Bob Prys, agromanager of Borba Farms in Riverdale, received the 2005 Conservation Tillage Farmer Innovator Award for leadership in the development, refinement and use of conservation tillage systems in California.

The award was presented by the University of California Cooperative Extension/USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Tillage Workgroup at its annual conference in June.

Prys oversees crop production on a sizable portion of Borba Farms’ 13,000 acres of cotton, wheat, tomatoes, alfalfa, sugar beets and almonds. In the fall of 2000, he initiated a 28-acre comparison trial of seven conservation tillage systems in cotton. The plots included different planting approaches as well as alternative postharvest stalk management practices in a three-year cotton rotation.

"Bob designed the experimental treatments, organized the production details and steadfastly worked to systematically evaluate and improve each system under comparison," said Jeff Mitchell, the UC Cooperative Extension vegetable crops specialist and the conservation tillage workgroup chair. "It is no exaggeration to say that Bob gave not only his shrewd analytical farming skills to this project, but also considerable sweat and tenacious persistence."

Production savings

In Prys’ three-year study, the conservation tillage systems decreased the number of tractor operations by 41 to 53 percent, fuel use by 48 to 60 percent, and overall production costs by 14 to 18 percent. Crop yield was mostly unchanged.

With his management team, Prys has expanded some of the strip till aspects of his pilot study to other parts of Borba Farms.

"Bob is a leading member of our conservation tillage workgroup," Mitchell said. "He not only participates in just about all the conferences and meetings, he also makes endless and very valuable routine contributions to our workgroup’s planning and vision."

Conservation tillage is an emerging agricultural production practice in California in which farmers dramatically reduce the number of times the tractor tills the land for seedbed preparation and weed control. A wide variety of options are available, from strip till to no till. Experts believe the system has potential for increasing profits while offering environmental benefits that include reduced dust, carbon sequestration and water conservation.