Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation
University of California
Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation

CT innovators

Steve Fortner and Fred Leavitt - 2011

Steve Fortner
Steve Fortner
CT Farmer Innovator awards for 2011 go to Steve Fortner and Fred Leavitt of Sun Pacific Farming in Exeter, Calif. Together, they have developed and successfully refined state-of-the-art tomato production systems that employ strip-tillage with winter cover crops. Their farms throughout California now employ aspects of these practices and their main production fields in the Firebaugh area, have now been using these approaches for over 8 years.  Their production efficiencies have been increased through the use of these systems and they serve today as pioneering models of conservation and economic success for the entire vegetable industry in California.

The essence of Sun Pacific’s CT system is the use of off-season barley or triticale cover crops, strip-tillage ahead of tomato transplanting, and subsurface drip irrigation.  Together, these practices have created an economically viable and resource-conserving system that is simply state-of-the-art.  They have hosted several CT Workgroup events at their Firebaugh farm fields and recently, in July of 2010, took three tomato farmers from up in the Tracy, CA area on a full tour of Sun Pacific’s fields. 

Steve and Fred were THE original pioneers in terms of trying the strip-till cover crop tomato system. I believe that their actual first efforts with this system occurred in a small section of one of their Firebaugh fresh market tomato fields back in 2003. This initial attempt was a very bold initiative on their part and it involved considerable planning, careful observation and trouble shooting.  I was present for this initial effort and was later fortunate to be invited to their Firebaugh shop each time a new advance or technology was applied to make the system even better.  They worked on refining the basic strip-tiller and were the first in California to attempt to use a rotary tiller model that they fabricated themselves.  They then were also the first to use a ground-driver “Yetter” strip-tiller at their farm. 

Their tomato fields are not only typically quite immaculate, but also extremely productive. 

Both Steve and Fred, who is now retired, have worked together in the innovation process, I believe. They hosted THE first tomato strip-till cover crop public field day that our Workgroup sponsored at their field in Firebaugh back in 2004.  More recently, Steve has also taken part as a presenter in the rather large and successful CT bus tour that we held and also in the 2010 session at Sano Farms, one of their neighbors. 

It is for these reasons they receive a 2011 CT Farmer Innovator Award this year.

-Jeff Mitchell

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