Posts Tagged: agriculture
Cover crops, typically planted in early fall, deliver a host of agricultural and conservation benefits. But many growers have gone away from planting them due to technical challenges and extra costs associated with the practice. In partnership with the Contra Costa County Resource Conservation District, two University of California Cooperative Extension advisors collaborated to support farmers' cover cropping efforts and reduce costs.
Kamyar Aram, UCCE specialty crops advisor for Contra Costa and Alameda counties, and Rob Bennaton, UCCE Bay Area urban agriculture and food systems advisor, developed online project content for a free educational series on cover cropping, which entails growing non-cash crops to add beneficial biomass to soils.
“Our site visit videos include a diversity of cropping systems, operation types and scales, and levels of experience with cover crops, so we really capture a variety of perspectives,” Aram said. “Now, with the videos online, I hope that they will serve as tools for other farm educators, as well as a resource for growers directly.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic scrapped plans for in-person workshops and visits, the series organizers pivoted to online webinars, starting in fall 2020, which drew more than 150 participants. The recorded videos – which cover basic methods, financial assistance, tips for orchards and vineyards and more – expanded the potential reach and impact of the series far beyond Contra Costa County.
“Each video, whether it's a webinar recording or a virtual site visit, emphasizes different aspects, and the titles are designed to help viewers find the resources they are most likely to benefit from,” said Aram. “There really is something for everyone.”
In particular, the organizers of the series recognized the importance of including technical and extension support to urban and semi-urban farmers in the East Bay and beyond.
“We wanted to make sure to include practical support from fellow farmers that was both accessible and relevant to our diverse small and urban farmers,” said Julio Contreras, UCCE community education specialist. “This meant covering topics like seeding with spreaders or by broadcasting – using small equipment and machinery or no-till systems – and even cover cropping in planter boxes.”
Aram and Bennaton also credited their Contra Costa Resource Conservation District partners: Ben Weise, agriculture conservation manager; Derek Emmons, agriculture conservation coordinator; and Chris Lim, executive director.
The project, funded by a Specialty Crops Block Grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, was also made possible by the generous contributions of time and expertise from presenters and hosts of farm-site visits, according to Aram.
“I hope that the videos will enjoy a long life online; they really contain a wealth of knowledge,” he said.
The series is available for view at http://ucanr.edu/CoverCropsCoCo.
One doesn't need to be a seasoned farmer to know that growing conditions in Canada are completely different than those found in the low desert of California.
And yet, for many years, studies conducted in Canada were used to generate nitrogen uptake data for the California carrot production system, so growers managed their fields based on their own experiences – and that research conducted thousands of miles to the north.
Carrots had been among the crops grown in California that did not have site-specific data to suggest the best source, rate, timing and placement of nitrogen, in the highly variable cropping seasons and locations throughout the state. That's why new information – based on local research and published in August – is invaluable to farmers in Imperial and Kern counties, where the majority of the carrots in California are grown.
Two years of data from two experimental trials at UC Agriculture and Natural Resource's Desert Research and Extension Center – as well as from 10 commercial fields – produced key recommendations for farmers to make the most of their irrigation and nitrogen applications.
“The point is we developed information in your field, based on your practices, your climate, your production system – and this is what is really happening,” said Ali Montazar, UC Cooperative Extension irrigation and water management advisor for Imperial County. Montazar conducted the study alongside Daniel Geisseler, UCCE nutrient management specialist at UC Davis, and Michael Cahn, UCCE irrigation and water resources advisor for Monterey County.
With reliable data gathered under real-world conditions, Montazar said growers now have solid reference points for when – and at what rate – to irrigate and apply fertilizers in the low desert environment. One of the key findings, for example, was that the carrots' nitrogen uptake is generally low in the first 40 to 50 days, so growers are advised to limit their fertilizer application during that period.
Then, by tailoring those basic guidelines to their own site-specific situation and optimizing their practices, growers can maximize the amount of nitrogen taken up by the carrots – and minimize the amount that is leached out.
“Improving irrigation and nutrient management in the desert production system is what local growers are themselves trying to achieve. With improving efficiency and reducing nutrient leaching, we can improve the quality of water in the Salton Sea,” said Montazar, noting the longstanding challenges of reducing contaminants from irrigated lands to protect its unique ecosystem and wildlife.
While contamination of groundwater is not a critical issue in the desert, the best practices in this study can also help carrot growers in parts of California where nitrogen leaching into groundwater and drinking water supplies is a greater concern.
Montazar is currently leading a team in studying carrot-growing management practices under slightly different conditions in Kern County, with the hopes of publishing findings in late summer 2022.
The Imperial County study, “Spatial Variability of Nitrogen Uptake and Net Removal and Actual Evapotranspiration in the California Desert Carrot Production System,” is published in the journal Agriculture, and can be found at https://doi.org/10.3390/agriculture11080752. Findings and recommendations also appear in Progressive Crop Consultant: https://progressivecrop.com/2021/09/new-knowledge-based-information-developed-to-enhance-water-and-nitrogen-use-efficiency-in-desert-fresh-market-carrots/.
Funding for this study was provided by the California Department of Food and Agriculture's Fertilizer Research and Education Program, as well as the California Fresh Carrots Advisory Board.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit farmers hard. Supply chains were disrupted and even non-traditional agritourism revenue streams such as hay mazes and on-farm events had to be canceled due to shelter-in-place mandates.
On the other hand, demand for local farm products skyrocketed, and thus many farmers and ranchers needed a quick pivot strategy and a set of new skills.
UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) was well-positioned to support this shift toward direct sales, pulling in trusted community partners and experienced farmers and ranchers to put together a comprehensive webinar series, “Agritourism and Direct Sales: Best Practices in COVID Times and Beyond”.
Funded by a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) grant, the webinar series is part of a three-year project, Strengthening California Local Food Networks with Agritourism and Direct Sales, which provides trainings and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers on how to diversify their revenue streams.
The strength of the series, which includes eight webinars that were recorded earlier this year and are available online, lies in the collaborations among the UC SAREP Agritourism Program, UCCE, community groups, and farmers and ranchers.
The series features a range of speakers, including representatives from community organizations, technical experts, academic researchers, and farmers – all coming together to build resilience and adaptability for small-farming operations and the agritourism industry across California during the pandemic and after.
“It's great to collaborate with other organizations and regions, to learn from each other and to broaden our networks, as we are all working to create more resilient and sustainable food systems,” said Carmen Snyder, executive director of Sonoma County Farm Trails, one of the nonprofit partners on this project.
And because of those strong partnerships, the webinar topics reflected the on-the-ground needs facing agricultural producers.
“COVID initially dramatically affected farmers' restaurant contracts, with many losing more than 80% of their accounts overnight,” Snyder said. “CSAs [Community Supported Agriculture], on the other hand, couldn't keep up with the demand, and all of our CSA members were full and had wait lists for the first time ever. Producers pivoted by creating more online stores, including pick-up and delivery options. It was a challenge for them to navigate the new technology and platforms.”
The “Online Sales Options and Methods” webinar, a partnership with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), provided an overview of several e-commerce marketing and online sales strategies that farmers can implement to diversify their revenue pathways and reach new customers. CAFF stressed the importance of farmers enhancing their resiliency through e-commerce.
The webinar also featured Ciara Shapiro, the owner of AM Ranch in Penn Valley, who shared her experience with online marketing and how it helped her and her husband survive the pandemic when the restaurants and farmers markets they sold to shut down. This personal and informative webinar demonstrated the effectiveness of online sales and marketing, while highlighting available resources from groups like CAFF.
The “Safe, Healthy and Successful Farm Stands” webinar was aimed at farms of all sizes and organizations that operate or advise agricultural operations using farm stands as a form of revenue. The webinar provided an outline of the rules and regulations that farm stand operators needed to follow during COVID – as well as during business-as-usual times.
Both farmers saw an increase in farm stand business during the pandemic, which Yagi attributed to the “traffic storm of people” who attended their annual plant sale fundraiser and came to participate in new farm outdoor activities and volunteer opportunities. Yagi also noted the growing number of low-income individuals who were unable to access fresh produce during the pandemic.
The speakers' shared experiences running successful farm stands gave audience members tangible examples and real-time information on how to incorporate farm stands into their businesses.
Carmen Snyder of Sonoma County Farm Trails, which helped circulate the recorded webinars to their network of farmers and ranchers, remarked: “These webinars were extremely helpful for local producers, to get clarity on best pandemic practices during these challenging times and to learn how other producers are adapting and navigating the circumstances.”
Extreme drought is changing agriculture across California — and urban farming is no exception.
Many community farms and gardens cultivate land owned by city or county departments, schools and private landowners. Lucy Diekmann, a UC Cooperative Extension urban agriculture and food systems advisor in Santa Clara County, says that how those institutions handle rationing or surcharges set by water retailers makes all the difference for urban farmers. Diekmann co-authored a 2017 study looking at how urban agriculture in Silicon Valley was affected by the last period of extreme drought.
For example, priced-based water conservation strategies had very different outcomes depending on the landowner. Diekmann and her co-authors learned that three-quarters of Santa Clara County's community farms had their water bill paid by a project sponsor such as a nonprofit or school, and the sponsor absorbed the increased costs. On the other hand, one city-run community garden raised fees by 27% in one year to discourage water use. Some gardeners either left, dropped off the waitlist or chose smaller plots.
Diekmann and her co-authors point out that a major challenge for water management in urban agriculture is the lack of data. Many community farms and gardens don't have their own meters.
"We recommend that cities and counties subsidize the cost of meters, give financial support for installing watering systems that support conservation, and offer irrigation training," Diekmann said.
Because the water landscape is so uneven for urban farmers — usually in ways that benefit well-resourced groups — Diekmann and her co-authors also write that “affordable, consistent water prices for all UA (urban agriculture) users” must be part of all cities' urban agriculture policy portfolios.
You can read Diekmann's full study at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13549839.2017.1351426.
A new study that outlines costs and returns of establishing and producing organic alfalfa hay has been released by UC Cooperative Extension, the UC Agricultural Issues Center and the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
High-quality organic alfalfa hay is an important ingredient in milk-cow feed rations for organic dairies. Organic dairy farms are required to use organic feed and allow cows to graze for part of their forage. Organic alfalfa hay comprises a major source of forage for the industry.
In 2019, organic dairy farms in California produced about 900 million pounds of milk — just over 2% of California milk output production, according to co-author Daniel Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center and professor in the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
“Demand for organic alfalfa production has grown, including demand from dairy, horse, sheep, goat, and beef producers, but is still a small share of total alfalfa production,” said Daniel Putnam, UC Cooperative Extension forage specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis and co-author of the study. “However, understanding organic production methods and costs is very important for California's organic hay farmers.”
The new study estimates the costs and returns of establishing and producing organic alfalfa using flood irrigation in the Sacramento Valley, north and south San Joaquin Valley, and the Intermountain Region. The 100 acres of organic alfalfa is rented for $345 per acre annually and the alfalfa stand life is four years after the establishment year.
Input and reviews were provided by UCCE farm advisors and specialists and growers. The authors describe the assumptions used to identify current costs for organic alfalfa establishment and production, material inputs, cash and non-cash overhead and a ranging analysis table, which shows profits over a range of prices and yields.
“This cost study provides information on how to grow alfalfa hay organically,” said Rachael Long, study co-author and UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Yolo County. “The research that went into developing these practices represents a significant investment by UCCE farm advisors and specialists and California alfalfa farmer collaborators. We are pleased to team up with economics and cost study experts to provide this study, which indicates potential profits in growing this crop for the organic dairy market.”
The new study, “Sample Costs to Establish and Produce Organic Alfalfa Hay, California - 2020” can be downloaded for free from the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics website: http://coststudies.ucdavis.edu. Sample cost of production studies for many other commodities are also available on the websites.
For an explanation of calculations used in the study, refer to the section titled Assumptions. For more information, contact Jeremy Murdock, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Agricultural Issues Center, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, at (530) 752-4651 or email@example.com. To discuss this study with a local extension advisor, contact the UC Cooperative Extension office in your county: https://ucanr.edu/About/Locations.