Conservation tillage and cover cropping can be important means for conserving and improving soil resources, but neither of these practices has been widely used in California’s very diverse and highly production cropping systems. In recent years, however, the use of these management options has increased and farmers in a variety of cropping contexts have begun to see benefits from their sustained use. Cover crops have been shown to increase soil organic matter and reduce surface water runoff in various Central Valley annual cropping systems and have also been predicted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in these systems. Conservation tillage reduces the volume of soil that is disturbed in intercrop tillage operations as well as diesel fuel use relative to the traditional intensive tillage systems that predominated for over sixty years in this region. While adoption of these practices is still relatively low, examples of their successful use are now being realized through a variety of innovative strategies.
Jeff Mitchell - Jeff Mitchell is a Cooperative Extension Specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of California, Davis. His research and extension education programs focus on conservation tillage systems and their potential benefits for air, water and soil resource management, bioenergy crop production, soil quality assessment and interpretation, and the development and evaluation of sustainable crop production systems. He serves as Chair of the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Conservation Tillage Workgroup which currently has over 700 UC, USDA Agricultural Research Service and Natural Resource Conservation Service, public agency, private industry and farmer members and affiliates. He received his undergraduate degree from Occidental College in Los Angeles, and his MS and PhD degrees from UC Davis. Before beginning his graduate studies, he served as a US Peace Corps Volunteer in Botswana, in Southern Africa. He has been involved with several long-term cropping systems projects including the Biologically Integrated Farming Systems program in the Central San Joaquin Valley (SJV) and the Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems Project in the Sacramento Valley, and has published over 50 peer-reviewed articles based on these studies. He is currently involved with many pioneering farmers throughout the Central Valley on a variety of conservation tillage systems. In a broader context, he is also working with several SJV farmers to develop conservation farming systems that encompass other aspects and technologies as well.