Posts Tagged: agriculture
Can shorter peach and nectarine trees reduce labor costs?
The answer may be developing soon at a 4-acre test orchard south of Fresno, where University of California researchers are planting semi-dwarfing rootstocks as part of a large, integrated experiment on virtually every aspect of peach and nectarine production.
“We're designing ‘ladderless' orchards, which have the potential to cut labor costs by 50 percent or more and improve worker safety,” said UC Cooperative Extension specialist Ted DeJong, a plant physiology professor at UC Davis. DeJong and Kevin Day, a Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Tulare County, are leading the extraordinary experiment.
Conventional peach and nectarine trees grow about 13 feet tall. Setting up, climbing and moving ladders to prune the trees and harvest fruit consumes about half the workday. Ladders are dangerous, too, which is why peach and nectarine growers pay about 40 percent more for workers' compensation insurance than growers who work with more low-lying commodities, like grapes.
Developed by breeders at UC Davis, the new rootstocks will produce trees that grow about 7 or 8 feet tall and can be pruned and harvested from the ground. With the right orchard management — which Day and DeJong will test at their plots at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, near Fresno — the shorter trees could produce just as much high-quality fruit as their lofty kin.
“Ladderless orchards would be huge for our industry,” said Bill Chandler, who grows several varieties of peaches and nectarines on his 250-acre Chandler Farms in Selma, California. “There are so many costs associated with ladders that many growers are switching over to almonds just to stay in business. It costs me $1,400 an acre to thin our trees.”
“Even with conventional rootstocks, I prune my trees so workers can take two fewer steps on the ladder come harvest time,” he said. “And the savings are huge, even with that. It's important to keep farm work safe. And it's important to keep farming viable, or else we'll be getting all our produce from overseas.”
Shorter trees are just one of the elements of DeJong's and Day's experiment, which explores best practices for keeping peach and nectarine production economically and environmentally sustainable. Funded by the UC division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, their model orchard will integrate virtually every UC pomology advancement in the past 30 years.
You can read more at: http://www.caes.ucdavis.edu/news/articles/2014/08/ladderless-peach-and-nectarine-orchards-explored
Mark Bittman, cookbook author and New York Times food writer, used the occasion of New Year’s Day to throw down the gauntlet for real and permanent change to the U.S. agricultural system. “We must figure out a way to un-invent this food system,” he says in a Times opinion column. He likens the scale of the task to tectonic cultural strides like abolition, civil rights, and the women’s vote.
UC Berkeley researchers have been working on some specifics for several years now, researching the agricultural, policy, and social practices that would make possible the type of systemic change Bittman is advocating. In a special multi-article feature devoted to "diversified farming systems," or DFS, for the December issue of the journal Ecology & Society, scientists from Berkeley, Santa Clara University, and other institutions lay out a comprehensive scientific case that biologically diversified agricultural practices can contribute substantially to food production while creating far fewer environmental harms than industrialized, conventional monoculture agriculture—that is, large swaths of land devoted to growing single crops using chemical inputs.
DFS are different from the narrow definition of organics, and the research shows that, unlike industrial agriculture, biologically diversified agriculture tends to generate and regenerate ecosystem services such as soil fertility, pest and disease control, water-use efficiency, and pollination, which provide critical inputs to agriculture. The research also found that DFS support globally important ecosystem services, including substantially greater biodiversity, carbon sequestration, energy-use efficiency, and resilience to climate change.
But changing America’s agriculture system is more complex than just changing farming techniques, according to Alastair Iles, assistant professor of environmental science, policy, and management, and co-director of the Berkeley Center for Diversified Farming Systems.
In one Ecology & Society article, Iles and co-author Robin Marsh, also of UC Berkeley, consider several obstacles that prevent or slow the spread of diversified farming practices, such as the broader political and economic context of industrialized agriculture, the erosion of farmer knowledge and capacity, and supply chain and marketing conditions that limit the ability of farmers to adopt sustainable practices.
“To transform agriculture, we need to understand these obstacles and develop and test solutions, such as peer-to-peer learning, recruitment and retention of new farmers through access to credit and land, and compensation for ecological services provided by ranchers, for example,” Iles says.
Other key facets of a sustainable agricultural system include attention to its social dimensions, such as human health, labor, democratic participation, resiliency, diversity, equality, and ethics, according to special issue co-editor Chris Bacon of Santa Clara University. In an article with colleagues, Bacon proposes creating partnerships with institutions that could address issues like immigration, food access, and worker health.
But first and foremost, the farms themselves have to produce enough to remain profitable and to feed a growing population. Conservation biologist Claire Kremen, also a UC Berkeley professor and co-director of the Berkeley DFS Center with Iles, says that more work is needed to build on what is already known about biologically diversified agriculture, to make them these methods even more productive.
“To date, the amount of research and development investment in this type of agriculture is miniscule compared to what’s been invested in conventional agriculture,” Kremen said. “There may be substantial potential to increase food production from biologically diversified, sustainable agriculture that we have not yet tapped into. With research support to study and improve on sustainable farming systems, we can tap that potential. Growers want to utilize sustainable practices if they can, but they need to know it won’t hurt their bottom line.”
So, DFS scientists might argue, Bittman’s New Year’s manifesto, which ends with a call for “energy, action — and patience,” could be amended to include “a comprehensive scientific, political, and sociological approach, and putting dollars behind the right kinds of research.”
Read more about diversified farming systems research at UC Berkeley.
The world population is more than seven billion, and by 2050 that number is set to rise to nine billion — an increase of 50 percent since 2000. Can we possibly feed so many people?
Yes, according to Prabhu Pingali, who was invited to UC Riverside last week by the One Health Center to give a talk. Pingali, the deputy director of the Agriculture Development Division of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has more than three decades of experience in the field of agriculture. His hour-long talk focused on how nine billion people on the planet can be fed.
He explained that agriculture was on no one’s agenda from 1988 to about 2006-2007. But today it is back. “I am in the right profession,” he said, smiling.
He said the world experienced a sharp increase in food prices in 2008 due to a “perfect storm” — a rapid demand for food quantity and quality (in terms of diversity) and a high volatility in food prices — and a large group of people adopted a pessimistic view of the world’s food production thereafter. The world will not be able to feed itself, they warn.
“But we’ve been here before and we have come out of it,” said Pingali, who has authored ten books and more than 100 refereed journal articles and book chapters on food policy, technological change, productivity growth and resource management in the developing world. “Actually, things are not as bad as you think they are. I take a more positive view.”
The audience sat up straight, ears pricked up, eyes trained firmly on Pingali’s slides.
He explained that in 1963 the world experienced a massive food deficit but that by 1970 the overall food outputs matched population growth rates, with Southeast and East Asia showing the fastest rise in productivity.
“Only in sub-Saharan Africa was there a decrease in productivity,” he said. “Technology made the change possible. But technology cannot do it alone. If government support had not also taken place, we would not have seen a change.”
Pingali’s slides showed how on the demand side in Asia and Latin America the per capita consumption of staple grain is declining rapidly. As incomes increase, he said, the per capita consumption of wheat and corn decreases and diets get diversified, with people seeking higher quality food.
He predicted more consumption of meat, milk and dairy products in the future. In East Asia, meat consumption will be about 80 kg per person per year in 2050 (in 1975, it was less than 20 kg per person per year; in 2000 it was about 40 kg per person per year). Further, in the future much biofuel will be from cellulosic technology and other forms of waste, not grain.
But what about land area? Will there be any left to produce food for two billion more people? Pingali thinks so. He said overall 4.2 billion hectares of land on the planet are suitable to cultivation; of this area, only about 1.7 billion hectares are already under cultivation.
“We will see an intensification of land already under cultivation, that is, growing a crop more frequently on the same land,” he said. “One reason these areas are currently not productive is poor soil — acidity, erosion, sloping lands, low organic matter and low nitrogen.”
Pingali predicts water scarcity will be a growing constraint. He explained that currently enormous wastage of water occurs in many parts of the world, but that water use can be better managed.
According to him, we can expect that the following steps will be needed to manage future food production: changing cropping patterns; improved tolerance to drought and submergence; increased use of hybrids; and better land and water management practices.
What should we do?
Pingali thinks we should keep the focus on agriculture and invest in smallholder productivity growth.
“Technology, including biotechnology, will be an important part of the solution,” he said. “Policies that enable and encourage smallholder productivity growth are crucial. We need to pay particular attention to stress-prone environments and invest in a long-term strategy for biofuels that does not rely on increased use of food grains.”
Pingali predicts Malthus will be proven wrong again because of “our ingenuity and our ability to deal with resource scarcity through technical innovation and focused policy change.”
At the end of his talk, several hands went up and a vibrant Q&A ensued. Unfortunately, I never got to ask my question, time being up: “Dr. Pingali, how would your talk today change for feeding a world population of 15 billion?
Not by much, I suspect he’d have said with confidence and no hesitation, his unstoppable optimism swelling further in the room.
Agricultural innovation and technological advances have been harvested from UC Davis over the last century. As advances are achieved, our growing global population applies pressure for researchers to achieve more. California is a top world-wide producer of agricultural products, and California researchers work hard to find new and better ways to produce food.
The UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CA&ES) does much to contribute towards this effort. The recent CA&ES Outlook: Feeding a Hungry Planet highlights current research and innovations to provide agricultural producers knowledge and technology needed to make better, faster and economically sound decisions. This work is focused towards agriculture, conservation and economics. The articles are interesting and provide much food for thought.
- Everyone needs to eat, and our global population is growing quickly. Economists have documented substantial long-term benefits of agricultural research.
- To continue feeding a growing population we have two options: increase yields on land already in production, or expand agriculture onto new land.
- UC researchers are developing “precision agriculture” methods, which use global positioning systems (GPS), geographic information systems (GIS), wireless networks, and innovative sensor technology to deliver precise amounts of water, fertilizer and pesticides to individual plants or small blocks of plants. This individualized management will save growers money and reduce the potential environmental load from excess fertilizer and pesticide use.
- Using GPS, a mechanical weeder has been developed. This will save growers money and reduce the need for herbicide use. On-campus testing has been successful and the weeder will be tested in a commercial field next year.
- Increasing biodiversity on and near the farm provides many benefits towards increased food production while increasing the sustainability of farming systems.
Learn more about these topics and many others in the Fall/Winter edition of CA&ES Outlook. To find out more about the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, or to view previous publications please visit their website.
Like many of us, you may feel completely helpless when you hear of the desperate need for healthful food, especially in the world’s developing nations.
Experts tell us that global population will climb from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, and society must face the prospect of dramatically boosting food production while safeguarding the environment.
It’s a challenge of utmost importance to UC Davis’ College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the theme of a Nov. 5 public program titled “Feeding a Hungry Planet.” The event, to be held in the UC Davis Conference Center, will open with a continental breakfast at 8:30 a.m., followed by presentations from 9 a.m. to noon.
Dean Neal Van Alfen and three faculty experts, featured in the current issue of the college’s biannual magazine CA&ES Outlook, will speak during the morning program. (The magazine is available online at http://caes.ucdavis.edu/NewsEvents/News/Outlook.) Topics will include an overview of global and local food challenges, as well as research on potential solutions involving sustainable agriculture, biotechnology, and the equipping of people in the developing world.
In addition to Van Alfen, speakers will be Beth Mitcham, a postharvest biologist and Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences; Kate Scow, a professor of soil science in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources; and Alison Van Eenennaam, a Cooperative Extension animal genomics and biotechnology specialist in the Department of Animal Science.
A portion of the $35-per-person registration fee will help support the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Dean’s Circle, an unrestricted fund that enables the college to meet high-priority needs and provide scholarships for students transferring from community colleges.
More information on the Outlook Speakers Series and registration for the Nov. 5 event are available online at http://outlookspeaker.ucdavis.edu or from Carrie Cloud in the dean’s office at (530) 204-7500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nectarines in box pic