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.
Strawberry Growers Lean on Biologicals to Manage Pest
By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor
California Ag Today recently met with Surendra Dara, a UC Cooperative Extension entomologist based in San Luis Obispo County. According to Dara, California strawberry growers follow many sustainable options.
“Growers are well-educated and have a support system that provides information to them very regularly,” Dara said.
Growers try to apply as much of the IPMs as possible, but there is always a lot more scope in terms of using non-chemical alternatives. That is an area that has room to grow.
“The more we know about the options and their potential, they can be more adopted,” Dara said.
He explained that the strawberry growers often lean on biological insects such as beneficial mites that treat those damaging insects. It’s all part of IPM.
The insects are used outdoors along with in greenhouses.
“A bio-control is very well done in strawberries for mite control, but we do not have similar natural enemies for other pests,” Dara said.
There are botanical and microbial options for pest and disease management, and a lot of work is being done about understanding how they work and placing them in the right strategy.
“So, there is definitely plenty of options for us,” Dara said.
4-H’ers Present Demonstrations, Educational Displays, Illustrated Talks, and Other Ideas
By Kathy Keatley Garvey, UCANR Communication Specialist
Seventeen Solano County 4-H members won gold awards at Solano County 4-H Presentation Day, and the Heritage 4-H Club of Vacaville won the plaque for the greatest member participation. In front (from left) are gold winner Darren Stephens, Sherwood Forest 4-H, Vallejo; William Parks, president of the Heritage 4-H Club (the club received the participation award for the greatest number of members presenting); and gold winners Daniel Taliaferro, Beau Westad, Grace Kimble and Irma Brown, all Suisun Valley 4-H. In back (from left) are gold winners Julietta Wynholds, Sherwood Forest 4-H; Zoe Sloan, Elmira 4-H; Braddison Beathem and Madisyn McCrary, both Tremont 4-H, Dixon; Miriam Laffitte, Vaca Valley 4-H; Celeste Harrison and Hannah Stephens, both Sherwood Forest 4-H; Jessica Carpenter, Pleasants Valley 4-H, Vacaville; and Alexis Taliaferro, Suisun Valley 4-H. Not pictured are gold winners Kailey Mauldin and Alissa Mauldin, both Elmira 4-H, and James George, Suisun Valley 4-H. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Solano County 4-H’ers Go for the Gold
They presented everything from “How to Take a Perfect Picture” to “The Secret Life of Bees” to “Anything is Pawsible: How I Trained My Doberman pinscher.”
When it was all over, 17 4-H’ers, including seven from the Suisun Valley 4-H Club, won gold medal showmanship awards at the annual Solano County 4-H Presentation Day, held recently at the Sierra Vista K-8 School in Vacaville.
The presentations included demonstrations, educational displays, illustrated talks, an interpretative reading, and a cultural arts offering.
The 4-H’ers followed a four-pronged process involving research, organization, graphics, and sharing of knowledge, said Valerie Williams, Solano County 4-H program representative. Adult evaluators, all involved with the Solano County 4-H Youth Development Program, asked the youths questions and scored them on their knowledge and presentation.
Twenty-six 4-H’ers, representing eight of the county’s 11 clubs, participated.
In the junior educational display talk category, ages 9 to 10, the gold winners, all from the Suisun Valley 4-H Club, were Grace Kemble, “How to Take a Perfect Picture”; Daniel Taliaferro, “Perfect Pizza Pans”; and Beau Westad, “Reeling in Channel Catfish.”
In the intermediate educational display talk category, ages 11 to 13, evaluators selected six gold winners: James George of the Suisun Valley 4-H, “Event Planning”; Celeste Harrison of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo, “Anything Is Pawsible: How I Trained My Doberman Pinscher”; Irma Brown, Suisun Valley 4-H, “Elements of a Movie”; Madisyn McCrary of Tremont 4-H Club, Dixon, “How to Shoe a Horse”; Alissa Mauldin, Elmira 4-H, for “This Little Piggy Has…” and Darren Stephens, Sherwood Forest 4-H, “Can Chickens Get Maggots?”
In the senior educational display talk category, ages 14 to 19, three took home the gold: Hanna Stephens, Sherwood Forest 4-H, “Living Life as a Guide Dog Puppy”; Jessica Carpenter, Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville, “How to Trim Goats and Sheep Hooves” and Alexis Taliaferro, Suisun Valley 4-H, “College Tours: A Glimpse Into the Future.”
In the intermediate illustrated talk category, ages 11 to 13, gold awards went to Julietta Wynholds, Sherwood Forest 4-H, for “The Basics of Animation”; and Braddison Beathem, Tremont 4-H, “Let’s Talk Tack: How to Tack a Horse in English Tack.”
Senior demonstration, ages 14 to 18: Zoe Sloan of Elmira 4-H, for “Bomb Voyage.”
Senior/Interpretative Reading, ages 14 to 19: Kailey Mauldin, Elmira 4-H, “The Secret Life of Bees” by author Sue Monk Kidd.
Intermediate Culture Arts, ages 11 to 13: Miriam Lafitte, Vaca Valley 4-H Club, Vacaville, “Total Improv.”
The winners are now eligible to compete in an Area 4-H Presentation Day, a qualifying event for the California State 4-H Field Day. Area Presentation Days will take place in Antioch, Jackson, and California Polytechnic Institute (Cal Poly), all on March 23. Other Area Presentation Days will be held in Siskiyou County on April 6, in Mariposa County on April 14; in Walnut on May 4; and in Tehama County on May 11.
Solano County 4-H Ambassador Natalie Greene of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club served as the emcee.
The newly formed and soon-to-be-chartered Heritage 4-H Club of Vacaville won the participation award for having the greatest percentage of participants. The club is affiliated with the Heritage Christian Academy, Vacaville.
Six 4-H’ers participated in the primary educational display talks category, ages 5 to 8. The primary group is not evaluated. Receiving participation certificates in that category were four Heritage Club members: Dale Harder, “The Perfect Picnic,” Sunny Harder, “Camping”; Christopher Parks, “Model Trains”; and William Parks, “Dog Man: My Favorite Book and How to Draw the Characters.” Certificates also went to Nevaeh Tiernan-Lang of Elmira 4-H, “How to Build a Christmas Tree” and Alia Wynholds of Sherwood Forest 4-H,“On the Trail.”
Receiving participant certificates in the junior educational display talk category, ages 9 to 10, were Addelyn Widmer of Suisun Valley 4-H, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears of Photography”; and Jonny Tiernan-Lang, Elmira 4-H, for “AKC Toy Breeds.”
In the intermediate educational display talk, ages 11 to 13, Heath Moritz of the Westwind 4-H Club, Fairfield-Suisun, received a participation certificate for “Watch Me Now.”
During the Presentation Day, attendees also had the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities, including designing and launching a paper rocket through the STEM activity; making slime at the Slime Station; and learning how to sew a blanket, “Cuddle Me Close,” for hospital patients.
Solano County has 11 4-H clubs, with a total membership of 400
Vacaville: Vaca Valley, Pleasants Valley, Elmira and Heritage
Fairfield-Suisun: Suisun Valley and Westwind
Dixon: Maine Prairie, Tremont, and Dixon Ridge
Rio Vista: Rio Vista 4-H
Vallejo: Sherwood Forest
The Solano County 4-H Youth Development Program, part of the UC Cooperative Extension Program, follows the motto, “Making the Best Better.” 4-H, which stands for head, heart, health, and hands, is open to youths ages 5 to 19. In age-appropriate projects, they learn skills through hands-on learning in projects ranging from arts and crafts, computers and leadership to dog care, poultry, rabbits and woodworking. They develop skills they would otherwise not attain at home or in public or private schools. For more information, contact Valerie Williams at email@example.com.
UC Cooperative Extension Offering Water Measurement and Reporting Courses April 4
California water rights holders are required by state law to measure and report the water they divert from surface streams. For people who wish to take the water measurements themselves, the University of California Cooperative Extension is offering training to receive certification April 4 in Redding and Woodland.
At the workshop, participants will:
Clarify reporting requirements for ranches.
Understand which meters are appropriate for different situations.
Learn how to determine measurement equipment accuracy.
Develop an understanding of measurement weirs.
Learn how to calculate and report volume from flow data.
UC Cooperative Extension is offering a limited number of trainings in 2019. The next training will be held at Shasta College Farm and Yolo County Fairgrounds:
Senate Bill 88 requires that all water right holders who have previously diverted or intend to divert more than 10 acre-feet per year (riparian and pre-1914 claims), or who are authorized to divert more than 10 acre-feet per year under a permit, license or registration, to measure and report the water they divert.
Detailed information on the regulatory requirements for measurement and reporting are available on the State Water Resources Control Board Reporting and Measurement Regulation webpage: https://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights. For diversion or storage greater than or equal to 100-acre feet annually, the law requires approval of installation and certification of measurement methods by an engineer, contractor, or other approved professional.
To make it easier for farmers and ranchers to comply with the law, the California Cattlemen’s Association worked with Assemblyman Frank Bigelow on a bill that would allow people to get certified to take the measurements themselves. Assembly Bill 589 became law on Jan. 1, 2018.
Until Jan. 1, 2023, this bill allows anyone who diverts water and has completed an instructional course on measurement devices and methods administered by UC Cooperative Extension, including passage of a proficiency test, to be considered qualified to install and maintain devices or implement methods of measurement. The bill requires UC Cooperative Extension and the water board to jointly develop the curriculum for the course and the proficiency test.
The first-ever cost study of primocane-bearing blackberries in California has been published by UC ANR’s Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension. With primocane-bearing, growers can extend the blackberry production season.
“What differentiates primocane-bearing blackberry from the traditional floricane-bearing is that it bears fruit in the first year rather than the second,” explained co-author Mark Bolda, a UC Cooperative Extension advisor.
“Which, of course, opens a world of opportunity for growers, since they are able to produce fruit in the first year rather than the second, as has traditionally been the case,” Bolda said. “That’s what makes this study so interesting to us.”
Primocanes are the green, vegetative stalks of the blackberry plant, generally the first-year cane. The second year, they become floricanes, flowering and fruiting.
The study presents sample costs to establish, produce, and harvest primocane-bearing blackberries in the Central Coast region of Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Benito counties.
The analysis is based on a hypothetical well-managed farming operation using practices common to the region. The costs, materials and practices shown in this study will not apply to all farms. Growers, UC ANR Cooperative Extension farm advisors, and other agricultural associates provided input and reviewed the methods and findings of the study.
This study assumes a farm operation size of 30 contiguous acres of rented land, with primocane-bearing blackberries for fresh market planted on 15 acres. The crop is hand-harvested and packed into 4.5 pound trays. During the establishment year, there is a four-month harvest: July through August. Primocane blackberries can produce fruit on first-year growth. There is also a four-month harvest for each of the four production years.
The authors describe assumptions in detail and present a table of costs and returns based on those assumptions about production, input materials, prices, and yields. A ranging analysis shows the impact on net returns of alternative yields and prices. Other tables show the monthly cash costs; the costs and returns per acre; hourly equipment costs; and the whole farm annual equipment, investment, and business overhead costs.
The study also has an expanded section on labor, which includes information on California’s new minimum wage and overtime laws.
“This work investigating the economics of a newer cultural system for our area came out of a close collaboration between UCCE academics and area growers,” said Bolda, who serves Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties, “so the level of detail and accuracy is outstanding.”
Free copies of this study and other sample costs of production studies for many commodities are available. To download the cost studies, visit the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics website at https://coststudies.ucdavis.edu.
The cost and returns studies program is funded by the UC Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension, both of which are part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
For additional information or an explanation of the calculations used in the studies, contact the UC Agricultural Issues Center at (530) 752-4651 or UC Cooperative Extension advisors Mark Bolda (831) 763-8025 or Laura Tourte (831) 763-8005 in Santa Cruz County.
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.
“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.
Field bindweed is continuing to inconvenience farmers and ranchers. However, Scott Stoddard of the UCANR Cooperative Extension in Merced County has some tips on how to control it.
Stoddard explained that the solution isn’t as simple as applying one herbicide, but using a combination might provide some results.
“You have to combine the Roundup with something like a Treflan, and then combine that maybe with some applications of herbicides,” he said.
Stoddard further added that although more successful than applying Roundup alone, even stacking the herbicides will only provide marginal to good control.
The best approach to getting rid of this stubborn weed? Stoddard recommends rotating your field with Roundup Ready varieties so that the herbicide can be more effective on non-Roundup Ready crops.
“For example, a Roundup Ready cotton or corn will clean up a field for the following year for things like tomatoes or melons. In that particular case, Roundup can be very useful,” he said. “Otherwise get it in when you can. If you can apply it before you transplant, or if the bindweed does come out before your transplant that’s when Roundup should be used.”
Researcher Invites Public to Visit San Joaquin Valley Soil Health Demonstration site in Five Points
UC Cooperative Extension cropping systems specialist Jeff Mitchell is issuing a standing invitation to the public to visit the site of an ongoing conservation agriculture research project and see for themselves the results of long-term soil building practices.
“Every Friday morning from 9 o’clock till noon, beginning in February and going through June, I invite folks to come to the project site to see up close and personal just what soil health means,” Mitchell said.
“I promise to be out there every Friday morning from Feb. 15 through June 26,” Mitchell said.
The project, funded by the Natural Resources Institute, compares plots that have been managed for more than 20 years in an annual rotation of cotton, processing tomatoes and, more recently, sorghum, garbanzo beans and melons under four different treatments: no-tilled plus cover crops, no-tilled with no cover crops, conventionally tilled with cover crops and conventionally tilled without cover crops.
“What we’ve got at this site is a very long-term example of exactly what implementation of a small set of soil care, or soil health, principles really means for soil function and management,” Mitchell explained.
Mitchell said that the study site in Five Points is a valuable resource for the people of California because of its dedicated adherence to principles that are widely touted to improve production efficiencies, reduce dust emissions, sequester carbon and reduce inputs over time.
“I recently heard about the value of publicly showcasing long-term sites such as the one we’ve got in Five Points. It’s being done in several other places, including the Dakotas and in Europe,” Mitchell said. “It just seems to make sense to open up our field more widely to folks who might be interested in seeing the remarkable changes we’ve seen and monitored for a long time.”
According to Mitchell, the NRI Project field is already “the most visited research field in the state,” but with this new invitation, he is hoping to have still broader impact.
“We’ve got a simply amazing resource here and I want folks to see it,” he said.
The study has been selected as one of the monitoring sites of the North American Project to Evaluate Soil Health Measurements that have been initiated by the Soil Health Institute of Morrisville, N.C. More than 20 peer-reviewed scientific articles have been published based on work done in this study field.
Berry Industry Must Now Work Smarter in Post Methyl Bromide Era
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
The strawberry fruit production industry, with the exception of plant nurseries, has reached the point where methyl bromide is no longer available under any circumstances, and new alternatives or strategies must be found to protect strawberries from serious diseases.
The University of California is focused on a holistic approach, which includes the tried-and-true method of integrated pest management in this post Methyl Bromide era.
“None of the alternative fumigants are as good as methyl bromide,” said Mark Bolda, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor for Santa Cruz County, who is working closely with growers on alternative methods. “So one area that we could focus on is different strategies at the time of planting. For example, strawberries have different chill times. You must add cold conditioning to give the plant more vigor.”
There are many questions. Could the colors of the plastic mulch that growers are using manage the temperatures of the soil? How about the amount of fertilizer that is being used?
“We need to start integrating these variables into the way we grow strawberries with the lack of fumigants that are as effective as methyl bromide,” Bolda explained. “We need to integrate all these things and others in order to grow berries with the lack of available fumigants that are as effective as methyl bromide.”
“It’s a little disappointing that here we are at zero-hour and we do not have this worked out,” he continued. “The University of California Cooperative Extension have had a number of meetings in my office, as well as other places where we get many people in the same room to try to figure out what we know and what we don’t know.”
“There’s a lot of smart people in the industry, and I know we can get on this and find solutions,” he said.
Livestock Owners Should Participate in Fire Survey
By Pam Kan-Rice, UC Agriculture & Natural Resources
Preparing a farm for wildfire is more complicated when it involves protecting live animals. To assess the impact of wildfire on livestock production, University of California researchers are asking livestock producers to participate in a survey.
People raising cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, swine, horses, llamas, alpacas, aquaculture species or other production-oriented animals in California who have experienced at least one wildfire on their property within the last 10 years are asked to participate in the FIRE survey.
“We will aim to quantify the impact of wildfires in different livestock production systems,” said Beatriz Martinez Lopez, director of the Center for Animal Disease Modeling and Surveillance in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “The idea is also to create a risk map showing areas more likely to experience wildfires with high economic impact in California.
“This economic and risk assessment, to the best of our knowledge, has not been done, and we hope to identify potential actions that ranchers can take to reduce or mitigate their losses if their property is hit by wildfire.”
Martínez López, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Medicine & Epidemiology at UC Davis, is teaming up with UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisors and wildfire specialists around the state to conduct the study.
“Right now, we have no good estimate of the real cost of wildfire to livestock producers in California,” said Rebecca Ozeran, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor for Fresno and Madera counties. “Existing UCCE forage loss worksheets cannot account for the many other ways that wildfire affects livestock farms and ranches. As such, we need producers’ input to help us calculate the range of immediate and long-term costs of wildfire.”
Stephanie Larson, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and range management advisor for Sonoma and Marin counties, agreed, saying, “The more producers who participate, the more accurate and useful our results will be.”
“We hope the survey results will be used by producers across the state to prepare for wildfire,” said Matthew Shapero, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor for Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, “And by federal and private agencies to better allocate funds for postfire programs available to livestock producers.”
The survey is online at http://bit.ly/FIREsurvey. It takes 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the number of properties the participant has that have been affected by wildfire.
“Survey answers are completely confidential and the results will be released only as summaries in which no individual’s answers can be identified,” said Martínez López. “This survey will provide critical information to create the foundation for future fire economic assessments and management decisions.”