Posts Tagged: desert
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 UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) Desert Research and Extension Center (DREC) is in the heart of the Imperial Valley, surrounded by green fields, feedlots, busy farmers and a growing urban community. Jairo Diaz, a Colombian native, is the director of the center, and he proudly talks about its importance.
"This valley is one of the most amazing ag valleys that we have in the (United) States. We are one of the top valleys in agriculture. We have diverse agriculture here, from being the salad bowl of vegetables in the winter along with Yuma, Ariz., to forage all year round for the feedlots," Diaz said.
Diaz is the Hispanic academic with the highest rank in UC ANR, and he oversees all the research and outreach programs conducted there.
Last fiscal year, the center conducted 42 projects in the following areas: plant breeding and variety trials (13), irrigation and fertilizer management (8), forage and agronomic crops (6), vegetable disease management (3), environmental studies (2), food safety (1), weed management (1), livestock (1), and outreach and educational programs (7). Lead academics are from the University of California system (UC ANR, UC Davis, UC Riverside), the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Canada. Research at the center tackles a diversity issues in Imperial County's top 10 agricultural and livestock commodities.
"We have over 40 different projects, including research to improve vegetable production, irrigation practices, management of cattle in the feedlots, nutrition and so on. All that impacts our communities because all this research is connected to the industry and the growers. So, we have a direct connection with our stakeholders daily," Diaz said.
This year has not been easy for DREC; COVID-19 forced them to implement drastic measures to ensure the safety of the staff and the communities they serve.
"We scaled down our field and laboratory research and implemented research plans with researchers and leadership to move forward critical research during this global pandemic time. We also implemented safety plans for on-site staff performing daily infrastructure and maintenance of critical activities," stated Diaz.
Once those safety measures were in place, they have been busier than ever, supporting more than 40 research projects and providing maintenance to more than 70,000 square feet of facilities. During the spring, under the supervision of Gilberto Magallon, the center's superintendent, they harvested to collect research data in small grains, vegetables, sugar beets, melons and corn. At the same time, forage and cattle studies are ongoing. Diaz acknowledges the staff's exceptional work and the investigators who, far from being stopped by the pandemic, manage to conduct their research remotely.
One of the jewels of the center is the Farm Smart outreach and educational program.
"This program is top-rated and successful. It focuses on major issues occurring in our local communities, including access to high-quality education and food, healthy habits and higher education pathways," Diaz said.
Farm Smart, supervised by community education specialists Stacey Amparan and Stephanie Collins, engaged 7,253 participants in community activities and presentations. Before the pandemic outbreak, DREC hosted extension field days, commodity board meetings, and workshops where growers, ranchers, industry and academics could discuss and share knowledge about current research activities at the center and within the California low desert region.
Diaz notes that the Farm Smart programs are tailored to everyone's needs, from toddlers to seniors citizens.
While the center quietly sees another hot summer pass by and waits for things to get back to normal, Diaz and his staff are working on new ways to connect with the communities they serve. Some of the Farm Smart programs offer online classes, and their social media platforms have become the door of contact with their stakeholders.
"We are so thankful for the high level of support we have from our local communities. Early in June, we received donations from two local organizations to support our educational efforts," said Diaz.
Sweeping acres of striking golden flowers may soon grace California's desert southwest. UC Cooperative Extension irrigation specialist Khaled Bali believes sunflowers may be an ideal crop for the state's most punishing agricultural region.
California produces more than 90 percent of the country's hybrid sunflower planting seed, which is shipped around the nation and world. The seed is used to grow sunflower seeds for a healthy snack or salad topper, and for seeds that are expressed into sunflower oil, valued for its clean taste and polyunsaturated fat.
Most California seed is produced on about 50,000 acres in the Sacramento Valley. But the plant's low water use and early maturity hold promise for production in Southern California's low desert.
Bali's research began two years ago with 1,800 plots of sunflowers, nearly 300 different genotypes, at the UC Desert Research and Extension Center in Holtville. All plants were well-watered for four weeks before drought treatment started. In 2016, the trial plots were irrigated at 60 percent of the area's ETo (the full amount of water used by well-irrigated, mowed grass in that environment), and at 100 percent.
“Sunflower is a California native species grown as a hybrid seed crop,” Bali said. “With limited water, we wanted to look at varieties that tolerate drought and stress.”
That year, Bali found significant variation in yield across the varieties, but no difference between plots that received 60 percent of ETo and 100 percent
“I've been doing deficit irrigation for a long time,” Bali said. “I never expected that.”
For the 2017 season, the 60 percent ETo plots were dropped to 10 percent to better understand the implications of severe drought on the sunflower cultivars.
“The emphasis in 2017 was to intensify our drought treatment, giving less water earlier and to quantify the genotypes' drought avoidance strategy by digging up roots and using computer image analysis to determine root traits,” Bali said.
Bali attributes the sunflower crop's low water needs to its deep tap root and crop production timing. Sunflower in the low desert may be planted from January to February, and harvested in May and June.
“Sunflower water needs are relatively low since they are harvested before the hottest part of the summer,” Bali said.
His research is continuing in 2018.
A new UC publication, Sunflower Hybrid Seed Production in California, is now under review and is expected to be available to producers in fall 2018. Written by UC Cooperative Extension advisor Rachael Long and colleagues, including Bali, the publication outlines crop production standards, land preparation, fertilization, pest management, harvesting and more.
Long said sunflowers are favored for crop rotations because they help in long-term management of weeds and diseases, the plants add biomass to the soil after harvest, and they are a profitable specialty field crop.
Read more about California sunflowers in a Green Blog post by Rachael Long, Sunflower seeds are boosting California's ag economy.
Stretching from the Death Valley to Calexico, California's vast dry desert is home to a unique and important agriculture industry.
It's a place where summertime temperatures often top the 115-degree mark. Where water supplies for irrigation depend on the Colorado River, but upriver states are claiming more of it. Where evapotrasporation – a reference rate of water use in unstressed turf grass – is 72 inches per year, but rainfall is rarely more than 4.
Still, stalwart farmers grow dates, carrots, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, kale and more, plus plants for landscaping everything from family homes to beautiful and luxurious resorts. The agriculture output of the state's three desert counties – Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial – exceeds $4 billion annually.
The California desert also impacts the quality of life across the nation. If Americans are enjoying a salad in the winter, the lettuce most likely was grown in the California desert. There are bountiful winter recreation opportunities available on the beautifully manicured golf courses, parks and landscapes.
A group of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) academics formed a desert workgroup to better serve the state's desert region. The group organized a symposium in February to bring together representatives from desert farm and natural resources communities, related industry and academics working in the desert.
“The close exchange of information among desert researchers, non-profit organizations, industry and clientele groups will facilitate collaboration among UC ANR, Arizona and Mexico and foster how our programs should be shaped on a regional level,” said Oli Bachie, the director of UC Cooperative Extension in Imperial County and the current workgroup chair.
With saline soil, scorching summer temperatures and limited water supplies, the desert could be considered a hotbed of the “wicked problem.” A wicked problem isn't evil, said UC Associate Vice President Wendy Powers, the symposium's plenary session keynote speaker.
“The term ‘wicked problem' was coined at UC Berkeley,” Powers said. “It's a problem with circumstances that resist resolution.”
She named climate change and the growth of the global population California must help feed as wicked problems faced by the state. Powers described UC ANR's statewide programs that are working to find solutions to formidable issues faced in California agriculture.
“We're on the verge of some serious breakthroughs as we look at solving wicked problems,” Powers said. “They are accelerated by conversations like those we're having today.”
UC Vice Provost Mark Bell said that the potential of UC ANR to reach every single Californian is what drew him to his position in 2017. Bell invoked Star Wars robot R2D2 for an acronym to reflect the characteristics that accurately define UC ANR.
“R2 stands for reach and relevance,” he said. “D2 is diverse and dispersed.”
UC Cooperative Extension offices serve 57 California counties and its nine research and extension centers are located in key agriculture ecosystems, including one in the low desert of the Imperial Valley.
The afternoon program of the symposium included breakout sessions to highlight programs and research efforts in three broad areas: irrigation and crop production, landscape management, and livestock and feed quality.
“This was the first attempt to organize such a regional desert-based symposium for the UCANR Desert Workgroup with the collaboration of desert-serving UCCE counties,” Bachie said. “I believe that we have registered a remarkable get-together.”
The symposium had speakers and participants from UC, USDA, California Department of Food and Agriculture, the desert agricultural industry, pest control advisors, non-profit institutions and organizations, agricultural commissioners, farm bureaus, Arizona and Mexico universities and the general public.
“I believe that the symposium is a stepping stone for future desert research and extension meetings, conferences and symposiums among people engaged or interested in desert agriculture and natural resources,” Bachie said.
While some people were spending spring break at the beach or catching up on their Netflix queue, students from the EcoGeoMorphology class at UC Davis were rafting down the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
The class split in two groups for the 225-mile river journey. On March 10, the group embarked from Lee's Ferry, rafting 90 miles before hiking to the rim on March 19 along Bright Angel Trail. They passed the second group on their way down the same day. They traveled the remaining 135 miles to the next road access at Diamond Creek.
The class is conducted during winter quarter by the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and the Center for Watershed Sciences, in partnership with Campus Recreation's Outdoor Adventures. While its first trip to the Grand Canyon was in 2003, students have taken this optional trip for each of the past five years.
‘There's nothing quite like this'
The trip is the physical and visible representation of what the class is all about: Geologists, hydrologists and ecologists learning to communicate with each other and the public. It's a skill necessary in real-world careers, where working on environmental problems requires a variety of expertise that isn't always taught in siloed classrooms.
“I'm not a geologist myself, but you only have to look left to right at any moment, and there's nothing quite like this,” said Young while floating down the river, taking in the cliffs rising around him.
The classrooms are pretty spectacular: red walled caverns, ancient Puebloan ruins, rock formations and fossils, the river itself. It's the students' textbooks brought vividly and tangibly to life.
Along the way, Young described the life cycle of Century plants; explored the plants sprouting around Vasey's Paradise, a natural spring; and rubbed scale insects off prickly pear plants to expose the crimson dye they produce. At each step, he casually prodded the students to consider what it means to have a river running through a desert.
The group was unplugged, off-grid, and literally immersed in the river, rocks and landscape.
Geologists, ecologists, and hydrologists helped teach each other about rocks, plants, fish and flow rates—usually informally as they scrambled up a trail or gazed up at the vertical cliffs slowly floating past.
They slept each night under a sky bright with forgotten stars, to the sounds of softly strumming guitar and the nearby rushing river.
Over the course of eight days on the river, they traveled through about a billion years of geologic time.
Young had been on the trip once before, two years ago. He said it was just as impressive the second go-around.
“It's actually more spectacular on the second pass, which surprised me,” he said. “Just the magnitude and the grandeur of it, all that stuff. It's just more.”