A new University of California online publication outlines strip-tillage, a management practice with potential to save farmers money in fuel, labor and equipment costs while decreasing the amount of soil disturbed and dust generated as fields are prepared for planting.

The eight-page publication, Strip-Tillage in California's Central Valley, may be downloaded in pdf format free at http://ucanr.org/strip-till.

Strip-tillage is a form of conservation tillage that was first used in the Southern United States to break up the naturally settling subsoil layers while leaving the soil surface and crop residue relatively undisturbed, according to Dennis Bryant, a co-author of the publication and crop production manager at the Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility, part of the Agricultural Sustainability Institute (ASI) at UC Davis.

"Less disturbed soil allows beneficial soil food web communities to thrive, which can improve soil conditions and potentially reduce herbicide use," he said.

Bryant noted that while the publication focuses primarily on dairy/forage based systems in the San Joaquin Valley, Russell Ranch researchers have developed energy efficient strip-till equipment for transplanted tomato systems. The strip-till, ground-driven (dragged rather than powered through fields) incorporator sequence for reducing energy inputs is part of the tillage progress at Russell Ranch, he said.

"Our current emphasis on tillage in conventional and organic food production systems is focused on the development and evaluation of management techniques that require less horsepower or fuel consumption, reduce in-field time, build soil structure and are applicable to farms of all sizes," he said. "We're particularly pleased that the immediate impact from the Russell Ranch work is that farmers are aggressively putting these techniques in place on regional farms, including some of our cooperating farmers."

Bryant said organic and conventional farmers are excited about the expected cost savings of these innovative tools. He noted that tillage equipment has been tested as part of a sequence of implements and modified/prototype tools aimed at reducing energy inputs in whole systems. Photos of some of the equipment are included in the new online publication.

"It is great to be able to provide farmers who have supported agricultural research at UC Davis with tillage strategies to reduce energy inputs," Bryant said.

Strip-Tillage in California's Central Valley was co-authored by Jeff Mitchell, UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences and the Kearney Agricultural Center in Parlier; Anil Shrestha, California State University, Fresno Department of Plant Science; Marsha Campbell-Mathews, UC Cooperative Extension, Stanislaus County; Dino Giacomazzi, Giacomazzi Dairy, Hanford; Sham Goyal, UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences; Dennis Bryant and Israel Herrera, ASI at UC Davis.