Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Power Of Patience

Video Series Explores Soil Health In California Cotton Fields

⋅ BY PAMELA KAN-RICE ⋅

Over a century of growing cotton in California, scientists and farmers have learned how to better manage soil health. To share their collective knowledge, they have produced a series of videos about cultivating better soil health in cotton fields.

At its peak production, California harvested as much as 1.6 million acres of cotton in the late 1970s to early 1980s. Due to water shortages, growers harvested less than 200,000 acres of cotton in 2020.

“Although acreage in California has fallen off, some rather impressive advances in soil health management in San Joaquin Valley cotton production fields have been achieved in the past couple of years,” said Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, who formed the California Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation Center with growers and production consultants.

In partnership with the Soil Health Institute of Greensboro, North Carolina, the Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation Center has released a four-video series on soil health in California cotton production systems.

“The series chronicles not only the history of advances in soil health management in San Joaquin Valley cotton systems, but also progress that stems from both long-term research and recent farmer and private sector innovation with new production paradigms,” Mitchell said.

“San Joaquin Valley farmers have done some impressive work in recent years to improve the ways that they care for the soil in their fields.”

Production consultant Cary Crum (right) advises agronomists at Bowles Farming in Los Banos, California, on soil health management practices, including using cover crops and reduced disturbance tillage for cotton.

To improve soil health, growers try to minimize soil disturbance, enhance biological diversity, keep living roots in the soil and cover the soil with plants and plant residue. They experimented with no-till and cover crops. Researchers found that cotton fields using no-till and cover crops achieved a higher soil aggregate stability score than standard tillage with or without a cover crop and no-till without a cover crop. In no-till fields with cover crops, water infiltrated the soil in seconds rather than minutes.

What To Expect

The soil health videos range in length from 10 minutes to 21 minutes.

The history video traces important contributors and breakthroughs during the 100-plus years that cotton has been grown in California. 

Soil health management systems for California cotton: A brief history — https://youtu.be/7DWIJ_3QIz8

The second video features progress at improving soil health made by Cary Crum, formerly of California Ag Solutions of Madera now with Agritechnovation Inc., and cotton farmers he works with in the San Joaquin Valley.

Recent advances in soil health management in California cotton production systems —https://youtu.be/tRWk-d9F1I8

The third video chronicles the goals and findings of the unique 22-year soil research study that has been underway in Five Points as one of the Soil Health Institute’s national program of long-term North American soil health study sites. It shows what is possible when the core soil health principles are implemented consistently in the region. 

Local research base for soil health management in California cotton production systems — https://youtu.be/AdqnsicuGYo

The fourth video that features the importance of soil aggregate stability shows how attention to the dedicated soil health management principles can improve soil structure and overall production efficiency. 

Regenerating soil aggregate stability in California cotton production systems — https://youtu.be/K2fsvPTmlF0

One important lesson from the study is that growers must be patient because improvements in the soil occur gradually.

“We did not see changes in many soil health properties or indicators during the first eight to 10 years of our study,” Mitchell said.


Pamela Kan-Rice is the assistant director, News and Information Outreach, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.

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