University of California, Division of Agricultural and Natural Resources

Farm Robotics Competition Challenges Students to Solve Real-World Problems

By Hanif Houston

College students are invited to develop a robot that makes farm work easier while competing for cash prizes and bragging rights in the Farm Robotics Challenge, a three-month robotics development competition running from Feb. 1 to May 13, 2023.

The challenge is being sponsored by The VINE, an initiative of the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources focused on agricultural innovation, in partnership with the AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems (AIFS), farm-ng robotics company, and the Fresno-Merced Future of Food (F3) Innovation coalition.

“Our primary objective for the Farm Robotics Challenge is to empower young innovators to explore careers in agriculture technology and innovation,” said Gabe Youtsey, chief innovation officer for UC ANR and head of the VINE. “The agrifood technology industry is one of the most exciting and fastest-growing sectors in the economy right now, estimated to reach $30.5 billion by 2050. Yet, because of a lack of exposure or access, our brightest minds end up entering other sectors, taking their talents and abilities with them. We hope this new competition changes that and reverses the talent flow back into agriculture.”

“In order to have a next-generation food system, we need next-generation agricultural robotics developers,” said Steve Brown, AIFS associate director. “There is tremendous innovation potential in this domain that just needs more connecting points to the coders and makers.”

The Farm Robotics Challenge is open to any university or college in the U.S. Student teams will be asked to address a production farming topic on any crop or size of farm, with a desired focus on small farms, by automating an essential farm-related task using the farm-ng robotics platform. Each campus will need to purchase a farm-ng robot or borrow one to participate in the challenge.

Specific challenges will either be pre-identified for teams to choose from, or teams may choose to create additional or custom functionality to solve a self-identified challenge. Challenges will fit into one or more of the following categories: autonomy, artificial intelligence or attachment. Virtual training sessions will be offered throughout the competition to provide teams with expert guidance and technical help from AIFS, farm-ng, The VINE and other partners.

Student teams will be judged on the following criteria, with a grand prize and several specific prizes for top teams in each category: accuracy and completeness, market fit and commercial potential, design elegance and ease of use, cost-effectiveness, safety, interdisciplinary inclusion, and social and economic impact. Winners will receive cash prizes and connections to robotic companies for internships and jobs, among other benefits.

For more information, please visit the Farm Robotics Challenge website at https://farmbot.ai. If you have questions, contact Hanna Bartram, AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems project coordinator, at hcbartram@ucdavis.edu.

2022-11-11T09:04:22-08:00November 11th, 2022|

Pitahaya/dragon fruit growers gather to learn from UCCE research and each other

By Saoimanu Sope, UCANR

Once you know what a dragon fruit looks like, you will never forget it. The bright red, sometimes yellow or purple, scaly skin makes for a dramatic appearance. One that will surely leave an impression. The flesh ranges from white to a deep pink and the flavor is often described as having hints of kiwi, watermelon, or pear.

Since 2007, the Pitahaya/Dragon Fruit Production Tour, has united dragon fruit growers of all levels and backgrounds. After a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, registration for the 2022 tour filled up in less than 24 hours.

A group of 60 participants gathered Sept. 8 at the Wallace Ranch Dragon Fruit Farm in Bonsall to learn the latest research on growing the drought-tolerant specialty crop. Ramiro Lobo, a small farms and agricultural economics advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in San Diego County, introduced dragon fruit growers and other UC scientists.

“I can’t remember a year where this event was not sold out. So, the need and demand is there,” said Eyal Givon, a long-time participant and dragon fruit grower.

The tour not only demonstrates how to grow the fruit, but it also grants participants access to plant material for varieties that are unavailable elsewhere.

“We have given out about 50,000 cuttings through our festival and some varieties were unique to us because we introduced them to the U.S.,” said Lobo.

During their time at Wallace Ranch, participants heard from the farm’s owner, Neva Day, regarding the growing practices that have shaped her success today. Day has been growing organic dragon fruit since 2013 and has well over 5,000 plants on the ground and more than 20 varieties.

Eric Middleton, UCCE integrated pest management area advisor for San Diego County, talked about managing insects and pests that growers are likely to encounter such as Argentine ants.

According to Middleton, Pecan Sandies are a balanced source of fat, protein, and sugar, making them excellent bait for the sugar-loving insects.

Participants eventually made their way to Dragon Delights Farm located in Ramona. Kevin Brixey, the farm’s owner, has been growing organic dragon fruit for six years.

Although Brixey was hosting this year’s tour participants, he used to be one of them.

“I attended the Pitahaya Festival in 2014 and that’s where I realized dragon fruit was something I could grow. There was a lot of good information being shared and a connection to other growers, so it was a major steppingstone for me,” he says.

Unlike traditional dragon fruit growers, Brixey uses shade to grow his dragon fruit after learning about the method from another grower.

“I was impressed. I liked how the fruit performed under shade and now I use it as a management tool,” Brixey explained. In Inland Valleys, shade can shield fruit from intense sunlight and protect them from unwanted guests that eat the fruit, such as birds.

At the Farm Bureau of San Diego County offices, participants learned about the history of dragon fruit growing in California, food safety, pest management, best production practices and much more.

The presenters included experts like Paul Erickson from Rare Dragon Fruit, Lobo, Middleton, Johanna del Castillo from UC Davis Department of Plant Pathology and Ariana Reyes, a community education specialist from UCCE San Diego.

When reflecting on his time participating in the production tour, Givon, who has been growing dragon fruit for about 20 years and manages a 20-acre farm in Moorpark, said he enjoys reconnecting with other growers the most.

“What others are doing, might be better than what I’m doing,” Givon said. “Or what I’m doing, could be better than what someone else is doing. This time together is good for us to learn from each other.”

Lobo agreed with Givon and added, “I hope that these tours become self-sustained, and that we go back to a research field day at Southcoast REC with regional tours in San Diego and Ventura as we did before, or any other counties.”

The Pitahaya/Dragon Fruit Production Tour is an annual event hosted by UCCE San Diego. To learn more about UCCE San Diego events, visit https://cesandiego.ucanr.edu

2022-10-25T08:08:03-07:00October 25th, 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|

UC California Naturalist Conference, Oct. 7–9, highlights environmental challenges, diverse voices

Program has trained more than 6,500 participants statewide by partnering with over 80 organizations

By Mike Hsu, UCANR

Climate change, extreme drought, intense wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic can all be linked to humanity’s troubled relationship with the natural world.

For more than a decade, healing and deepening connections between people and the environment have been pillars of the UC California Naturalist Program. Partnering with over 80 organizations across the state, the program – a part of University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources – has trained over 6,500 participants and certified more than 5,350 volunteers who engage fellow community members in advancing environmental stewardship and climate resilience.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the program is convening a statewide conference Oct. 7–9 along the north shore of Lake Tahoe, under the theme of “Celebrating Community, Nature and Resilience for a Just Future.” Keynote speakers are José González, founder of Latino Outdoors; Rhiana Jones, director of the Washoe Environmental Protection Department; and Obi Kaufmann, artist and eco-philosopher. Members of the public are invited to register for the conference.

UC Naturalists and Climate Stewards (the latter program was established in 2020), as well as instructors for both certification courses, will gather with community members to reflect on their work, share best practices and chart a path toward a more sustainable and equitable future.

“We’re striving to create a welcoming and safe space where we can challenge our own long-standing assumptions and perspectives and hear from a wide range of voices on crucial topics, including the latest on climate change and resilience; participatory science; and equity, diversity and inclusion in the conservation space,” said Gregory Ira, director of the UC California Naturalist Program.

Ira also highlighted the conference’s equity-based registration fee structure, aimed at minimizing cost as a barrier to participation.

“We encourage anyone with an interest in learning more about California’s unique ecosystems – and becoming a better steward of the environment – to join us for the weekend,” he said. “We truly value the perspectives and experiences you can bring to our conference.”

The conference agenda will feature engaging presentations, hands-on workshops and field trips to the area’s natural wonders. Presenters include:

  • Herman Fillmore, culture/language resources director, Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California
  • Don Hankins, Professor, Geography and Planning, Chico State University
  • Patricia Maloney, Forest and Conservation Biologist, Tahoe Environmental Research Center, UC Davis
  • Adina Merenlender, co-founder of the California Naturalist Program and UC Cooperative Extension professor in conservation science
  • Jennifer Norris, deputy secretary for biodiversity and habitat, California Natural Resources Agency
  • Ken-ichi Ueda, co-founder and co-director of iNaturalist, UC Berkeley School of Information

For more information and to register, visit the conference website at ucanr.edu/sites/2022CalNatCon/.

2022-09-28T12:27:38-07:00September 28th, 2022|

World Agricultural Robotics Expo to Launch Oct. 18 in Fresno

Robots to ease labor shortage, climate concerns

By Pam Kan-Rice, UCANR

Drought, climate change and labor scarcity are driving farmers to seek new ways of accomplishing farming tasks. Sensors enable more precise application of precious irrigation water. Robotic machinery help plant, weed, prune and harvest, even in triple-digit weather. What other problems can technology solve?

World FIRA, the leading event in Ag Robotics, will launch FIRA USA in Fresno on Oct. 18, to provide autonomous systems and robots to California and North American growers.

Jointly organized between the French association GOFAR, the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, Western Growers Association and the Fresno-Merced Future of Food (F3) Initiative, FIRA USA 2022 will bring together people with diverse expertise for three days of problem-solving, decision-making and planning.

  • WHAT: World FIRA (International Forum of Agricultural Robotics) to bring together representatives of the agricultural, technology and finance industries for a fresh approach to adapting to climate change and labor issues.
  • WHO: Specialty crop growers, robot manufacturers, scientists, technologists, startup owners and investors
  • WHEN: From Tuesday, Oct. 18, at 8 a.m. to Thursday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m. Free registration for journalists at https://avolio.swapcard.com/FIRAUSA22/registrations/Start.
  • WHERE: Fresno Convention & Entertainment Center, 848 M St, Fresno, CA 93721
  • VISUALS: Robots performing tasks such as planting, weeding and harvesting in the field Oct. 20 at 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • SPEAKERS: Karen Ross, Secretary of the CDFA; Ben Alfi, Co-Founder of Blue White Robotics; Erez Fait, Co-founder of Agrinoz; Walt Duflock, Vice President of Vice President of Western Growers; Mark Borman, President of Taylor Farms California; Aubrey Bettencourt, CEO of Almond Alliance; Erez Fait, Chairman and Co-founder of Agrinoze; and more. See full list: https://bit.ly/3B8hGT6

The three-day event will feature ample opportunities to interview panelists, growers, robotics manufacturers and other participants. To learn more about FIRA USA , visit www.fira-agtech.com/event/fira-usa.

2022-09-21T10:10:50-07:00September 21st, 2022|

San Joaquin Valley Farm and Food Project Awarded $16 Million in Federal Funds

By Pam Kan-Rice, UCANR

Local food marketing, business and market support for small-scale farmers and food producers, new agricultural products and technology development are parts of a University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources project designed to boost jobs and farm resiliency in the San Joaquin Valley.

The Fresno-Merced Future of Food Innovation Coalition, or F3, received a $65.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge. Of that award, about $16 million is designated for the Local Farm and Food Innovation initiative led by UC ANR. With the addition of matching share of cost contributions, the total budget for UC ANR’s project is over $20.5 million.

“As a key part of the broader F3 project, this Local Farm and Food Innovation initiative is going to be transformative,” said Glenda Humiston, University of California vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “By strengthening the parts of the food system to better support each other and drive innovation across the region, it’s going to deliver many environmental and economic benefits to Californians.”

Gabriel Youtsey is chief innovation officer for The VINE, a UC ANR initiative that helps new technology make it to market and businesses get off the ground by connecting entrepreneurs with mentors and resources, and aligning university and startup technology development with industry needs.

“The Local Farm and Food Innovation initiative is a win for inclusive innovation in agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley and a critical part of the F3 project,” said Youtsey. “It provides a broad set of training and support resources and expertise to help farms, food producers and vendors of all sizes to grow their businesses profitably and sustainably, in alignment with the economic goals of the region.”

To ensure technology solutions address the needs of small-scale farmers, food business owners and local communities, they will be invited to participate in directing the innovation activities, Youtsey said.

“With our deep roots in the San Joaquin Valley, UC Cooperative Extension is uniquely positioned to draw expertise from other parts of UC and expand its efforts in helping farmers and food entrepreneurs realize enduring prosperity and community resilience,” Humiston said. “UC ANR experts are already helping immigrants and other underserved communities adapt to climate change, add flexibility to supply chains and grow grassroots innovations. We are excited the federal government is investing in making food systems more equitable and profitable, and the solutions more scalable.”

To assist small-scale farmers in complying with new regulations and production challenges, adapting to climate change and finding new markets for their produce, UC ANR is convening the Small Farms Technology and Innovation Alliance. They are collaborating with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers and other nonprofit organizations to provide translation services, training and marketing assistance to farmers and food producers.

Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, UC Cooperative Extension small farms advisor for Fresno and Tulare counties, and Houston Wilson, UC Organic Agriculture Institute director and UC Cooperative Extension tree crops entomology specialist based at UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, are leading outreach and engagement with small-scale and organic farmers.

“While we certainly need to create new tools to address the unique challenges of organic agriculture, it is critical that farmers and other end-users be involved from start to finish,” said Wilson. “The development of appropriate technology requires communication across a wide range of stakeholders.”

To make new technology more accessible for small farmers and food producers, UC ANR will create a new team to test and demonstrate technology that is developed as part of F3 and by startups around the world. To promote adoption, the team will create a tool lending library so farmers can borrow and try out equipment and get training to use it.

“This project will expand on current efforts to support small-scale farmers with access to equipment, new markets and technical support,” said Dahlquist-Willard. “Our team is committed to meaningful engagement of farmers and San Joaquin Valley communities in the development of new tools and resources for the benefit of the region.”

For local food entrepreneurs and vendors, UC ANR will launch the Cultiva La Salud Kitchen and Food Academy and the Saint Rest Food Entrepreneurship Program, which will provide a kitchen, equipment and training. These will create new jobs and, over time, provide a marketplace to sell those products. The Local Food Marketing Assistance Program will promote purchases of locally grown produce and food products.

The Fresno-Merced project was one of 21 projects funded of the 529 proposed for the Build Back Better Regional Challenge intended to uplift underserved communities.

2022-09-16T09:02:43-07:00September 16th, 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|

Electric Tractors Reduce Carbon Emissions at UC ANR Research and Extension Centers

Zero-emission tractors perform many tasks of diesel tractors, without noise or exhaust

By Pam Kan-Rice, UCANR

The University of California, a national leader in sustainability, has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2025. To reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources has replaced several of its diesel-powered tractors with electric tractors at its research and extension centers.

Seven of the nine UC research and extension centers – Intermountain located in Siskiyou County, Hopland in Mendocino County, Kearney and West Side in Fresno County, Lindcove in Tulare County, Desert in Imperial County and Hansen in Ventura County – started using the Solectrac e25 in July. The researchers plan to share what they learn from using the electric tractors.

“Charging is easy, we are using a standard 110V connection, no charging station needed,” said John Bailey, director of the University of California Hopland Research and Extension Center. “For faster charging, you can use a 220V connection – again, no charging station needed, just a regular receptacle – but we haven’t gone there yet.”

The electric tractor runs for about five hours, depending on the type of use and the speed, on a charge.

“We will use the electric tractor to mix the soil for planting trees in the greenhouse,” said Ashraf El-kereamy, director of UC Lindcove Research and Extension Center in Exeter, which focuses on citrus research. “Also, for pulling the trailer with the fruit bins during harvest, it will be good as it does not emit any gases.”

The electric tractor is being used to move materials in the loader at UC Hopland REC. “It has worked well for this, functioning similarly to a standard diesel tractor,” said Bailey.

“We have also used it to clean our sheep barn, scraping the pens to get ready for lambing season,” Bailey said. “This involves pushing or dragging straw bedding and manure. The tractor functions well in tight spaces due to its compact size.”

Bailey learned one downside is that the front end is a little too light, making it difficult to generate enough downward pressure with the loader to effectively scrape the floor without reducing the front wheel traction.

“We are planning to add some weight to the front, a standard practice with tractors to increase traction. The tractor has the mounting to enable this so it should not be a big deal,” Bailey said. “Our operators really appreciate the lack of noise and exhaust, especially when working in the barn or in tight spaces.”

The small electric tractor is also being used in tight places at the UC Intermountain Research and Extension Center in Tulelake.

“The tractor that we obtained from the company is too small for the majority of our farm needs,” said Rob Wilson, Intermountain REC director. “We purchased a small box scraper and rototiller for the tractor and we are using it around our facility grounds. We also use it out in the field in tight spaces that are too small for our larger tractors to operate.”

“The tractor is quiet, powerful for its size and operates very similar to the diesel-powered tractors with regard to the controls, hydraulics and three-point assembly. The tractor also has a lot of torque and speed.”

Annemiek Schilder, director of UC Hansen Agricultural REC, added, “I think another advantage is that the tractors can go very slowly, which is helpful for some uses such as harvesting.”

The researchers will continue to evaluate the electric tractors throughout the year.

“Our main usage will come in the spring, mowing around our headquarters and on roadsides,” Bailey said. “We are purchasing a 4-foot flail mower that can mount to the rear PTO, but won’t really put it into use until April.” The power take-off, or PTO, is the shaft that transfers power from the tractor to the attachment.

Other benefits of electric tractors include no engine oil to change and no diesel fuel.

“If the farmer already has solar, they will see close to zero fuel charges,” Bailey added. “Even without solar, their fuel costs should be reduced depending on local electrical cost. Also, the engine only has one moving part compared to dozens in a diesel tractor so maintenance costs should be reduced significantly, something that is proving true in electric cars.”

The Solectrac e25 tractors each cost $27,999 and the optional loader was about $4,000.

The California Air Resources Board is offering incentives to buy zero-emission equipment through its Funding Agricultural Replacement Measures for Emission Reductions Program. FARMER provides funding through local air districts for agricultural harvesting equipment, heavy-duty trucks, agricultural pump engines, tractors and other equipment used in agricultural operations.

2022-08-30T10:21:20-07:00August 30th, 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|

New Orchard Advisor Brings Research Background

By Tim Hearden, Western Farm Press

The central San Joaquin Valley has a new University of California Cooperative Extension orchard crops advisor who once took part in research into the way people pronounce the word “almond.”

Cameron Zuber, a UCCE staff researcher in Merced County since 2016, has been named the orchard crops advisor for Merced and Madera counties.

He will cover a variety of crops in Merced County, including walnuts, almonds and pistachios as well as figs and stone fruit, and will work with walnut growers in Madera County, according to the university.

Among his contributions to UCCE has been to keep alive a project on how Californians pronounce the word “almond” and mapping where they live, color-coding whether they pronounce the “l.”

The website https://ucanr.edu/sites/sayalmond was started by a marketing and social media expert who left the UC’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources a few years ago, spokeswoman Pamela Kan-Rice said.

Zuber earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental biology and management from UC Davis and a master’s in environmental systems from UC Merced before joining the university as a researcher.

For orchard crops, he has worked on fumigants and other soil pest controls, rootstocks and scion varietals, cultural practices related to tree spacing and whole orchard recycling, according to the university.

He also has experience in water management, having studied flood irrigation for groundwater recharge, irrigation and soil, water and air interactions.

A growing team

Zuber began his new position June 6, joining a growing team of Extension advisors and specialists as UCANR has received increased funding from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature.

He was one of seven new advisors recently announced by the university, with others bringing expertise in wildfire, grapes, small-scale farms and youth development.

Among other advisors working with growers, Joy Hollingsworth began as the new table grape advisor serving Tulare and Kings counties on May 16; Kirsten Pearsons started as small farms advisor in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties on March 1; and Ricky Satomi joined UCCE Sutter-Yuba on March 15 as an area forestry and natural resources advisor in the Western Sierra Nevada region.

2022-07-28T14:58:19-07:00July 28th, 2022|
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