- Author: Jeffrey P. Mitchell
A unique - dare we say - "never before attempted in the region," effort to precede strip-tilled tomatoes with a mowed vigorous winter cover crop was conducted in one of the fieldsofWoolf Enterprises, a major tomato and other row crop farm just south of the small San Joaquin Valley town of Huron, CA in the spring of 2022. Several Woolf agronomists including Rick Blankenship and Shane Bickner, along with agronomy consultant,Cary Crum,of Agrotechnovation, oversaw the effort. The cover crop was a short-season mix that ended up being largely dominated by triticale, was mowed by a flail mower that had been fitted with a horizontally mounted circular chopper to fill in a 'skip' area in the flails behind the center of the unit. Then,an Orthman three-row 60" spacing strip-tiller followed the mowing ahead of tomato transplanting. Two short video files are linked here that show the mower and the strip-tiller in action. After this first year of trying the cover crop strip-till system, one agronomy manager at Woolf put it this way,
"There are a lot of extra management required, but worth the effort. The learning curve is steep and ridden with holes to fall into, but the soil changes behind the multispecies cover crops is impressive. I wouldn't recommend it to someone who doesn't tolerate some failure along the way. Less passes to get beautiful tomato beds behind it.
I'm not sure I've bought into the strip till on the flat tomato beds yet because of the necessary harvester adaptations or the strip till beds because of residue but I think with some more adaption we could make it work.
I really like the multi species cover crop as a rotation partner when it's green chopped early."
More to come from this exciting, innovative work soon!