Tag Archives: sustainable farming

Recent Windstorms Topple California Almond Trees

CFBF. 23 March 2011.  High winds toppled hundreds of almond trees in the Central Valley, though observers note that the losses are not nearly as great as occurred during storms three years ago. Almond farmers say they won’t know how large their crops might be for another couple of months. Chilly weather has slowed development of buds on walnut and pistachio trees, which means they are less vulnerable to rain and wind so far.

Expert Wants Changes in CA Agriculture Water Use

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP).  11 January 2011.  An expert says small changes in agricultural irrigation practices could eliminate wasteful water use.  Delta Watermaster Craig Wilson says in a report being presented to the State Water Resources Control Board next week that California should crack down and aggressively enforce the state’s ban on wasteful water use.

The Los Angeles Times reports Tuesday that Wilson proposes broader enforcement of the state Constitution’s “reasonable use” doctrine rather than current case-by-case enforcement.  Wilson says serious water savings would be realized if agriculture used water more efficiently. He urges the state board to convene a summit, create an enforcement unit and streamline enforcement procedures.  read more

Sustainable Agriculture: Revisited

There still exists confusion between Sustainable Agriculture and agriculture products that are grown “organically.”  Let us once again define Sustainable Agriculture since it is such an integral and vital part of agriculture in the 21st century.

Sustainable agriculture.  Sustainable agriculture means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:

  • satisfy human food and fiber needs
  • enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends
  • make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls
  • sustain the economic viability of farm operations
  • enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole

Sustainable agriculture does not mean a return to either the low yields or poor farmers that characterized the 19th century.  Rather, sustainability builds on current agricultural achievements, adopting a sophisticated approach that can maintain high yields and farm profits without undermining the resources on which agriculture depends.

In general, sustainable agriculture is the integration of soil and crop management technologies to produce quality food and fiber while maintaining or improving soil productivity and environmental quality.

Niamey, Niger, Africa: Day #1

Sunday 12 September (I think):  Day 1

Well, believe it or not, I actually made it to Niamey (pronounced NYaw MAY, I’m told), Niger Africa.  It was a grueling trip getting here… the worst in my entire life by a long shot.  Because I needed to be at the Sacramento airport early for my 6:40a departure to Minneapolis, I needed to be up and getting ready by 3:00a.  I’m pretty sure I only got about three hours of sleep on Friday night.  My itinerary was to take me from Sacramento on to Minneapolis on to Paris, France on to Niamey, Niger… with about a three-four hour layover at each stop.  I’m still suffering from the effects of all of the vaccinations and medications (yellow fever, meningitis, hepatitis A & B, malaria and others).  The worst was for hepatitis B.  I received the first injection about the first of August, and my entire body ached throughout my muscle and joint system for most of the whole month.  Then I had to get a second booster for the hepatitis B a week ago, and the aching started all over again… but worse this time since I now have more of the vaccine in system.  And hasn’t quit yet.  The hours and hours and hours of flying exacerbated the aching in my muscles…especially in my “buttocks”… as Forest Gump would say.  The first leg of the flight from Sacramento to Minneapolis (about 4 hours) was bad, the second leg from Minneapolis to Paris (about 9-1/2 hours) was much, much worse.  But the last leg from Paris to Niamey (5 hours) was terrible… I was nauseous from the intense pain, and thought I was going to vomit… but didn’t.  Somehow I survived the, approximately, 30 hours of travel from my home to Niger, Africa without any sleep along the way… the pain was too intense for any sleep.


Paris, France:  I was concerned ahead of time about the Paris airport because of the language barrier and my needing to get the boarding pass for the Air France flight.  Also, I’m not very good in negotiating busy airports anyway.  But most folks spoke some English and my concerns were pretty much unwarranted.  Easily got my boarding pass, was able to follow the signs to the tram (which was to take me to an outlying terminal), and boarded the tram, and the “voice” spoke clear, loud English so there was no problem knowing where my stop was.  Going through security was also a snap… even easier than it was in Sacramento [where even my plastic Tic Tac mints set off the metal detector… thought I was going to have to strip naked to make it through the detector, there].  As it turned out, I enjoyed the Paris airport… had a nice quiche and coffee for breakfast, and shopped/looked around the many stores while waiting for the last flight.


Final Flight on to Niger:  The flight on to Niger was interesting, even though I was in pain.  Flying over southern France, then the Mediterranean Sea was fascinatingly fun.  But I really found the Sahara Desert to be enthralling.  Several hours of flying with nothing but yellow sand below… accompanied by the occasional sand storms which rose up to (I’m guessing here) 20,000 feet.  I could make out dried lakes throughout the desert, which I wasn’t expecting.  As the desert slowly gave way/yielded to vegetated land, I knew we would soon be landing.  The gentleman sitting next to me on the flight was from Mali, had nine children, and two wives.  That is nothing, he said.  One of his uncles and his own father each had four wives.  I stated that that seemed like double and quadruple trouble to me, but he explained the living arrangement, and said he survived the marriages just fine.  As we talked some, he warned me about the “terrorists” present in Niger, and wished me luck with my stay… I have his business card and will write to him if I survive this trip…


Niamey, Niger, Africa:  The sub-Sahara region around Niamey was much more barren than I was expecting.  I was expecting more grasslands with the occasional wooded/riparian areas along the Niger River.  Not so.  The terrain was just sparingly grassy up to the river, and the river brown from severe soil erosion had almost no trees along its banks.  There were, however, fields of low short crops (vegetables/feed for animals??) growing along much of the river.  Because Niger has finally had some rain during the past month following the worst drought in memory, some of the fields were underwater… one extreme to the other which often is the case with dry-land/rain-fed agriculture.


The Niamey airport and subsequent chaos/bedlam that I encountered there is way beyond description using the English language.  I was expecting something out of a movie showing a third-world airport scene, but there was no way to prepare for the pandemonium at the airport.  No one from the plane down the steps to the tarmac, to the shuttle bus (which took us to the “airport”…not much different than what I flew into at Winnemucca, Nevada), to the scramble into the lines for customs spoke any English.  I wasn’t sure what the procedure was for going through customs and entering the country, and wasn’t able to find anyone who spoke any English at all.  So I just got into one of the lines, and prayed for the best.  People were bribing officials so they could move to the head of the lines… if I would have known how to do that, I might have tried it myself… anything to avoid the crush of people wanting to go through customs.  The entire airport was run by some sort of federal police in green uniforms and berets… I was expecting a military coup at any moment.  I was very smart not to have checked any luggage through.  The luggage line was awful with people shoving and shouting at each other… no carrousel, but luggage just heaped in one big pile and everyone trying to get their own belongings.  Hard to believe the sight, but the best was next to come.  As I exited the small airport building, there was a mass of humanity waiting for me.  People begging and selling all sorts of items from phone cards to prostitution services to taxi service… the taxi folks were openly shoving/fighting for fare business.  I just kept saying no (also no in French) to all beggars and peddlers and prostitutes.  I started getting somewhat anxious when I didn’t see/find the people who were supposed to be waiting for me, but then Nassirou and his friend Ali found me and led me to my escape.  I don’t know if I was ever so happy to have someone call my name any time before in my entire life.  Just to be able to flee from that scene was such a relief I can’t describe it.  I was grinning and slapping them around… all in fun.  Nassirou still had me pay several beggars just to get them to leave us alone on our way to the car… a small price to be rid of that entire scene.


From Airport to Hotel:  Even though approximately 800,000 people live in Niamey, what I saw from the airport to the hotel Niamey would not qualify as “city”.  The buildings and housing that I saw were all in terrible shape… all needing to be razed and dozed into a pile.  Yet people were living in these structures, and I immediately felt grateful to live in Lodi, California were the squalor that I was witnessing doesn’t exist.  The streets were mostly unpaved complete with crater-size potholes that required coming to an almost complete stop in order to negotiate through/around them.  People selling whatever they had or could in ramshackle shacks lining all the roads and streets… vending anything and everything in order to make a living and just survive the best they can.  I asked what was in some large piles of big sacks stuffed with what looked like green grasses, and was told people were selling feed for animals… I found the women and men walking along the roads carrying bundles on their heads to be extra fascinating.  In the middle of the slum-like/squalor setting was the “hotel”.  The hotel du Sahel really wouldn’t even quality as a bad motel in America.  The main building was two stories tall, had fourteen rooms plus the lobby/restaurant area.  There are, however, four duplex “bungalows”, one of which was to be my new home for the next three weeks.  The hotel may have been a decent place to stay at 50 years ago, but it was generally in great disrepair.  We parked next to the unpaved circular driveway in front of the lobby, sidestepped mud puddles and went in to get my room assignment.  The scene here was soccer playing/blaring on a large TV and a big fan laboring to help with the stifling heat/humidity… and very unorganized.  Nassirou pointed out the “restaurant”, and I instantly knew I wasn’t going to eat there any more than necessary. 


My bungalow room is very “used” and very, very basic, at best.  However there is an air conditioner, and with help from the staff, we actually got it to rumbling… trying to outcompete the intense heat and mugginess.  Dead bugs smashed on the wall, shelves not able to shelve anything because they are beyond angles of repose.  The closet is basically a cupboard of sorts complete with a half dozen homemade wire hangers for clothes.  The sheets appear to be clean enough on the queen-size bed.  All accommodations are old and worn thin, at best.  However, I’m grateful for a tile floor; I wouldn’t want to see what a carpet would look like in here, especially with no sidewalks and the thunderstorms that passed through here some nights, like last night.  There are several cars parked around the facility, so other guests are here as well.  I didn’t eat dinner last night or breakfast this morning, but I found a cookie left over from one of the flights… that is all that I have eaten so far.  The restaurant, however, has a makeshift bar attached, and I was actually able to secure two bottles of local “Biere Niger”.  Very chilled and a quite tasty sorghum beer, and full of calories… so I probably won’t die of hunger or thirst after all……………….. And very welcome after such a fun-filled past 30 hours or so…





EGVM (Grapevine Moth) Spreads in California

Wines and Vines.  10 August 2010 — San Joaquin County is the latest winegrape-growing county in California to detect European grapevine moth (EGVM), a virulent pest that threatens the state’s vineyards. In addition, steps are being taken in Yolo County to contain the pest as well.

Two of the Lobesia botrana moths were trapped by San Joaquin County Agricultural Commissioner staff on Aug. 2 and 4 in a vineyard east of Lodi and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) have confirmed the sighting.

The moth is an invasive pest new to California that can cause substantial damage to vineyards and is under intensive eradication in other parts of the state. Napa and Sonoma County growers, wineries and haulers are already under quarantine regulations that require special efforts to keep the pests from spreading beyond their present limited areas, and growers are spraying and using mating disruption to reduce the impact.

Quarantine likely in Lodi
Finding two moths in the same area in Lodi will likely trigger a similar agricultural quarantine to prevent spread of the EGVM. Typically, the EGVM quarantine area encompasses a 5-mile radius around the site where the moths are found, usually in sticky traps baited with moth hormones.

In this case, the boundary will be in a circle, with the circumference drawn approximately from Peltier Road to the north, Jack Tone Road on the east, Morada Lane to the south and Davis Road in the west.

Growers will be allowed to move their grapes, but not until they enter into a compliance agreement with the agricultural commissioner’s office prior to harvest, said San Joaquin County ag commissioner Scott Hudson.  read more

Straw Residue Prevents on Site Farm Nitrogen Loss?

ScienceDaily (July 26, 2010) — Scientists are exploring ways to reduce non-point pollution from agriculture. A new study finds that using straw residue in conjunction with legume cover crops reduces leaching of nitrogen into waterways, but may lower economic return.

Agriculture is the largest source of nitrogen non-point pollution to waterways in the United States, flowing into streams and rivers via erosion from farmlands, or through leaching of nitrate into groundwater. Once in aquatic systems, excess nitrogen leads to aquatic ecosystem degradation, including oxygen depravation that leads to fish kills and dead zones. If nitrates leach into drinking water supplies, they are a human health concern and have been linked to blue-baby syndrome, various cancers, and birth defects.

Legume cover crops, such as hairy vetch, have been considered as an alternative or supplement to synthetic nitrogen fertilizers that may improve the sustainability of agricultural systems. Such cover crops can contribute substantial amounts of nitrogen to subsequent crops, as well protect soils from erosion and promote overall soil quality. Legumes tend to release nitrogen more slowly than synthetic fertilizers, possibly being more synchronous with crop demand. That does not mean that nitrogen from legumes cannot be lost from the system.

One way to possibly minimize these losses may be to add more carbon to nitrogen-rich residues, such as those of cereal grain crops, during cover crop phase of the cropping systems.  read more

Defining ‘Sustainable Agriculture’

The New York Times.  27 July 2010.  [by Jared Flesher].  Conventional farmers, organic farmers, giant agribusiness companies, environmentalists — all have varying views on what “sustainable agriculture” really means.  Perhaps not for long.

The Leonardo Academy, an environmental think tank in Madison, Wis., is busy refereeing a debate over a new “National Sustainable Agriculture Standard,” under the guidelines of the American National Standards Institute.

One outcome of this effort could be a new “sustainable agriculture” label stamped on food — similar to the way some food is now marketed as organic. It could also create a system that rewards farmers for doing things like reducing the amount of nitrogen fertilizer they use.

In late May, members of the 58-member standards committee met in St. Charles, Ill., to make the first decisions about the scope of the voluntary standards they hope to create. The committee includes a variety of stakeholders like the National Corn Growers Association, General Mills, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and American Farmland Trust.

One early point of contention has been genetically modified crops.

A preliminary “draft standard” from 2007 used organic agriculture as a starting point for sustainability, and it prohibited crops that had been genetically modified.

But groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation and the United States Department of Agriculture balked at the draft, which was ultimately scrapped. The new goal is to find a standard that makes room for “any technology that increases agricultural sustainability,” according to a statement from the Leonardo Academy earlier this month.

“Organic is basically four percent of the domestic market,” said Russell Williams, director of regulatory relations for the American Farm Bureau, in an interview. “So if you’re going to talk about ’sustainable organic agriculture,’ that’s fine. But if you’re going for ’sustainable agriculture,’ then the standard needs to be much more broad.”

Many organic advocates don’t agree — though they believe developing sustainability standards for use by all farmers could be valuable to their cause.  read more

Farmers Focus on Sustainable Agri. Methods

 ST. LOUIS, MO, July 22, 2010 /Agriculture PR News/ — Without fertile land, clean water and ample natural resources, farmers and ranchers cannot do their jobs of producing sustainable foods to feed our growing world. As the United Soybean Board points out on the group’s new Web pages, today’s agriculturalists embrace these modern production methods and technologies like never before to help contribute to sustainable agriculture and food security for our growing planet.

Conservation tillage serves as an integral part of critical sustainable agricultural methods important to our food security, as it serves as a way of growing crops from year to year without disturbing topsoil. By minimizing tillage, farmers can decrease erosion and increase the amount of water and carbon that stays trapped in the soil and available to their crops. This means less carbon in the air and a reduced need to tap into water supplies. It also helps stop soil and other runoff and conserves energy by requiring fewer trips across fields.

Online tracking programs, such as virtual calculators, offer another key tool for ensuring sustainability in the food industry. These tools optimize farmers’ efficiency by allowing them to see almost immediately how their choices impact natural resources, production levels and ultimately the sustainability performance of their farms. read more

Upcoming Calif. Organic Production Seminar

American Vegetable Grower.  22 July 2010.  Organic Production in The Central Valley is the title of an all day seminar being sponsored by The California Certified Crop Adviser Program (CCA) and the Organic Fertilizer Association of California (OFAC) on Wednesday, August 18, 2010 at International-Agri Center’s Social Hall in Tulare. The seminar will focus on organic production issues and the role of crop advisers in providing advice and products to growers producing certified organic crops. It will feature expert speakers on various organic production topics and panel of organic growers discussing the role of crop advisers in their operations

The program is aimed at crop consultants, organic input suppliers/retailers, and organic growers. CEU hours will be offered for PCAs and CCAs. Subjects to be covered include: Organic and Weed Control, Food Safety for Organic Farmers, Organic Sources of Fertilizer, Soil and Cover Crop Management, Micronutrient Use in Disease Control, and other topics. A special feature will be a grower panel with Tom Willey – T & D Willey Farms, Vernon Peterson – The Peterson Family and Gerry Davis – Crystal Organics/Grimmway discussing the challenges of fertility and pest control in certified organic production. “We are pleased to continue our successful seminar series in Tulare and present practical organic production information for both farmers and consultants”, said Doug Graham, Chairman of OFAC and a CCA.

Registration information is available at www.organicfertilizerassociation.org or by contacting Steve Beckley at 916-539-4107.

California Winegrape Pest Assessment Reduced

American/Western Fruit Grower.  20 July 2010.  California’s Department of Food and Agriculture has lowered the wine grape assessment to $0.75 per $1,000 dollars crushed value for the 2010 wine grape harvest.

During its June 29th meeting, the Pierce’s Disease/Glassy-winged Sharpshooter (PD/GWSS) Board recommended that CDFA Secretary A.G. Kawamura reduce the assessment from the $1.00 assessed the two previous harvests.

“By setting the rate at 75 cents per $1,000 of value for this year, the board feels it can continue with the important work that we’re doing on Pierce’s disease while acknowledging that this is a difficult time for growers all over the state,” said PD/GWSS Board Chairman Greg Coleman. “We are in a position to stay on track with our research goals and also provide a degree of relief to our growers, and the board felt it was important to do that under the current economic circumstances.”

The annual assessment is used primarily to fund research directed toward a solution for Pierce’s disease, a bacterium vectored by the glassy-winged sharpshooter that kills grape vines.

The PD/GWSS Board was established in 2001 to support scientific research to find a solution for Pierce’s disease. An annual assessment paid by winegrape growers supports its research efforts. The board also advises the CDFA on a variety of other issues pertaining to Pierce’s disease and the glassy-winged sharpshooter.