- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and CASI chair, presented the award to the father-son team at a field day on their Denair farm Nov. 24.
“Darrell and his son Trevor are tenacious, committed and skilled farmers,” Mitchell said. “They have demonstrated innovation and leadership in development, refinement and use of conservation tillage systems that more than meet the criteria for this award.”
In July 2003, the Cordovas summoned a group of UC Cooperative Extension researchers to their farm, including Ron Vargas, emeritus agronomy and weed advisor in Madera and Merced counties; Anil Shrestha, then UC Integrated Pest Management weed ecologist; and Mitchell. They were farming an usual mixture of crops – including corn, wheat, triticale and other winter forage species, along with almonds – on a farm with rolling hills on the eastern edge of the San Joaquin Valley floor.
“They wanted to begin a dialogue about their interest in trying conservation tillage in an edible dry bean-wheat rotation,” Mitchell said. “Darrell and Trevor were inquisitive and eager to make reduced tillage work at their farm. They jumped into these early investigations with both feet.”
Darrell Cordova also consulted with Ralph Sesena, Sr., president of Cesena Distributing of Stockton, Calif., and recipient of CASI's 2013 Privater Sector Innovator Award. Sesena suggested the Cordovas try no-till bean seeding using a Buffalo slot seeder. He worked with them as they successfully planted no-till winter small grains following their summer beans.
During the early years, weed management was a serious challenge. Because of weed pressure in their beans and wheat, they developed a minimum-tillage approach that involved a shallow disking operation before crop changes.
Things changed again in 2007. The Cordovas invested in a 165-acre corner arm center pivot irrigation system and a dairy farm was established adjacent to their property, prompting them to grow dairy silage.
“With this new rotation scheme, Darrell and Trevor once again became interested in no-till production,” Mitchell said. “They developed no-till capabilities for both their summer silage corn and their winter forage mixes.”
When they saw their corn grow taller and greener under the new no-till management, the duo purchased a new eight-row planter and a 20-food no-till drill in 2014.
“Darrell and Trevor have made major strides in their ability to use conservation tillage practices at their farm and are now truly two of CASI's most outspoken champions for these innovative conservation agriculture systems,” Mitchell said. “They continue to serve as important advisors to our ongoing conservation agriculture and center pivot irrigation work.”
Following the award ceremony for the Cordovas, Dennis Chessman, state agronomist with the USDA NRCS; Margaret Smither-Kopperl, director of the NRCS Plant Materials Center; and Mitchell led a discussion and demonstration of some of the improvements in soil health that have been seen in fields where reduced disturbance techniques are used and where residues are maintained.
Mitchell noted the importance of these conservation agriculture practices that the Cordovas are using for increasing the water use efficiency of cropping systems by reducing soil evaporation and cooling surface soil temperatures. He told the gathered field day participants that longterm work in Five Points, Calif., has demonstrated that soil water evaporation losses can be reduced by as much as five inches during a routine summer crop season using these practices.
At the field day honoring the Cordovas for their progress with conservation agriculture practices coupled with precision overhead pivot irrigation, Mitchell said the team has implemented “quite significant strategies for producing more with less.”
“Not only have Darrell and Trevor Cordova been successful at significantly cutting their overall production costs, but they've also increased the water use efficiency of their production systems," Mitchell said.