New instrument calculates crop rotation prices, advantages for California rice growers – Food Blog

UC researchers finding out how follow may help farmers handle drought, pests, different challenges

As a result of extreme water shortages, rice acres planted in California plummeted by 37% from 2021 to 2022, in line with numbers launched just lately by the U.S. Division of Agriculture’s Nationwide Agricultural Statistics Service. However now, due to College of California researchers, growers have a brand new instrument they may doubtlessly use to deal with droughts and different environmental and socioeconomic adjustments.

A crop rotation calculator offers farmers within the Sacramento Valley – the place 97% of California rice is grown – with projections on the financial impacts of transitioning their fields from rice into 4 much less water-intensive crops: dry beans, safflower, sunflower or tomato.

The instrument represents an preliminary try to handle the dearth of analysis on rice crop rotation in California, whereas giving growers much-needed, science-backed information on whether or not the follow would make monetary sense for his or her farms.

“I consider extra rice growers may gain advantage from the various benefits of crop rotation, and this new instrument is a superb first step by the UC to assist growers look into making such a transition,” stated George Tibbitts, a Colusa County rice farmer.

Funded partly by the USDA Nationwide Institute of Food and Agriculture, via the Western Built-in Pest Administration Heart, the calculator is a collaborative effort of UC Agriculture and Pure Assets, UC Built-in Pest Administration and UC Davis to fill a significant hole in rice analysis.

“I do assume there are individuals who would have tried rotational crops up to now, however it’s simply so unknown, we did not have something we may give them and be like, ‘Hey, that is the advisable crop on your space,’” stated Whitney Brim-DeForest, UC Cooperative Extension rice advisor. “This instrument offers them some preliminary information they will use to make a extra knowledgeable resolution.”

Crop rotation a possible boon to growers, surroundings

UC Davis doctoral pupil Sara Rosenberg and Brim-DeForest, alongside different members of the UC rice analysis staff, surveyed California rice growers in 2020 on their experiences with and perceptions of crop rotation. Though the follow is uncommon within the Sacramento Valley (solely an estimated 10% of rice acreage is beneath rotation), some farmers reported advantages that could possibly be essential in a water-scarce future.

“From having conversations with growers who do rotate, one of many largest advantages they describe is their flexibility in occasions of drought, the place they will maintain producing on their land when there is not sufficient water to develop rice,” stated Rosenberg, noting that crop rotation could possibly be one possibility in a “toolbox” of methods that growers additionally use to handle fertilizer value shocks, herbicide resistance and different challenges.

UC Cooperative Extension Rice Advisor Whitney Brim-DeForest holds a microphone

Given the dearth of quantitative information on crop rotation in rice, extra research are wanted on the follow in California, in line with Whitney Brim-DeForest, UCCE rice advisor. Picture by Evett Kilmartin

Throughout the ongoing drought that induced about half of California’s rice acreage to go fallow in 2022, Tibbitts stated his water district was solely in a position to allocate 10% of his common allotment.

“With such a restricted provide, it will have been robust to develop even one subject of rice,” he stated. “However it was sufficient water in order that we may lease two of our fields to a tomato grower – tomatoes beneath drip irrigation use a lot much less water than a flooded subject of rice. We had been additionally in a position to develop one subject of sunflowers, which does not want any irrigation in any respect for those who can plant the seeds into present moisture within the early spring.”

Whereas drought is one motivating issue to rotate crops, Tibbitts stated that on precept he avoids planting all his acreage in rice and “not have all (his) eggs in a single basket.”

“My main motivation for rotating into and out of rice has been to assist with weed and illness management,” he added. “Crop rotation is a main instrument of IPM (built-in pest administration), and I really feel it has helped me vastly over time.”

In line with Brim-DeForest, rotating cropping programs can permit for using totally different weed management instruments, equivalent to totally different herbicide modes of motion, and totally different cultural controls equivalent to tillage, decreasing the possibilities of choosing for herbicide-resistant weeds – an more and more pervasive concern in rice programs.

Rosenberg famous that, in some conditions – and relying on the crops in rotation – the follow can even disrupt the life cycles of bugs and ailments and doubtlessly enhance soil construction and enhance nutrient biking and uptake, which can result in a discount in inputs equivalent to fertilizer.

Extra analysis on crop diversification wanted in rice programs

The advantages of crop rotation for California rice growers are largely theoretical and anecdotal, nonetheless, so the UC rice staff is trying so as to add evidence-based grounding via quite a lot of research – from long-term results on soil well being indicators to testing numerous cowl crops (which can ship some advantages of diversification, just like these of rotation).

UC Davis doctoral student Sara Rosenberg

Along with crop rotation in rice, researchers are additionally finding out cowl cropping, which can ship some advantages of diversification, says UC Davis doctoral pupil Sara Rosenberg.

“In California, there is no such thing as a quantitative information on crop rotation in rice,” stated Brim-DeForest. “You’d assume after 100 and a few odd years (of UC agricultural analysis), all of the analysis would have been executed, however, no – there’s tons nonetheless to do.”

Via interviews with Sacramento Valley growers, researchers discovered that value was incessantly talked about as a barrier to attempting crop rotation, together with incompatible soil situations and an absence of apparatus, data and expertise.

To assist make clear these financial uncertainties, the brand new calculator instrument permits growers to enter baseline data particular to their circumstances – whether or not they lease or personal their very own land, whether or not they contract out the work to plant the rotational crop, and different elements. The calculator then generates potential prices and advantages of staying in rice versus rotating to dry beans, safflower, sunflower or tomato, through the first yr and in an “common” yr for these crops.

The upfront prices of rotation throughout “yr one” will be daunting. Subsequently, the instrument solely focuses on a short-term profitability perspective. Researchers are at present engaged on long run modeling for crop rotation – incorporating the opportunity of diminished herbicide use over time, and beneath totally different crop yield eventualities, for instance – that would considerably change the growers’ calculus.

“You possibly can really be worthwhile in the long run, whereas this primary, quick glimpse is exhibiting you a adverse,” stated Rosenberg.

As well as, due to collaboration with the UC IPM staff, the rice rotation calculator is an evolving instrument that shall be frequently improved based mostly on person suggestions and extra information. Brim-DeForest additionally stated that it could possibly be tailored to different cropping programs – for instance, alfalfa going into one other rotational crop.

The rice calculator instrument will be discovered at:

Different contributors to the venture embody Bruce Linquist, Luis Espino, Ellen Bruno, Kassim Al-Khatib and Michelle Leinfelder-Miles of UCCE; Cameron Pittelkow of UC Davis; in addition to UC IPM staff members Chinh Lam, Tunyalee Martin and Hanna Zorlu; and the California rice growers and trade members who participated within the analysis.