Agave: The new drought-tolerant California crop? – Meals Weblog

UC Davis to review agave sustainability as tequila, mezcal business grows

Agriculture in California faces an unsure future as drought, wildfires and different local weather extremes change into extra commonplace within the West. But a fledgling business targeted on rising and distilling agave vegetation, that are used to provide tequila and mezcal in Mexico, could possibly be California’s reply to fallowed fields and a scarcity of water.

Earlier this yr a bunch of growers, distillers and retailers fashioned the California Agave Council to foster collaboration and provide an opportunity to share data amongst members who beforehand had no formal community.

Now, the University of California, Davis, has established the Stuart & Lisa Woolf Fund for Agave Research to deal with outreach and analysis into the vegetation and their viability as a low-water crop within the state.

“The rainfall patterns and rising circumstances in California are completely different from these the place tequila is made,” stated Ron Runnebaum, an assistant professor of viticulture and enology. “It is thrilling to start to harness the capabilities at UC Davis to find out which agave varieties might be grown commercially in California and what flavors might be captured by distillation to make distinctive California agave spirits.”

The fund was created with a $100,000 seed reward from Stuart and Lisa Woolf, who’re Central Valley farmers and have a take a look at plot of about 900 agave vegetation on 1.5 acres. They hope this reward will encourage others to additionally contribute.

Lisa and Stuart Woolf stand in front of agave plants

Lisa and Stuart Woolf stand in entrance of agave vegetation. The Central Valley farmers have a take a look at plot of agave vegetation. Photo courtesy of Stuart Woolf

The reward is targeted totally on optimizing manufacturing in California relative to Mexico, the place labor prices are decrease, and the farmers depend on rain moderately than irrigation for water.  Stuart Woolf believes California producers may develop bigger vegetation with increased sugar content material.

“I actually consider we could possibly be very aggressive with Mexico,” he stated.

The analysis additionally presents an opportunity to higher perceive the affect of location on the expansion of the plant, which could be a supply of fiber and various sweetener in addition to the distilled spirits it will probably produce.

“As a drought-tolerant plant, agave holds nice potential in water-stressed California,” Woolf stated. “It’s a crop that would get by with little to no water in periods of maximum drought.”

A crop with low water wants

Mezcal might be made out of any agave selection in Mexico whereas tequila, Runnebaum stated, comes solely from the blue agave plant grown inside the geographically outlined area of “Tequila.” In California, blue agave vegetation can weigh 110 kilos or extra, and it takes about 11 kilos of agave to provide one bottle of tequila, in keeping with a UC Davis article revealed final yr. The vegetation in Mexico weigh 50 to 60 kilos on common, Woolf stated.

Agave vegetation require minimal watering, can function firebreaks from wildfires and provide an opportunity for farmers to plant crops on land that might in any other case must be fallowed, or deserted due to a scarcity of water. It takes roughly six to eight years for the vegetation to mature.

“If we enter a extreme drought, it is a crop I feel we will keep away from watering completely,” Woolf stated. “For me, this plant is sort of coming round on the proper time.”

Craig Reynolds, the California Agave Council founding director who has about 500 vegetation rising, says the business is in “an embryo stage” and organizing can assist the crop broaden. He runs California Agave Ventures, which grows blue agave and sells starter vegetation to different growers.

“It’s actually taking off,” he stated.

Coming collectively

About 40 growers and distillers gathered for a symposium in May to speak concerning the crop, from economics and logistics to website planning and processes. It ended with a tasting and sensory evaluation of California merchandise.

UC Davis hosted the occasion to carry folks collectively and introduce them to what the college may provide when it comes to analysis, coaching and outreach, Runnebaum stated.

“I feel there’s lots of promise on this doubtlessly being a drought-tolerant crop in California,” he added. “UC Davis can assist set up and analysis.”

The Woolfs would really like their reward for use to reply early analysis questions on rising websites, plant attributes and doable funding businesses, in addition to gathering harvest knowledge and producing a database with that info, in keeping with the reward settlement.

Some key inquiries to reply: Is frost danger in California too excessive in relation to Mexico, the place the vegetation thrive? Can California produce a fast-growing, high-sugar, disease-resistant crop?

In addition to creating finest agricultural practices for the crop and doing financial evaluation, UC Davis may function a coaching floor, a lot because it does for brewing and winemaking.

“UC Davis additionally has the potential to coach future leaders for this business,” Stuart Woolf stated.