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The Sustainable Conservation team at Wickstrom Dairy.
Vicky Boyd

Switch to conservation tillage and get a self-driving tractor! In a strip till system, farmers only disturb 10” strips of soil, rather than the whole field. They need to plant seeds into that strip of disturbed soil, so they use a GPS, which directs the tractor on where to till and where to plant the seeds. The farmer doesn’t even need to touch the wheel of the tractor.

Last week, Sustainable Conservation and California Ag Solutions hosted the third annual Conservation Tillage Coach Tour. The tour provides a forum for dairy farmers to ask fellow dairy farmers about strip till, a type of conservation tillage. Attendees toured three dairies that recently adopted strip till systems: Barroso Dairy, Ahlem Ranch, and Wickstrom Dairy.

During the tour, the farmers explained that the increased precision of tillage and planting gave them the option to upgrade to more precise irrigation systems and thus use water more efficiently, a great boon in a record-breaking drought.

Additionally, plants in strip till systems use water more efficiently because their roots grow differently and better take advantage of applied water. Plus, farmers apply plant nutrients with water; increasingly precise irrigation means increasingly precise nutrient application.

Strip till also improves air quality. Strip till disturbs only a small amount of soil and requires fewer passes, releasing significantly less dust and diesel emissions compared to more typical tillage systems.

In the Central Valley, these emissions are factors contributing to one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the state.

Put another way, strip till can help farmers grow high quality crops in a way that saves them money on water, nutrients, labor, and fuel while helping ensure that their children will have access to enough clean water and air they need to thrive and keep their Central Valley farming legacy alive.

To learn more about conservation tillage, check out Sustainable Conservation’s Clean Air Farming program.

If you’re a farmer and you’re interested in adopting strip till, ask about our conservation tillage equipment rental program by contacting Ladi Asgill at or 209-576-7729.

And, if you would like to learn more about precision irrigation and nutrient systems, keep an eye out for upcoming info regarding a late August field day on just that topic.