UC Offers Drone Workshop for Mapping, Research, and Land Management
By Pam Kan-Rice, UC Ag & Natural Resources
People who are interested in using drones for real-world mapping are invited to attend a three-day intensive drone workshop in the Monterey Bay area. The third annual DroneCamp will be offered from June 18 to 20 by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Informatics and GIS Program. No experience with drone technology is needed to participate.
Drone mapping involves taking high-resolution photos with drones and stitching them together with software to make extremely accurate, orthorectified maps. More difficult than videography, it is widely used in agriculture, construction, archeology, surveying, facilities management, and other fields. DroneCamp will cover all the topics someone needs to make maps with drones, including:
Technology—the different types of drone and sensor hardware, costs and applications
Drone science—principles of photogrammetry and remote sensing
Safety and regulations—learn to fly safely and legally, including tips on getting your FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate
Mission planning—flight planning tools and principles for specific mission objectives
Flight operations—hands-on practice with both manual and programmed flights
Data processing—processing drone data into orthomosaics and 3D digital surface models; assessing quality control
Data analysis—techniques for analyzing drone data in GIS and remote sensing software
Visualization—create 3D models of your data
Latest trends—hear about new and upcoming developments in drone technology, data processing, and regulations
On the first day, DroneCamp instructors will discuss drone platforms, sensor technologies, and regulations. On the following two days, participants will receive hands-on instruction on flying safely, using automated flight software, emergency procedures, managing data, and turning images into maps using Pix4D mapper and ArcGIS Pro.
Registration is $900 for the general public and $500 for University of California students and employees. Registration includes instruction, materials, flight practice and lunches. Scholarships are available.
This year, DroneCamp is being held in conjunction with the Monterey Bay DART (Drones Automation & Robotics Technology), which is holding an industry symposium on Friday, June 21. DroneCamp participants get a $50 discount to attend the symposium.
Jeff Mitchell Has Devoted Career to Conservation No-Till
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
Jeff Mitchell is a Cropping Systems Specialist at UC Davis, based at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier. He has devoted 19 years to improving nitrogen and water use efficiencies in food, feed, fuel and fiber in no-till cropping systems.
His no-till research focuses on soil quality management and potential roles of cover crops and compost in intensive row crop production systems, and the use of cover crop mulches as a means of conserving soil water, suppressing weeds and increasing organic matter in no-till production systems.
He often cites a book called Plowman’s Folly by Edward H. Faulkner, published following the ruinous Dust Bowl. Faulkner dropped an agricultural bombshell when he blamed the then universally used moldboard plow for disastrous pillage of the soil.
This book is the 11th all-time cited, read, or acknowledged a piece of work related to the soil in the history of scientific literature.
“When it was written in 1943, it caused great arguments. The government got involved with the USDA trying to defend the science of the day,” Mitchell said.
The reason the book was so controversial is that it proved that there had been no scientific reason for plowing.
“He was getting in people’s faces by saying, ‘This might not be the way to do it,’ ” Mitchell said. “Faulkner’s stance was embroiling people.”
Mitchell’s work centers on conservation, no-till production of vegetable and cotton crops. The idea is to plant in the crops’ residue, which builds up a rather thick layer of mulch on the bed—leading to reduced water and nitrogen, as well as minimizing weeds.
Mitchell cited several growers in the Midwest and in California that are successfully practicing conservation no-till agriculture. And there is much more recent attention on soils with the Healthy Soils Program (HSP)—stemming from the California Healthy Soils Initiative, a collaboration of state agencies and departments to promote the development of healthy soils on California’s farmlands and ranch lands.
The HSP has two components: the HSP Incentives Program and the HSP Demonstration Projects. The HSP Incentives Program provides financial assistance for the implementation of conservation management that improves soil health, sequester carbon and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The HSP Demonstration Projects showcase California farmers’ and ranchers’ implementation of HSP practices.
“The principles that we are pursuing are allowing growers to keep excellent yields and maybe increase sometimes, cut out some inputs like fertilizers to save money, and to do it with less—less disturbance and fewer operations,” Mitchell explained. “None of this is new. It was 90 years ago when the Natural Resources Conservation Service established the principles of good soil management
Healthy soil holds more water (by binding it to organic matter), and loses less water to runoff and evaporation.
Organic matter builds as tillage declines and plants and residue cover the soil. Organic matter holds 18 to 20 times its weight in water and recycles nutrients for plants to use.
One percent of organic matter in the top six inches of soil would hold approximately 27,000 gallons of water per acre!
Most farmers can increase their soil organic matter in three to 10 years if they are motivated about adopting conservation practices to achieve this goal.
“In 2013, a group of 30 farmers came up with a similar kind of a list,” Mitchell said. “They brainstormed on what would be good soil management, and they came up [with] feed the soil organic matter, reduced disturbance, increased diversity—the same as the NRCS list.”
Mitchell cited a newspaper article published in 1931. “People were finding benefits of cover crops in San Joaquin Valley farming systems. Now with the Healthy Soils Initiative, farmers are trying these techniques and evaluating it. There’s a lot of activity that is going on at many different sites in the state.”
Mitchell’s work at the West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points on the conservation no-till approach has been with scientific protocol and replicated over 19 years.
“Initially, we would have several systems. In the no-till system, rotations of cotton, transplanted tomato, and a forage crops would grow back to back in a no-till system,” he explained. “Each crop would be planted in the residue of the previous crop. Over the years, the no-till plots have grey residue from last year plantings.”
“Cover crops can also be part of the no-till system, which over the last 18 years have added 34 tons of biomass, which includes 13 tons of carbon per acre to the system, which is a good thing,” Mitchell said. “It adds fuel to the soil biology, but it’s not perfect.”
“My supposition would be that growing cover crops is more completed than people think. I have been at meetings where growers say: ‘are you kidding, I’m not going to grow cover crops because I do not have the water,’” Mitchell noted.
He said he understands the situation in not having enough water. But he explained, “In the winter time, yes there will be evaporation from the soil service every day. Radiation is beating down, and there will be evaporation.”
Evaporation in the cover crop field could be more nuanced. Maybe because the soil surface is shaded out, which would cool the soil, there may not be that much evaporation. The cover crops may increase infiltration of water in the ground, instead of it ponding on the soil surface.
“Yes, there will be some inevitable use of water by growing vegetation in the field in the winter, but it could be less than we think,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell then showed two large aluminum pans of soil. One showed soil dug up in an open field that has been tilled. The other container is soil with crop residue from the non-tilled plots.
He takes a handful of each and drops them into two individual gallon jars within an open metal grid with a few inches of water. This what Mitchell sees every time he does this. The large jar with tilled soil breaks up rapidly with soil particles dropping to the bottom. Within the no-tilled soil jar, the chunk of soil is very stable, with no soil particles breaking off.
“One thing that we are not doing now is looking at the potential benefits of these no-till systems and practices for conserving water and making better use of water that has been achieved in other areas of the world such as South America and the Great Plains and other regions of the United States. They do not have irrigation systems that California has; they have to wait for rainfall.”
“When we do the no-tilled system with lots of residue from back-to-back crops, with cover crops and with no disturbances, you may be able to keep 4 to 5 inches of water in the soil each year compared to a tilled crop.
More information on the Conservation No-Till system can be found here.
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.”
A UC laboratory at the former Castle Air Force Base in Atwater received clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly dones at the Merced County Radio Control Club’s field, reported Thaddeus Miller in the Merced Sun-Star.
The unmanned aircraft are part of a project funded by the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources that aims to study the possible use remote controlled aerial imaging to provide real-time information to farmers about water use and crop health.
The project leader, David Doll, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Merced County, has put together a project team that includes UC Merced professors and graduate students, and UCCE advisors and staff.
Drones are also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Doll believes small, basic UAVs can provide a platform for imaging hardware that can vastly improve crop surveillance to enhance water usage and pest control.
Doll’s project will test the potential of UAVs for water management and pest monitoring. He also plans to write a curriculum to extend information to farmers and demonstrate the use of small, remote controlled aerial vehicles as imaging platforms.
UC Merced also has other plans for using drone technology in research. They are seeking FAA approval to fly the aircraft over the university’s protected land, which includes 6,500 acres of grassland and vernal pools.
Dan Hirleman, dean of UC Merced’s School of Engineering, said the university’s use of drones and development of new technology could set it apart from other schools.
“We’re kind of at the ground zero for a lot of what’s going on in those areas,” he said. “It’s just a perfect fit with our sustainability theme and the application area.”
The latest research-based advice on weathering a drought is now available free online.
Spring is here, and California farming is in full swing. But this year, the agriculture industry is operating under the burden of unrelenting drought.
The UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources is working to help farmers cope with the unwelcome outcome of historically low rainfall the last three years. UC scientists, with support from the California Department of Water Resources, have recorded video presentations on high-priority drought topics that are available for viewing on the UC California Institute of Water Resourcesdrought webpages.
“We are bringing the latest research on drought and water from the UC system’s leading experts to as many farmers, farm industry representatives, communities and students possible,” said Doug Parker, director of the UC California Institute of Water Resources. “People working in the ag industry are busy this time of year. They can get information from these videos whenever and, using mobile devices, wherever it is convenient for them.”
Climate change and paleoclimatology: 2013/1014 in perspective Lynn Ingram, UC Berkeley
Available tools for estimating soil suitability to groundwater banking Antony O’Geen, UC Davis
Irrigation management of tomato under drought conditions Eugene Miyao, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources
How Will Monitoring Soil Moisture Save Me Water? Dan Johnson, USDA-NRCS California State Water Manager
Winegrapes water management under drought Paul Verdegaal, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources
Irrigation management of fruit and nut crops under Sacramento Valley conditions Allan Fulton, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources
Alfalfa water demand and management under drought Daniel Putnam, UC Davis
Field irrigation monitoring for maximum efficiency under drought conditions Blake Sanden, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources
Subtropical orchards management under droughts Ben Faber, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources
Additional valuable information from California academic institutions for dealing with the drought in the short-term and long-term is available at California Drought Resources. The pages are regularly updated to bring new developments from the state’s university and colleges to a broad range of communities, including farmers, ranchers, landscaping professionals, policymakers and California residents.