CDFA Border Stations chipping in on invasive mussels prevention over holiday weekend.

California agencies combatting the spread of invasive quagga and zebra mussels remind boaters to remain cautious over Memorial Day weekend.

Quagga and zebra mussels are invasive freshwater mussels native to Eurasia. They multiply quickly, encrust watercraft and infrastructure, alter water quality and the aquatic food web and ultimately impact native and sport fish communities. These mussels spread from one waterbody to another by attaching to watercraft, equipment and nearly anything that has been in an infested waterbody.

Invisible to the naked eye, microscopic juveniles are spread from infested waterbodies by water that is entrapped in boat engines, bilges, live-wells and buckets. Quagga mussels have infested 33 waterways in Southern California and zebra mussels have infested two waterways in San Benito County.

To prevent the spread of these mussels and other aquatic invasive species, people launching vessels at any waterbody are subject to watercraft inspections and are strongly encouraged to clean, drain and dry their motorized and non-motorized boats, including personal watercraft, and any equipment that contacts the water before and after use.

Boaters are urged to take the following steps both before traveling to and before leaving a waterbody to prevent spreading invasive mussels, improve the efficiency of the inspection experience and safeguard California waterways:

  • CLEAN — inspect exposed surfaces and remove all plants and organisms,
  • DRAIN — all water, including water contained in lower outboard units, live-wells and bait buckets, and
  • DRY — allow the watercraft to thoroughly dry between launches. Watercraft should be kept dry for at least five days in warm weather and up to 30 days in cool weather.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has developed a brief video demonstrating the ease of implementing the clean, drain and dry prevention method, which can be viewed at In addition, a detailed guide to cleaning vessels of invasive mussels is available on the CDFW’s webpage at Additional information is available on the Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW) website at

Travelers are also advised to be prepared for inspections at California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Border Protection Stations. Over the past nine years, more than 1 million watercraft entering California have been inspected at the Border Protection Stations. Inspections, which can also be conducted by CDFW and California State Parks, include a check of boats and personal watercraft, as well as trailers and all onboard items. Contaminated vessels and equipment are subject to decontamination, rejection, quarantine or impoundment.

Quagga and zebra mussels can attach to and damage virtually any submerged surface. They can:

  • Ruin a boat engine by blocking the cooling system and causing it to overheat
  • Jam a boat’s steering equipment, putting occupants and others at risk
  • Require frequent scraping and repainting of boat hulls
  • Colonize all underwater substrates such as boat ramps, docks, lines and other underwater surfaces, causing them to require constant cleaning
  • Impose large expenses to owners

A multi-agency effort that includes CDFW, DBW, CDFA and the California Department of Water Resources has been leading an outreach campaign to alert the public to the quagga and zebra mussel threats. A toll-free hotline, (866) 440-9530, is available for those seeking information on quagga or zebra mussels.

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Citrus impact to economy: $7 billion – from the Business Journal

By Frank Lopez

A new study commissioned by the Citrus Research Board (CRB) values the total economic impact of California’s citrus industry at $7.117 billion.

Bruce Babcock, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside, conducted the research and his findings quantified the impact of citrus on the state economy.

“California citrus is a major contributor to the economic value of the state’s agricultural sector and is much larger than just the value of its sales,” Babcock said. “Estimated full-time equivalent California citrus jobs totaled 21,674 in 2016-17, and estimated wages paid by the industry during that same timeframe totaled $452 million.”

According to Babcock, the California citrus industry added $1.695 billion to the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2016.

Babcock found that for the years of 2016-17, the total direct value of California citrus production was $3.389 billion. Economic activity from related business that supplied materials and services to the citrus industry generated an additional $1.263 billion, and on top of that, $2.464 billion in economic activity generated by household spending income that they received from California’s industry brought the total economic impact to $7.117 billion.

The study revealed that 79 percent of the state’s citrus was packed for the fresh market and 21 percent was processed in 2016-17, a big significance, as fresh market fruit is valued higher than processed fruit.

California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen commented that the report sheds some positive news about the state but insists that farmers and growers should be cautious of a deadly crop disease epidemic.

“This enthusiasm must be tempered by the fact that huanglongbing (HLB) can destroy all this in a matter of a year if the partnerships that exist between the industry and government cannot thwart the spread of this insidious disease,” Nelsen said. “Reading how that would affect our family farmers, employees and the state is sobering.”

The study also looked into the possible impact of a potential 20 percent reduction in California citrus or yield, or a combination of both, from increased costs related to government regulations, and crop diseases.

According to Babcock, such a reduction could cost 7,350 jobs and reduce California’s GDP by $501 million in direct, indirect and induced impacts.

Link to story

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What will we be eating in 2050? Farmers weigh several factors – from Grist

By Nathanael Johnson


Chris Sayer pushed his way through avocado branches and grasped a denuded limb. It was stained black, as if someone had ladled tar over its bark. In February, the temperature had dropped below freezing for three hours, killing the limb. The thick leaves had shriveled and fallen away, exposing the green avocados, which then burned in the sun. Sayer estimated he’d lost one out of every 20 avocados on his farm in Ventura, just 50 miles north of Los Angeles, but he counts himself lucky.

“If that freeze was one degree colder, or one hour longer, we would have had major damage,” he said.

Avocado trees start to die when the temperature falls below 28 degrees or rises above 100 degrees. If the weather turns cold and clammy during the short period in the spring when the flowers bloom, bees won’t take to the air and fruits won’t develop. The trees also die if water runs dry, or if too many salts accumulate in the soil, or if a new pest starts chewing on its leaves. “All of which is quite possible in the next few decades, as the climate shifts,” Sayer said.

The weather had been strange lately, Sayer told me. In the past year, Californians have lived through a historic drought, a massive wildfire that blotted out the sun, and a strangely warm winter followed by that unseasonable freeze. When I visited in April, his lemon trees were already loaded with ripe fruit — that usually doesn’t happen until June. “Things are screwy,” Sayer said.

From the vineyards of the north coast to the orange groves of Southern California, farmers like Sayer have been reeling from the weird weather.


It might feel like we’re peering into the distant future when we hear that by 2050, temperatures may very well climb 4 degrees, seas could rise a foot, and droughts and floods will become more common. But for farmers planting trees they hope will bear fruit 25 years from now, that seemingly distant future has to be reckoned with now.

A lot of the country’s tree crops grow in California, which produces two-thirds of the fruits and nuts for the United States. The same is true of grape vines, which bear abundant fruit for about 25 years (they slow down after that, but can keep going for hundreds of years). It’s in large part because so many farmers are making these long-term gambles on orchard crops that a recent scientific paper noted: “Agricultural production in California is highly sensitive to climate change.”

Jay Famiglietti, the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, goes even further: “It’s a virtual certainty that California will get drier. I don’t think it’s a climate that’s conducive to orchard crops anymore.”

In other words, for anyone trying to make money off long-lived crops, climate change is already here. And yet new saplings are pushing out of the ground all over the state.

If these farmers were planting an annual crop, like cilantro, they’d be making a bet on the weather for the next 45 days. But they’re planting trees, which means making a bet on the next 40 years.

After years of putting it off, Sayer is about to place such a four-decade bet by planting a bunch of new avocado trees. There’s no way Sayer can foresee oncoming climate disaster, if that’s what’s hurtling toward the land his family has worked for the past 130 years in Ventura. He can see just a little bit of what might be coming — as if he’s straining to glimpse signs of danger while blinkered. When I asked him how it felt, he said: “Like I’m about to cross a very busy road with my hood pulled over my head.”

When Katherine Jarvis-Shean was a doctoral candidate researching the decline of cold winters a few years back, she thought more farmers should be freaking out. “I used to think, ‘Why aren’t you guys more worried about this? It’s going to be the end of the world.’”

After all, many fruit and nut trees require a good winter chill to bear fruit. But after spending a few years as an extension agent for the University of California — working directly with farmers and translating science into techniques they can apply on the land — she understands better. It comes down to this: Farmers have a ton of concerns, and the climate is just one of them.

“If you decide what to plant based on climate, but then can’t make the lease payment, that’s not sustainable,” Jarvis-Shean said.

If you are worried about water running out in 15 years, you might think it’s a good idea to cut down half the state’s almond groves — but if those almond trees are still putting money in your pockets, that wouldn’t make sense until the killer drought hits. That’s the crux of the matter for Sayer, and other farmers I interviewed. They’re concerned about the changing climate, but they always come up with ingenious plans to adapt to bad weather. It’s much harder for them to adapt to an overdrawn bank account.

Sayer grows mostly lemons right now, but they’re not long for this world. “You can see these lemon trees are getting a little rangy looking,” Sayer said, gesturing toward a leafless branch. “This is going to be their last harvest, then they’ve got a date with the chipper.”

Sayer knows lemons. He knows how to coddle them in old age, how to nudge them to produce more, how to keep them alive when rains fail, how to protect them from aphids and snails and scale insects and the nematodes in the ground. But this land has provided a home to a citrus orchard for 70 years, and each year more pests accumulate to suck the life from the trees. So Sayer needs to move on from lemons, and he’s settled on avocados.

From a climate perspective, the leather-skinned fruit are a risky choice. Avocado trees like their surroundings not too hot and not too cold, and they always need water. One study estimated that climate change would hurt California avocado trees so much that the state’s production could be cut in half by 2050.

As the sun burned off the marine layer of clouds over the orchard, Sayer patiently laid out the reasoning that led him to plant avocado trees. He explained that climate poses risks that are easy for outsiders to see — when you’re reading about historic droughts in the newspaper and driving past acres of withered crops, it seems crazy to plant orchards. But farmers often have to contend with other risks that outweigh the danger of bad weather. Sayers puts them into three categories: climate risk, market risk, and execution risk.

If he were only worried about climate risk, Sayer said, he’d plant prickly pear. “They would grow in any post-apocalyptic hellscape you could imagine,” he said. But who would buy them?

Read more here


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Biosecurity tips for bird owners

As CDFA continues its work with federal and local partners and poultry owners to respond to a recent detection of virulent Newcastle disease in Los Angeles County, it offers these reminders to bird owners in California and elsewhere.


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The food that goes bad in your fridge amounts to trillions of gallons of wasted water – from the Los Angeles Times

Americans waste about one pound of food per person per day, and they throw away trillions of gallons of water in the process. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

By Karen Kaplan

According to a new report in the journal PLOS One, we Americans wasted just over 25% of our food between 2007 and 2014.

Although we did a decent job of finishing up our nuts and seeds (only 12% wasted) and potatoes (about 16% wasted), we were not as careful with seafood (nearly 35% wasted), whole fruit (almost 33% wasted) and soups (30% wasted).

Incredibly, Americans even wasted 23% of our bacon, 26% of our grain-based desserts (think cookies, cakes and brownies), and 29% of our salty snacks.

Each year, just short of 4.2 trillion gallons of water were used to produce all this uneaten food. That includes nearly 1.3 trillion gallons of water to grow uneaten fruits and 1 trillion gallons of water to grow uneaten vegetables.

In addition, farmers used 1.8 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer (which affects marine and terrestrial ecosystems), 1.5 billion pounds of phosphorus fertilizer (which can feed algal blooms that are dangerous to fish) and 2.3 billion pounds of potassium-containing potash fertilizer annually to grow these wasted crops. They also applied nearly 780 million pounds of pesticide to protect food that never passed our lips.

Not interested in taking responsibility for the entire country? The study authors also broke things down on a per-capita basis.

On an average day, an average American wasted a little less than a pound of food (422 grams, to be exact). That represented a dietary loss of more than 800 calories per person per day.

Fruits and vegetables accounted for 39% of that waste (measured by weight), and dairy items contributed an additional 17%. At the other end of the spectrum, egg dishes made up less than 1% of the waste, as did the combined category of table oils and salad dressings.

The research team, led by Zach Conrad of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center in North Dakota, put all this together by linking information in a variety of government databases.

For instance, they gleaned information about Americans’ diets from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To find the ingredients in those diets, they used the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Commodity Intake Database. Surveys conducted by the USDA provided information about agricultural resources such as water and pesticides, and the department’s Economic Research Service provided data to calculate food waste.

The results revealed substantial variance in the quality of Americans’ diets. On a scale of 0 to 100, those in the bottom 20% scored an average of 32, while those in the top 20% scored an average of 82. (Nationwide, the average was 58.)

One trend was unmistakable: The higher the diet quality, the more food was wasted. Americans in the bottom 20% wasted an average of 295 grams of food per day, while those in the top 20% wasted an average of 535 grams of food per day.

The more healthful your diet, the more water and pesticides you wasted as well, the researchers reported.

Past studies have focused on the environmental benefits of producing (and ultimately consuming) fewer animal-based foods and shifting instead to foods that come from plants.

But the new findings show that it’s not that simple.

“Improving diet quality and reducing environmental impact are efforts that should be pursued concurrently,” Conrad and his colleagues wrote. “Consumers should increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables and simultaneously waste less of them.”

The study authors acknowledged that this was easier said than done.

One way to reduce food waste is to buy fewer perishable goods and choose canned or packaged foods that have a longer shelf life. But these items often contain more sodium, saturated fat and added sugar.

Still, the situation is not hopeless.

Americans would waste less food if they knew more about “how to tell when fruits and vegetables are ripe, how to store and prepare them, and how to tell the difference between bruises/abrasions and spoilage,” the researchers wrote.

Bringing some clarity to the “sell by,” “use by” and “best before” dates that are printed on packages could also stop consumers from tossing perfectly good items into the garbage, they added.

In the longer term, engineers are developing sensors that can alert people when food has actually spoiled, reducing the risk that they will wind up sick.

“It is … important to ensure that efforts to reduce food waste at the consumer level do not undermine legitimate food safety concerns,” the study authors wrote. “Spoiled food is a health risk.”

See the original article here.

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Facing Climate and Water Pressures, Farmers Return to Age-Old Practice – Water Deeply

A newly planted vineyard and lush green cover crop near Santa Ynez, California. George Rose/Getty Images


Just 5 percent of California farmers use cover cropping, but that’s likely to increase as researchers work to quantify the amount of water that can be saved by the practice and its benefit for river ecosystems.

By Jane Braxton Little, Water Deeply

THIS SPRING IN California several orchards around Solano and nearby counties sported a new look: lush carpets of mixed grasses growing as tall as 3ft beneath the trees’ bare branches. By summer the scene will change as farmers grow and harvest their nut crops, but the work of the grasses will continue unseen.

Cover cropping, an agricultural technique as old as dirt, is taking root in California. Used to enhance soil nutrition and improve the growth of plants, it fell out of favor after World War II when the practice was replaced by the use of chemical fertilizers.

Today just 5 percent of California growers are using cover crops – and 3 percent nationwide – but that’s likely to change.

Farmers have used off-season plantings for millennia to build soil and keep it from blowing or washing away. Like their predecessors, walnut and almond growers are using these seasonal noncash crops to hold in moisture and provide habitat.

Farmers are also returning to the practice to curb the effects of a changing climate. As hotter and drier conditions hit most of the state, Central Valley growers are planting grasses and legumes under their trees to increase the carbon and nitrogen in their soils. And as implementation of the state’s new drought-driven groundwater regulation approaches, they are testing the ability of cover crops to increase the amount of water stored in the ground that grows their nuts and vegetables.

“Folks are really thinking hard about where their water comes from, and they’re thinking about carbon, too – things that are new in terms of farming systems in relationship to the world,” said Wendy Rash, a district conservationist with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

She is part of a loose coalition of growers, scientists and conservationists working to expand the use of cover crops and identify the places where they can provide the greatest ecological benefit at the lowest cost to the farmer. Some are weighing the economic advantages and risks, some the potential for effecting agricultural policies.

Among these efforts is an ambitious project aimed at a seemingly incongruous goal: river restoration. The Freshwater Trust, a Portland-based conservation group, is designing a tool that will help monitor and track efforts to increase the health of water and soil at a landscape scale. It is based on the premise that cover crops help boost the water that goes into the ground, recharging the aquifer. Maximizing these groundwater reserves lessens the demand for surface water, which leaves more water for rivers. And more water in streams benefits fish and riparian species, said Erik Ringelberg, the Freshwater Trust’s California director.

“From a conservation perspective, that’s a win for us,” he said.

Funded by a $779,000 grant through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Freshwater Trust is developing a data-driven system to demonstrate the on-the-ground benefits of cover cropping – and those below the ground, too. It’s a high-tech tool for a humble, time-tested practice.

The use of cover crops is definitely on the rise in the northern Sacramento Valley, said Sara Tiffany. As a specialist with the Community Alliance of Family Farmers Climate-Smart Farming program, she works with growers not represented by larger agricultural organizations. On a farm in Colusa County, the grower was losing topsoil to erosion, which carried it down the slopes of his mature walnut orchard. Tiffany suggested a mix of clover and small grasses to create a perennial cover crop designed to hold the soil in place and reseed itself. It worked, she said.

Just how much water is actually percolating into the water table is largely a matter of anecdotal observation. That, however, could change as the Freshwater Trust gathers data related to water usage. It should also help growers and the conservation community identify steps they can take collectively to maximize effective groundwater management at a watershed scale.

The Freshwater Trust project focuses on the state’s 2014 policy regulating groundwater management, and on the recent application of a 2003 policy regulating agricultural discharge. Both involve farmers, and both are often viewed as onerous, said Ringelberg. The Freshwater Trust has taken the approach that these regulations, administered by separate agencies, can be used to benefit growers as well as the larger watershed.

Ringelberg is working through special districts to monitor the effects of cover cropping on groundwater. As the roots of clover and beans reach down through the soil, they loosen it, making it more receptive to water soaking in from the surface. This also helps farmers deal with agricultural runoff, monitored through the regulation initially designed to limit pesticides entering waterways but now applied to all discharges. By helping absorb water where it falls, cover crops contribute to compliance with the state Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program.

Ringelberg, who helped the Freshwater Trust launch its program early this year, is optimistic that it will demonstrate benefits to both growers and the aquifer. “There’s a lot of additional water that can be brought into the systems immediately helping the conservation of fish and wildlife, and in many cases it can significantly enhance farmers’ productivity,” he said.

To determine how much or how little productivity is affected, Alyssa DeVincentis is building an economic model showing the costs and benefits of cover cropping over time. These are basically unknown despite the longevity of this practice, said DeVincentis, a PhD candidate in hydrologic sciences at University of California, Davis.

Her study is calculating the direct cost-benefits such as planting and purchasing seeds. She is also analyzing the indirect costs and benefits – more important but harder to quantify, she said. They include healthier soil, reduced water usage and “the feeling that things just run more smoothly with cover cropping,” DeVincentis said. She hopes to be able to say the benefits will outweigh the risks within a determined range of years, and to quantify how much water cover cropping actually uses. Although it is beneficial in numerous ways, “at the end of the day cover crops use water,” she said.

But do they ultimately increase groundwater on a piece of property? John Curry, director of the Dixon Resource Conservation District, thinks that likelihood is responsible for the increase in growers interested in cover cropping. California’s new groundwater regulations hold regional groundwater basins responsible for developing and implementing plans to achieve sustainable groundwater management. He is interested in determining if cover crops can increase groundwater retention significantly enough to craft policies for local groundwater management agencies. “There’s a lot of potential in the concept,” he said.

The data the Freshwater Trust, DeVincentis and others are generating could contribute to policies that include cover cropping among the methods for managing groundwater sustainably. Combined with the on-the-ground work of Rash, Tiffany and others, California’s Central Valley farmers may be pioneering techniques that can be applied around the world as the planet becomes hotter and drier.

For Ringelberg, the ultimate goal is to change the pace and scale of conservation – “to actually help the health of an entire watershed.” Improving groundwater recharge by encouraging cover cropping near rivers is one way to do that. He believes the Freshwater Trust model will provide the data to make site-specific decisions with far-reaching effects.

Rash is as anxious as anyone to have data that proves her hunches about the multiple benefits of cover cropping. But she does not need it to validate the inner satisfaction she gets when she sees orchard floors blanketed by winter carpets of green. “They are just good for my soul,” she said.

See the original post on News Deeply/Water Deeply here.

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How can I use natural materials to build soil fertility in my garden? – Sustainable, Secure Food Blog

Healthy soil has a mix of soil particles, minerals and pores. Credit: Clay Robinson

Not much beats the taste and nutrition of fresh vegetables that travel from your garden to your kitchen! Or the fragrance of fresh cut flowers that go straight to your vase. What are some ways you can use – or re-use in many cases – natural materials from your yard to enhance your gardens?

Of course, various plants require various soil types. For your vegetable garden, healthy soil is a mix of minerals, open space (called pores), and organic matter. Although only about five percent at most of a healthy soil is organic matter, it is a key ingredient that you must nurture. Organic matter includes everything from living things like soil bacteria and earthworms, all the way down to dead leaves that were once living plants and are now decomposing. This is important because this decomposing plant “litter” is what microorganisms and earthworms in the soil feed on. So essentially when we add dead organic matter to the soil, we are helping it be alive!

How do we build soil fertility naturally in order to feed our garden? The simple answer is to build soil organic matter.

Not all organic matter is created equal. Sawdust is a type of organic matter, but adding large quantities to your soil won’t result in increased fertility of the soil. Why? It isn’t balanced in nutrients. The soil needs a balanced diet just like we do! So what are some balanced meals for our soils?

Compost! Well aged compost is a good source of organic matter and will bring in a wide variety of nutrients. The amount of these nutrients will vary based on what the compost was made out of.

Manure is another good option, but it is important to realize manure can sometimes be too high in nitrogen. If so, it can burn young tender plants. Improperly or un-aged manure can also sometimes carry pathogens like E.coli. Manure that has been well composted and reaches hot enough temperatures to kill potential pathogens is a safe alternative. To learn more about safe manure practices, visit here.

What about back yard cover crops? Cover crops are grasses or legumes (clover, peas, or beans) that are planted not to be harvested, but for the impacts they have on soil health or soil nutrition. Grasses tend to add a lot of organic matter, and legumes add a lot of nitrogen when they are mowed and tilled into the soil. Cover crops are definitely an option in the backyard garden, and legumes are an easy way to essentially grow your own nitrogen fertilizer.

Some good choices of winter cover crops might be red clover which only grows to about 12-16’’ tall and can add around 2 pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Be sure to mow it before it sets seed! Mustard cover crops can help suppress soil disease. Both types are easy enough to mow in spring to prepare your garden for planting. Depending on your goals, you can directly plant your crop through the mowed down cover crop, or till the cover crop residue into the soil and then in a few weeks set out your garden plants.

One key to using natural sources of nutrients is that they are often very slow release, though some poultry litters can have more readily available nitrogen and phosphorus. Further it can take several years to build up your organic matter in the soil to the point that it contributes to soil fertility.

Other sources of natural fertilizers include blood meal. It is a good source of nitrogen. For phosphorus, you can try bone meal. Both can be sprinkled around plants and watered in or incorporated into the soil before you plant. Kelp meal is a good source of potassium and is derived from dried kelp and seaweed.

One easy way to monitor nutrient levels is by testing your soil on a yearly basis. You may have to request that your lab provide you the results for the amount of soil organic matter, so be sure to check. Natural levels of soil organic matter can vary substantially from region to region. In the South levels of 1% are not uncommon, in parts of the Midwest 5% may be more common. The important thing will be to track soil organic matter over time. Don’t expect to see big increases or any increase at all even after several years. A 1% increase in soil organic matter is huge and may not be possible on all soils in all climates. Soil testing is more useful for monitoring how the organic matter you are adding to the soil is impacting soil nutrient content so you know what nutrients are in short supply and may need to be added from another source. Soil testing is also important to monitor soil pH, a measurement of how acidic or alkaline the soil is, which has a big effect on the availability of nutrients within the soil.

So before you get planting next season, remember no matter what veggies you choose to grow, well fed soils grow healthy plants! Happy planting!

The Sustainable, Secure Food Blog is sponsored and written by members of the American Society of Agronomy and Crop Science Society of America.

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Growing California video series – “Fairview Farm Camp” educates, inspires

Enjoy this encore from CDFA’s Growing California video series, a partnership with California Grown. We visited Fairview Farms for a profile of this urban farm near Santa Barbara – a farm with an educational mission.

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UCR scientist rediscovers insect lost for 105 years

Little is known about elusive beetle species, despite role in wildflower pollination

The recently rediscovered Trichochrous kernensis has only been seen once before, in 1913.

By Sarah Nightingale, UCR

A scientist at the University of California, Riverside, has rediscovered a tiny flower beetle that was last seen more than a century ago.

Adriean Mayor, a research associate in entomology, rediscovered the species in April during ongoing field research in California. Mayor said the beetle, Trichochrous kernensis, has only been seen once before, in 1913, when the five original specimens were collected near the town of Havilah in Kern County.

“When something hasn’t been seen for over 100 years, it’s tempting to think it may have gone extinct, or maybe the original research had been in error,” Mayor said. “But here was this beetle, exactly where it was supposed to be.”

Measuring less than 3 millimeters long, Trichochrous kernensis is not easy to spot or recognize.

“I and other entomologists have seen all the related species known from the Havilah area on many occasions, but this particular species had proven especially elusive,” Mayor said. “I had spent some time in the nearby Walker Basin scanning the flowers there but had found nothing. I was walking back to my car when I noticed some black specks in some of the flowers in a wash along the roadside, and, sure enough, the specks were beetles.”

Mayor returned to UCR with a few dozen specimens out of what he estimates were tens of thousands feeding on flowers along the wash.

Trichochrous kernensis is a member of the family Melyridae, which are also known as soft-winged flower beetles. Most adult melyrid beetles feed solely on pollen from flowers and are believed to contribute to the pollination of the majority of wildflowers in California.

Despite this role and their sheer numbers — estimated in the millions or billions for melyrid beetles as a whole — little is known about the biology of these beetles and their larvae.

“In over a century, we’ve only found what amounts to a literal handful of the larvae of this group of beetles, mostly in the soil, but we have no idea what they feed on or how long they live; pretty much everything is guesswork, so it’s a real ecological puzzle,” Mayor said.

Mayor, who recently retired from his position as museum curator for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee, now volunteers at UC Riverside. He is one of only two experts studying this group of beetles in the United States. The beetles he collects, many of which are new to science, are deposited along with 4 million other insect specimens in UCR’s Entomology Research Museum.

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California is turning farms into carbon-sucking factories – from Grist

The chickens for cover crops committee. (David Silverman/Getty Images)

By Nathaniel Johnson, Grist

In a grand experiment, California switched on a fleet of high-tech greenhouse gas removal machines last month. Funded by the state’s cap-and-trade program, they’re designed to reverse climate change by sucking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. These wonderfully complex machines are more high-tech than anything humans have designed. They’re called plants.

Seriously, though: Plants breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. They break open the tough CO2 molecule and use the carbon to build their leaves and roots. In the process, they deposit carbon into the ground. For years people have excitedly discussed the possibility of stashing carbon in the soil while growing food. Now, for the first time, California is using cap-and-trade money to pay farmers to do it on a large scale. It’s called the California Healthy Soils Initiative.

In April, trucks full of fertilizer trundled into Doug Lo’s almond orchards near Gustine, California, and spread composted manure around his trees. He then planted clover to cover the ground between the trunks. In theory, these techniques will pull 1,088 tons of carbon out of the atmosphere every year. Lo’s is one of about fifty farms getting money from the state of California to pull greenhouse gas from the air. California is paying him $50,000 to try it out.

This is the first major utilization of farms as state-sponsored carbon-sucking factories. (To be fair, Oklahoma, of all places, has been experimenting with soil carbon since 2001, albeit on a smaller scale.) Agriculture and climate nerds — we wonkiest of wonks — have been anticipating this for the last decade as the scientific evidence accumulated.

In 2014 we wrote about the people pushing this research in California. And Grist told the story last year of how scientist Jonathan Sanderman put together key pieces of this puzzle after finding jars of old dirt, long forgotten in storage. And just recently, the New York Times Magazine ran a story summarizing the state of the science. But for years it’s felt like a lot of talk and not much action. That’s changing with the Healthy Soils Initiative, which makes money available for farmers like Lo, and monitors the results.

So how do you turn a farm into a carbon-sucking machine? Lo figured the money from the state would allow him to experiment without risk. He made a deal with a compost company to truck manure from dairies across California’s central valley then spread precisely 5.3 tons per acre under his almond trees as required by the state guidelines. An inspector from the California Department of Food and Agriculture showed up on the day the trucks arrived in April to make sure Lo was actually doing the work and not just doing the paperwork. Next, Lo planted clover and other cover crops in the rows between the trees.

A lot is riding on this, but it’s not a foregone conclusion that it will work. In theory, compost and cover crops should get carbon out of the sky and into the ground. But will it work in practice on Lo’s farm? With the farm’s particular soil structure, irrigation pattern, as well as the dirt’s microbiome? We don’t know how fast carbon will accumulate in his soil, or how long it will stay there.

When I asked Lo how confident he was that he was going to get exactly 1,088 tons of carbon into the ground he responded: “Well, that’s just what the soil scientists said. We’re going to see I guess!”

As of last Thursday the soil samples on Lo’s farm haven’t shown an increase in carbon content, but it takes about three years for compost to break down, he said. Other farmers and state officials will be watching this rollout of carbon-sucking farms closely. And if it works, and these farms manage to capture enough carbon, program could scale up massively. California’s Healthy Soils Initiative could serve as a model for other states.

See the original post on Grist here.

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