- Author: Shulamit Shroder
Grower Profile #1: Frank Fernandes
Practices: No-Till, Strip-Till, and Cover Crops
Frank Fernandes grew up in a big dairy family in Tulare County. He has continued that tradition and now farms about 1,500 acres near Pixley. He grows corn, wheat, and alfalfa as forage for his cows. He also has a young pistachio orchard.
Frank and his brothers were among the first in their area to try out no-till 20 years ago. They ran into difficulties and converted to strip tillage 18 years ago. This practice minimizes the number of tillage passes they do. On his strip-till fields, Frank has gone from doing 15 passes per year to only 4 or 5, which saves him fuel and time. He currently implements a hybrid system of strip-till wheat and no-till corn. In 2020, he received a grant award from the California Department of Food and Agriculture's Healthy Soils Program to expand his use of strip tillage.
What initially drove Frank and his brothers to implement strip tillage on their fields was the prospect of reducing their tillage and fertilizer costs. When Frank started going to conferences and meetings about soil health, he learned about the soil health benefits of reducing disturbance and increasing plant diversity.
Four years ago, those discussions inspired him to test out a no-till system on one of his fields and to experiment with cover crops. In this field, he's down to 3 passes per year and 2 crops. He will have to stop planting cover crops in his forage fields to comply with his groundwater agency's implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. However, he will continue to plant cover crops in his pistachio orchard, as he believes that the benefits of cover crops there outweigh the extra water costs.
Frank has found many benefits in implementing no-till and cover crops on his trial field.
The first major benefit is his reduction in costs. He has seen a decrease in fuel costs due to fewer tractor passes. He has also begun to reduce his fertilizer usage, since his cover crops provided some of the nutrients needed for his forage crops.
These practices did come with a negative effect on yield for the first couple years of his trial, but he found that the decrease in costs outweighed the drop in yield. The practices still penciled out, even in that first year. The yields have steadily increased over the past 4 years, while the costs have remained low.
Cover crops are supposed to encourage the proliferation of beneficial insects that reduce pest pressure. Frank has had very little pest pressure this year and has only had to spray insecticide once, but this might be due to this year's weather. He explained that it's hard to see the effects of a cover crop in one field when he's surrounded by growers spraying much more than he does, inadvertently killing off the very beneficial insects he wants to encourage.
In terms of water consumption, he has seen that his no-till field needs more water to get to saturation when he irrigates. However, the field can go for longer periods of time between irrigation events and needs fewer overall irrigation events. He's also seen that the crops suffer less from heat and drought stress than those in neighboring fields. The soil itself is cooler and keeps the plants healthier.
He's seen fewer weeds in his no-till field, which has resulted in 1 fewer herbicide application per year compared to his other fields. Weed seeds deep in the soil profile remain buried and cannot germinate. However, he pointed out that cover crops themselves can become weeds, so it is very important to pick the right cover crop for your situation.
One of the intangible benefits that Frank mentioned is that doing these practices has made farming more fun and enabled him to feel good about his stewardship of his land. He feels like he is doing his part to farm in a more sustainable way.
Frank has faced 2 main challenges with his cover crops.
The first is planting the seed correctly. The drill doesn't always put the seed into the soil at the right depth, so the field doesn't get a uniform seed coverage.
The other challenge is, of course, water. He has the choice to irrigate his cover crops and pay for that extra water or depend on the unpredictable winter rains.
The biggest challenge that Frank has faced with implementing no-till on his field is psychological. Not disking or ripping the field goes against decades of experience. Doing this method was a big leap of faith at the beginning of this trial, when he wasn't yet seeing the benefits. But now, he says that only doing 3 passes per year is no longer a difficulty. It's a major advantage in terms of reduced costs.
Frank would cautiously recommend these practices to other farmers. He explained that not all irrigation systems are set up for the challenges and each farm is different, so each grower's learning curve will be different.
For those starting out, he recommends starting small and slow. That way, the impact of that learning curve on your bottom line will be minimal. Growers can expect to start saving money that first year, despite the lower yields while the soil adapts to the change in management.
For cover crops, Frank recommends planting later in the season when there is more moisture. For instance, planting right before a big storm so that the cover crops can take advantage of the rain.
He also found that it's best to work the ground for strip tillage right behind the chopping crew. This leaves the ground moist and produces a nice seed bed. If you wait, you run the risk of the ground getting too hard and breaking your equipment.
He has ended up simplifying his equipment needs. He went from a disk to a vertical tillage bar. Instead of buying more and more equipment, he decided to sell off the intensive tillage equipment that he no longer used and use the proceeds to buy the equipment that would enable him to do no-till and strip till.
- Author: Alli Fish
Hedgerows are an approved practice under California Department of Agriculture's Healthy Soils Grant Program. That means, growers are eligible to receive grant funding for planting hedgerows. But what exactly are the benefits of hedgerows and why are they worth planting? As a perennial planting it can have immediate impacts on the soil, but what else? The answer lies large in the pollinators and beneficial insects they attract.
The most basic definition of a hedgerow is dense vegetation planted in a linear design. Perennial grasses, shrubs, and even short trees are all candidates for hedgerow plantings, provided they meet the conditions of the local climate and soil. Growers plant hedgerows to achieve one or more of the following desired outcomes:
- To increase habitat for pollinator and beneficial insect populations
- To create a living barrier or fence
- To reduce chemical drift or odor movement
- To intercept airborne particulate matter
- To act as a low windbreak or reduce dust
- To increase carbon storage in biomass and soils
- To provide food, shelter, and shade for aquatic organisms in nearby aquatic habitats
All of these benefits make the case for planting hedgerows on any agricultural operation. In Ventura County, avocado growers stand to see a compelling case for hedgerow plantings with particular attention to pollination services.
There are many different pollinators who visit avocado flowers, from native bees to flies to honey bees. Some come in the daytime, others visit at night. In the likelihood that honey bees and other pollinators will continue to decline, it is imperative to study the importance of native pollinators on key crops and identify ways to increase habitat for resident populations (NRC 2007; Nordhaus 2011; PHTF 2015; Koh et al. 2016; Sánchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys 2019; DiBartolomeis et al. 2019; Garibaldi et al. 2013). This information not only helps the pollinator populations thrive, but helps avocado growers acquire free increased pollination services for fruitful trees. Several researchers have published accounts of increased pollinator diversity and numbers in hedgerow and field edge planting studies across various agricultural systems (Heller et al. 2019; Long and Anderson 2010; Long et al. 2017; Williams et al. 2015).
In Ventura County, we are seeing some fascinating and relevant research around the impact of hedgerows on pollinators in avocado orchards. A collaborative research project involving Dr. Ben Faber, Avocado Advisor for UC Cooperative Extension Ventura County, and Dr. Gordon Frankie, professor and research entomologist at UC Berkeley and lead investigator of the UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab, seeks to understand long-term impacts of hedgerows on pollinators of avocado trees. The project, which began in 2014 with three participating avocado ranches, has indicated increased pollinator activity, increased native bee populations, and increased diversity of species with the presence of hedgerow plantings (Frankie, Faber et al. 2020). The results indicate the importance of diversity of pollinator species, not just the honeybee, to avocados. In continuing this research, the team seeks to address the unanswered questions of which pollinators are the most effective at pollinating avocados and which are the most effective at influencing fruit set. A particularly exciting and novel aspect of this project is looking at whether or not there are nocturnal pollinators visiting California avocados. Nocturnal pollinators have been well documented in New Zealand (Pattemore et al, 2018), but none have been yet recorded in California avocados.
Maintaining hedgerows is critical to providing additional habitat for an abundance of pollinators. Creating and maintaining that hedgerow and for which pollinators can be a daunting task to embark on. Luckily for avocado growers, Dr. Frankie and Dr. Faber's team are working with Southern California growers to develop a pollinator garden manual. The manual will provide clear pictures of key pollinators and key plant species that pollinators are drawn to. Detailed imagery, descriptions, and maintenance tips will help make the decision making around planting a hedgerow much easier.
Speaking of selections, there are key plants that are drought-tolerant, easy to maintain, and well-suited for Ventura County's climate. See the table below for some ideas.
We seek to increase biodiversity, build soil health, and reduce energy use in our agricultural systems to improve our resiliency to climate change impacts, pests, and disease. To keep farming in our families and in our futures. Planting hedgerows is good for the pollinators, which is good for the bottom line and long-term success of the operation.
If you are an avocado grower interested in learning more about the pollinator research project, please contact Dr. Gordon Frankie at the UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interested in planting hedgerows on your property? You may be able to qualify for a grant through CDFA's Healthy Soils Grant Program to plant hedgerows. Please contact Jamie Whiteford with the Ventura County Resource Conservation District at email@example.com for more information on how to apply. For those in other areas, Technical Assistance providers are able to discuss the values of hedgerows and funding opportunities for installing them in other agricultural situations: http://ciwr.ucanr.edu/Programs/ClimateSmartAg/TechnicalAssistanceProviders/
DiBartolomeis, M., S. Kegley, P. Mineau, R. Radford, and K. Klein. 2019. An assessment of acute insecticide toxicity loading (AITL) of chemical pesticides used on agricultural land in the United States. PLoS ONE 14(8): e0220029. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0220029.
Frankie, G., B. Faber, J. Pawelek, R. Thorp, R. Coville, C. Jadallah, E. Takele, S. I. Rios, T. Bean. 2020. Native Pollinators of California Avocado as Affected by Introduced Pollinator Gardens. International Society of Horticultural Sciences Congress. Acta Horticulturae.
Garibaldi, L.A., I. Steffan-Dewenter, R. Winfree, and 47 other authors. 2013. Wild pollinators enhance fruit set of crops regardless of honey bee abundance. Science 339:1608-1611.
Heller, S., N. K. Joshi, T. Leslie, E. G. Rajotte and D. J. Biddinger. 2019. Diversified Floral Resource Plantings Support Bee Communities after Apple Bloom in Commercial Orchards. Scientific Reports 9 Article number: 17232.
Koh, I., Lonsdorf, E. V., Williams, N. M., Brittain, C., Isaacs, R., Gibbs, J., Ricketts, T. H. 2016. Modeling the status, trends, and impacts of wild bee abundance in the United States. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113:140–145.
Long, R. F. and J. Anderson. 2010. Establishing Hedgerows on Farms in California. UC ANR Pub 8390, Oakland, CA. http://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/Details.aspx?itemNo=8390
Long, R., K. Garbach and L. Morandin. 2017. Hedgerow benefits align with food production and sustainability goals. California Agriculture 71:117-119. 10.3733/ca.2017a0020.
NRC. 2007. Status of Pollinators in North America. National Research Council of the National Academies. National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.. 307 p.
Nordhaus, H. 2011. The Beekeeper's Lament. Harper Perennial, NY. 269p.
Pattemore, D., M. N. Buxton, B. T. Cutting, H. McBrydie, M. Goodwin, A. Dag. 2018. Low overnight temperatures associated with a delay in ‘Hass' avocado (Persea americana) female flower opening leading to nocturnal flowering. Journal of Pollination Ecology 23(14): 127-135.
PHTF: Pollinator Health Task Force. 2015. Pollinator Research Action Plan. The White House.
Sánchez-Bayo, F. and K. A. G. Wyckhuys. 2019. Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers. Biological Conservation 232:8-27.
Williams, N. M., K. L. Ward, N. Pope, R. Isaacs, J. Wilson, E. A. May, J. Ellis, J. Daniels, A. Pence, K. Ullmann, and J. Peters. 2015. Native wildflower plantings support wild bee abundance and diversity in agricultural landscapes across the United States. Ecological Applications 25: 2119–2131
- Author: Kristian M Salgado
It is widely known that the California Department Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has been providing financial initiatives to what is known as the “Healthy Soil Incentive Program” to California growers and ranchers. The mission is to allow applicants to implement conservation management practices that sequester carbon, reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs), and improve soil health. CDFA secretary Karen Ross stated that "Soil has the transformative power to help us stabilize our changing climate by capturing greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere and storing them underground, through the assistance of living plants and microbes, that improve both the atmosphere and the soil."
This year CDFA's HSP received a total of 578 applications requesting $37.87 million, exceeding the $22 million available funds. With a maximum award of $100,000 per award, this grant was a great opportunity for California farming operations to pilot conservation management practices such as compost application, cover crops, nutrient management, and reduced till/no till for 3-10 years (depending on the practice) with minimal financial investment on their part. For the farmers and ranchers interested in the environmental benefits but unable to afford the cost of implementing these practices on their own, this program is a chance to try them firsthand.
The implementations of these conservation management practices are known to promote on-farm sustainability by building organic matter, encouraging nutrient cycling, increasing water holding capacity, reducing soil compaction, and lessening the need for synthetic fertilizers. In general, if you enrich your soil, it will boost the productivity of your cropping systems. However, every agricultural operation varies in its needs, the benefit it obtains from different conservation management practices depends on the location, size, crop rotation, irrigation system, and soil type. To enhance applicability according to site specific needs, CDFA allows applicants to choose from four categories, totaling 28 eligible practices selected from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) conservation practices standards.
Of the many subsequent application years, it was only in 2020 that IV growers and ranchers applied for this incentive program. Many of the IV farmers and agricultural operation applicants have been eagerly awaiting to hear who got awarded this year's CDFA Healthy Soil Incentive Program (HSP) grants. We would like to congratulate the thirteen (13) Imperial County applicants who received a total of $1,073,697.97 in funds. These thirteen award winning projects will have an estimated GHG emission reduction of 3,689.1 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is equivalent to 797 passenger vehicles driven for one year. This is a groundbreaking achievement of our county and a huge jump from last year's HSP solicitation period, demonstrating that farming operations in this region are becoming very interested in adopting climate smart agricultural practices, provided funding availability. Ronnie Leimgruber, one of the thirteen Healthy Soils grant recipients says, “These climate smart agriculture incentive programs assist farmers in doing their part to try to sequester carbon and help sustain the environment. He further stated, “Being awarded this grant will allow me to apply more compost than I normally would.”
The UCCE Imperial County and ICFB partnered as technical assistance providers for the Healthy Soils Program and Alternative Manure Management Program for 2020. Together we conducted outreach, held a series of workshops and assisted with individual grant applications. The goal was to bring awareness to these Climate Smart Agriculture incentive programs and assist growers in applying and maximizing their chances of being awarded. Overall, Imperial County saw great progress from the prior year in the amount of applicants and awards. We are optimistic that these programs will continue to grow in future years, assisting local farmers in implementing additional farming practices that continue to benefit the environment. We encourage awarded applicants to contact us for any project implementation and data collection.
For more information, please contact Kristian Salgado at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at
- Author: Shulamit Shroder
Cover crops offer many potential benefits to growers. For example, they can improve water infiltration, reduce erosion, and provide habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects.
But how does a grower figure out which cover crop species would work best for the specific conditions and concerns on their field?
Of course, it's a good idea to start off by talking to a local NRCS planner or Cooperative Extension farm advisor. There is also plenty of information available on the internet and in printed publications about different cover crop species – but it's not all in one place.
To help growers and planners sift through the available information and pick which cover crops will both provide the benefits needed and will survive in the specific conditions of their fields, I have been working on a cover crop selection tool since this past July.
To determine if a given cover crop will work for a specific field, the tool asks the user to provide the following information:
- The USDA hardiness zone of the field. The USDA has divided the country into hardiness zones based on average winter temperatures. The lower the number of the hardiness zone, the colder the place.
- How much water the cover crop will receive. This is an estimate, especially for growers who will plant winter cover crops and depend entirely on the rain. If you can provide some irrigation water to the cover crops during their growing season, then include that in your estimate.
- When the cover crop will bloom. Most growers will terminate their annual cover crops during peak bloom, to maximize growth and bee forage but minimize the likelihood of the cover crop turning into a weed. If you are planning on planting annual crops into the cover crop residue, leave a couple weeks between cover crop termination and cash crop planting to allow the residues to decompose.
- How much salinity does your soil have? This can be a major inhibitor of plant growth and most cover crops cannot tolerate high or even moderate salinity levels.
- What is your soil's pH? Like cash crops, cover crops have a specific range of pH values in which they can thrive.
- Does your soil flood often? Some species can tolerate poor drainage conditions better than others.
The other questions in the tool ask the user to rank the importance of various cover crop benefits to their operation. The benefits listed on this tool are:
- Compaction reduction (improves water infiltration)
- Residue persistence (acts as a mulch)
- Erosion control
- Weed control
- Nematode control
- Attract pollinators
- Attract other beneficial insects
- Fix nitrogen
- Scavenge nitrogen (reduces nitrate leaching)
- Scavenge P and K (reduces nutrient contamination of waterways)
- Forage quality
To test the selection tool and see if it will provide good options for your operation, go to http://cekern.ucanr.edu/CDFA_Grants/HSP_Grants/Cover_Crop_Selection_Tool/.
Questions or comments? Reach out to Shulamit Shroder at email@example.com.
- Author: Kristian M Salgado
During these unprecedented times of having to practice social distancing, the University of California Cooperative Extension's (UCCE) Climate Smart Agriculture -Community Education Specialists (CES) are still here to help you! We have continued to diligently provide technical assistance to farmers and ranchers interested in applying for the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Healthy Soil Incentive Program (HSP) grants.
Since CES are currently limited in their ability to visit farms and met one-on-one with applicants they have been having to get creative in the way they can provide technical assistance. For example, a few CES have restructured their outreach efforts to focus on presenting regular HSP Zoom workshops instead of in person workshops, as well as hosting weekly virtual office hours over Zoom where applicants can log in and ask questions. Of course, contacting CES via email and phone is always an option.
With that said, there is still an opportunity for farming operations to apply for the CDFA 2020 HSP Incentive grant; CDFA will be accepting grant applications until June 26, 2020. The Healthy Soils Program funds California implementation of conservation management practices that improve soil health, the sequestration of carbon, and the reduction of atmospheric greenhouse gases. HSP is a competitive grant with the maximum award of $100,000 that funds 28 eligible soil management practices, such as cover crops, whole orchard recycling, compost application, and nutrient management just to name a few.
If you are interested in applying don't hesitate to reach out to one of the CES near you for more information and technical assistance.
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