Eliminating tillage passes is a means to reduce production costs and dust emissions in California's San Joaquin Valley tomato production region. Inserting winter cover crops between summer crops may be a way to add organic matter to the soil and thereby improve soil quality. From 1999, we evaluated conservation tillage (CT) and cover cropping (CC) in a tomato/cotton rotation in Five Points, Calif. During the course of the study, tillage operations were reduced an average of 50% in the CT system relative to the standard tillage (ST) approach. Yields in the CT no cover crop (NO) system matched or exceeded yields in the STNO system in each year. Tomato yields in the CTCC and STCC systems were comparable to the STNO except in the first year, when stand establishment and early season vigor were problems. Weed management and machine harvest efficiency in high surface residue systems are issues requiring additional work in order to make CT adoption more widespread.
Traditional processing tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) production in California’s Central Valley relies heavily on tillage to produce high yields. However, recent research and farm innovation have produced a variety of conservation tillage (CT) management alternatives that cut costs, reduce soil disturbance, and produce fewer emissions. A 12-year study in Five Points, CA, demonstrated that CT methods reduced tractor passes by 40%, lowered tillage costs by ≈$80 per acre in 2011 dollars, and achieved comparable yields as standard tillage (ST) methods. As comparable yield performance and net profitability are further demonstrated, an array of CT systems will become increasingly attractive to producers and more common in Central Valley tomato growing areas.