Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

UC blogs

Future water leaders soak up irrigation information

University of California students are taking a long journey through California to trace the state's complicated and critical water supply. The recent graduates and upper-division co-eds from UC Merced, UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley and UC Davis are part of the UC Water Academy, a course that combines online training with a two-week field trip for first-hand knowledge about California water.

The tour began June 18 at Lake Shasta, the state's largest reservoir, and followed the water's course to the Sacramento Valley, through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and south along the Delta-Mendota Canal. Since a key water destination is agriculture, the UC Water Academy toured the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension June 23, where research is underway to determine how the state's water supply can be most efficiently transformed into a food supply for Americans.

Traveling in two vans, 10 students, a teachers' assistant and two professors are following the course of California water.

“You're visiting a place ideal for growing high-quality fruits and vegetables, because of the Mediterranean climate and low insect and disease pressure,” said Jeff Dahlberg, director of the UC KREC.

Kearney director Jeff Dahlberg leads a tour.

UC Cooperative Extension water management specialist Khaled Bali joined the students next to his alfalfa research plot, where different irrigation regimens are compared to determine the maximum yield that can be harvested with the minimum amount of water.

“It used to be that the No. 1 objective was to maximize yield,” Bali said. “But with the limited supplies and the cost of water, now the No. 1 objective is to get the maximum economic return. Growers might be better off selling some of their water to other jurisdictions.”

UCCE water management specialist Khaled Bali speaks about his alfalfa irrigation research.

A water tour wouldn't be complete without an introduction to drought research. A recently planted sorghum trial provided the backdrop.

“California is a great place to study drought tolerance,” Dahlberg said, “because you can induce a drought by withholding irrigation.”

UC Berkeley student Chelsee Andreozzi, right, asks a question while Tessa Maurer takes notes on a smart phone. UCB student Brian Kastl is in the background.

The sizable field contains 1,800 plots with 600 sorghum cultivars under three irrigation schemes: one irrigated as usual, one in which water is cut off before the plants flower, and the final one where water is cut off after the plants flower.

“Every week, a drone flies over to collect data on the leaf area, plant height and biomass,” Dalberg said. “Hopefully we will get associations with gene expression and this phenotype data. “

Recently emerged sorghum that is part of a trial aiming to tease out the genes that express drought tolerance.

Dahlberg and his collaborating researchers believe identifying the genes responsible for drought tolerance in sorghum will help scientists find drought-tolerant genes in other cereal crops – such as wheat, corn, rice and millet. “This will go a long way to feeding the people of the world,” he said.

There is still much to learn about sorghum drought tolerance – is it conferred by the plant's waxy leaves, the way stomata are controlled, accumulation of sugar in the leaves, or a mechanism in the roots?

“These are all questions you will have to answer to feed the world,” Dahlberg said. “That's why I would encourage you to continue studying water. There's a lot for you to get into.”

Students gather in the post harvest laboratory at Kearney.

A third-year earth science student at UC Santa Cruz and a member of the academy, Denise Payan, said the sense of responsibility for the future is not daunting, but encouraging.

“It makes me feel like I can make a difference,” she said. The tour through California is shaping her plans for the future, which may include a career at the intersection of geology and biology.

“This has opened my eyes to a lot of issues,” she said.

The next stop for the UC Water Academy is the vast Tulare Lake basin to learn about groundwater recharge before heading east to the Owens Valley and the shores of Mono Lake. From there the academy turns to the Sierra Nevada to visit San Francisco's water supply, which is collected by Hetch Hetchy Dam. The field trip ends with a two-day rafting trip on the American River.

The UC Water Academy is offered through UC Water and led by UC Merced professor Joshua Viers and UC Cooperative Extension water management specialist Ted Grantham. In addition to the two-week tour, students participated in weekly online meetings and complete a project on communicating California water issues to public stakeholders. Students receive 1 unit of academic credit.

Posted on Friday, June 23, 2017 at 2:29 PM

Late-harvest processing peaches produce more profit, new UC studies show

Peaches harvested early in the season have less time to grow so more fruit must be removed to allow remaining fruit to grow larger.

Tree fruit growers can receive premiums for delivering certain extra-early varieties of peaches, but peach farmers may net roughly $800 more per acre from late-harvest processing peaches than extra-early harvest varieties, according to new cost studies released by the UC ANR Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension.

To help farmers make decisions on which peach varieties to plant, UC researchers present sample costs to produce extra-early harvested cling and freestone peaches and late harvested cling and freestone peaches for processing in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley in these studies.

Although processors pay more for extra-early harvested peach varieties than late-harvest peaches, the researchers found that yields are higher for late-harvest varieties while costs for hand thinning the fruit are lower.

“Peaches harvested early in the season have less time to grow compared to peaches that get to hang on the tree another month or more,” explained Roger Duncan, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Stanislaus County, who coauthored the studies. “Therefore, more fruit has to be removed so the remaining fruit can size. That means it costs you more to produce less.”

The analyses are based upon hypothetical well-managed farming operations using practices common to the region. The costs, materials and practices shown in these studies will not apply to all farms. Growers, UC ANR Cooperative Extension farm advisors and other agricultural associates provided input and reviewed the methods and findings of the study.

Both studies assume a 100-acre farmer-owned operation with 40 acres of cling peaches. The remaining acreage for both hypothetical farms is planted in other mature tree crops. The estimated economic life of the extra-early harvested cling peach orchard and the late harvested cling peach orchard is 18 years.

Some of the major differences between the two studies are return price, yield and fruit thinning cost. The extra-early harvested varieties have a price of $545 per ton, a yield of 17 tons per acre, and a thinning cost of $1,445 per acre. The late harvested varieties have a price of $490 per ton, a yield of 20 tons per acre, and a thinning cost of $1,177 per acre.

Asked if a small farm could save on fruit thinning expenses by doing it themselves, Duncan replied, “I guess it would be possible for a small family operation to do the thinning themselves, but not likely. It can take 20 to 40 minutes to thin a single tree. If there are 151 trees per acre, you can see that it would take one skilled person over a week to thin one acre.”

The authors describe the assumptions used to identify current costs for production material inputs, cash and non-cash overhead. Ranging analysis tables show net profits over a range of prices and yields. Other tables show the monthly cash costs, the costs and returns per acre, hourly equipment costs, the whole farm annual equipment, investment and business overhead costs and the operations with equipment and materials.

Free copies of “Sample Costs to Produce Processing Peaches, Cling and Freestone Extra-early Harvested Varieties, in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley – 2017” and “Sample Costs to Establish and Produce Processing Peaches, Cling and Freestone Late Harvested Varieties, in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley – 2017” are available on the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics website at https://coststudies.ucdavis.edu. Sample cost-of-production studies for many other commodities are also available.

The cost study program is funded by the UC Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension, both part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

For additional information or an explanation of the calculations used in the studies, contact Jeremy Murdock at the Agricultural Issues Center, at (530) 752-4651, Janine Hasey, UC Cooperative Extension advisor for Sutter/Yuba counties, at (530) 822-7515, or Duncan at (209) 525-6800.

Major differences between extra-early and late harvest peaches are return price, yield and fruit thinning cost.

 

Posted on Wednesday, June 21, 2017 at 4:19 PM

Bee knowledgeable: Pollinator Week is June 19–25, 2017

Bees are the most important pollinators of California agriculture — helping farmers grow field crops, fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Honey bees receive most of the credit for crop pollination, but many other kinds of bees play an important role as well. There are 1600 species of bees in California! Take time during Pollinator Week to learn about the different kinds of bees and what you can do to help them flourish.

Why should I care about other kinds of bees?

Bees other than honey bees contribute significantly to crop pollination. For example, alfalfa pollination by alfalfa leafcutter bees is worth $7 billion per year in the United States. Other bees can also boost the result of honey bee pollination — in almond orchards, honey bees are more effective when orchard mason bees are present. The more bee species, the merrier the harvest.

While growers often rent honey bee colonies to pollinate their crops, some wild bees pollinate certain crops even better than honey bees do. For instance, bumble bees are more effective pollinators of tomato because they do something honey bees do not: they shake pollen out of flowers with a technique known as buzz pollination. Likewise, native squash bees are better pollinators of cucurbits — unlike honey bees, they start work earlier in the day, and males even sleep in flowers overnight.

How can I help honey bees and other bees?

When it comes to land management and pest management practices, some bees need more accommodations than others. That's why it is important to know what bees are present in your area and important to your crop, and plan for their needs. Use this bee monitoring guide to identify bees present on your farm.

You can help all kinds of bees by using integrated pest management (IPM). This means using nonchemical pest management methods (cultural, mechanical and biological control), monitoring for pests to determine whether a pesticide is needed, and choosing pesticides that are less toxic to bees whenever possible. Check out the UC IPM Bee Precaution Pesticide Ratings to learn about the risks different pesticides pose to honey bees and other bees, and follow the Best Management Practices To Protect Bees From Pesticides.

Bees also need plenty of food to stay healthy and abundant. Plant flowers that provide nectar and pollen throughout the year. See the planting resources below to find out which plants provide year-round food for specific types of bees.

Like honey bees, native bees need nesting areas to thrive. Bumble bees, squash bees, and other bees nest underground. Ground-nesting bees may require modified tilling practices (such as tilling fields no more than 6 inches deep for squash bees) or no-till management to survive. For above-ground nesters, like carpenter bees and mason bees, consider planting hedgerows or placing tunnel-filled wooden blocks around the field. See the habitat resources below for more information about native bee nesting in agricultural areas.

 

Bee habitat resources

Sources

 

Posted on Tuesday, June 20, 2017 at 11:46 AM

Raising sheep and goats for fun and profit

A 4-H sheep or goat project has something in common with ranchers raising animals for a living. In both cases, one objective is profit.

“Profit is not a dirty word,” said Dan Macon, UC Cooperative Extension assistant specialist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences. “How many of you are using fair animals to save for college or buy a car? You're in business.”

Raising animals is fun, and teaches children responsibility and accountability.

Macon spoke at a Sheep and Goat Workshop June 13 for 4-H members, FFA students and local sheep and goat producers, organized by UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor Devii Rao. About 30 of the workshop participants represented the industry, 70 were young producers and family. 

Macon discussed the direct and indirect costs of rearing animals, the optimal timing for breeding so lambs and kids will be weaned when grass is naturally abundant, and tactics for protecting sheep from predators.

“I call this, ‘Big dogs, hot fences and fast sheep,'” Macon said. “Someday I'm going to write a country song with that title.”

The big dogs are guardian animals that are not socialized to humans, but rather kept with sheep from the time they are tiny puppies. Donkeys and llamas can be effective guardians if the predators are coyotes and dogs.

More than 100 participants - mostly 4-H members and their families - took part in the UC Cooperative Extension Sheep and Goat Workshop.

UCCE advisor Roger Ingram covered the opportunity to manage rangeland with a flock of sheep or herd of goats. The concept is “targeted grazing.”

“Think of yourselves as grass and brush farmers with four-legged combines to harvest,” Ingram said.

He advised animal caregivers to learn to identify plants, as some are good for the animals, and some are not. For example, poison hemlock and milk weed are problem plants for certain animals.

4-H'er Cody Watson, 10, and his grandmother Susan Garner

Ten-year-old 4-H member Cody Watson attended the workshop with his grandmother Susan Gardner.

“Raising animals teaches responsibility and accountability,” Gardner said. “The kids learn where food comes from.”

Gardner was a 4-H member as a child, but when her children were growing up, she didn't have the income for property to house animals.

4-H member Marisa Tobia keeps her animals at San Benito County's 4-H barn.
 
This isn't a problem for 4-H youth in San Benito County. A 4-H barn sits close to downtown where kids can keep animals in exchange for working on the facility's upkeep. That's where 4-H member Marisa Tobia keeps her lambs and swine.

“It's fun,” Tobia said. “I'm there with all my friends.”

4-H member Alec Berntsen, 16, is involved in lamb, goat, poultry and leadership projects. His mother Kirsten Berntsen co-leads the club.
 
The workshop also included a sheep sheering demonstration.
 
The event was hosted by Hollister FFA in the San Benito High School ag barn. About three-quarters of the participants were from San Benito County. Most of the others were from Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, and about a dozen came from further away, including Santa Clara, Alameda, Yolo and San Joaquin counties. 
Posted on Thursday, June 15, 2017 at 9:35 AM

Better soil boosts farm profit and benefits the planet

Healthy soil does much more than hold plants upright on the surface of the earth. It is a mix of mineral bits and old plant particles teeming with microbes to form a mysterious and complex web of life scientists are just beginning to understand.

While scientists use high technology to study heathy soil – painstakingly counting soil worms and bugs, sequencing the DNA of soil bacteria, for example – some farmers know intuitively whether the soil is healthy just by walking on it.

Scott Park is a first-generation Meridian, Calif., farmer. “When I step on a field and it feels like a road, something is wrong,” he said. “If it feels like a marshmallow or sponge, that's good.”

An overflow crowd at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center learns about the benefits of farming practices that promote healthy soil.

Park shared his farming experiences with 200 farmers, industry representatives, University of California Cooperative Extension scientists, Fresno State students, news media and others during a half-day UC workshop at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points.

“The last 31 years I've been on a mission of building soil,” Park said. “I discovered it by accident and I've made lots of mistakes. But yields trend upwards every year on every crop. Being sensitive to building soil, I'm making a lot of money. And if I'm doing something for the earth, all the better.”

Park said he adds 10 to 15 tons per acre of biomass to his farm every year. He's using less fertilizer, up to 20 percent less water, and even experimenting on the farm by growing a commercial crop with just four inputs: cover crops, water, seed and sun.

“We got high-yielding, good-quality crops,” Park said. “Nobody was more shocked than I am that I got a good crop.”

Soil samples on the left break down quickly in water. On the right, healthy soil absorbs water without breaking down.

Researchers are now using the scientific method to figure out the root causes of these empirical observations.

“There's a lot going on in soil,” said Radomir Schmidt, a UC Davis soil microbiologist who spoke at the soil health field day.

A teaspoon of soil has a billion bacteria and six miles of fungal hyphae, the filaments that branch out through the soil from fungi, Schmidt said. The microbes' interaction with living plant roots, the larger pores left by decomposing vegetation and tunneling worms and insects create a system that confers resilience to unforeseen challenges – such as pest pressure, torrential rainfall and plant diseases.

The field day was held under a tent pitched adjacent to an 18-year research trial at the 320-acre facility. The trial compares four farming systems side by side:

  1. Conventional system, with annual soil tillage and no cover crops.
  2. Conservation agriculture, with no tilling whatsoever and annual winter cover crops.
  3. No-till without the cover crop.
  4. Conventional tilling with a cover crop.

“Take a look over my shoulder to see the difference,” said Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and the study leader. “We've found the cover crops and no-till reduce water needs, cut dust, and lower costs. And there may be more benefits than we realized.”

For example, a graduate student counted the worms, bugs, beetles and other microfauna in soil samples from each of the treatments. There were double the amount in the no-till, cover crop plots compared to the conventional farming system.

Randall Southard, UC ANR soil researcher, standing in a bulldozed pit, shows the characteristics of soil beneath conservation agriculture trials at the West Side REC.

UC Cooperative Extension specialist Sloan Rice found that cover crops promote water retention in the soil after rainfall. There is very little water evaporation from the soil surface and water transportation from the cover crop plants in the winter, so little water is lost. Cover crops also promote more water infiltration below three feet.

“Cover crops for sustainable water management is particularly important considering the water supply availability and its cost,” Rice said.

Healthy soil management also shows promise in confronting global climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil, rather than depleting it.

Manager of Sano Farms in Firebaugh, Jesse Sanchez, was a speaker at the field day. He wasn't surprised by the overflow crowd.

“Farmers are more and more curious. They see some of us using cover crops, and they want to learn more,” Sanchez said. “There has been a swell of interest. I have a tremendous number of visitors every year.”

Field day participants take a close look at the soil.

For more information about soil building, see the UC Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation website at http://casi.ucanr.edu

Posted on Monday, June 12, 2017 at 2:26 PM

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