- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Tomato producers interested in cutting costs, reducing inputs and improving their soil, received a strong jump start to planning their 2011 seasons by participating in a recently-held “how to get started with conservation tillage and cover crop systems” discussion held at Sano Farms in Firebaugh.
The open house event was conducted by Alan Sano and Jesse Sanchez and sponsored by California's Conservation Tillage and Cropping Systems Workgroup. Sano and Sanchez were the Workgroup's 2009 Farmer Innovator award recipients and have been refining and perfecting their conservation tillage, drip-irrigated, and cover crop-containing tomato systems for over five years with both economic advantage and resource conservation benefits. The systems that they’ve developed are cheaper, have increased soil organic matter and improved soil tilth, and have actually increased processing tomato yields at their 4000-acre farm in western Fresno County.
Sano and Sanchez started their quest for improved tomato production practices when they switched to subsurface drip irrigation as a means to improve irrigation management. Once they learned how to manage and gain advantage from their drip system, they then began introducing winter cover crops into their tomato system to add organic matter to the soil and break up their tomato monoculture. Cover crops have now actually become such a valuable and integral part of their system, that they typically dedicate the equivalent of a 3 inch pre-irrigation to get the cover crop started in the early fall of each year ahead of the following season’s tomatoes. Triticale has been the cover crop of choice to date, but this fall following the 2010 tomato harvest, they’re going to experiment with a late summer legume cover, cowpeas.
Their goal is to kill the cover crop before it grows too large with RoundUp® and then let it “melt” down before they come in with an Orthman 1-tRIPr strip-tiller just ahead of transplanting tomatoes. By managing the cover crop so as to kill it before it grows too big, they are able to gain advantages of the additional crop in terms of winter weed control and extra carbon into their soil system. They’ve increased soil organic matter by 50% since they started with this approach.
Additional information and assistance in planning and implementing these sorts of cost-saving conservation tillage approaches in the coming 2011 season is available through the Conservation Tillage and Cropping Systems Workgroup by emailing Workgroup Chair, Jeff Mitchell, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phoning him at (559) 303-9689.