John Diener of Five Points, Calif., one of the most innovative farmers in the state, has picked up yet another award citing his pioneering farming efforts.

The University of California and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Tillage Workgroup have selected him for this year’s Conservation Tillage Farmer Innovator Award.

Diener is a native of the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley and now farms 5,000 acres as Red Rock Ranch.

“John grew up right on the very farm he now manages and has been a leader, a very articulate spokesperson for Central Valley agriculture over the years, and a demonstrated true leader in a variety of civic, research and policy arenas,” said Jeff Mitchell, UC Davis cropping systems specialist and university conservation tillage research leader.

Diener received his award at a CT work group meeting recently at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center at Five Points.

In presenting the award, Mitchell cited Diener’s efforts in the early 1990s supporting the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. This included a demonstration project that encompassed 14 large-scale on-farm comparisons of alternative and conventional soil and pest management options for the region.

“In this project, Diener shared his innovative and highly successful soil management practices with other farmers in the Five Points-Huron-Mendota region and conducted very successful discussions of the now well-known Four Corners area of his farm, in which he has been using four different management approaches for a number of years with very dramatic impacts.”

The data set developed from this 4-way comparison enabled UC and the CT Workgroup to work with several UC and USDA National Soil Tilth Lab scientists to develop a soil quality index for the region, said Mitchell.

More recently, Diener has developed a wide variety of conservation tillage approaches for several of his crops. Seven years ago, he experimented with no-till wheat following corn and was able to save two spring irrigations due to the reduced soil evaporation under the residues from his previous crop.

Soon after, he tried a short-season cotton crop immediately following wheat and managed to harvest it before Christmas. He also was a pioneer at trying no-till cotton in heavy residues, as well as no-till corn and canola. After travelling to Washington State in 2005 to learn from other farmers about overhead center pivot irrigation systems, John concluded that the way to make conservation tillage happen in California’s San Joaquin Valley is to couple it with overhead irrigation systems.

“He is leading the development of the merger of these technologies in California to tremendous environmental and economic advantage,” said Mitchell.