Posts Tagged: CASI
Improved soil promises to help farmers use less water and reduce carbon in the atmosphere, reported Ezra David Romero on Valley Edition, a one-hour weekly program that airs on KVPR-FM.
The five-minute story, which begins at the 30:30 mark, focuses on CDFA's new Healthy Soils Initiative. The program is expected to allocate $7.5 million for farmer incentives to use practices that will improve soil health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These are practices that are already in place on some innovative valley farmers, including two that are active in the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation center.
Jesse Sanchez, manager at Sano Farms in Firebaugh, said 15 years ago, tractors were rolling across the 4,000-acre tomato farm all the time. Now, the farm features cover crops in the winter, reduced soil tillage, irrigation with super-efficient buried drip tape and lower fertilizer needs. The result is a one-third drop in water use and a 75 percent reduction in diesel to fuel tractors, Romero said.
Many of the farm's tractors have been sold. "We don't want to see them no more," Sanchez said.
Retired Madera County farmer Tom Willey discussed the critical importance of soil care he learned as a long-time organic vegetable grower.
"It's the survival of our species," Willey said. "The soil is the thin skin of the earth that we all exist on. Our lives are bound up in the health and productivity of the soil."
UC Cooperative Extension specialist Jeff Mitchell noted the challenges that farmers face in making soil care changes. “A real part of the challenge for California farms is the high-value nature of the production systems, the crops themselves, and some difficult challenges in terms of the diversity of the crops," he said.
In California, 40 percent of agriculture is still irrigated by pouring water onto farmland, a much less efficient practice that drip and overhead irrigation. But those numbers are changing, reported Matt Weiser on Water Deeply.
Weiser interviewed UC Cooperative Extension cropping systems specialist Jeff Mitchell about the water-saving potential of using overhead irrigation, a system that is popular in other parts of the nation and world, but only used on 2 percent of California farmland. Mitchell was the primary author of a research article in the current issue of California Agriculture journal, which said that water and money can be saved using overhead irrigation in production of wheat, corn, cotton, onion and broccoli.
Mitchell said California researchers are looking more closely at overhead irrigation because they anticipate future constraints on agriculture, including water and labor shortages. Additionally, the system is ideal for combining with conservation agriculture systems, which include the use of cover crops, leaving crop residue on the soil surface and reducing tillage disturbance of the soil. The combination of overhead irrigation and conservation agriculture practices reduces water use, cuts back on dust emissions, increases yield and improves the soil.
Weisner asked how overhead irrigation could be as efficient as drip, when people typically see "water spraying everywhere from these roving sprinklers high off the ground."
Mitchell said farmers use pressure regulators and a variety of nozzles on hoses hanging down from the system to deliver water at precisely the rate and location where it is needed through the season.
"So, they're not spraying water. These are low to the ground, and there are various delivery nozzle practices that can be used," Mitchell said.
The article featured a number of California farmers who sang the praises of the no-till farming method.
- "We definitely save money through higher production, less water usage and lowered equipment and fuel costs," said Modesto farmer Jesse Sanchez
- "We started in 1985 using the no-till method, and since then we've doubled our yield potential," said Fritz Durst, a Yolo County farmer
- "I not only get great production, I save a great deal by not buying expensive tilling equipment, and I look to double my production in times of little rainfall because no-till increases the water-storing capacity of the soil," said Michael Crowley, a Turlock farmer
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) conservation agriculture expert Jeff Mitchell said the slow implementation of no-till in California is "largely a matter of our farmers not being familiar with no-till practices."
Tillage became popular in California in the 1930s. The agricultural systems developed in the state were wildly successful.
"Because they worked so well, and were so profitable, nobody has felt they should make a change," said Mitchell, who is a UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
Mitchell is chair of the Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation Center, a group of farmers, researchers, USDA scientists and ag industry professionals who are working together to spread the word about and encourage adoption of no-till production. Key CASI messages were shared in the Comstock article.
“Since water does not evaporate as quickly in no-till fields, savings in water cost are easy to determine,” Mitchell said. “In addition, fewer pesticides are often needed and farmers also save money by the diminished need to buy the expensive tilling equipment and to pay people to run them.” He adds that soil in the fields, no longer exposed by the tilling, remains richer in its biodiversity and can sustain higher yields. Compaction of the soils, caused by the heavy tilling equipment, is reduced.
Sanchez is an active member of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation Center (CASI), a diverse group of UC researchers, farmers, and representatives of public agencies, private industry and environmental groups that work together to develop knowledge and exchange information on conservation-oriented production systems in California.
In 2009, CASI named Sanchez and his employer, Alan Sano, its "Conservation Agriculture Innovators of the Year." The 2015 honor from the White House is another recognition for efforts to make soil health a priority on the 4,000-acre farm that produces garbanzo beans, garlic, processing and fresh market tomatoes, along with pistachios and almonds.
Jeff Mitchell, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist and CASI chair, said the White House's acknowledgment, which honors 'everyday Americans who are doing extraordinary things,' is a very fitting recognition for Sanchez and all of Sano Farms.
"They're very much pioneers, very innovative and persistent as well," Mitchell said. "What they've done through the vision they have had, sticking with it, learning step-by-step how to improve the system how to adjust things."
A story about Sanchez' White House honor also appeared on the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service website.
The NRCS article noted that Sanchez and Sano have long shared their work with Mitchell, and through Mitchell with other farmers interested in conservation agriculture systems.
Allan Fulton, UC Cooperative Extension advisor for Glenn, Shasta and Tehama counties, said technology is improving the ability to organize crop data and get it to farm managers on the fly.
"With the right system," Fulton said, "farmers can get almost to-the-minute information on every aspect of their crop."
As new, integrated database systems are being created, new data-gathering equipment also is advancing for field use to further aid on-farm decisions, the article said. For example, the California Department of Food and Agriculture announced last week a $286,000 grant to UC Davis for work on a continuous leaf moisture monitoring system. Using thermal infrared sensors along with environmental sensors that measure ambient temperature and relative humidity, wind speed and incident radiation, the system's goal is to detect crop water status to support irrigation management.
Jeff Mitchell, a UCCE specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, is evaluating overhead, or center pivot, irrigation technology, especially in a system that includes conservation tillage. The research is being conducted at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points with equipment donated by industry.
The work group focuses on emerging crop- and soil-management techniques — conservation tillage, high-surface residue preservation, cover crops — to improve irrigation management, increase carbon storage and build soil quality.
"We're developing completely new cropping systems for the valley," Mitchell said, "and these get at the so-called three E's of farming—integration of equipment, economics and ecology."
Kings County farmer Dino Giacomazzi, said growers are thinking in terms of systems these days. Giacomazzi is a founding member of UC's Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation, a workgroup that Mitchell chairs.
"It's very difficult to put things together piecemeal. Even to get advice about these more advanced systems is difficult," Giacomazzi said.