Two California farm groups are merging to create the Conservation Agriculture Systems Institute and will launch the effort with an informational meeting later this month.

The merger brings together the Conservation Tillage and Cropping Systems Workgroup and California Overhead Irrigation Alliance,

"This is the agronomic and ecological equivalent of the 'moon race' back in the early 1960s," says CASI coordinator Jeff Mitchell, a University of California Cooperative Extension cropping systems specialist.

CASI's aims to bring together farmers, business leaders, public agency representatives, university, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and environmental group membership to chart long-term goals for sustainable agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley.

The group also plans to develop appropriate conservation-agriculture production systems that will achieve those goals.

In general, conservation agriculture achieves profitable and sustainable agricultural systems and improved livelihoods of farmers through the application of general principles such as:

• Minimum soil disturbance

• Preservation of residues that provide permanent soil cover

• Diverse crop rotations

• Use of cover crops

• Integrated pest management

• Reliance on precision, highly-efficient irrigation

Because conservation tillage and other soil-conservation practices are the cornerstones of conservation agriculture, there are both challenges as well as opportunities for California systems to be developed in the San Joaquin Valley -- a historically tillage-intensive production region.

CASI will be launched during a Jan. 27, 2012 meeting at the Veterans' Memorial Building in Clovis, Calif. Information on recent research and farmer innovation toward the broad goals of conservation agriculture will be part of the program.

"CASI extends an invitation to all who would like to be a part of this major effort to actively take part with its founders on the 27th and to help with the development of improved agricultural production systems for the San Joaquin Valley," Mitchell said.

Dino Giacomazzi, a Hanford, Calif., dairyman and longtime workgroup member, will deliver a keynote address, and participants will be encouraged to serve on an advisory board for the institute.

RSVPs for this meeting must be made by January 10, 2012, to the attention of