Farm Demonstration Network to promote innovative growing practices

PARLIER, Calif. — Government and agricultural leaders have teamed to create a program that will educate growers about the latest advancements in water efficiency, soil management and other innovations.

The California Farm Demonstration Network will be an information-sharing hub for growers and others to learn how to meet such challenges as water scarcity, rising fuel costs, declining groundwater quality and labor shortages, University of California officials said.

The project is led by Jeff Mitchell, a UC Cooperative Extension vegetable crops specialist who has been researching efforts to improve soil management.

“It’s going to allow us to showcase our existing experience,” Mitchell said of the farm demonstration project. “It’s going to be locally based with farmers who will voluntarily agree to try some practices. It’s more of a partnership.”

The UC has entered a formal agreement with the state Department of Food and Agriculture, the California Farm Bureau Federation, the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts and the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service to undertake the project.

The demonstration network will showcase existing farmer innovations and promote demonstration projects for new management practices, organizers said. It will also include educational events, video narratives and a web-based information portal.

The agencies hope to better connect California’s farmers with each other and with scientists who will give them valuable information about how to develop more sustainable growing methods, officials said.

For instance, scientists are using a rain simulator on a farm in Winters, Calif., to test how different on-farm management practices affect soil health. Mitchell and others have found that using cover crops and crop residues improves the soil’s ability to hold water.

The collaboration will increase the likelihood that innovative agricultural practices will be implemented sooner than they might have otherwise been, UCCE farm adviser Betsy Karle said in a news release.

“The Farm Demonstration Network is about going out and doing, learning new things and sharing that with others so that they can also learn from either people’s mistakes or their successes,” CFBF president Paul Wenger said during the signing ceremony for the agreement.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross told the May 5 gathering at Dixon Ridge Farms in Winters the project will advance the kinds of practices that help the environment while enabling growers to thrive.

“We are … a better place because of how California farmers farm,” Ross said. “This is going to unleash the next chapter of innovation …
(and) advance the adoption of practices that will continue to build healthy soils for future generations.”