March 23, 2019
News blog release for CASI blog site
Dr. Teamrat Ghezzehei, a soil physics researcher and professor at the University of California, Merced, along with Jessica Alvarez, a first-year graduate student working with him, sampled soils from the long-standing NRI Project field in Five Points, CA on March 15th. Alvarez is joining Samuel Araya, another one of Ghezzehei's students in using the NRI site as part of her graduate thesis work. The goals of this work are to determine and characterize soil hydraulic properties and functions in each of the four management systems that have been conducted in the NRI study now for twenty years. These systems vary in tillage intensity and also in terms of organic matter inputs to the soil via off-season winter cover crops. The four experimental treatments are standard tillage without cover crops, standard tillage with cover crops, no-tillage without cover crops, and no-tillage with cover crops. This study site is the only such site in all of California where the reduced disturbance system has been evaluated for so long. Their project has been supported by a grant from California's Department of Water Resources. To date, the study has determined significant changes in a number of soil properties including carbon and nitrogen content, water infiltration, aggregation, and biodiversity. The work of Ghezzehei, Alvarez and Araya will now add a very important piece, - soil water properties and function. We look forward to learning more of what they find soon.
March 23, 2019
The UC ANR CASI (Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation) Center hosted Dr. Shannon Cappellazzi, lead scientist for the Western US for two days of soil sampling at the long-term NRI Project in Five Points, CA March 18th and 19th. This well-known ANR study was started in 1999 and has been a unique research resource in the State because of its dedication to investigating reduced disturbance and biodiversity in food production systems. Since being established, it has maintained four experimental systems – standard tillage without a cover crop, standard tillage with a cover crop, no-tillage without a cover crop, and no-tillage with cover crop – and it has afforded comparisons of a long list of soil, crop, environmental, and economic outcomes that have resulted from each of these systems being implemented over such a long time frame. Earlier this year, the site was selected as one of the roughly 125 similar long-term studies in North America that the Soil Health Institute of Morrisville, NC is conducting in 2019. The goals of the monitoring program that is being done at each of these sites is to characterize and better understand how consistent, long-term management impacts a range of soil properties and functions and to also gain better understanding of which indicators of soil health might be best able to detect changes in performance and function across this broad array of environments.
Shannon spent two days working with three CASI partners at the Five Points site and collected samples that will be analyzed for about 39 different soil health indicators. The sampling included doing real-time measurements in the field during her visit as well as collecting and archiving samples that will be sent to four analytical laboratories for an array of determinations. While many research findings have resulted from the NRI Project in the past, this very exhaustive sampling by the Soil Health Institute is perhaps the most comprehensive battery of tests that have ever been performed on any study site in the San Joaquin Valley to date. A short, 14-minute video chronicling Shannon's work and the North American Soil Health Program is available at https://youtu.be/WSNg6rJdvvE
There is a great deal of attention these days to soil health and the need for dedicated care to maintaining and improving soil health. Many public agencies are behind these initiatives. There are however, few long-term study sites in California where the combination of the core principles that underlie soil health have been applied for long time frames. These principles include reducing disturbance of the soil, maintaining cover over the soil through the use of residues and cover crops, and accentuating diversity in crops and soil biology. In this regard, the NRI Project in Five Points has become a very valuable investigation of how the application of these principles may impact soil function and performance over the long haul. The Five Points effort involves the application of soil health principles to an annual cropping system that is common throughout the Valley. There are however, very few other places currently in the State where the combination of these practices is currently being implemented in a concerted manner.
March 21, 2019
Soil and water management UC ANR Advisor in Fresno County and long-term CASI member, Dan Munk, discussed water trade-offs associated with winter cover cropping at a pubic field day educational event that was held Thursday, March 21st at an almond orchard of Castle Farms, about a mile north of Hwy 59. Munk is part of a very large team of researchers that includes Daniele Zaccaria, Sloane Rice, Khaled Bali, Samuel Sandoval-Solis, Alyssa DiVincentis, Anna Gomes, and Jeff Mitchell that has been monitoring soil water content in several almond orchards and tomato fields throughout the Valley for the past four years in an effort to come up with an understanding of actual amounts of water that might be lost from cover cropped surfaces relative to bare ground during the winter. About ten California farmers and orchardists are also involved with the study. The practice of cover cropping is well known to improve a variety of soil functions such as water infiltration and storage. It is also a potential means for extending the “green cover” period of vegetation cover over the soil surface for longer periods during the year which could be important as well in terms of storing more water vapor, a very potent greenhouse gas contributor, in the soil and in plant material rather than in the atmosphere. Munk shared with the audience that had gathered for the field day the goals, monitoring techniques and next data analysis steps that the project is working on. He also talked about the overall complexity of water relations along the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum (SPAC) during the winter period. ET (evapotranspiration) demand during the winter is much lower than it is in the summer. In addition, once the cover crop has reached a sizable amount of growth and covers the soil, it may reduce soil temperatures resulting in lower soil evaporation, and effectively have whatever water that might be lost to evaporation, go rather through the plant as transpiration. He also talked about how the length that the cover crop is allowed to grow into the spring also has a large impact on overall water use. The team intends to have a comprehensive summary of the project's findings prepared by early 2020 when several scientific publications will be released. This work has been supported by CDFA's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, the Department of Water Resources, and the California Almond Board.
March 20, 2019
CIG's Shrestha conducts cover crop rolling study at Fresno State!
Professor and Department Chair, Anil Shrestha, at California State University, Fresno, is on his way to conducting a very nice, large-scale and comprehensive study of the ability of a cover crop roller/crimper to terminate several different cover crop mixes on the Fresno State campus during the 2018 – 2019 winter. His effort is part of the broader Conservation Innovation Grant project that he's involved in that has many farmer, private sector and other university partners. The project is investigating and evaluating opportunities for doing reduced disturbance organic production of vegetables at several sites in California. More than ten farmers from Meridian, to Capay, Esparto, Davis, Hollister, Madera, and Firebaugh are on board and are all working together to develop what they hope might be next generation production models for their farms. Last December, Shrestha seeded six different organic cover crop mixes on the Fresno State campus under his College's center pivot and as of March 20th, the covers are looking quite good. He's now gearing to test one of the project's roller/crimpers during the coming few weeks once his cover crops reach a more advanced maturity. He will evaluate the ability of the roller/crimper to effectively kill and terminate the cover crops without using any chemicals or other means. The roller/crimper will also be used at some of the farm evaluation sites during the coming weeks. Shrestha is planning to hold a public open house in conjunction with his rolling project.
March 6, 2019
Doug Karlen, - an amazingly productive, creative and thoughtful soil and water conservation research scientist at the USDA ARS National Lab for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, IA, - retired on March 2, 2019. A wonderful and very fitting retirement celebration was held on that day in his honor in Kansas City, MO that brought together many family members, colleagues and friends to recognize the great career that Doug has had as well as the many ways he touched so many people with this integrity, passion, and his simply superb ability to build and lead teams and conduct integrated soil and crop management research over his forty-year career with ARS. For folks who do not know Doug, he was truly an exceptionally productive and influential scientist and leader in the development of soil health indexes and technology transfer programs, sustainably increasing crop yields, and using agricultural crops for bioenergy production. Not only was he a Fellow in the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America, but he also was recognized as an ARS Distinguished Senior Research Scientist and recipient of the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement and Hugh Hammond Bennett Awards. In addition, Doug was truly a very good friend to CASI and the work that we've been doing here in California. He came out to work with us on some of the very early soil quality indexing efforts that he and his then Post-Doc, Susan Andrews, pioneered way back in the early 2000's and since then has also returned for a number of very nice meetings and discussions with various CASI groups. We salute Doug Karlen, a true friend and very good person!