The numbers are beginning to trickle in confirming UC Cooperative Extension advisor Brent Holtz' hunch. Chipping and returning expired almond orchards into the soil where they grew is not only environmentally sound, it is economically smart.
(View a three-minute video of the machinery in action at the end of this post.)
After about 20 years, almond orchards' productivity and vigor begin to decline. Most farmers remove the old trees and plant younger, more vigorous replacements to keep up almond production.
In the past, old trees were easily and cheaply disposed of: they were pushed into a pile and set on fire. Air quality regulations have all but eliminated the practice.
At first, grinding the trees and sending the chips to a co-generation plant was a farmer's preferred option. The companies that used biomass for electricity generation paid an acceptable sum – about $600 per acre – for the wood chips, which helped offset the cost of chipping and hauling the trees off the property.
However today, electrical utilities are looking for clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
“Cogeneration plants burn wood biomass, which still releases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere,” Holtz said. “Many are losing contracts and shutting down.”
Holtz sought another cost-effective alternative, and believes incorporating the wood into the orchard floor may be the answer. Although initially expensive, adding $400 per acre to the $600-per-acre cost of chipping the old trees, the organic matter and nutrients released by the woodchips over time appear to boost yield to a level that covers a chunk of the cost.
In preliminary research, Holtz found that almond orchards where old wood was incorporated into the soil were averaging about 1,800 pounds of meat nuts per acre, while the orchard where old trees had been burned averaged 1,600 meat nuts per acre.
“Almonds sell for about $2 to $3 per pound. To have a 200-pound average yield increase per acre, you've made up the cost of incorporating the wood in just one year,” Holtz said. “It would be even more affordable if farmers can sell carbon credits for the biomass that they sequester in the ground.”
Holtz recently demonstrated two approaches for incorporating almond trees into the soil. The first, which was also used in the study eight years ago at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, is a 50-ton rock crusher called the Iron Wolf. It lumbers down the tree row, grinding up whole trees in place, then reverses over the mangled wood to incorporate it into the ground.
“We thought this one-machine process was the answer,” Holtz said.
G & F Ag Services in Ripon, which has made a business of chipping and hauling almond wood to a co-generation plant, conceived another plan. It modified a manure spreader to spray ground-up wood chips across the orchard floor. Holtz worked with Manteca farmer Louie Tallerico to give the new process a spin.
“This required five different machines working together compared to one Iron Wolf. In this process, the trees have to be excavated by an excavator, then hauled to the wood chipper with a front-end loader. The trees have to be fed into the wood chipper, then the wood chips have to be spread on the orchard floor,” Holtz said. “Another machine, a disk or roto tiller, incorporates the chips into the soil.
The five machines combined are a tremendous time saver.
“The Iron Wolf could do about two acres per day,” Holtz said. “This process can do 15 or 20 acres per day.”
Tallerico opened his farm for a field day in October to demonstrate parts of the process to other farmers and industry representatives. Participants stood on layer of fresh-cut wood chip mulch where a full-grown almond orchard stood just weeks before. The spreader demonstrated the ease with which the wood chips are dispersed evenly across the orchard floor, and a tiller mixed the wood chips into the soil.
The Tellarico orchard will now be the site of research – funded by the California Almond Board – to be conducted by Holtz and a team of scientists interested in documenting the growth and development of the new almond orchard among the remnants of its predecessor.
“In the previous study, three years after incorporating the old trees into the soil we started to see the nutrient benefit,” Holtz said. “This was done at Kearney, where we incorporated a peach orchard that had about 30 tons of organic matter per acre. Almond trees are larger, so here we have 86 tons of organic matter being returned to the soil.”
In the new study, the scientists will determine whether the nutrient benefits found in early research still hold true, whether the wood chips in the soil stunt the new orchard or boost its growth, whether the new orchard suffers from replant disease, and the fate of good and bad nematodes (tiny soil-borne worms) in the new orchard.
“We will also study the carbon budget and continue the life cycle assessment of almond with this practice, to better understand the benefit of these processes,” Holtz said.
Workshop aims to spark women's ambition to become leaders in fire management
Shortly after her son was born, Jeanne Pincha-Tulley was promoted to fire chief of a national forest. For the first six months, she brought the baby to work.
“Most of my colleagues were men between 40 and 50. I was 31,” recalled Pincha-Tulley, who was the first woman to achieve the rank of U.S. Forest Service fire chief in California. “My second son was 6 weeks old and nursing. They had no idea what to do. They absolutely freaked out.”
While great efforts are being made to recruit women into fire management, women hold only 10 percent of wildland fire positions and 7 percent of leadership roles. A new training focuses on grooming women to lead in fire management.
To encourage to women build stronger networks and pursue leadership roles in fire management, Pincha-Tulley, who retired in 2015 after 36 years with the U.S. Forest Service, will be speaking from experience on gender roles at the Women-in-Fire Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (WTREX) in Northern California. She will also serve as deputy incident commander for the event.
WHO: Participants from 12 states and four countries, including 38 women and six men, who work for federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, tribes and universities. Organizers include Pincha-Tulley, Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UC Cooperative Extension wildland fire advisor and director of the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council; and Amanda Stamper, The Nature Conservancy fire management officer in Oregon, among others. Guest speakers include Sarah McCaffrey, USDA Forest Service research social scientist; Johnny Stowe, forester/biologist/yoga teacher/fire manager of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources; Gwen Sanchez, deputy fire chief for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and many more.
WHAT: WTREX participants will serve in qualified and trainee firefighting positions to implement prescribed burns throughout the region. They will complete pre- and post-fire monitoring, train with equipment, practice fireline leadership skills and learn about local fire ecology and fire management.
WHERE: The training will take place in Trinity and Shasta counties. Sites include open prairies, oak woodlands, mixed-conifer forests and chaparral. Field trips will be made to areas burned in recent wildfires and to prescribed fire and fuels treatment project sites.
WHEN: Oct. 19-28, beginning in Hayfork, ending in Redding. Burning and other outdoor activities will depend on the weather.
DETAILS: The 12-day hands-on prescribed fire training, modeled after prescribed fire training events that take place across the country, will include beginners to seasoned professionals. The difference is that most of the participants are women.
“I'm excited for this event because it will transcend the usual TREX emphasis on cooperative burning and learning,” Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UC Cooperative Extension wildland fire advisor, who is part of the team organizing the event. “It will explicitly recognize and reinforce the importance of female perspective and leadership in fire management, and provide a supportive environment for women and men to understand and elevate the need for diversity in fire management—not only in numbers, but also in approach.”
Based at the Tahoe National Forest, Pincha-Tulley oversaw 1.6 million acres, including fire suppression, prescribed fire and aviation operations.
As the only woman among the 17 national Incident Commanders, Pincha-Tulley looked for allies and mentors. In 2005, the year she was promoted to Type 1 Incident Commander, she led her team to Mississippi to assist in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She was essentially invisible to the Air Force generals and Navy admirals until she put general stars on her uniform. A NASA director, a man, coached her, saying, “Are you going to let them take over the meeting? You're their peer, make yourself one.” He proceeded to mentor her, based on NASA's training for women in management.
“When you look for those people who can help, you begin to attract them,” Pincha-Tulley said. One of the primary goals of the Women-in-Fire Prescribed Fire Training Exchange is to connect women who work in fire, providing them with new networking and mentoring opportunities.
WTREX is co-hosted by eight primary partners as well as additional collaborators. These include the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council, the Fire Learning Network, the Cultural Fire Management Council, the Watershed Research and Training Center, the Bureau of Land Management, the USDA Forest Service, the California Fire Science Consortium, University of California Cooperative Extension, and other collaborators.
WTREX is supported by Promoting Ecosystem Resiliency through Collaboration: Landscapes, Learning and Restoration, a cooperative agreement between The Nature Conservancy, USDA Forest Service and agencies of the Department of the Interior.
On Monday, Oct. 17, participants will gather in northwestern California for the first-ever Women-in-Fire Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (WTREX). The 12-day hands-on prescribed fire training, modeled after similar TREX events that take place across the country, will include participants with a full range of fire qualifications—from beginners to seasoned professionals—and from a diversity of backgrounds, including federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, tribes, universities, and more.
Participants are traveling from 12 different states and four countries, and will include 38 women and six men. This event will transcend the usual TREX emphasis on cooperative burning and learning; it will explicitly recognize and reinforce the importance of female perspective and leadership in fire management, and provide a supportive environment for women and men to understand and elevate the need for diversity in fire management—not only in numbers, but also in approach.
WTREX participants will serve in qualified and trainee firefighting positions to implement prescribed burns throughout the region. They will complete pre- and post-fire monitoring, train with equipment, practice fireline leadership skills, and learn about local fire ecology and fire management. The training will take place in diverse forest and rangeland ecosystems across northwestern California, including open prairies, oak woodlands, mixed-conifer forests, and chaparral, and include field trips to areas burned in recent wildfires and to prescribed fire and fuels treatment project sites. It will also feature presentations by local scientists and land managers, and women who are leaders in various aspects of fire management.
For WTREX updates, follow the hashtag #wtrex2016 on Twitter or the Facebook page of the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council. For more information on the council, visit www.norcalrxfirecouncil.org or contact Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UC Cooperative Extension advisor and fire council director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This training is supported by Promoting Ecosystem Resiliency through Collaboration: Landscapes, Learning and Restoration, a cooperative agreement between The Nature Conservancy, USDA Forest Service and agencies of the Department of the Interior. For more information, contact Lynn Decker at email@example.com or (801) 320-0524.
Last month, a California grape farmer was fined $10,000 for using a pesticide in violation of the label, then packing and attempting to sell the tainted fruit. DPR detected the residues of a pesticide on the produced that was not registered for use on grapes.
Cases like this are rare in California but remind growers how important it is to apply pesticides correctly by following all pesticide label directions. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) runs the most extensive Pesticide Residue Monitoring Program in the nation and is hard at work ensuring that the fruit and vegetables we purchase and consume are free from illegal pesticide residues.
Understanding and following label instructions is the focus of a new online course developed by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM).
The program, Proper Pesticide Use to Avoid Illegal Residues, is targeted to those who apply pesticides or make pesticide recommendations. It explains what pesticide residues are, how they are monitored, and highlights important residue-related information from several sections of pesticide labels. In addition, the course identifies the following as the most important factors leading to illegal residues:
- Using a pesticide on a crop for which it is not registered
- Applying pesticides at an incorrect rate
- Ignoring preharvest intervals, re-treatment intervals, or plantback restrictions
Course participants are presented with several real-life scenarios. They must search through actual pesticide labels to determine if the scenario illustrates proper use of pesticides or if the described situation could potentially lead to illegal residues.
The overall goal of this course is to have participants follow pesticide label instructions when they return to the field. Following the label can eliminate incidences of illegal pesticide use.
Proper Pesticide Use to Avoid Illegal Residues is published just in time for pest control advisers and pesticide applicators who are still a few units short to renew their licenses or certificates with DPR. The course has been approved for two hours of Pesticide Laws and Regulations continuing education units (CEUs) from DPR and costs $40. If you don't need CEUs, but are still interested in viewing the course content, check it out for free on YouTube.
DPR recommends that renewal packets be submitted before Nov. 1 in order to receive your renewed license or certificate by Dec. 31, as the processing time can take up to 60 days. For additional online courses that UC IPM offers, visit the online training page.
Contestants in California's rice growing region have worked all summer, and now researchers are harvesting designated plots to be entered into the 2016 UC Cooperative Extension Rice Yield Contest. The contest is in its second year, following a pilot contest in 2015 that included only Butte County farmers.
The contest is held largely for educational purposes, said organizer Bruce Linquist, UCCE specialist based at UC Davis.
“We are providing an opportunity for rice producers and UC scientists to share information about intensive rice production in California,” Linquist said. “We started small last year to be sure our contest wouldn't interfere with the farmers' harvest, and now our contest spans the entire Sacramento Valley.”
Among the five 2015 entrants, farmer Joe Richter came in first, growing variety M-205 and raking in 6.3 tons of rice per acre. Farmer Rodney Jenkins came in second with 5.7 tons per acre growing variety M-206.
The UCCE Rice Yield Contest is modeled after the National Corn Yield Contest, which goes back more than 50 years. The National Corn Growers Association created the contest as a way to encourage advances and new approaches in corn production, and then sharing what is learned on farmer's plots with growers across the country.
Linquist said he believes rice farmers in the contest might try a new approach to boost yield on the contest plot, and if successful, apply it to the rest of the farm in the future. The participating growers are required to share basic crop management information such as variety, planting date, seeding rate, water management; while other practices are asked for but not required.
Yields in the pilot study were high for all the contestants, Linquist said.
“This process gives you an upper limit,” Linquist said. “The information is helpful for sustainable intensification – increasing yields without impacting the environmental footprint.”
The prize for the highest yield was modest in 2015 – a hat and custom engraved hunting knife. But if the UCCE Rice Yield Contest takes off like the National Corn Yield Contest, interest could grow.
“For rice, right now it's more about bragging rights,” Linquist said. “What we'd like to do is get the industry involved. Winning the corn yield contest is a really big deal. The organizers give out a trophy, and the industry gives vacations, small tractors and other prizes.”