Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation
University of California
Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation

CT innovators

Ralph Cesena, Sr. - 2013

Ralph Cesena, Sr. (Photo: Patrick Cavanaugh)
Ralph Cesena, Sr. (Photo: Patrick Cavanaugh)
Author: Jeff Mitchell

This year’s CT Industry Award recipient is Ralph Cesena, Sr.

Ralph is President of Cesena Distributing of Stockton, Calif. His contributions to the development and expansion of conservation tillage systems in California go way back to the 1980s when he rather painstakingly worked to demonstrate and encourage many farmers from Yolo to San Joaquin counties to implement CT practices including no-till and ridge-till planting and high residue cultivation. During that very early era of the introduction of CT approaches in California, Ralph stood by himself as a true ‘lone voice’ for a better way. He was someone much like another private sector CT innovator, Al Ruozi of Interstate Mfg in Bakersfield, who was unquestionably well ahead of his time. People like Ralph and Al are often not well recognized during the times they work to introduce new paradigms and because they actually end up not being well acknowledged for their pioneering work that today we honor this true innovator. 

Ralph introduced no-till and ridge-till at a time when very few in the Central Valley could even fathom the potential and inevitable relevance of these techniques for California. He worked right alongside many leading farmers including Tony Turkovich, Alan Anderson and Richard Rodriguez to demonstrate CT approaches for ‘easy’ crops such as corn, wheat, and edible dry beans, and also later and Hal Robertson, a farmer in Tracy, Calif., on CT techniques for processing tomatoes.

During these early days, Ralph developed his now famous color photo poster board displays that he would bring out for field days he put on himself and then later on for some of the early field days of our CT Workgroup. He also has provided me with numerous PowerPoint photo files of some of these very early CT introductions he made. These photos document the fact that he was a visionary CT leader. He is also listed in the historical CT timeline that appears in the California Agriculture article on CT cotton production systems for the SJV that chronicles major advances in CT adoption and progress.

One thing about Ralph that is particularly endearing to some, but admittedly remarkable to others, is his trademark straightforward, blunt talking and his ‘straight shooter’ personality. Ralph doesn’t mince words. He comes from the old school of CT pioneers like Dr. Ron Morse of Virginia Tech University and Dr. Aref Abdul-Baki of the Beltsville USDA ARS center, who challenge audiences with their CT experiences to ‘show me that it doesn’t work.’  For many reasons that hit to the core of why people fail to adopt new production techniques, Ralph’s early work did not have far-reaching uptake or expansion. The fact remains, however, that he was out there demonstrating CT principles and systems way ahead of the time when they would eventually start to be adopted.  Ralph was one of those very ‘first generation’ CT leaders who are often forgotten because they worked under such trying conditions when the conventional status quo was not only dominant, but in fact, utterly pervasive.

I personally owe a great deal of his own inspiration and resolution to pursue CT research and education to Ralph Cesena, Sr. who has been one of the only local mentors who were out there doing the hard CT development way back in the 1980s.

It is highly fitting that our Workgroup honor Ralph Cesena, Sr. as a 2013 CT Industry Innovator.

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