices continue to change

California's Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation (CASI) Center, in partnership with Sustainable Conservation and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, has prepared its survey of tillage management acreage for 2012. This tillage survey was conducted as an ongoing comparison of annual row crop acreage that is farmed under different tillage systems throughout the Central Valley region of California. Over 35 local NRCS, University of California and private sector experts were surveyed and results were compared with 2012 County Agricultural Commissioner cropland acreage reports. Previous surveys have been conducted in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Data in this survey were compiled for two general types of reduced tillage systems. Tillage practices such as no-till, strip-till, ridge-till and mulch-till, that leave at least 30% of the residue from previous crops in place on the soil surface are the typical forms of conservation tillage that are recognized throughout the world and that have historically been chronicled as one category of reduced tillage in our survey. In addition to these practices, “minimum tillage” practices that reduce the overall number of tillage passes by at least 40% relative to what was done in the year 2000, are also included in the tally of conservation tillage acreage.

A number of complicating factors, including changes in cropping acreage and rotational crop selections that were being implemented in 2012 as California's drought began to take hold and changes and turnover in the local expert reporters who have provided input for the survey estimates over the years, may be apparent in the 2012 survey results. These methodological challenges notwithstanding, the 2012 survey has been carefully checked and represents a useful view to the ‘big picture' trends that may be occurring in the region and that may warrant more detailed investigations to determine why certain patterns are being noted.

In 2012, conservation tillage systems accounted for about 17% of the total acreage for the crops that were surveyed including silage and grain corn, small grains for hay, silage and grain, tomatoes, cotton, dry beans, and melons throughout the nine-county Central Valley region. This was an increase from about 14% in 2010. Minimum tillage practices were used on about 15% of crop acreage in 2012, a reduction from about 24% in 2010.

The largest change in conservation tillage acreage from 2004 – 2012 is found in the amount of corn silage acreage that uses strip-tillage. In 2004, there were only about 490 acres of summer silage corn using strip-till, while in 2012 over 181,000 acres throughout the San Joaquin Valley region had adopted the use of this form of conservation tillage. Another major trend during this time has occurred with minimum tillage tomato acreage increasing from about 3% in 2004, to about 58% in both 2010 and 2012. Speculation as to why minimum tillage acreage overall tended to decline from 2010 to 2012 may relate to issues with herbicide application practices as well as soil salinity patterns that occur particularly with subsurface drip irrigation that have become concerns for farmers if broadcast, full-area tillage is not performed. A full and detailed report of CASI's tillage acreage survey is available at our website:

 Table 1.

California conservation tillage acreage survey (2012) for tomatoes, cotton, edible dry beans, silage corn, grain corn, and small grains for grain, hay and silage, CT – conservation tillage, MT – minimum tillage, September 14, 2014


>30% residue cover after planting

>40% reduction in total passes

<30% residue cover after planting

Total Acreage

CT as a % of Total Acreage

CT and MT as a % of Total Acreage


Conservation Tillage Total

Minimum Tillage Total

Conventional Tillage



































































San Joaquin





































Table 2.
Changes in the percentage of acres of conservation tillage (CT) and minimum tillage (MT) relative to the total number of acres for 2010 and 2012 for all surveyed crops, and for tomato, cotton, and silage corn individually.


Total Acreage

Tomato Acreage

Cotton Acreage

Silage Corn




































































For additional information and of various forms of conservation tillage, please contact Jeff Mitchell at (559) 303-9689 or  For information on the equipment rental program for strip-tillage and silage corn planting, contact Ladi Asgill (209) 604-6554 or

Posted on Thursday, October 2, 2014 at 3:01 PM

Farmers cutting costs by cutting tillage

Recent investigations conducted by UC's Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation (CASI) Center shed light on opportunities farmers have for cutting production costs in their cropping systems by reducing tillage. Founded in 1998, CASI is a large group of diverse members including UC researchers, farmers, private sector, NRCS and other public agency partners who work together to develop and spread information about production systems alternatives that aim to increase profitability and efficiencies, conserve resources and be readily adaptable to local marketing and environmental conditions.

Citing a number of studies the group has published over the past several years at a recent workgroup meeting in Five Points, Calif., CASI workgroup chair, Jeff Mitchell, summarized the potential savings that can be gained by a variety of reduced tillage approaches as being typically between $50 and $140 per acre per season depending on the particular crop and set of practices or equipment that are used.

“For a number of crops including tomato, cotton, silage corn, sorghum, and sugar beets, that we've run the numbers for, this seems to be the range of savings that can be achieved by using various minimum tillage implements that combine customary tillage operations into fewer passes, or more classic forms of conservation tillage such as strip-tillage or no-tillage," Mitchell said.

CASI Workgroup tomato farmers, Alan Sano, Jesse Sanchez and Steve Fortner of Firebaugh have all seen this range of cost reductions since moving to minimum tillage practices that they couple with subsurface drip irrigation and cover crops when water is available to improve their soil's tilth, water movement and storage.

“Our yields are actually higher now with about four inches less water than when we were furrow irrigating and using conventional tillage,” reports Jesse Sanchez in a recent survey that is available at the CASI website

Tom Barcellos, a Tipton, Calif., dairy farmer and President of Western United Dairymen, calculates savings of about $70 per acre that he has accomplished with strip-till and no-till silage corn over his former conventional intercrop tillage practices. There are also savings in time as well as wear and tear on equipment that he has achieved since transitioning to these conservation tillage practices in 2003.

Alan Wilcox, another CASI workgroup founding member and minimum tillage equipment entrepreneur in Walnut Grove, Calif. has created a tillage cost calculator tool that he uses to determine savings that may result from reduced pass practices.

“Knowing the true costs of tillage is essential,” Wilcox says, “since tillage is one of the few things in their overall budgets that farmers can control.”

Posted on Wednesday, October 1, 2014 at 3:01 PM

Pioneering conservation agriculturalist Al Ruozi, 97, retires

Al Ruozi
Mr. Al Ruozi of Interstate Manufacturing received the Conservation Tillage Workgroup's Award for Industry Innovation in 2005. He has made very significant contributions to conservation tillage in California through his inventions, his vision for a better way to manage the soil, and the sheer persistence and single-minded purpose that he has shown throughout his life.

Al was born in 1917 in Bakersfield, Calif. As a young boy, he learned, as he says, “That you have to walk the furrow to find out what the ground is like,” and early on he realized that “there was a better way to manage the soil” than was being done.

In the early 1950s, he made the precursors of his patented Shredder Bedder to help potato farmers who needed a way to have cotton roots dislodged and unearthed prior to planting potatoes.

In the late 1950s he had perfected the Shredded Bedder and the potential benefits of this machine for cotton stalk and soil management were quickly shown.

Al's company, Interstate Manufacturing, then went on to build 175 machines that were used throughout the southern San Joaquin Valley and even back at Auburn University in Alabama.

With Lyle Carter, a USDA ARS scientist at the Shafter, Calif., research facility, Al recognized quite early on the importance of trying to leave beds in the same place, and thereby effectively perform zone production.

In 1967, Al responded to a challenge by taking his machine down to Brawley, Calif., where it was compared to standard cotton stalk management approaches and it proved successful. This test subsequently helped alter CDFA's rule for pink bollworm management by acknowledging that a power-driven shredder performed successfully for postharvest cotton management.

Al has met and overcome many challenges in his life as a result of his vision, intellect and innovation.

“It has been a battle,” he says, “since he put his first two pieces of iron together.”

He developed systems that would save, again in his words, "oil, toil, and soil.”

Al has been fighting the battle to develop improved tillage management systems that most of us have only recently begun, for over six decades.

CASI is extremely proud to count Al Ruozi within our ranks and we greatly appreciate his dedication and outstanding accomplishments in the field of conservation tillage.

Congratulations, Al, on your retirement!

Posted on Thursday, September 4, 2014 at 10:05 AM

CASI farmers and equipment innovators host international visitors

Two CASI farmer members, Darrell Cordova of Denair and Jesse Sanchez of Firebaugh, along with minimum till equipment entrepreneurs Alan Wilcox and Juan Trujillo of Walnut Grove, were recently called upon to provide some local San Joaquin Valley hospitality to international visitor groups from Mexico and Afghanistan.

Mexican agricultural tour group with SJV host, Darrell Cordova, (long-sleeved brown shirt and sunglasses) at no-till corn field that is irrigated by center pivot irrigation system in Denair June 4.
Darrell hosted a USDA Foreign Ag Service sponsored delegation from Mexico at a no-tillage center pivot corn field at his farm on June 4. The group of about 20 visitors consisted of a variety of scientists and government workers from all over Mexico who are working to develop strategies and practices for reducing greenhouse gas emissions throughout Mexico's agricultural sector. Their California tour was coordinated by the state NRCS office in conjunction with UC Davis.

The visit with Darrell was specifically held to showcase ways in which individual farmers like Darrell work with groups like NRCS and CASI to achieve both economically viable production with tangible conservation benefits. Darrel's work to improve his production system efficiencies has involved other CASI partners including CSU Fresno weed ecologist, Anil Shrestha and Valley Irrigation's Terry Ioerger, and evolved into a continuous no-till winter forage mix followed by corn, - both irrigated by a center pivot irrigation system now for about four years.

Following the farm visit with Cordova, the group made their way to the Walnut Grove manufacturing facility of Wilcox Agriproducts where they met with Alan Wilcox and Juan Trujillo, two founding CASI members and minimum tillage equipment designers and providers. In the meeting with Wilcox and Trujillo, the Mexican delegation learned about the success Wilcox Agriproducts has had in developing reduced pass tillage implements that save fuel and cut costs in a wide range of highly efficient crop production context, both here in California and also in Arizona. They also learned about the private-public partnership that Wilcox Agriproducts has had with CASI and how the two efforts have worked together over the years to develop and disseminate information on conservation agriculture systems here in California.

Agricultural tour group from Afghanistan with SJV host, Jesse Sanchez, in Sano Farms tomato farm as part of tour hosted by UCD’s Office of International Programs, June 16 in Firebaugh.
Then on June 16, Jesse Sanchez hosted a group of about 25 visitors from Afghanistan at Sano Farms in Firebaugh. This tour was organized by Nick Madden and Jim Hill of the UC Davis Office of International Programs to provide information and successful examples of extension education programs that involve innovative farmers like Jesse with successful public/private sector partnerships such as CASI and NRCS. By all accounts, the Afghani group greatly appreciated standing out in one of Jesse's tomato fields and learning directly from him how he has achieved the truly state-of-the-art conservation agriculture systems that are now used at Sano Farms.

The post-tour evaluation summaries we have received from each of these tour groups reveals that they very much appreciated and greatly benefited from the very kind, generous and helpful information that they received from each of these CASI hosts. Their willingness to give of their time and to step up in such gracious ways accomplished very tangible measures of SJV hospitality and broader reach that CASI is now beginning to have.

Posted on Thursday, July 31, 2014 at 12:17 PM

Conservation agriculture applies to California

Greater efficiencies and brighter economics in California agriculture could be achieved by employing conservation principles.
The belief that an unrivaled record of productivity, deep soils and dry climate mean conservation agriculture doesn't apply in California is “flat wrong,” said Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis.

Mitchell, the chair of the UC Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation Center, made the comment at the 6th World Congress on Conservation Agriculture in Winnipeg, Manitoba, last month.

After attending the congress, Mitchell said he is more strongly convinced that greater efficiencies and brighter economics in California agriculture could be achieved by employing conservation principles.

“Focusing on soil care will improve soil water intake and storage,” he said. “Reducing soil water evaporation can be achieved by preserving surface residues. Together these steps reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions – very important goals.”

The Manitoba congress drew more than 350 participants representing 47 countries. It was co-sponsored by the Conservation Agriculture Systems Alliance, the Conservation Technology Information Center, and the Canadian Soil and Water Conservation Society. California's CASI was represented by Mitchell and Monte Bottens, president of California Ag Solutions of Madera, a consulting and custom fertilizer support company.

Speakers at the conference suggested conservation agriculture principles are “transformative and not merely incremental means for achieving the kinds of change must be made to meet the global challenges of food production and natural resource conservation in the 21st Century,” Mitchell said. Modestly tweaking today's conventional agricultural systems, he said, “is not an option.”

Today conservation agriculture is used on about 11 percent of the world's total arable land. Implementation is increasing at an annual rate of about 7 to 8 million hectares, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization. Nearly half of the world's conservation agriculture acreage is found in the developing world. The South American countries of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, where the movement had its beginnings as a farmer-led process dating back to the mid-1970s, has about 80 percent implementation.

During his keynote address at the conference, David Montgomery, University of Washington professor of geology and author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, issued a “call to action.”

“Global soil degradation,” he said, “is an under-appreciated environmental crisis that occurs because of how we farm. We need to be more creative in terms of how we're intensifying agriculture to feed the post-oil world without cheap, fertilizer-intensive agriculture.”

Congress speaker Dwayne Beck, agronomy professor at South Dakota State University, also sounded an alarm.

“Never in history has mankind knowingly faced this type of impending catastrophe,” Beck said. “It is time to stop doing incremental things and start doing transformative things. You do not cross a chasm in two steps. We need to focus on where we want to be and emphasize systems, not details; actions, not reactions; and commitment, not merely involvement.”

CASI members are working with foundations and granting agencies to better position the organization to support implementation of conservation agriculture in California. For more information, contact Mitchell at (559) 303-9689.

Posted on Thursday, July 31, 2014 at 11:52 AM

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