Posts Tagged: Royce Larsen
When California was part of the Wild West, it took a certain amount of guesswork to move cattle from their home range to summer pastures while making sure sufficient forage was left behind to hold the cattle over till fall rainfall spurred new growth.
“Ranchers eyeballed it,” said Theresa Becchetti, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor. “In time, second-, third-, and fourth-generation ranchers got pretty good at deciding, but UC Cooperative Extension introduced a more scientific approach.”
In the spring of 1936, the USDA Forest Services began measuring ungrazed forage at the San Joaquin Experimental Range in Madera County. The project continues today as a joint effort of UC Cooperative Extension and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Sixteen years later, just after the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center was established on Mendocino County rangeland in 1951, another study began; and in the early 1980s, scientists at the UC Sierra Foothills Research and Extension Center in Browns Valley commenced a similar long-term study.
As scientists learned of the multiple factors impacting forage production across the Coast Range and Sierra Nevada foothills, some 70 research sites were identified – most on private land - and consistently monitored. The results show that there is much more to understanding forage growth than looking at a rain gauge.
Above, watch a full season of rangeland forage growth in one minute. UC Cooperative Extension rangeland and natural resources advisor Royce Larsen set up a camera to capture images of the daily grass growth on Pozo Peak in San Luis Obispo County.
While high annual rainfall usually results in high forage production and low annual rainfall generally results in low annual production, there are exceptions. It all depends on the timing of the rainfall.
During the devastating drought of 2011-2016, Becchetti noticed forage production didn't mirror the drought damage to state water resources and mountain forests.
“It was interesting,” said Becchetti. “In a lot of my plots, forage would be close to normal. We got rain when the soil was warming up. If we get rain in the late fall or winter, there is no grass production because it's too cool. If rains come when the temperatures warmed up, the grass takes off.”
The expected variation from climate change is another factor that encourages UCCE scientists to conduct routine forage monitoring.
“When I started 11 years ago, we had some good production years; we had poor years, a couple of normal years,” Becchetti said. “Monitoring is giving us a better snapshot that all of us can use to see the impact of climate change on forage production.”
To develop an accurate picture of forage growth, the research locations are fenced or caged to keep out grazing animals. Grass and forbs within one square foot of the exclosure is clipped to the ground. The vegetation is dried, weighed and the figures logged in a database.
Long-term production data are particularly valuable for the three research stations because daily weather data that are also collected there can be used to determine the effects of rainfall and temperature on annual forage productivity.
Year-to-year variability at the Hopland research site ranged from 900 pounds of forage per acre in the poorest year, up to a 3,500 pounds per acre bounty when conditions were just right. Average annual production at Hopland is 2,399 pounds per acre. At the Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center, annual forage ranged from a low of 1,071 per acre up to 4,696 pounds per acre. The average annual production there is 2,971 per acre.
“There is no way we could represent the exact forage production across the state, but this does allow us to come up with a percent either below or above normal for a particular area,” Becchetti said.
The monitoring research conducted by UCCE scientists are important to provide guidance to county agricultural commissioners and local Farm Service Agencies.
“If you think about it, so many of our ag commodities are based on weight or volume,” said Scott Oneto, UCCE rangeland and natural resources advisor in El Dorado, Tuolumne, Calaveras and Amador counties, where annual monitoring has been conducted for 25 years. “But annual rangelands are so different when it comes to figuring out whether a given year is average, above average or below average. And when crop insurance is involved, it makes it very difficult for ag commissioners to declare a loss if they don't know what the loss is or if there even was one.”
Becchetti, along with 14 current and former UCCE colleagues, wrote a 12-page review of UCCE's ongoing range forage production study, which includes average production for many of the study sites. ANR Publication 8018 is available for free download from the UC ANR publication catalog.
Farmers and ranchers are typically the first to feel droughts, a condition that seems to be impacting California on an increasing basis, reported Dustin Klemann on KSBY News on California's Central Coast.
Klemann joined a UC Cooperative Extension drought meeting in Solvang titled “Weather, Grass, and Drought: Planning for Uncertainty.” Ironically, the meeting came at a time when California has been blessed by a series of wet and snowy storms.
“Leave it to a drought workshop to bring the rain,” said UCCE livestock and natural resources advisor Matthew Shapero.
Despite the rain, the National Drought Monitor still considers the Central Coast area to be in "moderate drought."
Shapero told about a local rancher who recently called him to question the status.
“He said ‘I really don't think the drought monitor accurately reflects what I am seeing on the ground.'”
California's drought status is challenging to pin down because of vast precipitation variability. For example, Paso Robles received 2.78 inches of rain all of 2013. In 1941, the town recorded almost 30 inches of precipitation.
UCCE natural resources and watershed advisor Royce Larsen also spoke at he meeting.
“We Californians are constantly accused of not having seasons. We do,” Larsen said. “We have fire, flood, mud, and drought. That's what we live with. And it's getting more and more so every year.”
Los Angeles Times. However, because of the state's four-year drought, three-quarters of the cattle in San Luis Obispo County have been sold or taken out of state. The sell-off brought in a record $129 million last year.
"We see clearly what a bust cycle looks like," said Mark Battany, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources viticulture and soils advisor in SLO County. "Ranchers have no choice but to sell off their cows and rebuild the herd when the rain comes back."
Sahagun reported that ranchers in the area have suffered severe drought for centuries.
"During a drought that ended in 1864, some ranchers drove their herds off cliffs and into the ocean below to stop their suffering," the article said.
The current drought is leaving landowners few options. The county placed a two-year moratorium on new agriculture that depending on the aquifer, so rangeland can't be converted to vineyards at the moment.
"Ranchers are getting hit hard from every direction," said Royce Larsen, UC ANR natural resource watershed advisor in SLO County. "It's a grim and desperate outlook."
Other news over the weekend included:
Holy S***! Almonds require a ton of bees
Tom Philpott, Mother Jones, May 25, 2015
Growing almonds in California takes about 1.7 million bee hives, drawing a large fraction of the nation's available bee hives. Why don't they stay in California? The state is already home to 500,000 of the nation's 2.7 million hives, said Eric Mussen, UC ANR specialist emeritus based at UC Davis. The almond bloom is great for a few weeks, but in terms of year-round foraging, "California is already at or near its carrying capacity for honeybees," he said.
Farm Beat: Here is how hikers, cattle can coexist
John Holland, Modesto Bee, May 22, 2015
UC ANR released a five-page brochure last month that shows how hikers and other visitors can avoid conflicts with cattle that graze on public land. Cattle fatten up nicely when they can graze calmly – good for the rancher and good for the buyer of the meat down the line, the story said.
California’s vast dry rangelands are dotted with water troughs ideal for quenching cattle’s thirst. But in most cases, the troughs’ designs are a torment to wildlife drawn for a drink.
Monterey County rancher George Work observed how traditional water troughs frustrated the wildlife on his family’s 12,000-acre cattle ranch. Small birds couldn’t reach water two or three inches below the top edge. Coyotes, bobcats and cottontails weren’t tall enough to reach over the rim. Work set to making a water trough that would meet the needs of all animals on the range – from cattle, hunting dogs and horses to deer and rabbits.
While raising cattle remains the primary function of the Work Ranch, in order to generate more income from the scenic open space the ranch opens its doors to hunting wild boar, quail and Tule elk. The visitors enjoy seeing a diversity of wildlife.
“One-third of our business comes from wildlife,” Work said.
In 1998, Work drew from decades of first-hand experience to design a better water trough. With a grant from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, he constructed a prototype. The concrete trough is sunk into the ground under an elderberry tree. Work modified a float like those used in toilet tanks to keep the water within centimeters of the rim.
That first man-made watering hole was an improvement for many species, but it also revealed some problems. Birds needed an escape ramp to climb out of the water should they fall in while drinking; the ramp should be shallow enough to allow the birds to bathe. Larger animals had to be kept from using the trough for a cooling dip. Work found that sloping the sides to a sharp V at the bottom of the trough made it unappealing for a soak.
Years of experimentation and innovation resulted in the development of pre-manufactured concrete water troughs, which are now commercially available. The next challenge is selling the idea to ranchers.
Enter UC Cooperative Extension. On an unrelated visit to the Work Ranch, UC Berkeley wildlife biologist Reg Barrett was impressed by Work’s invention and encouraged UC Cooperative Extension rangeland advisor Royce Larsen and NRCS rangeland conservationist Karl Striby to help spread the word.
Larsen and Stirby are now completing the first step, adding the ground-level water trough specifications to NRCS's published Technical Notes. The publication will provide ranchers and other land owners with the information they need to install the wildlife-friendly troughs.
“If you’re thinking of installing a basic, traditional trough for cattle, it may or may not be the best idea,” Larsen said. “But you’re thinking about supporting both cattle and wildlife, it’s great.”
In the video below, rancher George Work shows the ground-level water trough prototype and the second-generation, pre-manufactured version.
The beauty of rolling hills studded with majestic oaks, other trees and shrubbery isn't the only reason to regenerate vegetation. The trees and shrubs create a much more hospitable habitat for a wide assortment of wildlife. Oak woodland vegetation also protects the quality of California water. The majority of the state's water flows through oak woodlands in streams and rivers that support fisheries, farms and cities. Plants and trees anchor the soil, preventing erosion and stream sedimentation.
One of the difficulties ranchers face in regenerating trees is supplying water for seedling establishment. Ranches often stretch for thousands of acres. Hauling water to remote sites or installing irrigation can be prohibitively expensive.
Third-generation San Miguel rancher George Work heard about a new tree establishment invention from Holland – a Groasis Waterboxx. Over the years, Work has collaborated with UC Cooperative Extension on oak planting projects and consulted with UCCE experts about squirrel diseases, ranch animal vaccinations and pasture management. He turned to UCCE natural resources advisor Royce Larsen for his thoughts on the Waterboxx.
“Because of Royce here, our Cooperative Extension agent, he provided a little added incentive when I wanted to try this thing,” Work said. “Royce said, ‘I'll help you.' Well, that was enough to get the job done.”
Work, Larsen and UC Cooperative Extension natural resources specialist Bill Tietje installed 10 Waterboxxes, which cost about $30 each, in a remote area of the 12,000-acre Work Ranch in southern Monterey County. Other plant regeneration methods – including traditional drip irrigation and tree teepees – were also installed for comparison.
The Waterboxx is a round plastic hat box-shaped reservoir that fits around the seedling trunk. When the seedling is planted, the reservoir is filled with about four gallons of water. A rope on the bottom continuously wicks moisture to the plant roots.
The box is covered with an inward-slanting corrugated top that cools during the night and channels condensed dew and fog into the reservoir, keeping it full of water. The Waterboxx provides a protective barrier around the trunk and shades and cools the soil beneath. At the Work Ranch, the plants are also enclosed in bale-wire fence to keep out wildlife poking around for water or hungry for tender green growth.
“The trees are doing surprisingly well," Larsen said. "In just three months, the seedlings have grown more than two feet."
Larsen said he will continue monitoring the project to see if the self-watering system can establish trees. If successful, UC scientists may study the Waterboxx more thoroughly in a replicated research design in Monterey County, San Luis Obispo County and other parts of the state.
See the components of a Waterboxx in the video clip below.