- Author: Jeffrey P Mitchell
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 http://casi.ucanr.edu/
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.”