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Ag Guide_spring 2016

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Organic strawberries are a fast-growing sector of U.S. agriculture, with the number of grow- ers and acres increasing every year. Delicious, versatile and packed with Vitamin C, organic strawberries from California are enjoyed the world over. However, these delectable treats are one of the most difficult crops to grow organically. That is why most strawberries are still grown with poisonous pesticides such as methyl bromide, which has been proven hazardous to both our health and the environment. Growers have to balance their desire to reduce environmental impacts with the multiple challenges of maintaining economically sustainable yields. Two of the biggest challenges are the lack of effective soil-borne disease management practices other than crop rotation, and the high cost of weed management. Since most organic strawberries come from California's Central Coast, it is only fitting that a research team right here at the University of California is collaborating with several local farmers to improve organic strawberry yields without the use of synthetic materials. The re- search project, which is being led by Dr. Carol Shennan and Dr. Joji Muramoto, was initiated with $28,000 in grants from the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF), eventually leading to $2.8 million in additional funding from the United States Department of Agricul- ture (USDA). OFRF is a non-profit organization that has been working for over 25 years to foster the im- provement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems through scientific research. When the organization was founded in 1990, organic farming research was not a well-studied field of inquiry, and the USDA was more than a decade away from certifying organically grown products. Today, according to the most recent figures from the USDA, there are more than 15,000 certified organic producers in the US, a growth of 250% since 2002, and organic farming research is now being conducted at universities around the world. To date, OFRF has invested over $3 million in 326 organic research grants. Close collabo- ration with farmers as research directors and participants is paramount, as projects with strong farmer collaboration tend to be grounded in the real-world challenges producers face. Farmer involvement translates into strong projects, with results quickly adopted by the industry. Which brings us back to the work taking place at UC Santa Cruz, which is focused on finding organic solutions to controlling Verticillium wilt, one of the worst enemies of the organic strawberry farmer. Verticillium wilt, caused by Verticillium dahliae, is a soil-borne disease that poses a huge threat to organic strawberry production in California. The idea for this project began when the researchers were approached by two collaborative organic growers: a small-scale diversified organic grower who has had multiple outbreaks of Verticillium wilt in strawberries after 30 years of organic production, and a large-scale grower whose fields have been highly infested by Verticillium dahliae. Verticillium wilt is very difficult to control in organic strawberry systems due to the pathogen's wide range of host crops, its overwintering structure, and current strawberry cultivars' high sensitivity to the disease. The team has been studying integrated soil-borne disease and weed management for organic strawberries using anaerobic soil disinfestation (ASD), broccoli residue incorporation and mustard cake application. ASD, which basically uses the heat of the sun to sterilize the soil, was developed in the Netherlands and Japan as an ecological alternative to methyl bromide fumigation. The researchers at UCSC have conducted a series of experiments for optimizing ASD to California strawberries, with promising results. Specific objectives for the project were to demonstrate the effects of ASD, broccoli residue incorporation, mustard cake application, and a combination of all three on Verticillium dahli- ae suppression, weed suppression and strawberry fruit yield. These three potential solutions were applied individually and in combinations with the other treatments. Field trials were conducted in Watsonville, at UCSC's organic farm, and a demonstration trial at the Agricul- ture and Land-Based Training Association, (ALBA) in Salinas, California. Overall, the ASD application worked well in suppressing Verticillium wilt and increasing yield. However, there was no additive or synergistic effect using mustard cake alone or with the broccoli rotation. The researchers believe yield increases using ASD were caused by a combination of providing nitrogen early in the season and disease suppression late in the season. The net return above land costs increased approximately 30 percent using ASD and ASD plus mustard cake, suggesting the economic benefits of ASD not only in strawberry production but also in overall crop rotations compared in the trials. The studies continue and more information is available at Cal-CORE, a farmer-researcher network to advance organic agriculture research (https://calcorenetwork.sites.ucsc.edu). Results from all OFRF-supported research are freely available on the foundation's web site at ofrf.org. Research Aims to Solve Challenges of Growing Organic Strawberries By Vicki Lowell, Organic Farming Research Foundation A special adver tising & content section of the Monterey Herald and Santa Cr uz Sentinel Marketing Groups Cynthia Sandberg, Owner, Love Apple Farms The community's choice for local banking. 831.457.5000 sccountybank.com Member FDIC | Equal Housing Lender "Finding a small community bank with specialized lending programs and experienced lenders allowed me to finance my business through the USDA's Farm Service Agency loan program. The Bank listened to my needs and found the right soluon to finance my farming operaon when other banks would not. I'm grateful for their professionalism, lending experse, and great service!"

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