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.

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.

Mike Wolf Named 2015 Napa Valley Grower of the Year!

Mike Wolf Named 2015 Napa Valley Grower of the Year

Napa Valley Grapegrowers (NVG) announced TODAY they have chosen long-time Napa grape grower Mike Wolf as the 2015 recipient of the prestigious Napa Valley Grower of the Year. Wolf will be honored for his tremendous contributions to Napa Valley farming and the community on May 15 at the 40th annual NVG Annual Dinner.

Wolf has been involved with developing and managing California vineyards for over 35 years. He launched Michael Wolf Vineyard Services in 1997, working with many of Napa Valley’s leading independent growers, and premium and ultra-premium wineries in all phases of sustainable vineyard development, from planning and development to maintaining well-established vineyards. He currently farms over 800 acres across Napa County.

Mike Wolf
Mike Wolf, Michael Wolf Vineyard Services, Napa Valley Grapegrowers’ 2015 Grower of the Year recipient

Wolf was raised just outside of New York City, and received a B.A. degree in history from New York’s Alfred University. He started working with grapes at the age 26, when he moved to Mendocino County with two college friends and wound up connecting with Beckstoffer Vineyards in Ukiah for his first vineyard job.

He moved to Napa County in 1981 as Vineyard Supervisor for a large agricultural development company in Pope Valley where he worked for 12 years, managing all vineyard development and vineyard operations. In 1994, he accepted a position overseeing 500 acres of vineyard in the Napa Valley for Beckstoffer Vineyards.

Wolf’s name is now associated with vineyards that express the exceptionally high quality for which Napa is known. Deeply respected for his commitment to Napa Valley farming and the community, Wolf has served as:

· Board Trustee of the California Grower Foundation since 1987; board chairman from 1994–1998

· Professional member of the American Society of Enology and Viticulture

· Member of the Napa Valley Viticultural Technical Group’s Executive Committee from 1995–1996

· Director of the Napa County Farm Bureau from 1986–1998; president from 1990–1992; vice president from 1988–1989

· Board Member, Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch

“Mike is a tremendous example of a quiet, genuine leader. He is a perennial contributor to advancing viticultural best practices, dependably mentors the next generation and furthers the process of sustainable farming,” said NVG President Steve Moulds. “We are very proud to honor him.”

He continues to be a strong advocate and support for farmworkers in the Valley, actively supporting the:

Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation (FWF), which supports and promotes Napa Valley’s vineyard workers through education and professional development

Harvest STOMP, Napa’s fund-raising harvest party, that supports the FWF and preserves and promotes Napa Valley’s World-Class Vineyards.

Napa Valley Pruning Contest.

Nominations for the Napa Valley Grower of the Year come from the NVG membership and the recipient is chosen by a special Selection Committee made up of Past Presidents and current committee members. The award criteria are: a strong commitment to sustainable practices; recognized leadership in agricultural preservation; dedicated community focus, contributions to the Napa Valley community; and someone who actively promotes Napa’s reputation for the highest quality vineyards.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2015, Napa Valley Grapegrowers is a non-profit trade organization that has played a vital role in strengthening Napa Valley’s reputation as a world-class viticultural region for four decades. Its mission is to preserve and promote Napa Valley’s world-class vineyards. NVG represents over 690 Napa County grape growers and associated businesses.

For more information, visit www.napagrowers.org. Follow Napa Valley Grapegrowers on Facebook and Twitter.

Seminar on Sustainable & Organic Practices in Southern California

An all day seminar for growers and crop consultants focusing on sustainable and organic farming practices for pest management and plant health in Southern California will be held on June 19.

Subjects include: County of San Diego Department of Agriculture Regulatory Update, BioControl of Pests, Micronutrient Use, Essential Plant Nutrition, Soil Testing, Mycorrhizal Inoculants, Soil Amendments/Compost, Organic Weed Control, Optimizing Organic Fertilizer Application and an Organic Grower Panel Discussion.

Also exhibits by firms providing products acceptable for organic and sustainable production.  CEUs are offered for Certified Crop Advisers (6.0 hours) and licensed Pest Control Advisers (6.0 hours).

WHO: Presented by the San Diego County Chapter of California Association of Pest Control Advisers and Organic Fertilizer Association of California.

WHEN: Thursday, June 19, 2014, 8:00 am – 3:00 pm.

WHERE: Pala Mesa Resort, 2001 Old Highway 395, Fallbrook, CA

INFO: Contact Steven Beckley, (916)539-4107, sbeckley@aol.com.

Program and Registration is available at https://capcaed.com/continuing-ed-seminars/june-19-2014-fallbrook-sustainable/organic-practices-in-southern-california