- Author: Jeffrey P Mitchell
January 24, 2020
Recent efforts of the CIG (Conservation Innovation Grant) project that several CASI farmers are conducting were showcased in two workshops that were conducted at this year's ECOFARM Conference held on January 24th in Asilomar, CA to packed audiences that included over of 100 participants. Scott Park of Meridian, CA, Phil Foster of Hollister, CA, Paul Muller of Guinda, CA, and Nate Siemens of Buttonwillow, CA joined Vermont (and formerly of CA) organic farmer, Will Allen, and Jessica Chiartas, PhD student in the Department of Soils and Biogeochemistry at the University of California, Davis led the two sessions on minimizing soil disturbance in organic systems that lasted over three hours. For about the last year-plus, this working group of California farmers, scientists, and industry representatives (along with Will Allen who was invited by the CIG group because of his own pioneering work in recent years on reduced disturbance systems) have been focusing on techniques to reduce tillage and implement cover crops for improving soil health, with the goal of eliminating mechanized-scale tillage in vegetable and row crops. Many different creative ideas have emerged in the past year from the work of these medium- and large-scale farmers and the researchers from UC Davis, Cal State Universities Chico and Fresno who are coordinating the CIG Project. The two workshop sessions provided an overview of the project, including progress, challenges, principles, equipment, obstacles and ways to work around them, and variations on the general theme of reduced tillage and incorporation of cover crops. Each of the farmer presenters shared their own farm goals for improving soil health and also discussed in very good detail the innovative approaches that they've all implemented to overcome the many challenges of producing organic crops with reduced disturbance. These challenges include the need for different, appropriate equipment, cover crop termination, providing nutrients to crops, weed control and soil cooling. The group has seen and experienced what might best be described as daunting and unresolved hurdles to full, successful, and reliable reduced disturbance systems, but there were also a number of shining examples of progress toward success that were shared as well. If you'd like to receive updates and if you'd like to become part of the CIG group's Collaborative Tools information-sharing listserve, please send an email requesting that you be added to our outreach effort to Jeff Mitchell at email@example.com.