Building on Farmer Experience to Increase Cover Crops Adoption in Orchards and Vineyards

Project Overview

RGR20-006
Project Type: Research to Grass Roots
Funds awarded in 2020: $74,594.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2022
Host Institution Award ID: G158-21-W7906
Grant Recipients: University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program; Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF); Napa County Resource Conservation District; Capay Valley Regeneration Project; Cooperative Extension - Capitol Corrridor, Kern, Mendocino, and Napa Counties
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Sonja Brodt
University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program
Co-Investigators:
Lucas Patzek
Napa County Resource Conservation District

Commodities

  • Fruits: grapes, peaches, plums
  • Nuts: almonds, pistachios, walnuts

Practices

  • Crop Production: cover crops
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer

    Proposal abstract:

    Cover crops provide important agroecosystem and farm resilience benefits. However, many growers in California either do not use them at all, plant them in strips too narrow, or terminate them too early (due to perceived risks) to gain full benefits, even in perennial systems that appear ideally suited for cover cropping between tree and vine rows. Successful implementation typically involves a steep, multi-year learning curve that can easily be derailed by one bad experience, as evidenced by a recent WSARE-funded almond grower survey that found that many growers had tried cover crops at least once but were not currently using them. While many publications and websites provide general information about cover crop species, they typically lack key details about management approaches required for success in specific climates, crop and soil types, enterprise management strategies, and economic circumstances.

    This project will address these shortcomings by creating region and crop-specific information platforms based on experienced farmers’ best management practices for specific contexts in orchard and vineyard systems in northern California. Specifically, it will create an online searchable database of best management practices as implemented in the southern Sacramento Valley and North Coast regions. Curated by UC SAREP, the database will provide for user entry, allowing farmers to add new information to keep the database relevant and adaptive over time. We will also organize two field tours of successful cover cropping operations.

    This project will also 1) refine and pilot test a new cover crop species selection tool recently developed by Cooperative Extension, for California conditions, and 2) link the selection tool to UC SAREP’s Cover Crops Database, updated with information from at least two previous WSARE projects. These new resources will be publicized to growers throughout the project regions through existing networks, field days, newsletters, and social media of partners.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Increase the circulation among farmers and agricultural professionals of regionally-relevant, grower-generated information on best management practices for cover cropping in orchard and vineyard systems in the southern Sacramento Valley/Delta region, and North Coast viticulture region.
    2. Increase the confidence, skill-level, and sophistication of orchard and vineyard managers in implementing cover crops in these regions.
    3. Increase the accessibility of accurate, science-based information about cover crop species relevant to these regions and production systems.
    4. Increase understanding among growers and agricultural professionals of the characteristics of relevant cover crops species and how they can meet orchard and vineyard growers’ farm management goals.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.