- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Rachael Freeman Long grew up in Berkeley but was fascinated by farming. The UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor has spent the past 37 years doing research on crop production, pollination and pest control and collaborating with farmers.
Long worked with UCCE in Sonoma and San Joaquin counties as well as at UC Berkeley, before settling in Yolo County as a farm advisor in 1992. She has focused on field crops including alfalfa hay and other forages, dry beans, and hybrid seed crops such as sunflowers, melons and onions.
She plans to retire July 1 after serving growers in Yolo, Solano and Sacramento counties for 31 years.
Long's pest management studies highly influential
To produce practical research results, Long has collaborated on studies with the Hrdys and many other growers over the years. Her field studies informed the sunflower, alfalfa, onion seed and dry bean production manuals that she co-authored with UC ANR colleagues.
Cost-of-production reports on alfalfa, sunflowers, lima beans, common beans and garbanzo beans that she co-authored have been used by growers for obtaining farm loans. Since 2014, her cost studies have been used over 50,000 times.
Long's research and extension of integrated pest management practices have resulted in enhanced biodiversity, reduced pesticide use, higher crop yields, healthy soils and carbon sequestration, and greater farm productivity and profitability. Her research papers have been cited by scientists over 1,200 times. She was the recipient of the Bradford Rominger Agricultural Sustainability Leadership Award in 2019.
Adoption of new farming practices
Her work in the late 1990s documented how pesticides were transported offsite from farm fields in surface irrigation water. At the time, the agricultural industry was concerned the results would prompt increased regulations and restrictions on farming practices. But she persisted and her research led to the development and adoption of practices – such as pesticide choice and vegetative filter strips including cover crops – that are now commonly used to protect surface waters from pesticides used on farms.
“I'm proud of my community and appreciate the opportunity to work with farmers and the privilege of conducting research on farms,” Long said. “I'll forever be grateful to landowners for their support of my projects, even ones that seemed so far out there, like studying bats and pest control in walnut orchards!”
Her research has shown that bats, as well as insectivorous birds, help control insect pests on farms, which helps growers reduce their reliance on pesticides.
As scientists look for ways to slow climate change, one of Long's recent studies revealed that hedgerows sequester 36% more carbon than farmed areas.
“I loved working with students and postdocs on hedgerows,” she said. “We found that field edge plantings of native plants provide floral resources for natural enemies and bees that move into adjacent crops for enhanced pollination and pest control services in adjacent crops, reducing pesticide use and boosting yields. I'm proud that many have gone on to pursue careers in agriculture and natural resource conservation.”
Hedgerows become conservation practice
Mary Kimball, CEO of the Center for Land-Based Learning in Woodland, was Long's field assistant in 1996. Kimball, who worked for the Yolo Resource Conservation District, was the project manager for the first hedgerow project that Long led.
“Over the years, Rachael has strategically and methodically tackled every question, concern and potential barrier for on-farm hedgerow installation – not only disproving all of the myths about pests, but showing the dramatic importance of these native plant hedgerows to everything from wildlife habitat, insectary value, use by bird species, and most recently, carbon sequestration,” Kimball said.
“As a result, hedgerows are now by far the most applied-for conservation practice by farmers and landowners through USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service cost-sharing programs across the state,” Kimball added. “Her impact and the way that she went about doing this research – in collaboration and with all needs and concerns of the farmer in mind – show us how to tackle new ideas and ensure their sustainability over time.”
Lifelong interest in agriculture evolves with technology
The daughter of a UC Berkeley biology professor and graduate of UC Berkeley with a B.S. in biology and UC Davis with an M.S. in entomology, Long always had an interest in wildlife, conservation and exploring the natural world.
“I've always been interested in agriculture, probably from spending summers as a kid with family in Sonoma County,” she said. “However, what totally sparked my interest in crop production was hearing a farm advisor talk about integrated pest management when I was in college. I found that so inspiring that I changed my major from pre-med to agriculture, a great decision, not only for my career, but I met my husband through work and we currently live and farm here in the Woodland area.”
Since her start in 1986, technology has changed rapidly. Calling it “challenging and exciting,” Long said, “I'm proud of the opportunity to work with farmers to learn about global positioning systems, subsurface drip and healthy soils practices that were so helpful in my research and outreach programs.”
As a mother and a scientist, Long is committed to piquing children's interest in science. She has published three children's books chronicling a boy's adventures with wildlife, based on stories she told her own son, Eugene. Long recently published “See You Later Alligator,” an online children's book.
In retirement, Long is looking forward to having more time to write kids' books focusing on science literacy and “sharing more about how to respect and live with wildlife for everyone's safety – animals and people.”
“Next is a high adventure story that brings kids into a world of bees!” Long said. “I'm super excited with this ArcGIS storymap format to share online with kids! It's a great teaching opportunity maps, illustrations, and a storyline, along with discussion questions to engage kids!” Long and colleagues recently created a storymap on Native Bees.
Long, who received prestigious emeritus status from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, will also finish up some research projects.