Posts Tagged: Houston Wilson
UC, The Organic Center, University of Rhode Island partner on $3.5m food-safety study for organic produce growers
Grazing sheep and other livestock can help convert cover crops to fertilizer for orchard crops. To develop best management practices, the University of California and The Organic Center are collaborating on research to help organic orchard growers safely incorporate livestock grazing into their farming practices. The project is funded by a $2 million grant recently awarded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative research program.
Interest in grazing livestock on cover crops in nut orchards has increased in recent years. However, research is needed to determine the best way to improve soil health and pest suppression, and to address concerns about food-borne pathogens and food safety.
“Organic farmers typically follow the USDA National Organic Program standards for raw animal manure, waiting 90 to 120 days between incorporating raw manure into the soil and harvesting the crop,” said Alda Pires, UC Cooperative Extension urban agriculture and food safety specialist in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis.
“Little research has been conducted to verify adequate waiting periods to reduce contamination risks in integrated crop-livestock production systems,” she said. “This research will fill the knowledge gap and facilitate the development of science-based food safety guidelines for grazing small ruminants in orchards.”
For this four-year project, “Influence of Orchard Grazing on Soil Health and Pest Control While Mitigating Food Safety Risk,” the scientists will study organic almond, walnut and pistachio orchards in two distinct nut-growing regions in California – the Sacramento Valley and San Joaquin Valley. The scientists will assess the effects of livestock grazing of cover crops on bacteria populations, soil health, pest control and economics.
Building soil health
“Growers have consistently raised the need for more information on grazing impacts on nutrient availability during tree growth, as well as potential to build up the biological, physical and chemical pillars of soil health,” said Amelie Gaudin, associate professor and endowed chair of agroecology in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.
Livestock grazing may provide an opportunity to quickly enhance the amount of nitrogen that can be used by plants and microbes when the cover crop is terminated. “This project will help growers develop nitrogen budgets for these more diversified systems and quantify additional benefits and potential tradeoffs for soil health – such as compaction and salinity – to guide the development of place-based best management practices,” Gaudin said.
Houston Wilson, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Entomology at UC Riverside, will be studying the effects of livestock grazing on orchard pests.
“Navel orangeworm, or NOW, is by far the most destructive pest of almonds and pistachios,” Wilson said. “These moths overwinter in unharvested nuts in the orchard, and so removal and destruction of remnant nuts over the winter is the foundation of NOW control. While farmers typically use machinery to do this, grazing with animals may present a unique alternative that is more cost-effective and provides additional ecosystem benefits, such as soil health and weed control.”
Outreach to farmers
As part of the project, The Organic Center was awarded $75,000 to work with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources to direct national extension and education outreach activities. These will include a social media campaign, webinars and educational sessions and a technical report for growers.
“There is an increasing interest from organic farmers to learn how to incorporate livestock into their operations to gain better soil health and fertility,” said Amber Sciligo, director of science programs at The Organic Center.
“This research is very exciting because it will holistically explore the potential risks and benefits of livestock not just to soil health, but also pest control – a truly interdisciplinary project that matches the whole system of the organic farm.”
Produce food-safety management tools
For another organic food-safety project, Pires and Sciligo will be working with Patrick Baur, professor of Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems at the University of Rhode Island.
The University of Rhode Island and The Organic Center received $3.5 million from USDA's Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative research program for the new organic food-safety education project.
“We're going to develop a new food safety management tool designed specifically for organic soil amendments,” said Baur, who is leading the project. “We're also going to develop a suite of new communication and training tools aimed at the entire fruit and vegetable sector to build a shared language between organic agriculture and the food safety community and help them work better together.”
As part of the produce project, Pires of UC Davis was awarded $1.16 million to conduct a risk assessment and create a publicly accessible dashboard to meet the specific needs of organic growers operating at different scales, under different cropping systems, in different regions.
Also participating in this project will be Beatriz Martinez Lopez, professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis, and Abhinav Mishra and Govindaraj Dev Kumar of the University of Georgia./h3>
The California Department of Food and Agriculture is awarding $1.85 million to the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources to increase technical assistance for California's organic farmers.
CDFA's State Organic Program is executing $850,000 in contracts with UC ANR to run through September 2024, while CDFA's Office of Environmental Farming and Innovation is awarding a $1 million grant to run from July 2022 to June 2025.
“California farmers provide 36% of all organic production in the United States,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “This funding expands technical assistance to growers transitioning to certified organic agriculture and supports our strong California community of organic farmers and consumers by conducting field trials and demonstration projects with farmers to improve organic practices.”
California organically farms just over 2 million acres, which is about 8% of the total agricultural acreage in the state, and will likely continue to expand over time as long as consumer demand continues to rise, according to Houston Wilson, director of UC ANR's Organic Agriculture Institute.
“Demand for organic agriculture has consistently grown every year for the past two decades,” Wilson said. “Organic currently accounts for 5.8% of domestic food sales.”
“We are excited to see CDFA increasing support for organic agriculture as part of a broader climate-smart agriculture strategy,” said Wilson. “As demand for organic continues to rise, California growers need increasingly targeted technical assistance in all areas of organic production and marketing.”
The CDFA funds will allow UC ANR to hire two academic coordinators, which are currently being recruited.
“The academic coordinators will work directly with growers, as well as develop research and extension projects that will involve existing UC Cooperative Extension personnel,” Wilson said. “One of the coordinators will specifically focus on connecting our efforts with small-scale and historically underserved growers through our partnership with the UC Small Farms Program.”
The organic practices can be used by conventional farms as well as organic farms.
“Just as organic farmers benefit from UC ANR's pest management, irrigation and crop production research, the new knowledge developed on organic practices by the UC Organic Agriculture Institute will be useful for all California farmers,” said Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources.
Some of the key UC ANR project objectives include:
- Conduct research on soil health management, carbon sequestration and crop rotations in organic systems
- Create new extension and training opportunities for organic growers across California
- Provide technical assistance to both certified and transitioning organic growers
- Review and summarize organic acreage and practices in California
- Develop economic analysis of organic production and markets
“Clif Bar is proud to have supported the creation of the UC Organic Agriculture Institute and congratulates them on this new and important funding,” said Philippa Lockwood, Clif Bar social responsibility program manager. “Supporting the advancement of organic agriculture in our home state of California and the great work that's to come from the UCOAI is a true honor and we look forward to their impactful agricultural innovations ahead.”
The 2022-2023 state budget signed last week by Gov. Gavin Newsom includes $5 million in funds for CDFA to assist farmers with transitioning to organic operations, and the USDA recently announced an investment of up to $300 million for the same purpose.
Updated July 18, 2022, to add Philippa Lockwood quote.
Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) has published the new California Organic Research Agenda (CORA), a comprehensive report that examines current needs and challenges of organic farmers and ranchers across California and provides policy and research recommendations to address producer-identified issues.
The CORA report is a companion to OFRF's 2022 National Organic Research Agenda. The national organic survey data boasts responses from over 1,100 producers and 16 listening sessions held across the U.S. Using the California subset of the national survey data, the CORA report highlights the top production and non-production challenges cited by California's organic farmers and ranchers.
“Organic farming has been historically under-invested in, in terms of research, education and extension,” says OFRF Executive Director Brise Tencer. “Both the new California Organic Research Agenda and the 2022 National Organic Research Agenda present incredible feedback directly from organic farmers and provide a compelling roadmap for how to best support the growth of this important sector of agriculture.”
Report findings indicate that managing production costs is a substantial challenge for 71% of producers surveyed, and accessing labor proved to be the leading non-production challenge. An overwhelming number of state producers (76%) expressed substantial need for technical assistance with the organic management of weeds, pests, and disease. In addition to detailing farmer challenges on and off the field, OFRF's CORA report provides a comparison analysis of farmer responses based on commodity and farming experience. National and state comparisons are also included in the report.
Production of the CORA report was supported in part by the University of California Organic Agriculture Institute, a new statewide program within the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, as well as the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology.
“One of our primary activities is to generate new research and extension programs focused on organic agriculture,” says Houston Wilson, director of the UC Organic Agriculture Institute. “The CORA report provides an excellent roadmap to guide and prioritize our efforts, we're really excited to turn this information into action.”
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, state farmers and ranchers were responsible for 40% of all organic agricultural product sales in the country. Data from a 2019 USDA organic survey concludes California has 965,257 acres in organic production, which is approximately 17.5% of all organic acreage in the country. OFRF's California Organic Research Agenda examines grower needs in the nation's top-producing state of organic agricultural commodities and specialty crops, paving the way for future research and investment.
"This report will benefit organic growers in California by playing a role as a critical reference to increase public support and develop research projects targeting specific needs that diverse organic growers in the state are facing," says Joji Muramoto, UC Cooperative Extension organic production specialist based at UC Santa Cruz.
The CORA report is available free online at https://ofrf.org/research/nora for farmers, policymakers, agricultural suppliers, seed companies and the general public.
Cal OAK Network to build on, grow connections between UC and organic community
After pioneering the organic movement in the 1970s, California now leads the nation in number of organic farms, total organic acreage and overall organic crop value. Attaining this status was no small feat, and largely driven by resourceful growers who developed and refined the wide range of novel organic farming practices seen in California today.
Now, with the creation of the Organic Agriculture Institute, the University of California will be able to leverage its vast capacity for research, extension and education to further improve the sustainability, resilience and profitability of organic agriculture in the state.
In its first major public initiative, the Organic Agriculture Institute – a program of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources – is conducting a statewide needs assessment for organic agriculture, as well as forming a knowledge-sharing network that connects UC experts with growers, processors, producer organizations, certifiers, crop consultants, community groups and state agencies.
“This network will be a sustainability partnership that enables learning, innovation and cooperation among organic agriculture stakeholders,” said Houston Wilson, director of the Organic Agriculture Institute, which was established in January 2020. “As facilitator of the Cal OAK Network, the Organic Ag Institute will serve as an intermediary that fosters communication among stakeholder groups, organizes discourse, forges new collaborations, and generally enhances coordination of stakeholder activities.”
By creating closer connections between the UC and the organic community, the Cal OAK Network will foster ongoing feedback cycles of knowledge and best practices, and in doing so help create the conditions and momentum to facilitate the development and adoption of organic production practices.
“The Cal OAK Network will better connect the organic community with UC technical and training resources, while at the same time providing a mechanism for that community to feed information back to the UC that helps us shape our programs at the Organic Ag Institute,” said Wilson, noting potential contributions in areas such as pest control, weed management and crop nutrition.
In the first 18 months of the Institute, Wilson has been charting the current landscape of organic agriculture in California, listening to the needs of stakeholders and working to position the Institute in a way that best uses the UC's unique research and extension capacities to support and augment existing efforts by growers and other groups.
The Institute recently received a planning grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to conduct a formal needs assessment through summer 2022. In surveying growers and other stakeholders, the Institute seeks to identify their primary research and extension priorities, as well as gain a better understanding of the key people and organizations they currently rely on for information about organic production.
Through this process, a map of nodes and connections in the organic community will also take shape – and the roster of members for the Cal OAK Network will continue to grow. As Wilson points out, it is only through a diverse and robust information-sharing system that California organic agriculture will successfully adapt to challenges like climate change.
“We're trying to create a resilient infrastructure for engagement with organic stakeholders,” he said. “When we talk about sustainability in agriculture, part of that is having sustainable institutions that function well and can be flexible and dynamic as new challenges arise down the road.”
Organic farming continues to expand in California and now includes more than 360 commodities, according to a new University of California report. The number of organic growers, acreage and farm gate sales revenue is reported by commodity, county, region and statewide in the new “Statistical Review of California Organic Agriculture, 2013-2016.” The data are collected from farms that register as organic with the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
“This report highlights the incredible diversity and abundance of organic crops being grown across so many different geographic regions in the state, which reflects California's leading role in this production sector,” said Houston Wilson, director of the new UC Organic Agriculture Institute.
“Dairies continue to lead by value of organic production,” said Rachael Goodhue, UC Davis professor of agricultural and resource economics and coauthor of the report.
The number of organic growers in California jumped from 2,089 in 2013 to 3,108 in 2016. The top 10 organic commodities for sales value in 2016 were cow milk, strawberries, carrots, wine grapes, table grapes, sweet potatoes, almonds, raspberries, salad mix, and chicken eggs.
“This review is critical to understand the changes in the fast-growing organic agriculture sector in the state where more than 50% of the nation's organic vegetables and fruits are produced,” said Joji Muramoto, UC Cooperative Extension organic production specialist at UC Santa Cruz and coauthor of the report. “It provides statistics of all organic commodities produced across the state as well as at county level. This is the primary reference to learn about the size, diversity, and trends of organic agriculture in the state.”
In 2016, California organic sales were $3.1 billion with an average of $1 million in sales per farm, but revenue varied widely among farms. For example, San Diego County had the most organic growers (313) in 2016, but Kern County's 47 organic farmers earned the most in total organic sales: $381 million on 49,727 acres, excluding pasture and rangeland, according to Muramoto.
“The average gross income of organic farms increased 14-fold from 1994 to 2016, reaching $1 million in 2016,” Muramoto said. “However, 77% of growers received less than $500,000 per year and 22% of growers who made $500,000 or more per year received 94% of the total gross sales, showing the income concentration among organic growers in the state.”
The statistical review of California's organic agriculture had been published since 1998 by the late Karen Klonsky, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, and her team after statistics for organic agriculture became available in 1992 as a result of the California Organic Food Act.
The last report published by Klonsky, who passed away in 2018, covered 2009-2012. All previous organic agriculture statistics reports can be accessed at https://aic.ucdavis.edu/research1/organic.html.
“This report of organic data continues the series of studies initiated by Karen Klonsky many years ago. It contains vital summary information for industry and policymakers as well as researchers,” said Goodhue.
Since the data collection began in 1994, the number of organic growers in California has increased 2.8-fold to 3,109 and the farm-level sales 40-fold to $3.1 billion in 2016.
“Accurate annual data on California organic crop production, acreage and value is critical to understanding the scale and scope of this growing agricultural sector,” said Wilson. “As the UC Organic Agriculture Institute begins to develop research and extension programs, it is important that we have a reliable way to assess the extent and geography of organic production as well as track changes over time.”
Muramoto, who became the UC Cooperative Extension organic production specialist in 2019, collaborated with Goodhue, Daniel Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center and UC Davis professor of agricultural and resource economics; and UC Davis graduate student Hanlin Wei to produce the latest statistical review of California's organic agriculture.
More recent years are not included because the data collected by CDFA changed in 2017 and again in 2019 so they are not comparable to the data in this report. The full report can be downloaded from the UC Agricultural Issues Center website at https://aic.ucdavis.edu/2020/10/06/statistical-review-of-californias-organic-agriculture-by-wei-goodhue-muramoto-and-sumner.