Triple-cropping Dairy Forage Production Systems Through Conservation Tillage in California's San Joaquin Valley

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2008: $118,100.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Jeff Mitchell
University of California, Davis

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: general silage crops
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems

    Proposal abstract:

    Excess nitrate in groundwater under California dairies is common, and recent regulations prohibit applications of nitrogen in excess of 140% of crop removal. This standard will force many dairies, especially smaller ones, out of business if they cannot acquire additional land. Triple-cropping - growing three forage crops per year - utilizes more manure nutrients on the same ground and provides more feed, but is dependent on timely harvests of winter small grain forages and summer corn silage. Conservation tillage (CT) practices, which are used in other parts of the US but that are essentially new in California, eliminate intercrop tillage operations, time, and labor, shorten the cropping interval, and allow faster planting and harvest, thereby making triple-cropping a potentially reliable component of sustainable nutrient management plans. We propose to evaluate “CT-enabled” triple-cropping as a means for dairies to address both economic necessities and environmental stewardship in field studies in important San Joaquin Valley counties and to extend information we develop widely to the California dairy industry. The farmer partners on this proposed project have been involved in the conceptualization and planning of the project during the past several months and have each met with PI Mitchell and Campbell-Mathews numerous times to discuss the work proposed here. We have UC Cooperative Extension Advisors on our team representing Stanislaus, Merced, Kings, Fresno, and Tulare counties who are committed to contributing to the goals of this project and generating sound information on potential costs and benefits of CT-enabled triple-cropping and then extending this information via a variety of formats directly to dairy producers in their respective counties. We will actively and routinely share the goals, ongoing progress, and findings of this proposed project with other dairy farmers throughout the San Joaquin Valley by holding two spring and two fall field days at partner dairy farm sites, creating a CT dairy forage DVD on triple-cropping that will be distributed to 500 SJV dairy producers, and by contributing to California’s Dairy Quality Assurance Program’s education programs in each year of the study. We will also create a CT dairy forage newsletter related to this project that will be available electronically to the CT Workgroup’s 1,500 members and to fifty new members we expect to add in each year of the project. Provided experiences with CT triple-cropping are successful, by the end of the project, we expect to increase the adoption of these approaches four-fold in the SJV region.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The objectives of this proposed project are:

    1) to increase the reliability of triple-cropping dairy forage production with the use of CT practices as a means of increasing forage biomass and nutrient uptake by determining production rates and N removal in triple-cropped forage fields compared to standard double-cropped fields,
    2) to evaluate triple-cropping compared to standard double-cropping forage production in terms of whole dairy nitrogen budgets and profitability,
    3) to extend widely information developed by the project to dairy farmers, consultants, and industry groups via a variety of extension education means including four field days annually at farms of partner farmers, distribution of an electronic CT forage production newsletter via the California Conservation Tillage Workgroup’s website, production of a DVD video on CT and forage triple-cropping that will be provided to 500 SJV dairy farmers during the course of this proposed work, distribution of four “popular press” summary articles on this work annually to dairy industry publications such as Western United Dairymen, California Dairy Coalition, Hoard’s Dairy, and Dairy Business Journal, development of training materials on CT forage production that will be produced by UC’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Communication Services in their peer-reviewed 8000 Series and that will be used as part of the twice-annual educational events of the California Dairy Quality Assurance Program, publication of a peer-reviewed article on the work in an appropriate scientific journal such as the Agronomy Journal, the Journal of Environmental Quality, or California Agriculture, and presentation of results as part of our CT Workgroup’s involvement in the World Ag Expo held every second week in February in Tulare, CA with an expected “draw” of over 10,000 visitors, and
    4) to track changes in the adoption of CT forage production practices in the SJV as evidenced by CT acreage surveys conducted by California’s CT Workgroup and CT equipment sales records

    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.