Even Organic Production of Strawberries Not Sustainable

Data Shows Even Organic Production Uses Resources

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Is growing strawberries organically sustainable? That’s something that Surendra Dara is trying to find out. Dara is a UC Cooperative Extension Advisor in Entomology and Biologicals. He is based in San Luis Obispo County as well as Santa Barbara County. Dara met with California Ag Today recently and let us in on his research and some of his findings.

“I have not come across a mainstream grower that has told me that organic is sustainable,” Dara said.

After pulling in data and understanding the inputs, Dara is asking if there is anybody out there that has a different opinion.

“When we are talking about sustainability, we are looking only in terms of non-chemical being the sustainable, ecological practice,” he said.

There are such things as organic pesticides that harm natural enemies.

“Some of the organic ones can be as bad as some of the chemicals,” Dara said.

Data is showing that growing strawberries organically has not been sustainable economically. In terms of the carbon footprint and the bigger picture, “even organic production is not sustainable with the resources because certainly some resources are being used up,” Dara said.

Sustainability is Focus of Solutions from the Land

Solutions From the Land Focuses on Sustainability

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Many California farmers are working toward a more sustainable future, according to Ernie Shea, president of Solutions From the Land.

“We are a North American climate-smart agriculture alliance that has come together with others,” Shea said.

Solutions from the Land, which has partnered with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, is the continental platform for farm and conservation groups that are looking at ways these landscapes can deliver solutions.

Solutions from the Land has been getting a lot of support from California.

“We’ve had the right enabling policy, and you’ve got a lot of that in California,” Shea said.

There have also been significant investments in technology and infrastructure that have allowed systems to deploy at scale. Solutions from the Land is producing wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, biofuels, or types of sustainable, domestically-produced energy sources.

“When we started, we were at about five percent renewables. Today, we’re in the twelve percent range. Twenty-five percent by 2025 is the new target that we established,” Shea explained.

Ernie Shea

“We have to be able to produce food and fiber with less water and with erratic conditions. There is a lot of conversation about how to adapt to these realities when you are right in the epicenter of drought, fire, and floods,” he said.

“Everything has become less predictable. Solutions From the Land is sponsoring state-level conversations around how to become more sustainable, resilient, and how to participate in the low carbon economy, biofuels, and renewable energy,” Shea added.

Carbon sequestration is one of the more exciting new areas of opportunity that are coming for agriculture. The focus is on farmers and what they care about.

“They care about resiliency, profitability, sustainability. An example of one of the pathways that we work on: initiatives like soil health programming,” Shea said.

This helps farmers realize that by improving the health of their soil and the organic content, the crops are doing a better job of soaking up whatever water does fall.

“They’re reducing the need to provide some inputs. They’re sequestering greenhouse gases. They’re delivering global solutions,” Shea explained.

Sound Science Funding for Farmers

Funding for Sound Science is Critical

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Increased funding to make farming easier is a priority, an expert told California Ag Today recently. LaKisha Odom is the science program director for the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research based in Washington, DC. Funding sound science is a goal for the foundation.

“We are interested in increasing the amount of funding that is available to make farming and decision making easier,” Odom said.

This is all based on sound science. Their foundation base depends on the readily available funding.

“We match public-private dollars and increase that amount of funding available to fund sound science,” she explained.

The funding is for foundations and agencies that will assist farmers.

“The universities, industry partners, foundations and the research that’s funded by those entities can then inform those decision makers to assist those farmers who are making those decisions,” she said.

“We were provided $200 million dollars in the 2014 Farm Bill,” Odom added.

There are seven challenge areas that the foundation focuses on: water scarcity; urban agriculture; food waste; food loss; making my plate your plate, which focuses on nutrition; protein challenge, which focuses on animal sustainability; and innovation pathways.

Fresno State is one of the founding partners.

“I’m working with the irrigation innovation consortium, which is a consortium of university partners as well as industry partners, and Fresno State is one of our partners in that,” Odom said.

They are working with Dr. Davis at Fresno State for ways in which they can make innovations in irrigation and make water issues a little less challenging for farmers.

Forward Farms is a Knowledge Platform

Forward Farms Reaches America

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Becky Langer, the project manager for the North American Bayer Bee Care Program, recently spoke with California Ag Today about Bayer Forward Farms — a knowledge platform that demonstrates sustainable agriculture and practice through agronomic solutions and proactive stewardship measures — and their recent introduction to the U.S. Forward Farming started in Europe. It is coming to the United States this year.

“We will launch our first forward farm in the Chesapeake Bay area in April of 2018,” Langer said.

Forward Farms are independent farms that represent the region in which they are located. These farms showcase sustainable agricultural practices and highlight the benefits of sustainable farming. They hope to expand to California within the next year or two and eventually into the Midwest or the south.

“Ideally, we are going to cover the different cropping systems that we see in the United States because the Forward Farm ideally focuses on farms that are representative of their region within the crop and size of it,” Langer said.

The Chesapeake Bay has soy, wheat and corn. In California, they hope to focus on some horticulture, nuts, fruits and vegetables. In the Midwest will be another large corn operation.

The goal of these Forward Farms is demonstration.

“We want to demonstrate that those farmers have a passion for sustainability. They are using it in practice on their farms and that this goes hand in hand with environmental and social responsibility,” Langer said.

The goal is to have modern agriculture along with sustainability. Things will focus on soil, cover crops, habitat enhancement, biodiversity on land, water conservation, and worker safety.

“Those are all critical when we talk about sustainability in modern agriculture, and so those will be real drivers in the conversation,” Langer explained.

Agricultural Water Use Efficiency & State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program

Agricultural Water Use Efficiency Grant Program

 

Through a competitive grant program, the Agricultural Water Use Efficiency & State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) jointly intend to demonstrate the potential multiple benefits of conveyance enhancements combined with on-farm agricultural water use efficiency improvements and greenhouse gas reductions.

The grant funding provided in this joint program is intended to address multiple goals including:

  1. water use efficiency, conservation and reduction,
  2. greenhouse gas emission reductions,
  3. groundwater protection, and
  4. sustainability of agricultural operations and food production.

It is also anticipated that there will be benefits to water and air quality, groundwater security, surface water conservation, and improved nutrient management and crop health through this program. Excellent proposals will demonstrate the specific regional needs and benefits of their proposals.

Deadline for submitting public comments is September 30, 2016.

Agricultural Water Use Efficiency & State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program – DWR/CDFA Joint RFP public-workshops
Agricultural Water Use Efficiency & State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program – DWR/CDFA Joint RFP Public Workshops

The program will be administered as a competitive grant program and will include a joint application process involving agricultural water suppliers and agricultural operators within the service area.

Projects that enhance and upgrade the supplier’s water conveyance, delivery and water measurement system to allow on-demand and flexible farm-gate deliveries, reduce spills and losses, increase the efficiency, and improve water management. A water supplier’s proposed project must generate State benefits to be eligible for grant funding.

Benefits to the State include:

  • water savings
  • increased in-stream flow or improved flow timing
  • improved water quality; increased energy conservation
  • reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
  • increased local water supply reliability.

The project must be located within California.
On-farm agricultural operations must achieve both GHG emission reductions and water savings to be eligible for funding. In addition, projects must: (i) use the associated improvements made to the surface water conveyance system proposed by the associated agricultural water supplier as part of the joint application, and (ii) eliminate on-farm groundwater pumping.

To be eligible for funding, projects are not required to be in an adopted Integrated Regional Water Management Plan or to comply with that program, but preference will be given for projects that are.

Save-our-waterThe following entities involved with water management are eligible to apply:  Public agencies, public utilities, federally recognized or state Indian tribes on California’s Tribal consultation list, nonprofit organizations, mutual water companies, and investor-owned utilities regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission.

Applicants that are agricultural water suppliers and/or urban water suppliers should inquire for further information.

DWR has set aside $3 million from Proposition 1 to incentivize the water conveyance component of this joint agricultural water use efficiency and enhancement program. Proposition 1 requires that agricultural water suppliers provide a 50% cost share of total project costs.

CDFA has also set aside $3 million from the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) to incentivize the installation of irrigation systems that save water and reduce greenhouse gases on farms in the area that will directly benefit from the conveyance system incentivized by DWR. The maximum grant award per agricultural operation is $200,000 with a recommended, but not required, 50% match of the total project cost. CDFA reserves the right to offer an award different than the amount requested.

Separate contracts with each department will be necessary to receive both sets of funds. A joint proposal may include a request for up to $3 million for the water supplier’s conveyance upgrades (to be funded by DWR) and up to $3 million for enhancements of on-farm agricultural operations to be funded by CDFA (with a cap of $200,000 per operation). This would allow for 15 agricultural operations (at $200,000 each) to partner with the water supplier to submit the joint proposal at the maximum award amount of $6 million. More than 15 agricultural operations could be funded if amounts lower than the cap are requested in individual agricultural operator applications.


A Positive View of Agriculture

Use Buzzwords to Convey Positive View of Agriculture

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

 

While it may not always seem that consumers view agriculture favorably, David Spady, Americans for Prosperity of California state director, said agriculture is actually viewed positively, as demonstrated through the “So God Made a Farmer” Ram 2013 Super Bowl ad, an extended version of the “So God Made a Farmer” video based on the speech authored and narrated by legendary radio broadcaster Paul Harvey and produced by the truck manufacturer to commemorate Ram’s “Year of the Farmer.” Spady also included FarmersOnly, the online dating site, as portraying a positive view of agriculture, among other programs and outreach.

“How you present farming to the public is very important,” Spady said, “ to make sure you’re hitting those values that people do see in farming.”

Spady suggested one way farmers can maintain the value placed on agriculture is by using the buzzwords that anti-agricultural groups have used against agriculturein favor of agriculture. “Sustainability has become a very common buzzword,” Spady said, “but it’s very important to project [sustainability] with the idea of farming because farming is sustainable—sustainable for not just our food production but also for the environment,” he affirmed.

“[Farmers] are really growing large-scale gardens, not just planting rows of crops. But, ultimately, that’s what people are doing even in their backyards. So, giving people an image they can relate to that has a values-connection is a really important message for projecting who farmers are.”

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The mission Americans for Prosperity (AFP) California, as reported on their website, is:

  • to educate citizens about limited government, lower taxation, and free market principles
  • to advocate for public policies that champion the principles of entrepreneurship as well as regulatory and fiscal restraint.
  • to mobilize citizens to advocate for policies that cut red tape and increase opportunity and get the economy working for hard workers–not special interests.

What we do:

  • AFP mobilizes citizens to effectively make their voices heard in public policy campaigns.
  • We build coalitions of like-minded organizations in California fighting for the common cause of lower taxation and free market principles.
  • AFP California educates citizens about where their elected officials stand on our issues.
  • AFP combines state-of-the-art national capabilities with local on-the-ground armies to create Grassroots operations that win.
  • Through its Grassroots Training Schools, AFP Foundation has recruited and educated thousands of citizens on how to promote greater economic prosperity.

A Thought on Sustainability

Scott Steinmaus on Getting the Sustainability Message Out

By Charmayne Hefley, Producer and Associate Broadcaster

When considering the longevity of a farmer’s land, the question of the sustainability of modern day farming practices is often raised. Scott Steinmaus, professor and department head of the Horticulture and Crop Science Department at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, said that it is important to get the message out to consumers that farmers are sustainable because their land is the future for their own children.

“Farmers are sustainable,” Steinmaus said, “even when the general public might say that unsustainable activities might include pesticide applications. There’s no farmer out there who wants to spray pesticides—it costs money. And they don’t want to hand off their land having exposed it to something that’s not sustainable. They have a piece of land, something they value and cherish, and they want to hand it off to their sons or daughters.”

Steinmaus said it is important for consumers to realize that farmers are humans too, and they care about the health of the planet in a way that more directly relates to their careers.

Steinmaus believes it is important for consumers “to understand that direct connection farmers have with the earth, to realize that farmers are humans too, with kids of their own, and to acknowledge that farmers care about the planet more than a lot of urbanites might do themselves. There’s nothing more important than sustainability—minimizing all farm inputs for safe, acceptable food production.”

California Water Usage

Joel Nelsen, President of California Citrus Mutual on Water Usage 

 

By Courtney Steward with California Ag Today

 

Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual (CCM), commented on the recent upsurge in negative public opinion on the state’s agricultural water usage, “They don’t want the attention focused on their cherished agenda item, which is environmentalism.”

“There are good reasons to protect the environment,” Nelsen explained, “we don’t want salt-water intrusion in the Delta and we don’t want fish to become extinct. However, we do want a realistic approach to solving environmental problems starting with science-based assessments, partial limits and sustainable solutions.”

Nelsen said “’sustainability’ varies depending on who you talk to. “Ask a farmer and they will tell you that sustainability is about producing a legacy, ensuring that future generations too will be able to cultivate a viable crop on the same land. Sustainability is about learning from the past to prepare for the future and fulfilling an inherent responsibility to the environment and to society, working with the land in order to feed the world today and in the future. The California citrus industry has not only sustained, but thrived for over 125 years.”

“So, how do we solve this complex issue of a limited water supply for competing needs with solutions that deliver sustainable results with accountability from all parties involved?  Nelsen stated, “You want a thorough assessment of the current situation; are our current solutions solving our water problems?”

“When you talk about restoring the San Joaquin River,” Nelsen explained, “our current solution is not biologically viable. The smelt population is not recovering; it continues to decline. Let’s honestly ask ourselves ‘is this solution effective or is it time to quit wasting money, quit wasting water and try another science-based solution?”

Sustainable Farming: Let’s Focus on a Farm’s Performance, Not its Size

In case you missed it, we are posting the article, “Let’s Focus on a Farm’s Performance, Not its Size,” with permission, from Environmental Defense Fund’s Growing Returns blog.

By  | BIO
Lettuce
Credit: Flickr user Dwight Sipler

What comes to mind when you think of a “family farm?” You’re probably picturing a bucolic spread of less than 100 acres, with a red barn, farmer in overalls, and cows grazing a big pasture. What about the phrase “corporate farm” or “?” Do you see a giant, impersonal and industrial-looking operation?

Unfortunately, these common (mis)perceptions are regularly promoted in everything from TV ads to online chats. But the reality is that “big” does not equate to “bad,” and “small” doesn’t necessarily mean “good” when it comes to sustainable farming. In fact, it’s the wrong debate altogether.

What really matters is performance, not size.

Today is National Agriculture Day, celebrated annually on March 18, and this year’s theme is sustaining future generations. If we’re going to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population, we’re going to need large and small farms alike. And no matter their size, they’ll need to minimize their impacts on the natural systems that sustain us all.

Addressing the myth

It’s a myth that large farms can’t be sustainable, just as it’s a myth that all family farms are small and better for the environment.

Take Christine Hamilton, for example, whose family farm produces corn, soybeans, winter wheat and cattle across 14,000 acres in South Dakota. For years she’s been participating in USDA conservation programs, using no-till practices, planting trees to limit erosion, and utilizing variable rate technologies to improve the environment and her yields.

There are also places like Fair Oaks Farms, which milks over 500 cows … an hour. To make their large operation more sustainable, Fair Oaks pumps methane from its livestock to an on-site natural gas station that compresses it into fuel for the farm’s fleet of 40 milk trucks.

Many small-farm operations implement sustainable practices as well. A perfect example is Full Belly Farms, a 400-acre organic farm in Northern California that won last year’s prestigious Leopold Conservation Award. But I’ve visited small farms where livestock roam freely into streams, soil erosion destroys riverbanks, and nutrient management plans are nonexistent.

Sharing responsibility4.1.1

In the U.S., agriculture already occupies 51 percent of our land, uses 80 percent of the [Nation’s consumptive*] water, and is responsible for 8 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. And in the coming decades U.S. farms will be responsible for producing even more food. In order to make agriculture a plus for the environment, farm practices will need to change.

Of course, we have to keep in mind the context here. Mid-size and large-scale family farms account for 8 percent of U.S. farms but 60 percent of the value of production, so in order to bring sustainable agriculture to scale, they will have to do the bulk of the work. But small farms have a much higher share of production for specific commodities in the U.S. – they account for 56 percent of domestic poultry production, for example – so we’ll need their leadership, too.

Regardless of size, all farms need to:

  • Minimize the loss of nutrients and soil to air and water through nutrient optimization strategies such as conservation tillage.
  • Use water as efficiently as possible.
  • Improve soil health through strategies such as cover crops.
  • Avoid plowing up ecologically important lands.
  • Fence livestock out of streams and implement management plans to maintain healthy grazing lands and avoid overgrazing
  • Use strategically placed filters to capture excess nutrients.

It’s time we shift the public debate and get everyone on board the sustainability train. Arguing about a farm’s size won’t deliver environmental benefits. In the end, it’s all about performance.

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*“California Ag Today added Nation’s consumptive” from the original USDA text and offers the following definitions:

Consumptive water use” is a use of water that removes the water from the system so that it cannot be recovered for reuse by some other entity. Consumptive uses may be beneficial or non‐beneficial. A beneficial consumptive use would be crop evapotranspiration.

(Source: Agricultural Water Use in California: A 2011 Update 3 © Center for Irrigation Technology November 2011)

Evapotranspiration (ET) is the amount of water transpired by plants, retained in plant tissues, and evaporated from plant tissues and surrounding soil surfaces.

(Sources: (1) California Water Plan Update 2009 Glossary. Department of Water Resources. Resources Agency. State of California; (2) Agricultural Water Use in California: A 2011 Update 3 © Center for Irrigation Technology November 2011)

If the basis for the discussion is water consumptively used by only agricultural, municipal & industrial users, then agriculture’s share would be estimated in the range of 80 percent of the total. However, if the percentage is based on dedicated water, which includes environmental uses, then agriculture’s share is more in the range of 40 percent.

(Sources: (1) California Water Plan Update 2009 Glossary. Department of Water Resources. Resources Agency. State of California; (2) Agricultural Water Use in California: A 2011 Update 3 © Center for Irrigation Technology November 2011)

Dedicated water – as defined by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) is “water distributed among urban and agricultural uses, used for protecting and restoring the environment, or storage in surface water and groundwater reservoirs. In any year, some of the dedicated supply includes water that is used multiple times (reuse) and water held in storage from previous years. This is about 40 to 50 percent of the total annual water supply received from precipitation and imported from Colorado, Oregon, and Mexico.”

Context: Water Portfolio”1 (Source: Agricultural Water Use in California: A 2011 Update 3 © Center for Irrigation Technology November 2011)

Dedicated water includes water flowing in the Wild and Scenic Rivers. Many partially used or unrestricted rivers could have been significantly diverted for use by municipal & industrial and/or agriculture. However, these waters have been dedicated by law to the environment. Other examples of dedicated water are the 800,000 acre‐feet/year reallocated back to the environment by the Central Valley Project Improvement Act (CVPIA) and the 647,000 AF/year reallocated back for Trinity River restoration of that river’s fishery.

(Sources: (1) Record of Decision. Trinity River Mainstem Fishery Restoration. Final Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report. U.S. Department of the Interior. December 2000; (2) Westlands Water District vs. U.S. Department of Interior. Case Nos. 03‐15194, 03‐15289, 03‐15291 and 03‐15737. Argued and Submitted Feb. 9, 2004 ‐ July 13, 2004, United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit)

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The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) works directly with businesses, government and communities to create lasting solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF’s Growing Returns Blog posts news about the organization’s goal of meeting growing demands for food in ways that improve the environment.