Re: tillage vs. no-tillage in California

>Date: Fri, 14 Mar 1997 10:51:34 -0800 (PST)
>To: sanet-mg@amani.ces.ncsu.edu
>From: Sean Clark <msclark@ucdavis.edu>
>Subject: tillage vs. no-tillage in California

>To till or not to till in California
>Having just returned from the Cover Crops, Soil Quality, and Ecosystems
>Conference put on by the Soil and Water Conservation Society in Sacramento,
>CA, I wanted to bring up an issue that is probably near and dear to many of
>your hearts - that is tillage vs. no-tillage.  Although no-tillage
>agriculture is now considered conventional practice in many (most?) parts of
>the US, it hasn't caught on in California.  That became painfully obvious to
>many of the conference participants after a farm tour of the southern
>Sacramento Valley.  Tour buses passed by miles and miles of bedded fields
>with cracked, naked soil which have waited all winter to be planted to cash
>crops like tomato, corn, safflower, etc.  The sites on this tour obviously
>provided alot of food for thought as discussions at the conference following
>the tour focused more on tillage issues than they did on cover cropping.
>Granted, no-tillage and cover cropping do fit together quite well, but they
>are also practices that can be and are used independently.  While only a
>minority of the conference participants appeared to have a religious
>commitment to no-tillage and cover cropping, most non-Californians were
>truely surprised and appauled that farming is still done this way in
>California, the nation's leading agricultural state.
>I am new to California and currently work on a research project (the
>Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems Project) at UC Davis comparing
>conventional and alternative farming systems.  Over the first 8 years of the
>project all of the farming systems have depended upon tillage (as nearly all
>cropland in the Central Valley does).  And although there has been interest
>in reducing tillage among people (farmers, farm advisors, and researchers)
>involved with this project, little has yet been done to change this
>conventional practice.  The primary hurdle to the use of no-tillage or
>reduced tillage seems to be furrow irrigation which requires clean furrows,
>free of any debris (or trash) that might block water flow.  Other factors
>preventing adoption may be annual changes in bed widths with different crops
>in a rotation and pest management problems (including weeds, insects, and
>pathogens).  I don't think that it would be impossible to till less or use
>no-tillage in California's Central Valley but the current lack of reduced
>and no-tillage certainly indicates that there are serious problems that need
>to be worked out.  I would appreciate hearing from others who have
>experience with this issue, with a focus on the following questions:
>1) In reducing dependence upon off-farm, non-renewable inputs should we
>accept that the benefits of no-tillage (increased organic matter, improved
>soil structure, carbon storage, less erosion) always out-weight the costs
>(dependence on herbicides, increase in transplanting rather than direct
>seeding, loss of cultivation as a weed management option)?
>2) Is a no-tillage, organic system possible?
>M. Sean Clark
>Research Manager
>Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems Project
>Department of Agronomy and Range Science
>University of California
>Davis, CA 95616
>(916) 752-2023

>Every change requires a complete change in philsophy from the ground up.
Tillage agriculture requires placing the farmer at war with their environment
to grow a few special crops, in relation to to the lands natural diversity.

Non-tillage organics requires placing as much diversity back into the landscape
as possible. Firstly, identify what weeds are present( for they are soil
indicators and dynamic accumulators). Then, broadcasting as much variety of
"weeds" as not observed. As your soil/farm changes from now on you've directly
placed the indicators you are presently lacking. Also, since weeds are
medicinal this a highly underutilized herbal market you can now bank on.  Also
if you stack diversity by representing the plant families in all their
diiferent(weed, plant, bush, shrub, and tree) forms you maximize the use of
your land and the land will now evolve for the future.

In all areas you must work on contour regardless of how finicky you are on
ripping or cutting--nature will continue to grow. You must realize that in this
process there is no more fight as you describe.

Read books by/about  P.A. Yeoman, Mokichi Okada, Masanobu Fukuoka, Bill
  Remember that nature has survived millions of years without agriculture,
without plowing, with weeds in understory, without chemicals. But it is a
different technique that you're not familiar, but can be easily emulated by
walking in/observing the forest.

good luck,
Chris Sonnenschein

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