Common sustainable agriculture practices
concept of sustainability varies by industry. Within the agricultural industry, sustainability is a multifaceted concept that has become increasingly popular in recent decades.
According to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, sustainable agriculture seeks to increase profitable farm income, promote environmental stewardship, enhance quality of life for farm families and communities, and increase production for human food and fiber needs. In an attempt to reach those goals, farmers who embrace sustainable agriculture may look to various practices.
• Cover crops: The Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit organization that aims to employ
independent science to address the planet’s most pressing problems, notes that cover crops are planted during the offseason when soils have traditionally been left bare. Cover crops can help prevent soil erosion and replenish the nutrients in the soil. Cover crops also can limit weed growth, reducing the need for herbicides that can prove harmful to the environment.
• Reduce or eliminate tillage: According to the UCS, traditional plowing, or tillage, can cause a significant amount of soil loss, even as it prepares fields for planting and reduces the likelihood of weed problems. Eliminating or reducing tillage involves inserting seeds directly into undisturbed soil, which can reduce erosion and
improve the health of the soil.
• Integrated pest management: Integrated pest management techniques aim to minimize the use of chemical pesticides that can prove harmful to the environment and local wildlife. According to the University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, IPM strategies like habitat manipulation and the planting of disease-resistant plants are designed to promote long-term prevention of pests and the damage such pests can cause.
• Agroforestry: The Association for Temperate Agroforestry defines agroforestry as an intensive land management system that incorporates trees and/or shrubs to optimize the benefits they provide
when deliberately combined with crops and/or livestock. The shade and shelter provided by trees and shrubs can protect plants, animals and water resources.
• Crop/livestock integration: The UCS notes that there is growing evidence to suggest that the careful integration of crop and animal production can help farmers make their farms more efficient and profitable.
Sustainable agriculture is a complex concept that can benefit farmers, their local communities and the environment in myriad ways.
What is sustainable agriculture?
Many transitions have taken place in the agricultural industry over the last several decades. The widespread
adoption of various technologies over the last 20-plus years has helped farmers streamline their operations, making their farms more efficient and less wasteful as a result. In addition, many farmers have embraced sustainable farming, which is a relatively recent approach to agriculture. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, sustainable agriculture is a complex, multi-faceted concept. Sustainable agriculture intends to contribute to
a robust economy by making farms profitable. Farmers who embrace sustainable agriculture also aim to have a positive effect on the environment and their surrounding ecosystems. That’s accomplished by embracing strategies that focus on building and maintaining healthy soil, managing water wisely, minimizing pollution, and promoting biodiversity. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture notes that sustainable agriculture encompasses a wide range of production practices, including some associated with conventional farming and some linked to organic farming. As a result, sustainable farming should not be mistaken for organic farming, or vice versa. However, the UCS notes there’s a strong likelihood that certified organic produce at local grocery stores are byproducts of farms that embrace sustainable agriculture.
Natural habitat maximizes the benefits of birds for farmers, food safety and conservationBy: Kat Kerlin
University of California
Agriculture and Natural Resources
A supportive environment can bring out the best in an individual — even for a bird.
After an E.coli outbreak in 2006 devastated the spinach industry, farmers were pressured to remove natural habitat to keep wildlife — and the foodborne pathogens they can sometimes carry — from visiting crops. A study published this year from the University of California, Davis, shows that farms with surrounding natural habitat experience the most benefits from birds, including less crop damage and lower food-safety risks.
The study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, was conducted at 21 strawberry fields along California’s Central Coast. It found that birds were more likely to carry pathogens and eat berries without surrounding natural habitat.
The authors said a better understanding of the interplay of farming practices, the landscape, and the roles birds play in ecosystems can help growers make the most out of wild birds near their fields.
“Bird communities respond to changes in the landscape,” said lead author Elissa Olimpi, a postdoctoral scholar in the UC Davis Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology at the time of the study.
A recent study found that most bird species brought both costs and benefits to farms, depending on how the landscape was managed.
“As birds shift in response to management, so do the costs and benefits they provide.”
The study looked at how different farming practices influenced the costs and benefits that wild birds provided on the strawberry farms. The scientists combined nearly 300 bird surveys and the molecular
analyses of more than 1,000 fecal samples from 55 bird species to determine which birds ate pests, beneficial insects and crops, and carried foodborne pathogens.
They also ranked birds to see which were more likely to bring benefits or costs to farmlands. Barn swallows, for instance, got a “gold star” in the study, Olimpi said. Their mud nests are commonly seen clinging to the underside of barn eaves, from which they fly out to swoop over fields, foraging on insects.
But rather than resulting in a list of “good” and “bad” birds, the study found that most bird species brought both costs and benefits to farms, depending on how the landscape was managed.
The presence of natural habitat was the single most important driver differentiating a farm where wild
birds brought more benefits than harm.
“Nature is messy, and birds are complex,” Olimpi said. “The best we can do is understand how to take advantage of the benefits while reducing the harms. Growers will tell you it’s impossible to keep birds off your farm — you can’t do that and don’t want to from a conservation perspective. So how can we take advantage of the services birds provide?”
The study is one of several publications from UC Davis Professor Daniel Karp’s lab highlighting the environmental, agricultural, and food safety impacts of conserving bird habitat around farms. A related study in 2020 found that farms with natural habitat attracted more insect-eating birds — and fewer strawberry-eating birds — so that farmers experience
less berry damage on farms with more habitat nearby. Such habitats also bring greater numbers of bird species to the landscape.
“All together, these studies suggest that farming landscapes with natural habitat tend to be good for conservation, farmers, and public health,” said Karp.
Additional co-authors of this study include Karina Garcia and David Gonthier of University of Kentucky, Claire Kremen of UC Berkeley and the University of British Columbia, William E. Snyder of University of Georgia, and Erin Wilson-Rankin of UC Riverside.
The research was funded by the USDA and UC Davis Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology.
Dairy farms fight pollution, turn manure into cashBy: Lisa McEwen
California Farm Bureau Federation
Managing manure is nothing new for dairy operators. After all, cows and their four-chambered stomachs are one of nature’s best examples of efficient digestion.
But these days, those bovine digestive systems are generating a new source of income for nearly 200 dairies in California.
At his River Ranch Farms in Hanford, Jack de Jong now counts on the thousands of gallons of milk his 5,600 Holstein cows produce each day and the thousands of pounds of manure they excrete. Each product is important to his bottom line.
While his milk is turned into a variety of dairy products at the nearby Land O’ Lakes cooperative in Tulare, River Ranch Farms’ other commodity is flushed from its two milking barns.
The cow droppings take a systematic journey across the 2,100-acre dairy. They go from a manure separator to a weeping wall and eventually land in a large, rubber-covered anaerobic digester.
Bacteria break down the manure solids, and emissions that would normally escape into the atmosphere are captured. The biogas byproduct, methane, is an energy-rich fuel. It is deposited in a pipeline that runs beneath the dairy to a biogas cleaning hub a few miles away.
The hub, funded in part by a grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture Dairy Digester Research and Development Program, is owned by a partnership of dairies and Maas Energy Works, a digester developer, operating as Lakeside Pipeline LLC. It is already collecting methane from five dairies and can accommodate three more, for a total of 33,500 cows, de Jong said.
“Historically, I’ve entertained the idea of making money from manure, and initially, I was not excited,” de Jong said. “There has been hesitancy getting to this point, but as understanding of the situation increases, so does the comfort level.”
The gas leaves the digester at about 65% to 67% methane, but once it cycles through the hub, methane percentage reaches 98%, de Jong said.
The methane is purchased by Southern California Gas Co. It enters its pipeline and is used to power a variety of renewable natural gas projects such as fueling fleets of trucks or buses. Carbon credits earned by the dairies are shared by the gas company and Maas Energy Works.
Managing manure has taken on greater urgency in the past several
years with passage of Senate Bill 1383, legislation in 2016 aimed at curbing pollution from methane. As a result, the California Air Resources Board implemented strategies to reduce emissions from dairy manure by 40% by 2030.
To accomplish this, the state has incentivized the process of capturing manure’s release of methane with competitive grants through its dairy digester research effort and its Alternative Manure Management Program. These efforts recently gained traction as important steps in battling climate change and providing business opportunities for dairy operators.
“The state grant process has used the carrot versus the stick principle to encourage us to use the technology available,” de Jong said.
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Faith, Family and Integrity for Flory Industries
The Flory family moved to Salida from Whittier, California to their home ranch location and built a barn in 1909. Their home was built in 1910 and the manufacturing facility, Flory Industries, continues to operate at the same location today.
During the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, the Flory’s had a 100 cow grade “B” dairy. They were the first family to have milking machines in Stanislaus County. With innovation in their blood, they were the first to have a farm tractor in the area and to convert from steel tractor wheels to rubber tires (thanks in part to Harvey Firestone).
The dairy operation eventually expanded into custom grain and bean harvesting that ultimately grew to 15 harvesters. Howard Flory designed and built the two bean harvesters for use in their harvesting business.
According to Stuart Layman, Howard’s grandson, Howard had “some ideas on how to make better harvesters, so he designed one.” The Flory Family ran harvesters from 1935 to 1974, a total of 30 harvest seasons.
In 1961, the first Flory pick-up harvester was built, it was a small 3-point mounted, tractor-powered harvester that was primarily used in almonds. That harvester resides in Flory’s barn to this day (see page 13A).
As the industry grew, so did Flory, with the production of a self-propelled harvester, with a 4-foot pick-up width. As the speed and cleaning efficiency continued to improve in harvesters, there was a need for faster, more efficient sweepers. Flory met that need in 1972, with a self-propelled heavy-duty sweeper, which featured a hydrostatic transmission, large diameter five-bar sweeper reel, and engine crankshaftmounted blower fan.
Sweepers have continued to improve over the years with more power, larger blower fans, and simplicity of design to the current sweepers with diesel engines.
Flory Industries is considered a leader in the field of nut-harvesting equipment, with sales worldwide for harvesting almonds, cashews, chestnuts, figs, hazelnuts, macadamia, pecans, tung nut and walnuts. Stuart shared that they
sell harvesting equipment worldwide; Australia, Chile, Mexico, Africa, Portugal, Spain, Ukraine and Israel, to name a few.
Stuart said that Flory takes pride in building everything in-house. “We like to do our own processes, and see the equipment through each step.” This rings so very true for Stuart in his own career.
Even as a grandson of Howard, Stuart had to work his way up. He held positions in fabrication, welding, service and assembly, and now sales.
Flory Industries manufacturing facilities and offices are located on the original property purchased in 1909 at 4737 Toomes Road in Salida. But things look a little different today. After a hundred years of business, and four generations, Flory Industries employs nearly 400 hundred people who spend their time repairing and building nutharvesting equipment, flail mowers, and vineyard equipment.
In addition to the 400 employees, Stuart and several of his cousins sit on the Board of Directors. And while generation three has since retired, Stuart shared that there are still about 15 family members working in numerous departments.
While each generation is certain to have seen changes, Stuart and his counterparts have had to adapt equipment to increasing dust reduction and safety demands.
“Since 1997 the Air Board has been asking for dust-reducing equipment,” shared Stuart.
And, just this harvest season, Flory released its latest harvester, the Ultra Low Dust VX240. Stuart explained that this harvester does a really good job of “scrubbing out the heavy stuff, before venting,” resulting in just a fine dust that makes it through the fan. All thanks to the work of the Flory engineering team.
The Flory VX240 is a new tractor powered nut harvesting machine that incorporates a waterless, filterless, dust suppression system to reduce the dust emissions generated by the harvesting process. This machine uses a threestage dust suppression system that is compact enough to fit in an orchard and is capable of moving over 12,000 CFM
of air while continuously removing debris and dust on the order of thousands of pounds per hour. While typical mobile dust suppression systems rely on water sprayers to reduce dust from air, this machine eliminates the need for a substantial amount of labor and logistics involved in operating water trucks and filling tanks.
It took the team five years to bring this harvester to market. They were set on creating a low dust harvester, without using water. And, timing is key. You can only test a harvester during harvest. With the VX240, out in the field this season, Stuart said it “is looking really good.”
“Working with great people, in this great industry,” keeps Stuart excited after all these years. And still growing, Stuart said Flory Industries is always looking for great people with a willingness to learn, “we can teach you the business. We had an employee who started out running parts and now is a seasoned welder.”
Flory Industries has found success following their company’s values and vision: Faith, Family and Integrity.
OAKDALE IRRIGATION DISTRICT MISSION STATEMENT
To protect and develop Oakdale Irrigation District water resources for the maximum benefit of the Oakdale Irrigation District community by providing excellent irrigation and domestic water service. 1205 East F Street, Oakdale 209-847-0341 • www.oakdaleirrigation.com
Advancements in livestock technology
Consumer demand drives changes in industry, and the agricultural sector is no exception. Consumer demands for improved animal welfare have led to changes in the livestock sector, and various technologies have been developed and are in development to help this particular segment of the agricultural industry thrive.
According to the Animal AgTech Innovation Summit, various startups have developed technologies that can make the livestock industry more sustainable and efficient.
The Israeli firm Armenta has developed a non-antibiotic treatment for bovine mastitis that utilizes acoustic pulse technology. The treatment has a 70 percent cure rate.
Another firm working to treat livestock is the United States-based General Probiotics. Animal AgTech reports that General Probiotics develops cellbots and antimicrobial probiotics that eliminate harmful pathogens in livestock. That can reduce dependency on antibiotics and make food production safer.
Faromatics, a firm based in Spain, has combined robotics, artificial intelligence and big data to improve animal welfare and farm productivity. One Faromatics product utilizes a robot suspended from a ceiling to monitor certain variables, including equipment function and health and welfare, that affect broiler chickens.
The American firm Swinetech utilizes voice recognition and computer vision technology in its SmartGuard product to prevent
piglet deaths from crushing and starvation. The product also makes it possible to track and facilitate obstetrical assistance.
Based in Uganda, Jaguza Tech has developed a livestock management system that utilizes sensors, data science and machine learning to improve the efficiency, productivity and sustainability of modern farm operations. Farmers can utilize Jaguza to perform a host of functions, including monitoring their animals’ health and
identifying their livestock.
The Netherlands-based H2Oalert is a water control management system that checks the quality and
Harvest Safety - the good, the bad and the practicalBy: Anna Genasci Stanislaus County Farm Bureau.
With harvest in full swing, growers and their teams are running on little sleep and pushing hard. This is the perfect recipe for injuries in the orchard. It is hard to worry about safety when you are working against a firm deadline, like harvest, but it is so important and could save a life.
Based on recent U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, there were 475 fatalities in farm-related work-related injuries in the U.S., which resulted in a fatality rate of 21.2 deaths per 100,000 workers. Let’s not have this year’s harvest contribute to those numbers. Safety can sometimes feel overwhelming, and growers don’t know where to begin, consider the following three items to help get started: equipment, personal protective equipment, and communication and planning.
A lot of growers have moved towards enclosed cabs for their equipment. If financially practical, this is a great way to provide a layer of safety. The cab serves as a barrier to items that can cause injury, like dust, limbs, and rocks. Additionally, ensure that equipment is in good working order and serviced regularly to avoid issues in the orchard. And as always, employees need to be trained on each piece of harvesting equipment they operate. If you did the annual training with your team last January, consider a tailgate training update as a refresher.
Before jumping into a piece of equipment, do a quick walk-around to ensure guards are in place, lights are working and slow moving signs are visible. Not only is this a great
safety practice, but it is also a requirement of Cal/OSHA § 3441, Operation of Agricultural Equipment.
Personal Protective Equipment:
Personal protective equipment, usually referred to as PPE, is an essential safety tool. Typically, we see a need for PPE when we cannot eliminate a hazard. For example, if you don’t have closed-cab equipment, then operators should wear safety glasses and a dust mask to protect themselves from dust and branches. Consider hearing protection or even reflective vests if employees are working in the dark. However, be sure the vests are the tear-away type; bulky outer clothing can get caught in equipment.
Communication and Planning:
This area really speaks to doing pre-harvest work. Things like, when
you planted the orchard, did you give yourself room to turn equipment at the end of the row? Or, did you prune sufficiently to avoid running into branches constantly? Are employees trained to inspect the orchard before bringing equipment in and mark any hazards that will be difficult to see once in the shaker? In preparing for the season, discuss communication expectations, if someone is working alone; do they need to call in every couple of hours? And, speaking of phones, avoid this distraction while operating equipment, it is important to stay alert.
And finally, in the words of Ray Lial, an almond grower in the north part of our county, harvest safety comes down to these simple things, “stay alert, get enough sleep and focus on quality.”
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Our own, Randy Basi, was honored as CA Farm Bureau’s 2021
Top Farm Sales Agent He shares this award with farm account managers, Brittney Zurlinden, Megan Barksdale, & Daniela Casillas (left-right with Randy)
Explaining precision agriculture
Few, if any, aspects of life in the 21st century have not been touched by technology. Advancements in technology have affected everything from the way students learn in the classroom to how senior citizens connect with their grandchildren. Technological advancements also have left their mark on industry, including the agricultural sector.
Modern agriculture bears some similarities to farming of past eras. Technology has affected the agricultural sector for centuries, and modern farmers know that’s no different today. One of the more recent developments in the agricultural sector is the rise of precision agriculture, a farming management concept that can pay dividends for generations to come.
What is precision agriculture?
Precision agriculture (PA) is rooted in improving crop yields through the utilization of technology. PA is designed to help the agricultural sector maximize resources and improve yields and the quality of crops. That’s a critically important function as the world population continues to grow and the demand for food increases as a result.
What are some examples of PA technology?
Sensors are a prime example of PA technology that helps make farms more efficient and productive. Sensors serve various functions by helping farmers gather data on the availability of water in soil, the level of compaction in soil, leaf temperature, insect and disease infestation, and other areas.
Weather modeling is another component of PA that can help farms be more cost-effective and efficient. Whereas in years past many farms would need to manually assess certain variables to determine when to harvest, weather modeling technology has enabled some farmers to generate remote readings, saving time and money.
How does PA help farmers?
Each situation is unique, but the principles of PA can help farmers acess a wealth of information. It might have been possible to access such information in the past, but PA has sped up the process and made it more hands-off, allowing farmers to save both time and money. PA technology can help farmers maintain accurate records of their farms; inform their decisions; make it easier to detect and identify
problems, sometimes before they escalate into larger issues; and avoid potentially costly mistakes.
Technology has left no industry untouched. The growth of precision agriculture is a testament to the influence that technology is having on a vital sector of the global economy.
“I praise the state for doing that. By monetizing this, dairymen can get in at a lower cost and risk in a very quick time period.”
Scott Harrison, CEO of Figure 8 Environmental of Bakersfield, hosted a seminar titled “Monetizing Manure,” at the recent World Ag Expo in Tulare. Harrison’s firm designs, builds and manages manure processing systems for dairies. He encouraged dairies to think about how managing manure can help them comply with environmental, nutrient and wastewater regulations.
“If you can imagine what’s possible and see the bigger picture, there is a lot of value in manure,” he said. “Manure is a profit powerhouse.”
There are many other uses for manure. For years dairy farmers have been collecting it, storing it and using it as a renewable fertilizer. Operators of flush dairies can address operating
costs with manure by using the wastewater to irrigate silage crops or almonds. When properly treated and mixed with well water, this saves on groundwater pumping costs and can address Sustainable Groundwater Management Act regulations.
Manure can also be upcycled into clean, new bedding for animals through a composting process. Some dairy operators such as de Jong also sell this compost to other farmers. Savings in these areas can allow dairies to maintain their herd sizes in light of pending SGMA restrictions.
“Drying of separated manure solids used to be a burden that increased our cost of business,” he said. Now that has been helped by compost sales.
Frank Mitloehner, director of the Clarity and Leadership for Environmental Awareness Center at
the University of California, Davis, says 4% to 5% of all greenhouse gases are from agriculture “and dairy is the largest contributor within agriculture.”
But now there are 185 methanereduc ing digesters listed in the state, according to the nonprofit organization Dairy Cares. There are also more than 300 operating in the nation, according to the U.S. Environ mental Protection Agency.
But now there are 185 methanereducing digesters listed in the state, according to the nonprofit organization Dairy Cares. There are also more than 300 operating
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quantity of cattle drinking water in real time. The management system also checks for pollution and malfunctions in the water supply.
Livestock technology continues to advance, and firms across the globe are developing new products and platforms to help livestock farmers make their operations more efficient, sustainable and productive. in the nation, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“I anticipate this technology growing across the United States,” Mitloehner said. “California leads the nation, maybe the world, in this field.”
Each dairy is different and requires a tailored approach to its manure management. To that end, Mitloehner encouraged farmers to do their homework and understand the design and operation of their manure-management systems. He said many dairy farmers eventually hire out for this portion of their
To encourage California’s smaller dairies—for which a digester may not be feasible—to reduce methane output, the state provides financial assistance for farm families as they reduce emissions through a variety of technologies and strategies.
A total of 114 projects have been awarded grants to date. For fiscal year 2021-2022, the state will be awarding $32 million in grants, with priority given to the Alternative Manure Management Program. Previous projects included mechanical solids-liquid separation with drying, conversion of flush systems to scrape with dry manure storage or composting, and compost pack barns.
Applications for the program are open through May, with CDFA working in partnership with UC Cooperative Extension to assist farmers needing help in the application process.
“This is not only climate smart, healthy agriculture, but it is good for the bottom line,” said UCCE dairy farm advisor Betsy Karle. “The opportunity is here.
Did you know?
Farmers and growers face a significant threat in the years to come as industrial agriculture operations continue to expand. According to the National Resources Defense Council, industrial agriculture is the largescale, intensive production of crops and animals. Such operations make it more difficult for small farmers and growers to turn a profit, and they often involve the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The use of such products poses an additional threat to small farmers and growers, as the Union of Concerned Scientists notes that the heavy application of
fertilizers and pesticides accelerates soil erosion and increases pest problems. Consumers concerned by the effects of industrial agriculture on the environment and on small farmers’ and growers’ ability to earn a good living can support efforts such as regenerative farming and organic farms.