Cooperative Extension San Joaquin County
University of California
Cooperative Extension San Joaquin County

Posts Tagged: sustainable agriculture

On the topic of vineyard nutrient management, farmers want to know about sheep

The UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program is working to build an online community for growers facing challenges and trying innovative approaches to how they manage nutrients on the farm. With the help of FarmsReach and Sustainable Conservation, we've been working to build up an online group based on nutrient management to discuss a wide array of practices. For two weeks in January, we hosted a discussion on nutrient management for vineyards, particularly in times of drought.

In a recent Capital Public Radio story on winemakers struggling with groundwater shortages this year, winemaker Chris Leamy said “the drought has helped to spur change and innovation.” When business as usual is not an option, farmers get creative. Through discussion, informational videos, and a tool kit of resources, farmers and UC advisors shared some of the creative ways that growers are adapting to water limitations and building healthy soil in their vineyards.

One discussion to rise to the surface throughout was the use of animals in vineyard systems. Farmers with experience running animals through their vineyards chimed in with valuable insights.

Sheep eat weeds in a vineyard. (Photo: Stefano Lubiano.)

Some thoughts repeated by several growers were:

  • Short breeds like babydoll sheep and tall cordons on vines make sheep less able to graze on the canopy. Some growers use electrified deterrents running parallel to the trellis to allow sheep to stay in the vineyard into the summer with no leaf damage. Growers who kept sheep in vineyards year round described eliminating mowing completely.
  • Drip lines need to be tall enough to be out of reach from sheep.
  • Move sheep frequently to prevent soil compaction.
  • One grower runs chickens through the vineyard at the end of the season, but says to avoid the practice if shoot growth has been too vigorous — the added nutrients from the chickens may give vines an unwanted boost in the spring.
  • Growers who use sheep in their vineyards describe significant nutrient inputs from sheep, some to the point of eliminating other fertilizers altogether.

You can follow more of the conversation here. The group of participants is growing (94 strong now!) and we'll be hosting future discussions on different topics. This project is hosted by UC SAREP as part of the Solution Center for Nutrient Management. You can join our mailing list to stay up-to-date with our activities, online discussions, and updates to our website.

Posted on Tuesday, February 3, 2015 at 3:29 PM
  • Author: Aubrey White

Can compost be an alternative to methyl bromide?

Writing on Earth Day, I am reminded of one of the world's major successes in environmental protection, the Montreal Protocol. Originally signed in 1987, it works to phase out ozone-depleting substanc

Strawberries growing near the Pacific Ocean.
es, including the soil fumigant methyl bromide, commonly used by strawberry growers.

Twenty-seven years later, the realities of enacting the Montreal Protocol are still taking shape, and strawberry growers are, with each harvest year, a step closer to a complete phase out of the fumigant and increased restrictions on alternative chemical fumigants used for disease suppression.

UC research has focused on how to make an economically viable and effective transition away from the soil fumigant. Initial alternatives include replacement chemical fumigants as well as biological fumigants such as anaerobic soil disinfection (such as putting tarps over fields to decrease oxygen), mustard seed meal amendment, or steam disinfestation.

But what if a practice many growers already use could also serve to suppress soil-borne diseases? What if growers could use a substance that provides multiple on-farm benefits?

Many conventional and organic growers alike use compost to boost soil fertility and organic matter. But compost's potential to serve other purposes, including suppressing disease, remain largely unexplored.

Ph.D. student Margaret Lloyd and Tom Gordon, professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Davis, are hoping to close the gap in that knowledge. With a grant from the National Strawberry Sustainability Initiative, a program administered by University of Arkansas and funded by Walmart Foundation, and funding from UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, Lloyd's research seeks to understand whether compost can contribute to disease suppression on a commercial scale, and how growers can best incorporate compost into their farm management to see its benefits.

“Compost is part of the production system that has potential as biological control,” says Lloyd. “Historically, we've only focused on it as a source of organic matter or soil nutrients. I'm trying to characterize its role in root health and soil health.”

The study evaluates the root health of strawberry plants, and compares plant yield and disease suppression across a number of research sites and compost types.

“In general, we talk about compost just as compost,” Lloyd said. “But it has drastically different qualities — soil fertility characteristics, physical properties, and microbial profiles. By focusing on different compost sources, the study will help growers better assess their available compost options to m

Compost trials field site. Photo Courtesy Margaret Lloyd
eet their farm needs.” Composts used in the study include worm compost, manure-based compost, spent mushroom compost, and municipal yard trimmings compost.

Alternatives to methyl bromide have been a long time coming. “The research suggests that it won't be one technology replacing another, but a package of tools to help growers manage disease suppression in the soil,”  Lloyd said. If some of those tools are already in a grower's tool kit, the transition away from fumigants will be that much smoother.

The research suggests a powerful Earth Day message for me: use what you have, but seek a deeper understanding of just how to use it.

Lloyd's research findings will be completed in 2014, with results available for growers in 2015. Visit the project's website for more information.

Posted on Thursday, April 24, 2014 at 9:40 AM
  • Author: Aubrey White

Cooperative Extension's Mary Bianchi receives agricultural sustainability leadership award

Mary Bianchi, UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor and San Luis Obispo County Director
The Agricultural Sustainability Institute (ASI) at UC Davis announced today that Mary Bianchi of the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources is this year's recipient of ASI's Eric Bradford and Charlie Rominger Agricultural Sustainability Leadership Award.

The annual award will be presented to Bianchi tomorrow, April 15, at a ceremony featuring distinguished speaker LaDonna Redmond.

The Bradford-Rominger award recognizes and honors individuals who exhibit the leadership, work ethic and integrity epitomized by the late Eric Bradford, a livestock geneticist who gave 50 years of service to UC Davis, and the late Charlie Rominger, a fifth-generation Yolo County farmer and land preservationist.

Bianchi has worked for UC Cooperative Extension for 20 years, currently serving as Farm Advisor and County Director for San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties. Among her achievements include the development and implementation of a water quality workshop series that required collaboration of over 100 team members and brought timely and essential information on water quality management to 2,200 growers in California.

Bianchi is quick to share her success. “I've had partners in all the efforts that I've undertaken who just wanted to find a way to get information out to people so that they can make their own decision. Sometimes that means staying within the lines, and sometimes that means stretching and taking some risks and being willing to push the envelope. Growers, industry, agencies and universities have stepped up to find a way to make our efforts work.”

Eric Bradford and Charlie Rominger are remembered for their abilities to approach major agricultural challenges with grace, honesty, and a commitment to collaboration across disciplines and interests.

Sonja Brodt, Academic Coordinator at ASI says Bianchi “does not hesitate to address the critical needs of her clientele, even if they require extending herself into new subject areas. She is down-to-earth and creates the space in collaborations for each party's concerns to be heard and valued in the process to reach viable solutions.”

Bianchi's own work ethic reflects those qualities. “I think that you do create change one person at a time by listening to what they have to say and respecting the fact that they are bringing their own successes and constraints and baggage that you don't know about,” says Bianchi.

“Eric and Charlie were a lot the same way,” she continues. “If you see that there's a need, you just find a way to make it work. And you find the people that are willing to do that with you and it happens.”

Learn more about the award on the Agricultural Sustainability Institute's web site.

After the Bradford-Rominger award is presented to Bianchi at tomorrow's ceremony, distinguished speaker LaDonna Redmond will speak on “Food + Justice = Democracy.” Redmond is a food justice activist who was inspired to fight for a fairer food system after facing limited access to healthy, organic food in her Chicago community. To facilitate her community's food access, she launched an initiative converting vacant lots into urban farms.

She is founder of the Campaign for Food Justice Now, an organization focused on social justice within the food system, creating community-based solutions and engaged advocacy.

Eric Bradford and Charlie Rominger Agricultural Sustainability Leadership Award Ceremony

5:00 p.m., Wednesday, April 15

Buehler Alumni and Visitors Center

UC Davis campus

This event is free and open to the public. Students are encouraged to attend.

Posted on Monday, April 14, 2014 at 10:01 AM
  • Author: Aubrey White

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