Melding successful conservation tillage concepts from other parts of the U.S. into arid, irrigated Western agriculture has been as easy as drawing to an inside straight in poker.

Getting that fifth card for a winning hand has not been easy.

However, political hot potatoes like air pollution i.e. dust and reduced water availability combined with every increasing farming costs coupled with stagnant commodity prices has growers moving beyond being fascination with conservation tillage to trying alternative systems on their farms, said Jeff Mitchell, University of California vegetable crops specialists based at the Kearney Ag Center, Parlier, Calif.

Since 1998 Mitchell has been doggedly researching well-proven conservation farming methods like ridge tilling, strip-till, cover crops and similar concepts in California. It has not been easy gaining farmer followers, but with growing concern about air quality and rising costs Mitchell is gaining farmer cohorts for his research.

“We have gone from only a handful of producers to more than 50 who are working with us in trying to make conservation tillage work in California,” said Mitchell.

Growers on panels

More than a dozen of them will be on panels at three conservation tillage workshops Mitchell is hosting:

  • Oct. 7 at the University of California Cooperative Extension offices at 4437 S. Laspina Street across from the World Ag Expo grounds in Tulare.

  • Oct. 8 at the University of California West Side Research and Extension Center at Five Points, Calif.

  • Oct. 9 at the UC Davis research field headquarters five miles west of Davis on Russell Road.

Morning programs

Each session begins with a 7:30 a.m. registration followed by a morning-long education program beginning at 8:30 a.m. featuring about 15 growers and consultants discussing their experiences with conservation tillage cotton, corn, tomatoes, small grains and beans.

Additional information about these workshops is available via the conservation tillage workgroup's Web site: http://groups.ucanr.org/ucct.

Mitchell has the backing of a host of sponsors including Monsanto, Natural Resources Conservation Service and the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts.

Reducing costs will get the attention of any farmer today and Mitchell's work has shown that farmers can save $30 to $40 per acre with reduced inter-crop primary tillage without hurting yields.

And he is piecing together additional information about reduced tillage, including cost-benefits and improvements in soil management and soil quality.

However, Mitchell's work with farmers has once again uncovered the two of the bigger stumbling to conservation tillage in the West, good stand establishment and movement of irrigation water down uneven or residue-clogged furrows.

Mitchell said his farmer cooperators have demonstrated “tremendous innovations” in adapting the classic Midwest, South and Southeast conservation tillage practices to the West.

“Since 1998 we have gone from but a handful of farmers working with us to well over 50 in the last couple of years,” said Mitchell. And interest is growing as evidenced by more than 800 farmers and consultants who have attended conservation tillage conferences in the past three years.

Mitchell readily acknowledges that farmer have dramatically reduced tillage trips in the past decade or longer as part of their standard farming practices. “The NRCS is now documenting what many have said all along that farmers are tilling less,” said Mitchell.

Growers at the three workshops will detail what they have done with conservation tillage and how they have overcome challenges in adapting it on their farms.

“We are having successes, but we also have had some failures where growers had to go back to their former, standard practices,” said Mitchell.

Both will be detailed in the October works.

e-mail: hcline@primediabusiness.com