Cutting On-Farm Air Pollution, Improving Public Health and Saving Money

Conventional farming techniques, practiced on more than nine million acres in California’s Central Valley, involve significant soil disturbance which increases dust pollution and diesel emissions.

Experts identify farming as a significant source of air pollution in the Central Valley. In some regions, crop cultivation and harvest contribute significant volumes of dust each day. Tractors that run on diesel also release emissions which can lead to ozone and smog pollution.

Central Valley residents — especially children and the elderly — suffer from a variety of respiratory problems due to pollution from farming and other sources. At least 10% of the population is afflicted with chronic breathing disorders. Fresno County, the leading farming region in the nation, has the country’s highest asthma mortality rate.

Less Is More

Conservation tillage (top) vs. standard cultivation.

Conservation tillage (top) vs. standard cultivation.

An effective and simple solution to reduce farming’s impact on air quality and human health is a suite of low-impact cultivation practices called “conservation tillage.”

These include leaving crop stubble (such as corn stalks) on the surface of the soil and planting a new crop right on top. Unlike conventional tillage, the remaining crop residue protects the soil from erosion and prevents wind from blowing it into the air. Conservation tillage also involves reducing the number of tractor passes farmers make to prepare fields for planting. Conservation tillage dramatically cuts dust and diesel pollution from farming compared to standard cultivation methods, and there’s great potential for widespread adoption throughout the state.

Conservation tillage also greatly lowers fuel, labor and maintenance costs — all without harming crop yields. Since 2003, Central Valley farmers have saved tens of millions of dollars.

With partners, Sustainable Conservation is promoting the use of conservation tillage on dairy silage fields throughout the Central Valley to dramatically cut air pollution, benefit farmers’ bottom lines and local farm economies, and help communities throughout the state breathe easier.


  • On average, farmers using conservation tillage have reduced dust and diesel emissions by up to 70% and 50%, respectively
  • Starting on fewer than 100 acres in 2003, we and our partners have helped California farmers make the switch to less intensive cultivation methods on more than 180,000 acres – over 280 square miles – across nine counties
  • Farmers using conservation tillage save millions of dollars in fuel, labor and maintenance costs each year


Press & Accolades

AgNet West – Benefits of Strip-Till Corn Production for Dairies

Merced Sun-Star – Tour of Merced County Farms to Highlight Benefits of Conservation Farming

Strip-Till Farmer – Strip-Till Dairy Tour to Highlight Irrigation, Precision Techniques

Dairy Business Magazine – Silage Corn Production: Five Key Issues for Transition to Strip Tillage


Video: Dino Giacomazzi – Hanford dairy farmer, conservation tillage pioneer and 2012 California Leopold Conservation Award Recipient


Barcellos Farms

Joe & Renee Barroso Dairy

California Ag Solutions

California Dairy Campaign

California Dairy Quality Assurance Program

Dairy Cares
Giacomazzi Dairy Farms

Michael McRee Dairy
Milk Producers Council

UC Cooperative Extension

Western United Dairymen

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