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

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California has a stable farm workforce

There are twice as many farmworkers as there are farm jobs in California, according to an analysis published online today (Aug. 23, 2016) in California Agriculture journal.

Led by Philip Martin, professor emeritus in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis, scientists analyzed all Social Security numbers reported by farm employers in 2014. The total number of farmworkers employed in California in 2014 was 829,300. The number of full-time equivalent jobs was 410,900.

“We have lots of people who do farm work in California,” Martin said. “If we could use more of them year round, we would not have to always be looking for immigrants.”

Interest in farmworkers and farm employment is growing in California and in the nation. Comments about illegal immigration by presidential candidates and a new law under consideration in California to require overtime pay for farmworkers have made farm employment part of a national conversation. California's labor-intensive fruit and vegetable production systems, the tightening of border controls and proposals to give some unauthorized workers a temporary legal status have also fueled interest.

“Many farm employers argue that there are farm labor shortages, while worker advocates counter that there is only a shortage of wages to attract and retain farmworkers,” Martin said. “Our objective was to provide a clearer picture of California's agricultural workforce by determining the actual number of wage and salary workers in agriculture.”

The research was based on information from the state's Employment Development Department, which collects data on farmworkers and wages paid when it collects unemployment insurance taxes from employers.

The results of the 2014 analysis are compared with previous analyses of farm employment going back to 1990. The data reflect a shift over the last 30 years away from direct-hire employment on crop farms and toward employment by farm labor contractors.

“Crop support services, like farm labor contractors, surpassed on-farm hires for the first time in 2007,” Martin said. “Since 2010, average employment reported by crop support establishments has been rising by 10,000 a year.”

In 2014, nonfarm crop support firms brought an average of 205,000 farmworkers to crop farms, while direct-hires on crop farms was 175,000.

“Our data show that California has a remarkably stable workforce,” Martin said. “We found that most farmworkers are attached to one farm employer, often a labor contractor who moves them from farm to farm.”

Average earnings for all workers who held at least one farm job during the year was over $19,000 in 2014, while average earnings of those who had their maximum earnings in agriculture was $16,500. Farmworkers who were employed by farm labor contractors had the lowest average earnings at $12,719.

In addition to Martin, the article was authored by Muhammad Akhtar, Brandon Hooker and Marc Stockton of the California Employment Development Department. California Agriculture journal is the peer-reviewed research journal of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Posted on Tuesday, August 23, 2016 at 2:00 PM
Tags: farmworkers (3), Philip Martin (1)

UC releases new cost studies for growing lima beans

UC Agricultural Issues Center has released two new studies on the cost and returns of growing lima beans in the Sacramento Valley and northern San Joaquin Valley. One study focuses on producing baby lima beans. The other study focuses on producing large lima beans.

The cost analyses are based on hypothetical farm operations of a well-managed farm, using practices common to the region. Growers, UC ANR Cooperative Extension farm advisors, and other agricultural associates provided input and reviewed the methods and findings of the studies.

The studies estimate the cost of producing lima beans on 200 acres using furrow irrigation. The major differences between the baby lima bean and large lima bean crops are return prices and yields, seeding rates and seed costs.

In the large lima bean study, the researchers report yields of 25 hundredweight (cwt) per acre (2,500 pounds per acre) and a return price of $75 per cwt. The seed costs for large lima including inoculant is $165 per acre. Large lima beans are planted at 120 pounds per acre. For the baby lima bean study, they report yields of 27 cwt per acre (2,700 pounds per acre) and a return price of $56 per cwt. Seeding rates for the baby limas are 70 pounds per acre with seed costs at $60 per acre.

The authors describe the assumptions used to identify current costs for the lima bean crop, material inputs, cash and non-cash overhead. A ranging analysis table shows profits over a range of prices and yields. Other tables show the monthly cash costs, the costs and returns per acre, hourly equipment costs, and the whole farm annual equipment, investment and business overhead costs.

The new studies are titled:

  • “Sample Costs to Produce Large Lima Beans in the Sacramento Valley and San Joaquin Valley-north – 2016”
  • “Sample Costs to Produce Baby Lima Beans in the Sacramento Valley and San Joaquin Valley-north – 2016”

Free copies of these lima bean studies and sample cost-of-production studies for many other commodities are available. To download the cost studies, visit http://coststudies.ucdavis.edu.

The cost and returns program is associated with the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics and the UC Agricultural Issues Center, which is a statewide program of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

For additional information or an explanation of the calculations used in the studies, contact the UC Agricultural Issues Center at (530) 752-4651 or Jeremy Murdock at jmmurdock@ucdavis.edu.

Posted on Thursday, August 18, 2016 at 4:00 PM

Got wild pigs? UC Cooperative Extension wants to hear from you

A wild pig at Sedgwick Reserve, which is part of the University of California Natural Reserve System. Wild pigs can spread disease to people, pets and livestock.
In managed rangelands and farms, wild pigs are significant pests, wreaking havoc in a number of ways. Whether you call them wild hogs, feral pigs, feral hogs, wild boars, Russian boars or Eurasian boars, in California, they are all the same destructive animal.

Wild pigs can spread disease to people, pets and livestock. Leptospirosis, tuberculosis and brucellosis are among more than 30 diseases that wild pigs can spread to humans and livestock. The feral pig species can damage forage and crops and contribute to erosion, which can affect water quality and allow invasive plant species to establish. The boorish boars can also prey on livestock, harassing, injuring or even killing cows, goats, sheep, horses and other animals.

Although anecdotal evidence of wild pig damage has been shared by landowners and farmers, official estimates of porcine damage occurring on agricultural lands are not well defined and are highly variable. To get a more accurate picture of the wild pig problem in California, UC Cooperative Extension is conducting a survey of landowners and ranchers statewide. 

“The geographical extent of wild pig damage in California is currently unknown, making it difficult to mitigate and manage losses, and hard to estimate the economic impact on private landowners and public lands,” said John Harper, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor in Mendocino and Lake counties.

To complement the survey, Harper and Roger Baldwin, UC Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist in the Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology at UC Davis, have developed a smartphone and mobile app that will help landowners and managers identify and record feral pig damage.

“Rangeland managers and farmers can enter data into the app from the field so that we can estimate the land area and economic impacts of feral pig damage over a longer time period,” said Baldwin. “Farmers and landowners who are interested in participating in data collection using our mobile application should fill out the survey and indicate their interest in the app at the end of the survey.”

Feral pigs can damage forage and crops and contribute to erosion, which can affect water quality and allow invasive plant species to establish.

To participate in the wild pig damage project, landowners and ranchers can fill out a short survey at http://ucanr.edu/wildpig2016.

The survey takes about 15 minutes to complete. Individual identities and survey responses will be kept confidential and participation in the survey is entirely voluntary.

Although wild pigs can be a nuisance in residential areas, this project is currently designed to assess the situation in rural settings.

For more information about the wild pig damage project or to obtain a paper copy of the survey, please contact Harper at (707) 463-4495 or jmharper@ucanr.edu or Baldwin at (530) 752-4551 or rabaldwin@ucdavis.edu.


Posted on Tuesday, August 16, 2016 at 12:10 PM
Tags: John Harper (2), Roger Baldwin (2), wild pigs (1)

What will California's strawberry industry do without methyl bromide?

Between 1960 and 2014, strawberry acreage in the Santa Cruz and Monterey area more than tripled and production increased tenfold.

2016 is the final year for the soil fumigant to be used in California crop fields. 

For many years, California growers relied on methyl bromide to kill a wide range of soil-borne pests, from fungi to insects to weeds, before planting crops. 2016 marks the last year in which the highly effective soil fumigant will be available.

The University of California's peer-reviewed journal California Agriculture examines the impact of the methyl bromide phaseout on strawberries, California's third most valuable crop, behind only almonds and grapes, with annual farmgate sales of $2.5 billion.

First identified as an ozone-depleting compound in 1991, methyl bromide was scheduled for phaseout in the United States by 2005 under the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to protect the stratospheric ozone layer.

While methyl bromide was used for many crops, California strawberry growers found it irreplaceable, which helped the industry win exemptions that have allowed a significant, though declining, quantity of the chemical to be used through 2016. Despite years of research into alternatives, no equally effective replacement has emerged.

Seven articles in the July-September issue of California Agriculture discuss methyl bromide alternatives and economic and production effects on the California strawberry industry.

Berry industry grows dramatically

In the first research article, UC Cooperative Extension advisors Laura Tourte and Mark Bolda and Karen Klonsky, emeritus UC Cooperative Extension economics specialist, review economic data on the berry sector — blackberries and raspberries as well as strawberries — in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. They look ahead to factors, including water, consumer demands, labor, invasive pests, and the full phaseout of methyl bromide, that are likely to shape future growth.

Methyl iodide controversy

In a paper chronicling events leading up to the 2012 withdrawal of methyl iodide, once promoted as a viable methyl bromide substitute, Julie Guthman, UC Santa Cruz professor in the Department of Social Sciences, reports survey findings that point to a variety of reasons why strawberry growers did not move quickly to adopt the chemical after it was approved by state regulators. Concerns about public opposition topped the list, followed by a variety of other factors, including concern about methyl iodide's toxicity, and a lack of strong incentive to switch to the new chemical because of the availability of other fumigants, including methyl bromide.

Managing soilborne pests

Three articles look at new approaches to managing soilborne pests without methyl bromide.

“It now seems likely that no single measure will suffice to meet the challenge of soilborne pathogens,” write Margaret Lloyd, UC Cooperative Extension advisor, and Tom Gordon, UC Davis professor in the Department of Plant Pathology, in this issue's Outlook. “Rather, a multi-faceted approach will be required, one that integrates advances in disease resistance through breeding with closer attention to the factors that influence the survival, activity and spread of pathogen populations in soil.” They make the case for using a suite of strategies to manage soilborne pathogens — including collective action among growers to help limit the spread of pathogens between fields. 

Some soilborne pathogens can be controlled with lower than the maximum label rate of soil fumigants.

news item on research at the UC ANR Hansen Agricultural Research and Extension Center covers ongoing research on anaerobic soil disinfestation, a chemical-free technique that is being used in a growing number of commercial fields. Project scientist Amanda Hodson and UC Davis professor Edwin Lewis, both in the Department of Entomology and Nematology, review a variety of approaches to managing for soil health — in strawberries and other crops — as a pest suppression strategy.

Other soil fumigants

Fumigants other than methyl bromide, such as chloropicrin, remain widely used in California strawberry production. Rachael Goodhue, UC Davis professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis, examines how increasingly stringent buffer zone requirements for chloropicrin application have an uneven impact on growers, depending on their proximity to developed land. In another article, a group of UC Cooperative Extension and U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists report on the effectiveness of several fumigants at dosages lower than the maximum label rate.

Conservation practices such as this tailwater recovery system (foreground) in the Salinas Valley vary widely across the state.

Food safety and nutrient management on the farm

The issue also includes two research papers focused on general production practices for crops. One report discusses on-farm food safety practices based on a survey of produce growers. The researchers found that practices such as exclusion fencing and vegetation clearing, which may negatively impact wildlife, remain widespread despite a lack of clear evidence that they enhance food safety. Finally, Daniel Geisseler, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources at UC Davis, and Gene Miyao, UC Cooperative Extension advisor, review the use of soil testing to guide the management of soil phosphorus and potassium in California cropping systems.

To read California Agriculture, a peer-reviewed journal of research in agricultural, human and natural resources published by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, visit http://calag.ucanr.edu. For a free subscription, sign up on the website or write to calag@ucanr.edu.

View this story in Spanish:

¿Qué hará la industria de la fresa sin el bromuro de metilo? http://ucanr.edu/sites/Spanish/noticias/?uid=6887&ds=199. Video on UCANR Spanish YouTube: California Agriculture: el bromuro de metilo en cultivos de fresa https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5D4FwLqjaLk.


Posted on Monday, August 15, 2016 at 2:04 PM

California nitrogen assessment presents opportunities for improvement

Growers can quickly assess soil nitrogen levels in their fields using quick nitrate test strips.

Plants need nitrogen to grow, but excess nitrogen – from livestock facilities, septic systems, car exhaust and other sources – that escapes into groundwater and the air can impact the environment, human health and the climate.

A new report from the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis offers a big picture look at the scale and impacts of nitrogen in California.  According to the California Nitrogen Assessment, excess nitrogen in the state comes primarily from agriculture and fossil fuel combustion.

The report, published by UC Press, offers a scientific foundation to develop practices and policies that allow nitrogen's benefits while reducing the risk.

For years, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists have been working with farmers throughout the state to refine fertilizer management, irrigation efficiency and other farming practices to manage nitrogen, and the work continues.

The following are some examples of UC ANR research and extension projects underway.

App helps farmers better manage nitrogen fertilizer and water

Growers can use CropManage, developed by Michael Cahn, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Monterey County, and UC ANR Communication Services and IT staff, to track and manage water and nitrogen fertilizer applications for their crop fields. The online application can be used on mobile devices or computers to help farmers use two tools to conserve water and make better use of nitrogen fertilizer while maintaining crop productivity and quality. Growers use the soil nitrate quick test in the field to measure the nitrogen level of their soil and the app to determine the optimal level of nitrogen fertilizer to apply based on UC ANR research on crop nitrogen use. CropManage also recommends water needs of a crop from weather station data and crop development models.

CropManage estimates crop water needs using crop development models and weather data from stations like the California Irrigation Management Information System (CIMIS) station shown here in Salinas.

Matching nitrogen applied to crop need improves efficiency

Richard Smith, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Monterey County, is leading several research projects evaluating the nitrogen requirements of vegetables including including cole crops, spinach, baby lettuce, a salad mix and cilantro. Smith is evaluating crop rotations with broccoli to scavenge nitrogen from the soil profile. He is also evaluating slow-release fertilizers to minimize nitrate leaching losses in shallow-rooted crops such as baby lettuce and spinach in the Salinas Valley.

Wood chips remove nitrogen in tile drain water

Using wood chips and supplemental carbon sources, Tim Hartz, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, worked with Cahn and Smith to refine a process to remove nitrate from tile drain water, which typically is very high in nitrate. The carbon in the wood chips supports the activity of anaerobic bacteria that chemically reduce the nitrate to N2, a benign gas.

Laura Murphy, UC Cooperative Extension research assistant in Monterey County, manages the treatment manifold for the “nitrate in water” field trial in head lettuce.

Irrigation water fertilizes vegetables

Water quality regulations in many regions of California now require farmers to report the amount of nitrogen fertilizer that they apply to their fields and the nitrate concentration of their irrigation water.  Smith, Hartz and Cahn have just finished three seasons of field trials that demonstrated that the nitrate in groundwater supplied a substantial portion of the fertilizer requirements for lettuce and broccoli. By accounting for the nitrate in irrigation water and using the soil nitrate quick test to monitor soil nitrogen levels, growers may be able to significantly reduce the amount of fertilizer nitrogen they apply to vegetable crops.

Micro-irrigation offers almond growers a tool to control leaching

The majority of almond growers apply fertilizer through micro-irrigation systems and an increasing number of growers are irrigating with water that is saline. Patrick Brown, professor in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, is studying how to use micro-irrigation to reduce nitrate leaching and manage soil salinity by varying the frequency of irrigation and the length of time water is applied during irrigation.

Managing irrigation to reduce nitrate leaching

To identify the best irrigation management practices to control soil salinity and to minimize nitrate leaching to groundwater, Laosheng Wu, professor and UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Riverside Department of Environmental Sciences, is using computer simulation to consider soil, water, crop nitrogen demand and fertilization with irrigation methods. In collaboration with UC Cooperative Extension advisors, Wu is conducting field experiments on alfalfa in Imperial County, almonds in the Central Valley and avocados at South Coast Research & Extension Center in Orange County to validate the simulations.  

Online tool being developed to estimate soil nitrogen mineralization rates

To develop a tool for growers and crop advisers to estimate soil nitrogen, Daniel Geisseler, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Land, Air, and Water Resources at UC Davis, is gathering data throughout California to estimate field-specific nitrogen mineralization rates. This project, funded by UC ANR's California Institute for Water Resources, will use nitrogen mineralization data to develop an online tool to help growers adjust their applications of fertilizer. The tool has the potential to increase nitrogen use efficiency in crop production, resulting in lower risks of nitrate leaching to groundwater.

Nitrogen management training for Certified Crop Advisers

Between 2014 and 2016, approximately 900 Certified Crop Advisers participated in a nitrogen management training program coordinated by UC ANR's California Institute for Water Resources with support from CDFA's Fertilizer Research and Education Program. The technical and applied training improves CCAs' understanding of sound nitrogen management practices to make informed recommendations to growers.

The California Nitrogen Assessment book

The book, “The California Nitrogen Assessment: Challenges and Solutions for People, Agriculture, and the Environment,” is available for purchase at ucpress.edu. The 20-page executive summary can be downloaded for free at asi.ucdavis.edu.

This story is also available in Spanish: "La evaluación del nitrógeno en California ofrece oportunidades para mejorar http://ucanr.edu/sites/Spanish/Noticias/boletines/?uid=6884&ds=199


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