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 →

Put Your Hoes Down ~ A Weekend Celebration!

IMG_8274Full Belly Farm knows how to have a good time!  This past weekend marked the 26th annual Hoes Down Harvest Festival, which brings together over 6,000 people of all ages from Northern CA and beyond.  Under the hot sun of the Capay Valley, it’s fun to find some shade and relax with a beer, or stroll around and take in the breathtaking views of fields, orchards and rolling hills.  Or, take advantage of their jam-packed program of live music, local food, workshops, creek bathing and camping. We did it all!

Full Belly Farm, founded in 1985, is a pristine 300+ acre operation and is considered one of the best examples of diversified organic farming in CA.  The farm grows an amazing variety of over 80 vegetable, fruit and nut crops, as well as poultry, sheep, pigs, goats, and several cows.  One of their main priorities is the long-term environmental stewardship of the land, and for this, the farm focuses on regenerative systems such as nitrogen-fixing cover crops that improve soil organic matter, and planting habitat area for beneficial insects and wildlife.  With almost 30 years of trial and error under their belt, Full Belly Farm has worked hard to nurture the land so that each year leaves it more fertile than the last.

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“Why Genetically Modifying Food Is A Bad Idea” – Science vs Common Sense

GMO Golden Rice on the left.  Non-GMO rice on the right.

GMO Golden Rice on the left. Non-GMO rice on the right.

Yesterday, our friend Beth Hoffman published an article in Forbes’ online Food + Drink section called “Why Genetically Modifying Food Is A Bad Idea“.  For those who don’t know her, Beth is a cool cat who lives in SF, and writes articles about “our changing food system” for Forbes, NPR, Oxfam, and more.  She also teaches at University of San Francisco, and is married to a butcher and sales manager at Prather Ranch Meat Co.

You may have read countless articles about GMOs, but what I really like about Beth’s article in particular is that she brings up two main points that are simple common sense, yet seem to get lost in the shuffle.

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