News Releases

May 24, 2005

Sustainable farming systems field day June 23

Student research assistants install storm runoff monitoring equipment in a UCD test plot. (Z.Kabir/S. Prentice)

Conservation tillage updates, water quality research data and a grower panel will be showcased at the 17-year-old farming comparison project at UC Davis' Russell Ranch on June 23. The Russell Ranch is home to long-term agriculture studies and provides a living laboratory for students and the new Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis.

Carol Whiteside, president of the Great Valley Center, will be the field day keynote speaker. Whiteside, a former mayor of Modesto, founded the Great Valley Center to focus on the economic, social and environmental health of California's Central Valley.

"The campus' long-term experiments are addressing farm management questions as well as environmental and social issues critical to California agriculture," said William Horwath, the project leader and UC Davis professor in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources.

"We're emphasizing reduced tillage, and the use of cover crops to improve soil and water quality in typical California cropping systems," he said. More than 20 faculty, Cooperative Extension researchers and growers are participating in experiments at the site. Participants are working with UC's statewide Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) on outreach.

Hay wagons will transport participants through the research site, stopping for presentations on 2004 cropping season results at individual plots. Karen Klonsky, UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) economist, will present information on the profitability of alternative farming systems and their resource use.

UCCE Yolo County farm advisors Kent Brittan and Gene Miyao, and crop production manager Dennis Bryant will present yield results for corn and tomato conservation tillage systems at corn/tomato plots. Horwath, research manager Z. Kabir, graduate student Aaron Ristow and researcher Sam Prentice will give updates on water management and conservation in cover cropped and organic systems. Weed management in conservation tillage and organic farming systems is the focus of a field discussion by UCCE weed specialist Tom Lanini and Kabir.

UCCE vegetable crops specialist Jeff Mitchell, International Agricultural Development graduate student Cynthia Kallenbach and UC Davis agronomist Steve Temple, will present information on carbon sequestration in conservation tillage, drip irrigation and cover cropping. Howard Ferris, UC Davis nematology professor, and Kate Scow, UC Davis soil microbial ecologist, will present information on the soil food web and plant nutrition at a field plot. Pest management in organic and conservation farming systems will be the focus of UC Davis entomologist Frank Zalom's and UC Davis postgraduate researcher Sukhwinder Kaur's field presentation.

The sustainable farming project began in 1988 with funding from SAREP.

"Now we are focusing on reduced tillage to cut input costs, and cover crops to improve soil quality," Horwath said. "Additionally, we are examining ways to reduce and enhance the quality of agriculture runoff during the rainy season and summer irrigation."

Project researchers are looking at the tradeoff between ecological benefits and economic costs in a sustainable system, he said. "We continue to make it a priority to share research results with farmers and the broader agricultural community," Horwath said.

Project collaborators include growers and farm advisors. Researchers take measurements on farms to identify relationships between management practices and runoff areas across soil types and farming practices. A CALFED grant is funding a major portion of the work, with additional support from the California Department of Food and Agriculture and UC Kearney Foundation of Soil Science.

In addition to the 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.

The field day gets under way with a 7:30 a.m. sign-in. Participants begin the tour of the research site at 8:45 a.m. A grower panel discussion, the traditional highlight, is the final event of the day at 12:45 p.m. Events are scheduled to adjourn at 2 p.m.

Pre-registration is requested by June 16. The $10 registration fee ($5 for students) will cover the cost of lunch and refreshments. PCA and CCA Continuing Education units are pending.

Registration and directions are on the Web at The site is located seven miles west of the main UC Davis campus on Russell Blvd., 1/2 mile west of County Road 95. For more information, contact Z. Kabir at (530) 754-6497 or