USDA to Help Farmers Diversify Weed Control Efforts

USDA Addresses Herbicide Resistant Weed Control

Edited by California Ag Today

 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced TODAY the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is taking steps to address the increase of herbicide resistant weeds in the country’s agricultural systems.

In California, glyphosate resistant weeds are found throughout the state, and growers are warned to minimize using the material back-to-back during weed control. More information can be found http://info.ucanr.org/weed_sept/.

“Weed control in major crops is almost entirely accomplished with herbicides today,” said Vilsack. “USDA, working in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency, must continue to identify ways to encourage producers to adopt diverse tactics for weed management in addition to herbicide control. The actions we are taking today are part of this effort.”

To help farmers manage their herbicide-resistant weeds more holistically and sustainably:

  • USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) will offer financial assistance under its Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) for herbicide resistant weed control practices that utilize Integrated Pest Management plans and practices.
  • Later this year NRCS will be soliciting proposals under the Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) Program for innovative conservation systems that address herbicide resistant weeds.
  • USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) will actively promote use of best management practices (BMPs) in design protocols for regulated authorized releases of genetically engineered (GE) crops and will include recommendations for BMPs with the authorization of field trials of HR crops.
  • USDA is partnering with the Weed Science Society of America (WSSA) and is providing funds to develop education and outreach materials for various stakeholders on managing herbicide resistant weeds. The Secretary has directed Dr. Sheryl Kunickis, Director of the USDA Office of Pest Management Policy, as the point person leading this effort with the USDA.

 

USDA works with the EPA

The issue of herbicide resistant weeds has become one of increasing importance for agriculture. When herbicides are repeatedly used to control weeds, the weeds that survive herbicide treatment can multiply and spread.

With EPA’s announcement TODAY on the registration of new uses for herbicide mixtures containing the herbicides 2,4-D and glyphosate (in the Enlist® formulation) in conjunction with new genetically-engineered crop varieties, farmers have more tools for improved management of emerging populations of herbicide-resistant weeds in corn and soybeans crops. In its decision for 2,4-D use on genetically modified corn and soybean, EPA has outlined new requirements for registrants as part of a product stewardship program.

The USDA Office of Pest Management Policy worked with EPA to address the issue of herbicide resistance through appropriate label language that will require registrants to develop a stewardship program for the herbicide, develop training and education on proper use of the product that includes diversifying weed management, investigate and report nonperformance, and develop and implement a remediation plan for suspected herbicide resistant weeds.

EPA intends to require the same stewardship plans for all new applications for product registration on genetically modified crops with the goal being to encourage effective resistance management while maintaining needed flexibility for growers.

USDA recognizes that the problem of herbicide resistant weed control will not be solved solely through the application of new herbicides. USDA has worked with the Weed Science Society of America for a number of years on identifying best management practices for farmers and on addressing impediments to adoption of those practices.

USDA will continue to work to ensure that growers have the diverse tools they need to address the management of herbicide resistant weeds.

Sources: USDA, CDFA

California’s ‘Exceptional Drought’

Long Term Solutions, Desperately Needed For California Drought

 

By John Vikupitz, president and CEO of Netafim USA in Fresno, California

 

Aaron Barcellos, a partner with A-Bar Ag Enterprises in Los Banos, is a fourth-generation farmer. His 7,000-acre operation produces crops, including pistachios, pomegranates, asparagus, and tomatoes.

The farm creates jobs for up to 40 people full-time and over 100 at peak season. This year, the operation took an unprecedented move in letting 30 percent of its productive acreage go fallow for lack of water, redirecting available water to permanent crops and to honor tomato contracts.  This fallowing of acreage has resulted in a loss of work for over 30 part-time employees and an estimated loss of $10 million to the local business economy from his operation, alone.

“It’s a ‘batten down the hatches’ year,” notes Mr. Barcellos. “We are trying to survive this year while hoping the severity of this drought will provide momentum for more long term solutions to our water crisis.”

California’s ‘exceptional drought’ – said by University of California (UC) Berkeley paleoclimatologist B. Lynn to perhaps be the worst in 500 years – places the state at a critical juncture.

California’s historic low precipitation of 2013 and the below normal 2012 precipitation left most state reservoirs at  between six percent storage in the Southern Sierra to 36 percent in Shasta – levels not been seen since the 1977 severe drought. Snowpack is nearly non-existent.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reports nearly half of the U.S. is in some form of drought.

Water is one of life’s greatest conveniences. Turn on the tap and water appears, often at less cost than other household bills, providing the lifeblood for food production, human health, climate, energy and the ecosystem.

We may take water for granted until we’re in danger of losing it as sources dry up. We may not contemplate the support system and cost that brings water to the tap: the extensive pipe conveyance system, treatment plant, chemicals needed for purification, labor and energy costs.

Consequently, every drop saved by one water user benefits all users.

Homeowners may do their part in water conservation by installing low-flow fixtures – often incentivized through government rebate programs – by washing vehicles less or taking shorter showers. The payoff: lower water bills.

The agricultural sector is doing its part, too, using water-saving technology investments that reap returns for Californians, as well as those elsewhere benefitting from its exports. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), the state produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, vegetables and nuts and leads the world in almond and pistachio production. California’s 80,500 farms and ranches received a record $44.7 billion for their 2012 output.  Exports totaled more than $18 billion.

Tens of thousands of productive acres are being fallowed. The number of jobs, specifically those of farmworkers, will subside as food prices increase. California, the nation’s top dairy producer, is shipping cows out of state due to water uncertainties with no guarantee that alfalfa and other crops cows consume will continue to be available.

It’s critical that people appreciate their food source. California’s regulations ensure safe and reliable food, while California’s highly progressive and efficient farmers enable that food source to be the cheapest in the world Mr. Barcellos points out.

Food safety and quality drive those innovations, as well as economics. Regulations mean the cost to produce food and get it to the store requires farmers to be highly efficient to remain competitive.

Mr. Barcellos farms in five different irrigation districts with various water rights and water supplies. A-Bar Ag Enterprises has converted 5,500 acres from flood irrigation to drip irrigation creating a combined water savings and production efficiency of over twenty percent.

“What we do in California with the different irrigation technologies creates significant efficiencies in water application without waste, enabling farmers to increase yields with fewer inputs. With that said, it doesn’t matter what the crop – it still takes water to grow it,” Mr. Barcellos points out.

According to The Center for Irrigation Technology at California State University, Fresno, Agriculture uses 40 percent of all dedicated water, including environmental, municipal and industrial uses in order to meet the needs of the eight million irrigated agricultural acres in California.

When farmers were short on water, they used to purchase it on the open market or pump more ground water. This year, there is no water to buy and wells are starting to run dry, says Mr. Barcellos.

While the federal government has offered temporary food money for farmworkers, “the people in our communities want to work, not receive handouts from a food bank,” Mr. Barcellos says, adding that it’s time to work on long-term solutions to water problems.

California’s water system was developed for 20 million people, with residents and farmers sharing the water supply, with those same resources later shared to meet environmental concerns. That – and the nearly doubled population – has taxed the water system, Mr. Barcellos says.

“We haven’t spent any serious funds to improve California’s infrastructure since the early 1970s to keep pace with population growth and environmental demands,” Mr. Barcellos says. “If the environment needs more water, let’s use sound science and invest in more storage and better conveyance systems for long-term solutions.”

Following Governor Edmund Brown Jr.’s January declaration of a drought emergency, the State Water Project cut water deliveries to all 29 public water agencies to zero for 2014.

Even if there is some short-term relief, mitigation is needed to protect against long-term unpredictable weather patterns.

UC Berkeley’s David Sedlak, professor of civil and environmental engineering, explains:  the drought notwithstanding, California’s aged infrastructure calls for increased investments in water recycling, rainwater harvesting and seawater desalination with a focus on local water supply development.

The United States Department of Agricultural (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), California indicates three priorities: protecting soils made vulnerable by water cutbacks, protecting drought-impacted rangeland, and stretching every drop of irrigation water using improved hardware and management Farmers and ranchers are encouraged to develop a water conservation plan and seek funding opportunities such as the $30 million available through USDA NRCS California to help drought-impacted farmers and ranchers with conservation practices and the $25 million to help pay for conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Irrigation is the final stop on the train that begins with water supply and continues with delivery methods. Water conservation technology – much of which has been proven overseas for decades on arid farmlands – offers a solution right now to apply water more precisely and even improve crop yields and quality.

Our world’s growing population calls for large-scale farming to provide food. For decades, California farmers with reasonable and secure access to water have used water conservation technologies to continue farming and create more water for other purposes, such as the needs of growing urban areas and for environmental remediation, which uses half of California’s water supply.

Farmers like Mr. Barcellos are great stewards of the environment. Many California farmers have successfully adopted this technology to a large degree, using water more efficiently and leaving more in the system for other uses. We need to expand that effort more.

USDA Funds $3 Million to Improve Bee Health

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will provide close to $3 million in technical and financial assistance for interested farmers and ranchers to help improve the health of bees, which play an important role in crop production, particularly in California.

The funding is a focused investment to improve pollinator health and will be targeted in five Midwestern states, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, where California farmers procure their bees.

USDA reports that Honey bee pollination supports an estimated $15 billion worth of agricultural production, including more than 130 fruits and vegetables that are the foundation of a nutritious diet.

California’s 800,000 acres of almond orchards typically require 1.8 million domesticated bee colonies, just to pollinate its almond trees alone.

The future security of America’s food supply depends on healthy honey bees,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Expanded support for research, combined with USDA’s other efforts to improve honey bee health, should help America’s beekeepers combat the current, unprecedented loss of honey bee hives each year.”

Funding will be provided through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to promote conservation practices that will provide honey bees with nutritious pollen and nectar while providing benefits to the environment. Recent studies have shown that beekeepers are losing approximately 30 percent of their honey bee colonies each year, up from historical norms of ten to fifteen percent overwintering losses experienced prior to 2006.

This assistance will provide guidance and support to farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honey bees. For example, appropriate cover crops or rangeland and pasture management may provide a benefit to producers by reducing erosion, increasing the health of their soil, inhibiting invasive species, providing quality forage and habitat for honey bees and other pollinators, as well as habitat for other wildlife.

Midwestern states were chosen because from June to September the region is the resting ground for over 65 percent of the commercially managed honey bees in the country. It is a critical time when bees require abundant and diverse forage across broad landscapes to build up hive strength for the winter.

Applications are due March 21, 2014.

NATIONAL DROUGHT RESILIENCE PARTNERSHIP—GROUND CENTRAL FOR RELIEF

Federal and State Officials Highlight “All-In” Response to Calif. Drought 

Source: Pamela Martineau, Association of California Water Agencies

 

Federal and state officials held a joint press conference TODAY to highlight the multi-agency collaboration – calling it an “all-in” endeavor – that is taking place to leverage resources to respond to California’s drought.

 

Officials with Bureau of Reclamation and the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) also announced an additional $14 million in federal funding that will be made available to water districts and growers to conserve water and improve water management. This funding is in addition to the $20 million announced yesterday by the USDA to provide for water efficiency improvements for growers and ranchers.

 

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor stressed during the press conference that California is facing a potentially worse drought than the one in 1976-77 because reservoir levels are currently lower and the state’s population much greater.

 

“We have a more significant drought with a lot more people to serve,” said Connor.

 

Connor said the coordination of federal response to California’s drought would take place through the National Drought Resilience Partnership.

 

“This is ground central for this partnership,” said Connor.

 

On Jan. 31, officials with the California Department of Water Resources announced that there would be no allocations from the State Water Project. Commissioner Connor predicted the allocations from the federal Central Valley Project would be low when announced later this month.

 

Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said that collaboration across agencies – on the federal, state and local levels – would be the only way the state can effectively deal with a drought of this magnitude. He also said it is important that officials act now to prepare for even drier conditions later.

 

“Delay can exacerbate the impact of the drought, so it is important to act quickly,” said Cowin.

 

Cowin said the state is taking a “measured approach” in terms of calling for a 20% voluntary water cutback by consumers and is “looking to local agencies to make (the) call” about mandatory restrictions.

 

He added, however, that if dry conditions persist “we might take action at the state level” in terms of mandatory restrictions.

 

Cowin was joined Reclamation Commissioner Connor and administrators from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), National Integrated Drought Information System and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in demonstrating the coordinated response to record-breaking drought conditions in California.

 

Federal officials also committed to accelerate water transfers and exchanges and provide operational flexibility as necessary to help stretch California’s water supplies. Reclamation also released its 2014 Central Valley Project Water Plan, which outlines specific actions to help water users better manage their supplies through drought.

 

On Jan. 31, Reclamation announced that, with the consent of all settlement parties, it will begin reducing San Joaquin River Restoration Program’s Restoration Flows one month earlier than called for in the settlement, thereby making available about 13,000 acre-feet to the Friant Division long-term contractors with first priority to meet human health and safety needs.

 

Connor noted that pumping operations at the federal Jones Pumping Plant, located in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta near Tracy, have been restricted by the lack of water due to drought conditions and State water quality permit requirements. Connor said pumping has not been curtailed by Endangered Species Act requirements for protection of imperiled fish species.

 

Also on Feb. 5, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it has begun, with assistance from the Bureau of Reclamation, focused drought-related surveys for delta smelt at Jersey Point on the San Joaquin River. The monitoring program will provide the Service, and state and federal water managers, with near real-time information about the location of delta smelt if they move closer to water diversions in the southern Delta.

 

Delta smelt are currently not near the water projects and entrainment risks are low. If there is substantial rain that increases Delta flows and the turbidity of Delta waterways, delta smelt could move closer to the water project diversions.