Mota Ranch owner Jesse Mota and his family reached out to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Merced Service Center, and with the help of Soil Conservationist Tomas Aguilar-Campos, created a conservation plan for Mota Ranch, a 45 acre almond orchard in California, a state that currently faces at least three looming challenges in agriculture: drought conditions, bee decline and protecting soil health in an almond orchard that mitigates the effects of the drought by using a cover crop and micro irrigation to produce these almonds in Livingston, CA, on Wednesday, July 22, 2015, a few weeks before harvest. Planting pollinator-friendly cover crops helps overcome all three issues. Cover crops help trap moisture in the soil and improve soil organic matter. This is all part of the USDA conservation plan that Tomas Aguilar-Campos developed for Jesse Mota. The cover crop is a five species seed mix that includes phacelia and common vetch to attract pollinators to the property. Considering pollinators are essential to almond production, adding cover crops was an easy decision to make. Conservation plans are a free tool available to farmers and ranchers to help them determine what management practices can be incorporated to protect and improve natural resources. In California’s Central Valley, conserving irrigation water is priority number one due to California’s ongoing drought. Aguilar wanted to help Mota make the necessary changes to increase yield by reducing the drought stress on the trees and reducing water, man-hours, and chemical, nutrient, and fertilizer costs and services. With a USDA conservation plan in hand, Mota converted from flood irrigation to micro-irrigation several years ago and has since recorded consistent and increasing yields with vigorous growth of the trees. Micro irrigation, using micro sprinklers, spray water from a low height for a distance of several feet. The numerous sprinklers keep water on the trees’ root zones. Water is sprayed at a predetermined rate to customize the irrigation of each tree. The spray is not intended to water the cover crop between the rows of trees. Watering an entire 45-acre orchard is simply a push of a button to start a low emission diesel engine that powers a well pump drawing ground water hundreds of feet below the surface. If he needs to add liquid fertilizer, he simply sets a regulator to add a measured flow to the miles of irrigation tubes. In comparison, flood irrigation would take him days of prepare berms to contain and manage the flood of the water. Adding liquid nutrients, fertilizer or herbicides would require a greater amount, and would have to be applied manually, costing time and money. Mota looks forward to incorporating more conservation practices in his farm operation. Also see USDA at www.usda.com , Natural Resources and Environment at http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?navid=NATURAL_RESOURCES&navtype=SU and Natural Resources Conservation Service at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/national/home/. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

In summary

Newsom moves to ban widely used pesticide, private lawyer reaps millions for tax-sharing deals, and should drivers be required in driverless vehicles?

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Dan Morain joined CalMatters in March 2018. He is the former editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee. Morain also spent 27 years at The Los Angeles Times, and has covered the Capitol since 1992.