Monday, January 16, 2017

Farmers Embracing Practices to Sustain Valley Agriculture Well into the Future

You probably have heard the words “sustainable” and “sustainability” bantered about in recent years.

Google “sustainable agriculture” and you’ll discover lots of descriptions and definitions.
Here’s how the University of California, Davis Sustainable Agriculture and Research and Education Program defines it: “The goal of sustainable agriculture is to meet society’s food and textile needs in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Practitioners of sustainable agriculture seek to integrate three main objectives into their work: a healthy environment, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. Every person involved in the food system -- growers, food processors, distributors, retailers, consumers, and waste managers --  
can play a role in ensuring a sustainable agricultural system.”

Wow. Academics probably spent a long time coming up with that description.
So how does this play out for real farmers? 

Well, it can mean something as basic as learning to use fewer chemicals on crops, which translates into saving money while keeping our waterways cleaner.

A natural habit can keep provide an alternative home for pests.
It can mean planting hedgerows and natural habitats in fields to attract good bugs that will prey on crop-damaging pests. 

It can mean leaving uncut strips of alfalfa in a field to keep pests from migrating to nearby cotton fields.

Or it can mean knocking off mummy nuts from almond trees after harvest to keep overwintering pests from wreaking havoc on the next season’s crop.

Fortunately, Valley growers don’t have to go very far to learn more about sustainable agriculture.
Leaving a strip of uncut alfalfa helps keeps lygus out of cotton.
For years, there has been a group of local growers that have been following these practices and learning about new innovations. They are doing so by participating in the San Joaquin Sustainable Farming Project (SJSFP).

The program helps growers broaden sustainable farming practices by providing educational programs and weekly reports about pests in their fields or orchards as well as connecting them with long-time farmers and leading UC agriculture experts.

SJSFP currently is seeking new almond, alfalfa and cotton growers in Merced, Madera and Fresno counties for the 2017 season.

By enrolling in the program, growers learn valuable strategies to improve yields while becoming better environmental stewards in today’s tough economic and regulatory climate. Over the years, the program and its growers have gained recognition nationally and internationally.  Growers will receive these benefits:
·         SCP field scouts who work with growers’ existing pest control advisors to augment field scouting.
·         Field days focusing on pest and crop management issues, crop diseases and management, biological farming and water and regulatory issues.
·         Access to top leading farm advisors and integrated pest management experts, who will help farmers deal with current issues ranging from pest and disease management to irrigation.
·         Best Management Practices implementation planning and annual hedgerow seeds and beneficial insects, when needed.
·         Access to veteran growers who have integrated sustainable farming practices into their operations.
UCCE Fresno County farm advisor Dan Munk talks at field day.
 Here what a couple of growers say about the program:

“They are at the cutting edge of what is going on. It has been a great experience.”

“You get together with other growers and find out about different things. It’s outstanding to have access to that kind of expert knowledge.”

For more information or to inquire about enrolling, you can contact SCP Director Marcia Gibbs at (530) 370-5325 or

SJSFP operates under the direction of the Sustainable Cotton Project, a California nonprofit that has worked with San Joaquin Valley growers for more than a decade to produce an environmentally friendly Cleaner Cotton™ for the consumer market.

Drought update:
We want to follow up on last week’s post about the storms and the No. 1 topic among farmers: Water.
The heavy rain and snow that slammed the Sacramento Valley and Sierra last week brought good news for Northern California. Last Thursday, federal officials declared the five-year drought all but over for the North State. "Bye bye drought ... Don't let the door hit you on the way out," the National Weather Service's office in Reno tweeted. That’s good news for Northern California growers.

But it’s too early to celebrate around here. The Central Valley and Southern California still aren’t out of the woods. The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor reported nearly 60 percent of the state remains in a drought – compared to 97 percent last year. The Weather Service still lists the Central Valley in a severe drought.

Well, there’s still a month and a half left in the wet season. Let’s see if Mother Nature sends those big storms further south and says “Bye bye” to the drought the state’s farm basket.

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