OFRF Funds Researchers Looking to Improve Water and Nutrient Use Efficiency

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Although California has weathered many droughts, the current multi-year spell has been more widespread than most and includes the driest and hottest three-year stretch in 120 years of recordkeeping. Deliveries of surface water have decreased by a third in California’s Central Valley and numerous growers received less or no irrigation water in 2015.

This declining water supply is threatening the organic processing tomato industry, as reduced irrigation inputs lower both yield and fruit quality. In response, an OFRF-funded project at University of California, Davis led by Dr. Amélie Gaudin, is focusing on strategies that serve the dual purpose of improving resilience to water shortages, while sequestering carbon and building healthy soils that can help mitigate and adapt to shifts in resource availability associated with climate change. If successful, the trial results could help convert 259,000 acres of processing tomatoes to organic production practices that promote climate resilience and improve competitiveness during drought.

Collaborating with Scott Park, an organic grower in the Sacramento Valley, the team at the university hopes to develop integrated irrigation practices that capitalize on soil health to improve irrigation efficiency and decrease pest pressure and potential nitrogen losses. They anticipate the practices they develop will help organic tomato growers dynamically cope with irrigation water shortages and increasingly stringent nitrogen regulations, without hampering the quality of their harvested product. The results of this research will be shared with conventional and organic producers, advisors, researchers and the general public through a variety of outreach and education activities.