UC Garden Blogs
Got milk? Got a question about tsetse flies? Yes? Then you'll want to attend the Science Café presentation on Wednesday, June 7, when medical entomologist and tsetse expert Geoffrey Attardo of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology...
Medical entomologist Geoffrey Attardo with some of his images he displayed at the UC Davis Picnic Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Enjoying a tasty sunflower seed snack? Cooking with sunflower oil? Thank a California sunflower seed grower for producing the hybrid seed that's used for planting sunflower crops throughout the United States and the world, for confectionery and oil seed production.
California farmers grow about 70,000 acres of sunflower, mostly in the Sacramento Valley, for hybrid seed stock.
“We have perfect conditions for growing sunflowers, with hot, dry summers and plenty of good irrigation water for producing high quality seed,” says Rachael Long, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Yolo, Solano and Sacramento counties. “We also have good pollination by honey bees and field isolation from wild sunflowers, needed for high yields and genetic purity of planting seed stock.”
Indeed, take a look at the lovely fields of sunflowers blooming in the summertime. Their striking show of bright yellow faces across the valley's vast agricultural landscapes elicit feelings of warmth and happiness.
“But don't stop there!” says Long. “Take a closer look at the fields and you'll see rows of plants with single large flowers alternating with rows of smaller plants with multiple flowers. Stalks with single flowers are female, smaller ones are male; cross pollination occurs by honey bees to produce the hybrid planting seed, harvested from the single female flowers.”
To assist farmers in producing hybrid sunflower seed crops, Long led a team of researchers to produce a new 2019 sunflower hybrid seed production manual for California. The manual provides information on production needs, such as irrigation and nutrient management, as well as a color guide to insect pests, diseases, and weeds of concern for hybrid sunflower seed production.
“In order to ship seed to worldwide markets, strict field certifications are in place to ensure that pests endemic to California are not spread elsewhere,” Long says. Weeds, insects and diseases growers should watch for are identified in the manual.
“Sunflower Hybrid Seed Production in California” is available for free download at https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/Details.aspx?itemNo=8638. In addition to Long, authors of the manual include UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors Sarah Light and Konrad Mathesius, retired USDA plant pathologist Thomas Gulya, UC Cooperative Extension irrigation specialist Khaled Bali, and emeritus UC Cooperative Extension soils specialist Roland Meyer.
“A special thanks to the sunflower seed industry and associate editor Dan Putnam, UC ANR agronomist at UC Davis, for their extensive contributions to this manual to make it a valuable resource for sunflower seed growers,” Long adds. “All of us are also grateful to UC ANR Communication Services for putting together a high quality publication!”
Climate variability, competition for water from other users including urban and environmental, and groundwater depletion threaten the sustainability of irrigated agriculture. To face these challenges, the irrigation industry must develop and adopt innovative technologies and management practices that optimize economic outcomes, while also minimizing environmental impact.
Lately, there is no shortage of irrigation technologies hitting the market. To get a glimpse of what is out there, I recommend visiting the annual Irrigation Show held each December, as well as other annual farm shows such as the World Ag Expo.
Changes since the 80s
Since the late 1980s, there has been high adoption of irrigation application technologies, specifically a shift from flood irrigation to pressurized systems. Two examples are the use of microirrigation in California and center pivot irrigation systems in the Ogallala Aquifer region of the U.S. High Plains. The high adoption of these irrigation systems can be attributed to government incentives but, more importantly, to their proven ability to enhance production or ease management. We are seeing increasing interest in mechanized sprinkler irrigation systems for some crops in California due to their proven ability to improve management. For example, growers can automatically control several center pivots using mobile apps or control drip irrigation blocks using web apps.
However, when it comes to irrigation scheduling, the story is very different. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Irrigation and Water Management Survey, the adoption rates of advanced irrigation scheduling technologies are less than 21 percent. I use the term “advanced irrigation scheduling” to refer to irrigation scheduling based on soil moisture sensors, evapotranspiration programs, plant-based sensors, and crop simulation models. Over 70 percent still use traditional methods of irrigation scheduling such as observing crop conditions, soil feel, water delivery schedule, or watching neighbors. The next survey will be released late this year or early 2020, and it will be interesting to see what has changed as more technologies get developed or refined.
I recently attended the California Irrigation Institute conference, and one of the presenters who is also an irrigation dealer shared his experiences on why growers continue to use historical methods to schedule irrigation. He said that growers will not widely adopt the latest irrigation scheduling technologies unless they are mandated to do so through regulation or convinced that the technology will improve profitability.
I will focus on the latter reason noted for lack of adoption. A golden opportunity exists for an irrigation scheduling technology that is simple, integrates easily with existing systems on the farm, and can demonstrate return on investment. There also needs to be a shift in the business model from that which focuses on selling hardware or equipment to one focused on selling solutions that address clearly identified needs. There are many existing technologies with a lot of potential, and many land-grant universities have also developed irrigation schedulers that are free and robust (e.g., CropManage, KanSched, Wise, iCrop, and more).
The latest innovations in artificial intelligence and cloud computing combined with the ability to collect large volumes of data from low-cost soil water sensors, plant water status sensors, drones, airplanes, and satellites present opportunities for optimized irrigation water management on an individual farm-by-farm basis.
Precision irrigation is a very interesting concept that, if implemented properly, could transform irrigation management and improve economic and environmental outcomes. You can think of precision irrigation as a systems approach to irrigation management in which the irrigation system knows what to do, knows how to do it, knows what it has done and how it effects the overall production goals, and then learns from what it has done before performing the next irrigation. You can imagine such a system as having a brain and capable of not just automatic but autonomous operation of the entire irrigation system similar to a self-driving car.
While I confess that this is more of a vision for the future, we need a disruptive irrigation management technology that will meet growers' various goals, including production, regulatory compliance, labor shortages, water and energy use efficiency, greenhouse gas reduction, etc. In the same way that we all have smartphones because they have proven to be very useful gadgets for doing more than making calls, I envision precision irrigation technology being widely adopted because it meets a grower's real-world needs.
Isaya Kisekka, PhD, is an assistant professor of agricultural water management and irrigation engineering in the departments of land, air, and water resources and biological and agricultural engineering at UC Davis. This article was republished with permission from Irrigation Today (2019), Vol. 3, Issue 4, p. 28-29.
Remember that massive green blob that showed up Tuesday night, June 4 on the National Weather Service (NWS) radar in San Diego, and NWS tweeted it was a “a cloud of ladybugs (termed a bloom)”? Wait! They may NOT have been ladybugs,...
A lady beetle, aka ladybug, ready to devour aphids, its primary food source. Image taken in Vacaville, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A lady beetle on the prowl in Vacaville, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Peek-a-boo! A lady beetle peers over a leaf in Vacaville, Calif. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A congregation of overwintering lady beetles in California's Coast Range. (Photo by Greg Kareofelas)
We cannot imagine a world without Dr. Robbin Thorp. The distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis--he preferred to be known as “Robbin”--was a global and legendary authority on bees, an amazing...
Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, with Franklin's bumble bee, a bee he had been monitoring since 1998. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Co-instructor Robbin Thorp (far right, yellow shirt) at a recent Bee Course, sponsored by the American Museum of Natural History.
Robbin Thorp was a frequent docent at the Bohart Museum of Entomology where he also did research. This image was taken April 20, 2013. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Global bee authority Robbin Thorp with two of the books he co-authored in 2014. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Robbin Thorp, a familiar figure in the spring, wearing his vest and trademark hat, and standing in front of a blossoming almond tree on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is the male Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, a species that Robbin Thorp showed often at the Bohart Museum of Entomology and at other presentations. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)