Posts Tagged: Jeff Mitchell
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.”
The US Manager of BCI, the Better Cotton Initiative, Scott Exo, and BCI's San Joaquin Valley Coordinator, Carlos Silva, visited the longstanding NRI Project field in Five Points, CA on March 28, 2017 as part of a tour hosted by CASI's Jeff Mitchell. BCI is a not-for-profit organization that encourages a holistic approach to sustainable and brings together people who are involved in cotton's complex supply chain, - from farmers to retailers. Initiated in 2005, BCI exists to make global cotton production “better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector's future, by developing Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity.” Exo and Silva visited the NRI Project field to learn about the work that has been done over the years on cotton production in this field using no-tillage and cover crop practices and the benefits that stem from the use of these approaches in lower costs, fewer dust emissions, greater carbon and nitrogen storage in the soil, increased soil aggregation and water infiltration, reduced soil water evaporation, and other positive changes in soil biology that have been documented since the project was started in 1999. They also discussed with Mitchell the California Farm Demonstration Network, a broad group of partners who are working throughout the State on establishing local farm demonstrations of improved performance, conservation ag, climate-smart and healthy soils systems, and BCI's potential involvement in the network as a partner.
Better Cotton Initiative website: http://bettercotton.org/about-better-cotton/regions/usa/
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.
The biggest challenge for an endive producer, said entrepreneur Rich Collins, is marketing a product unfamiliar to most Americans. On average, U.S. consumers eat four leaves of endive a year; in France per consumer consumption is about 8 pounds a year, and in Belgium double that. Collins spent this morning touring about 50 food bloggers who are in Sacramento for the International Food Bloggers Conference around his endive operation so their increased awareness of this specialty vegetable will translate to greater appreciation among their readers.
Collins was introduced to endive in 1978 while working as a dishwasher in a Sacramento restaurant. The owner said he paid $4 a pound for imported endive and challenged Collins to grow it in California. Collins went to Europe as a "horticultural vagabond," he said, to learn the ropes. Back in California, Collins began producing endive in 1982, and never stopped.
"It took 10 years to learn how to grow endive in California," Collins said. "It's not an easy crop to grow."
The primary pest concern is bacterial or fungal problems since the sprouts are forced in a warm, moist environment. Early on, Collins got help from Robert Kasmire, UC Cooperative Extension post harvest specialist at UC Davis. A portrait of Kasmire hangs prominently in the California Endive Farms facility in Rio Vista.
"He helped me out quite a bit," Collins said.
Today, the company he built supplies 50 percent of the U.S. endive market. The California Endive Farms ships its products weekly year-round to Trader Joes and Whole Foods markets.
For Collins, however, it's now time to retire. He sold California Endive Farms to the grandson of one of his production mentors in France, but he won't be leaving agriculture.
This week, Collins sat down with UC Cooperative Extension specialist Jeff Mitchell to plan his retirement on a 200-acre farm he and his wife own near UC Davis. Mitchell is chair of the UC Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation Center, which promotes the use soil care practices to improve carbon sequestration, reduce dust emissions, save water and increase yield in agricultural production systems. The practices can include no-till and minimum tillage farming, cover cropping, enhancing the diversity of above-ground species and underground soil biology, surface residue preservation, and compost applications.
Currently Collins grows 30 acres of asparagus and allows four young farmers to use space on the property to get started in agriculture.
"We now want to get in the realm of soil development," Collins said.
July 24, 2016
A final summary of the many lessons that surfaced during the five farm visits that were held back in May and June is now posted at the CASI website at http://ucanr.edu/?blogpost=21603&blogasset=85918.
Additional farm demonstration evaluations are being established and we hope to have more opportunities to share this work in the near future. If you are interested in becoming involved with the farm demonstration network, please contact us at (559) 303-9689.