Posts Tagged: Bob Hutmacher
Record winter rainfall during the 2016-17 winter has enabled farms to emerge from survival mode in the short term, but scientists are still working hard to be ready for the next drought, reported Tim Hearden in Capital Press.
Hearden spent a day at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier to learn how researchers at the facility and the UC West Side Research and Extension Center near Five Points are combining technology with management practices to put every drop of irrigation water to work.
“This is one of the few places in the world where you can do drought research on a field level,” said Jeff Dahlberg, director of the 330-acre Kearney facility. “What I'm planning is a world-class drought nursery.”
At the West Side REC, researchers are working with farmers to perfect micro-irrigation efficiency and test drought stress on the area's most prevalent crops.
“We'll grow a tremendous number of cultivars of a crop” and identify “what seem to be the most promising cultivars when you grow them under drought conditions,” said Bob Hutmacher, a cotton specialist and the center's director.
Hearden spoke to Jeff Mitchell, UCCE cropping systems specialist and director of the Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation center (CASI). CASI is encouraging farmers to adopt farming practices that save water, reduce dust and help improve the condition of soil, such as subsurface drip irrigation, overhead irrigation, minimum tillage, cover crops and crop residues.
“This is not done right now in California,” Mitchell said. “In the future, there may be a strong likelihood of certain agricultural sectors adopting these practices.”
Other subsurface irrigation trials are showing dramatic increases in yields. Khaled Bali, an irrigation water management specialist at Kearney, said underground drip systems in alfalfa fields have achieved 20 to 30 percent more yields while in some cases using 20 percent less water.
Kevin Day, a UCCE pomology advisor in Tulare County, is trying subsurface drip in a peach and nectarine orchard after working with the USDA to use it for pomegranates. He's seen as much as a 90 percent reduction in weeds because there's no surface water to feed them.
“Fewer weeds, fewer pesticides,” he said. “We use high-frequency irrigation. We irrigate as the crop needs it. When you do that, you keep the roots deeper, which makes for better aeration.”
Fitchette opened his story with the plight of ag research at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center near Five Points. Many of the farmers in the area will receive no surface water allocation this year; neither will the research center.
The facility can pull water from a deep well, but it is not enough nor is the water quality adequate for all the farming operations, said Bob Hutmacher, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and center director. He said scientists at the station must cut back their water use this year by 25 percent.
“I can speak for myself: I have about a half dozen cotton projects and a sorghum project, along with a sesame project and a couple of other things I'm working on,” he said. “I'm downsizing most of them to the greatest degree I can and I'm going to cancel one of them.”
One trial that will not go forward at West Side is an almond variety trial. However, UC Cooperative Extension advisors in other areas are working with the Almond Board to keep the research underway. UCCE advisors Joe Connell will oversee the Chico State almond variety trial, Roger Duncan the Salida trial, and Gurreet Brar the Madera County trial.
The Western Farm Press Story included drought-related ag research news from myriad UCCE academics:
- Duncan said his work with fruit and nut crops has not been negatively impacted by the drought.
- David Doll, UCCE advisor in Merced County, said the increased reliance on groundwater has ruined several orchard nitrogen trials because the groundwater in northern Merced has high rates of nitrate nitrogen, which acts as a nitrogen fertilizer.
- Dan Munk, UCCE advisor in Fresno County, said he will continue putting off alfalfa trials at the WSREC “indefinitely until a more secure water supply is available.”
- Scott Stoddard, UCCE advisor in Merced County, reports positive and negative impacts from the drought. He won't do tomato research at West Side REC, but will continue work in sweet potatoes to determine how little water they need to produce a reasonable crop.
- Chris Greer, UCCE advisor in Sutter, Yuba, Colusa and Glenn counties, said some rangeland trials were impacted by the lack of rain.
- Bruce Lampinen, UCCE specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, has seen his orchard trials in Arbuckle severely impacted by the drought.
Extensive research by UC scientists and innovative farmers has shown that making the changes can be challenging at first, but in time results in more efficient, environmentally sound and profitable food production systems.
“There’s a sense of inevitability now that these systems will be more widely adopted in California annual cropping systems,” said Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis.
|View a two-minute
video snapshot of the
field day and farm tour
at the end of this post.
The growing interest was demonstrated at a UC field day and farm tour in September in which more than 200 participants visited three farms already successfully implementing conservation practices and three sites at the field station where research on conservation farming practices is underway.
At Five Points Ranch, field day participants stood on an alfalfa field and inched along with an operating center pivot system. Farmer Armando Galvan has added “boom backs” behind the wheels that roll the system through the field. The boom backs make sure the wheel tracks stay dry until the wheels have passed, which prevents wheels from carving deep trenches in wet soil.
At the Morning Star dairy farm, John and JoAnne Tacherra irrigate rolling acres of forage with a center pivot irrigation system and have put the employees who used to undertake the punishing task of moving sprinkler sets to work inside the dairy barn. The center pivot system is controlled with the touch of a button. The combination of advanced nozzle packages and software that manages the pivot speed allow the Tacherras to distribute precise quantities of water and dispense the water with the ideal droplet size for each stage of the crop’s development. The couple now plans to experiment with the application of dairy lagoon water through the center pivot system.
At Farming “D” Ranch in Five Points, logistics manager Scott Schmidt experienced some problems with overhead irrigation this spring. Water was applied on cotton over triangular beds, slipped into the furrows and left seeds dry. Water infiltration was also inhibited when the wetted surface of the field dried into a crust and subsequent irrigation washed off. The crop had to be replanted.
“These sorts of problems can be solved,” Mitchell said. “Carefully designed nozzle packages and soil quality development practices will promote water infiltration.”
No-till farming and the use of cover crops have been shown at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center to enhance soil quality. When the tour returned to the center’s research plots, they viewed a 12-year study where plots have been maintained to compare the long-term effects of standard tillage techniques with no-till or minimum tillage systems, and both tillage methods combined with off-season cover crops.
The soil differences are dramatic.
Using clear canisters for a demonstration, Natural Resources Conservation Service soil conservationist Genett Carstensen poured a cup of water onto soil collected from a tilled plot and onto soil from a no-till plot managed with cover crops. The standard till soil repelled the liquid, which pooled at the top of the container; the no-till soil readily absorbed the water.
“This is what soil quality is,” Carstensen said.
She further demonstrated the soil quality differences by placing dirt clods from the two types of plots in canisters of water. The no-till clod maintained its composure; the clod from the tilled plot began dissolving immediately.
“The no-till clod has glued itself together with dead matter and dead microbes,” she said. “The standard till soil is going to erode and water is going to carry it off.”
At another research field, Steven Kaffka, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, is leading a study of what he calls “energy beets,” formerly known as sugar beets. The trial compares beet production under overhead irrigation and buried drip irrigation. Kaffka believes energy beets will be another competitive crop for California farmers because they can be used to produce ethanol, which will allow farmers to help the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions and achieve climate change goals.
The field day also included a glimpse of future research at the northeast corner of the West Side REC where industry donors have teamed up with UC to create a facility for state-of-the-art overhead irrigation study. Reinke Inc. donated a center pivot system, Senninger Irrigation donated nozzles, and Rain for Rent created an infrastructure that gets water and power to the research plot.
Replicated plots will be pie shaped and different treatments can be applied to each segment with the use of multiple sets of drop hoses. Studies will begin immediately to research deficit irrigation of alfalfa, corn, sorghum and cotton.
“Because of the water situation in California, deficit irrigation is going to be something we will need to know a whole lot more about, for better or for worse,” said Bob Hutmacher, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciecnes at UC Davis and director of the West Side Research and Extension Center.