During California’s devastating 2012-15 drought, many Central Valley growers depending on surface water to irrigate crops were forced to cut planted acres — and potential income — by up to 50%.
Nathan Ray, general manager of De Jager Farms, a 17,000-acre operation dedicated to providing alfalfa and corn silage for 25,000 dairy cows near Chowchilla, Calif., has vivid memories of those years, but says because of strip-till he was able to plant every acre every season, and saw only about an 8% yield drag.
“Strip-till was the main factor that got us through those 4 years,” he says. “It helps us retain more water in the soil between rains and irrigation and helps water infiltration to where we could cut back 20% on water application on strip-till acres.
“Everyone around us was fallowing ground and cutting back acreage, but we were able to manipulate our planting dates, increasing our planting window from two months to four, to better utilize what ground water we had for irrigation. Strip-till made that possible.”
De Jager Farms is the agronomic side of a family-owned dairy business made up of eight milking herds owned by six brothers and two sisters.
“We manage all the crops, all the labor and the tractor and harvester work, everything separate from milking and feeding, which allows the family to spread a single set of equipment across 17,000 acres without duplication,” Ray explains.
The farm includes 8,500 acres of alfalfa rotated with 8,500 acres of double-crop wheat and strip-tilled corn…