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California Agriculture, Vol. 48, No.5

Farming in transition: Can farmers reduce inputs, maintain profit?
Cover:  UC researchers are comparing organic, low-input and conventional farming systems in the Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems project at UC Davis. At the research site, dried pinto beans (in the foreground) mature black beans and corn are ready for fall harvest, Photo by Jack Kelly Clark
September-October 1994
Volume 48, Number 5

Peer-reviewed research and review articles

Farming in transition Overview: Society pressures farmers to adopt more sustainable systems
by Jill Shore Auburn
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
Pressures ranging from government regulation of air, water and food to the often unsympathetic views of an urban populace have put increasing demands on farmers to adopt more sustainable practices. Yet there is no set formula for doing so; the best way to achieve sustainability varies according to region and climate, and in many cases is still under study. UC scientists and farmers are working in partnerships across the state to learn which farming systems are most successful and economically viable.
Sidebar: CSAs: the consumer-farmer connection
by Gail Feenstra
Full text HTML  | PDF  
Farming in transition: Analysis – Scientists and farmers try new approach to researchpeer-reviewed
by Stephen Kaffka
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
The Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems Project is one of several newer, large-scale experiments that have contrasted idealized cropping practices with existing ones. The common objective of these experiments has been to develop and compare cropping systems substantially different from current practice, with each system following separate rules of management. Difficult conceptual and methodological issues arise when both development and research are objectives in a project, and when many factors change simultaneously.
Conventional, low-input and organic farming systems compared
by Steven R. Temple, Oscar A. Somasco, Mary Kirk, Diana Friedman
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
In the first 4 years of a five-crop rotation cycle, researchers found managing weeds and the nitrogen supply from cover crops posed the greatest challenges for low-input and organic farming systems.
Cover-crop nitrogen supply and weed management were the most important challenges facing low-input and organic farming systems when compared to conventional systems in the first 4 years of the Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems project at UC Davis. Cover-crop timing and management using appropriate equipment were important for the success of transitional systems. The participation of local farmers ensured that optimal agricultural practices were used to manage all farming systems. Researchers regularly consulted grower-cooprators to determine “best farmer practices” of conventional, low-input and organic farming systems.
Transition from conventional to low-input agriculture changes soil fertility and biology
by Kate M. Scow, Oscar Somasco, Nirmala Gunapala, Sean Lau, Robert Venette, Howard Ferris, Robert Miller, Carol Shennan
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
During the transition period of converting from conventional farming systems to organic and low-input, UC Davis researchers found small but significant changes in certain soil chemical properties and subtle changes in soil biological properties.
Growers converting from conventional to low-input and organic farming systems must rely on organic sources for adequate soil fertility. At the Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems (SAFS) project at UC Davis, we measured soil fertility and biological parameters in four farming systems. By the end of the first 4 years, pH and percent nitrogen were consistently higher in organic and low-input than conventional plots for all crops. Levels of organic matter, phosphorus and potassium were significantly higher in the organic than conventional 2-year plots. Microbial biomass levels were consistently higher in organic and low-input systems, while plant parasitic nematode numbers were consistently lower. Nitrogen deficiency appeared to be a problem in organic tomatoes during the transition period. More research is needed into the dynamics of soil nutrient availability in low-input systems. For instance, we may need to develop new methods of assessing soil fertility in organically fertilized systems.
In low-input and organic systems: Researchers find short-term insect problems, long-term weed problems
by W. Thomas Lanini, Frank Zalom, James Marois, Howard Ferris
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
In a 5-year study, tomato fruitworm and stink bugs caused short-term problems in low-input and organic systems. A shift in weed species caused long-term problems in low-input and organic systems.
The conversion from conventional to low-input or organic crop production requires changes in pest control tactics. In a 5-year study, abundance of most pests did not change dramatically between conventional and low-input or organically managed systems, with a few notable exceptions. Organic and low-input plots suffered significantly greater damage from tomato fruitworm in 1989 and stink bugs in 1992. The major long-term effect has been on weeds. Weed control methods differ among the systems and have resulted in more barnyardgrass in low-input and organic systems and field bindweed and nightshade in conventional systems.
Alternative systems aim to reduce inputs, maintain profits
by Karen Klonsky, Peter Livingston
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
In the first 4 years of a project comparing farming systems in the Sacramento Valley, economists found that low-input and organic farming systems need price premiums tb compete with conventional systems.
The economic component of the Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems (SAFS) project at UC Davis compared the financial performance of low-input and organic farming systems to conventional systems. All of the systems have been profitable over the first 4 years of the project. However, nei- ther the organic nor lo w-input systems have been able to show equivalent profits to either of the conventional systems on a whole farm basis without organic price premiums.
Selecting the right cover crop gives multiple benefits
by Chuck Ingels, Mark Van Horn, Robert L. Bugg, P. Rick Miller
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
This article discusses the different characteristics of cover crop species used in California.
The use of cover crops continues to increase as farmers seek to improve soil quality and reduce chemical inputs. Research and grower experience have shown that cover crops can provide multiple benefits related to soil protection, soil fertility, groundwater quality and pest management. Choosing the right cover crop is critical to successful cover cropping.
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California Agriculture, Vol. 48, No.5

Farming in transition: Can farmers reduce inputs, maintain profit?
Cover:  UC researchers are comparing organic, low-input and conventional farming systems in the Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems project at UC Davis. At the research site, dried pinto beans (in the foreground) mature black beans and corn are ready for fall harvest, Photo by Jack Kelly Clark
September-October 1994
Volume 48, Number 5

Peer-reviewed research and review articles

Farming in transition Overview: Society pressures farmers to adopt more sustainable systems
by Jill Shore Auburn
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
Pressures ranging from government regulation of air, water and food to the often unsympathetic views of an urban populace have put increasing demands on farmers to adopt more sustainable practices. Yet there is no set formula for doing so; the best way to achieve sustainability varies according to region and climate, and in many cases is still under study. UC scientists and farmers are working in partnerships across the state to learn which farming systems are most successful and economically viable.
Sidebar: CSAs: the consumer-farmer connection
by Gail Feenstra
Full text HTML  | PDF  
Farming in transition: Analysis – Scientists and farmers try new approach to researchpeer-reviewed
by Stephen Kaffka
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
The Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems Project is one of several newer, large-scale experiments that have contrasted idealized cropping practices with existing ones. The common objective of these experiments has been to develop and compare cropping systems substantially different from current practice, with each system following separate rules of management. Difficult conceptual and methodological issues arise when both development and research are objectives in a project, and when many factors change simultaneously.
Conventional, low-input and organic farming systems compared
by Steven R. Temple, Oscar A. Somasco, Mary Kirk, Diana Friedman
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
In the first 4 years of a five-crop rotation cycle, researchers found managing weeds and the nitrogen supply from cover crops posed the greatest challenges for low-input and organic farming systems.
Cover-crop nitrogen supply and weed management were the most important challenges facing low-input and organic farming systems when compared to conventional systems in the first 4 years of the Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems project at UC Davis. Cover-crop timing and management using appropriate equipment were important for the success of transitional systems. The participation of local farmers ensured that optimal agricultural practices were used to manage all farming systems. Researchers regularly consulted grower-cooprators to determine “best farmer practices” of conventional, low-input and organic farming systems.
Transition from conventional to low-input agriculture changes soil fertility and biology
by Kate M. Scow, Oscar Somasco, Nirmala Gunapala, Sean Lau, Robert Venette, Howard Ferris, Robert Miller, Carol Shennan
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
During the transition period of converting from conventional farming systems to organic and low-input, UC Davis researchers found small but significant changes in certain soil chemical properties and subtle changes in soil biological properties.
Growers converting from conventional to low-input and organic farming systems must rely on organic sources for adequate soil fertility. At the Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems (SAFS) project at UC Davis, we measured soil fertility and biological parameters in four farming systems. By the end of the first 4 years, pH and percent nitrogen were consistently higher in organic and low-input than conventional plots for all crops. Levels of organic matter, phosphorus and potassium were significantly higher in the organic than conventional 2-year plots. Microbial biomass levels were consistently higher in organic and low-input systems, while plant parasitic nematode numbers were consistently lower. Nitrogen deficiency appeared to be a problem in organic tomatoes during the transition period. More research is needed into the dynamics of soil nutrient availability in low-input systems. For instance, we may need to develop new methods of assessing soil fertility in organically fertilized systems.
In low-input and organic systems: Researchers find short-term insect problems, long-term weed problems
by W. Thomas Lanini, Frank Zalom, James Marois, Howard Ferris
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
In a 5-year study, tomato fruitworm and stink bugs caused short-term problems in low-input and organic systems. A shift in weed species caused long-term problems in low-input and organic systems.
The conversion from conventional to low-input or organic crop production requires changes in pest control tactics. In a 5-year study, abundance of most pests did not change dramatically between conventional and low-input or organically managed systems, with a few notable exceptions. Organic and low-input plots suffered significantly greater damage from tomato fruitworm in 1989 and stink bugs in 1992. The major long-term effect has been on weeds. Weed control methods differ among the systems and have resulted in more barnyardgrass in low-input and organic systems and field bindweed and nightshade in conventional systems.
Alternative systems aim to reduce inputs, maintain profits
by Karen Klonsky, Peter Livingston
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
In the first 4 years of a project comparing farming systems in the Sacramento Valley, economists found that low-input and organic farming systems need price premiums tb compete with conventional systems.
The economic component of the Sustainable Agriculture Farming Systems (SAFS) project at UC Davis compared the financial performance of low-input and organic farming systems to conventional systems. All of the systems have been profitable over the first 4 years of the project. However, nei- ther the organic nor lo w-input systems have been able to show equivalent profits to either of the conventional systems on a whole farm basis without organic price premiums.
Selecting the right cover crop gives multiple benefits
by Chuck Ingels, Mark Van Horn, Robert L. Bugg, P. Rick Miller
| Full text HTML  | PDF  
This article discusses the different characteristics of cover crop species used in California.
The use of cover crops continues to increase as farmers seek to improve soil quality and reduce chemical inputs. Research and grower experience have shown that cover crops can provide multiple benefits related to soil protection, soil fertility, groundwater quality and pest management. Choosing the right cover crop is critical to successful cover cropping.

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