Conservation Tillage Forage Production in California's San Joaquin Valley

Final Report for FW06-308

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2006: $9,400.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Jeff Mitchell
University of California, Davis
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Project Information


We evaluated two years of strip-till silage corn production following winter wheat forage in connection with our 600-head Jersey cow dairy in Hanford, CA. In 2006, we had problems due to the irrigation pump in our production field breaking down and our thus being unable to apply early-season irrigations in a timely manner. We compared traditional tillage, strip-tillage and no-tillage. We used a Case DMI Ecolo-Till 6-row 30” strip-tiller and a John Deere 1730 no-till planter for the corn. Adequate plant stands were achieved in the traditional and strip-tillage systems, however, lower populations resulted from no-tillage seeding. In addition to difficulties with irrigation, weeds in the no-till sections of the field also reduced corn productivity in the first year. We also evaluated a Sunflower 15 ft. no-till drill for a late planting of oats into a standing, but waning, alfalfa field. Productivity from this overseeded field was fair to good.

In 2007, we conducted a side-by-side comparison of strip-tillage corn versus conventionally tilled corn. Each block was roughly 20 acres in size. We used a Schlagel 30” 6-row strip-tiller that was followed by a planter and compared this CT system with our conventional clean-till 40” bed production practice. Plant populations of 28,474 + 1,831 per acre for the conventional tillage field, and 32,287 + 896 per acre for the strip-till field were achieved. Weed populations were also determined to be roughly equal in both tillage systems. With two other farmer partners on this project, Dino Giacomazzi and Ryan Camara, - both also of Hanford, CA, we hosted a strip-till field day that attracted over 100 participants on June 29 of 2007. The information that the three of us generated has been shared at over twenty public events with over 300 attendees during the past year.

Project Objectives:

The goals of this proposed project are:

1) to evaluate and refine strip-till and no-till planting systems for forage production at the San Joaquin Valley dairy of Larry and Daniel Soares in Hanford, CA in terms of crop establishment, weed control and profitability

2) to determine whether the CT production practices enhance the quality of life of dairy producers in the region as measured by the net profitability and the extent to which the alternative management systems ease time and labor constraints at the dairy, and

3) to disseminate information, experience and knowledge resulting from these evaluations widely to other Central Valley dairy farmers via farmer hosted field days, farmer/researcher presentations at CT Workgroup Conferences, newsletters and press released through the California Dairy Council and the Western Dairymen’s Associations, and a peer-reviewed DVD video on CT forage production that will be produced by the end of the study.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Ryan Camara
  • Dino Giacomazzi
  • Daniel Soares
  • Larry Soares


Materials and methods:


For this WRSARE project, we conducted a two-year demonstration of CT corn forage production systems compared to the conventional tillage system we use at our dairy.


In 2006, we evaluated conventional, no-till and strip-tillage in “replicated” strips, - each about 10 acres in size, in an 80-acre field that we use for forage production. This field is located south of Hanford, CA and is about ten miles from our dairy and its adjacent fields. Following the 2005 – 2006 winter wheat forage crop that was chopped in April 2006, we used a 6-row 30” Case DMI Ecolo-Till strip-tiller to subsoil to about a depth of 12” and to clear surface soil in the lines we then planted into. We planted with a John Deere 1730 6-row 30” planter, which we also used for our no-till strips. Our traditional tillage strips were disked and listed before planting.

Due to a breakdown of the pump that we relied upon for irrigation water, our first irrigation was severely delayed and as a result, the stands in all systems, but particularly in the no-till strips, suffered and were overtaken by weeds. Adequate stands were achieved initially, but the late irrigation, coupled with weed pressure made the no-till planting ultimately unsuccessful.


In 2007, we moved our demonstration to two fields that were adjacent to our dairy and that did not have irrigation pump problems. An 8-row 30” Schlagel strip-tiller was used for the strip-till comparison. Corn plant populations were 28,747 + 1831 for the conventional tillage and 32,287 + 896 for the strip-tillage. Weed populations were roughly equal in both fields. There were 16 + 3 weeds per m2 in the conventional till field and 9 + 1.5 weeds per m2 in the strip-till field. Corn silage yields were about 25 tons/ac for both the conventional tillage field and the strip-tillage field.

On the whole, results from our strip-till corn production system were positive and encouraging. Because we do some of our own forage planting, it will be difficult for us to immediately convert to strip-till because it will necessitate acquiring a new implement. But, because we also contract out some of our farm acreage to custom planting operators, it may be feasible for us to move toward strip-till gradually in the future.

Research results and discussion:
Benefits or Impacts on Agriculture:

Strip-tillage involves less intercrop tillage that we would normally employ following winter wheat chopping in preparation for spring silage corn planting. An average dairy producer could eliminate 4 to 5 tractor tillage passes by converting to strip-tillage. Work by Madden et al. (In press) has shown that the use of strip-tillage and no-tillage for forage production reduces particulate matter (PM) emissions from 50 – 90% compared to traditional tillage. We estimate that production costs can be reduced by over $50 per acre with strip-tillage compared to traditional tillage. It is important, however, to understand that strip-tillage may not work in all soil types; heavier soils may be more difficult than coarser soils.

Participation Summary

Research Outcomes

No research outcomes

Education and Outreach

Participation Summary:

Education and outreach methods and analyses:


Mitchell, Jeff, Anil Shrestha and Marsha Campbell-Mathews. July 22, 2007. Conservation tillage triple-cropping on California dairies. Agribusiness Dairyman. Pp. 12, 14, 16 and 18.

Mitchell, Jeff, Anil Shrestha and Marsha Campbell-Mathews. 2007. Conservation tillage triple-cropping on California dairies. Western United Dairymen Headline News.

Additional Outreach:

March 5, 2008. Recent developments in conservation tillage. Invited presentation at 2008 Western United Dairymen’s Annual Convention. Modesto, CA. 25 participants. Jeff Mitchell.

February 5, 2008. Reliable forage production with conservation tillage. Invited presentation to Association for Science and Environmental Research. Environmental Quality Building, Merced, CA. 10 participants.

January 2008. Mitchell, Jeff, Anil Shrestha, and Marsha Campbell-Mathews. “Grow Three Crops a Year - No-till and strip-till are helping California dairies triple-crop to produce more forage. No-Till Farmer Magazine.

November 13, 2007. No-till / Strip-till Save Energy. Invited presentation. Smart Energy Management in Agriculture. Winters, CA. Ecological Farming Association. 40 participants.

November 2, 2007. Conservation tillage. Presentation to Morningstar Dairy. Burrell, CA. 3 participants.

September 5, 2007. Increasing the reliability of triple-cropping with conservation tillage. Invited presentation in the Manure Management Meeting. Merced County UC Cooperative Extension. Merced, CA. 40 participants.

August 30,2007. Strip-till triple-cropping. Invited presentation. Barcellos Field Day. Farm of Tom Barcellos. Tipton, CA. 100 participants.

July 18, 2007. Conservation tillage and fuel efficiency. Invited presentation. Smart Energy Management in Agriculture. Pioneer Hall, Livingston, CA. 50 participants.

June 29, 2007. Strip-till corn production field tour. Tours of Soares, Camara and Giacomazzi Dairies. Hanford, CA. 100 participants.

June 8, 2007. Conservation tillage dairy forage field day. Andy Zylstra Dairy Farm. Turlock, CA 12 participants.

May 18, 2007. Strip-till demo field day. Stockton / Flag City, CA. Lima Dairy. 40 participants.

Education and Outreach Outcomes

Recommendations for education and outreach:

Future Recommendations

Recommendations or New Hypotheses:

A number of clear and straightforward recommendations have resulted from our experiences in this project. First, - with strip-tilling, it is important to have some moisture in the soil or large clods will be brought up. We experienced this in our first year. Second, very timely weed management is needed. This may mean timing herbicide applications very close (within a week) of planting. Third, - using the same GPS system for both the strip-tilling and planting operations is essential, otherwise the planter will not “track” the strip-tilled area very well. Finally, use of strip-tillage and no-tillage if it can be improved, may more readily and reliably enable legitimate triple-cropping, - or, the sequential growing of three crops in a given year, - and this may soon become an increasingly important means for San Joaquin Valley dairy producers to efficiently manage manure nitrogen with minimal risks of losses.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.