- Author: Debbie Thompson
Called the CAHFS Backyard Flock program, this service is funded by the California Department of Food and Agriculture as a biosecurity measure.
"Urban chicken owners generally aren't trained to recognize to recognize signs of illness, there are few if any chicken vets in the city, and online forums are not moderated by experts," says CAHFS researcher Sarah Stinson, lead author of the article.
The study showed that Backyard Flock submissions rose nearly fourfold between 2007 and 2012. Chickens accounted for 91 percent of submissions, and the greatest increases were in Santa Clara, Los Angeles and Sonoma counties. Diagnoses revealed that the birds' digestive and hemolymphatic systems were most commonly affected, and that the most common illness was Marek's disease, a highly contagious virus that can kill up to 80 percent of infected birds.
However, only an estimated 2 percent of amateur poultry keepers are aware of and have used the Backyard Flock program. To decrease the biosecurity risk of infectious diseases in backyard poultry, the researchers recommend advertising this disease testing service as well as reliable information about keeping backyard flocks healthy. For example, backyard chicken websites and online forums could be invited to add links to government websites, programs and information.
Besides keeping their flocks disease-free, people should keep hens in coops that protect them from cats and other urban predators, and give them specially formulated chicken feed from feed stores rather than chicken scratch or scraps. Moreover, even where chickens are legal, it's a good idea to talk to the neighbors before setting up a coop. Ways to earn goodwill include keeping hens in the coop until neighbors are awake, sharing eggs and, most of all, forgoing roosters, which can crow loudly day and night.
Link to full article: Popular Backyard Flock program reduces biosecurity risks of amateur production
Also in this issue of California Agriculture journal:
After major "organic" fertilizer suppliers were found using cheaper inorganic compounds, the state gave the California Department of Food and Agriculture the authority to verify organic fertilizers starting in 2010. But there has been no good way to test whether fertilizers are actually organic. Now, UC researchers have developed an inexpensive method for distinguishing organic from synthetic fertilizers. This method assesses N15, an isotope of nitrogen that is relatively high in organic sources; ammonium, which is relatively low in most organic sources; and the ratio of carbon to nitrogen, which has a characteristic value for a given organic source.
Groundwater can be contaminated by nitrate, and most of this contamination comes from fertilizer applied to crops. It makes intuitive sense to address this problem by managing nitrogen on farms, and this is the approach recommended by the California State Water Resources Control Board. However, new research shows that nitrate levels in groundwater are also affected by soil type and rainfall, which cannot be managed, as well as by irrigation and crop type, which can. Rather than focusing solely on nitrogen management, the researchers call for best management practices that also include irrigation management and that can be tailored individually to farms.
These research articles and the entire October-December 2013 issue can be downloaded at: http://californiaagriculture.ucanr.edu.
California Agriculture is the University of California's peer-reviewed journal of research in agricultural, human and natural resources. For a free subscription, go to: http://californiaagriculture.ucanr.edu, or write to email@example.com.
The University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources is the bridge between local issues and the power of UC research. UC ANR's advisors, specialists and faculty bring practical, science-based answers to Californians. Visit ucanr.edu to learn more.
WRITERS/EDITORS: To request a hard copy of the journal, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Conceived by Michael Cahn, UCCE farm advisor in Monterey County, and programmed by the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources web team, the free website – ucanr.edu/cropmanage – allows farmers to quickly calculate the precise fertilizer and water needs of their crops.
“It’s great,” said Salvador Montes, ranch manager at Corey Ranch in the Salinas Valley, who pilot-tested the software last year on lettuce crops. “It’s very accurate in predicting the irrigation times and fertilizer (needs). It actually worked! We didn’t see any significant yield reduction using less water and fertilizer.”
By applying only the exact amount of water and fertilizer to optimize plant growth, the new website keeps farmers from using too much. Overfertilizing in the past has resulted in groundwater contamination with nitrate, a serious concern in the Salinas Valley and other farming regions. In coastal areas, overpumping wells can lead to sea water intrusion into the aquifer.
“Besides, fertilizer and water are expensive inputs,” Cahn said. “Applying more than the crop needs is like throwing money down the drain.”
On Feb. 26, Cahn will offer a mini CropManage workshop during the 2013 Irrigation and Nutrient Management Meeting at the Monterey County Agricultural Center, 1432 Abbott Street in Salinas. The meeting runs from 7:45 a.m. and concludes with a pizza lunch at 12 noon. Following lunch, the one-hour CropManage workshop begins. No reservations are required.
“Inspiration for this project,” Cahn said, “came from local growers who expressed a need for software to help them use the quick nitrate soil test and weather-based irrigation scheduling in their farming operations.”
Cahn and his colleagues, Tim Hartz, UCCE specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, and Richard Smith, UCCE advisor in Monterey County, have been conducting trials for years to determine whether the combination of quick nitrogen testing and weather-based irrigation scheduling could reliably reduce the amount of nitrogen that lettuce growers apply.
“We demonstrated a 30-percent reduction in nitrogen fertilizer application,” Cahn said.
The excitement of such a significant result was tempered by the fact that implementing the research results on individual farms would require some serious math.
“When we introduced farmers to the quick nitrate test, some said they would have to hire someone to manage all the data, keep records and make decisions. I realized that we could make this a lot easier for them by programming software to do the work,” he said.
For example, farmers who wish to use weather data to schedule irrigation for lettuce must sign into CIMIS (California Irrigation Management Information Service) to request an email with reference evapo-traspiration for their locations. The data must be punched into an equation along with the irrigation coefficient for lettuce – a figure that represents how much water the lettuce needs – and the size of the lettuce canopy at the time of irrigation. This time-consuming data collection and manipulation is eliminated with CropManage.
“We’ve figured out how to facilitate all these calculations,” Cahn said.
“In effect, they set up a virtual ranch,” Cahn said.
When the farmer is ready to plant, the type of crop and results of a nitrogen quick test are added.
“The program recommends how long and when the irrigation should run and how much nitrogen, if any, should be added,” Cahn said. “The recommendations are updated automatically, taking into consideration the weather and the crop’s stage of growth.”
Throughout the growing season, farmers can monitor the progress of their farms by viewing online tables where irrigation, fertilization and growth are tracked. At any time, all the data can be downloaded as an Excel file the farmer can using for accounting or making reports.
Corey Ranch manager Montes said he accesses CropManage on a tablet computer.
“It’s very easy to use,” Montes said. “It’s easy to log on, input information and read from the tables. I love it. It’s a great tool and is definitely going to help us manage our water and fertilizer in a better way.”
Currently, CropManage contains information for production of romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce and broccoli. Strawberries and caneberry data will be added to the system. Research is underway on leafy greens, such as spinach and baby leaf lettuce, so they also can be added.
“Everything we learn in research, we will add to CropManage,” Cahn said. “And by using it, growers can give us feedback on how accurate the system is. This is a fluid product. If growers find something that doesn’t work, we can change it.”
Development of the website was supported by a grant from the California Department of Agriculture Fertilizer Research and Education Program.
For more information about the 2013 Irrigation and Nutrient Management Meeting on Feb. 26 or about CropManage, contact Cahn at (831) 759-7377, email@example.com.