Cover Crops in Almonds Can Displace Annual Winter Weeds

Steve Haring Working With UC Davis on Cover Crops

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

Depending on your location, cover crops can have a big impact on your fields. Steve Haring, second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, has been collecting research on how different climates influence the effectiveness of cover crops.

Almond Cover Crop Displacing Weeds

“As we try to design cover crops, there are a lot of different paths we can take, and it’s important to test these different things out and see what is best for the specific things we can use cover crops for in the Central Valley,” Haring said.

He further mentioned that for optimum weed control in the Valley, growers should plant in the early winter months in order to prevent annual winter weeds.

Haring worked with the UC Davis Cooperative Extension on three different sites across both the Central Valley and northern Sacramento Valley collecting data on growth rates for cover crops. He found that because the northern valley had more direct sunlight hit the ground, cover crops thrived, and as a result, weeds were minimized.

The research will not stop there, though, Haring ensured. “The study I’m working on is funded by the Almond Board, and it’s continuing for a second year and maybe a third, so we’re trying to repeat it and validate and then also sort and synthesize information because there are people working on weeds but also working on water, insect pests, pollinator health, nematodes, and call sorts of ecosystem services,” he concluded.

Breaking News: Contracted Contractual Water Deliveries Could Plummet

Breaking News: 

Promised Water Deliveries Could Plummet

Delta Smelt Among Many Reasons for Pumping Constraints

By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor

Farmers in the federal water districts of Fresno and Kings Counties were granted only five percent of their contracted water this year; yet they are at risk of getting even less due to pumping constraints. Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, a Los Banos-based federal water district explained, “The original forecast had full pumping in June, July, August, and September.

“Because of the temperature constraints and because of the water quality standards,” Peltier stated, “we’ve been operating only one or two pumps. There’s just not enough water flowing south to meet the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) obligations to the exchange contractors, the [wildlife] refuges and the urban agencies, along with the 5% allocation to the ag services contractors,” he noted.

SLDMWAPeltier is concerned for those in the Central Valley, and water agencies are working frantically to find answers. “We’re working on it,” Peltier affirmed. “We’ve got a lot of engineers and operators preparing spreadsheets and analyzing both the variables and what changes could be made to avoid lower water levels at San Luis Reservoir.”

Commenting on this year’s deliveries, Peltier stated, “No doubt we’re in an unprecedented operating environment. Here we are, eight months into the water year, and we just got a temperature plan for Lake Shasta—that is driving the whole operation—the project. Limiting releases like they are in the temperature plan [designed keep the water cold to protect winter-run salmon eggs]at least we thoughtwould allow Reclamation to hold the commitments they made. But we’re on razor’s edge right now,” Peltier explained.

Peltier described how the process is holding up water release, “The National Marine Fisheries Service wants to keep as much water in storage as possible, in order to keep the cold water cool as long as they can. This is all to protect the winter-run salmon eggs that are in the gravel right now, protect them until the weather turns cool and things naturally cool down. Then they can release water. Shasta’s been effectively trumped by another million-acre feed because of this temperature plan.”

Peltier further noted that the Lake Shasta temperature plan has not allowed water to flow into the Sacramento River. It has severely impacted growers in Northern California on a year when the northern part of the state received above average rain and snowfall during the winter.

“People diverting off the river in the Sacramento Valley have had their own water level issues. There hasn’t been enough water coming down the river to get elevation enough adequate for their pumps. There’s been a lot of ground water pumping,” he said.

The nearly extinct Delta Smelt has been a longstanding issue for those affected by California’s drought. After the past five years of sacrifice, even more water is being taken from agriculture and cities to help save the fish from extinction.

“We’ve got the California Department of Fish and Wildlife wanting significant increases in delta outflow over the summer, supposedly for the benefit of delta smelt, another operational complexity that is sadly not based on any science that we could see. The agencies have their beliefs, and they have the power,” said Peltier.

Featured photo: Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority.


California Ag Today will update readers on Bureau of Reclamation announcements about the 5% contracted water delivery federal water district growers were expecting.

Trinity Reservoir Releases Water

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Releases Shared Water From Trinity Reservoir Despite Making Claims Of “California’s Historic Drought”

The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (Authority) along with Westlands Water District, according to their press release, has filed a lawsuit in federal court to stop the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) from releasing Central Valley Project (CVP) water from the Trinity Division to the Klamath River.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said releases started Friday from Lewiston Dam on the Trinity River, the Klamath’s primary tributary, and would continue into late September.SLDMWA logo
Yesterday, Reclamation announced the release of up to 88,000 acre-feet of CVP water from Trinity Reservoir in the hope of aiding returning non-listed Chinook salmon with the optimism of diminishing the effect of a naturally-occurring disease endemic known as “Ich” (pronounced “ick”) to the Klamath River system to which the Trinity River is connected. This action, which is outside of Reclamation’s authorized place of use, is a repeat of a similar action taken last year with the intention to help avoid an outbreak which has only been documented to have occurred once in 2002. Since 2000, a significant supply of water has been set aside each year from the Trinity Reservoir for fishery protection purposes. Specifically, over the past four years, this has equated to more than 200,000 acre-feet of water lost that was literally flushed down the Lower Klamath River.
“As our state is faced with a water supply crisis affecting every sector of people, businesses, and communities, an action like this is unthinkable. This will cause irreparable damage to drought-stricken communities already facing water restrictions,” said Dan Nelson, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority.
The CVP and State Water Project (SWP) provide water for more than 25 million Californians who depend upon a reliable water supply. In the 50-year history of the Projects, water deliveries have never been lower–the CVP is experiencing its second year of a zero water allocation and the SWP sits at a mere 20 percent water allocation.
Reclamation is once again choosing to ignore the harms of its actions through the issuance of a “Finding of No Significant Environmental Impact” (FONSI) that hasn’t been properly analyzed. Further, Reclamation’s decision to release 88,000 acre-feet of CVP water for the Klamath River is a sad irony given that Reclamation is currently unable to meet its legally-mandated obligations within the CVP and SWP.
 Westlands Water District_logo
“The hardworking people of the State of California have been directed by state and federal agencies to conserve water in the form of dying lawns, fewer showers, unplanted fields, trees uprooted or turning brown, and community wells drying up. Yet Reclamation, which has been unable to deliver any water to farmers, has decided to release tens of thousands of acre feet in an arbitrary manner that the courts have previously held to be unlawful.” said Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District. “The fact that 88,000 acre-feet can be casually released without regard to the potential impacts on the environment, including at risk-species in the Sacramento River and the Delta, is a gross mismanagement of the state’s water supplies. The action filed today is intended to compel Reclamation to comply with its mandatory duties,” said Birmingham.
“During a time when we are experiencing the worst water management challenges in decades, when communities and agriculture throughout the state are suffering severe impacts that have negatively affected our economy, the labor force and the environment, the decision by the Bureau of Reclamation to repurpose precious Central Valley Project water resources to augment Klamath flows for non-endangered fish, an action that is of questionable benefit, is both irresponsible and incomprehensible. While the needs of cities, family farms, and endangered species that rely on CVP resources continue to go unmet, the reallocation of the Project’s limited supply of water defies all logic,” said Jeff Sutton, general manager of the Tehama-Colusa Canal Authority, an organization that represents seventeen Sacramento Valley water districts that hold CVP water service contracts, that are also highly critical of the action being undertaken by the Bureau of Reclamation.
The water planned for release is enough to farm 31,000 acres of food, or to serve the domestic needs of more than 175,000 families for an entire year. The devastating effects of the drought will be felt for decades to come especially if arbitrary decisions like these continue.

WADE: LET THE WATER FLOW!

Let The Water Flow:

Mike Wade Urges Water Board To Let Reclamation Pay Back Borrowed Water

By Laurie Greene, California Ag Today Editor

Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, discussed with California Ag Today, his article for the Coalition’s Blog, entitled, “State Water Resources Control Board Could Cost California’s Agricultural Economy $4.5 Billion.”

“A number of San Joaquin Valley farmers have been working the last couple of years to set aside emergency water supplies through conservation and water purchases on the open market,” began Wade. “That water is set aside in the San Luis Reservoir and currently being borrowed, if you will, by the Bureau of Reclamation to help meet their obligations and ultimately the temperature management plan for winter run Chinook salmon.”

Wade said the Bureau’s water obligations also include provisions for summer agriculture south of the Delta, as well as refuge management for numerous listed terrestrial species like the Giant Garter Snake.

Wade estimates the loaned water is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Lending farmers include those who own land on the Westside of the San Joaquin Valley, Sacramento Valley rice farmers who fallowed land this year to make supplies available for transfers and Friant-area farmers seeking to augment a zero water allocation for the second year in a row.

“We believe the Bureau has an obligation to pay that water back this fall, and we’re urging the State Water Resources Control Board to let that payback happen.” In his article, Wade reported that Reclamation would pay back the water from supplies stored in Lake Shasta as soon as temperature goals for winter run Chinook salmon were met.

Regarding accountability, Wade said, “I believe the Bureau intends to pay it back, but we want the public to understand what’s happening. We want transparency so we can follow this obligation and make sure this fall, when water becomes available, the Bureau follows through to pay it back. People don’t forget.”

Built and operated jointly by the Bureau of Reclamation and the State of California, the San Luis Reservoir is at 44% capacity today, according to the California Department of Water Resources’ California Data Exchange Center, but the supply is already divided and allocated. Wade explained, “The water that is currently in San Luis Reservoir under the Bureau of Reclamation’s control is almost exclusively owned by growers who have conserved it or purchased it on the open market. The remainder belongs to the State Water Project and its users. So, there is little or no federally-owned water in San Luis at this time.”

Wade said, “There are a number of factors that contribute to the 4.5 – 4.9 billion dollar projected cost for San Joaquin Valley farmers. First is the actual value of the water that farmers have already set aside. Second is the monetary obligations farmers have contracted to pay Sacramento Valley rice growers for transferred water. The third component is the actual value of potential crop and orchard losses if that water isn’t paid back and farmers lose out on their ability to keep their farms going.”

Wade urged the State Water Resources Control Board, “to facilitate this complex and unprecedented collaboration” and allow Reclamation to release compensatory water as soon as possible.

Let the water flow!

 

Sources: Interview with Mike Wade, California Farm Water Coalition; “State Water Resources Control Board Could Cost California’s Agricultural Economy $4.5 Billion,” by Mike Wade, California Farm Water Coalition; Bureau of Reclamation; California Department of Water Resources

Featured Image: San Luis Reservoir-Empty, California Farm Water Coalition

California Rice Farmers Could Get Pollution Credit

Source: Edward Ortiz; The Fresno Bee

California’s evolving cap-and-trade market may soon have a new player: rice farmers.

A proposal by the California Air Resources Board staff, up for board approval in September, would allow rice farmers in the Sacramento Valley to sell carbon emission offsets as part of the state’s effort to combat climate change.

Rice farmers would flood their fields for shorter periods, which would reduce the decomposition process that emits methane – a potent greenhouse gas.

Businesses seeking to offset their own greenhouse gas emissions could buy credits from the farmers who had made gains in curbing pollution.

“The rice cultivation protocol is the first time rice practices have been identified as a potential source of greenhouse gas emission mitigation for California,” said Dave Clegern of the Air Resources Board.

The program, called the Rice Cultivation Projects Compliance Offset Protocol, is slated to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, and run for a 10-year period. State air quality officials and environmental groups say other crops could eventually be included in cap and trade as well.

“I think this rice protocol sets an important precedent for agriculture,” said Robert Parkhurst, director of agriculture and greenhouse gas markets for the Environmental Defense Fund. The nonprofit has been working with the California Rice Commission and the Air Resources Board to craft the program.

Rice was selected as the first crop because it’s a potent contributor of methane – a greenhouse gas implicated in climate change.

Methane is produced when rice farmers flood fields during spring seeding and prior to fall harvest. Flooding cuts off the soil’s exposure to oxygen. This causes anaerobic fermentation of the organic matter in the soil. Methane is an end product of that fermentation. The methane is released into the atmosphere primarily through the rice plant. A smaller portion bubbles up from the soil and escapes through the water.

The cap-and-trade program, launched in 2013, is an outgrowth of the state’s emissions-reducing law, AB 32. The program caps overall greenhouse gas emissions at a lower level each year. It allows industries to buy pollution allowances, within a certain limit, to offset their own release of greenhouse gases.

Farmers are largely exempt from cap and trade, and the offset program is voluntary for rice farmers. In order to sell credits, they will need to prove they changed the way they flooded their fields and reduced the amount of methane emitted as a result. The reductions will be measured using a complex computer model with independent third-party verification before offset credits are issued, according to the air board.

Those reductions can then be sold as part of the cap-and-trade program – at a market rate.

“For this to be successful, we’re going to need to see a group of farmers get together to cooperate in order to create these projects,” said Parkhurst. “The opportunity is large because there are a large number of acres, but the credits per acre (figure) is on the small side.”

The amount of methane that can be reduced would be about a half a ton to a ton per acre per year, said Parkhurst.

“What we would like is to take the opportunity with rice and see how it can be applied to other crops in other regions,” Parkhurst said.

He said that almonds are among a few crops now being considered for involvement in the cap-and-trade program. The Environmental Defense Fund has been working with the California Almond Board on a proposal.

That program would likely address fertilizer application practices in almond cultivation and their contribution to greenhouse gases.

The ARB is offering rice farmers two options under the new program. The first is a process called ‘dry seeding’ – where water is put on rice fields later during seeding season. The other demands farmers drain rice fields seven to 10 days earlier than usual.

Most of the 550,000 acres of rice planted in the state is in the Sacramento Valley, and most of that is grown by farmers who flood their fields – typically to a depth of 4 to 5 inches prior to seeding

Many unresolved factors could limit enthusiasm among rice farmers for the program, said Tom Butler, owner of the Sutter Basin rice farm corporation.

Butler grows 4,000 acres of rice and 265 acres of almonds several miles south of the Sutter County town of Robbins. He’s one of four farmers participating in a pilot program begun in March as part of the cap-and-trade effort with rice farmers.

The new practices suit his farm because his soil drains much more quickly than most rice farms in the Sacramento Valley. He said he thinks other farmers will be wary about draining their fields.

“Pulling water on and off can cause some serious nitrogen and erosion problems for your rice if you are not careful,” said Butler. “I would not have jumped into it feet first if we did not have the soil we have.”

If a lot of farmers sign up, however, the drying of their land could cause another environmental problem. Flooded rice fields provide more than 300,000 acres of wetland habitat for waterfowl and other birds that travel through the Sacramento Valley on the Pacific Flyway.

For now the air resources agency has decided to exclude winter flooding of rice fields from the cap-and-trade program. It is winter flooding – and not flooding during spring seeding or before harvest – that provides the most crucial wetland habitat for bird populations.

Butler said he’s decided to participate in the cap-and-trade program more for altruistic reasons than financial ones.

“I think about this as the right thing to do,” Butler said. “We’re trying our best to be good stewards of the land, and produce a crop … and this program could be a next step for us.”

 

Groundwater Farming: a Blessing or a Curse?

By Michael Kuhne, AccuWeather.com

Mining groundwater for agricultural use in the San Joaquin Valley has not only created one of the most productive agricultural regions in the United States, but it has also simultaneously altered the surface of the land causing noticeable subsidence or sinking in the region, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

“The maximum subsidence, near Mendota, was more than 28 feet,” USGS reported, citing a 1970 comprehensive survey.

Overall subsidence has slowed since the 1970s due to reductions in the pumping and recovery of groundwater, as well as the use of other types of surface water irrigation.

“At least some of the groundwater is stored in between clay deposits and within clay deposits,” AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Ken Clark said. “When you extract the water, you take out the water surrounding (the) clay molecules, and this then allows the clay to compress. The more water you take out, the more compacting you have, and when that happens, the valley sinks.”

In the photo above, taken Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, a warning buoy sits on the dry, cracked bed of Lake Mendocino near Ukiah, Calif. Despite recent rains, the reservoir is currently only about 41 percent full. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service Pacific Region Office Deputy Director Dave DeWalt, nearly 11.3 percent of the total value of U.S. agriculture commodities comes from California’s prime agricultural region.

“So far (in 2014) we’ve only seen about one-third of the precipitation we normally would have,” DeWalt said, referring to the Sacramento area.

With the drought continuing, food prices will spike.

“It is some of the richest farmland in the U.S.,” Clark said. “There is talk that some commodities may not be feasible as they take a lot of water to grow. Such as almonds, a huge cash crop. It takes one gallon of water to make one almond.”

According to Fresno State University Center for Irrigation Technology Consultant Sergeant Green, understanding the utilization of groundwater and the impacts on the Valley is not as simple as it seems.

“Water, crops and productivity are all dynamic,” Green said.

The current crops using the most water in the region are almonds and alfalfa, he said.

“Almonds are a critical export that helps with balance of trade, and alfalfa is critical for the dairy industry which is a huge part of the agriculture economy in the Valley,” Green said. “The three top agricultural commodities are almonds, grapes and dairy products.”

The San Joaquin Valley is part of the Central Valley of California, includes the Sacramento Valley and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This area produces about a quarter of the nation’s table food on only 1 percent of the country’s farmland, USGS reports.

Drought Map 140430The map above shows the impact of drought on California’s farms, forests and wild lands. (Credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

“Groundwater in the north of the Valley is relatively stable, the south Valley (Fresno south to Bakersfield) has declined consistently,” Green said. “Old pre-1960s subsidence stopped until surface water supplies from the Bay-Delta were cut back starting in the mid-’90s.”

According to the USGS, land subsidence in the Valley was first recorded in 1945 by Engineering Consultant I.H. Althouse.

“The history of land subsidence in the San Joaquin Valley is integrally linked to the development of agriculture and the availability of water for irrigation,” the USGS reported. “Further agricultural development without accompanying subsidence is dependent on the continued availability of surface water, which is subject to uncertainties due to climatic variability and pending regulatory decisions.”

The 10,000-square-mile area making up the Valley floor is comprised of continental sediments and includes fine-grained, stream and lake deposits, which are susceptible to compaction, the USGS reported.

“When farmers and ranchers have to rely on groundwater instead of stored above ground water during extended droughts, more water is being extracted than can be returned,” Clark said. “Once the clay is compacted, there is no way to ‘unpack’ it.”

According to AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Randy Adkins Jr., California has received less than their average rainfall for several years consecutively.

“It’s been a multi-year drought,” he said.

AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Jim Andrews said the last three winter rainy seasons (October to April) were drier than normal, the last winter being driest of the three. Cumulative rainfall (including melted snow) is as little as one half of normal amount for the three rainy seasons collectively, Andrews said.

“Fresno has only seen 55 percent of their normal for those three seasons,” he said. “That’s around 16 inches of rain less than normal.”

Andrews added that the Sacramento region has been doused with only 68 percent of their normal rainfall of 54.5 inches.

Green said rainfall is not adequate to recharge the groundwater, adding it needs to be stored, applied or recharged in specific areas that allow the capability to add more water than what is being extracted at those locations.

In addition, new developments in irrigation are being utilized currently, but the amount of water needed will continue to be based on what crops are in demand, Green said.

“Precision irrigation systems are now widespread and continuing to increase rapidly, but don’t always mean less water is used,” he said. “Crop requirements determine total demand, and permanent crops such as almonds have been increasing for some time.”

Benefits of Hedgerows on Farms in the Sacramento Valley

Hedgerows Benefit Farms

 

On April 30th, the Center for Land-Based Learning will host a workshop that will focus on the benefits of hedgerows of California native plants in agricultural landscapes, including enhanced populations of native bees and beneficial insects on farms.

They will also discuss establishment and maintenance practices for planting habitat on field crop edges and provide an overview of plant species appropriate for hedgerows in the Sacramento Valley and beyond.

Information

When: April 30, 2014 – 10:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Where: The Center for Land-Based Learning, 5265 Putah Creek Road, Winters

Schedule:

  • 10:00 – Welcome and DPR Grant Project Update
  • 10:10 – The Farm on Putah Creek
  • 10:20 – Tillage, Crop Bloom and Ground Nesting Bees
  • 10:35 – Hedgerows and Rodents
  • 10:50 – Establishing Hedgerows on Field Edges
  • 11:10 – Hedgerows, Birds and Codling Moth
  • 11:25 – Hedgerows and IPM
  • 11:40 – Hedgerow Plant Selection
  • 12:00 – Summary and Audience Survey

For more information, please go to https://www.facebook.com/CaPesticideRegulation