From the Field

From the Field

From the Field

Short profiles of SARE-funded research and education projects in action.

Curious about a particular topic? Search all SARE products in the Learning Center.

Assumptions Can Be Wrong

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

The planting of winter cover crops is a widely used management practice in California’s Paso Robles Groundwater Basin’s vineyards due to the many benefits, such as reduced erosion and nonpoint source pollution, increased soil organic matter, and improved infiltration of rainwater. However, declines in the groundwater basin and many years with little rain have growers looking closer at water conservation practices. These growers became concerned that the common cover cropping practices were depleting soil moisture that had been replaced by any winter rains. They questioned if the benefits realized from their cover cropping practices were worth the potential cost in terms of water that would have to be replaced by irrigation during the growing season.

BEHAVE Facilitators’ Network

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Previous research, along with successful implementation by ranchers, demonstrated the potential for livestock behavior to be modified and managed to improve and restore pastures and rangelands. Kathy Voth and the project team based in Utah designed their project to address the need for more education about using livestock’s natural behavior to manage weeds and other vegetation. According to Voth, the project was developed to “continuously expand the network of trained, agriculture professionals to facilitate understanding and application of behavioral principles to increase environmental integrity, quality of life for people and animals, and economic viability of agricultural enterprises.”

Behind Regional Distribution Success

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

University of California researchers are discovering the keys to success for regionally based supply chains, which play a major role in vibrant local food systems.

Building Tools and Technical Capacity to Improve Irrigation and Nutrient Management on California's Central Coast

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Growers on the Central Coast of California face rising costs and increasing regulatory scrutiny due to implementation of Total Maximum Daily Load. Thus, many growers are seeking more sustainable and cost-effective irrigation and nutrient management strategies. 

Camelina's Potential in the High Plains

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Dr. Bret Hess' research looking at camelina as an alternative seed crop for biofuels and as feedstock will give producers the information and tools they will need to make decisions around adding camelina to their operation when fuel prices do rise again. Read more...

Columbia River Basin Growers Learn their (Pest) Enemies

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

To manage pests, growers have to be able to identify them. They have to be able to recognize enemies – insects, weeds and diseases that will cause them economic harm – and realize that not all bugs or blotches on their plants are enemies. Some are allies – beneficial insects that prey on damaging pest – and others are neutral third parties that neither help nor harm the growers’ crops. Identification of pests and beneficials is one of the first principles of integrated pest management, and the core of a train-the-trainers program that’s been successfully improving the skills of young ag professionals in rural Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

Compost Training for Ag Professionals

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Composting is an example of an ecosystems service, and one that has potential to serve a variety of needs, including: waste reduction and diversion, soil enhancement, renewable sources of organic fertility, water conservation and carbon sequestration. In spite of interest in composting over the past decade, the project leaders saw significant untapped promise for agriculture to play a role in appropriate conversion of organic matter. Furthermore, questions remain. To address these questions, the Center for Sustainability developed a successful training program integrating the award-winning Maine curriculum with Cal Poly’s range of expertise and resources and established a number of collaborative partnerships that has resulted in research and educational programs within the Cal Poly Compost Project that surpass the scope of the grant.

Confirmation of Riparian Friendly Grazing Project Results and Development of Achievable, Site Specific Reference Conditions for Grazed Riparian Areas

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Building on a previously funded Western SARE project, Kenneth Tate and his team led this project to develop grazing recommendations based on the previous research and share those recommendations with ranchers, public land managers, and others involved with California’s natural resources.

Creating a Tribal Farm

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

When Fara Ann Brummer of Warm Springs Oregon began her SARE-funded project, Cropland Planning Group, her original intent was for the group to focus on one piece of tribal land and produce a well-thought out plan as an exercise. What happened in addition to this is that the group took on a life of its own through the middle phase of the project and gained immense tribal support to start a farm. Read more...

Curriculum Helps USDA Build Bridge to American Indians

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

A landmark curriculum that helps USDA professionals better serve American Indians is being widely adopted throughout the West, and garnered its writers USDA’s 2011 National Extension Diversity Award.

Developing a Handbook for Utilizing Livestock as a Tool in Noxious Weed Control in Nine Western States

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Researchers, ranchers, and land managers have recognized that livestock grazing can be a valuable and selective noxious weed management tool. In 2004, Jay Davison, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, found that known techniques had not been summarized into a useful format. This weakness had led to slow adoption of livestock grazing as a management tool. Davison and colleagues designed his project to summarize information concerning the use of livestock grazing to control important noxious weeds in nine western states, package the information in a readily useable format, and to disseminate the information to targeted audiences.

Developing Regional Agritourism Networks

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Shermain Hardesty and Penny Leff of the University of California Small Farm Program see an opportunity in agritourism to increase and diversify profits for producers, given the increased public demand for local foods and for education about local farms and ranches...

Distance Learning Approach to Whole Farm Planning

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Holistic Management Institute (HMI) is recognized as a successful whole farm planning method – incorporating environmental, economic, and social sustainability in its planning process. A survey conducted by HMI found that 50 agricultural professionals in the Western SARE region were interested in HMI’s Whole Farm Planning through Distance Learning training. As a result of the survey, HMI adapted the training so that residency periods were shorter, enabling more professionals to participate. Dr. Ann Adams and her team at HMI in New Mexico used their Western SARE PDP funds to provide agricultural professionals scholarships to participate in the Whole Farm Planning through Distance Learning training. By leveraging additional funds, they were able to increase the number of ag professionals trained from their original goal by 30%.

Economic Evaluation of Alternative (low-water use) Crops for the Great Basin

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Carol Bishop created the Western SARE Professional Development Program project Economic Evaluation of Alternative (low-water use) Crops for the Great Basin to “educate producers with pertinent information about alternative low-water-use crops and the associated decision-making tools developed to implement them.”

Empowering Socially-Disadvantaged Farmers to Investigate Nitrogen Management in High-Value Vegetable Crops

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

ALBA designed this project with the goal that ten socially-disadvantaged farmers would improve their capacity to frame, ask, and answer questions related to their crop production challenges. Specifically, these farmers would investigate improving N fertilization management for organic kale and cilantro crops by conducting basic on-farm research.

Exploring Energy Efficiency and Alternatives Curriculum

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

To increase producers’ knowledge of energy issues, the “E3A Project” created energy education resources targeted at meeting the needs of producers and ag professionals by developing materials, web-based tools, an in-depth energy training and educational toolkits.

Fighting Coffee Berry Borer in Kona Hawaii

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

The coffee berry borer (CBB) causes extensive destruction on the coffee seed, reducing yields and quality of coffee, and thus, resulting in reducing the income of coffee growers and the sustainability of coffee producing areas. Elsie Burbano Greco and a team of farmer participants created a Western SARE Professional + Producer project, “Effectiveness of Beauveria Bassiana on Coffee Berry Borer in Different Agroclimatic Zones” to achieve a greater understanding of the effect of B. bassiana on the coffee berry borer, with special reference to timing of applications and the effects of local environmental conditions on the effectiveness of the product.

Graduate Student Program From the Field

Short profiles of Western SARE-funded graduate student projects in action.

Growing the Field for Organic Conservation

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

As producers work to meet regulations under the National Organic Program (NOP) and become certified organic, they often apply conservation practices that align well with the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) conservation activities, such as green manures, buffer strips, and rotational grazing. NRCS assistance is being sought by both new and established organic farmers to help meet resource stewardship goals. Yet, NRCS staff, as well as other ag professionals such as organic certifiers, need an improved understanding of natural resource conservation on organic and transitioning farms in Oregon and California.

High Tunnels in South-Central Alaska

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Extending the season through the use of high tunnels is critically important in the sub-artic region as a method to increase food security and local sustainable agricultural opportunities. However, while the general idea is that high tunnels can add two to four weeks to a growing season, Rachel Lord found that little research had been done in coastal Alaska to determine if this assumption, largely developed in the Lower 48 states, was the case in her region. She stated more data would be needed to understand the relationship between inside and outside temperatures and the effects of humidity when utilizing high tunnels on an Alaskan farm. Lord developed the Farmer Rancher program-funded project Monitoring Impacts of High Tunnels on Growing Conditions and Season Extension in South-central Alaska to provide the agricultural community local data to better guide farming efforts and make the most use of limited resources.

Improving Nutrient Use Efficiency in Montana Wheat

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

A Montana State University team used on-farm research to identify fertilizer application practices for wheat that can minimize volatilization, or atmospheric nutrient losses, saving the state's farmers millions of dollars per year. "This was a landmark study because we knew we were losing nitrogen, we just didn't know how we were losing it," says farmer Curtis Hershberger.

Improving Rangeland in the Semi-Arid West

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Research by geneticist Dr. Blair Waldron, USDA-ARS Forage and Range Research Lab in Logan, Utah, has led to a better understanding of the positive uses of perennial shrubs (such as Forage Kochia) and grass-legume mixes in managing rangeland in the semi-arid west. His research will assist ranchers and land managers in decreasing invasive species, lessen damage from wildfires, reduce nitrogen fertilizer use and feeding costs, and increase environmental stewardship.

Integrated Production Systems in Micronesia

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

According the Dr. Virendra Verma, College of Micronesia - FSM, there is a crucial need to increase agricultural production in Micronesia by generating the ability to successfully raise livestock and grow food and feed crops for sustenance. This can be accomplished by training local farmers in appropriate and skillful use of sustainable and integrated agriculture systems.

Integrating Traditional Foods with Aquaponics in the Desert Southwest

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Farmer Aaron Cardona designed his project to research building a more affordable aquaponic system on his farm, which could be replicated by others in the region, creating an economic opportunity. The system would also produce culturally relevant food as a means of bringing back traditional foods into the local population’s diet; thus, improving the health of the community.

Land Management Training for America's Fastest Growing Farmer Group

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

SARE-funded extension specialists in 42 states are making homestead farmers better stewards of their land.

Low-Till Forage Production

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Jeff Mitchell of the University of California Kearny Agricultural Center, was awarded a Western SARE Professional + Producer Grant to evaluate and refine strip-till and no-till planting systems for corn forage production and no-till drill winter forage planting at the San Joaquin Valley in terms of crop establishment, weed control and profitability.

Management Practices and Cover Crops for Reducing Tillage, Enhancing Soil Quality, and Managing Weeds

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

When Douglas Collins, Washington State University, brought together a research and producer group, they identified a “lack of successful examples of reduced-till practices for systems similar to theirs and in the maritime Northwest climate” as a critical gap to making this system change. Producers were specifically interested in identifying species of cover crops to use in organic reduced-till systems; planting and termination timing for cover crops; weed management techniques; and field equipment necessary to adopt these systems.” Consequently, Collins and his team developed the project “Selecting Management Practices and Cover Crops for Reducing Tillage, Enhancing Soil Quality, and Managing Weeds in Western Washington” with the long-term goal to increase organic farmer economic and environmental sustainability in western Washington through soil conservation in reduced tillage systems.

Marketing Opportunities of Conventional vs. GMO-free Broilers

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Farrmer Jared Pruch received numerous requests from his farmers’ market customers in Oregon to produce GMO-free poultry products. However, Pruch was uncertain of the economic viability of raising poultry with GMO-free feed. In order to determine the potential for his operation and other local poultry farmers, he conducted a cost-comparison study between raising Cornish cross broiler chickens on locally sourced, GMO-free feed versus conventional feed. He found that there was economic potential in providing consumers a GMO-free chicken.

Meeting the Need for Livestock Mortality Alternatives

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

With traditional methods of handling dead livestock either becoming more costly or falling under closer scrutiny, a team of researchers from four Western states developed in-depth training materials on livestock composting, an alternative disposal method.

Montana Ranchers Embrace New Winter Forage

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

For ranchers, Montana's first state-recommended winter wheat variety is a livestock forage with multiple benefits. 

Native Habitat Restoration, Sustainable IPM, and Beneficial Insect Conservation

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

A key to improving the sustainability of IPM and CBC is a diversified, native habitat that contains resources for predators and parasitoids year-round. This can be accomplished by creating a farm landscape that mimics the habitat that existed before the vineyard and is attractive to beneficial arthropods. David James and his team in Washington obtained an extensive amount of information on the relative value of more than 100 flowering plant species in attracting beneficial insects, including predators, parasitoids, and pollinators. These species include Snowy Milkweed, Yarrow, Gray Rabbitbrush, among many others.

New Mexico Grower Saved by the Sun

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Don Bustos has used solar energy to cut his winter greenhouse heating bill to almost nothing.

Nurturing a Culture Shift in School Cafeterias

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

A network of school gardens in Bellingham, Wash., is helping strengthen ties between local farmers and school food service administrators.

Perennial Forage Revitalizes Rangeland

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Pervasive cheatgrass has long posed a threat to ranchers and their communities in the Intermountain West, but there is new hope in forage kochia, a perennial shrub with the potential to improve grazing and biodiversity.

Pollinator Conservation

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

As the Xerces Society implements their Pollinator Conservation Planning Short Courses in the Western Region, they are already showing signs of impact and interest among their targeted audience....

Pollinator Forage Development

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Farmer Heather Harrell and beekeeper Les Crowder of New Mexico recognized the need to develop conservation techniques to preserve the continued presence of honeybees and other pollinator species in both agricultural and wild lands, due to their collapsing populations. Research existed on the potential causes of the collapse; however, more information was needed on remediation. Organic producers, such Harrell and Crowder, had turned to the idea of building healthy habitats for pollinators in areas that are protected from environmental degradation. In 2011, Harrell and Crowder had NRCS funding to establish pollination hedges, but they did not have a viable list of plant species to use. The goal this project was to begin the process of identifying forage species which provide food and habitat for pollinators while serving as windbreaks, livestock forage, and nitrogen-fixing cover crops. They believed that “this will enable beekeepers and interested agricultural landowners with the knowledge to develop their lands in support of these diminishing populations.”

Reducing Pacific Island Growers’ Reliance on Off-island Fertilizer Sources

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

At the Western SARE Hawaii sub-regional conference held in 2008, stakeholders identified replacing imported fertilizers with local resources as the highest research, education, and development priority. The cost of commercial fertilizer has risen along with oil prices, and thus, growers in the Pacific region are increasingly interested in obtaining locally available by-products that can be used as agricultural inputs. According to Theodore Radovich, University of Hawaii, possible inputs include commercial green-waste composts, rendered animal products (tankage), and invasive algae from coral reef remediation projects. These by-products are readily available, but bottlenecks exist that inhibit use and adoption by growers. To address the bottlenecks, Radovich developed this project to conduct a series of greenhouse and on-farm trials in cooperation with university faculty, commercial growers, and industry partners.

Rehabilitating Degraded Grasslands with Managed Grazing

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Steve Van Vleet found that properly managing grasslands with mob grazing significantly helped regenerate the vegetation and improve species diversity. 

Researchers Say Hill-Climbing Cows May Bring Big Benefits for Western Ranchers

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

If ranchers could select for the hill-climbing trait, the same way they select for any number of other genetic traits, it could have huge implications throughout the rugged West. They could graze more cows on mountainous ranches. Rangeland would be more productive and more evenly utilized. Riparian areas could be more easily protected. With Western SARE funding, Derek Bailey is working with a team of scientists located across the West to investigate this opportunity, including Milt Thomas, Scott Speidel and Mark Enns at Colorado State University, Juan Medrano at UC Davis, and Larry Howery at University of Arizona. 

Rural Revitalization through Farm-Based Enterprise

Type: North Central SARE From the Field Profile

For decades, John Allen has helped farmers develop business skills and strategies, improving their profitability and helping to revitalize rural communities.

Soil Quality Network

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

For better or worse, land management decisions impact soil health. To support on-the-ground soil quality improvements, Theresa Matteson and her team created plans for two workshops to train ag professionals; a database for rating soil samples, generating farmer reports, and documenting activities and efforts; and a website to serve as a central hub for communication and resource distribution.

Stitching Together a Region's Prosperity, Nutrition and Sustainability

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

The San Joaquin Valley of California is one of the most productive and diverse agricultural areas in the country. However, Daniel O’Connell of the Sequoia Riverlands Trust (SRT), along with local producers, gathered data that identified challenges in building a healthier regional food system.  These challenges, similar those many other regions face, included  lack of infrastructure to provide for adequate distribution channels, minimal awareness by consumers about where and how to access product in the region,  land use decisions on the urban-rural edge that impacted farmers with pressures that drove up land and production costs, and the Valley’s disconnect from broader, statewide food systems thought, policy changes and economic benefits from localized trends like value-added processing.

Successful Launching of Wyoming Reservation Farmers Market

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Because of high obesity and diabetes rates and a lack of locally-grown foods on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Washakie, Wyoming, Justine Russell launched her PDP-funded project with the goal of increasing awareness of the potential for a farmers market on the Reservation. In less than two years, she and her partners accomplished so much more than increasing awareness.

Supporting Farmer Training Programs in the West

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Incubator farms provide opportunities to beginning farmers, many of whom are immigrants or refugees, by providing access to land for a reduced fee and helping them develop both the skills needed to run a successful farm and a create a business plan. After graduation, these trained farmers have an increased chance of obtaining capital and land and in reaching their farm business goals. However, three times as many farmer training programs exist than there were just six years ago, with over 100 known programs in the U.S. Over 50% of them serve immigrant and/or refugee populations. These new organizations are also struggling to secure land and funding and to develop a framework for their programs.

Teaching Cattle to Eat Sagebrush

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Nevada rancher Agee Smith is using a farmer/rancher grant to add sagebrush to his cattle's diet, which has the potential to lower winter feed costs while improving rangeland biodiversity. 

Tomato Grower Learns to Put Soil Before Shade

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Working with New Mexico State University extension agents, Peter Sinanian developed an interesting farm-based research project. Would shading his various varieties of tomatoes reduce leafhopper feeding and disease losses? And could intercropping the tomatoes with sunflowers be as effective at warding off leafhoppers as installing shade cloth over them?

Training in Marine Ornamental Farming for Extension Professionals in Micronesia

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

According to Simon Ellis, director of the Marine and Environmental Research Institute of Pohnpei (MERIP), one of the most successful aquaculture enterprises in the FSM and RMI to date has been farming of marine ornamental invertebrates for supplying home aquariums in the United States and Europe. Ellis designed his Western SARE Professional Development Program project, “Training in Marine Ornamental Farming for Extension Professionals in Micronesia,” with the assumption that the marine ornamental aquaculture industry in Micronesia could be improved by better skills, knowledge, and communication between practitioners.

Vegetable and Weed Degree-day Models

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Pest managers are familiar with the concept of using degree days to predict pest outbreaks. Insects, like many other organisms, develop according to the temperature around them and degree days are a way to measure accumulated temperature. Plants – at least in part – also develop based on temperature, so a team in Oregon is adapting a degree-day modeling system built for pest management to make a tool for vegetable growers to better plan their planting and harvesting dates.

Vegetables All Year in Northern New Mexico

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Thanks to the effort of two New Mexico State University faculty members and a SARE grant, the farmers of northern New Mexico are finding that vegetables can be successfully grown year-round more....

Water Management in Sonoma County Grape Production

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

According to Karen Thomas of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, their regional wine grape growers needed “information on alternatives to frost protection using overhead sprinklers, on irrigation management strategies to reduce water use, and on Best Management Practices for water conservation when frost protecting and irrigating grape vines.” In order to provide this information, Thomas designed the Western SARE Professional + Producer project Water Management in Sonoma County Grape Production.

Water Use of Wine Grapes in the Granitic Soils of the Fair Play Wine Region in the Sierra Foothills

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

Vineyard managers in Fair Play, California looked for a way to increase the efficiency of their water applications.

Western Pollinator Conservation Planning Short Course

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

To provide information on habitat enhancements to ag professionals, Eric Mader of the Xerces Society developed the Professional Development (PDP) project “Western Pollinator Conservation Planning Short Course.” This project aimed to supply in-depth pollinator conservation training to farm educators and resource conservation professionals in 11 Western States.

Wiser Wine: California Grape Growers Adopt Innovative System to Evaluate Sustainability

Type: Western SARE From the Field Profile

California's massive winegrape industry is growing more sustainable, thanks to the efforts of groups like the Central Coast Vineyard Team.

 

2016 Annual Report

For the first time, we are sharing a yearly snapshot of our work. The stories provided here typify the creative, participatory and integrated research Western SARE annually funds – led by land grant institution researchers and graduate students, Extension and other ag professionals, and nonprofit leaders in full partnership with producers.