Andre Biscaro on Water and Nitrogen Use Research
By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor
Many jobs exist solely for the improvement of agriculture. Andre Biscaro, agriculture and environmental issues advisor at the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Cooperative Extension, Los Angeles and Ventura Counties said his job is to find ways to improve water and nitrogen use in fertilizing crops such as strawberries and celery.
“We’re measuring how much nitrogen the plant takes in and at what time,” Biscaro said, “so we can make more accurate recommendations for nitrogen fertilizers. It’s the same for water. We’re monitoring the crop growth of the strawberry plants—how deep the roots go and how the canopy develops—so we can make more accurate water recommendations. We’re assessing fields in Santa Maria and we are implementing the second phase here in Ventura County, Santa Maria and Watsonville.”
Biscaro is researching in strawberries and celery how to push salts in the soil beyond the root zone, the point beyond which plants will generally seek water unless they are stressed. “It’s essential to install soil moisture sensors at the end of your root system,”Biscaro said, “to make sure the soil is saturated every time you irrigate and then you need to push the water down. And it’s also really important to calculate the amount of water you’re applying because a lot of growers are irrigating without knowing how much water they are applying.”
“We calculate the leaching fraction [the portion of irrigation water that infiltrates past the root zone] based on the sensitivity of the crop to salinity and to the salinity of the water,” Biscaro explained. “And by only knowing how much water you’re applying, you can add a certain leaching fraction to your crop,” Biscaro said.
Announced TODAY, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has awarded $5.8 million for 70 different projects in the second phase of a program to implement on-farm water irrigation systems with increased water efficiency and enhancement to reduce water and energy use, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).
The funding for the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) is part of emergency drought Legislation (SB 103) signed in early 2014 by Governor Brown – authorizing CDFA to distribute as much as $10 million for eligible projects, in cooperation with the Department of Water Resources and the State Water Board.
“These projects are essential to allow farmers to continue agricultural food production while at the same time providing ecosystem services that enhance the environment” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “The result is the continuous improvement of our farming systems while at the same time providing multiple benefits, including water conservation and reduced GHG emissions.”
With this latest round of funding, a total of $9.1 million has been awarded for 155 different projects that have leveraged an additional $6.9 million in private cost-share dollars from grant recipients. The money comes from the state’s portion of Cap-and-Trade auction proceeds. The proceeds are deposited in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund and appropriated to state agencies.
The funding will reduce GHG emissions through projects that include modifications to improve water efficiency like drip and microsprinkler systems; energy-efficient water pumps; soil moisture sensors; and irrigation scheduling programs that apply water based on crop needs.
This program is the first of its kind at CDFA and applies to its authority under the Environmental Farming Act of 1995, which states that the department should oversee an Environmental Farming Program to provide incentives to farmers whose practices promote the well-being of ecosystem and air quality.
More information on the SWEEP program can be found by visiting www.cdfa.ca.gov/go/sweep.