Fifteen years of stunning conservation agriculture success at Rollin Valley Farms in Burrel, CA!
June 22, 2020
Andy Rollin, along with his brother, Donny, are dairy farmers near the small western San Joaquin Valley town of Burrel, CA. Their farm, Rollin Valley Farms, milks over 2,000 cows and has about 700 acres of silage crops including alfalfa, corn, oats, wheat, and sudangrass. About 15 years ago, they began some of the earliest efforts to develop reduced disturbance production techniques for their silage crops (see video below). They pioneered the successful development of strip-till corn way back in 2003 and 2004 and then a few years later, began working with Monte Bottens and Cary Crum of California Ag Solutions (CAS) in Madera, CA, to further improve their production systems. Monte and Cary helped them with state-of-the-art planter improvements, an Orthman 1-tRipR strip-till implement and also the use of CAS's Landoll no-till grain drill. (See Picture 1). In addition, the Rollins have in recent years added a late-summer multi-species silage “cover crop” which has now augmented their annual forage production over their prior double-cropping practices. Strip-till corn yields at their farm are up about 2 to 3 tons/acre over prior production rates and there have also been 10 to 15% improvements in their feed quality that have resulted from the coupled, innovative efforts that they have made.
The Rollins were also involved with a research study back in 2004 and 2005 with CASI's Nick Madden, Randy Southard, and Jeff Mitchell to determine the impacts of their reduced disturbance practices on air quality. (See Picture 2.)This work showed that over 85% of dust emissions were reduced by strip-till compared to their previous standard till system (see the attached article by Madden et al. 2008). (See Picture 3).
The Rollins are now firmly behind their transition to strip-till and no-till cover crops and small grain seeding schemes and attribute an early spring savings of about 10 days to their reduced disturbance corn planting systems. They now have switched to watering up their strip-till corn following the very minimal soil work they do following winter small grain chopping and harvesting. In recognition of their innovative and steadfast progress, they were Finalists in the 2018 Leopold Conservation Award Program. The following short video shows one of their strip-till corn fields this spring. (See Picture 4.)
Here is a link to a You Tube video of this project: https://youtu.be/mq8itVs3Iak
Tom Willey's "Down on the Farm" 88.1 FM KFCF Radio Interview with CalCAN's Renata Brillinger and CASI's Jeff Mitchell on California's GHG emissions offset programs and the California farm demonstration network
An audio archive of the KFCF 88.1 FM radio program of Tom Willey's "Down on the Farm" segment for July 1, 2016 that included interviews with CalCAN's Renata Brillinger and our own CASI's Jeff Mitchell is now posted at the CASI website. This hour-long interview included discussion of the State's GHG emissions offset programs by Brillinger and information on our farm demonstration network from Mitchell.
The radio program can be heard by clicking on this link: http://casi.ucanr.edu/video_updates/radio_updates/
We would like to let you know about the formation of the California Farm Demonstration Evaluation Network, - a grassroots, locally-based effort that has been developed by farmers throughout the State, the Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation (CASI) Center, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts, the University of California Cooperative Extension, and a variety of private sector partners to address the simultaneous goals of better farm management, greater farm profits, and increased farm productivity and sustainability.
The California network is modeled after a number of other farm networks that have been created in several states around the country as a means for providing opportunities for progress, the development of improved systems, and greater efficiency in face of the many challenges that agriculture faces today. Key elements of the California farm demonstration network are 1) participatory learning and adaptive, improved management based on sound science- and experience-based principles, 2) the public, voluntary showcasing of innovative systems developed by experienced farmer leaders, 3) a program of farm demonstration evaluations that employ monitoring, data collection, and analysis of findings, and 4) the use of proven, creative methods for sharing, discussion and communicating results and findings so as to scale up broader adoption of improved systems.
The network has a broad array of goals that it is pursuing that include the development of water-, climate-, and nutrient-smart systems for the State's diverse crop production environments. An initial series of network-sponsored farm visits that showcase innovative soil health practices of five Central Valley farmers is being conducted in June of 2016.
Information for these visits and for ongoing activities and opportunities of the network is available at the CASI website http://casi.ucanr.edu/ or by emailing or calling, Jeff Mitchell, CASI Workgroup Chair, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (559) 303-9689.
CASI farmer members, Michael and Adam Crowell of Turlock, Darrell Cordova of Denair, and Scott Schmidt of Five Points, along with Jeff Mitchell, hosted Amelie Gaudin, the new professor of Agroecology in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis at their farms on January 23, 2015 to share with her information about their farms and the efforts they have made to improve their crop production systems. Each of these farmers very graciously welcomed Dr. Gaudin who has been on the job in Davis for only three weeks.
Dr. Amelie Gaudin has tremendous experience with cropping system ecology and is currently establishing her research lab in Davis that is focusing on using agroecological principles to help develop efficient and resilient cropping systems. Three current themes that she will be emphasizing in her research program of her lab group are ecological intensification, climate-smart agroecosystems, and evolutionary root ecology, - all very nicely related to the core goals of our CASI Workgroup.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Innovative soil enhancement practices are being researched and implemented around the world, but haven’t caught on yet in most of California. Free workshops at UC Davis and Five Points will feature new ways of managing soil that promise long-term sustainability, better crop quality and reduced use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
The Davis workshop is at 11 a.m. Dec. 10 in the Plant and Environmental Sciences Building 3001; the Five Points workshop is at 11 a.m. Dec. 11 at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center, 17353 W. Oakland Ave., Five Points.
The UC Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation program (CASI) has invited nationally known proponents of soil health to share their experiences and knowledge about soil-supporting practices. Brendon Rockey of Rockey Farms in Center, Colo., will be talking about practices for which he has coined the term “biotic farming systems.”
Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, said Rockey is not an “organic” farmer, but an “extremely innovative” farmer. Rockey and his uncle grow 30 varieties of potatoes on 250 acres in the San Luis Valley of Colorado
“He’s somebody who is questioning and challenging the way things have always been done,” Mitchell said. “Rather than relying on heavy hammers like herbicides, fungicides, tillage and other inputs to solve problems, Rockey is helping people realize that there might be a more integrated, biological way to address problems and reduce inputs.”
For example, Rockey advocates the use of multi-species green manure, either as a winter cover crop or, in the case of his own farm, right alongside the crop during the growing season.
“We know that … diverse plant populations bring life to the soil,” Rockey shares on his website Soilguys.com. “They create an ideal environment for a variety of microbial populations, increase water uptake and retention, fix nitrogen and cycle nutrients and attract predatory insects to the field.”
“The principles of building healthy soils are the same everywhere — you have to stop tilling the soil and switch from a monoculture crop to a diversity of crops and rotations,” Fuhrer said. “But the path to soil health is different on each farm. Cover crop and cash crop selections and sequences are chosen to fit the farmer’s resource concerns and priorities, and the means available at that farm.”
For more information, contact Jeff Mitchell at email@example.com (559) 303-9689.