California Agriculture
California Agriculture
California Agriculture
University of California
California Agriculture

Current issue and featured articles

April - September 2022
Volume 76, Number 2

Peer-reviewed research and review articles

Cattle grazing reduces fuel and leads to more manageable fire behavior
by Felix Ratcliff, Devii Rao, Sheila Barry, Shane Dewees, Luke Macaulay, Royce Larsen, Matthew Shapero, Rowan Peterson, Max Moritz, Larry Forero
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Grazing cattle can help reduce fuel loads on rangelands and mitigate the ever-growing risk of catastrophic wildfires.
Cattle play an important role in wildfire management by grazing fuel on California rangelands. The benefits of cattle grazing have not been thoroughly explored, though. Using statewide cattle inventory, brand inspection and land use data, we have estimated that cattle removed 11.6 billion pounds (5.3 billion kilograms [kg]) of non-woody plant material from California's rangelands in 2017. Regionally, these reductions varied between 174 and 1,020 pounds per grazed acre (195 to 1,143 kg per hectare). Fire behavior is characterized in this paper by flame length. Fire behavior models suggest that these regional fuel reductions lower flame lengths, and lead to more manageable wildfires. In addition, fire-based models show that cattle grazing reduces fuel loads enough to lessen fire hazards in many grazed areas. Moving forward, there may be significant opportunities to expand strategic grazing on rangelands to add extra layers of protection against wildfires.
Winter flooding recharges groundwater in almond orchards with limited effects on root dynamics and yield
by Xiaochi Ma, Helen Dahlke, Roger Duncan, David Doll, Paul Martinez, Bruce Lampinen, Astrid Volder
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Almond orchards on soils with moderately high SAGBI or better can likely be used for winter water recharge with minimal negative effects and potentially some horticultural benefits.
California signed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) into law in 2014. SGMA requires groundwater-dependent regions to halt overdraft and develop plans to reach an annual balance of pumping and recharge. Groundwater aquifers can be recharged by flooding agricultural fields when fallow, but this has not been an option for perennial crops such as fruit and nut trees. While flooding these crops might be possible during the dormant season, it is not known what impact flooding might have on tree-root systems, health and yield. We followed root production, tree water status and yield in two almond orchards in Northern California for 2 years to test the impact of applying captured winter water runoff for groundwater recharge purposes on tree performance. Results showed that more than 90% of the water applied to sandy soil and 80% of the water applied to loamy soil percolated past the root zones, with no measured adverse effects on tree water status, canopy development or yield. Groundwater recharge did not negatively affect new root production and tended to extend root lifespan. Based upon these data, applying additional water in late December and January is not likely to have negative impacts on almond orchards in moderately drained to well-drained soils.
Fine-tuning fertilizer applications in organic cool-season leafy green crops can increase soil quality and yields
by Richard Smith, Michael Cahn, Tim Hartz, Daniel Geisseler, Patricia Love
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Organic vegetable growers can use soil nitrate tests to better understand how much organic fertilizer to apply.
Organic cool-season vegetable growers on the Central Coast face challenges in applying nitrogen (N) to balance yields with new environmental regulations. It is hard to time fertilizer applications while calculating N mineralization of soil organic matter and organic fertilizers to plant-available N. Organic fertilizers with high phosphorus (P) to N ratios may elevate P levels and harm surface water quality. In this study, we evaluated (1) mineralization of soil organic matter and fertilizers, (2) effectiveness of residual soil nitrate-N tests and (3) long-term impacts of organic fertilizers on P levels and soil microbial activity. We found that mineralization of N from soil organic matter provided limited N to leafy green vegetables. Soil tests were more reliable in heavier than sandier soils. Application rates of 4-4-2 were calculated to meet N demands, resulting in an oversupply of P. However, only 9% to 17% of fertilizer P solubilized without elevating available soil P levels. While it's difficult for organic vegetable growers to use cover crops, organic fertilizers increased carbon levels, resulting in higher levels of soil microbial activity.
Using Ecological Site Descriptions to make ranch-level decisions about where to manage for soil organic carbon
by Lina Aoyama, James W. Bartolome, Lucas Silva, Whendee L. Silver
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Rangeland conservation can keep carbon out of the atmosphere by storing it in the soil. Ecological Site Descriptions can help determine promising sites.
Maintaining and enhancing soil organic carbon storage can mitigate climate change while promoting forage growth. California has adopted incentive programs to promote rangeland practices that build soil organic carbon. However, there is no standard framework for assessing the baseline level of soil organic carbon at the ranch scale. Here, we use the Ecological Site Description — a land-type classification system — to help ranch managers set priorities about where to implement practices to increase soil organic carbon. We measured baseline carbon stocks at 0 to 15 and 15 to 30 centimeters' depth across three ecological sites and two vegetation states (shrubland and grassland) at Tejon Ranch, California. We discovered increased levels of soil carbon at ecological sites in higher elevations, and more soil carbon in shrublands as compared to grasslands. Slope, elevation, and soil texture, as well as plant litter and shrub cover, were significant predictors of soil carbon. The Ecological Site Description framework can serve as an important tool to help range managers keep carbon in the soil and out of the atmosphere.
Improvements to the soil nitrate quick test for California small grains
by Taylor S. Nelsen, Michael Rodriguez, Ethan McCullough, Serena N. Lewin, Daniel Geisseler, Konrad Mathesius, Taylor Becker, Gabriel G. Rosa, Mark E. Lundy
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Inexpensive soil nitrate quick tests can help small grain growers identify their crops' nitrogen fertilizer needs.
Small-grain crop growers need to match their crops' nitrogen (N) needs with fertilizer applications. This can be challenging because small grains are grown under diverse conditions and their growing season interacts with unpredictable precipitation. Resulting conditions can lead to nitrate-N leaching and runoff losses. More widespread and accurate soil N testing could help growers improve N fertilizer use efficiency, reduce the risk of N loss, and fulfill regulatory requirements. Soil samples from across California small-grain growing regions were tested with a soil nitrate quick test as well as standard laboratory procedures. The quick test is inexpensive and easy to use, and it provides rapid results. A correction factor was developed to convert the quick test values to lab and fertilizer equivalents. The correction factor is based on site-specific soil bulk density and the extracting solution used. An interactive webtool was developed that integrates this information for users. The quick tests provide accurate, real-time estimates of soil nitrate-N in the field to help improve fertilizer use efficiency and reduce N losses.

Early view articles

With sustainable use of local inputs, urban agriculture delivers community benefits beyond food
by María Teresa Gómez-Villarino, Teresa Briz
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Urban gardens based on sustainable principles help create healthier communities along with healthful food.
Urban agriculture is becoming increasingly important in developed countries, especially in terms of its economic and social benefits. If urban gardens are managed according to agroecological principles - involving the efficient and sustainable use of local resources and inputs - there are many environmental benefits to local communities. We studied urban gardens in Berkeley, California, and Madrid, Spain, to see how agroecology is practiced. Communities such as these that utilize good ecological practices in urban gardens obtain a wide range of valuable ecosystem services - the kinds of services provided by healthy ecosystems, including cultural services such as a place to socialize. These communities can serve as model urban agricultural centers which can contribute to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including good health, food security and sustainable cities.
4-H Water Wizards: Lessons learned for effective afterschool science programming
by Marianne Bird, Aarti Subramaniam
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The 4-H Water Wizards project shows the value of ongoing training and support in encouraging afterschool staff to teach hands-on science.
The University of California 4-H Youth Development Program created the 4-H Water Wizards project in response to two related issues: the need for high-quality science education programming in afterschool settings, and the desire to foster a citizenry that understands and can make informed decisions about water. In collaboration with afterschool program staff, Sacramento County 4-H implemented the 12-week water education project for children in grades four through six. We evaluated the program over four years (2012–2016) utilizing a pretest-posttest study design and evaluation surveys from participants and program staff. Our findings indicate positive outcomes both for program staff who delivered the project and for the children who participated in the program. Afterschool program staff gained competence in delivering hands-on and inquiry-based science programming. Fourth- and fifth-grade students demonstrated small but significant knowledge gain about water. Students also demonstrated increased awareness about water issues and water conservation behavior. We discuss our findings for both groups and share our insights for promising practices when collaborating with afterschool providers, especially relating to the importance and challenge of science education in afterschool settings.


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