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UC ANR scientist debates conservation tillage practices with industry leader

Alan Wilcox of Wilcox Agri-Products and UC Cooperative Extension specialist Jeff Mitchell debated the challenges and opportunities for increased implementation of conservation tillage practices on California farms during the World Ag Expo in February, reported Alan Stenum in Farm Equipment magazine.

Wilcox said farmers are going to be resistant to anything they suspect will affect yield. Mitchell said creative innovation underway will have a big impact on some of the more challenging crops that are grown in California.

Alan Wilcox, left, and Jeff Mitchell debate the challenges and opportunities for conservation tillage. (Photo by Farm Equipment magazine, used with permission)

"This is a region where costs are high. The cost of doing business is high, and maximum yields on any crop are important to even break even," Wilcox said. "We're going to be intensely committed to water management and the maximum amount of water."

Mitchell said farmers in other parts of the U.S. started to switch to reduced disturbance no-till systems to conserve water.

"The recognition of the value of that opportunity to reduce soil water evaporation and have more water going through the crops through transpiration hasn't really sunk in here in California in large fashion," Mitchell said.

While Mitchell noted that water is essential to the discussion of conservation agriculture, there are other important aspects to consider.

"Biological cycling of nutrients in the soil, tightening up the system so there are fewer losses, either to the groundwater as some sort of pollution, or improving the overall soil function and nutrition provision capacity of the soil - that's not a small aspect of the overall system, nor are the opportunities for reducing costs," Mitchell said.

Wilcox said he would characterize the argument differently.

"The point is in all of our tillage strategies - and in every situation - we never compromise yield," he said.

Read the complete debate in Farm Equipment magazine.

More information about the use of conservation agriculture practices can be found on the UC Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation website.

Posted on Thursday, June 14, 2018 at 8:46 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

It Came Down to One Question to Determine the Championship Team

Ralph Washington Jr. captained the UC Berkeley-UC Davis Linnaean Games Team that won the regional championship at the 2018 PBESA meeting. He also captained the UC Davis Linnaean Games Teams that won the national championships in 2015 and 2016. (UC Davis Photo)

It all came down to a question about a Dutch scientist, a microscopist from the 17th century. Which team--the UC Berkeley-UC Davis team or the Washington State University team--would win? That was the white-knuckle scene at the Linnaean Games competition hosted by the  Pacific Branch,...

Summer—it’s a time for swimming, BBQs, camping, and eating invasive species

blackberry

Last week during California Invasive Species Action Week (June 2 – June 10), we highlighted several pests, but there are many more invasive species out there. Now that you know about them, share your knowledge of invasive species with others. And no matter what your summer plans, here are...

Posted on Wednesday, June 13, 2018 at 12:21 PM

Reduce food waste to combat world hunger and slow global climate change

One-third of the world's food is spoiled or tossed rather than eaten, a fact that is tragic when nearly one billion people go hungry. The injustice of food waste is worsened by the fact that food decomposing in landfills emits greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

The conventional management of municipal waste in landfills places discarded food and plant matter into an anaerobic environment, initiating a chemical reaction that turns biomass into biogas – specifically methane, a greenhouse gas that's 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The UC Cooperative Extension Compost Education Program facility at Martial Cottle Park in San Jose.

Reducing the volume of the California waste stream and reducing the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere are objectives that have spurred state lawmakers to enact regulations, such as Assembly Bill 939, which in 1985 mandated a 50 percent diversion of solid waste away from landfills. A 1989 update to the law also required municipalities to reach out to residents with training on greenwaste etiquette and waste diversion.

UC Cooperative Extension is working closely with the cities and county of Santa Clara in a far-reaching program to divert organic matter – food and green waste – from landfills by composting and using the product to enrich soil in the home garden.

UC Master Composter Don Krafft, right, presents information on composting during the class in Palo Alto.

In early June, UC Master Composter Don Krafft conducted a class on composting in a Palo Alto community center, one of 22 sessions to be offered in the spring and summer of 2018. A retired telecommunications professional, Krafft's interest in composting stemmed from his work as a Master Gardener for UC Cooperative Extension.

“I live in a townhouse, so I do worm composting. The No. 1 reason,” Krafft said, “is because it's fun.”

The composting workshops are just one component of the UC Cooperative Extension's composting efforts in Santa Clara County, led by UCCE staff research associate Cole Smith. The Environmental Protection Agency has a food recovery hierarchy, he said, which has source reduction at the top, followed by feeding the hungry, feeding animals, industrial uses, then composting, and finally delivery to a landfill.

“By diverting and recycling at the source, we reduce the diesel footprint for hauling,” Smith said. “We want to tighten the nutrient loop and the backyard is the closest place.”

Coordinator of the UCCE composting program in Santa Clara County, Cole Smith, stands with a bicycle-powered compost turning tool at the demonstration site.

The classic composting technique involves layering “browns” – dry leaves, sawdust, woody cuttings, straw, shredded newspaper and cardboard – with “greens” – grass clippings, food scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, green plant cuttings and manure.

“Start and end with browns to keep the fruit flies down,” Krafft said. “It's like making lasagna.”

Certain foods should not be added to the home compost heap – including meat, whole eggs and dairy products.

The mix of greens and browns should be maintained evenly moist, but not soaked, and turned at regular intervals, the more often, the faster the materials decompose.

“Maintenance is completely adaptable. You can do a lot or a little and it gets easier with time,” Krafft assured the audience.

The compost is ready when the components are no longer recognizable and the pile is cold. Once composted, the former waste becomes a stable soil amendment with a pleasant earthy smell. It's then ready to be applied in the garden.

Compost bins at the UC Compost Education Program demonstration site.

UCCE Santa Clara has also developed a three-acre composting demonstration site at Martial Cottle Park in San Jose, where volunteers are composting animal waste generated by the 4-H animal program in a project made possible by a grant from the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

The facility includes a variety of commercial and homemade compost containers, including one built by a volunteer that employs bicycle power to mix compost.

The issue of food waste is capturing significant attention not only in Santa Clara County and not only in the garden. Food waste reaches across multiple disciplines, including agriculture, environment, and public health, key areas of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' efforts.

“Food waste is a symptom of our food systems and food practices going astray,” said Wendi Gosliner, a project scientist in the UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute, co-founder of California Food Waste Prevention Week, which was held for the first time in March 2018.

“Addressing the issue requires researchers, practitioners, policy makers, communities and individuals to innovate and develop new solutions,” Gosliner said.

UC ANR programs that have a hand in food waste prevention include:

“UC ANR translates research to practice in helping communities manage food resources, learn to preserve food and compost – all parts of the food waste solution,” Gosliner said. “Thinking about these and other UC ANR activities under the umbrella of food waste prevention can help to better nourish people, protect the environment and conserve human, natural and financial resources.

A commercial home compost bin, left, and a bin improvised by cutting holes and the bottom out of an ordinary plastic trash can.
Posted on Wednesday, June 13, 2018 at 8:34 AM
Focus Area Tags: Environment Food

Pollinator Gardens Make Us Happy: Get Ready for National Pollinator Week!

This is an overview of part of Kate Frey's pollinator garden at Sonoma Cornerstone. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Are you ready for National Pollinator Week, June 18-June 24? A spectacular pollinator garden that's a "must-see" is Kate Frey's pollinator garden at Sonoma Cornerstone. Kate Frey, a world-class pollinator garden designer, pollinator advocate and author who addressed the UC Davis Bee Symposium in...

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