Cost-Benefit Analysis of Novel No-till Cover Cropping System in California Almond Orchards

Project Overview

OW24-011
Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2024: $75,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2026
Grant Recipient: Oakville Bluegrass Cooperative
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Michael Morgenfeld
Oakville Bluegrass Cooperative

Commodities

  • Nuts: almonds

Practices

  • Crop Production: cover crops, no-till, water storage
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, soil stabilization
  • Soil Management: soil physics, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: quality of life

    Proposal abstract:

     Academic researchers have
    demonstrated many benefits to cover cropping in almond orchards
    including better soil retention, soil structure, soil health,
    water utilization, pollinator activity, and yield.  The
    Almond Board of California has invested in educating growers
    about the benefits of cover cropping and provided an incentive to
    try cover cropping through their Seeds for Bees program. 
    Yet today 90-95% of almond orchard floors are managed as bare
    soil.

    Growers perceive that winter
    annual cover crops are more complex and costly than a clean, bare
    orchard floor.  Growers also worry that cover crops will
    interfere with harvest and sanitation operations, and reduce
    yields by competing for water and nutrients.

    The recent debut of Oakville
    bluegrass enables a no-till cover cropping system for almond
    orchard floor management that has lower operating costs than the
    standard practice.  Oakville bluegrass is a perennial,
    reverse season, drought tolerant grass.  Because it is
    dormant while the cash crop is growing, it doesn’t compete for
    water or nutrients. It stays low so it does not impede
    operations.  It can reseed, so the effective lifespan may be
    as long as the lifespan of the orchard.

    The optimal cover cropping system
    would cover the entire floor with a combination of Oakville
    bluegrass and bee forage.  Presently there is no information
    available about the business case for adopting this system. 
    Our project aims to fill that void by conducting a cost-benefit
    study of the system relative to the standard practice and
    disseminating the information to growers.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    We will quantify the impact of a
    novel no-till cover cropping system for orchard floor management
    versus the standard practice of bare, clean soil in terms of
    management costs, impacts on harvest operations, and
    environmental benefits including soil retention, soil health,
    water utilization, pollinator activity and yield.

    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.