We began the meeting with “lightning talks” from organizations working on cover cropping and climate-smart agriculture, including UC Cooperative Extension, Contra Costa Resource Conversation District, Community Alliance with Family Farmers, and USDA-NRCS. We then showcased the cover cropping trial that we established in cooperation with Conservation Farms and Ranches. A CDFA Healthy Soils Program grant supports the Delta trial, which is part of a larger effort that includes our farm advisor colleagues in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys – Sarah Light, Amber Vinchesi, and Scott Stoddard – along with Jeff Mitchell and Will Horwath at UC Davis.
This is the second of a three-year on-farm trial to evaluate warm-season, annual legume cover cropping between winter small grain crops compared with a standard dry fallow. Cover cropping is a management practice identified in the Healthy Soils Program as having the potential to improve soil health, sequester carbon, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Cover cropping is not a typical practice in the annual crop rotations of the Delta region, however, and summer cover cropping is particularly rare. The Delta is a unique agricultural region with unique environmental challenges. Some soils in the region are subsided due to oxidation of organic matter, and some soils suffer from salinity, having limited ability to leach salts due to low permeability soils and shallow groundwater. Because surface waterways provide water for irrigation, summer cover cropping with a legume has the potential to improve soil tilth at a time of year when the soil would otherwise be fallow and dry with no soil cover.
The soil type across the experimental site is a Valdez silt loam. The trial is approximately 4.5 acres and compares three replicates of two treatments: an irrigated cover crop and a dry, fallow soil in between small grain crops. A cover crop of cowpea (Vigna unguiculata cv. ‘Red Ripper') has been planted in July of 2018 and 2019 after small grain harvest and tillage operations. Irrigation is provided to the cover crop plots only. The cover crop is terminated in the fall ahead of tillage and planting of small grains. Soil properties tested to date include bulk density, salinity (EC), pH, total nitrogen (N), and total carbon (C). We have also evaluated cover crop characteristics and 2019 triticale yield.
Among the soil properties, we have observed essentially no change in bulk density, total C, and total N from the July 2018 baseline condition. We are monitoring salinity and pH semi-annually because we have observed these properties to improve in the cover-cropped plots. After one cover cropping season, salinity increased in both treatments, but it increased more in the dry fallowed plots, averaging 1.22 dS/m from 0 to 12 inches, compared to 0.64 dS/m in the cover crop (CC) treatment. Rainfall during the 2018-19 winter season leached salts in both treatments, but the CC treatment started the 2019 cover cropping season with a lower average rootzone salinity (0-36 in) of 0.78 dS/m, compared to 1.13 dS/m in the dry fallow (No CC) treatment. Soil at this site is acidic, which is typical for the region, but pH was observably higher in the CC treatments.
We made changes to our planting and irrigation scheme in 2019 – changing from flood to sprinkler irrigation – and this has improved cowpea stand in 2019, compared to 2018. There has been a lot of competition from volunteer wheat (2018)/triticale (2019) and weeds, but we decided in both years not to manage these with tillage or herbicides. Both add biomass to the soil, which is an objective of the Healthy Soils Program. Competition, however, likely impedes cowpea growth and nitrogen fixation, and future study should investigate how these soil properties are affected by single-species and mixed cover crop stands. At the end of the first cover cropping season, biomass largely favored the volunteer wheat. Of the total C added to the soil from biomass, the wheat contributed 42-71%, compared to 15-24% from the cowpea, across the three replicate plots. Of the total N added from biomass, the wheat contributed 68-87%, and the cowpea contributed 9-15%. The triticale forage crop (winter 2018-19) yielded 5.4 tons per acre for the CC plots and 6.3 tons per acre for the No CC plots, but there was high variability among subsamples. The overall field averaged approximately 5.5 tons per acre. More detailed methods and results are available in our preliminary report.
In summary, cover cropping, particularly in the warm-season, is not a typical management practice in the annual crop rotations of the Delta region. After the first year of a three-year study, cover cropping had no observed effect on bulk density, Total N, and Total C. We observed better salinity and pH conditions in the cover-cropped plots. Cowpea stand establishment and volunteer grain and weed competition have been the biggest challenges to growing a summer cover crop at this site, and the cover crop was not observed to improve cash crop yield in the following season. We will continue to monitor soil and cover crop properties in 2019 and 2020, and additionally, we will reach conclusions about greenhouse gas (CH4, N2O) emissions, which are being evaluated by our UC Davis colleagues.
This project is financially supported by the California Climate Investments program. We thank Dawit Zeleke and Morgan Johnson of Conservation Farms and Ranches for hosting the trial. We thank Tom Johnson of Kamprath Seed and Margaret Smither-Kopperl and Valerie Bullard of the NRCS PMC for information and advice on cover cropping.
10:00am Welcome, Introductions, and Project Overview
Michelle Leinfelder-Miles and Brenna Aegerter, UCCE, San Joaquin County
10:20am “Lightning Talks”
Brief presentations from organizations working on cover cropping and soil health
Cool Season Cover Cropping: Sarah Light and Amber Vinchesi-Vahl, UCCE
Cover Cropping Survey: Ben Weise, Contra Costa Resource Conservation District
Climate Smart Farming Program: Sara Tiffany, Community Alliance with Family Farmers
Cover Cropping Incentive Programs: Sonya Miller, USDA-NRCS San Joaquin County
Summer Cover Crop Options: Valerie Bullard and Margaret Smither-Kopperl, USDA-NRCS Plant Materials Center
10:45am Caravan to field site
11:00am Warm Season Legume Cover Cropping in the Delta – Preliminary Results from Year 1
Michelle Leinfelder-Miles and Brenna Aegerter, UCCE
11:15am Viewing of plot
11:45am Wrap-up and Evaluations
- Author: Michelle Leinfelder-Miles
My observations of the field were that there were patches of several nearby plants with symptoms, but across the three contiguous fields, the patches were widespread. I suspected a vascular disease because of what appeared to be a progression of the disease from yellowing to necrosis to eventually plant death. I submitted samples to the plant pathology lab at UC Davis, and they diagnosed Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. ciceris, which is the Fusarium wilt pathogen for garbanzos. Fusarium wilt (also called Fusarium yellows) has the external symptoms previously described, but in addition to these symptoms, splitting the stems may reveal reddish-brown streaking in the vascular system at the center of the stem (i.e. xylem). The roots won't show discoloration with Fusarium wilt like they will with Fusarium root rot. Fusarium wilt should not be confused with yellowing caused from virus, which will exhibit discoloration in the phloem. Fusarium wilt can reduce yield by reducing seed quantity and size.
In general, cultural practices are the only ways to manage this disease. Luckily, the Fusarium wilt pathogens are crop-specific, so this pathogen will only infect garbanzos. The pathogen, however, can survive for a long time in the soil (upwards of 6 years or more) because it can survive under wide temperature and pH ranges. Therefore, crop rotation is an important management practice. Crop rotation will help to slow the proliferation of the disease, but it generally won't eliminate it. Growers should plant certified disease-free seed. They should not save seed for planting because Fusarium wilt (and Ascochyta blight) can live externally on the seed. Growers should also consider planting UC-27, which has disease resistance and is adapted to the Central Valley. Disease management may also include cleaning soil from equipment when moving from an infected field to a non-infected field. In some studies, soil solarizaton has been shown to reduce Fusarium wilt in subsequent garbanzo crops, but to my knowledge, there hasn't been any work on soil solarization in California garbanzos.
Garbanzo beans are an important crop worldwide for human and animal nutrition. In California, they are grown during the winter months, like small grains, and provide growers with another crop choice that can be winter rain-fed. Because they are a legume, they can fix atmospheric nitrogen to fulfil some of their nitrogen needs. Garbanzos also are more tolerant of soil salinity than common beans and limas. In California, we annually grow approximately 10,000 acres of garbanzos. California garbanzos are generally a high-quality product grown for the canning industry. More information on garbanzo production in California can be found in the UC production manual.
Methods: The trial is a randomized complete block design (approximately 4.5 acres) with three replicates of each treatment. The soil type across the trial is a Valdez silt loam. Baseline soil samples were collected in July 2018 following wheat harvest but prior to tillage. Soil was sampled from 0-6, 6-12, 12-24, and 24-36 inch depths. On July 30, 2018, a cowpea cover crop (Vigna unguiculata cv. ‘Red Ripper', Figure 1) was inoculated with Rhizobium and planted after a pre-irrigation. Pre-irrigation was only applied to the cover crop plots. The cover crop was drill-seeded at 7-in row spacing with a planting density of approximately 50 pounds of seed per acre. A second irrigation was applied approximately one month after planting. End-of-season soil sampling (0-6 and 6-12 inch depths) occurred on October 23, 2018, prior to cover crop termination. Soil properties of interest include bulk density, soil moisture, salinity, pH, total nitrogen (N), and total carbon (C). Soil properties were analyzed by the following methods: pH from the soil saturated paste, salinity by the saturated paste extract, and total N and C by combustion method.
Preliminary Results: Soil properties are presented for the baseline condition (Table 1) and for the end of the first cover cropping season (Table 2). Bulk density averaged 1.0 g/cm3 across sample timings, depths, and treatments. Soil moisture (% by volume) was observed to increase from the baseline condition in the cover crop (“CC”) treatment. At baseline sampling, salinity increased with depth from 0.47 to 2.44 dS/m. After one cover cropping season, salinity increased in both treatments, but increased more in the no cover crop (“No CC”) treatment, averaging 1.22 dS/m from 0 to 12 inches. Soil was acidic, which is typical for the region. The pH averaged 5.5 across sample timings, depths, and treatments, but there may be a trend for cover cropping to increase the pH. Total N and C decreased with depth at the baseline sampling. After one cover cropping season, there was little change from the baseline condition in both treatments.
Summary: The Delta is a unique agricultural region with unique environmental challenges. Some soils in the region are subsided due to oxidation of organic matter, and some soils suffer from salinity, having limited ability to leach salts due to low permeability soils and shallow groundwater. Cover cropping is not a typical practice in the annual crop rotations of the region, and summer cover cropping is particularly rare. After the first year of a three-year study, cover cropping had no observed effect on bulk density, Total N, and Total C. Cover cropping may have slightly raised the pH in the top 12 inches, compared to dry fallow. The cover crop treatment, having received two irrigations, had lower salinity in the upper layers of soil compared to dry fallow. We also observed that the 2018-2019 triticale crop that was planted in the field germinated roughly five days earlier in the cover crop plots compared to the fallowed plots. Thus, it appears that summer cover cropping with a legume has the potential to improve soil tilth at a time of year when the field would otherwise be fallowed and dry with no soil cover, and there could be agronomic benefits to subsequent crops. We will continue to monitor these soil properties in 2019 and 2020, and additionally, we will monitor small grain yields and greenhouse gas (CH4, N2O) emissions.
We would like to thank Dawit Zeleke and Morgan Johnson (Staten Island), Tom Johnson (Kamprath Seed), and Margaret Smither-Kopperl and Valerie Bullard (USDA-NRCS) for their cooperation on this trial. We would like to acknowledge the California Climate Investments program for funding, and our UC colleagues who are cooperating on this grant in other parts of the state (Jeff Mitchell, Will Horwath, Veronica Romero, Sarah Light, Amber Vinchesi-Vahl, and Scott Stoddard).
Survey: We would also like to alert readers of a cover cropping survey that is being conducted by the Contra Costa County Resource Conservation District. The survey is found here. The purpose of the survey is to learn more about cover cropping practices and barriers to adopting cover cropping on-farm. Even if you farm in another county, please consider filling out the survey, which should take about 10 minutes. The survey is open through the end of June. Your responses will help inform CCC RCD and UCCE programming. Thank you for your participation.
- Author: Michelle Leinfelder-Miles
June 1 through June 9, 2019 is California Invasive Species Action Week. According to the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), the purpose of CA Invasive Species Action Week is to “increase public awareness of invasive species issues and promote public participation in the fight against California's invasive species and their impacts on our natural resources.” CDFW describes prevention as the most important action toward managing invasive species. Invasive species negatively impact our resources, including water and native plants and animals, but they also impact our way of life, including agriculture, recreation, our economy, and human health.
As of May 22, 2019, 510 nutria have been taken in California, most in Merced County. They have also been detected in Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Fresno, Tuolumne, and Mariposa counties. In the San Joaquin County Delta, nutria were found near the City of Lathrop in 2018; however, in May 2019, one nutria was detected at Rough and Ready Island in Stockton, indicating that they have moved north.
Unlike other rodents found in the Delta – like muskrats, otters, and beavers – nutria are not native. (Hence, I'm highlighting them during Invasive Species Action Week!) Adult body size is about 2 feet in length, tail length is about 1 foot, and weight is approximately 10-20 pounds. They have partially webbed back feet, which they use to propel themselves in water. They have white whiskers and often have orange teeth. They are primarily active at night.
CDFW is working to eradicate nutria, and you can help in their efforts. Please report sightings by calling 866-440-9530, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Land owners may take nutria by legal means to protect crops and property, and it is illegal to import, transport, or possess them in California. More information about reporting sightings, eradication efforts, takings, and identification (including photographs) is available from the CDFW website. It is important that we work together to prevent the expansion of this or other invasive pests in California.