- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
To introduce more valley farmers to the benefits of conservation agriculture practices, Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation (CASI) produced a six-part documentary featuring California farmers, UC researchers and agency representatives. The series premieres Aug. 6 on the CASI website (http://CASI.ucanr.edu) with a 7-minute segment that lays out the theoretical principles and the scientific basis for conservation agriculture. Additional segments will be released each Monday for five weeks thereafter.
Throughout the series, viewers will meet farmers who are implementing conservation agriculture successfully and profitably on their Central Valley farms. The 6- to 10-minute episodes review the core principles and practices associated with conservation agriculture systems and provide examples of successful local adoption.
After the six-week series airs, viewers, farmers and others interested in conservation agriculture are invited to the UC West Side Research and Extension Center in Fresno County for the annual Twilight Conservation Agriculture Field Day, Sept. 13. The event, which begins at 4 p.m. and concludes when darkness falls, is free and includes a barbecue dinner. Viewers can get clarification on points from the video series and meet many of the farmers and scientists featured in the documentary, plus get a first-hand look at conservation agriculture research currently underway. To register for the Twilight Field Day go to http://ucanr.edu/TwilightRegistration. The West Side Research and Extension Center is at 17353 W. Oakland Ave., Five Points.
“Our goal with the video series is to reach a wider audience of farmers with our research results and on-farm success stories, which show conservation agricultural practices can help make farmers more competitive and sustainable in the long run,” said Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis.
The Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation documentary series includes the following episodes:
Aug. 6: “Introduction to conservation agriculture” – The first video defines conservation agriculture and outlines its increasing credibility in the global context.
Aug. 13: “Maintaining crop residues” – California farmers have tended to adopt “clean cultivation” systems, but research has shown that maintenance of residues from the previous crop or a winter cover crop helps improve soil and reduces evaporation from the surface.
Aug. 20: “Conservation agriculture in tomato production systems” – These systems cut production costs, reduce dust emissions and store more carbon in the soil.
Aug. 27: “Conservation agriculture in dairy silage production systems” – Three dairy farmers committed to conservation agriculture systems in their silage production share their secrets and success.
Sep. 3: “Minimum tillage systems” – This video features examples of a number of reduced pass or ‘pass combining’ tillage systems that have been developed during the past decade.
Sep. 10: “Coupling conservation tillage with overhead irrigation” – Overhead irrigation systems, such as center pivots, are particularly useful when coupled with conservation tillage.
For more information, contact Mitchell at (559) 303-9689, email@example.com.
- Author: Janet Byron
Conservation tillage seeks to reduce the number of times that tractors cross the field, in order to protect the soil from erosion and compaction, and save time, fuel and labor costs. Cotton crops are planted directly into stubble from the previous crop in the rotation.
In the study, conducted from 2000 to 2011 at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points (southwest of Fresno), the number of tractor passes for a cotton-tomato rotation grown with a cover crop was reduced from 20 in the standard treatment to 13 with conservation tillage.
By the final years of the in the San Joaquin Valley study, cotton lint yields were statistically equivalent and even higher (in 2011) than with standard cultivation methods.
“The UC studies have consistently shown that conservation tillage can yield as well as standard tillage in a cotton-tomato rotation,” lead author Jeffrey P. Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, and co-authors wrote in California Agriculture journal.
Their study, “Conservation tillage systems for cotton advance in the San Joaquin Valley,” as well as the entire July-September 2012 issue of California Agriculture journal, can be viewed and downloaded online at: http://californiaagriculture.ucanr.edu.
Mitchell is a founder of Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation (CASI), a diverse group of more than 1,800 farmers, industry representatives, UC and other university faculty, and members of the Natural Resources Conservation Service and other public agencies (http://ucanr.edu/CASI). CASI defines conservation tillage as a suite of cultivation practices — including no-tillage, minimum tillage, ridge tillage and strip tillage — that reduce the volume of soil disturbed and preserve crop residues in the field. Conservation tillage is common in other regions of the United States and parts of the world and is beginning to gain acceptance in California agriculture.
Technological upgrades to tillage implements have been critical to the advancement of conservation tillage systems. These include equipment that can target operations to just the plant row rather than the whole field as well as accomplish several operations at the same time.
Fuel use was reduced by 12 gallons and labor by 2 hours per acre in the conservation tillage plots. This amounted to savings of about $70 per acre in 2011 dollars.
Mitchell noted that more research is needed on the adequate development of cotton stands and the prevention of soil compaction under different conditions, but that the benefits of conservation tillage are becoming increasingly obvious. “Provided that yield performance or more importantly bottom-line profitability can be maintained and the risks associated with adopting a new tillage system are deemed reasonable, conservation tillage systems may become increasingly attractive to producers and more common in San Joaquin Valley cotton-growing areas.”
Also in the July-September 2012 issue of California Agriculture:
Agricultural burning and air quality: Southern California farmers in Imperial County regularly burn crop residues of bermudagrass in the winter and wheat stubble in the summer. A study of ambient air quality adjacent to and downwind of agricultural burning sites in the desert county found that particulate matter levels (PM2.5) were 23% higher on burn days than on no-burn days at four locations. Researchers from the California Department of Public Health also assessed community educational needs regarding agricultural burning and developed fact sheets in English and Spanish targeting the general public, schools and farmers.
The value of privately owned oak woodlands: More than 80 percent of California’s 5 million oak woodland acres are privately owned. In a survey, researchers from Spain and UC Berkeley asked private owners of California oak woodlands to place a monetary value on amenities from their land such as recreation, scenic beauty or a rural lifestyle. The technique, called “contingent valuation,” found that landowners would be willing to pay $54 per acre annually for private amenities from their land and that their willingness to pay per acre decreased as their property size increased.
Microchips for woody plants: Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags are widely used to track books in libraries, products during manufacturing, cattle from rangeland to the slaughterhouse, inventory in retail, runners in road races and much more. These tiny microchips (often the size of a grain of rice) are now being placed in woody plants such as grapevines and orchards to monitor crop diseases, track irrigation and pesticide applications, and help prevent the theft of valuable plants. In this review, Italian researchers discuss the emerging uses of RFID technology in agriculture.
Rainfall simulators to measure erosion: In their efforts to keep Lake Tahoe clear, researchers have been studying the movement of sediments into the lake using rainfall simulators. These fairly simple machines are placed on a slope; “rain” is created over a small frame, which allows sediment in the runoff to be collected and measured. However, the lack of standardization in erosion studies using rainfall simulators may be hampering progress. Mark Grismer, professor in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources at UC Davis, makes the case for standardized field methodologies and data analysis.
California Agriculture is the University of California’s peer-reviewed journal of research in agricultural, natural and human resources. For a free subscription, go to: http://californiaagriculture.ucanr.edu, or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The UC Conservation Agriculture Systems Initiative challenges Californians to look 100 years, or even 500 years, into the future and imagine how today’s common agricultural practices will have impacted the environment and society.
The United Nations estimates world population in 2300 will be about 9 billion. There is likely to be significant development in the ensuing 300 years that reduces the amount of land for farming.
“We have to be able to do more with less,” said Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension cropping systems specialist, echoing a common theme repeated by speakers at the launch of the UC Conservation Agriculture Systems Initiative (CASI) Jan. 27. “The global demand for food will be immense.”
Mitchell, other researchers and many innovative farmers have documented in more than 14 years of field research that changes in traditional farming practices – employing such technologies as precision irrigation, integrated pest management and conservation tillage – cut costs $75 to $150 per acre, reduce dust and diesel fuel emissions 60 to 80 percent, and prevent evaporation of about 4 inches of water per season from the soil surface.
This sort of objective data, plus favorable economic analyses and access to high-technology conservation equipment, are important factors in motivating farmers to change their practices, but they are not the only factors, Mitchell said. The Institute is committed to not only demonstrating and communicating the documented benefits of conservation agriculture but also identifying the drivers behind behavior change. The goal is converting 50 percent of California crop acreage to conservation practices by 2028.
“The cornerstone of sustainability is behavior change,” said Ron Harben of the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts, one of the Initiative’s founders. “Simply providing information has little or no effect on what people do.”
In parts of the U.S. and the world, conservation agriculture is common practice. World leaders in conservation agriculture include Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, Western Australia and Canada. Within the next ten years, Mitchell reported, more than 85 percent of the cropland in the three South American countries is expected to be converted to conservation agriculture. Adoption rates are also quite high in parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, the Pacific Northwest, and areas throughout Alabama and Georgia. Yet implementation in California is still low.
In 2010, conservation tillage systems accounted for about 14 percent of the acreage in silage and grain corn, small grains for hay, silage and grain, tomatoes, cotton, dry beans, and melons in the nine-county Central Valley region. This was an increase from about 10 percent in 2008. Minimum tillage practices were used on about 33 percent of crop acreage in 2010, up from about 21 percent in 2008.
Mitchell said the implementation trends around the world, in the U.S. and in California “lend a certain inevitability” to its wide adoption in the San Joaquin Valley.
“This is not just about making a profit and optimizing yields,” Mitchell said. “By minimizing soil disturbance, preserving surface residue and including a greater diversity of crops in the rotation we are improving the soil resources and deepening the soil in an improved condition.”
The keynote speaker at the CASI launch was Hanford dairy farmer Dino Giacomazzi, a long-time innovator in conservation agriculture. Giacomazzi discovered conservation agriculture not long after taking over day-to-day operations of the Giacomazzi dairy from his father.
“It’s less work for more money,” Giacomazzi said. “Why aren’t people doing it? What’s the holdup?”
Perhaps in answer to his own question, Giacomazzi shared the reaction of his father to the new system being used on their farm. In their last conversation, the elder Giacomazzi lamented that, “Everything I’ve ever done, you’ve undone,” his son related at the meeting.
Dino Giacomazzi said many farmers’ tendency to be “enthralled” with tradition, their fierce independence, aversion to risk and fear of derision from neighbors contribute to their resistance to change. But accepting change is what is needed to adapt to a rapidly changing world.
Giacomazzi said the new Institute will play an important role in supporting farmers as they convert to conservation practices.
“This can’t be just a launch,” Giacomazzi said. “We must make this happen. Stay in touch.”
A video of the complete CASI January 27 launch meeting will soon be available at the Institute’s website http://ucanr.org/CASI.