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The cover cropped-field is the 'real disruptor'

KQED reporter Mark Schapiro discovered a "center of insurrection" at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points, where UC Cooperative Extension cropping systems specialist Jeff Mitchell has been building soil on a research plot for 20 years.

Schapiro's story was part of a series titled "Reckoning in the Central Valley," a collaboration between Bay Nature magazine and KQED Science examining how climate change is exposing the vulnerabilities of California agriculture.

In the Central Valley, climate change is disrupting the predictability that is key to maintaining a profitable industrial agriculture system. Mitchell believes that employing practices that build soil - such as reducing or eliminating tillage and planting cover crops - will help farmers ride the wave of climate change.

It's that cover-cropped field “that is the real disruptor here," Mitchell said.

The soil in test plots where cover crops were grown are loaded with far more organic matter than soil in fields where cover crops were not grown. The organic matter improves water absorption, making the land more resilient to drier conditions. Fields with cover crops also sequester carbon and produce crops that may be more nutritious.

“What you see in Five Points,” said Daphne Miller, a physician who studies the links between the health of the foods we eat and the soil in which they're grown, “is that the plots with the greatest diversity of cover crops had the most diverse microbiome in the soil.”

UCCE cropping systems specialist Jeff Mitchell is working on building soil in the San Joaquin Valley.
 
In a sister article in Bay Nature, Mitchell talked about a newly emerging term for conservation agriculture - "regenerative agriculture." The low- or no-till and cover crop system is thought to regenerate rather than deplete the soil. In addition to the other benefits, healthy soil will save water, since it reduces water evaporation levels by 4 to 5 inches annually, Mitchell said. If widely adopted, these practices could reduce water use throughout the valley by millions of acre-feet per year.

 
 
 
 
Posted on Tuesday, June 25, 2019 at 9:32 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture Environment

Comments:

1.
Great job Jeff!!  
It's been an experience working with you in this trial. I have seen the soil evolve and it's impressive to say the least.  
Keep up the hard work Dr. Mitchell.

Posted by Rafael Merf Solorio on June 25, 2019 at 5:51 PM

2.
Four UC San Mateo/San Francisco Master Gardeners just attended a two-day Cover Crop and Soil Health Intensive at the Center of Regenerative Agriculture at Chico State and are so inspired. Even though the audience was mostly farmers, we intend to apply what we learned to the home garden. No till, cover crops, diversity, diversity, diversity (including grasses) keeping the ground covered at all times, starts and maintains the regenerative, self sustaining cycle -- the holy grail -- leading to bigger, healthier harvests with only the addition of biologically-rich compost. As many of us eventually learn in other parts of our lives: Mother Nature knows what she is doing! She was doing great for millions of years til we came along and thought we knew better. Young farmers shared how some are planting cover crops in their orchards and enduring ridicule from conventional farmers.  
 
https://www.csuchico.edu/regenerativeagriculture/events/soil-health-intensive.shtml

Posted by Leslie Muennemann on June 26, 2019 at 12:55 PM

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