No-Till News: An Update on CAFF’s Biointensive No-Till Project 

Since 2017, CAFF’s Ecological Farming team has been conducting an on-farm demonstration project in collaboration with California no-till farmers to better understand small-scale biointensive no-till farming’s effect on soil health. Biointensive no-till farming systems endeavor to maximize on-farm biodiversity, minimize disturbance, maximize crop density, and sequester soil carbon. In the field, these principles can be implemented through practices such as intensive crop rotations, polycultures, maintaining continuous ground cover, and applying compost. 

Our most recent project update was given at the 2020 EcoFarm conference by Sara Tiffany, CAFF’s Ecological Farming Program Director, and Cole Rainey, UC Berkeley PhD student. Their webinar grabbed the attention of hundreds of agricultural enthusiasts, invoking in-depth discussion. Since then, much biointensive no-till knowledge generation has occurred and we’d like to share an update with you. 


Digging into the Data 

Figure 1

Over the past year, we worked with CAFF staff and University of California colleagues to refine our statistical models, modify our key predictor variables, and tease out the statistically significant findings. What did we learn? 

One of our primary soil health metrics of interest was total carbon, a measurement of organic and inorganic soil carbon. We reported on this metric because carbon, particularly, the organic fraction, is an important indicator of soil health. Soil organic carbon makes up approximately 58 percent of soil organic matter and affects a broad suite of soil properties and functions including aggregate stability, water holding capacity, microbial composition, and nutrient cycling. We are excited to report that total carbon was significantly greater in the no-till plots than the control (Figure 1). In addition, we saw a significantly greater rate of soil carbon accumulation in the no-till plots than the control (Figure 2).  

Figure 2

You can find the above infographics on our social media pages. We invite you to leave us a comment letting us know what you think! 


Collaborative Evaluations and a Final Project Report 

While we are thrilled to see the positive effects of biointensive no-till farming on soil health, we are eager to hear our partner farmers’ thoughts about the data and project at large. Next week, CAFF’s Ecological Farming staff will be hosting farmer listening sessions, also referred to as Collaborative Evaluations, with the project’s partner farmers to document their experiences. Check back here for pictures of our farmer listening sessions. We look forward to sharing these insights in our final project report coming in the next few months. Click here to sign up to receive the project report upon completion! 

The Work Continues 

Although CAFF’s Biointensive No-Till Project is in its final stages, we will be continuing this work in partnership with our colleagues at the UC Berkeley Agroecology Lab. This next phase of research and education will draw heavily upon the lessons learned through CAFF’s project. We are looking forward to expanding the network of no-till partner farmers, sampling a greater variety of soil health metrics, and collaborating with community-driven organizations to help facilitate educational workshops.