Conservation tillage sustainable ag field day showcases research
by Lyra Halprin
[Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program Newsletter - Summer 2004 (v16n1-2)]
|SAFS project leader Will Horwath demonstrates |
water monitoring. (photo by Margaret Macsems)
Beautiful weather and fresh produce from local farmers provided the backdrop for
a successful conservation tillage/sustainable agriculture field day at
UC Davis’ Russell Ranch in June. The field day highlighted research
results and the evolution of UCD’s 16-year Sustainable Agriculture
Farming Systems (SAFS) project into a conservation tillage experiment.
California Undersecretary of Agriculture Charles “Chuck” Ahlem,
a Hilmar dairyman, noted in his keynote address that model projects
like the conservation tillage experiment are important to the future of
the state’s agricultural industry.
“We need to bring a
broader vision to the California Department of Food and Agriculture by
working with other agencies on issues ranging from nutrition to the
environment and to trade,” Ahlem said. He also noted that the
department’s new mission is focused on the “delivery of safe food and
fiber through responsible environmental stewardship in a fair
SAFS project leader William Horwath,
a UC Davis professor and soil biogeochemist in the land, air and water
resources (LAWR) department, noted that the work of the UC researchers
and cooperators contributes to those goals.
don’t have the time or resources to do this research on their own, and
helping to provide results and leadership is the role of the University
of California agricultural experiment stations,” Horwath said.
|Soil microbiologist Kate Scow shares |
soil food web information. (photo by Margaret Macsems)
Some of the most important results from the original SAFS project identified
where growers can reduce synthetic fertilizer inputs; how to manage
cover crops, crop residue and soil organic matter; and how to manage
weeds and pests with fewer pesticides, Horwath said. The project, which
began in 1988 with funding from UC’s Sustainable Agriculture Research
and Education Program (SAREP), developed a much clearer understanding
of the economic opportunities and limitations to organic farming
The project has relocated to Russell
Ranch, which is also home to the College of Agricultural and
Environmental Sciences’ Long-Term Research in Agricultural Systems
“We’re emphasizing conservation or reduced tillage, and the use of
non-cash cover crops to improve soil and water quality in typical
California cropping systems,” Horwath said.
“The new project has a taken on an additional focus,” Horwath said.
“We’re studying the effects of conservation tillage and cover cropping
on the way sediment, nutrients, and pesticides are transported off
conventional, cover-cropped and organic farming systems.”
“We’re also looking at the tradeoff between ecological benefits and economic costs in a sustainable system,” he said.
In addition to the main plots at the Russell Ranch, the project
includes a 14-acre area for companion studies designed to refine
management practices for successful use of conservation tillage and
cover cropping in Yolo County conditions.
Steve Kaffka, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the agronomy and range science
department and LTRAS director, helped welcome visitors to the field day
Field site presentations
At four separate stations in the field, SAFS researchers presented research information to visitors.
Wes Wallender (UCD LAWR professor, hydrology), William Horwath
(UCD LAWR professor, soil biogeochemistry), Aaron Ristow (LAWR graduate student researcher),
and Sam Prentice (LAWR post-graduate researcher) discussed water conservation in
cover-based cropping systems, runoff monitoring challenges, and the
implications for growers needing to comply with upcoming discharge
Dennis Bryant (LTRAS
associate director) reviewed the overall facility design, nutrient
inputs and differences in the winter legume cover crop, conventional
and organic tomato and corn systems under standard and conservation
tillage management. Gene Miyao (UC Cooperative
Extension farm advisor, Yolo/Solano/Sacramento counties) discussed
in-season vs. post-crop tillage, weed control issues and production
options in the processing tomato systems. Kent Brittan
(UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor, Yolo/Solano/Sacramento
counties) covered challenges in stand establishment and yield potential
of conservation tillage corn production.
|UCCE farm advisor Kent Brittan compares corn yields.
(photo by Lyra Halprin)|
Weeds in furrow, drip and sprinkler irrigation system comparisons was the topic of the presentation by Jeff Mitchell
(UCD Vegetable Crops Cooperative Extension specialist/Kearney
Agricultural Center, cropping systems, soil quality, organic soil
amendments) and Kipp Sutton (International Agricultural Development graduate student researcher, soil science). Kaden Koffler
(Agronomy and Range Science graduate student researcher) talked about
maximizing cover crop compatibility with conservation tillage, while Steve Temple
(UCD Agronomy and Range Science Cooperative Extension specialist)
discussed amplifying crop options for conservation tillage systems with a focus on grain legumes.
Howard Ferris (UCD Nematology professor), Kate Scow
(LAWR/Kearney Foundation/Agricultural Experiment Station soil microbial ecologist), and
Louise Jackson (UCD Vegetable Crops Cooperative Extension specialist),
discussed plant nutrition, the soil food web and pest management.
After the field discussions, Karen Klonsky
(UCD Agricultural and Resource Economics Cooperative Extension
specialist, farm management), gave a presentation on the economic
impact of conservation tillage management systems.
A grower panel discussion, “Farmer perspective on conservation tillage
research results: Field application of agronomic and pest
considerations,” was facilitated by Brittan. Grower participants
included Blair Voelz, Paul Underhill, Jeff Main, and Charlie Rominger.
Marin organic program coordinator Steve Quirt, right, and other field
day participants enjoyed lunch at the SAFS/LTRAS facility "barn."
(photo by Margaret Macsems). |
Participants’ feedback indicated that most gained a clearer
understanding of conservation tillage, the importance of the soil/food
web, and the challenges facing minimum/no-till farming. Most
respondents were very pleased with the presenters, particularly with
the input from local producers on the grower panel.
For more information about SAFS’ conservation tillage project, see the Web site here.
UC SAREP is collaborating with the SAFS project on outreach, including the SAFS newsletter, Web site, and field days.