Future goals for conservation tillage production systems include profitability, resource quality, conservation, as well as broader ecosystem services.

“No-till makes sense as a means for lowering production costs and cutting dust and greenhouse gas emissions,” Mitchell said. “No-till also improves soil functions, such as increased carbon storage, greater stability of soil aggregates, increased porosity and water infiltration, and a larger population of earthworms.”

The benefits of no-till farming have been recognized by researchers and farmers in other regions, such as the Great Plains and the Pacific Northwest regions of the U.S., across much of Canada, and also throughout large areas of South America.

“These benefits start to pile up pretty fast once longer-term and broader sustainability goals are factored in,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell and his Five Points team are part of California’s Conservation Agriculture Systems Institute (CASI), a diverse group of more than 1,500 farmers, industry representatives, university, Natural Resources Conservation Service and other public agency members. Over the past 10 years, the team has come together to develop information on the true costs and benefits of the production system and irrigation management alternatives and to help develop appropriate sustainability goals for the long haul. For more information on the body of CT research, see the UC Conservation Tillage website at http://ucanr.org/ct.

“One of the things that CASI does is track changes in tillage management practices that are used throughout the San Joaquin Valley,” said Ron Harben, long-time member and former air quality coordinator for the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts. “Our most recent survey for 2010 showed an increase of about 5 percent in no-till and strip-till acreage over previous years. As of 2010, over 47 percent of the cropland in the San Joaquin Valley is using some form of conservation tillage.”