University of California students are taking a long journey through California to trace the state's complicated and critical water supply. The recent graduates and upper-division co-eds from UC Merced, UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley and UC Davis are part of the UC Water Academy, a course that combines online training with a two-week field trip for first-hand knowledge about California water.
The tour began June 18 at Lake Shasta, the state's largest reservoir, and followed the water's course to the Sacramento Valley, through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and south along the Delta-Mendota Canal. Since a key water destination is agriculture, the UC Water Academy toured the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension June 23, where research is underway to determine how the state's water supply can be most efficiently transformed into a food supply for Americans.
“You're visiting a place ideal for growing high-quality fruits and vegetables, because of the Mediterranean climate and low insect and disease pressure,” said Jeff Dahlberg, director of the UC KREC.
UC Cooperative Extension water management specialist Khaled Bali joined the students next to his alfalfa research plot, where different irrigation regimens are compared to determine the maximum yield that can be harvested with the minimum amount of water.
“It used to be that the No. 1 objective was to maximize yield,” Bali said. “But with the limited supplies and the cost of water, now the No. 1 objective is to get the maximum economic return. Growers might be better off selling some of their water to other jurisdictions.”
A water tour wouldn't be complete without an introduction to drought research. A recently planted sorghum trial provided the backdrop.
“California is a great place to study drought tolerance,” Dahlberg said, “because you can induce a drought by withholding irrigation.”
The sizable field contains 1,800 plots with 600 sorghum cultivars under three irrigation schemes: one irrigated as usual, one in which water is cut off before the plants flower, and the final one where water is cut off after the plants flower.
“Every week, a drone flies over to collect data on the leaf area, plant height and biomass,” Dalberg said. “Hopefully we will get associations with gene expression and this phenotype data. “
Dahlberg and his collaborating researchers believe identifying the genes responsible for drought tolerance in sorghum will help scientists find drought-tolerant genes in other cereal crops – such as wheat, corn, rice and millet. “This will go a long way to feeding the people of the world,” he said.
There is still much to learn about sorghum drought tolerance – is it conferred by the plant's waxy leaves, the way stomata are controlled, accumulation of sugar in the leaves, or a mechanism in the roots?
“These are all questions you will have to answer to feed the world,” Dahlberg said. “That's why I would encourage you to continue studying water. There's a lot for you to get into.”
A third-year earth science student at UC Santa Cruz and a member of the academy, Denise Payan, said the sense of responsibility for the future is not daunting, but encouraging.
“It makes me feel like I can make a difference,” she said. The tour through California is shaping her plans for the future, which may include a career at the intersection of geology and biology.
“This has opened my eyes to a lot of issues,” she said.
The next stop for the UC Water Academy is the vast Tulare Lake basin to learn about groundwater recharge before heading east to the Owens Valley and the shores of Mono Lake. From there the academy turns to the Sierra Nevada to visit San Francisco's water supply, which is collected by Hetch Hetchy Dam. The field trip ends with a two-day rafting trip on the American River.
The UC Water Academy is offered through UC Water and led by UC Merced professor Joshua Viers and UC Cooperative Extension water management specialist Ted Grantham. In addition to the two-week tour, students participated in weekly online meetings and complete a project on communicating California water issues to public stakeholders. Students receive 1 unit of academic credit.
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Tree fruit growers can receive premiums for delivering certain extra-early varieties of peaches, but peach farmers may net roughly $800 more per acre from late-harvest processing peaches than extra-early harvest varieties, according to new cost studies released by the UC ANR Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension.
To help farmers make decisions on which peach varieties to plant, UC researchers present sample costs to produce extra-early harvested cling and freestone peaches and late harvested cling and freestone peaches for processing in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley in these studies.
Although processors pay more for extra-early harvested peach varieties than late-harvest peaches, the researchers found that yields are higher for late-harvest varieties while costs for hand thinning the fruit are lower.
“Peaches harvested early in the season have less time to grow compared to peaches that get to hang on the tree another month or more,” explained Roger Duncan, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Stanislaus County, who coauthored the studies. “Therefore, more fruit has to be removed so the remaining fruit can size. That means it costs you more to produce less.”
The analyses are based upon hypothetical well-managed farming operations using practices common to the region. The costs, materials and practices shown in these studies will not apply to all farms. Growers, UC ANR Cooperative Extension farm advisors and other agricultural associates provided input and reviewed the methods and findings of the study.
Both studies assume a 100-acre farmer-owned operation with 40 acres of cling peaches. The remaining acreage for both hypothetical farms is planted in other mature tree crops. The estimated economic life of the extra-early harvested cling peach orchard and the late harvested cling peach orchard is 18 years.
Some of the major differences between the two studies are return price, yield and fruit thinning cost. The extra-early harvested varieties have a price of $545 per ton, a yield of 17 tons per acre, and a thinning cost of $1,445 per acre. The late harvested varieties have a price of $490 per ton, a yield of 20 tons per acre, and a thinning cost of $1,177 per acre.
Asked if a small farm could save on fruit thinning expenses by doing it themselves, Duncan replied, “I guess it would be possible for a small family operation to do the thinning themselves, but not likely. It can take 20 to 40 minutes to thin a single tree. If there are 151 trees per acre, you can see that it would take one skilled person over a week to thin one acre.”
The authors describe the assumptions used to identify current costs for production material inputs, cash and non-cash overhead. Ranging analysis tables show net profits over a range of prices and yields. Other tables show the monthly cash costs, the costs and returns per acre, hourly equipment costs, the whole farm annual equipment, investment and business overhead costs and the operations with equipment and materials.
Free copies of “Sample Costs to Produce Processing Peaches, Cling and Freestone Extra-early Harvested Varieties, in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley – 2017” and “Sample Costs to Establish and Produce Processing Peaches, Cling and Freestone Late Harvested Varieties, in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley – 2017” are available on the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics website at https://coststudies.ucdavis.edu. Sample cost-of-production studies for many other commodities are also available.
The cost study program is funded by the UC Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension, both part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
For additional information or an explanation of the calculations used in the studies, contact Jeremy Murdock at the Agricultural Issues Center, at (530) 752-4651, Janine Hasey, UC Cooperative Extension advisor for Sutter/Yuba counties, at (530) 822-7515, or Duncan at (209) 525-6800.
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