November 10, 2021
Sobering findings in reduced soil disturbance organic vegetable production farm evaluations
For the past three years, a group of experienced organic vegetable farmers along with several University and private sector partners has been evaluating a host of reduced tillage or soil disturbance approaches for the highly-prized crops that they grow at several California farm locations. To date, the group has come face-to-face with several sobering realizations about just how hard it is going to be for them to alter too much the tried-and-true tillage practices that they have come to rely upon over the years to produce their healthy vegetables.
In a recent project progress discussion get-together, the group gathered to hash out how things have been going and several sources of trouble were identified. Terminating winter cover crops using a roller-crimper and without herbicides, having seedlings devoured by a host of insect pests, uncertainties regarding whether nutrient (particularly nitrogen) availability needs are being met within reduced disturbance systems, and other as yet unspecified causes of yield drag were all identified as challenges that have not yet been overcome. The 'hits' that these farmers have had with respect to low yields have been considerable and are not seen as something that can be taken on as replacements of their traditional tillage approaches.
Farmers and partners in the group are now gathering their thoughts in preparation for a daylong pre-conference workshop as part of the 2022 ECOFARM event on Wednesday, January 19, in Asilomar, CA. Information about the pre-conference and registration materials are available at the ECOFARM website
November 10, 2021
Fresno State Plant Science researchers begin year 5 of cover crop roller study
New paradigms for crop production are being tested in what has now evolved to be the fifth straight year of research by Fresno State researchers on the use of a roller crimper to kill winter cover crops ahead of spring-planted silage corn.
In a campus field at the northeast corner of the intersection of Bullard and Cedar Avenues, under the direction of Dr. Anil Shrestha, Chair of FSU's Department of Viticulture and Enology, and with Robert Willmott, the project's field director, a series of different winter cover crop species and mixtures have recently been seeded under the University's center pivot irrigation system and will be grown with largely winter rainfall through March of 2022. The cover crops will then be evaluated in terms of the ability to kill them using a roller-crimper implement and without herbicide.
Shrestha and Willmott have been in the trenches with the pioneering evaluations and now have four years of experience with the system under their belts. At first, the whole thing was a novelty with many open questions, but the team's recent successes in killing the cover crops have buoyed them with the confidence and hope that they may well be onto something with the production approach.
Both Fresno State researchers are part of a larger effort that is exploring techniques for growing crops organically with less overall soil disturbance. The "CIG Project," as it has been called, involves several experienced organic vegetable farmers throughout the State who have farm-based studies also underway in Hollister, Guinda, and Meridian, CA. The work being conducted at Fresno State is an important part of this overall effort and has made very interesting progress toward reducing soil disturbance while protecting the soil surface with residues - important principles of soil health management systems.
Tours of the site are available by contacting Dr. Anil Shrestha at firstname.lastname@example.org
October 11, 2021
Students in the agronomy class of Dr. Ranjit Riar at Fresno State University had a rare opportunity to visit a working no-tillage research field as part of a field trip that they took to the NRI Project field at the University of California's West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points, CA. On what was the windiest day of the year, the students braved the uncomfortable and blistering wind to see not only equipment that is used for reduced disturbance production, but also no-till soils and residues, as well as live demonstrations of soil aggregation and water infiltration. Jeff Mitchell of the Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation Center at UC Davis hosted the group along with fellow CASI members Joy Hollingsworth and Dan Munk.
No-tillage is still very much in its infancy in California, but continuing research by the group in Five Points that includes farmers, university, NRCS and private sector partners has shown that it is possible to produce several annual crops that are part of Central Valley production rotations successfully with the reduced disturbance approach. In addition, the researchers have documented several positive changes in soil properties and function when the combination of no-tillage and cover crops is used consistently over time.
Students in Dr. Riar's class learned about the “3 E's of farming” – equipment, economics, and ecology, during their visit to the field station and they saw no-till drills and planters and strip-tillage implements. They learned how to determine % residue cover over the soil and compared residue cover under no-tillage with cover crops versus standard clean tillage. Dr. Riar mentioned how surprised he was when he first came to California to learn how little of the practice is actually currently used in the state.
Despite the horrendous wind, the field trip was a huge success and gave students much to think about as they carefully drove back to the Fresno State campus.
September 3, 2021
Michiel Bakker, the Vice President for Global Workplace Programs for GOOGLE, along with Douglas Gayeton, the creative leader for The Lexicon of Sustainability (https://www.thelexicon.org/ ), spent a full day on September 3, 2021 first visiting the NRI Project field in Five Points, CA and then the farms of John Diener right up the road, and of Phil Foster in Hollister, CA. The purpose of their visit was to learn about and see efforts that are being made to realize conservation (or more recently, “regenerative”) agriculture systems here in California. CASI's Jeff Mitchell coordinated the day's tour that also included retired Madera, CA organic farmer, Tom Willey.
While at the NRI study site, the group looked at several reduced disturbance pieces of equipment and also witnessed the increased aggregation of long-term no-till and cover cropped soils in the NRI field compared to that of standard tillage.
At Red Rock Ranch, the Five Points farm of Diener, the group along with John's son, Justin, talked about water issues that California is facing as well as efforts the Dieners are making to address water shortages. They also learned what goes into the large organic tomato fields that they visited and learned about the minimum pass tillage practices that they use.
At Pinnacle Organically-Grown Produce, the Hollister, CA farm of Foster, the visitors saw a variety of Phil's innovations including his on-farm compost production techniques, his use of strip-tillage, and his development of the use of single-line cover crops that economize greatly on seed and water.
September 30, 2021
Our CASI Workgroup hosted Dr. Paul Sebesta, Instructor/Director, Agriculture and Natural Resource Initiatives in the Cochise (AZ) Community College system at the longstanding NRI Project field in Five Points on Friday, September 24. His visit was part of the evaluation process for his application to serve as the new joint Director of both the Kearney Research and Extension Center and the West Side Research and Extension Center. CASI's Jeff Mitchell hosted him for his short visit to our 22-year old study and fielded his questions.