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A cover crop of Lana Vetch in an old date orchard.

Details: More information on this research in Agricultural Research magazine.

Dates Go “Under Cover” in California

By Tara Weaver-Missick
January 6, 2000

Date-palm trees languishing on poor soils may be making a comeback in California, thanks to sustainable agriculture practices developed by an Agricultural Research Service scientist. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief research agency.

In recent years, California date growers have noticed a decline in fruit quality. To help solve the problem, ARS plant physiologist Aref Abdul-Baki, with the agency’s Vegetable Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., teamed up with Coachella Valley date growers to improve the soil.

Results from an extensive soil profile study of date orchards, covering about 1400 acres, revealed that trees were suffering from poor nutrition and compacted soil, both of which prevent roots from pushing down deep for needed water and nutrients.

Growers are working to correct this problem by adopting Abdul-Baki’s no-tillage system that calls for growing cover crops to improve soil quality. Growers planted two legume cover crops, Lana vetch and Clay Iron cow peas. These crops harbor beneficial bacteria that take nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil where plant roots feed.

This farming system reduced cultivation and production costs, loosened compacted soils, added organic matter, recycled nutrients and reduced soil temperature that, if too high, stresses roots. It will take about five years to see the full benefits of this sustainable no-tillage system.

As a result of Abdul-Baki’s work in California, about 5000 acres in the Coachella Valley are incorporating cover crops into vegetable and fruit production.

More information on this research appears in the January issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

Scientific contact: Aref Abdul-Baki, ARS Vegetable Laboratory, Beltsville, Md., phone (301) 504- 5057, fax (301) 504-5555,