Associations, Organizations, Educational and Research Institutions

Pest Variability Poorly Understood

UC Davis Ecologist Daniel Paredes: Understanding Pest Variability Key to Managing Pest Outbreaks

Newly published research led by UC Davis ecologist Daniel Paredes suggests that pest abundances are less variable in diverse landscapes comprised of multiple crop types and patches of natural habitat.

“As a result, pest outbreaks are less likely in diverse landscapes,” said Paredes, who analyzed a 13-year government database of diversified landscapes encompassing more than 1300 olive groves and vineyards in Spain. The database documented pests and pesticide applications.

The paper, “The Causes and Consequences of Pest Population Variability in Agricultural Landscapes,” appears in the Ecological Society of America journal, Ecological Applications. Co-authors are UC Davis distinguished professor Jay Rosenheim of the Department of Entomology and Nematology, and Daniel Karp, associate professor, Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology.  The research is online at https://bit.ly/3a64WRN.

Pest variability: an understudied but critical topic
Although population variability is often studied in natural systems, the need for long-term pest population data collected across many farms has largely prevented researchers from studying pest variability in agricultural systems, said Paredes, a postdoctoral fellow in the Karp lab.

“However, understanding variability in agriculture is key to understanding when pest outbreaks are likely to occur,” Paredes said. “Farmers are really risk averse, with fear of very rare but severe pest outbreaks driving their decisions.  But huge datasets are needed to understand when outbreaks are likely to occur and better inform management.”

“We found that more variable pest populations are more likely to downgrade crop quality and induce catastrophic damages,” Paredes said. “For example, the likelihood that olive flies consume more than 20 percent of olive crops doubled when comparing the most versus the least volatile populations.”

What causes a pest population to be variable?
Having shown that more pest-population variability is more likely to cause problems for farmers, the researchers then set out to discover what farmers could do to manage variability.

One key factor that emerged was the type of landscape the crops were grown in, specifically whether the landscape was dominated by vast fields of a single crop variety or more diversified. Pest populations were both more abundant and more variable in crop monocultures.

However, while landscape type influenced both pest population sizes and variability, this was not always the case for other variables. “This research shows that the factors that promote high overall mean pest density are not necessarily the same factors that promote high variability in pest density,” Rosenheim said. “So, mean densities, which is what researchers have been studying for decades and decades, are only part of the story.  Variation in density, and in particular unpredictable severe outbreaks, need to be studied separately.”

The take-away message?

“In Spain, planting multiple crops and retaining natural habitats would help stably suppress pests and prevent outbreaks,” said Paredes, a native of Spain who holds a doctorate in environmental sciences (2014) from the University of Granada. “Diversifying agricultural may be a win–win situation for conservation and farmers alike.”

“Therefore, we encourage agricultural stakeholders to increase the complexity of the landscapes surrounding their farms through conserving/restoring natural habitat and/or diversifying crops,” the researchers wrote in their abstract.

Tapping into other large datasets such as this one, will be key to understanding whether diversified landscapes also help mitigate pest variability and outbreaks in other areas, they said.

This project was funded by the National Science Foundation with funds from the Belmont Forum via the European Biodiversity Partnership: BiodivERsA. It was also supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

2022-05-19T13:47:29-07:00May 19th, 2022|

Community Members Invited to Support Favorite UC ANR Programs May 19-20

By Pam Kan-Rice, UCANR

California farmers can grow crops with less water. Gardeners can control pests with safer methods. Community members can take steps to protect their homes from wildfire. Children can learn life and work skills. Families can stretch their food dollars to provide nutritious meals. Californians have benefited from University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources research and outreach in many ways. And thanks to the state’s historic boost to UC ANR funding, more UC Cooperative Extension scientists and educators are being hired to address the unique needs of communities across California.

From noon to noon on May 19-20, the public is invited to donate for UC ANR Giving Day, sponsored by Tri Counties Bank, to enhance their favorite UC ANR projects or programs. 

The 24 hours of giving will expand UC ANR outreach to benefit the health and well-being of more Californians throughout the state.

In the past, donations have been used to fund UC Master Gardener demonstration gardens, purchase teaching supplies for California Naturalists, and fund scholarships for children to develop life and work skills in UC ANR’s 4-H programs.

Donors are invited to give to UC Cooperative Extension in their counties, Research and Extension Centers and favorite programs. When visitors click “GIVE” on the upper right of the website http://donate.ucanr.edu/givingday, fund choices appear in drop-down menus. 

Online gifts made between noon on May 19 and 11:59 a.m. on May 20 may help programs qualify for prize challenge awards. Donations can be made at http://donate.ucanr.edu/givingday.

If you prefer sending a check instead of donating online, please make checks payable to “UC Regents” and specify the fund, then mail to UC ANR Gift Processing, 2801 Second Street, Davis, CA 95618.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources brings the power of UC to all 58 California counties. Through research and Cooperative Extension in agriculture, natural resources, nutrition, economic and youth development, our mission is to improve the lives of all Californians. Learn more at ucanr.edu and support our work at donate.ucanr.edu.

2022-05-17T12:07:18-07:00May 17th, 2022|

Almond Board of California 2022 Elections Underway

Voting Began April 21

Voting began recently to select two independent grower positions and one independent handler position on the Almond Board of California (ABC) Board of Directors. Alternate seats for those spots are also open. Voting ends May 26.

Candidates for the independent grower positions:

Grower Position One, Member (1-year term):            Grower Position One, Alternate:

Paul Ewing, Los Banos (incumbent)                                           Brian Wahlbrink, Sonora (petitioner)

Katie Staack-Dorsett, Waterford (petitioner)

Grower Position Two, Member (3-year term):            Position One, Alternate  

Brandon Rebiero, Modesto (petitioner)                                      Michael O’Banion, Firebaugh (petitioner)

Lee Erickson, Madera (petitioner)

Candidates for the independent handler positions:

Handler Position Three, Member (1-year term):         Handler Position Three, Alternate:

Darren Rigg, Le Grand (incumbent)                                             Chad DeRose, McFarland (incumbent)

Jonathan Hoff, Denair (petitioner)

Spencer Birch, Wasco (petitioner

Ballots and instructions have been mailed to all independent growers and handlers whose names are on file with ABC. Ballots must be received by ABC by May 26. Any independent grower or handler who does not receive a ballot can contact Toni Arellano at tarellano@almondboard.com.

“Every vote is important,” said ABC President and CEO Richard Waycott. “More than 7,600 growers and 100 handlers count on the Board of Directors to guide the work of the Almond Board and to help the industry navigate these complicated times.”

The ABC board, made up of five handler and five grower representatives, sets policy and recommends budgets in major areas, including marketing, production research, public relations and advertising, nutrition research, statistical reporting, quality control and food safety.

Results will be announced June 1 and the new board will start its term Aug. 1.

2022-04-27T13:30:52-07:00April 27th, 2022|

Water Measurement and Reporting Courses Offered by UCCE May 26

By Pam Kan-Rice, UCANR

California water-rights holders are required by state law to measure and report the water they divert from surface streams. For people who wish to take the water measurements themselves, the University of California Cooperative Extension is offering a virtual training to receive certification on May 26.

At the workshop, participants can expect to

  • clarify reporting requirements for ranches.
  • understand what meters are appropriate for different situations.
  • learn how to determine measurement equipment accuracy.
  • develop an understanding of measurement weirs.
  • learn how to calculate and report volume from flow data.

“We are limiting the number participants for the water measurement training to 30 people per session,” said Larry Forero, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor. “If you need this training, please register soon.”

The scheduled trainings will be held Thursday, May 26, at two locations:

  • Redding at Shasta College Farm.  Registration is required and costs $25. To register visit https://ceshasta.ucanr.edu. For more information, contact Larry Forero (lcforero@ucanr.edu) or Sara Jaimes (sbjaimes@ucanr.edu) or by calling the UCCE office in Shasta County at (530) 224-4900. Training will begin at 8 a.m. and conclude at 11:30 am.
  • Woodland at the UC Cooperative Extension at 70 Cottonwood Street. Registration costs $20. To register, visit https://cecapitolcorridor.ucanr.edu. For more information, contact Morgan Doran at mpdoran@ucanr.edu or the UCCE Yolo County office at (530) 666-8143. Training will begin at 2:30 p.m. and conclude at 5:30 pm.

Background:

Senate Bill 88 requires all water right holders who have previously diverted or intend to divert more than 10 acre-feet per year (riparian and pre-1914 claims), or who are authorized to divert more than 10 acre-feet per year under a permit, license or registration, to measure and report the water they divert. Detailed information on the regulatory requirements for measurement and reporting is available on the State Water Resources Control Board Reporting and Measurement Regulation webpage. The legislation requires that installation and certification of measurement methods for diversion (or storage) greater than or equal to 100-acre feet annually be approved by an engineer/contractor/professional.

California Cattlemen’s Association worked with Assemblyman Frank Bigelow on a bill that allows a self-certification option. Assembly Bill 589 became law on January 1, 2018. This bill, until Jan. 1, 2023, allows any diverter who has completed this instructional course on measurement devices and methods administered by the University of California Cooperative Extension, and passes a proficiency test, to be considered a qualified individual when installing and maintaining devices or implementing methods of measurement.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources brings the power of UC to all 58 California counties. Through research and Cooperative Extension in agriculture, natural resources, nutrition, economic and youth development, our mission is to improve the lives of all Californians. Learn more at ucanr.edu and support our work at donate.ucanr.edu.

2022-04-27T13:22:26-07:00April 27th, 2022|

Today’s World is Full of Uncertainties. Your Food Supply Shouldn’t be One of Them

By Mike Wade, California Farm Water Coalition

The war in Ukraine and all the global unrest it is causing has focused American’s attention on just how uncertain a world we inhabit.

Inflation was already wreaking havoc on family budgets and now gas prices are also skyrocketing.

Which is exactly why our government should be doing everything it can to reduce reliance on foreign sources for our basic needs, especially food.

Unfortunately, that is the exact opposite of what is happening.

Through out-of-balance regulatory policies and a failure to prioritize western farming, our government is putting our safe, affordable, domestic food supply at risk.

Over 80% of our country’s fruits, nuts and vegetables are grown west of the Rockies and simply cannot be moved elsewhere. Without that supply, Americans will see shortages at the store, even higher prices, be forced to rely more heavily on increasingly unstable foreign sources, or all of these at the same time.

Learn More

When you make a salad, have fruit for breakfast, eat a hamburger with cheese, or put tomato sauce and garlic on a pizza, odds are that at least some of those products came from California.

But without a reliable water supply, that farmland simply cannot produce what our country needs.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In some western states, the government is holding on to existing water supply, rather than release it to farms to grow food. In California, we must move more quickly to build and repair infrastructure that will help us store more water in wet years for use in dry ones like this one. And in general, water policy has become unbalanced in ways that penalize the farms trying to produce our food supply.

California farmers are doing their part and have reduced water use by double digits since 1980. Throughout the West, farms are also important in the battle against climate change because crop production helps remove carbon dioxide from the air. If things continue the way they are, our government is essentially creating deserts instead of food production, which will only perpetuate the cycles of drought and wildfires we’d like to avoid.

Food price increases in 2022 are now expected to exceed those observed in 2020 and 2021. Without changes in water policy, it will continue to get worse.

It has never been more important that U.S. consumers insist on domestically grown food in our stores.

2022-04-21T15:58:13-07:00April 21st, 2022|

Humiston Touts USDA Climate-Smart Programs Before House Agriculture Committee

Testimony highlights UC ANR’s role in advancing prosperity, sustainability and climate resilience

By Pam Kan-Rice, UCANR

Glenda Humiston, Ph.D., University of California vice president of agriculture and natural resources, director of the Agricultural Experiment Station and director of the Cooperative Extension Service, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture at today’s (March 16) hearing “A 2022 Review of the Farm Bill: The Role of USDA Programs in Addressing Climate Change.

A recording of the hearing can be viewed at https://youtu.be/2_GQI6b6CCs. Congressman Jimmy Panetta, who represents California’s Central Coast, introduces Humiston at the 16-minute mark of the recording. She begins speaking at the 40:38 mark.

In Washington, D.C., Humiston delivered the following prepared statement:

Good morning, Chairman [David] Scott, Ranking Member [GT] Thompson, and Members of the Committee, my name is Glenda Humiston, and I serve as the Vice President of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) for the University of California (UC) system. I am honored to have this opportunity to discuss the importance of agricultural research, and other USDA programs, as you begin work on the next Farm Bill.

With UC ANR serving as a vital partner, California continues to be the nation’s top agricultural state. For more than a century, California’s $50 billion agricultural sector has depended on UC ANR, in partnership with our UC campuses, for the stream of new technologies and research breakthroughs needed to stay competitive and be responsible stewards of the land. We are proud to be part of the Land Grant partnership that was developed between states and the federal government with the 1862 Morrill Act, 1887 Hatch Act and the 1914 Smith-Lever Act. That enterprise has, for over 130 years, advanced scientific knowledge in all aspects of food production, and improved production capacity, profitability, and safety of the nation’s food system.

With over 71,000 farms producing 400 different commodities, California is an agricultural behemoth and the sole provider of many high-demand farm products while also exporting roughly a third of its agricultural production each year. Beyond on-farm production, California’s working landscapes include farmland, ranches, forests, wetlands, mines, water bodies and other natural resource lands, both private and public, that are vital sources of ecosystem services. These services are ways that the natural world provides biological necessities, such as clean water, nutritious food, and a livable climate, as well as indirect economic benefits, such as jobs and revenue created along food value chains. More broadly, they encompass intangible goods that contribute to human well-being, such as recreation, aesthetic inspiration, and cultural connection.

Ensuring that those ecosystem services are functioning and remain available to utilize is an ever-growing challenge. There can be no doubt that extreme climate events are changing California’s landscape – fires, floods, drought, more invasive pests are already affecting agriculture. For example, unseasonably warm weather now causes many fruit and nut trees to bloom before the last frost, causing great economic losses. In the coming decades, the changing climate is likely to further decrease the supply of water, increase the risk of wildfires, and threaten coastal development and ecosystems.

To combat such future perils, we must harness the ability of our agricultural and other working landscapes to adapt, to mitigate and where possible, to become a solution to climate change. According to the National Academy of Sciences, U.S. soils and forests have the potential to sequester about 500 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. Emerging markets for carbon credits and government incentive programs could generate tens of billions of dollars per year in new investment for working farm and forest lands within the next several years.

Within this framework, USDA programs are critical to our efforts to support carbon sequestration, improved water management, healthy soils, forest restoration, hazardous fuels management, and wood products innovation, among other provisions that support natural climate solutions. USDA’s new Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities is a great example of how targeted funding for pilot projects can create market opportunities for commodities produced using climate-smart practices.

As we pursue those climate-smart practices, it is critical that we make full use of existing programs and leverage collaborations among them wherever possible. Supporting partnerships between government agencies with academia and the private sector will enable production of multiple benefits from various actions. As part of this we need to utilize voluntary, market and incentive-based programs to the greatest extent possible and maintain a focus on science-based outcomes. In many situations, transformative innovation is needed – moving beyond just improving existing methods and processes to totally re-thinking how our systems are designed to deliver policy and programs.

UC ANR supports California farmers and ranchers to be resilient to extreme weather events with data-driven tools, methods, and technologies. For example, we are developing drought, heat, and pest-tolerant crop varieties that allow farmers to remain economically viable while also being resilient to extreme weather. Finding new crops suitable for California soils and ecosystems not only improves the productivity of the farm but can have co-benefits such as improving water-holding capacity of the soil, increasing native pollinator habitat, and boosting local economies by increasing value-added products.

We are also pushing our research system to expand collaborative efforts between experts in soil sciences, plant pathology, biochemistry, and other sciences with technology experts in robotics, sensors, artificial intelligence, materials, supply chain logistics, and energy systems to solve today’s complex problems in agriculture. Much like the biomedical revolution, it is the integration of multiple disciplines into a single project that can lead to transformative innovation that improves productivity, food safety, and ecosystem services while also giving rise to new businesses. Great examples of such transdisciplinary research and development include:

  • An initiative to place solar panels over irrigation canals to reduce evaporation of precious irrigation water supplies for farmers while also producing electricity.
  • Implementing healthy soil practices, like cover crops and no-till, to enhance capture of rain and improve groundwater recharge.
  • Programs for farmers to install dairy digesters to convert potentially harmful greenhouse gases into valuable biofuels.

To develop the science, new technologies and better farming practices that are desperately needed, increased funding for agriculture and food-related research and extension is necessary as are new investment in agricultural research facilities. Public funding for agricultural research in the U.S. has declined in real dollars over the past few decades while deferred maintenance of research facilities greatly hampers scientists’ work. Greater investments will help ensure farmers and ranchers have access to the scientifically rigorous tools and information they need to build climate resilience, mitigate environmental impacts, and increase the productivity of their land.

Other exciting opportunities can be found in forest health efforts that convert excessive fuel loads – biomass – into valuable bioproducts while reducing risk from catastrophic wildfires. California’s wildfire crisis continued its destructive march in 2020, each year worse than the one before. Working closely with regional economic development organizations and our California Economic Summit partners, UC ANR is a key partner in developing and implementing recommendations to improve forest health, reduce wildfire risk, incentivize innovation in new and innovative wood products industries and build capacity for manufacturing to enhance forest and environmental health and resilient rural communities. Examples of this work include:

  • Organizing controlled burn associations with local communities and other forest treatment practices such as a software program, Match.Graze, that improves use of grazing.
  • Partnering with the Inland Empire Economic Partnership and the southern California commercial ports to convert biomass into hydrogen and other liquid biofuels to replace diesel in trucks – the largest source of air pollution in that region.
  • Educating homeowners on landscaping, defensible space, and fire-wise plants to improve home-hardening, reduce risk from fire and conserve water.
  • UC Engineering research on materials science is developing new advanced wood products and data to demonstrate the multiple values of construction with such products.
  • Teaming up with community colleges to provide workforce training in forest professions.

The US needs robust funding for wildfire prevention, research, recovery, and extension. Cooperative Extension academics are lead experts in forestry and wildfire research and they provide critical resources to inform strategic fuels management, enhance community wildfire planning, and build community fire adaptation and resiliency. USDA’s Climate Hubs should be expanded so that they can regularly engage stakeholders and prioritize vital research amongst more partners. The U.S. Forest Service’s work on bioproducts is extremely valuable as is their willingness to enter into long-term stewardship agreements with state and local partners.

In California, we are very excited to be working with the Governor and the state legislature to secure a $185 million investment in UC to build new capacity in climate-focused research, innovation, and workforce development. For example, with this funding we would establish Regional Workforce Hubs that will provide on-the-job training opportunities for university and community college students as well as well as leverage the professional learning and career certification infrastructure of the UC Extension programs to offer a portfolio of training opportunities, tools, and resources for college-prep and non-degree seeking individuals.

Just as these programs allow us to implement climate smart agriculture and healthy forests’ initiatives, they also support regional economic development and job creation. Rural Development, the Agricultural Marketing Service and many other USDA programs are important partners as we build climate solutions through more efficient regional food systems, improved supply chains, workforce training, manufacturing of BioPreferred products, and food security initiatives.

If we are to promote resilience and help rural economies better adapt to climate change, we need to harness all programs throughout the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That means having senior USDA leadership coordinating climate issues across the entire agency and robustly serving as USDA’s climate representative at all interagency climate-related meetings. For example, USDA must collaborate with federal entities like the Federal Communications Commission to support improvements to broadband access, which is critical for climate-smart precision technologies and rural economies. Similarly, just as USDA has partnered with the National Science Foundation on research initiatives and jointly funding competitive grants, it needs to build closer partnerships with programs like Commerce’s Economic Development Agency and Treasury’s Community Financial Development Institutions to ensure that access to capital, effective economic development planning and infrastructure investments are targeted appropriately and delivered well.

One important way to help ensure wise distribution of program dollars to give the current definition of “rural” serious examination and re-engineering; as it stands now, far too many communities are improperly denied USDA resources due to the antiquated definitions of rural and metropolitan. Strongly encouraging more cross-agency proposals throughout USDA and enhanced support for public-private partnerships would remove barriers and hurdles for industry and communities alike.

The current mix of federal and state capacity funds is generally leveraged many-fold by federal competitive grants, grants from private industry, and other types of unrestricted gifts and awards to faculty conducting research at the nation’s land-grant universities. Competitive funding processes can elicit new ideas and speed up certain research projects; however, they also encourage a shift from programmatic research towards shorter-term project research. Failure to invest in a well-balanced mix of capacity and competitive funds for food and agriculture research could have very negative consequences for decades to come – consequences that would take significant time to reverse.

It takes at least seven to 15 years of research and development to develop a new crop variety – longer for trees/vines. Deploying and/or adapting new agricultural technologies can be even longer. For example, when UC Davis engineer, Coby Lorenzen, designed a machine to automate the harvest of tomatoes in the 1960s, it also required agronomist, Jack Hanna, to develop a less-delicate variety of tomato that ripened uniformly and could be easily plucked from the plant, essential qualities that made machine harvesting feasible. Federal funding that recognizes these realities as well as improvements in technology transfer and support for commercialization is vital.

Faculty and staff at land-grant universities across the nation recognize that their work takes place on behalf of a greater good, a broader goal, and a common vision that is much bigger than their individual achievements. Members of this House Committee on Agriculture can be confident that every dollar of federal investment authorized by the Farm Bill and expended at land-grant universities is guaranteed to be leveraged further, and to spawn innovation and discovery that will be translated into solutions to improve the lives of U.S. citizens. I thank you for this opportunity to provide testimony.

2022-03-17T10:44:04-07:00March 17th, 2022|

The Story of Rising Fertilizer Prices

High fertilizer prices in the past year have increased costs for farmers, but for some crops more than others. Multiple potential causes could explain these price increases, stemming from both supply and demand factors. If farmers respond to high prices by using less fertilizer per acre, it will provide an environmental benefit in the form of less nitrogen and phosphorus in streams, rivers, and lakes.

By Aaron Smith, DeLoach Professor of Agricultural Economics in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis.

https://s.giannini.ucop.edu/uploads/pub/2022/02/24/v25n3.pdf 

Fertilizer prices approximately doubled between the summer of 2020 and the end of 2021. Prices had been relatively stable in the prior five years at around $500 per ton for phosphate products (phosphorus) and just below $400 per ton for potash (potassium) and urea (nitrogen). In January 2022, phosphate products hit $900 per ton, and potash and urea prices were $800 per ton (see Figure 1).

What caused these price increases, and how much do they matter?

Agricultural Fertilizers

Most fertilizers deliver one or more of the following macronutrients to plants: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), or potassium (K).

Nitrogen makes up three-quarters of the air we breathe and is essential in plant growth. However, atmospheric nitrogen needs to be converted to ammonia (NH3) before it is accessible to plants. This conversion process, known as fixation, occurs naturally through bacteria and archaea that live in the soil or in the roots of some plants. Animals also produce ammonia by eating nitrogen-laden plants and excreting manure.

These natural processes typically do not produce enough ammonia for crops to reach their maximum potential. The invention of the Haber-Bosch process in 1909 enabled the production of synthetic ammonia by reacting nitrogen with hydrogen under high heat and pressure. U.S. nitrogen producers use natural gas as an energy source in this process.

Phosphorus helps plants grow by promoting photosynthesis and other functions important for development. Phosphorus fertilizers are typically produced by mining phosphate rock and treating it with sulfuric or phosphoric acid, causing a chemical reaction that converts it to a form that can be absorbed by plants.

Potassium strengthens plants, making them resistant to disease and higher in quality. Potassium fertilizers are created by mining potash from deep underground, similar to table salt. Chemical reactions convert it into a form usable by plants.

It is impossible to apply the exact amount of fertilizer that plants require, and there is a perception that many farmers over-apply fertilizer because they fear yield and profit losses from applying too little. This extra fertilizer is sometimes called “insurance nitrogen.”

Nitrogen and phosphorus that are not taken up by plants often end up in waterways, where they can cause a massive overgrowth of algae, known as an algae bloom. Certain types of algae emit toxins that are absorbed by shellfish. Consuming these tainted shellfish can lead to stomach illness and short-term memory problems. Drinking or coming into contact with toxins from algae blooms can cause stomachaches, rashes, and more serious problems. Algae blooms also reduce the recreational value of lakes and rivers.

U.S. Fertilizer Consumption

Nitrogen fertilizer use increased by a factor of four from 1960–1980, as shown in Figure 2. This increase coincided with dramatic increases in crop yields. In the 1970s, high agricultural commodity prices created a farm boom in which farmers planted more acres to crops and increased fertilizer applications.

After a slight drop during the farm crisis of the early 1980s, nitrogen fertilizer use has increased steadily, but at a slower rate than in the 1960s and 1970s. Phosphate and potash use has been relatively constant since 1985. Use of all fertilizers dropped substantially in 2009 after fertilizer prices increased fivefold during the 2008 commodity boom—a much larger increase than in 2021.

Nitrogen is by far the most used agricultural fertilizer by weight. It now makes up almost 60% of all fertilizer used, whereas phosphate and potash each comprise just over 20%. However, the trends in phosphate and potassium use mirror those in nitrogen, perhaps because many farmers apply multi-nutrient fertilizers.

Two facts provide insight into the role of fertilizer in the U.S. farm economy. First, corn uses about 45% of each fertilizer type, yet it takes up only a quarter of all cropland—90 out of about 390 million cropland acres in the nation. Second, in 2020 fertilizer made up 35% of operating expenses for corn growers—more than any other crop. Fertilizer is a major expense for the biggest crop in the nation, so the 2021 fertilizer price increases will significantly raise the cost of growing it.

As Figure 3 shows, fertilizer makes up more than 25% of operating expenses for several other major crops, including barley, oats, sorghum, and wheat. Between them, these crops use an additional 50 million acres each year.

In percentage terms, fertilizer is a much smaller expense for major California crops than the major national crops. It makes up about 10% of the cost of growing almonds, less than 2% of the cost of growing wine grapes, and 11% of the cost of growing processing tomatoes.

These percentages are useful for understanding the salience of fertilizer price increases for farmers. A jump in the price of one of your largest expense items will be noticed.

However, these percentages obscure the amount of fertilizer used on each crop because major national crops such as corn are relatively inexpensive to grow. Most corn is grown without irrigation, which saves the cost of acquiring and pumping water. Corn also requires little labor, especially now that tractors practically drive themselves.

According to cost and return studies by the University of California, bearing almonds cost $3,000–$4,000 per acre per year, which is about 10 times as much as growing corn in Illinois. So, although they spend a smaller percentage of their budget on fertilizer, California almond growers spend about three times as much per acre on fertilizer as Illinois corn growers, including about 25% more on nitrogen and multiple times more on potassium.

Fertilizer Production 

Fertilizers are produced throughout the world and traded heavily between countries. Figure 4 shows that the United States currently produces about 85% of the ammonia it uses, most of which becomes nitrogen fertilizer, and it produces 90% of the phosphate rock it uses, most of which becomes phosphate fertilizer. It imports 90% of its potash.

Most U.S. ammonia production capacity is in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas—close to natural gas fields. Natural gas constitutes about 80% of the cost of producing ammonia. Domestic production declined substantially from 2000 to 2010, a period when U.S. natural gas prices were historically high. In the latter part of this decade, two major producers merged as part of a period of consolidation in the industry.

After 2010, the deployment of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) increased the supply of natural gas and thereby lowered the cost of production dramatically. Fertilizer prices, however, remained high in this period and U.S. firms enjoyed large margins. In the last five years, production has rebounded, as more plants were built to take advantage of cheap natural gas.

Ammonia imports have mirrored domestic production, increasing as production declined between 2000 and 2010 before declining when production rebounded after 2016. Two-thirds of U.S. imports come from Trinidad and Tobago, and most of the remainder comes from Canada.

U.S. potash production has declined by 80% since 1965. Most of the remaining U.S. production comes from deep mines in southeastern New Mexico. Most potash imports come from Canada, which is the world’s largest producer by a significant margin.

Most domestic phosphate is mined in Florida and North Carolina, although there is also some production in Idaho and Utah. U.S. phosphate production declined steadily from 1980–2019, but phosphate fertilizer use in U.S. agriculture remained relatively constant over this period.

Each year between 1980 and 2019, the  U.S. exported about half its phosphate production, mostly to Canada and Mexico. As production declined, the U.S. maintained domestic consumption by increasing imports, mostly from Morocco, Russia, and Israel. In March 2021, the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled that imports from Morocco and Russia had affected the U.S. producers adversely, and they imposed countervailing tariffs ranging from 9% to 47%.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is an excellent source for data on mineral commodities, and I use this source for ammonia and potash in Figure 4. For phosphate, USGS reports data on phosphate rock, which is the product that is extracted from mines. Production and consumption of phosphate rock shows an incomplete picture of the phosphate fertilizer market. Each ton of phosphate rock generates about 0.2 tons of fertilizer. The U.S. imports some phosphate rock, mostly from Peru, which domestic firms make into fertilizer. In addition, the U.S. imports a significant amount of phosphate fertilizer. Thus, Figure 4 presents phosphate fertilizer data from FAO rather than phosphate rock data from USGS.

Prices

So, why have prices increased? To answer this question, I consider supply- and demand-side factors.

On the supply side, U.S. natural gas prices doubled between the summer of 2020 and the end of 2021, which significantly raised the cost of nitrogen production. Energy is also a component of phosphate and potash mining costs, but it is much less important in the production of these products than for nitrogen. For this reason, the increasing price of natural gas cannot fully explain the fact that all fertilizers increased in price by a similar percentage.

Weather events also disrupted nitrogen supply, including the freeze in Texas in February 2021 and Hurricane Ida in August 2021. There were also some supply disruptions due to COVID-19. However, these events caused only a temporary reduction in production and so do not explain a sustained price increase. Moreover, these events did not hit phosphate and potash production regions.

Also on the supply side, shipping costs increased dramatically in 2021, especially on shipments from Asia to North America. However, most fertilizer imports to the U.S. come from the Americas and would be less affected by shipping costs.

On the demand side, crop prices are high. Corn, soybean, and wheat prices increased by 60% from the summer of 2020 through the end of 2021. High crop prices incentivize farmers to apply more fertilizer per acre, which would place pressure on fertilizer prices.

The high crop prices did not spur a substantial increase in acreage in 2021, and it is too early to know whether we will see an acreage increase in 2022. However, an increase in demand from farmers planning to expand acreage in response to high crop prices is a plausible factor behind rising fertilizer prices.

Conclusion 

Predicting commodity prices is a fool’s errand. When natural gas and agricultural commodity prices come down, I would expect fertilizer prices to also come down.

When the price of a pound of fertilizer exceeds the expected increase in revenue from spreading it on the field, it is not profitable to use that pound. Fertilizer prices have increased by more than most crop prices, so in 2022 producers have an incentive to apply less fertilizer per acre. If farmers do apply less fertilizer per acre, it will provide an environmental benefit in the form of less nitrogen and phosphorus in streams, rivers, and lakes.

Moreover, to the extent that farmers apply more than the recommended amount of fertilizer as insurance against low yields, reducing use in 2022 provides an opportunity to experiment and to learn how much such insurance is necessary.

 

2022-03-14T16:07:26-07:00March 14th, 2022|

Pistachio Growers Unite at Industry Annual Conference

Record numbers in attendance as growers assess future challenges and opportunities

By American Pistachio Growers

The next five years for American pistachio growers presents challenges and great opportunity, prompting a call for unity at the industry’s Annual Pistachio Conference, which kicked off March 1 in Carlsbad, CA. More than 1200 attendees—an industry record–from three states participated in the conference, which kicked off with a panel of growers who discussed the next five years, as production ramps up.

A grower panel underscored three topics on growers’ minds: accelerating production of pistachios between 2022 and 2026; keeping doors open to American pistachios in key export markets like India; and ongoing pest battles. They emphasized that, while the three topics present challenges, the industry’s trade association, American Pistachio Growers , has proven efficacy in addressing each issue and there could be tremendous opportunity over the next five years with a united industry.

According to data analyzed by Sacramento economist Dennis H. Tootelian, Ph.D., California growers will produce 6.9 billion pounds of pistachios over the next five years, 2.4 billion more than they produced in the previous five-year period from 2017-2021. APG, as the trade association representing the U.S. industry, has kept pace with building consumer demand for the increased volume in recent years in targeted export markets, which he says has helped to support grower pricing in the face of rapid production. Tootelian showed that in countries where APG focused their marketing efforts, exports have grown 36% a year compared to 17% in countries with no APG marketing emphasis.

Tulare County grower Dominic Pitigliano, past Chair of APG and a grower panelist, said, “Ten years ago, APG identified the export markets with the greatest growth potential and our intense focus on those markets has paid off in building consumer demand.” 

The grower panel discussed India as a prime growth market for U.S. pistachios where continued marketing could boost opportunities in the years ahead. India possesses the market conditions necessary for a growth market — rising population, growing per capita income, and increasing consumption of pistachios.

Tootelian projects that in 2022 consumers in India will consume 272,000 pounds of pistachios per day, and by 2026, they will be buying 410,000 pounds per day.  

APG, which is funded by assessments from growers and government grants, has leveraged those dollars to boost exports and address impediments to trade in the form of tariffs and nontariff barriers. The grower panel underscored the importance of having APG continue to play a strong role to keep the door open in India.

“APG packs a one-two punch in export markets,” said APG Chair, Dennis Woods. “Getting tariffs reduced or eliminated is the first step, followed by marketing programs that enlighten consumers about the health benefits of American pistachios. The strategy works as long as we all work together,” noting the organization has 64 dedicated growers from three states who volunteer on the APG Board and committees. 

While marketing ever larger crops will command the industry’s attention in coming years, so too will challenges that come from the surge in pistachio orchards in California. The Navel Orangeworm (NOW), the major pest threat to pistachios, has been fought with a plethora of tools —- costly inputs, winter sanitation programs, and mating disruption techniques. Tootelian estimated that growers will spend $1.8 billion in total NOW management costs in the next five years.

APG has led the industry effort to use a novel tool in the fight against NOW — a U.S. Department of Agriculture facility in Phoenix that rears sterile Navel Orangeworm moths for aerial distribution over a few thousand acres of pistachios and almonds in Kern County. APG helped to secure $8 million in federal funds for the pilot project, but the USDA has recommended an additional $21 million per year to expand the project. The Phoenix facility was instrumental in rearing sterile pink bollworm moths that led to the successful eradication of the cotton pink bollworm in California in 2018. 

“I know at the very least we can suppress Navel Orangeworm because we had similar success in the cotton industry,” said Ted Sheely, a pistachio and cotton grower who chairs the NOW Action Committee, the industry advisory committee that government requires in such situations. “We need to continue to push hard for the $21 million per year that will be required to keep the Arizona facility going and expand the program to the extent that we need it. Navel Orangeworm
is an industry-wide concern, and we need APG to secure the funding to support this program.”

“APG’s leadership has envisioned the future and how we should position the industry for success,” said APG President Richard Matoian. “As the industry’s trade association, we need every grower to participate in APG in order to fund our ability to make our future plans reality. We’ve done a good job so far, and we’re optimistic about the next five years.”

2022-03-03T10:46:35-08:00March 3rd, 2022|

Grape Experts Give Workshops on Drought Preparedness, Red Blotch

By UCANR

Grapevine Drought Preparedness Workshop

Grape growers and other industry members interested in grape production and water management in vineyards are invited to UC Cooperative Extension’s Grapevine Drought Preparedness Workshops.

The workshops will be held in person on Friday, March 4, in San Luis Obispo and Friday, April 1, in Hopland.

Registration is $50 and includes a full day of live instruction from UC Cooperative Extension viticulture and grapevine experts. Lunch will be provided.

For more information and to register, visit https://ucanr.edu/sites/ShortCourse17.

UC Davis Grapevine Red Blotch Disease Symposium

On Wednesday, March 16, UC Cooperative Extension and the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology will host a Grapevine Red Blotch Disease Symposium 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Red blotch disease in grapevines, which can dramatically reduce the value of winegrapes, harms plants by inhibiting photosynthesis in the leaves. Infected vines are unable to conduct water effectively, leaving sugar that is created by photosynthesis stuck in the leaves instead of in the berries.

This event will be presented both in person at the UC Davis Conference Center and livestreamed for those unable to attend in person.

Presentations will cover the role of treehoppers, treatments, mitigation strategies, the impact of the disease on the composition of wine, and more.

Registration is $250 for the in-person symposium at UC Davis and $150 for the livestream. An application for 3.5 CCE units has been submitted to California Department of Pesticide Regulation and is pending approval.

To see the agenda and to register, visit https://wineserver.ucdavis.edu/events/uc-davis-grapevine-red-blotch-disease-symposium.

2022-02-24T09:14:03-08:00February 24th, 2022|

Special Education Students Cultivate Farm Skills at South Coast REC

Partnership with Esperanza Education Center provides blueprint for other adult transition programs

By UCANR

For students at Esperanza Education Center, an adult transition program serving students with disabilities in south Orange County, there was something deeply satisfying about handpicking 2,000 pounds of avocados.

“There’s a tangible, visual element where you’re like, ‘Wow, I did that – I did it, I can see it, I can feel it in my bones and my muscles,’” said Ray Bueche, principal of the school in Mission Viejo, within the Saddleback Valley Unified School District. “There’s a real sense of accomplishment that you’re seeing in some of these students.”

Ranging in age from 18 to 22, the students are in an adult education program that helps advance their independent living skills and prepare them for meaningful work and careers. They are able to experience the thrill of the harvest – and a variety of other farming activities – through the school’s innovative partnership with UC South Coast Research and Extension Center, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources facility that supports researchers and delivers outreach and education programs.

Given UC ANR’s emphasis on workforce development, Jason Suppes, a community education specialist at South Coast REC, contacted Bueche in 2019 about a potential collaboration. While Esperanza has many partnerships with retail stores and nonprofits that give students invaluable work experiences, none of them offer the farm environment that South Coast REC could provide.

“Part of developing [our students] is getting a wide range of opportunities in a variety of vocational areas,” Bueche explained. “Agriculture is one that’s very hard for us to find.”

Program ‘wildly successful’ from beginning

Unlike other job sites that bring the students in less frequently, South Coast REC committed to hosting the young people every week for three hours (COVID-19 measures permitting), with Suppes and colleague Tammy Majcherek leading them in planting, weeding, maintenance, harvesting and more.

“We can provide opportunities for students to learn skills that could help them potentially find employment in a garden center, in a nursery, at landscapers,” Suppes said. “The program was wildly successful out of the gate.”

Mike Seyler, an Esperanza teacher who accompanies the students to South Coast REC, has seen firsthand the positive impacts of the partnership. He said one student – who at first balked at the idea of being outside, getting dirty and performing physical labor – eventually grew to like the work and took great pride in pulling carrots from the ground and sharing them with his family.

“To physically actually ‘see’ the work you did – they don’t always get to do that,” Seyler said. “It was cool to see someone, who didn’t necessarily like being outdoors, really enjoy it now.”

The change of pace – and place – was especially beneficial for one young woman at Esperanza. Bueche said the nature of the work and the setting helped the student grow socially, as she relished the teamwork and camaraderie needed to accomplish their goals on the farm.

“We really saw a different person come out through her experiences there – she felt more self-confident; she was more personable with people; she was talking more,” said Bueche, who added that she has leveraged the skills she gained into a paid work-based learning experience with a local retailer.

Students bring produce to school, community

All students benefit from Esperanza’s partnership with South Coast REC, as surplus produce from the center’s fields is donated to make healthy school lunches. In addition, students use REC-grown fruits and vegetables at their monthly pop-up restaurant, where they hone skills in preparing and serving a three-course meal.

Their peers, who harvested the produce, derive immense satisfaction from seeing the fruits of their labor go directly to the school.

“They’re able to enjoy eating the stuff that they’re working for,” Seyler said. “And then they see everyone else enjoying it, and I think that really translates well for these guys.”

The students also played a prominent role in an avocado sale last summer, for which they picked 2,000 pounds of produce, bagged the fruit in 10-pound bags and then distributed preorders to the public from a stand at South Coast REC. Proceeds from the event were used to purchase farm tools, shirts and other gear.

“It was an incredible success – everyone loved the avocados,” Bueche said. “The students loved it; the parents came out; community members supported it.”

Those successes illustrate the power of a strong partnership; the South Coast REC team, in fact, received the school’s “Community Partner of the Year” Award for 2020-21, for persevering through the pandemic to deliver the beneficial programs for students.

Over the last two years, Suppes and Bueche – through a lot of creativity and some trial and error – have sketched a roadmap for growing productive relationships between similar organizations and adult transition programs. And after presenting those results to colleagues, other local school districts and nonprofits such as Goodwill and My Day Counts have contacted South Coast REC to provide similar experiences for community members.

2022-02-08T08:40:05-08:00February 8th, 2022|
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