Reporters Julia Lurie and Alex Park gleaned data for the story from, among other sources, a post in the UC Alfalfa & Forage News Blog titled Alfalfa benefits wildlife and the environment, in addition to its economic value, written in May 2013 by Rachael Freeman Long, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Yolo County, and Daniel Putnam, UCCE specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis.
The Mother Jones article noted that alfalfa hay is a superfood of sorts for dairy cows — it's high in protein, high in energy and it's digestible.
"When you feed alfalfa, you produce more milk," Putnam and Long wrote in the blog post. "That's the bottom line. The next time you have pizza (with cheese), milk on your cereal, or ice cream, thank alfalfa."
The Mother Jones' info-graphic says it takes 683 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk.
The Yolo County Board of Supervisors this week adopted a Climate Action Plan, however, UC Davis Cooperative Extension alfalfa specialist Dan Putnam questioned the part of the plan that deals with reducing fertilizer use, the Davis Enterprise reported.
Yolo County strives to be at the forefront of the "green movement," according to its website. The county's 2030 General Plan included the requirement to develop a Climate Action Plan.
On Page 29 of the 124-page document, the plan says that cutting alfalfa nitrogen fertilizer 25 percent will result in a .35 percent increase in alfalfa yield (see chart below).
“The alfalfa part of that is just wrong — dead wrong,” Putnam was quoted. ”That’s just nonsense. I don’t agree with that at all.”
Putnam said some of the conclusions in the plan could be explained by "the vagaries of nature."
“It’s one thing if the model spits out (a number), and it’s another if it’s something we can measure in the field. It’s another thing to ‘ground truth’ it," according to Putnam.
Supervisor Duane Chamberlain represents the county’s rural areas, farms alfalfa and is one of Putnam's research collaborators. He voted to approve the Climate Action Plan, but was vocal about his concerns over the underlying science, the Enterprise reported.
"I’d like to see some science in here,” Chamberlain was quoted. “The science is terrible. We don’t have any science. We have modeling. This is people who’ve drawn pictures."
The Woodland Daily Democrat also covered the passage of Yolo County's Climate Action Plan./span>
Late last month, USDA once again deregulated genetically modified alfalfa. The action prompted extensive news media coverage, with many articles centering on outcry from organic growers who are not comfortable with the idea of GMO/non-GMO coexistence.
"I don't believe it is certain. I believe it is something we can manage and prevent," he said.
Putnam's research results on alfalfa cross-contamination were noted in a blog on The Atlantic. A 2008 study found that when a Roundup Ready alfalfa seed crop and a non-Roundup Ready hay crop were grown 160 feet apart, the rate of successful gene flow from GM seed crop to non-GM hay crop was 0.25 percent - considered a small risk.
Nevertheless, Putnam said USDA's deregulaton decision likely won't put the controversy to rest.
"There's no question the lawsuits will continue. They would probably continue regardless of whichever way they went," he was quoted.
Here are a few news stories that appeared this week that touched on ANR:
Sumo citrus. LA Times freelance food writer David Karp introduced readers to a new citrus variety, the Sumo. "Think of a huge mandarin, easy to peel and seedless, with firm flesh that melts in the mouth, an intense sweetness balanced by refreshing acidity, and a complex, lingering mandarin orange aroma," Karp wrote. "I've tasted more than 1,000 varieties of citrus, and to me the Dekopon (Sumo) is the most delicious." The Citrus Clonal Protection Program at UC Riverside played a role in making the Japanese fruit available to Americans by cleaning imported budwood to be sure it is free of diseases, a process that took several years.
Garden recycling. The L.A. At Home blog in the LA Times outlined ideas for putting recyclables to work in the garden, gleaned from Yvonne Savio, the manager of the LA Master Gardener program. The post illustrates a compost bin made of rusty bedsprings, an old bathtub turned into an ornamental shade garden, aluminum roasting pans that were recycled into seed-starting trays and plastic water bottles that double as water channeling containers.
Cheaters never prosper. In a move aimed at ending cheating at farmers' markets, the CDFA is proposing a significant fee hike for vendors - from 60 cents to $4. The $4 fee would raise about $1.5 million annually, much of which would be used to hire full-time CDFA officers based in Northern, Central and Southern California to conduct farm and market inspections, according to the LA Times.
Creating jobs. The head of USDA's Rural Development office in California visited Santa Cruz County to offer her agency's help to create jobs, said a story in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. "As a nation we have hemorrhaged jobs," said Glenda Humiston. "The jobs we've lost, virtually none of them are coming back." Pointing to positive steps to alleviate the problem, she noted that the Center for Regional Change at UC Davis is studying ways to innovate financial systems to invest local money locally.
UC Cooperative Extension forage specialist Dan Putnam believes California farmers need to envision and implement biomass-based, highly productive food, fuel and energy production systems to meet the increasing demands of the growing world population.
Putnam's thoughts were written up by reporter Cary Blake and posted yesterday on the Western Farm Press website.
The article noted that one biomass crop showing potential in California is switchgrass, which is grown in other parts of the country for forage. Putnam has four switchgrass trials underway.
"The switchgrass yields, especially in the Central Valley, California trials, are quite impressive on good soils with irrigation," Putnam was quoted in the story. "Yields have reached 18 tons per acre — some of the highest switchgrass yields recorded in the nation."
The fact that switchgrass may not need water year round is another favorable attribute. The plant's deep root system enables it to survive in low water conditions.
"This is very encouraging, especially in California where water supplies are an ongoing concern," Putnam said.
Putnam urged farmers to cautiously investigate biomass to determine how it may fit into their diversification portfolio.
"The next few years should be an exciting ride for U.S. agriculture in terms of new opportunities in the energy sector," Blake wrote in closing.
Federal law requires annual U.S. production of 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022, creating a potentially profitable opportunity for California farmers, according to UC experts quoted in Western Farm Press.
Writer Cary Blake based two stories in the magazine's current issue on the April 2010 Alfalfa, Forages and Biofuels Field Day at the UC Desert Research and Extension Center in El Centro.
The story said UC Davis Cooperative Extension agronomist Steve Kaffka is optimistic about the future of California biofuels production.
"Available solar energy and water make the Imperial Valley one of the prime places in the world where renewable fuels could be produced," Kaffka told the assembly of farmers, pest control advisers and industry representatives.
Additionally, potential California biofuel crops, like switchgrass and jatropha, will likely carry a smaller carbon footprint than Midwest-produced corn ethanol. Information Kaffka shared with field day participants said Midwestern corn ethanol has a higher total carbon footprint than gasoline.
The companion Western Farm Press article provided details on UC research on the biofuels crops switchgrass and jatropha.
UC Davis Cooperative Extension forage specialist Dan Putnam said switchgrass has good yield potential, but more research is needed. Sham Goyal, UC Davis agronomist, said he has never found a plant that is more drought tolerant than jatropha, which has seeds that contain 35 to 45 percent oil.
"This plant can get by on a minimum amount of water," Goyal was quoted. "This very characteristic makes this plant very suitable for the Imperial Valley."