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Dahlberg introduced San Joaquin Valley farmers to a new sorghum variety trial during the Alfalfa Field Day Sept. 8. The trial, which compares 80 varieties of forage sorghum, is also being conducted at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points, Calif. At Kearney, the 10- to 12-foot-high plants were grown in 84 days with just 8 inches of irrigation water.
"I'm going to push this to be a sorghum state," said Dahlberg, who came to California in January from Texas, where he was director of research for the United Sorghum Checkoff Board. "I'm not suggesting you take out all your corn forage, but experiment with this a little. There is no reason you shouldn't grow forage sorghum."
Dahlberg said the crop could be useful in rotation with traditional California crops, like cotton and corn.
"There are lots of acres on the West Side that I think could benefit with sorghum rotation," he said.
Alfalfa Field Day participants also viewed alfalfa growing at Kearney as part of an extensive, statewide alfalfa variety trial. Similar plots are being maintained at UC's Intermountain Research and Extension Center, about two miles south of the Oregon border, at the Desert Research and Extension Center, about 10 miles north of the Mexican border, and at several locations in between.
UC Cooperative Extension alfalfa specialist Dr. Dan Putnam said the data gathered in these trials are provided to growers on the UC Alfalfa and Forage website to help them select a variety to grow, a decision Putnam admonished farmers not to take lightly.
"You are 'stuck' with your variety decision for many years," Putnam said. "So why not take a little care in choosing your variety?"
Putnam also described an alfalfa trial at Kearney where a Roundup Ready cultivar is growing across the road from a conventional crop. During the first year of the study, tests have shown that there has been no discernible gene flow between the two fields.
Alfalfa grown for seed requires honey bee pollination and has different isolation requirements than hay, he said. A three-mile buffer must be maintained for production of Roundup Ready seed and a five-mile buffer is required for seed grown for markets sensitive to a genetically-engineered trait. However, alfalfa hay crops can be grown in close proximity with very low risk of contamination if growers follow a few simple steps.
Putnam believes that non-GMO farmers can coexist with conventional farmers by using some of the same good-neighbor farming accords that have long been common in agriculture.
"There is a human factor involved," Putnam said. "Neighbors have to get along and respect each others' points of view."
One way for farmers and buyers to be certain a non-GMO crop doesn't have the Roundup Ready gene is with a simple, commercially available test that can be used in the field or on baled hay, shown below.
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Farmers' rugged independence and tendency toward experiential learning make them the ideal candidates for conducting their own on-farm research. UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors will provide the basic tenants for conducting such studies during the Alfalfa Field Day, Thursday, Sept. 8, at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier.
Though farmers don't have to employ the rigorous scientific processes used by UC academics conducting agricultural research, following certain techniques in planning the study, gathering and evaluating data will help ensure valid results.
"We're encouraging farmers to take a scientific approach in a realistic way," said Carol Frate, the UC Cooperative Extension field crops farm advisor for Tulare County. Frate and Shannon Mueller, the Fresno County field crops farm advisor, developed the presentation. "We'll suggest that the farmer do some replication, take notes and follow through. We'll show them how to evaluate the economics of different treatments."
Frate and Mueller's presentation will be made in the classroom following a three-stop field tour with the following presentations:
- Alfalfa variety development and selection for high yields and pest management by Dan Putnam, Extension Agronomist and Forage Specialist, UC Davis
- "Forage sorghums: Not what your parents grew!" by Jeff Dahlberg, Director, Kearney Agricultural Research & Extension Center, Parlier
- Growing Roundup Ready and conventional alfalfa side by side without contamination - is it possible? by Dan Putnam, UC Cooperative Extension agronomist and forage specialist, UC Davis
In addition to the presentation on DIY on-farm research, the following topics will be covered during the classroom session:
- An IPM approach for controlling pocket gophers and voles in alfalfa by Roger Baldwin, IPM wildlife pest management advisor, Kearney Agricultural Research & Extension Center, Parlier
- What do you want to know and how do you want to know it? by Shannon Mueller
- "Got weeds? Let's talk." (Bring your weeds and questions) by Kurt Hembree, farm advisor, UC Cooperative Extension, Fresno County
- Sclerotinia crown and stem rot of alfalfa and date of planting – Carol Frate
- Optimizing small grain yields (herbicides, stripe rust) – Steve Wright, farm advisor, UC Cooperative Extension, Tulare County
Registration is at 7:30 p.m. The field tour will be from 8 to 9:45 a.m. and the classroom session from 10 a.m. to 12 noon.