With irrigation water becoming ever more scarce and energy prices rising rapidly, the University of California Cooperative Extension will share new ways for farmers to reduce these inputs at a conference Nov. 18, in Tulare.

The 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. event is organized by the UC Conservation Tillage and Cropping Systems Workgroup and the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts. Southern California Edison is sponsoring the program by hosting the event at its Agricultural Technology Application Center, 4175 South Laspina St.

There is no charge for participation.

One focus of the conference is low-pressure overhead irrigation equipment, which can be implemented with center pivot or linear movement systems. Overhead irrigation systems have been popular in the Midwest for decades, but improvements in the technology combined with water shortages in California have caught the interest of valley farmers. The overhead application systems enable farmers to apply water more precisely and uniformly than the furrow irrigation systems typically used on the West Side.

“We’ve seen these systems reduce water use by 30 percent,” said Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension vegetable crops specialist. “Even though there are substantial up-front costs, farmers have told me this is the best investment they’ve ever made.”

Three San Joaquin Valley farmers – Scott Schmidt, Kenny Marsh, and Darrell Cordova – will discuss personal experiences with overhead water application. The farmers, who have installed a combined 40 center-pivot systems on their farms, will address such issues as crop growth, hardware considerations, and economics.

At the conference, Mitchell will share research findings that show farmers can get additional water savings by combining overhead irrigation with conservation tillage.

"We have documented that keeping the soil covered with crop residue reduces evaporation, so less water must be applied to the field," Mitchell said.

A segment of the program will be devoted to air quality, surface water quality, and groundwater issues as they relate to agriculture. For example, new environmental regulations to take effect in December that will phase out older, highly polluting diesel engines, referred to by regulators as Tier Zero engines.

Ron Harben of the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts said the agency has an environmental quality incentive program that can provide farmers with financial assistance to purchase new engines by the end of the year.

The lunch speaker will be Russ Lester of Dixon Ridge Farm who will speak on energy innovation and efficiency at his walnut farm.

The conference provides five hours of continuing education credits for Certified Crop Consultants.

For more information about the conference, contact Harben at (559) 252-2192, ext. 105 or ron.harben@ca.nacdnet.net.