Category Archives: Water & Irrigation

Vision of ‘Soil Nutrient Management in Drought’ Series & Forage Crop Segment Kick-off!

Participants in the Nutrient Management Series: Please take UC SAREP’s two-minute survey to let us know what was helpful or not; and what information *you* would like to see in the future to help better manage soil nutrients and the reduced water supply.

Alfalfa hay at Prather Ranch, near Mt. Shasta.  - UC ANR

It has been five months since FarmsReach, UC Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program (UC SAREP), and Sustainable Conservation together launched our Nutrient Management Solutions series.  These online, moderated forums and complementary Toolkit offer farmers of all experience levels practical information to manage soil nutrients in times of drought.

Now more than ever, farmers and ranchers seek solutions to maintain productivity despite the shortage of water, and today we’re sharing more of the background and vision for this timely, collaborative project.

We sat down with our partners at UC SAREP, Aubrey White and Ryan Murphy, to capture their story of how this project came about, and what they envision for the series in the future.

Today also marks the kick-off of the third topic in the series: Forage Crops.  The first two segments of the series covered orchards and trees, and wine grapes and vines.

To follow the conversation in the series or to participate, join the Nutrient Management Solutions group in FarmsReach.  (It’s free and takes minutes!)


FarmsReach (FR): First things first, why should farmers of all skill levels and all crop types be concerned about soil nutrient management, and especially now?

UC SAREP Aubrey White and Ryan Murphy: Soil nutrient management is so important to grow healthy crops, and every farmer always has an opportunity to improve how he or she uses and manages the soil.

Some practices are intended to build up the long-term fertility of the soil, while others (like nitrogen use) are meant to meet immediate needs, like building healthy foliage on crops. When done incorrectly, some practices may actually be harmful to the environment and human health.

For farmers today, water is probably their top concern.  And since soil nutrient management is closely linked with soil moisture and irrigation, farmers must adapt their nutrient management strategy as the water source, quality and quantity change in these drought years.  Thinking about the two issues together can help a farmer manage their farm more holistically and be better prepared for the likely upcoming years of drought.

Aubrey White, Communications Coordinator, UC SAREP

Aubrey White, Communications Coordinator, UC SAREP

FR: We often hear that newer farmers have a steep learning curve in managing their soil.  Do you have a sense of how skilled the typical newer farmer versus experienced farmer is regarding soil nutrient management? 

UC SAREP: Well, knowledge can be all over the map, and farmers work very differently.  Some are agronomists and depend on frequent soil sampling and data-driven information.  Others monitor and understand soil fertility based on sight, touch, and smell. Both types of farmers can be just as successful, but both need a set of practices they can use and trust to guarantee healthy crops.  Because farming doesn’t require any sort of formal training (no degree required), many farmers may start at ground zero.  I think a lot of the learning curve is in understanding your own soil and how to see the signs of healthy or unhealthy changes.  But yes, that can be a steep learning curve!

We know that farmers seek out informational resources, and there are a lot of resources available out there to get started.  But, when you’re in the field in mid-May and your crops are looking damaged and you have to troubleshoot, the vast amount of resources available can be overwhelming to sift through.   When you have an immediate problem, talking to someone with knowledge and experience can be invaluable.  It’s great to see farmers ask soil questions in FarmsReach and get answers from others in the community!

FR: Can you share a bit about how the UC SAREP Solution Center for Nutrient Management project came about?

UC SAREP: The Solution Center for Nutrient Management began as a project in 2013.  We want agricultural research to be easily digestible, available at the right time to growers, and relevant to the diversity of growers throughout the state. We also want to build a statewide network of people who are knowledgeable about nutrient management—growers, researchers, crop consultants, and others.  We think the power of information-sharing is in these networks, so we hope to create a variety of ways to open up communication on the topic, and use our collective minds to address big challenges growers face.

Initially, the Solution Center focused on the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and agriculture research of UC Davis’ Martin Burger and Will Horwath.  Going forward, though, the Solution Center will focus on nutrient management in general.  Currently, we have a small (but growing) database of research on our website, searchable by categories growers are interested in, with research summaries and links to related publications. We’re organizing field days, building toolkits on our website, and, of course, partnering with FarmsReach and Sustainable Conservation to host this series of online discussions on a variety of topics, and curating the Soil Nutrient Management Toolkit in FarmsReach. We hope to see this project grow over the years into a reliable source of information for growers, and a helpful tool for researchers who want to get the word out about their research. Continue Reading →

More Crops Per Drop: No-Till Farming Combats Drought

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This week’s feature comes from Civil Eats and discusses no-till farming. For those who don’t already know, no-till is the practice of planting crops directly into the soil without overturning the earth beforehand. It’s biggest benefits are increased soil organic matter and water storage capacity. As California and other parts of the US continue to deal with drought pressure, this form of soil management could be an important tool during adaptation.

Read on to learn more from Northern California’s Singing Frogs Farm and a number of experts on how this type of soil management can greatly benefit your soil’s productivity. Nothing happens overnight, so if you’re able, the sooner you test these practices, the better!


Written by Olivia Maki on August 26th, 2014.

Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser of Northern California’s Singing Frogs Farm grows fruit and vegetables completely without machinery, a system Paul refers to as “non-mechanized, no-till.” He said goodbye to his tractor and tiller seven years ago after he felt he was unnecessarily harming wildlife, saw too many machines break down, and watched his soil quality decrease. Now, his eight-acre farm has a robust community supported agriculture (CSA) program, and his soil is full of life.

“I wanted greater productivity and healthier soils with less reliance on machinery,” Kaiser says.

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A Successful Nutrient Management Series & New Toolkit Resources!

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We want to extend a big Thank You and Great Job to the folks at UC SAREP and Sustainable Conservation for the successful start of our ongoing Nutrient Management Series. In case you missed the conversation, join the Nutrient Management Solutions Group to see all the great Q&A.

For those who are new to this level of detail around nutrient management, or for those who simply want to read more about these concepts and ideas during times of drought, we’ve created a Toolkit with hand-picked resources for both the beginner and more advanced farmer. Read more below for a preview.


 A few resources for those new to the concepts within soil nutrient management:

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Building Soils for Better Crops
A thorough, easy-to-read guide for ecological soil management, including nutrient management, nutrient cycles, cover crops, and other soil-improving practices.
Source: SARE

Continue Reading →

Global Warming & CA’s Food Crisis ~ Adaptation Strategies for a Secure Future

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In 1895 a Swedish scientist discovered the greenhouse effect. At the time, the concept of trapping gasses in the atmosphere (creating global warming) was thought to be an ideal development for preventing the next Ice Age. Today, this perspective is very different. What we now call climate change is having far reaching negative effects on the planet’s agricultural resources. Temperature affects crop yield, soil moisture, pest population and disease prevalence, all of which hinder agricultural production.

In May, the Giannini Foundation hosted a one-day conference in Sacramento called “Climate Change: Challenges to California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources.” I attended the conference and spent the day surrounded by scientists, policy makers, and educators, learning about the implications that climate change will have on California food production.

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Water Series: Pt 8 ~ Drought Effects & Tips from Central Valley’s Lonewillow Ranch

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Lonewillow Ranch goats getting ready for milking

Our Water & Drought Management series concludes today with drought management tips from Lonewillow Ranch in Firebaugh, CA. John Teixeira, farmer and owner, shares his story and strategies for coping with persistent drought in the Central Valley region. Read on to learn how John has adjusted his business and why he thinks the government needs to reevaluate water rights to farmers.

As we move on to our next two-month-long series on Labor & Worker Safety, we will continue to monitor the drought in CA, and highlight stories affecting the farming community. If you’ve integrated new irrigation or water management solutions on your farm, let us know! We’d love to continue to share your tips and insights.

Continue Reading →

Water Series: Pt 7 ~ Managing Energy & Lowering Costs with Irrigation ~ Tips from Derek Moffitt, Farmer & Rain Bird Sales Mgr

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Our Water & Drought Management series continues today with energy management tips from Derek Moffitt, olive grower, engineer and sales manager at Rain Bird. Believe it or not, irrigation pumping is the largest consumer of energy in most agricultural operations, and accounts for more than 5.5% of the total electricity load from PG&E. Every farmer deals with hidden costs throughout the farm, and so read on as Derek give us easy tips for making our irrigation systems more efficient, lowering energy expenses, and reducing water use.

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Water Series: Pt 6 ~ Understanding Groundwater Management ~ Tips from UCCE Advisor, Allan Fulton

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Groundwater pumping in the Mojave Desert

Today we are featuring an important discussion about groundwater management. Allan Fulton, UCCE Irrigation and Water Resources Advisor in Tehama County, gives us important tips for drought-proofing the farm. His tips are framed with your farm and larger local community perspective in mind — public districts and agencies included. Everyone has a stake in the effort.

Yet, Allan suggests that farmers especially need to pay attention. To be implemented at a community level, many of his suggestions for groundwater management require individual farmers to understand the issues and decide whether they can support them in concept, and then engage in efforts to make them a reality.

Read on as Allan shares his tips and insight on the importance of better groundwater management during and beyond times of drought.

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Water Series: Pt 5 ~ Drought Adjustment Strategies from Mendocino Organics

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The pastures of Mendocino Organics

Mendocino Organics, located at Heart Arrow Ranch in Redwood Valley, is owned and operated by Adam and Paula Gaska. This husband and wife team leases land from Golden Vineyards and raise grass-fed sheep, cows and a wide variety of vegetables. Since their start in 2008, they’ve grown their operation with an emphasis on ecological stewardship and feeding their local community. With 120 ewes, 25 cows and 1 bull, they have access to nearly 1,200 acres of rangeland for winter grazing in Redwood Valley, and another 60 acres of irrigated pasture in Potter Valley during the summer months.

During this drought, most farmers and ranchers are forced to adjust their operations and figure out how to make ends meet.  Mendocino Organics is no exception.

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Water Series: Pt 4 ~ Checklist to Drought-Proof Your Farm

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Photo credit: CAWSI

The checklist below was first presented at the EcoFarm Conference in 2010 by Michael Cahn, irrigation and water resources advisor UC Cooperative Extension, Monterey County, on behalf of the California Agricultural Water Stewardship Initiative (CAWSI). Introductory text excerpted from a California Climate & Agriculture Network blog written by Kendall Lambert, Water Program Coordinator at Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF).

As we are all very much aware, California is now faced with a historic drought. Among other things, this means that farmers and ranchers will have limited access to surface water for irrigation, and many growers will not be able to sufficiently and sustainably substitute groundwater. To better prepare for water shortages like this one, growers can adopt on-farm ‘water stewardship’ practices to optimize agricultural production, achieve economic savings, and boost ecological and human health benefits.

So what can farmers do? Below is a practical checklist presented at EcoFarm in 2010 (it can also be found in our Water & Irrigation Toolkit):

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Water Series: Pt 3 ~ Practical Tools & Resources ~ FarmsReach Water & Irrigation Toolkit!

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We’re happy to focus our third installment in our Water & Drought Management Series on the FarmsReach Water & Irrigation Toolkit. It provides checklists, info sheets, calculators and more detailed, practical references to help you better conserve water resources, improve water quality and efficiency, and learn more about water issues in California in general.

All of our Toolkit resources were recommended by our Featured Farmers, partners and the community. Below is a sampling of just 10 of the resources…We hope they provide some practical ideas and tools to start thinking differently about water management in your operation! And, be sure to check out the rest of the Water & Irrigation resources list, including more information on the Bay Delta Tunnels and Fracking.

Continue Reading →