A new organic production project will be looking closely at soil conditions and evaluating the effects of tilling in vegetable production. The project is being funded through a grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program. Researchers from multiple institutions will be collaborating with organic farmers to determine effective methods of employing no-till farming systems.
“What we’re going to do is work with six or seven different organic farmers throughout the Central Valley,” said Jeff Mitchell, Cropping Systems Cooperative Extension Specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. “These folks are working together to try to exchange information to try to develop what we might want to call the next generation of reduced disturbance vegetable production systems.”
No-tillage farming methods are used in other production areas of the world, particularly in South America. The technique was largely employed as a means of addressing soil erosion issues, but California farmers do not have a lot of experience with reduced disturbance techniques. Mitchell noted his excitement for the project and the important questions it can hopefully answer. “Can we have more efficient and more economical biological cycling that can provide a whole host of functions and benefits to a production system if we reduce the disturbance of that system?”
Part of the research will be examining how farmers can effectively move to no-till production methods. “That’s going to involve the experimentation and evaluation of different pieces of equipment and different approaches for accomplishing that goal of what I’ll call ‘reducing the volume of soil that’s disturbed,’ and how do you get there? That’s the big challenge there,” Mitchell noted.
A total of $1.3 million in grant funding is being made available through the CIG program, $380,000 of which is going to University of California Regents to be used for the organic production project. Other recipients who will be operating in California include the Napa County Resource Conservation District, which will be supporting field trial monitoring and soil health assessments in North Coast vineyards. Some of the grant funding will also go to American Farmland Trust for the purpose of quantifying the economic and environmental benefits of increasing soil health.