Last summer, I reached out to those of you on my email and blog subscriptions about an online survey that UCCE was conducting. The purpose of the survey was to receive your input on the most important issues in agronomic crops production. We hoped to learn how UCCE could best address those issues through research and outreach. The survey was sent over email and open for responses for about a month and a half. It was sent to growers, consultants (i.e. PCAs, CCAs), and allied industry professionals statewide. In the end, we received 483 responses, of which 89 were from San Joaquin County, and 63 were from Sacramento County. San Joaquin County had the highest number of respondents among counties – followed by Fresno, Colusa, and Kern counties – so many thanks to those of you who were able to fill out the survey. In San Joaquin County, 19 respondents were growers, 29 were consultants, and the rest described themselves as allied industry. In Sacramento County, 10 respondents were growers, 12 were consultants, and the rest were from allied industry. Respondents received slightly different questions depending on their job category.
We asked growers to estimate, in a given year, what percentage of the land they farmed was in field crops, vegetable crops, and trees and vines. In San Joaquin County, the average response was 45 percent in field crops, 10 percent in vegetables, 39 percent in trees and vines, and 7 percent in an “other” category, like pasture or nursery crops. In Sacramento County, the responses averaged 70 percent in field crops, 4 percent in vegetables, 24 percent in trees and vines, and 2 percent in “other.” Among consultants in both counties, their average time consulting was 39 percent in field crops, 8 percent in vegetables, 49 percent in trees and vines, and 4 percent in “other.”
Combining the data for both counties, grower respondents indicated that of their total farmed acreage, roughly 84% is irrigated and 58% is owned versus leased. Growers identified their top acreage field crops over the last three years as alfalfa, dry beans, grain corn, silage corn, small grains forage hay, and wheat. For those crops, growers identified top production challenges and primary reasons for growing them (Table 1). Additionally, growers identified factors affecting their management decisions. Some of the issues that were identified as “always” or “often” affecting management decisions, and the percent of growers responding with that issue were as follows: crop yield (100%), profitability (96%), crop quality (92%), certainty that a management practice will work (88%), soil fertility (84%), availability of water (81%), ease of implementation (81%), and land stewardship (77%).
Table 1. Highest priority management challenges and primary reasons for growing the top acreage agronomic crops identified by San Joaquin and Sacramento County growers. The top challenges and top reasons are followed by the percent of growers who identified the categories.
We also asked respondents about how they engage with UCCE and how they prefer to receive information. The percent of all respondents from the two counties who answered “very valuable” to the following services were as follows: crop diagnosis (77%), continuing education credits at meetings (72%), on-farm trials (71%), and on-farm consultations (52%). The percent of respondents engaging with UCCE at least 1-2 times per year were as follows: read a newsletter (95%), attended a field day (89%), read a blog (88%), called a farm advisor for a farm call (66%), engaged over social media (41%). The type of information that respondents want to receive from UCCE include on-farm trial results, cost of production information, and decision support tools, among others. In terms of how respondents prefer to receive information from UCCE, there was overwhelming interest in the following methods: websites, in-person meetings (i.e. field days, grower meetings), newsletters, and fact sheets. These methods were supported regardless of how the respondents categorized their vocation (i.e. grower, consultant, or allied industry).
In addition to learning from you what are the challenges in agronomic crops production, we were also interested in learning how we could respond to those challenges with research and extension. Table 2 illustrates how respondents (all vocations combined) prioritize agronomic crops production topics for UCCE research and extension programming. What was enlightening, albeit a bit sobering, were the responses to the open-ended question, “Do you have ideas for applied research or extension that you would like to see tested?” Example responses included how to manage limited water on alfalfa, how to improve leaf retention during alfalfa harvest, how to use liquid manure in subsurface drip irrigation systems, research on soil amendments for modifying pH and micronutrients, salinity and leaching, how to build soil organic matter, more variety evaluations, pest management studies particularly in alfalfa and dry beans, and research on Delta rice production, among others. It is a sobering list because it illustrates the numerous and complex needs for research and outreach. We will use these results to direct our programming and to advocate for the hiring of more farm advisors to work on these topics. We recognize that a limitation in our survey method was that we targeted people who are already connected with UCCE. We will continue to work on extending our offerings to those who are not yet connected with us.
In summary, I want to thank everyone who was able to participate in this survey. Your feedback is valuable, and we will use it to shape local and statewide UCCE programming in agronomic crops. Of course, your feedback is always appreciated, regardless of whether there is a survey circulating or not! Please never hesitate to reach out to me with comments, questions, or observations from the field.