- Author: Jeffrey P Mitchell
Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation (CASI) — Organization
Location: Five Points, Calif.
Many were looking to reduce operating costs, some wanted to conserve water by keeping residues on the soil surface, others wanted to improve water movement in their fields and some were dairy farmers looking to save manpower in their operations.
These pioneers were a very diverse lot, including San Joaquin dairy farmers Michael Crowell of Turlock, Tom Barcellos of Tipton and Dino Giacomazzi of Hanford, tomato farmers Jesse Sanchez and Alan Sano of Firebaugh, dryland no-tiller Fritz Durst of Dunnigan Hills, and private sector equipment expert Monte Bottens, a long-time Illinois no-till farmer who has done considerable consulting and equipment innovation work in California.
No matter the reasons, these farmers knew they could make a difference, which ultimately resulted in the creation of the Conservation Agriculture System Innovation (CASI) Center.
Jeff Mitchell, cropping systems extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of California-Davis, has been working firsthand with these farmers ever since the group began. He has contributed numerous research efforts on behalf of the group and was one of the first to get the ball rolling.
The organization has more than 2,200 diverse members, including farmers, researchers, NRCS and Resource Conservation District and other university personnel.
Research knowledge includes learning the benefits in money spent, soil health, fuel function, production and reducing greenhouse gas and dust emissions.
Before CASI was formed, California was fairly new to no-till practices, but soon farmers were realizing that something needed to change in their operations to improve soil health. As time went on, this group of pioneering farmers grew into a diverse organization and began sharing and exchanging their successes.
“Some people started sticking their necks out in learning about no-till, developing skills and seeing benefits to the systems in terms of reducing machinery, reducing horsepower, improving soil function and, in a lot of cases, saving water,” Mitchell says. “We had common interests, we supported each other and we were all very eager to learn.”
California is one of the nation's most diverse and historically productive areas, which provides focus for both Mitchell and CASI.
“That means agronomic crop fields, crops like corn, wheat, sorghum, cotton and soybeans, but also vegetables like tomatoes, melons and broccoli,” Mitchell says.
Mitchell is hopeful for the future of the CASI organization and where no-till and soil conservation can take their farmers.
“Another thing we're working on is trying to improve the soil and overall function of the system by using cover crops,” Mitchell says. At this time, cover crops aren't used very much in California's production system, so one of the things we've been trying to do in addition to no-till is develop and evaluate opportunities for farmers to use cover crops as their additional means to improve the soil and soil function.”