UC Davis field days give industry a taste of new berries and a feel for healthy soil
The latest developments in strawberry breeding and healthy soil took center stage at two recent UC Davis Field Days, one hosted in Prunedale (near Salinas) and one held at UC Davis Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility.
In Prunedale, strawberry farmers, shippers, breeders, propagators, crop advisors and resource conservation groups gathered to get a taste of what’s developing in the UC Davis Public Strawberry Breeding Program. Many said they liked what they tasted and saw.
“I’m very encouraged by the program’s energy and innovation,” said Tom AmRhein, a Watsonville native who has been farming strawberries for more than 30 years. AmRhein is chairman of the California Strawberry Commission and vice president of Naturipe Berry Growers, Inc. “UC Davis had quite a number of graduate students presenting research at the field day. It’s exciting to see so many young people interested in the future of the industry.”
Participants got to taste and see some of the public breeding program’s most promising cultivars, which are being grown in test plots on farms throughout California.
“The new focus with on-farm research gives us in the industry the opportunity to see the program’s progress under real world conditions,” AmRhein said. “As a result, we have a lot of confidence in the information.”
Strawberry breeders at UC Davis hope to commercially release two or three new strawberry varieties by spring 2019.
Meanwhile, at the UC Davis Russell Ranch Field Day, farmers, crop advisors and other industry leaders got a firsthand look at how healthy soil and good water management can increase farm resiliency.
Topics included everything from how deficit irrigation can optimize processing tomato quality and yield, the role dairy manure can play in soil health, and the trade-offs of subsurface drip irrigation in processing tomatoes.
The annual Russell Ranch Field Day also featured a grower panel, where local farmers shared challenges and opportunities they experience by farming with a focus on healthy soil.
“Soil loves care and attention,” said panel member Rich Collins with Collins Farms in Davis. “I’m not saying it’s easy, but when we focus on the care of our soil and the feeding of its biology while respecting the water cycle, we can protect the health and productivity of our precious agricultural lands well into the future.”
Located just west of campus, Russell Ranch is a testing ground for the long-term sustainability of various farming methods. The ranch’s flagship project, “The Century Experiment,” focuses on fundamental components of agricultural production—energy, water and land resources—to help address big questions on how to sustainably feed the world’s growing population.