What Growers Can Do With Precision Ag Technology

Growers learn at inaugural North State Precision Ag Expo and Farm Business Forum Agriculture-Technology

Author: Tim Hearden, Capital Press

Rice growers Joe Richter and Jim Bell wanted to get a bird’s eye view of their own fields to gain a better understanding of how well their crops grow.

So they took aerial photographs of their fields using a program from AgPixel, an Iowa-based firm that uses sensing technology to detect plant stresses before they are visible to the naked eye.

Now the two have their own company, Willows, Calif.-based AgVision, and provide aerial surveying of rice fields, nut orchards and row crops for growers throughout the Sacramento Valley.

“The most critical thing is, data has to be usable” to help growers cut costs or increase revenue, Richter told a gathering Nov. 15 at the Glenn County fairgrounds in Orland. “We wanted something that would be high-quality and flexible when people needed it.”

Richter and Bell use a fixed-wing, manned aircraft to capture their images, while some other growers and businesses use drones. Aerial imagery can help a rice grower spot inconsistencies in aerial applications of fertilizer or seed and help a nut grower see troubled areas in orchards that would otherwise take days or weeks to survey from the ground, Richter said.

“The most important thing is not just the information you collect but what you can do with it,” he said, noting that the data could help a grower know where to take soil samples or do weed control.

Richter spoke during the opening session of the inaugural North State Precision Ag Expo and Farm Business Forum, a two-day conference that was to feature more than 30 presenters on precision technology and farm management as well as about 40 trade show vendors.

Fair director Ryann Newman created the event after hearing from growers that they’d like to learn more about all the new ag-related technology available. Other discussion topics were to include precision nutrient management, irrigation and soil moisture testing and mobile device applications that can change how a grower does business.

Among the trade show booths was one operated by Bob Myre of Myre Distributing in Willows, who was demonstrating a computerized tractor steering system used for planting crops.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Myre said of the conference, adding it would teach growers about the technology that’s available. “We have the tools to obtain precision when farming, when doing fertilization.”

Butte City, Calif., alfalfa and walnut grower Cameron Jantz, a beginning farmer, wanted to learn what tools are available to make the job easier.

“I’m actually here looking at precision irrigation stuff, like drip tape,” he said.

The conference and trade show come as a recent USDA study found that many growers aren’t using the precision technology with which their farm machinery is equipped.

Richter said he became interested in the subject two years ago at a conference in Oregon, but he said much of the emphasis then was on drones.

“Everyone is interested in the hardware but not what you can do with the pictures,” he said.

“For precision ag to work,” he said, “you’ve got to be able to take the information and turn it into action.”

Full article shared from Capital Press website.

Micro-Sprinklers in Strawberry Production Saves Water

Research study conducted in partnership with RDO Water Strawberry-Micro-Sprinkler

Author: RDO Water

In October 2014, a 10-month research study began on the use of micro-sprinklers in strawberry production. RDO Water was a key participant in the study, conducted at Manzanita Berry Farms in Santa Maria, CA, in partnership with University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension.

RDO Water released its results and analysis of the study in January of this year. Earlier this month, UC published a story specific to the water-savings discovered in the study, as included below.

The Issue
Water is an important resource for growing plants, and it has become scarce due to epic drought conditions in California. Conserving water through improved irrigation practices is critical for maintaining acreage of a lucrative commodity such as strawberry. Strawberry growers typically provide supplemental irrigation through overhead aluminum sprinklers to mitigate the dry conditions of the region. However, they can be inefficient systems, because they require a significant amount of water, and because there is plastic mulch on the beds, which limits the water that enters the soil and increases runoff potential. Micro-sprinklers, commonly used in orchard systems, could offer an efficient alternative to conventional aluminum sprinklers.

What Has ANR Done?
A study was conducted at Manzanita Berry Farms in Santa Maria during the 2014–2015 production season to evaluate the potential of micro-sprinklers in strawberry production. The study compared conventional aluminum sprinklers with micro-sprinklers on about one hundred and twenty 330-foot-long strawberry beds. Data were collected on the amount of water distributed, electrical conductivity of soil that determines salt condition, strawberry yield, and the incidence and severity of powdery mildew and botrytis fruit rot. While there were no conclusive findings about diseases, there were significant water savings without a negative impact on fruit yield. Detailed information about the study design and findings can be found at: http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcorepostdetail.cfm?postnum=19699.

The Payoff
Significant water savings without additional maintenance costs.
This study demonstrated 32% water savings in just 3 weeks of using the micro-sprinkler system. This new information can inform future growing practices for this important California crop, valued at $2.2 billion. An initial estimate by a vendor suggests that equipment and handling costs of the micro-sprinklers are more or less similar to those of the aluminum sprinklers. If adopted, strawberry growers could conserve resources without incurring additional maintenance costs or experiencing any changes to strawberry yield.

 

To learn more about micro-sprinklers, contact Danilu Ramirez at dramirez@rdowater or a local  RDO Water store. The full list of RDO Water’s eight locations in Arizona and California can be found at http://rdowater.com/contact.

 

Full article shared from UC Delivers, with credit to Dr. Surendra Dara.

First Cut: It’s All About the Weather

Exploring the increased impact the environment has on forage quality Hay-Forage-Grower

Author: Mike Rankin, Hay & Forage Grower

Upon reading the title, your thoughts probably first moved to something along the lines of “You’re not kidding; it always rains right about the time I get the chopper (or baler) greased and I have most of my hay down.”

No question, precipitation around harvest time has the potential to make or break a crop, especially if such weather persists for several days or longer. Twenty-five years ago, this would have been my first thought as well, but not anymore.

As the forage enterprise focus has shifted largely from yield to quality, my appreciation for how much weather, or more specifically environment, impacts forage quality has taken quantum leaps. It’s not just about rain showers after the hay is cut or about to be, but also temperature, moisture, and sunlight conditions up to that point. This is why calendar date and even stage of maturity often don’t work well as our harvest time guidance counselors . . . especially for first cutting.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support this notion. Many times through the years I have heard farmers say, “Boy, I cut at early-bud stage, but the forage analysis came back looking horrible. The cows just aren’t milking.” Or, the reverse, “I got delayed a week, but the forage test results still came back really good.”

So, what gives?

Here’s what gives — temperature, moisture, sunlight, and the interaction thereof. After taking weekly spring cuttings of alfalfa for forage quality analysis over the course of 25 years, I got to the point where I could just about guess the extent of change just from knowing the weather conditions during the previous week. Since moisture was usually not a limiting factor in the spring, most of the change was driven by temperature and days of sunshine.

In addition to anecdotal examples, there is also plenty of science-based evidence as well. For example, alfalfa research confirms that as temperatures rise, plant maturity accelerates, lignification ramps up, fiber digestibility drops, and leaf to stem ratio declines. In contrast, a moisture deficit condition tends to delay plant maturity (if it occurs early in the growth cycle), reduces plant height, enhances leaf to stem ratio, and lowers plant neutral detergent fiber (NDF). Similar relationships have also been documented for grasses.

Key environmental factors like temperature and soil moisture status cannot be disregarded when trying to explain or predict forage quality characteristics. Making a prediction of forage quality based solely on morphological plant stage or calendar date often is erroneous when confounding environmental conditions exist. These environmental factors are interactive. The positive forage quality impact of dry conditions would be negated by high temperatures during a hot drought when forage quality drops fast and maturity accelerates.

The environmental conditions that exist in spring are unlike that of any other cutting. It can be cold, hot, wet, or dry to every extreme; sometimes it’s all of the above, each having an impact on developing forage quality metrics. For this reason, there are several research-based methods available for taking some of the guesswork out of first-cut forage quality.

Most alfalfa growers are familiar with the widely used Predictive Equations for Alfalfa Quality (PEAQ). Cornell has even developed a system for using PEAQ with alfalfa-grass mixtures. There is also a method of prediction by tracking base 41°F growing degree-days. Some farmers and consultants simply clip samples of alfalfa “on the hoof” and send them into a lab for analysis.

No method is perfect, but here’s a case where doing something is better than nothing. These predictive systems generally eliminate forage quality train wrecks caused by underestimating the impact of temperature, moisture, and sunlight on harvested forage quality.

Because of some unique environmental interactions, first-cut alfalfa or grass has the potential to be the worst or best quality forage that you make all season. Understand these interactions and use the available predictive tools to help ensure it’s the latter.

Full article shared from Hay & Forage Grower website.

March Storms Prompt SWP to Boost Allocations

Season’s third upgrade since initial allocations set RDO-Water-California

Author: Tim Hearden, Capital Press

With runoff from the March storms filling Northern California reservoirs, the state Department of Water Resources has upped its anticipated deliveries to State Water Project customers to 60 percent of requested supplies.

In all, the 29 agencies that receive SWP water will get a little more than 2.5 million acre-feet of the nearly 4.2 million acre-feet they sought in 2016, marking the state project’s largest allocation since 65 percent of normal supplies were sent to districts in 2012.

The upgrade announced April 21 was the season’s third since the DWR set its initial allocation at 15 percent in January, later raising it to 30 percent and 45 percent. It’s also likely to be the last upgrade for the year, department spokesman Ted Thomas said in an email.

“Never know what nature will do,” he said, “but in the absence of significant rain and snow, (it’s) doubtful if the allocation will increase.”

The new allocation comes as the U.S. Drought Monitor issued new maps showing improved conditions in much of California, as part of the Central Sierra and San Joaquin Valley emerged from the Exceptional Drought category — the most severe category of drought.

Much of the Sacramento Valley improved from extreme to severe or even moderate drought. However, a large swath of the San Joaquin Valley and Central Coast remain in exceptional drought, according to the monitor.

Even with the wet winter in many places, state and federal officials caution anew that the drought is far from over. Cindy Matthews, a National Weather Service senior hydrologist, said in an email the D3, or extreme drought, classification still means an area is still within the worst 3 percent to 5 percent of droughts on record.

State officials said that while key reservoirs are rising from winter storms, some remain below average for this time of year. The San Luis Reservoir, a key storage body south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta for both the SWP and federal Central Valley Project, is only at half its 2 million acre-foot capacity and 55 percent of its historical average, largely because of Delta pumping restrictions to protect imperiled fish, the DWR explained.

With an expected transition to La Nina oceanic conditions by next fall, the 2017 water year is too uncertain to abandon preparations for another dry year, officials said.

“Conservation is the surest and easiest way to stretch supplies,” DWR director Mark Cowin said in a statement. “We all need to make the sparing, wise use of water a daily habit.”

Full article shared from Capital Press.

Now Available: New Episode of RDO Equipment Co. Podcast

Episode 11 of Agriculture Technology podcast features RDO Water’s Danilu Ramirez RDO_Equipment_Co_podcast

Author: RDO Water

Each week, the RDO Equipment Co. Agriculture Technology podcast explores the latest products, services, and technologies in the agriculture industry. Hosted by Nate Dorsey, RDO Equipment Co. product specialist supervisor and agronomist, every episode is highlighted by a guest in the agriculture industry.

Danilu Ramirez, Water Management Consultant for RDO Water, is featured in the latest episode of the Agriculture Technology podcast, where she discusses some of the laws and issues around managing water in California, as well as the consulting services she provides.

Find the podcast on iTunes, Souncloud, or any mobile podcasting app. Connect with RDO Equipment Co. on Twitter @rdoequipment and with host, Nate Dorsey, @RDONateDorsey.

 

Listen now to Episode 11 with Danilu Ramirez.

How Are Fuel Prices Benefiting Growers?

Lower fuel prices help farmers cope with other costs

Author: Ching Lee, Ag Alert RDO-Water-Agriculture

Sutter County farmer Chris Capaul puts diesel in a newer tractor that he bought when fuel prices were higher. Despite lower prices for diesel this year, Capaul says he continues to try to run his farm as efficiently as possible, to save money because of higher production costs elsewhere and reduced crop prices.

As California farmers prepare for spring planting, they say lower diesel prices have been a welcome relief, especially with other production costs soaring and crop values falling.

“I guess fuel is the one bright picture of the year,” said Chris Capaul, a Sutter County bean and rice farmer.

Despite the fuel savings, Capaul said he has not changed much of what he does on the farm and continues to do what he can to save energy and money. For example, he bought a new tractor that uses less fuel when diesel prices were higher, and that has improved his savings. He also uses additives in the fuel to make the tractor run cleaner and more efficiently. Many of his pumps now run on electricity, allowing him to reduce his diesel expense, he added.

While paying less for diesel is a blessing, Capaul said, other expenses have surged while his earnings have shrunk. The higher-value dollar has hurt his specialty bean business, most of which is exported to Japan; he has not been able to sell his bean crop from last year.

Capaul also has not been able to grow rice the last two years because of a lack of water. Although that means not having to run his pumps, which takes further pressure off his energy needs, he’s also losing income. He said he’s still unclear about his water allocation for this year, and therefore has not finalized his planting decisions.

“I’m going through a lean year because I don’t have the cash flow,” he said.

The cost of diesel may have come down, but the cost of water in California has gone up, said John Moore, who grows potatoes, citrus fruit, pistachios and almonds in Kern County. Because of that, he said he continues to prepare for what could be another drought year.

“This is nice that we’re getting some relief from diesel prices, but we haven’t changed our practices because of it,” he said. “We’re going to do what we have to do to get the job done and save as much as we can.”

Because of heavy environmental regulations on storing large quantities of fuel, Moore said he avoids that practice by filling up when he needs to, typically more often during harvest.

While farmers are getting a break from fuel prices, Moore noted that the Kern County economy depends in large part on the oil industry, and has been struggling. He said he’s seeing the negative impacts throughout his community, from reductions to the county’s general fund to cutbacks in the fire department.

“It percolates to every facet of our local economy, which is not a great thing,” he said.

For San Joaquin County sheep and cattle rancher Florence Cubiburu, the decline in fuel prices has taken some pressure off her operating expenses, mostly in the area of animal transport, but she said it hasn’t influenced any of her day-to-day decisions on where and how to move her livestock. She uses grazing grounds within about a 40-mile radius and has continued to use those same locations, opting not to travel out of state.

“(Lower fuel cost) is helping our bottom line, but our other costs are skyrocketing,” Cubiburu said, noting she’s paying more for everything from labor to insurance.

The cost of feeding her sheep also has jumped, as farmers now charge more for her animals to graze on their alfalfa fields and other after-harvest crop residue, she added.
Merced County dairy farmer Jimmy Burroughs said he’s hoping his milk hauling costs will soon come down, but so far he has not seen any reductions because he’s still on the same contract. However, he noted the drop in diesel prices has helped to lower his harvest expenses on the farm. He grows about 80 percent of his silage for feed.

“Whatever savings we’re seeing, that money is spent in other aspects of our business, because our milk price has been marginal at best lately,” he said.
Burroughs also buys all of his hay, mostly from Nevada and Oregon, and he said hauling charges have been less.

Glenn County rice farmer Lee McCorkle, who also runs a trucking business, said lower fuel costs have not influenced him to change his practices on the farm, but he has adjusted the transportation surcharges for hauls.

While farmers have found some relief at the pump, the dip in oil prices has not necessarily carried over into the fertilizer market. But that may be changing, McCorkle said. He noted the price of his last fertilizer order, which he made last week, is the lowest he’s seen in several years—but he also said his dealer warned the price may go up again closer to rice-planting time.

Bean and rice farmer Capaul observed that fertilizer prices remained elevated last year but said he thinks that market tends to lag behind changes in the oil market.

“I think we’re going to see (lower fertilizer prices) this year, which is good news, because that’s a big expense, too,” he said.

To be more strategic about when to buy fuel, Capaul said he’s been tracking diesel prices for the last three years to try to determine a pattern to the rise and fall of prices. Though he found “no rhyme or reason” to it, he said he’s comfortable with the decision he made, having purchased his fuel in December and January. Fuel prices have been climbing in recent weeks.

Ching Lee is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at clee@cfbf.com.

Full article shared from Ag Alert, with credit to the California Farm Bureau Federation.