That is beginning to change.
UC Cooperative Extension and Fresno State agricultural production scientists researched overhead irrigation at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center for five years, growing wheat, corn, cotton, tomato, onion and broccoli and comparing them with crops produced under furrow and drip irrigation. With all of them except tomato, overhead irrigation led to similar or increased yields, according to the scientists' report published in the current issue of California Agriculture journal.
“Overall, we are very encouraged by these results, and they reflect the experiences that many California farmers have recently been having with overhead irrigation systems,” said lead author Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension specialist. “We've confirmed that overhead irrigation systems work in California. We also concluded that there are opportunities to get even better results with more research and experience, particularly when overhead irrigation is coupled with practices that preserve crop residues and rely on reduced tillage.”
The tomato yields under overhead irrigation were disappointing, particularly since tomatoes have a prominent role in many Central Valley annual crop rotations.
“This isn't a simple process,” Mitchell said. “You can't just turn it on and let it go. It will require focused and dedicated farmer and researcher attention and innovation to solve.”
The authors are working with a team of Central Valley tomato farmers, processors, irrigation experts and research colleagues to improve overhead irrigation management in tomatoes. They are encouraged by the success of Walnut Grove farmer Michael Boparai, who achieved profitable processing tomato yields with overhead irrigation.
Overhead irrigation systems were invented more than 60 years ago. They now irrigate 50 percent of total U.S. farm irrigated acreage. In Nebraska, 87 percent of irrigated land is under overhead systems. By contrast, in California overhead systems irrigate only 150,000 acres, just 2 percent of the state's irrigated farmland.
Mitchell and his co-authors outlined several factors that contributed to its slow rate of adoption in California:
- Early adopters ran into serious problems, giving the systems an undeserved bad reputation that persists even though in recent years California farmers are using the systems successfully.
- Center pivot systems typically leave the corners of the field unirrigated, which can reduce production.
- Purchase and installation cost of the overhead system is substantially higher than furrow irrigation.
However, the UC and Fresno State research has shown many advantages.
- Overhead irrigation can be managed remotely and automatically.
- The system can accommodate different terrain and soil types.
- Overhead systems requires less maintenance than drip systems in terms of avoiding clogging of emitters and repairing leaks.
- Overhead irrigation may also help with salinity management by uniformly leaching salts from a crop's root zone.
- Precision irrigation, including overhead systems, are becoming ever more critical with coming groundwater regulations, surface water cuts and the increasing cost of water for farmers in California.
A significant advantage of overhead irrigation is its compatibility with other farm management technologies that optimize the farming system and reduce costly inputs, including water, fuel, labor and fertilizer.
“We're committed to continuing our work on the whole package – reduced tillage, preserving residue, improving water infiltration, improving soil water-holding capacity and increasing productivity uniformity – a system that we refer to as conservation agriculture,” Mitchell said. “We are working to encourage adoption of conservation agriculture in crops where viability of the system is well established, and facilitate the research and innovation needed to optimize conservation agriculture production in additional crops.”
What are sixth-graders interested in these days? “Cooking!” “Growing food!” “Learning how to be healthier.” “Exercising.” “Meeting new friends!” These enthusiastic answers came from sixth-grade student leaders in Santa Maria, Calif., when asked by educators from the UC Cooperative Extension Youth, Families and Communities program in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
Through an integrated youth-focused healthy living project, called Food Smart Families, funded by National 4-H, the UC ANR 4-H Youth Development Program, and the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education program, 32 fourth- through sixth-grade student leaders were brought together from three schools in Santa Maria, Calif., for a full-day educational retreat that focused on engaging youth to explore their healthy lifestyle interests and see themselves as leaders.
Throughout the day, student leaders experienced physical activity games, learned cooking skills, participated in garden-based learning, and developed their presentation skills. They focused on skill development, as well as transference so that the student leaders could take these activities into their own schools to encourage and teach their peers. For example, the fun physical activity breaks that were incorporated throughout the day modeled games where no one is “out” or excluded, while moving enough to get heart rates up.
In the garden, student leaders learned the basics of growing food and how to lead a garden lesson. Students discussed garden tools and how to use them safely, then planted their own seeds to take home. The garden session ended with a gleaning of the school citrus orchard where students laughed and enjoyed the fresh air and fresh fruits growing around them. In their own school gardens, the student leaders have offered lessons and tastings to their peers.
By the end of the retreat, the student leaders were excited to take the information and skills back to their schools and start leading. Students shared their plans to help other students be more active during recess, be healthy, and help other kids be healthier too.
“This was the best day I have ever had,” said one of the students.
Through the efforts of the Food Smart Families program, the Youth, Families, & Communities program in San Luis Obispo & Santa Barbara counties merged the strengths of the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education program and the UC ANR 4-H Youth Development program to provide new opportunities and experiences for students in this community. With interested and caring adults, these student leaders learned to share their passions for cooking, gardening, and healthy lifestyle with their peers at school and others in their community. The rewards for the school, community and adult allies continue to expand as these inspired student leaders, with strong mentorship and support, take on some of the biggest challenges facing our society and world.
Although UC's northernmost campus is UC Davis, the region is served by UC Cooperative Extension. The university opened its first Cooperative Extension office in Eureka in 1913, but April 27 marked the first official visit to Humboldt County by a UC president.
“I hope to show the president how local residents benefit from UC Cooperative Extension and to give President Napolitano and Vice President Humiston ideas on how the university may get more involved in solving local challenges,” said Yana Valachovic, UC Cooperative Extension director and forest advisor for Humboldt and Del Norte counties, who organized the tour.
Accompanied by Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Napolitano's day began at the Potawot Health Village in Arcata, where United Indian Health Services (UIHS) has a clinic and gardens of more than 35 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and medicinal plants that serve 15,000 people in Del Norte and Humboldt counties.
Because the rate of diabetes among Native Americans is twice that of non-Hispanic whites, UIHS provides an integrated nutrition education program. The work of UC Cooperative Extension advisors Deborah Giraud and Dorina Espinoza and Jessica Conde Rebholtz, nutrition educator for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), complements UIHS's efforts for low-income community members.
“In EFNEP, we measure behavior changes over an eight-week program and we have seen positive changes in how people manage their resources. So, we can promote healthy eating within a budget,” said Espinoza. “But unless we have an environment that supports the very changes we're promoting, the habits are difficult to sustain.”
Rebholtz observed that collaborating agencies offer healthier options for their EFNEP clients and have begun replacing sugary drinks and goldfish crackers with water, fruit and vegetables as children's snacks.
“UC's statewide Nutrition Policy Institute works closely with our county-based Cooperative Extension teams and is doing the research on the effectiveness of these activities so we get this feedback loop that improves the programs,” Humiston noted.
Ensuring food security, health and sustainability are among the goals of UC's Global Food Initiative.
On the boat, Coast Seafoods Company manager Greg Dale shucked an oyster fresh from the bay. The former Arizona governor ate the oyster on the half shell.
“It doesn't get any fresher than this,” Dale said.
Dale explained how his company works with UC Cooperative Extension, UC Sea Grant and other businesses and organizations to maintain the water quality in the bay. “We all need excellent water quality for economic activity,” he said.
Dina Moore, who is married to a sixth-generation rancher in Kneeland and serves on the UC President's Advisory Commission for agriculture, told Napolitano she appreciates the expertise that Cooperative Extension brings from campus as much as the research the advisors provide locally to manage natural resources. “I think the university helps us embrace the reality of being environmentally forward-thinking,” Moore said.
Climate change is one of the challenges that UC is helping Humboldt County businesses address.
California Sea Grant Extension scientist Joe Tyburczy told Napolitano. “Ocean acidification impairs the ability of these larvae to produce shell and can decimate the larvae in a hatchery.”
“Lower pH and carbonate saturation makes it more difficult for shellfish to acquire and assimilate carbonate from seawater to make their shells. Larval shellfish are especially vulnerable because of their small size and the fact that their shells are composed of aragonite, a more sensitive form of calcium carbonate,” Dale said. “It can affect their energy budget and survival.”
With the support of university researchers, hatcheries are monitoring the chemistry of seawater with an instrument called a Burkolator. “When the pH, and more importantly carbonate saturation, of seawater decrease to the point that it is harmful to larvae – which can occur during upwelling – hatchery managers can shut off intake pumps or add chemicals to buffer the water,” Tyburczy explained.
“We need someone like Joe to analyze the data and tell us what it means,” said Dale.
Forests provide economic and ecological benefits
After the boat ride, Napolitano and Humiston took a walk in the City of Arcata Community Forest, the largest community-owned forest in California. Mark Andre, City of Arcata environmental services director, described how the city works with UC to manage the 2,300 acres of redwoods for timber, wildlife, water quality and to sequester carbon for future generations, while simultaneously providing high-quality recreational opportunities for city residents.
“UC Cooperative Extension is important to us,” Andre said. “Community-based forestry integrates ecological, social and economic strategies. To honor the ecological emphasis we need science to inform our management decisions.
“This year we were able to coordinate several partners and bring $2.6 million dollars in conservation funding to help landowners restore their oak woodlands,” Valachovic said. “We provide a science, policy, research and educational hub for the region.”
When asked what she found most interesting about the bay and forest visits, Napolitano replied, “There's a relationship from the water to the land to the mountain and forest and there's a lot of science and biology that links those things in terms of how we think about them.”
In the afternoon, UC 4-H Youth Development Program members and volunteers described for Napolitano and Humiston their projects, which ranged from raising calves to teaching safety in shooting sports to quickly solving a Rubik's cube to making videos and organizing a fashion week.
“4-H helps us build life skills,” said Molly Crandall, president of Arcata Bottom, California's oldest 4-H club, founded in 1913.
Napolitano lauded the 4-H members and volunteers for their accomplishments, and told them, “Know that through UC, and UC Extension and our Ag and Natural Resources Division, we intend to not only continue supporting 4-H, but doing evermore with 4-H because I think it's a great, great organization.”
At the end of the day, the president thanked all of the tour participants for enlightening her on what UC is doing in Humboldt County. “What I've been listening for today, and looking forward to hearing more about, is what more canthe university do,” Napolitano said. “I truly believe this is a great area of the state of California.”
Napolitano and Humiston joined in the 4-H pledge
A UC president to visit Humboldt County for first time ever by Marc Vartabedian, the Eureka Times-Standard
Garden Tours with Homeland Security by Grant Scott-Goforth, North Coast Journal
University of California president visits Humboldt County by Taylor Torregano, KAEF-TV
Some consumers are willing to pay a hefty price at trendy restaurants, farmers markets, roadside stands, and even local grocery stores for tomatoes with irregular shapes, vivid colors and rich tomato flavor.
The consumer demand presents an opportunity for small-scale farmers, and a challenge.
“It's not easy to grow heirloom varieties,” said Margaret Lloyd, the UC Cooperative Extension small-scale farm advisor for Yolo, Solano and Sacramento counties. “They often have less disease resistance, are lower yielding and cannot tolerate as much stress as improved modern varieties.”
When Lloyd joined UCCE last summer, she began visiting small-scale producers in the counties she serves.
“I realized very quickly how important fresh market tomatoes are to these growers,” Lloyd said.
Because she holds a doctorate degree in plant pathology from UC Davis, Lloyd is well-positioned to begin her research program with a small tomato grafting project on UC Davis farmland. Her idea is grafting the particularly delicious heirloom varieties onto tomato roots that are resistant to soil-borne diseases.
“Grafting is an old technology,” Lloyd said. “It works in the same way we graft fruit trees and grapevines onto favorable rootstocks. Vegetable grafting has also been done for years.”
Lloyd said the process is simple and an individual can easily learn to graft tomatoes. But to do so cost effectively with the quality and success rate necessary for economically viable production, it may make most sense to work with a commercial nursery.
Lloyd is conducting a quarter-acre field trial with the three most common heirloom varieties – Brandywine, Cherokee purple and Marvel stripe – plus the yellow-hued Sun Gold cherry tomato and a non-heirloom salad tomato, Charger. Several growers in the area have also planted them in their commercial operations.
In addition to collecting data from the trial that will help small farmers decide whether grafted tomatoes make sense for their operations, Lloyd and her research associates will harvest many bushels of fresh tomatoes from the plots. Some will be sold at the UC Davis farm store to help support the research, and as for the rest, “We're definitely going to eat them,” Lloyd said.
“I enjoy them raw with olive oil, salt, vinegar and a little basil,” she said.
“We now have food deserts over what was once abundant farmland,” said Rachel Surls, UC Cooperative Extension sustainable food systems advisor. “Although Los Angeles is not unique in this regard, there's something disconcerting about the speed and scale at which Los Angeles lost its ability to produce food.”
The dramatic conversions of Los Angeles are traced and explained in a new book by Surls and Los Angeles farm and garden authority and UC Master Gardener volunteer Judith Gerber. From Cows to Concrete: The Rise and Fall of Farming in Los Angeles, published by Angel City Press, is available on the publisher's website and from other booksellers.
Though hard to imagine when trapped in a traffic jam on the Santa Ana Freeway, under the pavement, parking lots and buildings are acres of once-productive farmland. Los Angeles County, with more than 10 million residents, now houses a quarter of California's population. But in the first half of the 20th century, Los Angeles was the top farm county in the United States.
In her role with UCCE, Surls works to encourage the newly active school, home, community and urban agricultural community in Los Angeles. She was intrigued to discover that the county now best known for Hollywood, high-rises, and luxurious homes, as well as grinding poverty and homelessness, was once a bucolic farming community. The knowledge sparked research that resulted in her seven-year collaboration with Gerber on the book.
Spanish land grants spawned vast ranchos in colonial Los Angeles that ran thousands of cattle and grew rice, corn, beans, melons and other fruit and vegetables. When Mexico won its independence from Spain, the missions' power declined and the rancheros gained influence. Many communities in Southern California bear the early ranchos' names, such as San Pedro, La Puente and Los Cerritos.
A series of developments led to Los Angeles County's designation as the No. 1 ag country in the nation by 1909. Among them were:
- Successful grape production that was started by the missions to make sacramental wine.
- A casual experiment by a grape farmer to plant orange trees, which exploded into a citrus growing empire.
- The arrival of the Southern Pacific railroad expanded the market for LA's perishable produce.
- The LA Chamber of Commerce led a transition of farming into an organized, sophisticated industry.
- The discovery of local oil provided affordable fuel to expand production of canned fruits and vegetables, and made irrigation with groundwater possible for more farmers.
Growth of marketing cooperatives, ag research by UC Cooperative Extension, and irrigation and market infrastructure would allow Los Angeles to hold its position as the nation's top farm country for four decades. Los Angeles led the nation in production of walnuts, lemons, strawberries, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, corn and hay.
But agriculture has not disappeared, say the authors of From Cows to Concrete. There are small pockets of agricultural land in the urban landscape, such as Richland Farms in Compton, where many people have large lots and keep horses and livestock. The new farm-to-fork movement is prompting families to cultivate vegetables in their backyards and community groups to find vacant space to produce food. LA allows residents to keep honey bees and some residents are raising backyard chickens.
“In a place where poverty is entrenched, with fruits and vegetables neither affordable nor accessible, why not use backyards, vacant lots, and other open spaces to grow healthy food, right in the neighborhoods that need them,” the authors ask. “The story of agriculture in California and Los Angeles is still unfolding.”