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Hmong farmers getting help from UC Cooperative Extension to weather the drought

UCCE advisor Ruth Dahlquist-Willard (right) demonstrates how to evaluate soil moisture with a soil sampler. In the center is UCCE Hmong ag assistant Michael Yang. Ka Xiong
After the Central Valley Hmong Agriculture radio show last week, the phones at the UC Cooperative Extension office in Fresno County were buzzing non-stop with farmers anxious to apply for state grants to improve irrigation systems and energy efficiency. Michael Yang, UCCE Hmong agricultural assistant, has hosted the one-hour show each Tuesday afternoon on KBIF 900 AM for 19 years.

“Sometimes we don't see the farmers that often. They are busy on the farm,” Yang said. “But when they hear something (important) like this on the radio, they show up.”

UC Cooperative Extension office staff - including UCCE advisor Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, Yang, part time staffer Xia Chang, Fresno State student volunteer Sunny Yang, and research assistant Janet Robles from Fresno State's Center for Irrigation Technology – are working with small-scale and socially disadvantaged farmers one-on-one to line up the necessary paperwork and information to submit successful grant applications. (Read more about UC staffer Xia Chang, millennial Hmong farmer.)

“We helped eight farmers submit applications in the last two rounds, and seven received grants,” Yang said. “The money is significant.”

The grants allowed the farmers to make improvements in energy efficiency and water savings, Dahlquist-Willard said.

“This can make a huge difference for the profitability of a small farm,” she said.

The application requires energy bills from the previous growing season, a pump test and a plan for redesigning the irrigation system to result in reduced water use and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

“There are a lot of calculations to do,” Yang said. “It's very complicated, and no one is available to help underserved farmers.”

While assisting farmers with applications for other programs is not usually part of UCCE's extension efforts, the small farms program in Fresno County has identified this form of assistance as crucial to the success of small-scale and minority-operated farms.

Help with the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) grants is one in a series of outreach efforts for Hmong farmers spearheaded by Dahlquist-Willard since she was hired in 2014 to work with small-scale farmers in Fresno and Tulare counties. After just two weeks on the job, she was invited to an emergency meeting with the National Hmong American Farmers and USDA's Farm Service Agency to address the challenges faced by Hmong farmers as groundwater levels continued to drop during the drought.

“Wells were starting to dry up. Some Hmong farmers were reportedly calling suicide hotlines,” Dahlquist-Willard said. “We knew we had to take action.”

Dahlquist-Willard and her staff began researching programs that could offer the farmers financial assistance. They identified a free PG&E rate analysis, which could help the farmers choose the best electric rate for their irrigation practices to minimize charges. They searched for financing to deepen wells for farmers who had difficulty qualifying for existing USDA loans. And in 2015, they began helping farmers with applications for the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program.

The dire circumstances also prompted Dahlquist-Willard to commission a survey of Hmong farmers to see how they were impacted by the drought. Documenting their plight would be useful in seeking support. The survey was conducted in conjunction with outreach efforts with Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board and Jennifer Sowerwine, UCCE Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. The survey was funded funded with a grant from the USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach and with support from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources via Sowerwine.

Sixty-eight farmers were interviewed by phone or in-person. Twenty-two percent said their wells had dried up, and 51 percent reported a decreased water flow.

“For the ones with dry wells, it could be $20,000 to $50,000 to drill a new well,” Dahlquist-Willard said. “A lot of them cannot get access to loans.”

To deal with irrigation water limitations, some farmers told interviewers they reduced acreage or changed the time of day they irrigate. Some stopped farming all together.

“One farmer told us he was irrigating his crops with his domestic well,” Dahlquist-Willard said.

Energy efficiency programs turned out to be very important for this population of farmers. Eighty-seven percent said their utility bills increased during the drought. As a result, UCCE has been promoting PG&E programs for energy efficiency as well as the SWEEP program.

The survey also showed the power of radio in reaching the Hmong farming community. Eighty percent of the survey respondents said they were regular listeners to Michael Yang's Central Valley Hmong Agriculture radio show.


 Xia Chang: Millennial Hmong farmer

Xia Chang works with a Hmong farmer on making changes to energy billing.
Xia (pronounced “sigh”) Chang, 26, was hired in 2015 to use his Hmong language skills in collecting survey responses for UCCE. Chang was born in Thailand, and immigrated with his family to the U.S. four years later. His father cultivates Southeast Asian vegetables along with a second job at Red Lobster. Many of the nine children in the family help out on the farm.

Chang attended college, but his financial aid was depleted before he earned a degree. In addition to part time work with UCCE, Chang is now farming.

“Last year we expanded our farm from 4 acres to 14 acres, with a new three-year lease,” Chang said.

The family's many technical agricultural questions led to Chang's frequent visits to the Cooperative Extension office, and ultimately to his being hired to help conduct the Hmong farmer survey.

“I spend a lot of time speaking Hmong on this job,” Chang said. “I've had to learn a lot of new vocabulary.”

He said he's also learning a lot about new farming techniques that he wants to apply on the family farm. However, there are obstacles.

“My dad is not open to new ways because he is afraid it would not be as successful,” Chang said. “But, in everything you do, you learn.”

Chang is now looking into a career in plant sciences. He is working with Dahlquist-Willard and Kent Daane, UC Cooperative Extension biological control specialist based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, testing integrated pest management techniques in Southeast Asian vegetable crop production. In time, Chang plans to return to Fresno State to complete a degree in agriculture.

Posted on Monday, July 25, 2016 at 10:44 AM

Russell Ranch field day at UC Davis is June 8

A researcher speaks at the 2015 Russell Field Day. (Photo: Agricultural Sustainability Institute)
The Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility, located near the UC Davis campus, will be holding its annual field day June 8 on the theme of "Farm Water Management in Times of Scarcity." Members of the public are encouraged to attend.

Presenters will explore research, farmers' practices, and commercial products that aim to make California agriculture more resilient in the face of drought, weather extremes, and uncertain water allocations. Presentations from researchers in the morning will be followed by lunch and a panel discussion with area growers.

The field day is free for farmers, $5 for students, and $10 for the general public.

Russell Ranch is a unique 300-acre facility dedicated to investigating irrigated and dry-land agriculture in a Mediterranean climate. The ranch is run like a commercial farm and features a variety of research activities by UC faculty and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers, with the aim of informing California agricultural practices. Russell Ranch is home to the flagship 100-year Century Experiment, an ongoing mega-experiment focusing on sustainable agricultural practices in California.

Since 1994, Russell Ranch has hosted an annual field day to share research findings related to pressing topics in California agriculture. This year's event will focus on a common challenge of farm fields across California: how to ensure healthy crops when the availability of key resources is uncertain.

The field day includes tours of Russell Ranch, in-field presentations, panel discussions with growers, and a poster session to learn about the variety of research and outreach on the topic of water management and scarcity.

The schedule of events is as follows:

8:30 – 11:30 a.m. Presentations from researchers

11:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Lunch; view research posters and exhibitions from vendors of commercial irrigation products

12:30 – 1:15 p.m. Farmer panel discussion: Water Management on Farm: Challenges and Opportunities

The field day features presentations from:

Olivier Jerphagnon, PowWow Energy, Inc.
Stan Knutson, PowWow Energy, Inc.
Teresa Carillo-Cobo, Agricultural Sustainability Institute post-doctoral scholar
Amelie Gaudin, Assistant professor, Dept. of Plant Sciences at UC Davis
Martin Burger, Associate Project Scientist, Dept. of Land, Air, and Water Resources at UC Davis

Mark Lundy, Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist, Dept. of Plant Sciences at UC Davis
Dan Putnam, Cooperative Extension Specialist, Dept. of Plant Sciences at UC Davis
Daniele Zaccaria, Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist, Dept. of Land, Air, and Water Resources at UC Davis
Tim Hartz, Cooperative Extension Specialist/Agronomist, Dept. of Plant Sciences at UC Davis
Toby O'Geen, Cooperative Extension Soil Resources Specialist, Dept. of Land, Air, and Water Resources at UC Davis

Graham Fogg, Professor of Hydrogeology, Dept. of Land, Air, and Water Resources at UC Davis
Darren Drewry, Research Scientist, Climate Physics Group, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Russell Ranch's Annual Field Day
Farm Water Management in Times of Scarcity
June 8, 2016, 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Register at: https://registration.ucdavis.edu/Item/Details/246

Tickets

Farmers: free
Students: $5
General: $10

Posted on Wednesday, June 1, 2016 at 5:54 AM
Tags: drought (32), irrigation (2), Russell Ranch (2)

Fighting drought with soil

Soil is an often overlooked tool to fight drought.
A team of University of California scientists recently received a $1.69 million grant to use several UC agricultural research stations to study an often overlooked tool to fight the drought: soil.

The team, led by Samantha Ying, an assistant professor of environmental sciences at UC Riverside, received the grant from the University of California Office of the President.

The funding will allow for the establishment of the University of California Consortium for Drought and Carbon Management (UC DroCaM), which will design management strategies based on understanding soil carbon, the soil microbiome and their impact on water dynamics in soil.

The researchers will conduct field and lab research on microbiological, biophysical, and geochemical mechanisms controlling soil formation and stability under different row crops (tomatoes, alfalfa, wheat), farming practices (carbon inputs and rotations) and irrigation methods (furrow and flood, microirrigation).

Samantha Ying, an assistant professor of environmental sciences at UC Riverside.
Information on mechanisms will be integrated into a regionally-scalable predictive model to describe soil carbon dynamics and estimate the response of agricultural systems to drought.

Field research will initially be conducted at three UC Research and Extension Centers (Kearney, West Side and Desert) the Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility near UC Davis.

Recommendations will then be made for broader monitoring and field experiments throughout the state based on input gained from local growers and citizens at workshops at the agricultural research stations. Ultimately, the hope is to expand and involve all nine research and extension centers from the Oregon border to the Mexican border.

“Having agricultural research stations throughout the state is a huge part of this project,” Ying said. “It is going to help us create one of the best research centers in the country focused on soil and drought.”

There is also a public engagement component. Citizens will be recruited to participate in workshops to learn how to monitor and sample their local soils. Information will then be imputed into an online soils database that will help create a map of the biodiversity of agricultural soils in California.

Ying's collaborators are: Kate Scow and Sanjai Parihk (UC Davis); Eoin Brodie and Margaret Torn (UC Berkeley); Asmeret Berhe and Teamrat Ghezzehei (UC Merced); and Peter Nico and William Riley (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory).

The grant is one of four awards totaling more than $4.8 million from University of California President Janet Napolitano's President's Research Catalyst Awards.

Posted on Monday, May 2, 2016 at 12:25 PM

International experts to discuss water pricing Feb. 2-3 in Sacramento

Although rain has begun falling in California after four years of drought, living with limited water is the new normal for Californians, according to University of California water experts. To manage its water for the future, California needs to look into a long-term set of policies that change the way water is valued and used in the state.

On Feb. 2 and 3, international experts will convene in Sacramento to share their experiences with the use of market-based incentives to address water scarcity. The workshop “Water Pricing for a Dry Future: Policy Ideas from Abroad and their Relevance to California” will be held at the University of California Center at 1130 K Street in Sacramento. The public is welcome to attend.

“The workshop will provide an opportunity for individuals in various sectors to interact with scholars from several countries who will illustrate how water-pricing mechanisms have been used creatively in their countries to promote water conservation,” said Ariel Dinar, UC Riverside professor of environmental economics and policy, who is co-organizing the workshop.

Experts from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Israel, South Africa, Spain and California, will present their water-pricing cases. California-based researchers, water district staff, representatives of government agencies and policymakers will be participating in the workshop.

“The discussions will help people realize how economic incentives might be used to address some of the challenges faced by California's water economy,” Dinar said.

Policies to address water scarcity include water-use quotas, water rights trading, promotion of water conservation technologies, and water pricing. Available water-pricing mechanisms can range from simple cost recovery to sophisticated economic incentives in the form of budget block-rate structures.

The workshop is sponsored by the University of California Center at Sacramento, UC Riverside School of Public Policy, UC Berkeley, UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics, Public Policy Institute of California Water Policy Center and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

For more information about the workshop, visit http://spp.ucr.edu/waterpricing. Registration is free, but space is limited and Jan. 26 is the last day to register.

Posted on Wednesday, January 13, 2016 at 3:46 PM
Tags: Ariel Dinar (1), drought (32), Water (4), water pricing (1)

Farmers can use micro-sprinklers in strawberries to cut water use

Using microsprinklers instead of aluminum sprinkler sets to establish strawberries offers significant water savings.
Substituting micro-sprinklers for aluminum sets when strawberries are first planted presents another opportunity for farmers to reduce their water use without sacrificing yield, according to research recently completed by Surendra Dara, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension advisor on the Central Coast.

Each fall, strawberry farmers put young strawberry transplants in the ground through holes cut in plastic mulch. Beneath the mulch are drip lines that will serve to irrigate the plants as they reach maturity. But early on, farmers typically install solid-set aluminum sprinklers in the furrows to get the plants started and leach salts below the strawberry plants' root zone.

“In some areas, overhead aluminum sprinkler irrigation is considered very important to prevent dry conditions which could result from Santa Ana winds,” Dara said. “However, the aluminum sprinkler irrigation requires a significant amount of water and can be inefficient.”

During the 2014-15 strawberry season, Dara worked with farmer Dave Peck of Manzanita Berry Farms in Santa Maria to compare micro-sprinklers with the more commonly used aluminum sprinkler systems. The experimental plots were planted in early November and carefully monitored throughout the growing and harvest season, which ended in June. The two types of sprinkler irrigation were used for about one month, then the grower switched to using exclusively the drip irrigation installed underneath the mulch.

Dara found that micro-sprinkler irrigation cut water use by 32 percent compared to the area where aluminum sprinklers were used, and resulted in no significant difference in total marketable yield.

Strawberry plant vigor was measured each month during the study. At first, the plants in the micro-sprinkler treatment area were significantly smaller, but they caught up with the rest by March. Sprinkler irrigation is also thought to help control twospotted spider mites and predatory mites. In Dara's experiment, however, the pests' sparse numbers did not allow for useful data to be collected.

The sprinkler comparison did offer insight on powdery mildew, a serious disease problem, particularly for organic strawberry growers. Sampling for powdery mildew in the plots showed that its severity was significantly less in the micro-sprinkler treatment. Another common strawberry production problem, botrytis fruit rot, was also eased with the micro-sprinkler treatment.

RDO Water and Netafim were partial funders of the project.

The full research report is posted on Dara's eNewsletter.

An initiative to improve California water quality, quantity and security is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Author: Jeannette Warnert

Posted on Friday, December 11, 2015 at 8:45 AM
Tags: drought (32), strawberries (1), Surandra Dara (1)

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