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Evaluating compost benefits in alfalfa hay for improved soil structure and fertility

Compost will be evaluated for improving soil structure and fertility in alfalfa via a CDFA Healthy Soils grant.

We all recognize human health as a goal, but healthy soils is a key goal for farming operations, since healthy soils frequently result in higher...

Compost will be evaluated for improving soil structure and fertility in alfalfa via a CDFA Healthy Soils grant.
Compost will be evaluated for improving soil structure and fertility in alfalfa via a CDFA Healthy Soils grant.

Posted on Sunday, September 27, 2020 at 8:02 PM
Tags: AgRIC (12)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

Beekeepers Among Those Benefiting from Vacaville Fire Art Project

Artist Lisa Rico painted this photo of lavender and bees for the Vacaville Fire Art Project she founded. It's titled

Some lost everything: Their homes, their barns, their farm animals, their bees, their livelihoods. The recent wildfire that roared through...

Artist Lisa Rico painted this photo of lavender and bees for the Vacaville Fire Art Project she founded. It's titled
Artist Lisa Rico painted this photo of lavender and bees for the Vacaville Fire Art Project she founded. It's titled "Making Honey" and was purchased by Andrea Hofmann-Miller. Among fire victims were beekeepers and Girl on the Hill Boutique Vineyard and Lavender.

Artist Lisa Rico painted this photo of lavender and bees for the Vacaville Fire Art Project she founded. It's titled "Making Honey" and was purchased by Andrea Hofmann-Miller. Among fire victims were beekeepers and Girl on the Hill Boutique Vineyard and Lavender.

A honey bee buzzes over a sunflower in this painting,
A honey bee buzzes over a sunflower in this painting, "Sun-Bee" by Lisa Rico for the Vacaville Fire Art Project. This one was purchased by Tiffany Murdaca.

A honey bee buzzes over a sunflower in this painting, "Sun-Bee" by Lisa Rico for the Vacaville Fire Art Project. This one was purchased by Tiffany Murdaca.

A lady beetle, aka ladybug, climbs the stalk of a sunflower in this painting by Lisa Rico, founder of the Vacaville Fire Art Project. It's titled
A lady beetle, aka ladybug, climbs the stalk of a sunflower in this painting by Lisa Rico, founder of the Vacaville Fire Art Project. It's titled "Sun's Going to Shine Again" and was purchased by Aumrey Moland.

A lady beetle, aka ladybug, climbs the stalk of a sunflower in this painting by Lisa Rico, founder of the Vacaville Fire Art Project. It's titled "Sun's Going to Shine Again" and was purchased by Aumrey Moland.

Honey bees forage in a field of lavender in this painting, titled
Honey bees forage in a field of lavender in this painting, titled "Honey Makers," by Lisa Rico. It was sold to Joie Moralde, with proceeds benefitting fire victims.

Honey bees forage in a field of lavender in this painting, titled "Honey Makers," by Lisa Rico. It was sold to Joie Moralde, with proceeds benefitting fire victims.

A monarch butterfly flutters through a field of lavender. Painting by Lisa Rico. This one is titled
A monarch butterfly flutters through a field of lavender. Painting by Lisa Rico. This one is titled "Monarch Muse."

A monarch butterfly flutters through a field of lavender. Painting by Lisa Rico. This one is titled "Monarch Muse."

Posted on Friday, September 25, 2020 at 3:21 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture, Economic Development, Environment, Innovation, Natural Resources, Yard & Garden

Consumers are driving a move to more sustainable cotton farming in California

Consumers who purchase luxury cotton textiles want more than cool, soft, absorbent fabric. Increasingly, they demand clothing made from fiber grown using ecologically sound practices and they're willing to pay for it, said speakers representing the textile industry at a UC Cooperative Extension webinar on Healthy Soils for Healthy Profits.

A recording of the three-hour Sept. 17 webinar – which features clothing manufacturers, farmers and scientists – may be viewed on YouTube at https://youtu.be/rEm8pjbbnaE.

At the beginning of the webinar, UC Cooperative Extension conservation agriculture specialist Jeff Mitchell recalled the tragic 1991 dust storm on the west side of Fresno County, which reduced visibility on Interstate 5, causing a 104-vehicle pile-up that took 17 lives. The devastating accident foreshadowed debates about agriculture's role in reducing dust emissions, he said.

“It turns out that air quality was just the beginning,” Mitchell said. “There is now a whole cascade of expectations that buyers, consumers and the public are demanding of farmers about how food, fiber, feed and fuel crops are actually produced.”

Cultivating cotton using regenerative methods can sequester carbon in the soil, keeping it from the atmosphere where it can contribute to climate change. (Photo: Pixabay)

Speakers from non-profit and commercial fashion and fiber organizations said they are anxious to get access to cotton grown using practices that promote soil health and sequester carbon to give their products climate-change mitigation cachet.

“What we envision when we look at the fields is groundcover year-round. Living roots in the soil year-round,” said Rebecca Burgess, director of Fibershed, a California non-profit organization that develops regional and regenerative fiber systems. “No-till or strip-till practices have garnered interest to protect soil from disruption, to avoid breaking up fungal networks. To produce cotton in a system that isn't eroding top soil.”

Wrangler jeans is a clothing brand that has successfully incorporated sustainably produced cotton into its products. The company worked with a group of Tennessee cotton farmers and the Soil Health Institute to produce 100% sustainable cotton jeans and sell them in its Wrangler Rooted Collection. Men's jeans in the collection run about $100 a pair. Ordinary cowboy cut Wrangler jeans range from $39 to $41 a pair.

A cover crop growing in cotton and tomato residues in a no-till agricultural field.

Burgess said the fashion and textile industry is organizing itself to align with the 1.5-degree pathway, a target set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that limits the rise in global average temperature to no more than 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

“We want to work with farmers to enhance the ecosystem function of the landscape,” Burgess said. “We need to embed the cost of transitions into the cost of the cotton.”

Growing regenerative cotton in California comes with challenges that farmers are facing head on. Firebaugh farmer John Teixeira this year grew a multi-species cover crop that he terminated with a flail mower rather than a herbicide. He is making compost on the farm and in some parts of the farm spreading 8 to 10 tons per acre.

“We spread it on soil and also on cover crops to digest the cover crop,” Teixeria said. “We're adding bacteria. We would love to have more fungal diversity in the compost, but that's really hard. Fungi don't like to be disturbed. I believe microbes are the future. The key is to keep them alive.”

Gary Martin of Pikalok Farming in Firebaugh was using poultry manure on the farm, until it became prohibitively expensive. He then turned to cover crops and municipal compost to improve water infiltration, soil structure, water retention and increase organic matter. After three years, he added gypsum to improve the soil health.

He found that planting a cover crop without irrigation is a gamble.

“The net value of the cover crop is negative if it doesn't grow (because of a lack of rain),” Martin said. “Composting is more of a sure bet.”

Bowles Farm is experimenting with using a native plant cover crop.

“Native plants are designed to grow when we get moisture, and go away when we don't,” said Bowles Farm executive vice president Derek Azevedo. “It could be a habitat for pollinators.”

The company is also working on writing a carbon plan to map out how much carbon a cotton farm in Merced County can capture. The trial is managed with a multi-species cover crop, strip tillage, untreated seeds, fungal-dominated compost inoculation and a reduction in synthetic nitrogen.

“I can tell you already that the results of that carbon plan are being awaited by one of the brands in the San Luis Obispo area,” Burgess said. “They want to work with that cotton. They are excited to know what this can do for the climate.”

Oversized button down shirt in light cotton by CO.
Rebecca Daeschner represented the Los Angeles-based luxury women's wear brand CO (CO-collections.com), which in its current collection sells a ruched cotton top for $725, a cotton button down shirt for $795 and an a short-sleeved cotton dress for $795.

“We're interested in making products that stand the test of time, stay out of landfills, eliminating waste,” Daeschner said.

The company currently sources its high-end materials mainly from Italy, but is interested in transitioning to fabrics that are not only high quality, but also have a reduced environmental footprint. A new line, CO Natural World, focuses on the highest levels of sustainability, organic and regenerative materials, climate-beneficial wools, organic cotton, organic linen and recycled cashmere from garments that can no longer be salvaged.

“To create a garment that goes beyond the very least amount of harm to a garment that actually benefits the planet is the ultimate luxury,” Daeschner said.

The company is part of a network of five clothing brands that are working together to create the California Cotton and Climate Coalition, or C4 Coalition.

“We can do more together than we can do alone to boost the demand for beneficial cotton,” she said. “We are sharing pre-competitive information and pooling our financial resources to overcome existing gaps in the supply chain. And we will share our findings and results to attract new brands to the coalition.”

Calla Rose Ostrander, climate change communicator with the People, Food and Land Foundation, spoke from her home base in Colorado about opportunities for incentives to assist farmers in transitioning to healthy soils practices. She has been working with Maurice Marciano, the founder of Guess Jeans, and his daughter Olivia, who provided funding for part of the Bowles Farm project.

“They want to give back to the cotton community given the legacy of their company,” she said.

Ostrander said there is a network of philanthropic funders who may be interested in supporting the evolution of the cotton production system.

“There's a lot of commitment out there,” Ostrander said. “We're all trying to figure out how to do it and make sure that we can support the farmers in this transition. I'm really glad to see that the emphasis has stayed on supporting the producer and this idea has evolved. It takes time to build things.”

Posted on Friday, September 25, 2020 at 8:24 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

Of Monarch Eggs, Ladybug Eggs and Oleander Aphids

Monarch eggs are usually one to a leaf, but sometimes Mama Monarch deposits multiple eggs on a single leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

So you're growing milkweed for the first time--or found some milkweed--and you're trying to figure out how to identify a monarch egg. Monarchs lay...

Monarch eggs are usually one to a leaf, but sometimes Mama Monarch deposits multiple eggs on a single leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Monarch eggs are usually one to a leaf, but sometimes Mama Monarch deposits multiple eggs on a single leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Monarch eggs are usually one to a leaf, but sometimes Mama Monarch deposits multiple eggs on a single leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Find the oleander aphids! Monarch eggs and oleander aphids both occupying a leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Find the oleander aphids! Monarch eggs and oleander aphids both occupying a leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Find the oleander aphids! Monarch eggs and oleander aphids both occupying a leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An egg and a newly emerged caterpillar sharing a leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An egg and a newly emerged caterpillar sharing a leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An egg and a newly emerged caterpillar sharing a leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of a monarch egg. This image was taken with a Canon MPE-65mm lens. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of a monarch egg. This image was taken with a Canon MPE-65mm lens. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of a monarch egg. This image was taken with a Canon MPE-65mm lens. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, September 24, 2020 at 4:45 PM
Tags: aphids (44), lady beetles (41), ladybugs (43), milkweed (39), monarch eggs (1), monarchs (46)
Focus Area Tags: Environment, Natural Resources, Yard & Garden

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources hemp research continues in 2020

Opportunities and challenges for industrial hemp production in California are being revealed in a series of UC Cooperative Extension research projects.

As a crop relatively new to California growers and researchers, there is still much to learn about variety choices, how varieties and crop responses differ across regions with different soils and climates, best practices for nutrient management, and pest and disease issues.

UCCE industrial hemp field research efforts began in 2019 after the previous year's Farm Bill declared the crop should no longer be considered a controlled substance, but rather an agricultural commodity. Hemp is valued for its fiber and edible seeds, however, in California, producing hemp for essential oils including medicinal cannabidiol (CBD) is thought to offer the best economic outlook.

UC is working with several private companies on industrial hemp research.
2020 studies with Front Range Biosciences

UCCE is working with Lafayette, Colo.-based Front Range Biosciences to test 10 of the company's hemp varieties in Ventura County and the west side of Fresno County. In Fresno County, the trial is underway at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center (West Side REC) under the direction of UCCE specialist Bob Hutmacher. UC Cooperative Extension advisor Annemiek Schilder, the study leader in Ventura County, intended to conduct the trial at the UC Hansen Research and Extension Center in Santa Paula, but the Ventura County Board of Supervisors enacted an emergency ordinance in January prohibiting hemp fields within a half mile of residential areas and schools because of the odor.

“The odor can be quite strong,” Schilder said. “Once plants start flowering, some varieties smell skunky. But the crop is related to hops, and other varieties have a more pleasant hoppy smell. Weather conditions also play a role in odor complaints.”

The Ventura County industrial hemp trial was planted at an Oxnard farm where a hemp crop was already being grown.

The trial includes mostly photoperiod-sensitive cultivars, where the flowering response is triggered by shortening day lengths in mid- to late summer in this latitude. Varieties that do not require the shortening day length to flower are called auto-flower varieties.

“Industrial hemp cultivars grown for essential oils, such as CBD, can be photoperiod-sensitive or not sensitive,” Hutmacher said. “The auto-flower varieties have potential to be more versatile in some production systems, in that they could be planted at a broader range of times of year since they don't respond to day length.” 

The studies include growth and yield evaluations, monitoring for pest or disease threats in the San Joaquin Valley and coastal California, and periodic plant sampling to monitor the changes in plant THC and CBD levels over time. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive compound found in greater concentrations in cannabis varieties grown for marijuana. Legal requirements for industrial hemp production for essential oils, fiber or seed mandate monitoring concentrations of THC. The crop may not exceed 0.3% at harvest or it must be destroyed.

Industrial hemp planting density trial at West Side RE. (August 2019 photo)

2020 cooperative irrigation study with Oregon State University

In a new 2020 study led by Oregon State University, drip irrigation trials were set up in California at the UC West Side REC and the UC Davis campus in addition to three sites in Oregon. These studies were set up to determine water use of industrial hemp under irrigation regimes ranging from about 40% to 100% of estimated crop water requirements, with comparisons of responses observed across the five sites with different soils, climate and other environmental conditions.

The same four varieties (two auto-flower and two photoperiod-sensitive) are being grown in irrigation studies at each of the five sites. The California locations in these trials were both planted in mid-June. The two auto-flowering varieties were harvested in late August and early September. The researchers expect to harvest photoperiod-sensitive types in late September or October.

The total water use of the different hemp cultivars under the different irrigation regimes will be determined using applied water measurements and assessments of soil water use between planting and harvest for each cultivar.

Some of the irrigation treatments impose moderate to more severe deficit irrigation to help assess the crop responses to water stress. Deficit irrigation is a method of conserving water by applying less than what might be considered optimum for maintaining rapid growth.

“This plant appears to be quite tough under deficit irrigation,” Hutmacher said. “We need to learn more about benefits and drawbacks to stressing the plants.”

The auto-flower cultivars tested have used less water than the photoperiod-sensitive cultivars because they can be grown in a shorter season. In the San Joaquin Valley, auto-flower cultivars in these studies were ready for harvest in 75 to 90 days after seeding.  

“Auto-flower varieties may have potential to be grown in the spring and harvested by early summer, or planted in late summer and harvested before winter. With a short-season crop, and with a decent water supply, farmers could consider double-cropping with such varieties, increasing profits,” Hutmacher said.

2019 and 2020 planting density studies

In cooperation with Kayagene Company in Salinas, Dan Putnam, UCCE alfalfa specialist at UC Davis, and Hutmacher have conducted studies in 2019 and 2020 with two auto-flower varieties to determine crop growth, yield and THC and CBD concentrations of planting densities ranging from about 7,500 plants per acre to 30,000 plants per acre. Since some of the auto-flower varieties are smaller and earlier maturing than many photoperiod-sensitive cultivars, data in these studies will help determine the tradeoff between higher densities needed to increase yields versus increases in the cost of growing more plants. 

The studies also provided opportunities for the scientists to assess plant-to-plant variation and impacts of flower bud position on THC and CBD concentrations.

“We feel that when this type of basic sampling method data is collected across a range of cultivars differing in plant growth habit, it may help better inform both researchers and regulatory groups in decisions regarding how to monitor plant chemical composition,” Hutmacher said.

Hutmacher and Putnam are also working with scientists at Davis-based Arcadia Biosciences to refine sampling methods.

“There are a lot of challenges when it comes to estimating maturity with these varieties,” Putnam said. “Each variety will mature at different times and deciding when is the best time is a key decision.”

Posted on Thursday, September 24, 2020 at 10:08 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

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