Giant King Grass is a fast-growing, high-yield grass that grows under a variety of soil conditions, according to Viaspace Green Energy Inc. It is propagated vegetatively and, with sufficient rain or irrigation, can grow 15 to 18 feet high in six months.
At the UC Desert Rec, scientists compared two planting processes:
- Planting single nodes that grow into individual plants with some space between them.
- Planting whole stalks continuously end to end, which results in a dense row of plants about six inches apart.
Preliminary results showed the whole stalk planting germinated earlier and grew more quickly. The individual plants had a significant number of skips where the nodes failed to germinate.
Two harvesting regimens were tested:
- Harvest when the plant is 6 to 8 feet tall every two months for animal feed and to produce biogas for anaerobic digestion.
- Harvest when the plant is 15 to 18 feet tall for bioenergy applications, such as direct combustion in a power plant, energy pellets or cellulosic biofuels.
"It was 108 degrees when I arrived in Holtville last Monday evening (Sept. 8, 2014) at 6 p.m.," said Carl Kukkonen, CEO of Viaspace. "Giant King Grass is planted in the worst soil at the University of California site, and still the results are good. I am pleased that Giant King Grass grows well in this extremely hot and dry environment."
The concept of RDI has been the subject of UC research for decades. Traditionally in irrigated agriculture, farmers give crops all the water they can drink. RDI relies on research that shows exactly when farmers can withhold water from crops and when to irrigate for maximum water efficiency.
Paul Verdegaal, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in San Joaquin County, said water deficits at the right time in plant and fruit development can improve berry quality, especially in red wine varieties, by intensifying color and flavor. Slight deficits also limit excessive growth of shoots and leaves that can affect diseases, such as bunch rot.
"So far the crop doesn't seem all that much lighter than average," Vergegaal said. "Most growers who have been using RDI for the past several years have seen very good quality of fruit and little to no difference in yields from years past.”
Bruce Lindquist, UCCE specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, told the reporter that some farmers have decided to sell their water instead of trying to grow a crop. In fact, water is at such a premium, it is impacting the sale of farmland in California.
"It used to be location, location, location when it came to sales, but now it's water, water, water," said a real estate agent interviewed for the story.
The story included an interview with Northern California rice producer Sherry Polit.
"If we keep going through this drought, it may make us quit and sell the ranch," she said. "We've been rice farmers for 31 years and growing olives for five," she said. "But we just can't take this anymore. We've got to get some rain or this could be over."
Bees Butler, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics at UC Davis, said a drop-off in California rice production will likely have an effect on global markets in time. However, in the immediate future, there is rice in storage to meet world needs.
"Some farmers are going to be having to cut back at least in the short run," said Doug Parker, director of the UC California Institute for Water Resources.
Thomas Harter, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources at UC Davis, predicted the farmers' successors will appreciate the coming regulations.
"In the long run, my view is that the next generation and two generations down of farmers will find this a lifesaver," Harter said.
The bills waiting for the governor's signature won't provide an instant fix, the story said. The law will take years to implement and it could take decades for the most depleted groundwater basins recover.
In most years, groundwater amounts to 30 to 45 percent of the state's water supply, but in dry periods, it increases to 60 percent. The new law will direct local public agencies to develop sustainable groundwater management plans. If they fail, the State Water Resources Control Board steps in. The legislation gives local basin managers the ability to:
- Collect fees from groundwater users
- Monitor withdrawals
- Limit pumping
- Buy water or water rights to replenish aquifers
The Association of California Water Agencies supports the new regulations; agricultural interests are opposed, the article says.
"We thought these bills were too far-reaching," said Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation.
The story was based on a survey released Sept. 4 by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. CDFA sent questionnaires to 688 almond growers; in all 458 responded.
Among the growers who farm 600 or more acres of almonds, 87 percent said they used groundwater for crop irrigation. Groundwater has higher salinity than surface water.
"Almonds are not salt tolerant,” said Roger Duncan, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Stanislaus County. Since many almond growers have substituted groundwater for surface water during this third year of drought, “we're seeing more salt damage in trees.”
Sbranti spoke to Merced County almond farmer Bob Weimer. He said farms dependent solely on groundwater are suffering the most. Nevertheless, the farmer said he drilled two new wells this year and plans to drill another one in the fall. One of his older wells went dry because the water table dropped.
"We can't continue this process," Weimer said. "It's not sustainable."
The CDFA survey also reported that 9 percent of almond growers have removed trees due to insufficient water availability. Ten percent of growers have decided to delay replanting of trees and 21 percent decided to delay orchard expansion, statistics that surprised Duncan because of the continuing high demand for new trees from nurseries.
"The nurseries are going full bore," Duncan said. "They can't grow enough trees."