The Nut In Nutritious Says it All

The Word Nut is In Nutrition and Nutritious

By Patrick Cavanaugh with the Ag Information Network

Have you ever noticed the word Nut in the word nutritious? Well, I’ve never noticed it before when it comes to the nut industry, and it took the American Pecan Council to bring it to my attention. Alex Ott is the Executive Director of the American Pecan Council.

“We have a great team, and Weber Shandwick is our PR company that’s there. We work with other folks such as Eat Well Global in the dietitian areas,” said Ott. “And the staff and a lot of the members that participate, both on and off the council as well as the boards, provide a lot of great insight. So we’re very fortunate to have a fantastic team,” he noted.

When you think of nuts, they are nutritious. It’s perfect. The word nut in the first three letters of the word nutrition.

“It’s nice when the industry all comes together with one purpose. Everybody uses their talents to really drive the message.

 I asked Ott if Weber Shandwick, the PR company, came up with that concept.

“They definitely helped out with the website and the messaging, and we’re very fortunate to have Weber as our team, absolutely,” he said.

2022-12-05T08:30:32-08:00December 5th, 2022|

Nitricity Selected for Elemental Excelerator Cohort of Climate Tech Startups

Leading climate tech investor, Elemental Excelerator, announced today their 11th cohort of investments, comprising 17 companies focused on climate technology and decarbonization. Renewable fertilizer pioneer, Nitricity, has been included in the cohort as part of Elemental Excelerator’s focus on climate resilience.

“Nitricity solves two crucial components of the food system’s emissions: removing fossil fuels from the production of fertilizer, and preventing the need to transport that fertilizer from across the world,” said Mitch Rubin, Director of Innovation, Elemental Excelerator. “We need local, renewable production of fertilizer to enhance our resilience to global fertilizer markets, given massive price increases this year. Nico and his team are extremely committed to improving how we grow food and providing better alternatives to farmers, and we’re very excited to be working with them.”

The investment and guidance from Elemental Excelerator will bolster Nitricity’s plans for growth, including operating its renewable fertilizer technology at scale in agricultural applications. The funding will support Nitricity’s ability to produce agriculture-grade climate-smart nitrogen fertilizers such as calcium nitrate to be tested in the field, with one such trial to be conducted in almond orchards in partnership with Olam Food Ingredients (ofi), a global leader in natural food ingredients and raw materials.

“The support from Elemental Excelerator and membership in this esteemed cohort will be an important catalyst for Nitricity’s next phase of growth,” said Nicolas Pinkowski, CEO and Co-Founder of Nitricity. “Our focus is now on scaling our technology to establish regionalized fertilizer production for farmers.”

Read the complete press release from Elemental Excelerator and learn more about Elemental Excelerator Cohort 11.

About Nitricity
Nitricity produces nitrogen fertilizer with only air, water and renewable electricity. Founded by a team of graduate students from Stanford University in 2018 – Nicolas Pinkowski serving as CEO, Joshua McEnaney serving as president and CTO, and Jay Schwalbe serving as CSO – the company is scaling its technology to provide cost-effective, regional, and decarbonized fertilizer production. For more information, please visit www.nitricity.co.

About Elemental Excelerator
Elemental Excelerator is a leading non-profit investor focused on scaling climate solutions and
social impact for all communities. Elemental fills two gaps that are fundamental to tackling
climate change: funding first-of-a-kind projects for climate technologies in real communities, and
embedding equity and access into climate solutions.

2022-11-02T12:51:42-07:00November 2nd, 2022|

New UC Study Helps Growers Estimate Cover Crop Costs and Potential Benefits

By Pam Kan-Rice, UCANR

Cover crops offer many potential benefits – including improving soil health – but not knowing the costs can be a barrier for growers who want to try this practice. To help growers calculate costs per acre, a new study on the costs and potential benefits of adding a winter cover crop in an annual rotation has been released by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, UC Cooperative Extension and the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

Led by UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors Sarah Light and Margaret Lloyd, the cost study is modeled for a vegetable-field crop rotation planted on 60-inch beds in the lower Sacramento Valley of California. Depending on the operation, this rotation may include processing tomatoes, corn, sunflower, cotton, sorghum and dry beans, as well as other summer annual crops.

“This cost study can be used by growers who want to begin cover cropping to determine the potential costs per acre associated with this soil-health practice,” said Light, a study co-author and UC Cooperative Extension agronomy advisor for Sutter, Yuba and Colusa counties.

“Based on interviews with growers who currently cover crop on their farms, this cost study models a management scenario that is common for the Sacramento Valley. In addition, growers who want to use cover crops can gain insight as to what standard field management practices will be from planting to termination.”

At the hypothetical farm, the cover crop is seeded into dry soil using a grain drill, then dependent on rainfall for germination and growth.
“Given the frequency of drier winters, we included the cost to irrigate one out of three years,” said Lloyd.

A mix of 30% bell bean, 30% field pea, 20% vetch and 20% oats is sown in the fall. Depending on winter rainfall, soil moisture and the following cash crop, the cover crop is terminated in mid to late spring. The cover crop is flail mowed and disced to incorporate the residue into the soil.

The study includes detailed information on the potential benefits and the drawbacks of cover cropping.

Another consideration for growers is that multiple programs such as CDFA’s Healthy Soils Program, various USDA-funded programs (EQUIP, the Climate-Smart Commodities, etc.), and Seeds for Bees by Project Apis m. offer financial incentives for growers to implement conservation practices, such as cover crops.

“This study can provide growers with a baseline to estimate their own costs of using winter cover crops as a practice. This can be useful to calculate more precise estimates when applying for some of these programs and/or weigh the costs per acre with expected benefits in terms of soil health, crop insurance premium discounts or other benefits provided by the cover crops,” said Brittney Goodrich, UC Cooperative Extension agricultural and resource economics specialist and study co-author.

“Last year, the USDA’s Pandemic Cover Crop Program gave up to a $5/acre discount on crop insurance premiums for growers who planted a cover crop, and there is potential this will get extended going forward,” Goodrich said.

A list of links to resources that focus specifically on cover crops is included in the study. Five tables show the individual costs of each cultural operation from ground preparation through planting and residue incorporation.

The new study, “2022 – Estimated Costs and Potential Benefits for a Winter Cover Crop in an Annual Crop Rotation – Lower Sacramento Valley,” can be downloaded from the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics website at coststudies.ucdavis.edu. Sample cost of production studies for many other commodities are also available on the website.
This cost and returns study is funded by the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

For an explanation of calculations used in the study, refer to the section titled “Assumptions.” For more information, contact Don Stewart in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at destewart@ucdavis.edu, Light at selight@ucanr.edu, or Lloyd at mglloyd@ucanr.edu.

2022-10-06T08:30:49-07:00October 6th, 2022|

Since 1993, Farming Has Suffered in Central Valley

Mario Santoyo: Good Years are Gone

Mario Santoyo served as Assistant Manager for 30 years on their Friant Water user’s authority has been fighting for water for decades. He said he remembers better times when it comes to South of the Delta farming. Those good years were prior to 1993 when the Delta Smelt was put on the Federal Endangered Species List.

“I remember the good years. I was around during those days, but I’ve now lived through what is now, the hard years,” said Santoyo. “The unfortunate fact is that there will no longer be good years, it will only be worse years because for those folks that think it’s bad right now, they’re wrong. It’s going to get worse.”

And the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act is going to making farming worse.

SGMA is structured in such a way that the Department of Water Resources saying, “Okay, we’ll let you have local control, you guys formed the Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSAs),” said Santoyo.

“We’ll let you do your thing, but if you don’t do it right, we’re going to come in as the state of California and we’re going to take over,” said Santoyo.

“And the way it’s structured is that there’s a high probability that most GSAs are going to fail, which is going to let the state through the door and once the state gets their hands on regulating water, it’s goodbye in terms of having any kind of control on the usage of water,” noted Santoyo. “So things will only get worse as we move through time,” he said.

2022-09-26T09:24:33-07:00September 26th, 2022|

Wildfire Poses Greater Threat to Cannabis Than Other California Crops

By Pam Kan-Rice, UCANR

Wildfires are an increasing threat to people’s lives, property and livelihoods, especially in rural California communities. Cannabis, one of California’s newer and more lucrative commercial crops, may be at a higher risk of loss from wildfire because it is mostly confined to being grown in rural areas, according to new research by scientists in the Department of Environmental Science Policy and Management at UC Berkeley.

“Our findings affirm that cannabis agriculture is geographically more threatened by wildfire than any other agricultural crop in California,” said Christopher Dillis, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at UC Berkeley’s Cannabis Research Center. “This is an issue in almost all major cannabis-producing counties, not only those in Northern California.”

With licensing to grow commercially in the state only since 2018, the $3 billion cannabis industry is already one of California’s top five grossing agricultural commodities (though not included in the California Agricultural Production Statistics because USDA doesn’t recognize cannabis as an agricultural crop). In 2020, California tax revenues from legal cannabis sales amounted to over $780 million.

To assess the risk of cannabis crops being burned by wildfire, the researchers analyzed licensed cannabis farms in 11 cannabis-producing counties. Dillis and his colleagues overlaid CAL FIRE maps of fire hazard severity zones, historic wildfire perimeters and areas likely to experience increased fire activity in the future with the locations of cannabis farms and other crops in Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, Monterey, Nevada, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Sonoma, Trinity and Yolo counties. Legal cannabis cultivation is still prohibited in most other parts of the state.

CAL FIRE classifies fire hazard based on vegetation, topography, climate, crown fire potential, ember production and movement and fire history.

The researchers found cannabis fields were located in “high” and “very high” fire hazard zones and closer to wildfire perimeters more than any other crop. About 36% of the cannabis cultivation area, or 986 farms, were in high fire hazard zones and 24%, or 788 farms, were in very high fire hazard zones. Grapes had the next largest percentage of acreage in high (8.8%) or very high fire hazard zones (2.9%), followed by pasture at 4.3% and 1.7%, respectively.

“This work only serves as a starting point for understanding how vulnerable cannabis farms may be to wildfire, as this analysis did not include indirect impacts, such as smoke and ash damage, which may be far-reaching,” Dillis said. “However, we can confidently say that the places where cannabis continues to be grown are at greater risk now, and likely in the future as well.”

For cannabis farms already established in high-risk areas, the authors recommend fire-safety programs to reduce the impacts of wildfire to crops and human health. They suggest traditional wildfire-risk reduction activities, such as managing vegetation and creating fire breaks, but also measures to prevent exposure of farmworkers and crops to wildfire smoke. In addition, they recommend the state pursue options for providing crop insurance to licensed cannabis farmers, which are available for most other agricultural crops through federal programs, but not cannabis.

“In light of the sector’s growing economic importance in the state, the vulnerability of cannabis to wildfire should be considered in future cannabis and rural development policies,” said co-author Ted Grantham, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and director of UC Berkeley’s Cannabis Research Center.

“The legal cannabis market in California is facing substantial headwinds from both market forces and a burdensome regulatory environment,” Grantham said. “This study shows that cannabis agriculture is uniquely exposed to wildfire impacts, which presents yet another challenge for licensed cultivators in the state.”

The Cannabis Research Center is currently conducting a statewide survey of licensed cannabis cultivators to better understand the impacts of wildfire on crops, infrastructure and farmworkers. The survey is funded through a grant from California’s Department of Cannabis Control.

The study “The threat of wildfire is unique to cannabis among agricultural sectors in California” is published in Ecosphere and authored by Dillis, UC Cooperative Extension specialist Van Butsic, postdoctoral researchers Diana Moanga and Ariani Wattenberg, graduate student Phoebe Parker-Shames and Grantham.

2022-09-08T08:22:50-07:00September 8th, 2022|

Western Agricultural Coalition Warns of Rural Economic Upheaval Without Effective Deployment of Drought Response Funding

Seven organizations offer the federal government immediate assistance in implementing the $4 billion set aside in the Inflation Reduction Act

In a letter sent to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton, a coalition of agricultural organizations offered their support, assistance and counsel for the immediate implementation of drought funding from the Inflation Reduction Act.

Key coalition principles include:

The Bureau of Reclamation should quickly release a Notice of Funding Availability with guidance to water managers currently developing drought response proposals and urgently deploy that funding to address the most critical needs.

As the Bureau of Reclamation develops a plan to deploy drought funding, they should work with local water managers, set goals focused on driving the voluntary participation needed, and keep the process, selection criteria and any necessary agreements simple and transparent.

Any program designed to temporarily reduce agricultural water use must recognize the value of lost production, the extended impact on the rural community and the cost of developing incremental new water supplies. It is also important to avoid any actions that result in permanent disruptions to our long-tern capacity to produce the food and fiber that is relied upon in the U.S. and across the globe.

Agriculture should not be the only sector expected to reduce water use for the benefit of river systems. Urban planners and water users must also seriously address growth and reduce overall use or diversions to protect these systems.

Here is the letter:

Dear Secretary Haaland and Commissioner Touton:

Throughout the Western United States, dire challenges are being faced by agricultural water users in the Colorado River Basin, California’s Central Valley, the Klamath Basin, the Columbia River Basin and its tributaries in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, the Rogue River Basin in southern Oregon, and the Great Basin. We could dedicate reams of pages describing the agonizing plight faced by the farmers and ranchers and the rural communities in these areas. 

As you know, Western water managers are actively responding to extreme drought. This is forcing unprecedented actions by local water purveyors and agricultural producers to react to significant water shortages. In the Colorado River Basin, the Bureau of Reclamation recently declared the first ever Tier 2a shortage and is calling for a total of 2 to 4 million acre-feet to protect critical levels in Lakes Mead and Powell. In recent months, many of our local producers and water managers with senior water rights have been engaged in a thoughtful effort to develop plans to protect the Colorado River system. 

Like you, we were pleased to see that Congress recognized the dire situation by appropriating $4 billion to respond to the ongoing Western drought. We now urge the Biden Administration to move quickly to implement the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and other available drought funding to use on the ground. 

Beyond the urgency of the dire hydrologic situation faced in many Western watersheds, this prompt action is essential for a variety of other reasons. Significant time and effort are being put into the development of response plans. For those to result in meaningful progress, it is essential to understand the key factors that will be considered by the Department in providing any future financial assistance. The ability of agricultural producers to participate in any voluntary, compensated water reduction program becomes much more difficult, if not impossible, if not initiated and implemented soon. This is due to the timeframes associated with contracting, purchasing, and planting of crops for the coming year. This is particularly important in areas like the Imperial Valley in California and Yuma, Arizona, where large-scale winter-time agricultural production occurs. The process and timing for distributing drought response funding must recognize and be responsive to this reality. 

We write today to encourage you, as a first step, to work with our organizations and members to quickly release a Notice of Funding Availability with guidance to water managers currently developing drought response proposals and quickly deploy that funding to address the most urgent needs. As you develop a plan to deploy drought funding, we also encourage you to consider the following:

  • Work with local water managers to articulate the considerations and approaches to utilizing funding so that the modification or development of viable plans results in desired and defensible outcomes for all engaged; 
  • In basins where voluntary water reductions might occur, any program should set goals focused on driving the participation needed to produce measurable volumes of wet water. Local water managers should also be enabled to decide what management actions will be taken to achieve targets;
  • Keep the process, selection criteria, and any necessary agreements simple and transparent. Requiring prescriptive, complicated, or overly restrictive requirements or agreements will slow progress and reduce participation in programs;
  • Any program designed to temporarily reduce agricultural water use must recognize the value of lost production, the extended impact on the rural community, and the cost of developing incremental new water supplies. It is also critical to avoid any actions that result in profound, long-term economic damage to Western communities as well as the long-term capacity to produce food and fiber that is relied upon across the globe. There are a limited number of places where the climate, soil, and open space overlap. We must ensure that any water solution does not lead to a food supply problem for our nation; and Agriculture should not be the only sector expected to reduce water use for the benefit of river systems. Urban planners and water users must also seriously address growth and reduce overall use or diversions, as opposed to per capita reductions, to protect these systems. The government must also reevaluate the true environmental water needs of river systems in light of projected ongoing drought conditions throughout most of the Western U.S.

Adhering to the recommendations provided above will help ensure that agricultural water users can be meaningful partners in our collective effort to manage water supply and protect important supply systems in exceptionally dry times like those we face now, from the headwaters in the upper basin to the last user in the lower basin.

In addition to focusing on critically needed, near-term steps to endure the current drought, it is essential that we also continue to advance solutions that will improve water management in the long-term. These opportunities include forest restoration activities that improve the health and productivity of our watersheds that are severely out of balance, robust conservation and efficiency measures, and augmentation of supply ranging from groundwater development and recycling to new conveyance and storage, where appropriate. To this end, the immediate deployment of IRA drought response funding will perfectly complement longer-term investments made by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), IRA Natural Resources Conservation Service and U.S. Forest Service funding, and other programs. Together, these opportunities present an integrated approach that will boost short, medium, and long-term drought response, preparedness, and resilience for both farms and communities across the West.  

Lastly, we urge you to continue to bring all water users together to develop solutions and ensure agriculture has a place at the table. There has been an unfortunate narrative lately that demonizes irrigation and minimizes the importance of domestic food production. Recent letters and comments by some in the West are clearly designed to encourage moving significant volumes of water offfarm for other uses. These unfortunate portrayals fail to recognize that in many cases their proposals will make senior water rights available as a mechanism to benefit junior water users by preventing cuts that would otherwise be required under water laws. 

This also comes at a time when agricultural water users are busy developing voluntary proposals to help respond to these dire drought conditions that will result in financial losses for many individual family farms, and the rural communities in which they live, if proper compensation is not provided. In addition to the many Western communities and cultures that sustain the American food supply being at risk, we are also jeopardizing the highest labor, crop protection, and food safety standards in the world while simultaneously exacerbating climate change and food insecurity by increasing our avoidable reliance upon imports. 

Protecting the agricultural economy, Western urban and rural communities, and a healthy aquatic environment not only benefits the West, it benefits the entire Nation. For that reason, our members across the West are stepping up, at their own expense, to provide solutions for the viability of their basins and the communities those basins serve. In many cases, that means making senior water rights voluntarily available in order to benefit junior water users. This prevents cuts that would otherwise be required under water laws and, in most cases, would provide immediate measurable protections for the water supply system as a whole. Urban, agricultural, and environmental water users would all benefit from such efforts in the short and long-term. 

Our organizations look forward to working with you further to advance the recommendations included in this letter. 

If you have questions or concerns about this letter, please do not hesitate to contact Dan Keppen (dan@familyfarmalliance.org).

Sincerely,
Agribusiness and Water Council of Arizona
Arizona Farm Bureau Federation
California Farm Bureau
Colorado Farm Bureau
Family Farm Alliance
Oregon Farm Bureau
Western Growers

2022-08-29T15:52:23-07:00August 29th, 2022|

UC Study Breaks Down Costs of Growing Organic Strawberries

By Pam Kan-Rice, UCANR

Thinking about commercially growing organic strawberries on the Central Coast?

To help prospective and current growers evaluate financial feasibility, the University of California has estimated costs to produce and harvest organic strawberries for fresh market in Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties.

“This revise of the last cost-of-production study incorporates the newest in labor costs along with updates on cultural techniques,” said study co-author Mark Bolda, UC Cooperative Extension strawberries and caneberries advisor in Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties.

The new study, “Sample Costs to Produce and Harvest Organic Strawberries in the Central Coast Region-2022,” has been released by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

The analysis is based on a hypothetical well-managed organic strawberry farm using practices common to the region, but the costs, materials and practices shown in this study will not apply to all farms. Growers, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors and specialists, pest control advisers and others provided input and reviewed the methods and findings of the study.

“Current growers can use it as a baseline to compare with their own cost and returns estimates to make sure they have an accurate picture of the profitability of their organic strawberry enterprise,” said co-author Brittney Goodrich, UC Cooperative Extension agricultural economics specialist. “Many agricultural lenders use these studies as a baseline to determine whether to approve operating or investment loan requests from current and potential strawberry growers.”

The researchers assume a farm operation size of 30 contiguous acres of rented land, with strawberries are planted on 27 acres. The study includes a list of suitable strawberry varieties for the region, but no specific variety is used in the study. The crop is harvested by hand and packed into trays containing eight 1-pound clamshells from April through early October, with peak harvest in June through August.

The authors describe the assumptions used to identify current costs for production material inputs and cash and non-cash overhead. Ranging analysis tables show net profits over a range of prices and yields. Other tables show the monthly cash costs, the costs and returns per acre, hourly equipment costs, and the whole farm annual equipment, investment and business overhead costs.

The study’s expanded section on labor includes information on California’s new minimum wage and overtime laws.

“It’s reached a wider audience this time through presentations of the material to students at Cal Poly [San Luis Obispo] and also a group of USDA officials at the California Strawberry Commission,” said Bolda.

“All of this just underlines the value of these studies to California growers and others working in agriculture,” Bolda said.

Free copies of this study and other sample cost of production studies for many commodities are available. To download the cost studies, visit the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics website at https://coststudies.ucdavis.edu.

This cost and returns study was funded by the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

For additional information or an explanation of the calculations used in the studies, contact Jeremy Murdock, UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, at jmmurdock@ucdavis.edu or UC Cooperative Extension’s Bolda at (831) 763-8025.

2022-08-26T08:15:47-07:00August 26th, 2022|

Mexican Fruit Fly Quarantine in Portion of San Diego County

By CDFA

A portion of San Diego County has been placed under quarantine for the Mexican fruit fly following the detection of six flies and one larva in and around the unincorporated area of Valley Center.  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the San Diego County Agricultural Commissioner, and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) are working collaboratively on this project.

The quarantine area in San Diego County measures 77 square miles, bordered on the north by Wilderness Gardens Preserve; on the south by the Lake Wohlford Park; on the west by Moosa Canyon; and on the east by Hellhole Canyon Preserve.  A link to the quarantine map may be found here: www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/mexfly/regulation.html.

As part of the eradication effort, approximately 250,000 sterile males will be released per square mile per week in an area of 43 square miles around the infestation.  Sterile male flies mate with fertile wild female flies but produce no offspring.  This reduces the Mexican fruit fly population as wild flies reach the end of their natural life span with no offspring to replace them, ultimately resulting in the eradication of the pest.  In addition, properties within 200 meters of detections are being treated with an organic formulation of Spinosad, which originates from naturally-occurring bacteria, in order to remove any live fruit flies and reduce the density of the population.  Fruit will also be removed within 100 meters of properties with larval detections and/or female fly detections.

The quarantine will affect any growers, wholesalers, and retailers of host fruit in the area as well as nurseries with Mexican fruit fly host plants. Local residents and home gardeners affected by the quarantine should consume homegrown produce on-site, to include canning, freezing or juicing and should not move host items from their property.  These actions protect against the spread of the infestation to nearby regions which may affect California’s food supply and our backyard gardens and landscapes.

The Mexican fruit fly can lay its eggs in and infest more than 50 types of fruits and vegetables, severely impacting California agricultural exports and backyard gardens alike.  For more information on the pest, please see the pest profile at: www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/go/MexFly.  Residents who believe their fruits and vegetables may be infested with fruit fly larvae are encouraged to call the state’s toll-free Pest Hotline at 1-800-491-1899.

The eradication approach used in the Valley Center area of San Diego County is the standard program used by CDFA and it is the safest and most effective and efficient response program available.

While fruit flies and other invasive species that threaten California’s crops and natural environment are sometimes detected in agricultural areas, the vast majority are found in urban and suburban communities.  The most common pathway for these invasive species to enter our state is by “hitchhiking” in fruits and vegetables brought back illegally by travelers as they return from infested regions of the world.  To help protect California’s agriculture and natural resources, CDFA urges travelers to follow the Don’t Pack a Pest program guidelines (www.dontpackapest.com).

Federal, state, and county agricultural officials work year-round, 365 days a year, to prevent, deter, detect, and eliminate the threat of invasive species and diseases that can damage or destroy our agricultural products and natural environment.  These efforts are aimed at keeping California’s natural environment and food supply plentiful, safe, and pest-free.

2022-08-24T11:30:52-07:00August 24th, 2022|

Less Water, More Watermelon: Grafting Can Help Growers Yield More

UC Cooperative Extension advisor tests ancient technique, new to California melons

By Mike Hsu, UC ANR

As growers across California navigate severe drought, supply-chain challenges and rising inflation, reducing inputs has become an existential necessity. And for watermelon growers, a new twist on a thousands-year-old practice is showing real promise.

In the summer of 2018, watermelon growers brought a pressing problem to Zheng Wang, who had recently joined University of California Cooperative Extension as the vegetable crops and irrigation advisor for Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties.

Growers were seeing an increasing number of their cartons rejected by supermarkets and other buyers because of the melons’ inconsistent quality, and Wang wondered if the ancient technique of grafting would help the state’s melon growers, who plant about 10,000 acres of the crop each year.

Although California is the No. 3 watermelon-producing state in the U.S. (behind Florida and Georgia), there has been relatively little research on the melon across the state.

“Watermelons seem to have attracted not too much attention compared to other cucurbits, both Extension- and research-wise,” said Wang.

Fresh from his postdoctoral work at The Ohio State University on grafting fresh market tomatoes, Wang knew that vegetable growers understood the theoretical benefits of grafting, which combines a scion (the above-ground part of a plant) with the sturdy rootstock of a related plant.

But watermelon growers needed to make sure the added expense of using grafted plants would pay off. They were looking for science-backed evidence that the technique could actually reduce costs overall, while maintaining or boosting productivity.

“Sometimes as farmers we want to test a new cultural practice or crop product,” said David Jarrett, field manager at Van Groningen & Sons, who grows watermelons in the San Joaquin Valley. “A person like Zheng can set up a meaningful experiment and he has the tools for qualitative and quantitative analysis; Zheng knows how to measure a hunch and assign it a verifiable number measuring success.”

In his first trials in partnership with growers in 2019, Wang tested whether they could plant fewer watermelon plants, spaced at greater distances apart, while producing a stable yield of high-quality melons. The idea was that grafted plants, which are more vigorous and grow larger leaves and wider canopies, would produce consistently marketable melons that could be picked up to seven or eight times during an extended harvest season.

“That way we can make one plant equal ‘two,’” explained Wang, noting that non-grafted plants tend to produce only two or three picks of good melons, with quality declining rapidly afterward.

Grafting shows ‘a lot of potential for the future’

After two years of trials, the growers determined, with strong confidence, that watermelons planted 4-5 feet apart could produce a yield equal to – or surpassing – that of plants 3 feet apart (the standard for their non-grafted counterparts).

According to Wang, growers reported that, on average, their successfully grafted fields produced 15% to 25% more watermelons than non-grafted fields per acre, while using 30% fewer plants and the same amount of water and fertilizers.

With the potential for greater profitability, grafting could be a major boon during a particularly challenging time for growers.

“California agriculture is stressed competing for finite resources such as land, water, fertilizer and other safe but effective chemical tools, but outside of this realm we can improve some of our crops by grafting,” Jarrett explained. “Just as many tree crops are grafted, we are learning that other crops can be successfully grafted too; the goal is to create a heartier plant, which may grow better in marginal soils with reduced inputs.”

Confidence in the technique has led to a significant increase in the planted acreage of grafted watermelon across California – from less than 250 acres in 2018 to more than 1,500 acres in 2021. At the same time, growers have adopted 4 or 5 feet as the new “standard” spacing for their watermelon plants, enabling them to reduce their populations while maintaining or boosting yield.

“Using grafting has kind of opened a new channel in the watermelon world, and for all vegetable production in California,” Wang said.

Next up for Wang is testing various combinations of scions and rootstocks. This year, he began variety trials with rootstocks of various cucurbit family members (like hybrid squashes, Citron and bottle gourd), with hopes of producing results that watermelon growers could use to decide the best options for their local conditions.

“In sum, there are a lot of unknowns – but also a lot of potential for the future,” he said.

2022-08-24T11:25:54-07:00August 22nd, 2022|

FDA 2020 Residue Monitoring Report Results

Consumers Can Choose Organic and Conventional Produce With Confidence

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released its Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program Report for Fiscal Year 2020. Since 1987, the report has summarized findings from the program’s annual monitoring of human and animal foods in the U.S.

The FDA found that 96.8% of domestic foods were compliant with the pesticide tolerances set by the EPA. No pesticides were found in 40.8% of the domestic samples.

The industry’s historical high compliance rate demonstrates its commitment to consumers’ health and safety. It is clear from this report that consumers can choose fresh fruits and vegetables with confidence. It also underscores that no one and no group should promote false rhetoric in an effort to discourage consumers from eating healthy and safe produce.

According to the FDA, “The Covid-19 pandemic impacted the FDA’s sample collection and analysis for this year’s report. Both human food and animal food samples collected in FY2020 were smaller than FY2019. Despite the obstacles, results from samples collected and analyzed demonstrated compliance rates similar to what has been shown in previous years.”

Through its Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program, the agency ensures that FDA-regulated foods comply with pesticides safety levels or tolerances set by the Environmental Protection Agency to protect public health. The EPA is responsible for establishing and enforcing those tolerances for domestic foods shipped in interstate commerce and foods imported into the United States.

The Alliance for Food and Farming recommends consumers who still have concerns about residues to just wash your fruits and veggies. FDA states that washing produce often removes or eliminates any minute residues that may be present.

Read, learn, choose – but eat more organic and conventional fruits and vegetables for a longer life!

2022-08-15T14:19:12-07:00August 15th, 2022|
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