With poor air quality and economic challenges plaguing the Central Valley, local farmers are simultaneously clearing the air and reducing their costs, according to a new study published today by a group of academic, farming and environmental leaders.

Between 2004 and 2008, Central Valley farmers switched to "reduced tillage" practices on nearly 20% of land used to grow row crops like corn and wheat silage.

These practices cut the number of tractor passes needed to prepare fields for planting, which means lower fuel and labor costs for farmers, and less dust and diesel pollution in the air. Local farmers save money while they protect clean air for their neighbors.

"My philosophy is that good environmental stewardship must be profitable to be sustainable," says Hanford dairy farmer Dino Giacomazzi. "Our conservation tillage program has been helpful to our family business during these hard economic times. Not only have we dramatically reduced inputs but we have also increased yield and the quality of our crops as a result."

In 2008, Central Valley farmers cultivated more than 416,000 acres using reduced tillage practices. Conservation tillage, which involves leaving crop stubble on the soil and re-planting over the top, increased from 2% to 10% of acres under cultivation.

"These effective cultivation techniques are good for everyone — not just farmers," says Ashley Boren, executive director of Sustainable Conservation, who co-authored the study. "They help reduce dust and diesel pollution in the Central Valley so local residents breathe cleaner air."

Statewide, reduced-tillage practices like conservation tillage and minimum tillage could cut dust pollution from agriculture by up to 85% and diesel pollution in half. That's good news for the San Joaquin Valley, which according to the American Lung Association ranks in the top 25 most-polluted regions of the U.S. and experiences air quality that hovers at levels dirty enough to endanger lives.