Fritz Durst - 2011
He is truly a conservation tillage pioneer in an area of the state that, in the early 1980s, was subject to massive sheet and rill erosion that resulted from conventional tillage practices that relied on moldboard plowing and left little or no residues to protect the soil from the impacts of rain.
Fritz has always enjoyed the challenges of agriculture and began accompanying his father around their ranchland and fields by age five. Not long after graduating from UC Davis with a degree in agricultural economics, Fritz and his father turned their attention toward the problem of persistent soil erosion occurring on the uplands of the Capay Hills and the foothills near Dunnigan. They investigated no-till techniques for their small grain crops that involved planting directly into the residue of the previous crop.
The most immediate benefit Fritz realized was a significant reduction in soil erosion. In 1985, after one year of no-till wheat production Durst reported a reduction in annual soil loss from six tons/acre using conventional tillage to two tons/acre in his no-till fields. Additionally, the large six foot deep gullies that appeared after winter storms were not seen the year following their change to no-till. During the next few years, Fritz reported on his experiences at several no-till workshops, and received the RCD “Cooperator of the Year Award” in 1986 for being a pioneer of no-till cultivation in Yolo County.
He also has been quoted as not having seen one erosion gully in his wheat and barley fields since he quit tilling the soil.
He also pioneered the use of the innovative seeding configuration known as the 5 / 15 system in which two seed rows five inches apart are planted then 15 inches are skipped before repeating.
The Residue Management Guide that the Yolo County NRCS office has produced essentially documents the great work that Fritz has done on his farm with no-till.
Without much recognition, Fritz has pioneered the use of no-till in Yolo County. He has spent a lot of his own money travelling to, attending and participating in no-till conferences in the Pacific Northwest and tries out ideas that he learns at these conferences on his farm at home. He has also routinely shared his learning with many others and has been a leader of his Resource Conservation District.
It is highly fitting that our Workgroup honor Fritz Durst as a 2011 CT Farmer Innovator.