More than 50 attendees of the CDFA Fertilizer Research and Education Program/Western Plant Health Nutrient Management Conference in Visalia visited Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center on Oct. 25. The three-hour farm tour featured spectacular fall weather and informative talks by Kearney researchers and post-docs, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors and specialists, and U.S. Department of Agriculture collaborators. In addition to receiving three hours of continuing education credits, the tram riders soaked in the abundance of diverse crops and research at the station.
Chad Anders, a crop consultant with Dellavalle Lab in Fresno, appreciated the information presented by Brent Holtz, UCCE farm advisor and director for San Joaquin County, saying, “Whole orchard recycling, I have clients that are pondering whether or not to get into that.”
With good humor, Holtz engaged the audience with the design of the experiment and the resulting practical data: that orchard recycling (shredding and incorporating the old orchard into the soil prior to planting new orchards rather than burning or hauling away the wood) can save growers water and enable better use of nitrogen.
Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, UC Cooperative Extension small farms advisor for Fresno County, discussed her team's moringa and lemongrass projects and how they are helping local growers and then answered a flurry of questions from her captive audience. “I learned about a new plant that I didn't know existed,” said Breanna Saint Pierre with the State Water Board. “Moringa is a very interesting crop.”
Agricultural entrepreneur Nick Cizek, who runs an automated performance testing business, was impressed by the talk on insect pests of the hemp crop given by Kadie Britt, post-doc researcher with Houston Wilson's entomology lab at Kearney. “That was cool to see research on a crop that has been generating so much buzz,” he said. With a Ph.D. in physics, Cizek was also attuned to the talks given by Daniele Zaccaria, UCCE water management specialist, on cover cropping in pistachio orchards, especially when terms and abbreviations such as “albedo,” “PAR” and “NIR” were sprinkled into the conversation.
Khaled Bali, interim KARE director and UCCE specialist, and Rachel Shellabarger, California Institute for Water Resources academic coordinator, described their FREP-funded project to improve nitrogen and irrigation management through on-farm consultations, demonstrations and training.
UCCE specialist Jackie Atim and UCCE specialist emeritus Bob Hutmacher described the sorghum research at Kearney and implications for drought-impacted farming. Adjacent to the sorghum plot, which had recently been sampled for biomass and chopped, the tour perused an unfamiliar kiwi orchard and an extremely rare tea planting, which is being evaluated by UC Davis chemistry professor Jacquelyn Gervay-Hague.
USDA-ARS agronomist Sultan Begna discussed plans for his trial that seeks to demonstrate the economic potential of intercropping alfalfa in young almond orchards at Kearney. This project is an example of several ongoing collaborations between Kearney academics and USDA-ARS scientists.
When our tour group stumbled upon UCCE specialist Peter Larbi astride his new tractor preparing for his air blast sprayer calibration training at Kearney on Nov. 4 and 18, he was gracious enough to inform the group about his research.
Other topics covered on the tour by Kearney research staff included groundwater recharge in alfalfa by Bali and project scientist Moneim Mohammed, Solbrio grapes and Sunpreme raisins by UCCE specialist Matthew Fidelibus, cover crops in pistachio orchards as a means to reduce navel orangeworm emergence from mummies on the orchard floor by UCCE specialist Houston Wilson, solar powered treatment of brackish water by UCCE specialist Daniele Zaccaria and staff research associate Luke Paloutzian, and the effects of soil bio-stimulants to reduce water stress in almonds was discussed by UCCE specialist Giulia Marino.
The attendees asked thoughtful questions, including many about crop water usage. The speakers made a lovely drive through Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center a unique and diverse educational experience.