Water Reductions Would Devastate Valley

Big Study Shows Loss to Central Valley Economy with Loss of Water

By Patrick Cavanaugh. Farm News Director

A new study entitled, “The Implications of Agricultural Water for the Central Valley,” by Dr. Michael Shires of Pepperdine University, shows the economic implications of water in the Central Valley, and the potential outcome of continued water reductions in agriculture.

Agriculture is a major part of California’s economy, and this study illustrates both the outcome of increased water allocation and the potential growth that would come with it, or what could happen to the economy if this decline continues. This continued loss of water would result in a huge increase in the unemployment rate. Fresno would require 6.2 billion in solar farm investment annually to replace agricultural jobs that would be lost.

Johnny Amaral is the Deputy General Manager of External Affairs of the Westlands Water District. We spoke with him about Dr. Shire’s study, and what it means for the Central Valley. Shires is an economics professor at Pepperdine.

“He’s been involved for years, and has done economic reports and studies for other organizations and other groups with a particular interest in how public policy affects the economy and certain industries,” Amaral said. “And a couple of years ago, we started working with Dr. Shires in this debate over public policy as it relates to water.”

A lot of false information circulates about water use and agriculture. Most of this misinformation leads to a general negative opinion about agriculture, especially when it comes to water use.

“We’re constantly dealing with misinformation, deliberate misinformation about water policy, about agriculture,” Amaral said.

“You hear all the buzz words all the time about ag uses 80% of the water, which is not true. We’re constantly dealing with misinformation, so we thought it would make sense to have a document put together, a study done to show just what agriculture means to the Central Valley and to the state,” Amaral said.

Subsurface Drip Efficiency

Subsurface Drip Efficiency in Pomegranates

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

Subsurface drip irrigation, a more efficient form of water delivery, is growing in popularity and utilized on a widening range of crops. Claude James Phene, a research consultant for the UC Cooperative Extension, said subsurface drip efficiency is evident with both water and nitrogen in pomegranates.Pomegranate tree

Using a lysimeter, a big box on a calibrated truck scale that measures evapotranspiration, Phene can calculate the precise water requirement for pomegranates according to the soil moisture feedback indicated by the machine. Based on these calculations, Phene can make clear water recommendations to growers so they can accommodate the needs of their plants without exceeding them.

Because it is buried and targeted, subsurface drip irrigation also helps control weeds and reduce animal and traffic disturbances.

This six-year study has also demonstrated these drip lines prevent leaching—the loss of nutrients in the soil—that occurs with other types of irrigation systems. Phene explained, “The lysimeters are equipped with a drop-tube at the bottom so we can measure the nitrogen in any output to determine how much leaching occurs and to make recommendations on fertilizer.”

Bayer CropScience Gives $100,000 to Sponsor Project Apis m.’s Honey Bee Forage Program

Every year, more than 1.7 million honey bee colonies are brought to California’s Central Valley to pollinate the vast expanses of almond orchards. Many bees arrive in the fall when little is in bloom to escape their native cold temperatures in anticipation of the world’s largest pollination event.

Prior to and after the almond orchard’s bloom in late winter and spring, there is a shortage of food to help the bees survive. Bees’ food consists of nectar and pollen gathered from blooming plants.

To help address the pre- and post-bloom food challenge, Bayer CropScience is giving $100,000 to Project Apis m., a nonprofit organization dedicated to better bee health through its work with growers. Project Apis m. will use the funds to provide seed mixes to growers in California and Washington who have agreed to plant cover crops for honey bees before and after almond bloom and other key seasons. The project will help build a healthier bee population to support crop pollination nationwide as bee colonies are transported to other states for other growing seasons.

“This initiative is a direct response to the lack of adequate forage needed to keep honey bees healthy and thriving,” said Jim Blome, president and CEO of Bayer CropScience LP North America. “In 2015, Bayer CropScience is committed to research and partnerships that will make a positive impact on honey bees.”

Bayer’s expanded partnership with Project Apis m. will complement its joint field research projects conducted on fence rows near almond orchards at Bayer’s Western Bee Care Technology Station in Fresno, California. Findings from Bayer’s research with Project Apis m. show that forage plantings also can have benefits for growers.

If growers allow forage plantings adjacent to fields, rather than planting from fence row to fence row, they can reduce the loss of irrigation water, better manage soil quality and weeds, and help support wildlife, including pollinators. Local growers and landowners will plant the provided seeds on land with crops and on nearby plots to help ensure direct benefit to them and nearby bee colonies.

“With funding from Bayer, Project Apis m. will be able to work with growers to plant more acres of honey bee habitat right where it can be accessed by honey bees before the almond crop’s first bloom around Valentine’s Day,” said Christi Heintz, executive director of Project Apis m. and liaison to the Almond Board of California’s Bee Task Force. “Additionally, with Bayer’s help from its Fresno Research Station, we know the best plant species and mixes to use to feed bees and save them from starving.”

Project Apis m. will work with almond and other growers to get commitments for cover crops that will be planted in Fall 2015.


Zoldoske honored as state’s Irrigation Person of the Year

The California Irrigation Institute recognized Dr. David F. Zoldoske as its Person of the Year at its 53rd annual conference on Feb. 2-3 in Sacramento.

Zoldoske, director for the Center for Irrigation Technology at Fresno State, is the 36th recipient of the award sponsored by the state’s oldest independent forum on irrigation and water.

“On behalf of the board of directors, it is a pleasure and honor to bestow this award upon our friend and colleague, Dr. Zoldoske,” said Inge Bisconer, California Irrigation Institute board member and past president. “He has worked tirelessly for decades to promote water and resource use efficiency in agricultural and urban applications in California and beyond. We are fortunate that he chose to apply his passion, energy, skill and expertise to help address one of the most important topics of our generation: water.”

Zoldoske is the third recipient with Fresno State ties. Winston Strong, former plant science and mechanized agriculture professor was recognized in 1985 for his pioneering work in sprinkler testing, and former Center for Irrigation Technology director Kenneth Solomon was honored in 2004.

The annual conference brings together water experts, government agency representatives, water district managers, innovative farmers, urban water managers and commercial interests to focus on pressing water issues, explore innovative solutions, and discuss results of research and practical experience in the field.

Zoldoske was recognized with a similar national award in November 2013 as the Irrigation Association’s Person of the Year.

Fresno State has been involved in irrigation testing and research for more than 60 years, and Zoldoske has played a key role for four decades. He started his irrigation career as a graduate student research assistant before beginning work as a full-time research technician in 1983.

In 1994, he was named director of the center that is internationally-recognized as an independent testing laboratory, applied research facility and educational resource.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by a group representing all of California’s irrigation partners,” Zoldoske said. “The award is more of a recognition of our talented staff and all their successful and hard work. We have been tied closely with the California Irrigation Institute since the 1980s, and look forward to working with them for many years to come.”

UC leads a long tradition of environmental stewardship in California

By  Brook Gamble, Community Education Specialist, UC ANR California Naturalist Program, Hopland Research & Extension Center

Featured Photo:  Jeannette Warnert


Stewardship: \ˈstü-ərd-ˌship: the activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something.

In 1862 the Morrill Act was passed to support and maintain colleges of agriculture and mechanical arts, including a later provision that included the donation of public land. As one of the first land grant Universities, the University of California was well positioned to manage agricultural extension across the state as part of the Smith Lever Act of 1915. Today, many people think of California agriculture as strawberries, broccoli and rice; but it is livestock and forestry that dominated California working landscapes in those early days.

Farmer seeks assistance from UCCE farm advisor on the running board of a historic UC Cooperative Extension vehicle.
Farmer seeks assistance from UCCE farm advisor on the running board of a historic UC Cooperative Extension vehicle.

Research and extension efforts to improve forestry practices and range production throughout California have evolved over time. Research questions gradually changed over the last 100 years from a “how can we economically produce more” perspective to how can rangeland management practices improve ecosystem composition and function? How can extension programs be employed to educate stakeholders and help land managers implement change? How can we conserve working landscapes for biodiversity conservation in a period of rapid development? How can we assess and monitor management effectiveness?

This year, the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources celebrates 100 years of UC Cooperative Extension serving as a research and outreach partner in communities throughout California. For an interesting read on this rich history and the evolution of UC rangeland management perspectives, see M. George, and W. J. Clawson’s The History of UC RangelandExtension, Research, and Teaching: A Perspective (2014). Additionally, UC ANR California Rangelands Website includes a free Annual Rangeland E-book; current project descriptions, publications, and online learning modules: http://californiarangeland.ucdavis.edu/.

Maintaining and improving environmental quality on public and private land requires an informed strategy that encourages stewardship by land owners and community members. In present times, we face the challenges of managing land in the face of growing population, drought, invasive species, and climate change, just to name a few forces of global change. Out of necessity, our broader perspective on land management has shifted to one of “ecosystem stewardship” which is defined as a strategy to respond to and shape social-ecological systems under conditions of uncertainty and change to sustain the supply and opportunities for use of ecosystem services to support human well-being (Chapin et al. 2010). The stewardship framework focuses on the dynamics of ecological change and assesses management options that may influence the path or rate of that change.

Using an ecosystem stewardship framework, the UC ANR’s California Naturalist Program is building astatewide network of environmental stewards. The program is designed to introduce the public, teachers, interpreters, docents, green collar workers, natural resource managers, and budding scientists to the wonders of our unique ecology and engage these individuals in the stewardship of California’s natural communities.

Tejon Ranch Conservancy California Naturalists help with a pipe capping project to keep small animals and birds from getting trapped (Photo: Scot Pipkin)
Tejon Ranch Conservancy California Naturalists help with a
pipe capping project to keep small animals and birds from
getting trapped (Photo: Scot Pipkin)

The California Naturalist Program uses a science curriculum which includeschapters in forest, woodland, and range resources and management, geology, climate, water, wildlife, and plants. Experiential learning and service projects instill a deep appreciation for the natural communities of the state and serve to engage people in natural resource conservation.

Land management is the focus of many of the partnering organizations that offer the California Naturalist Program. For example, land conservancies and preserves are involved including, Tejon Ranch Conservancy, at 270,000 acres the largest contiguous private ranch in California; Pepperwood Preserve, a private rangeland preserve dedicated to conservation science in the Northern SF Bay Area; UC Berkeley’s Sagehen Creek Field Station, a forested research station in the Sierra; UC Hopland Research & Extension Center, a rangeland research and education facility in California’s north coast region; and the Sierra Foothill Conservancy, a non-profit land trust in the Western Sierra Nevada including Fresno, Madera, eastern Merced, and Mariposa counties. Land trusts are increasingly responsible for conserving working landscapes and open space across the state and often rely on a trained volunteer corps to steward these valuable landscapes. UC ANR is pleased to advance training opportunities for those actively managing these lands.

California Naturalists trained at these locations and more are involved in ecosystem stewardship, rangeland management, watershed restoration, and helping outdoor education programs that benefit the environment and people of all ages. Naturalists have donated over 13,000 hours of in state service in the last three years. These types of stewardship opportunities are essential for the active adaptive management that both public and private lands need to ensure resilience and continue to provide ecosystem services that we all rely on. These trained environmental stewards are an important part of this growing community of practice who not only steward land but also pass on critical knowledge about California’s natural and managed ecosystems.

With Special Thanks to Brook Gamble.


UC Berkeley’s Sagehen Creek Field Station


California Naturalists examine watershed maps

Breeding Crops for Drought Tolerance Tricky

By Ching Lee; Ag Alert

With water becoming ever-more precious, farmers are increasingly looking to innovations to help their crops be more resilient in the face of drought.

One focus has been on breeding and engineering new crop varieties that can withstand longer periods of water deprivation. While much progress has been made in this area, researchers say increasing drought tolerance in crops has never been clear cut, and prospects for getting those traits into specialty crops are uncertain.

In recent years, three major seed companies have introduced corn varieties that specifically target water-limiting conditions. Hybrids from DuPont Pioneer and Syngenta became commercially available on a limited basis in 2011, while Monsanto rolled out its first transgenic drought-tolerant corn in several Western Corn Belt states last year.

Kent Bradford, professor of plant science and director of the Seed Biotechnology Center at the University of California, Davis, said there has been a lot of interest in developing drought-tolerant varieties of field crops such as corn, wheat and alfalfa, but breeding drought tolerance into higher-value crops such as vegetables, fruits and nuts may be a longer-term goal.

One issue with developing crops that can withstand extreme weather conditions is that the process is not so straightforward and can involve a number of different genes and approaches.

“Drought tolerance is not an easy trait,” Bradford said. “It’s not like disease resistance where you have a disease, you have the resistance and you’re good.”

Daniel Gallie, a biochemist at UC Riverside, whose team did some of the initial work on DuPont Pioneer’s drought-tolerant corn hybrids, said one way to increase drought tolerance in plants is to grow bigger roots that can reach deeper into the soil to get water.

The method UC researchers used in developing DuPont Pioneer’s corn involved reducing the plant’s production of ethylene, which is triggered by drought stress.

Scientists have also looked at ways to help plants retain more water, such as by closing the stomata, or pores, earlier, so that there’s less transpiration. UC researchers found that by reducing a plant’s vitamin C, which controls the opening and closing of pores in the leaves, they can help plants better conserve water.

Since all plants have pores, Gallie noted, this approach could be applied to any crop species and has been particularly important to crops grown in California, where farmers rely largely on irrigation, he added.

But whether this and other techniques will find their way into commercial crop varieties depends on whether they get picked up by the various seed companies, he said. Because academic researchers typically are not in the business of commercializing their developments, they look to industry partners with the funding and infrastructure to introduce, test and market new crop varieties, Gallie added.

With a crop like almonds, for example, because the life cycle of the tree is so long, research would be much slower than what can be done with an annual crop. Also, specialty crops, while important to California, are not considered major crops with as much devoted acreage as key commodity crops.

“It’s the size of the market,” said Doug Parker, director of the California Institute for Water Resources at the University of California. “Companies are looking at: Am I going to be able to produce enough of this to make money. And it’s not just what’s being grown in other states that they’re looking at; it’s worldwide.”

For crops that are grown in California, the focus has been less on drought tolerance and more on water use efficiency, as growers are trying to get the most yield from what limited water they have, he said.

Farmers seldom plant specialty crops without some irrigation, Bradford said, whereas the major field crops—particularly those farmed in the Midwest—are often dependent on rainfall, so being drought tolerant is more critical.

Bradford cautioned that while researchers are making headway, they still face hurdles trying to create drought-tolerant crops that would work well under different weather scenarios and field conditions.

Soils can vary in one field, he noted, so the stress may not be uniform. And not all droughts occur the same way. Some are characterized by lack of precipitation, others extreme heat or both. These events may also happen during different periods of a growing season.

Since crop development is a long-term strategy to help farmers deal with drought, Parker said short-term strategies for how they manage water in their cropping systems may prove more important than drought-tolerant crops.

But ultimately, a mix of both is needed, he said.

JUST IN: UC Davis’ Preliminary Findings on Drought Impact in Central Valley

Source Office of Public Affairs

Photo Source-Aquafornia

California’s drought impact will be a severe blow to Central Valley irrigated agriculture and farm communities this year and could cost the industry $1.7 billion and cause more than 14,500 workers to lose their jobs, according to preliminary results of a new study by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.

Researchers estimated that Central Valley irrigators would receive only two-thirds of their normal river water deliveries this year because of the drought.

The preliminary analysis represents the first socio-economic forecast of this year’s drought, said lead author Richard Howitt, a UC Davis professor emeritus of agricultural and resource economics.

“We wanted to provide a foundation for state agricultural and water policymakers to understand the drought impact on farmers and farm communities,” Howitt said.

The Central Valley is the richest food-producing region in the world. Much of the nation’s fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables are grown on the region’s 7 million acres of irrigated farmland.

The center plans to release a more comprehensive report of the drought’s economic impact on the state’s irrigated agriculture this summer.

The analysis was done at the request of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which co-funded the research, along with the University of California.

“These estimates will help the state better understand the economic impacts of the drought, ” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “The research confirms where emergency drought assistance will be needed most, and efforts are already underway.”

The UC Davis researchers used computer models and the latest estimates of State Water Project, the federal Central Valley Project and local water deliveries, plus groundwater pumping capacities to forecast the economic effects of this year’s drought.

The analysis predicted several severe impacts for the current growing season, including:

▪Reduced surface water deliveries of 6.5 million acre-feet of water, or 32.5 percent of normal water use by Central Valley growers. An acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre of land in a foot of water, or enough water for about two California households for a year.

▪ Fallowing of an additional 410,000 acres, representing 6 percent of irrigated cropland in the Central Valley.

▪ The loss of an estimated 14,500 seasonal and full-time jobs. About 6,400 of these jobs are directly involved in crop production.

▪ A total cost of $1.7 billion to the Central Valley’s irrigated farm industry this year, including about $450 million in additional costs of groundwater pumping.

▪ About 60 percent of the economic losses will occur in the San Joaquin Valley and Tulare Lake Basin.

Growers are expected to replace much of the loss in project water deliveries with groundwater, California’s largest source of water storage during drought years, said co-author Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences and a UC Davis professor of civil and environmental engineering.

“Without access to groundwater, this year’s drought would be truly devastating to farms and cities throughout California,” Lund said.

The additional pumping will cost an estimated $450 million and still leave a shortage of 1.5 million acre-feet of irrigation water, about 7.5 percent of normal irrigation water use in the Central Valley, according to the forecast.

While the current drought is expected to impose major hardships on many farmers, small communities and the environment, it should not threaten California’s overall economy, Lund said.

Agriculture today accounts for less than 3 percent of the state’s $1.9 trillion a year gross domestic product.Other authors on the report are UC Davis agricultural economist Josue Medellin-Azuara and Duncan MacEwan of the ERA Economic consulting firm in Davis.

Earth Day, 2014

Source: Tara Weaver-Missick, USDA Agricultural Research Service Information Staff 

Today is Earth Day, which gives us the opportunity to celebrate the magnificence of our planet.  It’s a day to observe and support our environmental commitment to our pearth daylanet now and in the future.

USDA scientists play an important role in protecting our environment.  Much of our research is focused on finding sustainable agricultural solutions to producing food, feed and fiber to meet our nation’s and the world’s ever-growing demand.

We develop environmentally friendly practices that farmers, ranchers, and others involved in food production can integrate into their operations.

One such project spearheaded by USDA-Agricultural Research Service scientists is the Long-Term Agro-ecosystem Research (LTAR) network, which addresses how to intensify production while minimizing environmental impact.

ARS established LTAR—which includes 18 experimental watersheds, rangelands and farms—to more closely coordinate and examine large-scale, multi-year research, environmental management and technology transfer efforts related to the nation’s agricultural ecosystems.

ARS scientists are gathering data from these sites to evaluate and develop practices that help keep farmers in business, but that are economical as well.  To do so, scientists will analyze agricultural production, environmental quality, natural resource use and economic return over the next 30 to 50 years, against a background of global population growth, land use change and climate variability that makes predicting future trends difficult.

LTAR sites are spread across the United States and are located in major watersheds—each with its own unique landscape, environmental influences and habitat. Each region has its own unique environment and growing conditions that farmers and ranchers have to weigh.

Information derived from this project will be used to develop site- and region-specific agricultural production practices that protect and enrich our natural resources.

LTAR network research will help producers provide agricultural and other ecosystem-related goods and services under changing environmental conditions to meet society’s changing demands on natural resources.

When the network was formed in February 2011, it began with 10 sites.  Seeing a critical need for even more robust data, in 2014 ARS added eight more LTAR sites, filling network gaps in key agricultural regions.

The driving factor behind this network approach to gathering and conducting long-term research was the need to provide enough food, feed, fiber and fuel for a global population expected to grow to more than 9 billion people by 2050.

Changing climatic conditions, like extreme temperatures and precipitation, have a major impact on our global food production system—and related natural resources used to produce that food.  ARS scientists and our partners are searching for sustainable solutions that will help us be good stewards of the earth and its environment.

USDA scientists are doing their part to preserve our planet for generations to come.  Happy Earth Day!

See more at: http://blogs.usda.gov/2014/04/22/celebrating-our-glorious-planet/#more-51355