Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

Technology saves on-farm water, increases yields — from KABC-TV, Los Angeles

By Phillip Palmer

The amount of water you can save at home is a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of things, but agricultural users are responsible for an estimated 50% of total water used in California.

So if they can reduce use, it would be noticeable.

“Water is our most expensive input, it’s our most precious input, and we’re just trying to do everything we can to be as sustainable and successful as possible,” said Jason Cole, a ranch manager with Cole Limited in Santa Paula.

Cole’s family has grown avocados and lemons across 4,000 acres in Santa Paula for three generations, but over the last decade, he has turned to Acuity Agriculture and Benchmark Labs to get farm specific climate data that can save up to 10% of his water usage.

“You’re cutting some water down, but you’re also just delivering the water that’s going to be used,” he said.

“We leverage the sensors to improve the forecast and provide the most actionable data for their locations,” said Carlos Felipe Gaitan Ospina, the co-founder and CEO of Benchmark Labs. “We try to give them insights so they can better manage their operations.”

Saving water might have been the initial reason for going high-tech with agriculture, but what farmers like Cole are finding is the yield from their crops has jumped incredibly by using water more efficiently.

“We’ve seen massive yield gains, I’m talking 50%, some areas almost 100% increase,” said Cole.

Megan Dilley of Acuity Agriculture said that 10% could be huge across the industry.

“Save on water and increase their crop yield? They’re doing a great job,” she said. “If every farm is saving 10%, and we have 10% back in our ground water resource, that’s huge.”

Cole uses one sensor station for every 20 acres and said his cost is cheaper than a cell phone bill.

It is technology that’s becoming more common across the industry, and the water reduction could save more than the environment.

“That 10% could be saved to your profit margin, and that could be the difference between a profitable farmer or not … so that adds up,” said Ospina.

Many agree.

“It’s a win-win-win, I guess, all the way around” said Cole. “We’re growing more food, we’re maximizing a resource, we all got to eat … that takes water. It’s just how can we do it as efficiently as possible.”

Watch KABC story:

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KTXL Fox 40: Farmer turns to UC Davis-developed tech to conserve water

As the drought continues into the warmer months, farmers are looking for ways to help conserve water while still trying to keep their businesses afloat.

One Yolo County grower has found a way to do that using a water monitoring tool that was developed at UC Davis.

For the past twenty years, Dan Martinez has managed this vineyard for Berryessa Gap Vineyards in Winters but finding a sustainable water source over the past two decades has been a bit of a challenge.

But then came along a device developed at UC Davis nearly 10-years ago. The device is installed in the field alongside the crops and from there it does all the work itself, allowing growers like Martinez to make sure every last drop of water is not wasted.

Efficiency is the key since Martinez can now track all of that information without actually having to go out into the field like he used to, which is something that’s important to Martinez in growing these grapes.

“We don’t want to use more water than we need because it costs us money to turn on the pumps,” Martinez said.

And as the push to conserve water continues, Martinez believes this is one of the best tools for the future of farming.

“As costs increase, as water becomes more scarce, I think it’s going to force more people to use technology like this so that they can be sustainable,” Martinez said.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture is also offering grants for any growers who invest in water-saving tools like this.

See the original report from KTXL Fox 40 here.

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Pollinator Week 2022 – Video: Progress for Pollinators

June 20-26 is National Pollinator Week. To celebrate, CDFA is joining farmers, ranchers and the broader agricultural community in California to recognize the efforts of our state’s growers, gardeners, landscapers and others who have incorporated pollinator-friendly habitat and other measures on their land and in their neighborhoods.

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CDFA encourages summer school meals programs to participate in “F2Summer Week” June 20-24

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) encourages summer school meal programs to “Get to Know Your Local Farms” during Farm to Summer Week June 20-24.

The Teach, Taste and Connect elements of F2Summer Week include celebrating local foods on the summer menu, offering a taste-test in student meals and providing opportunities for children to experience agricultural-based education activities. California Department of Education (CDE) ideas for celebrating F2Summer Week include providing an agricultural or nutrition education lesson, watching a virtual farm tour or an activity led by community partners such as a farmer, master gardener, parent volunteer or local health department staff.

Summer school meal programs receiving U.S. Department of Agriculture funding are further encouraged to participate in F2Summer Celebration Week. The theme for F2Summer Week 2022 is “Get to Know Your Local Farms.” Click here for more information.

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Farmers On Drought: Nick Boldt – Stone Fruit, Reedley, CA

This summer, CDFA is asking farmers what this drought means for their farms, their families, and their ongoing efforts to reduce water use and improve efficiency.

What does this drought mean for your farm?

“In a normal year my farm uses a mixture of surface water and groundwater in order to maintain healthy trees. The drought has resulted in severe decrease in availability of surface water which has forced me to rely entirely on groundwater. Being able to irrigate my farm with micro-sprinklers has significantly reduced the water required to irrigate my stone fruit orchard. Funding for my micro-sprinkler system was provided from a grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s SWEEP program and has undoubtedly helped conserve water, a precious resource here in the valley.”

What are you doing to reduce water use and improve efficiency?

“I was fortunate to receive a SWEEP grant that helped pay for some needed irrigation improvements on my farm. The use of micro-sprinklers has helped me improve my distribution uniformity, which results in water savings. Additionally, the use of soil moisture sensors, a flow meter, and the ability to reference evapotranspiration has helped provide valuable information so I can make informed irrigation decisions. I am able to irrigate at night to reducing evaporative losses and have set up an irrigation automation system to help with irrigation scheduling.”

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California Pollinator Coalition Reports Increasing Cooperation Among Ag, Conservation Groups

Members note successful projects in celebration of National Pollinator Week June 20-26

A year after coming together to help make the agricultural landscape more friendly to pollinators, members of the California Pollinator Coalition say they’re gaining momentum, building stronger relationships between agriculture and conservation groups that are already increasing habitat on the ground. 

The coalition – created in April 2021 and including more than 20 agriculture, conservation and government organizations – says it’s building a stronger network among these groups that has already led to new projects to expand on the success of the efforts of its individual member organizations.

“Thanks to the individual and collective efforts of our coalition members, we’ve seen a lot of positive developments over the past year,” said Laurie Davies Adams of Pollinator Partnership, one of the coalition’s founding members. “The State has also provided $30 million in new funding for pollinator projects, and we’ve seen more and more projects like cover crops and hedgerows installed among the state’s orchards, vineyards, rangelands and croplands.”

As the Coalition celebrates National Pollinator Week, June 20-26, it is assessing the progress its members have helped spur, which includes:

  • More than 65,000 acres of pollinator forage added throughout the state on over 400 farms in the past 18 months. 
  • Approximately 340 acres of new and enhanced habitat installed in California for monarch butterflies, with another 40,000 milkweed plants planned this year.
  • $30 million over two years earmarked by Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature for sharing costs and providing incentives for farmers, ranchers and vineyard managers to create pollinator habitat on working lands.
  • Working with researchers to advance guidance of habitat placement on farms and working lands.
  • New partnerships built that launched current projects, including creating more California-specific guidance for growers and finding new funding.

“Pollinators are small, but they’re mighty,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “If you want to know how much California agriculture relies on pollinators, look no further than the broad coalition of agricultural organizations that we’ve already built, and the diverse acreage they represent. These partnerships are bearing fruit, with hundreds of farmers and thousands of acres adding forage and habitat to support both managed and native pollinators.”

One example of those partnerships is the diverse group of Coalition members – including Pollinator Partnership, the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, the Wine Institute, the Almond Board of California, Blue Diamond, California Dairy, Inc., the California Cattleman’s Assoc., California Farm Bureau Federation, and Project Apis m. – that worked together to apply for a partnership agreement through the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for regional farmer-to-farmer collaboration in 10 California counties on habitat installation and adoption of integrated pest management. 

“We are determined to be part of the solution,” said Almond Board of California Chief Scientific Officer Josette Lewis. “Pollinators are crucial for our food production and for our entire ecosystem. All of us in agriculture understand that the most productive path we can take is to work together toward a common solution of protecting pollinators and the working lands of California.”

Lewis briefed Congress in 2021 about the Coalition’s brand of collaborative conservation. She detailed the ways it can be used as a model for protecting pollinators and for a range of other of effective environmental alliances among independent groups, including those who have not always been aligned.

“We need all hands on deck for monarchs and pollinators,” said Monarch Joint Venture Executive Director Wendy Caldwell. “That, of course, includes the agricultural community. I grew up on a farm and know firsthand the hard work, dedication and care farmers put into their land. At MJV, we recognize agricultural stakeholders as instrumental partners in reaching monarch habitat goals.” 

Another achievement of the Coalition has been to send the strong reminder that everyone in California agriculture is a stakeholder in protecting pollinators.

“As part of the efforts of California winegrape growers and vintners to increase the sustainability of their vineyards and wineries, they have planted cover crops and hedgerows on thousands of acres,” said Allison Jordan, Executive Director of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. “Those acres provide habitat to vital pollinators while building soil health. Even though winegrapes are self-pollinating, all of us in California wine recognize the importance of pollinators to the state’s agriculture and food systems. That is why we’re partnering with likeminded organizations in the Coalition to increase resources to benefit even more pollinators.” 

Entering Pollinator Week, the Coalition continues working to get the word out to more and more farmers about pollinator protection, funding, benefits and programs, including:

The Coalition continues to recruit partners who understand the urgency and share the common goal of supporting the health of both pollinators and agriculture. Current California Pollinator Coalition membership includes:

  • Agricultural Council of California
  • Almond Alliance of California
  • Almond Board of California
  • California Alfalfa and Forage Association
  • California Association of Pest Control Advisers
  • California Association of Resource Conservation Districts
  • California Cattlemen’s Association
  • California Citrus Mutual
  • California Department of Food and Agriculture
  • California Farm Bureau Federation
  • California State Beekeepers Association
  • California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance
  • Environmental Defense Fund
  • Monarch Joint Venture
  • Monarch Watch
  • Pollinator Partnership
  • Project Apis m.
  • University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources
  • USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Western Growers
  • Dr. Neal Williams, University of California, Davis

About the California Pollinator Coalition

The California Pollinator Coalition, convened by Pollinator Partnership, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the Almond Board of California, is made up of a diverse group of agricultural and conservation organizations with the shared goal of providing enhanced habitat for pollinators. The Coalition and its members work to increase habitat for pollinators on working lands. Additionally, the group promotes research and tracks its progress toward healthy and abundant habitats. 

See the original post on the Almond Board site here.

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CDFA Celebrates Juneteenth

On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery. This day in history has been recognized as Juneteenth (“June” + “nineteenth”) and celebrates this turning point toward the end of slavery in the United States.

CDFA acknowledges the significance of this holiday in the African American community. More broadly, CDFA acknowledges the need for our staff and our stakeholders to know, to understand, and to contextualize this history as we work toward the end of the marginalization and the mistreatment that black citizens are still experiencing today. 

The day is also known as Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Juneteenth Independence Day, and Black Independence Day. Although the Emancipation Proclamation came two and a half years earlier on January 1, 1863, many enslavers continued to hold people captive after the announcement. Juneteenth became a symbolic date representing African American freedom. 

On June 17th, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, and on June 18, 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom issued a proclamation declaring June, 19, 2021 as “Juneteenth National Freedom Day: A Day of Observance” in the State of California. This year, Juneteenth is celebrated on Sunday, June 19th, 2022.

We encourage you to spend some time gaining a better understanding of Juneteenth by reading through “What is Juneteenth?” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and by experiencing Juneteenth celebrations in your community to learn about its relevance today.

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CDFA joins Aemetis in celebrating the commissioning of Biogas to RNG upgrade

CDFA Deputy Secretary Virginia Jameson (third from left) participates in the ribbon-cutting ceremony with partners of the Aemetis Biogas Central Dairy Digester Project, along with Eric McAfee, Chairman and Chief Executive Office of Aemetis, Inc. (center with scissors), and PG&E’s Senior Vice President of Gas Engineering Janisse Quiñone (fourth from the right).

On Friday the 10th of June, CDFA’s Deputy Secretary for Climate and Working Lands Virginia Jameson was on-hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony commissioning the Aemetis Biogas Central Dairy Digester Project’s dairy renewable natural gas (RNG) cleanup and compression unit and interconnection with PG&E’s gas pipeline in Keyes, California.

This project involves a cluster that, when complete, will include 60 dairy farms. It currently counts 8 dairy operations, funded partly by CDFA’s Dairy Digester Research and Development Program (DDRDP) with more than $11 million in 2018 and 2020. In addition to the CDFA funding, award recipients provided another $14 million in matching funds for the total cost of over $25 million in funding.

The projects generate RNG which is sent to the newly inaugurated centralized conditioning facility for processing and injection into the utility common carrier natural gas pipeline.

The methane greenhouse gas reductions achieved through these projects are estimated to be equivalent to removing 18,000 passenger vehicles from the roads each year for 10 years, or providing electricity to 17,000 homes each year for 10 years. The event was organized by the developer of the Aemetis Biogas Central Dairy Digester Project, Aemetis Inc.

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Middle school garden incorporates agricultural tips for water conservation

Part of Mt. Diablo School District’s Farm to School Incubator Grant Program grant to enhance the existing 2.25-acre school garden at Riverview Middle School is to spread the news about agricultural practices of utilizing swales and berms to conserve water.

As described on the school garden sign (pictured), swales are level trenches dug on contour with the land intended to slow the spread of water so that the water may sink into the ground. Berms are mounds of soil on the down-hill side of the swale that further slow the spread of water, with growth planted in the berms to utilize some of the captured water. A sign illustration shows how swale and berm utilization can grow groundwater plumes for the benefit of neighboring gardens.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture Office of Farm to Fork (CDFA-F2F) is accepting applications through July 6 for the 2022 California Farm to School Incubator Grant Program. Click here for more information.

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Pride Month and CDFA’s commitment to equality

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross, Undersecretary Christine Birdsong, and Special Assistant Arima Kozina joined members and family of CDFA staff for Sacramento’s Pride March on Sunday, June 12.

By CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

I was honored yesterday to participate in Sacramento’s Pride March along with CDFA employees who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, and supporters of that community. I am proud to stand among them.

Our LGBTQ+ employees perform essential work on behalf of agriculture and the people of California, and our agency’s unwavering commitment to equality means that we embrace all employees and stakeholders in a similar, supportive fashion.

I am pleased to note that CDFA is one of the first state agencies to establish a partnership with the Sacramento LGBT Community Center, which has been active in the region for more than 40 years. The partnership will include participation in career fairs, Pride events, awareness campaigns, and cultural trainings.

We look forward working alongside and supporting the LGBTQ+ community for many years to come.

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