Geographic information system (GIS) models developed at UC Davis are being used to pinpoint the best farmland for conservation in the Central Valley. A new landscape-scale method, described in a recent issue of California Agriculture journal, was applied in Fresno County, and the approach is being extended regionally in the San Joaquin Valley.
“Policy programs and local planning agencies must assess farmland before implementing policies and programs aimed at farmland conservation,” lead author Evan Schmidt wrote in California Agriculture. “The application of GIS to existing land-assessment practices can update and reinvigorate [currently used] techniques.”
The method involves integrating environmental and human factors into a GIS to develop maps of strategic farmlands to be targeted for conservation. These five factors are:
- Soil productivity, based on maps developed by the California Department of Conservation’s Farmland Mapping and Monitoring Program (FMMP).
- Water cost and reliability, based on maps developed by California agricultural commissioner’s offices.
- Microclimate, to identify areas with optimal growing conditions.
- Environmental sensitivity, to incorporate state and federal designations of vernal pools and wetlands.
- Urban growth pressure, to identify areas within and adjacent to existing cities that are expected to be developed in coming years.
With extensive input from the public, agency officials and land-use professionals, the method expands upon farmland assessment frameworks developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and FMMP soil classification maps.
The Fresno County GIS-based assessment identified 343,321 acres of “very-high-value” farmland, mostly in the eastern and southern county and located in areas without existing or projected urban development. “High-value” farmland, totaling 491,613 acres, was similarly situated but included more acreage in the western county.
“In Fresno County, we found that the majority of growth to 2050 could fit into existing spheres of influence,” Schmidt and co-authors wrote. “This important information challenges decision-makers to set and maintain policies that encourage compact growth and infill development in order to preserve Fresno County’s highest-value farmland.”
Invasive weeds can be very problematic, affecting agricultural productivity, public health, natural resource biodiversity; increasing the risk and severity of wildfire; and reducing water quality and quantity.
A nationwide program designed to map invasive weed locations online was started at the University of Georgia in 2005. What’s Invasive! Community Data Collection provides a way for people to map invasive weeds they see while visiting national parks.
The U.S. Forest Service is instantly alerted to the location of habitat-destroying species. This information is useful for increasing knowledge about the location and establishment of invasive species and directs limited U.S. Forest Service personnel and funds in a straightforward and efficient manner to minimize further spread of these species.
Before visiting a park, participants can view photos and information about what to look for in different parts of the country. Sightings can be added through phone apps or through the website.
As of today there are 973 registered users, with 3,019 invasive species observations in 19 participating parks. New parks can be easily added by users.
The $20 million, 34,000-square-foot teaching-and-research complex is the first winery, brewery or food-processing facility expected to earn LEED Platinum certification, the highest environmental rating awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. It is intended to become self-sustainable in energy and water use.
Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, said, "It will serve as a model for industries throughout the nation that are also committed both to environmental excellence and production efficiency."
The complex houses a brewery, general foods-processing plant, milk-processing laboratory, and a teaching-and-research winery which will serve as a test bed for production processes that conserve water, energy, and other resources. The complex is adjacent to a 12-acre teaching-and-research vineyard.
Its environmentally friendly features include on-site solar power generation, a large-capacity system for capturing rainwater and conserving processing water, and many other features. The facility is expected to be carbon zero in carbon emissions.
Growing concern about social issues related to agriculture – working conditions for laborers and environmental impacts, for example – is giving rise to consumer and retailer interest in buying products that were farmed using “sustainable” methods.
“Sustainable agriculture” is not easy to define. In general, the system puts an emphasis on practices that have long-term environmental and social benefits – such as reducing pollution and providing stable jobs. Sustainable products are perhaps not as familiar as “organic,” but examples of retailers capitalizing on the concept are numerous.
- Walmart is training 1 million farmers and workers worldwide on crop selection and sustainable-farming practices
- Sysco asserts online that it offers products that come from suppliers that take care of the land
- Del Monte Foods formalized its environmental goals in three key areas - waste, greenhouse gas emissions and water
Understanding farmers’ perceptions about adopting sustainable farming is a goal of research by Mark Lubell, professor of environmental science and policy at UC Davis. To document whether winegrape farmers and other experts believe the environmental and economic benefits of adopting sustainable practices are worth the cost, Lubell analyzed data from three sources: a survey of viticulture outreach professionals, including UC farm advisors, campus-based researchers and vineyard management consultants; a 2008 survey of winegrape growers who are part of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance’s Sustainable Winegrowing Program; and 16 interviews with winegrape growers in the Lodi, Napa Valley and Central Coast winegrowing regions.
Many “sustainable” practices were perceived to have economic benefits and are likely to be adopted by growers, Lubbell found. Of the practices where economic benefits outweigh the costs, the practices with the highest environmental benefits are perceived to be:
- Spot spraying for pest problems instead of treating entire vineyards
- Pheromones to disrupt pest mating
- Computer models for disease forecasting
- Dust reduction with cover crops
- Monitoring evapo-transpiration to determine when to irrigate
“Important challenges to the adoption of sustainable practices arise when economic benefits are low and when growers have uncertainty about benefits,” Lubell said.
The take-home message for advisors and crop consultants: Outreach programs should focus grower education on activities with both economic and environmental benefits. Reducing uncertainty should be a primary goal of all outreach programs and requires research to demonstrate the effectiveness of agricultural practices.
Lubell believes adopting sustainable methods makes sense for winegrape growers.
“The market for sustainability is not mature enough now to get a price differentiation,” he said. “But a ‘green’ market is emerging. Some people are willing to pay for it and more will pay over time.”
For more information, read the research brief The Perceived Benefits and Costs of Sustainability Practices in California Viticulture.
Economically viable living and working conditions for farm laborers are part of sustainable ag.
Long before European settlers arrived in America, the Los Angeles River was an important source of food and water for native peoples. Europeans settled the Los Angeles area in part because of the river and the fertile alluvial soils it provided. The river and its tributaries frequently flooded and changed course, forming wide alluvial floodplains that extended across southern Los Angeles from modern day Santa Monica to Long Beach. When Los Angeles began its transition to teeming metropolis and settled these flat floodplains, the river's natural characteristics led to disastrous flooding.
In the interest of saving lives and property, civil engineers sloped the banks and encased them in more than 30 miles of concrete, a move that completely altered the fishery. Recently completed UC Cooperative Extension research indicates that, despite the concrete and influx of pollutants from LA storm drains and sewage treatment plants, the Los Angeles River is still capable of sustaining life.
Working with Friends of the Los Angeles River, an organization interested in restoring the LA River to a more natural state, UCCE natural resources advisor Sabrina Drill surveyed the fish population in the river's eight-mile Glendale Narrows area, a section that, because of its underlying geology, was left with a natural bottom. The researchers discovered a diverse and bountiful fish population in this stretch of the river.
"To our surprise and delight, toxicity reports show the small number of fish we tested to be free of mercury and have extremely low levels of PCBs," Drill said. "This may not be true for the rest of the river. Glendale Narrows is one of the cleanest sections, probably because the natural river bottom cleans itself and because of the high quality effluent coming out of upstream water reclamation plants."
The survey identified eight species of fishes, none of them native, plus tadpoles and red swamp crayfish in the river. The eight fish species are: fathead minnow, carp, black bullhead, Amazon sailfin catfish, mosquito fish, green sunfish, largemouth bass and tilapia. They hail from Africa, South America, Eastern North America and Asia.
Whether reestablishment of native species to the river is possible remains to be seen, and may not be the most important factor in river restoration.
"Difficult though it may be, you can't make the LA River what it used to be simply by digging up the concrete," Drill said. "Because of all the development, the water we import, and changes in hydrology, temperature, and water quality, it’s not the same system it was before people settled here."
But restoration can still take place, and Drill believes that in the next 10 to 20 years, large-scale habitat restoration and restoration of some historical floodplains will dramatically enhance the ecological function and natural beauty of the Los Angeles River.
LA River Fishing
USC film maker Megan McCarty created a seven-minute documentary on fishing the Los Angeles River, which includes an interview with UCCE's Sabrina Drill. See the video here:
Click the link below for the complete 21-page report on the Los Angeles River fish survey.
The Los Angeles River winds through urban metropolis.