California cotton growers and water-starved fields could benefit from a conservation tillage practice not typical to this Golden State cash crop, although the practice is widely implemented and accepted elsewhere in the United States.

At Lucero Farms in Firebaugh, Calif., the decision this spring to implement no-till practices on cotton planted in western Fresno County seems a good one given a 20-percent water allocation via the State Water Project.

“I think it’s a good system for growers,” said Danny Ramos, farm manager with Lucero Farms. The farm entity rotates cotton with processing tomatoes.

Through the help of the University of California and others, Lucero Farms, which farms in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, is using no-till conservation practices on 122 of the 223 acres of Phytogen 805 Pima cotton on the Firebaugh farm.

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According to Jeffrey Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension cropping systems specialist based at the Kearney Agricultural Research & Extension Center in Parlier, Calif., this could be the only commercial production of cotton using no till in California.

However, it is not just the water savings which makes no-till conservation tillage methods attractive, according to Mitchell. Farmers can also realize cost saving benefits in labor and equipment. University studies back this up.

A study conducted at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points, located southwest of Fresno, reported that the number of tractor passes for a cotton-tomato rotation grown with a cover crop was reduced from 20 passes in the standard treatment to 13 passes with conservation tillage methods.

Fuel use in the study was reduced by 12 gallons. Labor needs were reduced by two hours in the study plots. The result was a cost savings of about $70 per acre.