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Posts Tagged: Mark Bolda

Agtech is changing farming in California

Technology holds tremendous promise for the California agricultural industry, however there are challenges that must be better understood and managed, wrote Damon Kitney in an article distributed to participants in an Oct. 2 technology conference in San Francisco.

Using artificial intelligence to speed up genetic selection is one area where technology is evolving in the laboratories of the Silicon Valley. Glenda Humiston, the vice president for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, was quoted extensively in Kitney's article about the potential of AI and other technologies in agriculture.

"Artificial intelligence is extremely difficult in agriculture because of the huge amount of variability in environmental conditions across a single field," Humiston said. "This requires many sensors, complex algorithms and large real-time data processing - all integrated and working together to inform decisions and actions."

Humiston said the ability to pull together an array of data - from drones, robots, sensors and genomics - and use it for informed decision making will require significant improvements in how 'big data' is managed. Point solutions are being developed by universities, startups and corporate innovators, but few are integrated to provide real-life solutions for farmers.

"Integration will be a key factor in making these technologies affordable and available to most farmers," she said. "Many startup technologies for agtech are hitting the market with glossy websites, pitch events and marketing materials that appeal to investors, but the science behind them is dubious."

Berries are soft fruit, so robotic harvesting is unlikely. The industry is looking to agtech to reduce the amount of labor needed and make it easier for farmworkers to pick and harvest the fields. (Photo: Pixabay)

A key issue covered in the article is the cost and availability of labor in berry production. About 60 percent of the costs associated with berries are labor. At times, a significant portion of berries are lost when farmers can't find labor to get them picked.

Despite the effort to find technology to cut labor needs, human labor in the field will never be replaced, according to Mark Bolda, UC Cooperative Extension strawberry and caneberry advisor for Santa Cruz County.

"It's not realistic to see robots as the full solution for our labor issues, rather more success will be found in berries by combining robots with already existing labor of humans," he said.

Berries are very soft fruits. Technology to find them, pick them and put them in a box does not exist, Bolda said. Robots of the future will likely transport full boxes out of the field, bring in new boxes, monitor the rate of picking and charting field issues.

UCCE farm management advisor Laura Torte concurs.

"Humans bring sensory attributes to agriculture that robotics and mechanization has not - yet - been able to perfect," she said.

Posted on Tuesday, October 30, 2018 at 9:33 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

California drought causes salt buildup problem for strawberry farmers

Coachella Valley strawberry plants on the left were stunted due to salt buildup in the soil. (Photo: Steven Koike)
If it weren't enough for farmers on California's Central Coast to deal with dwindling irrigation water supplies, they now also have to get a handle on a buildup of crop-stunting salt, reported the Salinas Californian.

During a drought, salts that would normally be leached out by rainfall stay on the surface. Growers are forced to irrigate with groundwater to wash salt out of the plants' rootzone.

Mark Bolda, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Santa Cruz County, told AgAlert, a publication of the California Farm Bureau Federation, that in Northern California many strawberry and cane berry fields are being affected. The result will be loss in yield.

In a blog post Bolda wrote in December titled A tsunami of salt is on the way, he said strawberry growers across the state need to keep running that water until we get some rain.

"There is so much salt building up in these soils right now," Bolda said more than two months ago.

The most serious damage, the Californian reported, is occurring in the Oxnard area and Choachella Valley.

Posted on Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 11:23 AM
Tags: drought (171), Mark Bolda (5)

Methyl bromide ban creates a 'new world' for strawberry growers

Strawberries are considered the jewels of Monterey County, but their production numbers will probably drop with the phase-out of methyl bromide, a highly effective soil fumigant that depletes the ozone layer, according to an article in the Salinas Californian.

"It's a new world for strawberries," the story quoted Mark Bolda, farm advisor for strawberries and caneberries for UCCE in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. After the phase out, "yields will go down and production will fall, but it's not Armageddon."

Bolda told the reporter that scientists have been searching for chemical alternatives to methyl bromide for about 20 years, but progress is slow because it's hard to top the effectiveness of methyl bromide mixed with chloropicrin.

One alternative to methyl bromide is methyl iodide. It does not damage the ozone layer, but has other drawbacks, including its cost, severe restrictions on its use, and a safety risk to workers or the public if they are exposed to the chemical.

The California Department of Pesticide Regulation approved the use of methyl iodide in early December.

According to an op-ed by Barry Bedwell of the Grape and Tree Fruit League that was published in the Bakersfield Californian Wednesday, growers can safely use methyl iodide.

"The reality is that California's restrictions on methyl iodide are many times greater than those required by U.S. EPA or any other jurisdiction," Bedwell wrote. "The use restrictions include large buffer zones, the requirement of only DPR-approved highly retentive tarps, specific groundwater protections, reduced application rates and stronger worker-protection measures."

Bedwell believes growers must have access to crop-production tools based upon rational and reasonable science in order to continue production in the state.

"If we allow the process to become a prisoner of emotion, we will not only find ourselves without methyl iodide but in the not-too-distant future the majority of our food production will come from places with much less regulatory oversight," Bedwell wrote.

Strawberry production will drop under methyl bromide phase-out.
Strawberry production will drop under methyl bromide phase-out.

Posted on Friday, December 17, 2010 at 9:47 AM
Tags: Mark Bolda (5), methyl iodide (14), strawberries (27)

Assemblyman encourages methyl iodide ban

Assemblyman Bill Monning, D-Carmel, urged his constituents to fight state approval of methyl iodide, a fumigant that is considered a viable alternative to methyl bromide, an ozone depleter now being phased out, according to an article in the Oakland Tribune.

Monning, chair of the Assembly Health Committee and currently running for reelection, participated in a forum about pesticides yesterday at Pajaro Middle School, in Pajaro (Monterey County).

"They use methyl iodide to cause cancer in lab animals," Monning was quoted by reporter Tovin Lapan. "It's not a question of whether, it's a question of when. There will be human damage, there will be environmental damage and there will be water damage."

The article also contained information from UC Cooperative Extension sources. Farm advisor Mark Bolda said 75 percent of the strawberry fields in the region are fumigated in some way. In Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, methyl bromide is the No. 1 pesticide used in all agricultural production.

On average, Bolda said, organic strawberry fields yield about 50 percent less than fumigated fields.

"There are some organic plots with great yields, and some with very low yields," Bolda was quoted. "You always run the risk of being completely wiped out by disease with organic growing."

UC Davis strawberry researcher Doug Shaw said that, in his studies on small plots, the crops fumigated with methyl iodide yielded 8 to 10 percent less than the methyl bromide-fumigated crop.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved methyl iodide for agricultural use and most states follow the U.S. EPA's lead. California, Washington, New York and Florida, however, have separate approval processes for pesticides. New York and Washington already have banned methyl iodide; Florida permits its use on high-value crops.

Bolda believes the California Department of Pesticide Regulation's eventual decision on the pesticide may influence other states' use of methyl iodide.

As goes California, the No. 1 consumer of pesticides in the United States, so goes the United States, Bolda said.

Conventional strawberry production involves the use of a soil fumigant before the crop is planted.
Conventional strawberry production involves the use of a soil fumigant before the crop is planted.

Posted on Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at 10:03 AM
Tags: Doug Shaw (1), Mark Bolda (5), methyl iodide (14), strawberries (27)

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