Bill Longfellow is a conservation innovator and second-generation member of the local Excelsior/Kings River Resource Conservation District (RCD), for which he has served as President for seven productive years. Along with his wife, Cindy, he also functions as an informal diplomat for Kings County agriculture, welcoming visitors from across the country with ever-ready tours and barbeques. He also hosts foreign exchange students from all over the world, most recently Germany and Japan.
Bill holds himself to a high conservation standard and is unafraid to be the first in his area to try new methods. One example of this pioneer spirit was to take part of his land, and try injecting manure directly into the soil. Topically applying manure to fields is a proven and efficient method for recycling energy and nutrients. As the Central Valley, home to the Nation's largest dairy industry, has experienced a shift in land usage in favor of dairy cows, manure volume sometimes exceeds the nutrient demands of fields reserved for crops. The resulting atmospheric emission of odors, ammonia, and greenhouse gases presents a challenge to which the drag-hose manure injection system hopes to offer a solution. Bill found access to the technical expertise and funding for this alternative strategy through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Equipped with a personally tailored Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) and cost-sharing through their federally funded Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), NRCS helped Bill to realize his production requirements while achieving a desired nutrient balance.
Another component of Bill's CNMP was the installation of a modern manure waste-water transfer line with a tail water return system for other areas of his land. Soil and manure nutrient density were determined so that the optimal manure load for each crop could be applied. Regular monitoring and adjustments assure that specific nutrient needs for each crop are always met. Bill is also working with the University of California at Davis and Rain for Rent on field-scale testing of a new dairy wastewater treatment technology called the Sequencing Batch Reactor (SBR) system. This aerobic treatment process significantly reduces manure solids and converts nutrients into forms more available for crop use. It also cuts energy costs in half, as compared to conventional aerobic treatment systems. Additionally, Bill will install a synthetic-lined dairy lagoon this year to help keep nutrients in the manure supply where they are desired, and out of underground water supplies. The combined results of these strategies will be increased land productivity, and soil, water, and air quality for the region.
Triple Crops and Conservation Tillage
Another rare and innovative technique being evaluated by NRCS for its potential to maximize crop output while balancing soil nutrients is the practice of triple crops. By planting and harvesting three crops in one year on the same field, the soil's productivity is maximized, and the uptake of nitrogen and other crop nutrients applied to the land are fully utilized. Bill is participating by planting two rotations of corn followed by wheat in winter as a cover crop. The economic and environmental value Bill is realizing is significant, and he helps others to likewise benefit by sharing the results with other producers during Field Days.
Bill also forged an alliance with UC Cooperative Extension vegetable crop specialist Jeff Mitchell to apply conservation tillage practices on his land. These techniques minimize soil cultivation in order to reduce erosion and emissions of greenhouse gases. Bill reduced tractor passes on his fields (except alfalfa) by 75%, and has seen a reduction in nutrient loss and increase in soil quality. He also saves money on fuel and labor costs. Though at present conservation tillage is practiced on less than two percent of all farmland in California, Bill is helping to change that trend by demonstrating these attractive benefits to other landowners faced with rising fuel costs, and limited supplies of labor and water.
Irrigation and Pest Management
This year, Bill will help test an assertion by the University of California that alfalfa can survive with significantly reduced irrigation in the intense Central Valley summer heat. Certainly, this readiness on Bill's part to extend use of his land for the testing procedure is generous. If the proposal holds true, California could benefit in conservation of its precious water resources.
This crop is also the focus of an aggressive integrated pest management system with the assistance of NRCS. This system uses year-round monitoring to better understand the relationship between the Egyptian Alfalfa Weevil, its hosts, and the crop. A combination of common-sense practices is then instituted to manage pests. Results from this endeavor are eagerly anticipated since they will enable producers to intervene at the most judicious time, and make resistance on the part of pests more difficult.
Thanks to people like Bill, whose innovative spirit and readiness to partner with conservation agencies like NRCS, UC Cooperative Extension, and Rain For Rent, California enjoys the promise of a healthier economy and environment. Sustainability is indeed a virtue we all strive to achieve within our great state.