In a Great Basin sagebrush community, low rates of glyphosate applied at the medusahead tillering stage in late April to early May provided excellent control of medusahead. At this timing, we achieved at least 95% control of medusahead cover and a...
I only have a moment to post today but wanted to put up two links concerning the research and publications of a retired Purdue University researcher. Dr. Don Huber has made a number of claims about the effects of glyphosate-resistant cropping systems on...
With this latest set of storms replenishing California’s snowpack and water levels in reservoirs, rivers and streams, it may be hard to think about water conservation issues. But this is a still a semi-arid state, so it is always prudent to prepare for droughts.
So where can we save the most water? Farming in California depends on irrigation, so agriculture seems the largest potential source for cost-effective water savings in the state. Although agriculture’s share has been declining, it still accounts for roughly 75 percent of all human water use, compared to 25 percent for urban uses.
The recent book, Managing California’s Water: From Conflict to Reconciliation, examines agricultural water conservation extensively and points out the complexity of this issue. The book’s findings are based on scientific and economic research and field experience in California and worldwide.
Much agricultural water is still devoted to relatively low-value crops: In 2005, over 60 percent of “net” water use in the agricultural sector – the amount consumed by crops – was for irrigation of pasture and field crops such as alfalfa, corn, rice, and cotton, which generated only 14 percent of crop revenues. These statistics imply significant potential for reducing farm water use without incurring overwhelming consequences for the state’s economy.
Contrary to popular understanding, however, improving on-farm irrigation efficiency is usually a poor way to achieve real agricultural water savings. Real conservation usually requires shifting to crops that use less water or reducing crop production, such as by fallowing farmland. This is because much of the irrigation water applied when farmers use “inefficient” techniques like furrow irrigation is returned to streams or aquifers, where it becomes available for reuse.
This is the international scientific consensus on irrigation conservation, from studies worldwide. Most groundwater recharge in California’s Central Valley is from irrigation runoff and percolation. This recharge helps to replenish depleted aquifers and serves as a significant source of supply during drought. Only a few areas in California, such as the Imperial Valley, can save large amounts of water by adopting more efficient irrigation techniques. In such areas, the excess irrigation water flows into saline water bodies or contaminated aquifers, where it is unavailable for reuse, so reducing runoff generates real water savings.
Even though improving irrigation efficiency usually does not produce significant real water savings, it can provide economic benefits for farmers. Farmers usually pay for the amount of water they apply to their fields, not the amount consumed by crops. When farmers face limited supplies, they often have an incentive to adopt more efficient techniques, such as drip irrigation, to make use of every possible drop on their farms.
These techniques, often combined with laser leveling of fields and more precise doses of fertilizers and pesticides, can improve crop productivity and quality. In recent decades, many San Joaquin Valley farmers have made such changes, which have enabled them to plant greater acreages of higher-value fruit, nut and vegetable crops.
Improving irrigation efficiency also can provide environmental benefits. For instance, agricultural runoff sometimes contains harmful salts and other chemicals, and more efficient irrigation can help reduce these discharges. This is another reason for the rise in more efficient irrigation techniques on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, where farmers are required to limit runoff of selenium, a toxin to wildlife. Similarly, by reducing diversions, irrigation efficiency may allow higher streamflows on particular stretches of rivers, improving conditions for aquatic life.
Although counterintuitive, more efficient irrigation techniques also can increase water consumption. By allowing farmers to farm their fields more intensively and to expand irrigated acreage with the water they “save,” techniques like drip irrigation can increase net farm water use within a region, thereby reducing groundwater recharge and nearby streamflow. Conservation-oriented policies that neglect this possibility can exacerbate groundwater overdraft, as studies from New Mexico to Yemen have shown.
What is the right policy to encourage effective agricultural water conservation? It depends on the objective. To encourage real water savings, the best policy is to let market forces work. Water markets are a flexible and efficient way to encourage farmers to create real water savings for higher-valued uses. California needs to improve the ability to buy and sell water, by reducing state and local barriers, to give farmers better price signals. To reduce polluted agricultural runoff or improve streamflows in some areas, the best policy is to adopt regulations that directly address pollution discharges and instream flows, and allow farmers to choose the most cost-effective way to meet these requirements.
In contrast, policies that impose particular irrigation technologies, or even ban specific crops, are likely to impose higher costs on farmers and society, while failing to save real water. Given the immense variety and variability of conditions in California, rigid regulatory policies to promote agricultural water conservation seem more likely to create more controversy and increased social cost than usable water savings.
Agricultural water conservation is an important part of California’s water future. But simplistic notions of water conservation threaten to mislead California’s water policy debates by presenting the false claim that water saved from on-farm use is necessarily water saved to the system. It is time to take water conservation seriously. In doing so, we also must undertake water conservation scientifically, rather than rhetorically.
(This post is excerpted from the California WaterBlog—“Taking Agricultural Conservation Seriously”.)
Today I wanted to follow up on my post from a few weeks ago about volatile organic compounds (VOC) from herbicides and other non-fumigant pesticides. In case you missed it, the discussion on February 27 was about an online VOC calculator developed by...
reducing voc emissions
He used to routinely call me at home to ask questions or to get more information. Russ was not computer savvy, so on several occasions he wanted more information on such diverse topics as benthic macro invertebrates (backbone-less animals that in the wild are considered good fish food and their presence serve as an indicator of stream health) and limnology (study of inland waters). I would scan various journal articles or find books for him to read. Often the books I'd recommend were available on Amazon.com so I would buy them for Russ and he'd write me a personal check.
He also confided in me that he wanted to leave this world without the wealth he'd acquired, but it came as a complete suprise to me that he would ask my help in writing part of his endowment. My basic response was always to say "it's your money, Russ, so you can specify how it should be spent." I suggested that the best place to start was with endowed chairs on the campuses as those types of gifts free money up for projects. He commenced with that process while still living. Ken Tate, Randy Dahlgren and Barbara Allen-Diaz were the recipients. At the same time, he set up the endowment that would start upon his passing. I had no idea how large that gift was going to be.
In addition to his wonderful gift you'll read about below, Russ provided many years earlier close to a million dollars in seed money for research on rangeland water quality to a team that included Ken Tate, Randy Dahlgren, David Lewis, Barbara Allen-Diaz and me. That research was conducted at both the Hopland Research & Extension Center and the Sierra Foothill Research & Extension Center.
Russ also created one of the very first rangeland water quality plans that resulted from those early courses conducted by that team and with Mel George. I miss Russ and his challenging questions.
With his gift more research will be possible, so perhaps he's given us a chance to answer future questions. Those answers will benefit the cattle ranching industry of California. I'll be sure to keep his Lake & Mendocino rancher friends aware of the projects that Russ' gift will support.
The following is from UC Davis News & Information.
Late cattle rancher Russell Rustici wills millions to UC Davis for rangeland research
March 8, 2011
The late Russell Rustici, a Lake County cattle rancher who had a scientist’s drive to understand the rangelands that were his livelihood, has left about $9.5 million to the University of California, Davis, to support research and outreach efforts addressing problems that face California cattle producers and rangelands.
Rustici’s gift establishes the Russell L. Rustici Rangeland and Cattle Research Endowment in the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The endowment will support applied research in water quality, rangeland ecology, animal health and other areas of importance to ranchers and residents across the state.
"Russell Rustici's bequest will assure the long-term health of rangelands and cattle ranching in California," said Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "His gifts will allow our researchers to solve ecosystem problems facing ranchers and help improve the quality of life for generations to come. Russell clearly understood how private donors can support our land-grant mission of solving society's problems."
Rustici, who died in October 2008, fulfilled a lifelong dream to become a cattle rancher in Lake County after working many years in produce distribution. As he became immersed in ranching, he sought to better understand the science behind rangeland and cattle management.
His bequest follows years of philanthropy in support of research at UC Davis. In 2008, he gave $1.2 million to establish two endowed positions at the university: the Russell L. Rustici Endowed Chair in Rangeland Watershed Science and the Russell L. Rustici Endowed Specialist in Cooperative Extension in Rangeland Watershed Science.
The endowed chair position, held by Randy Dahlgren, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, is devoted to research that examines water quality, nutrient cycling and hydrology on rangeland watershed. The endowed extension position, held by Cooperative Extension rangeland management specialist Kenneth Tate, is focused on helping livestock producers manage rangelands in ways that simultaneously improve both water quality and ranch profitability.
Rustici’s total gifts to UC Davis are expected to exceed $10.8 million once his estate has been fully distributed. He is among the top 10 donors to The Campaign for UC Davis, which seeks to raise $1 billion by 2014 for expanding the university’s capacity to meet the world’s challenges and educate future leaders.