In contrast, genetically modified crops such as soy, corn and cotton have received widespread adoption by U.S. farmers.
Debate continues over whether genetically modified rice would be a plus or minus for the environment. While herbicide-tolerant varieties could reduce herbicide applications overall — they could also contribute to herbicide resistance in weedy rice.
For the time being, however, market considerations have trumped the debate over environmental costs and benefits.
A recent article in California Agriculture featured a literature review and extensive interviews with California rice growers explaining why.
“Although several studies suggest that transgenic rice would benefit California rice growers — particularly the herbicide-tolerant varieties — transgenic rice also presents economic risks,” writes Dustin Mulvaney, lead author, and now assistant professor at San Jose State University.
For one, California growers rely on exports for half of their sales. At present, Japan alone constitutes 41 percent of the state’s export market. Japan purchased more than $421 million in 2009 — over 40 percent of the industry's exports.
“While it is difficult to determine whether protectionism, culture or biosafety are the main forces driving such policies, all play a role in discouraging the deployment of transgenic rice,” Mulvaney said
California growers manage risks to marketability through the California Rice Certification Act. The act targets “characteristics of commercial impact,” including those of transgenic rice. The act states that growers rely upon identity preservation in the “production, handling and marketing practices that maintain the integrity and purity of agricultural commodities.”
Identity preservation is used to manage “genetic pollution” risks from transgenic crops (California Agriculture July-September 2006), particularly those not approved for human consumption or used to make pharmaceuticals (California Agriculture April-June 2007). In these latter cases, identity preservation must be 100% effective.
Mulvaney notes, “The commercial approval of transgenic rice in California is unlikely until there is widespread market acceptance and growers are assured of no sales interruptions. “
They’ve been in existence for thousands of years with many benefits including serving as wind breaks, helping to reduce soil erosion, and providing habitat for wildlife. All of this helps protect our water and air quality as well as enhances biodiversity.
More recently, studies have shown that hedgerows of California native flowering shrubs planted on field crop edges can enhance beneficial insect activity on farms, possibly leading to biological pest control in adjacent crops. This valuable ecosystem service could lead to reduced insecticide use on farms, possibly enhancing environmental and worker health and safety issues and provide cost savings to growers. for thousands of years with many benefits including serving as wind breaks, helping to reduce soil erosion and providing habitat for wildlife. All of this helps protect our water and air quality as well as enhance biodiversity.
The extent to which enhanced pest control occurs in adjacent crops is still under investigation. However, research to date shows that hedgerows aren’t concentrating beneficial insects; instead they’re actually exporting them into adjacent crops. That is, higher numbers of beneficial insects have been found in crops adjacent to hedgerows of flowering shrubs than weedy field edges. Data are still being collected on impacts to pest control.
The enhanced biodiversity and potential ecosystem service benefits of hedgerows have prompted the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service to support growers in planting native shrubs and perennial grasses on their farms. In 2009, 13 miles of hedgerows were established on California farms compared to 3 miles in 2005, so interest is growing. In particular, planting California native flowering shrubs and forbs for attracting native bee pollinators for enhanced pollination in adjacent crops is gaining significant attention. Recently the USDA approved 90 percent cost-share programs for pollinator hedgerows.
More information on plant selection, establishment practices and costs for planting hedgerows on farms can be found in UC ANR publication number 8390, available as a PDF or e-book: Establishing hedgerows on farms in California.
While the legality of California’s medical marijuana dispensaries is being debated in courtrooms, a UC Cooperative Extension forestry and wildlands ecology advisor says there are a number of issues related to the unregulated land-use practices of illicit cannabis growing that have not been addressed.
In Lake and Mendocino counties, Giusti performs research and shares information with public agencies and private landowners in relation to forest management and freshwater ecology on behalf of UC Cooperative Extension. Marijuana farming is not a topic that Giusti ever intended to address.
Effects on natural resources
Most of the data available about illicit cannabis grows is based on drug enforcement actions, specifically how many sites were busted and how many plants or pounds of plant material were seized. Giusti has gathered photographs and anecdotal evidence of the effects on natural resources of commercial-scale marijuana grows operated illicitly on public and private lands.
Some of the effects he has documented:
- illegal water controls (including dams, stream diversion and water storage)
- water pollution from petroleum, pesticide and fertilizer products
- pesticides applied without permits
- pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals left behind
- indiscriminate fish and wildlife killing (including poisoning, trapping and poaching for food)
- human trash and waste left after camping
“It’s not this green industry that people talk about,” Giusti says. “They’re diverting water, they’re polluting streams, and there’s a portion who are poaching. We’re also seeing all of the negative effects of unregulated road building, unregulated construction and unregulated human inhabitation for months and months out in the woods.”
Giusti explained that some cannabis growers divert water from streams to store in large water bladders, prematurely lowering stream levels during critical times in the year.
“It's illegal to do, but at the same time you can drive up and down Highway 101 and easily buy these huge bladders,” he said.
He notes that local businesses are selling compost by the ton, rodenticide by the pallet, thousands of pairs of clippers and turkey bags in lots of 100.
“Mainstream businesses are supporting this underground industry,” Giusti said. “You don’t have to be growing cannabis to be making money off of it.”
In 2010, Giusti organized two community workshops in Lake County to address the impacts of illicit cannabis land-use on forest resources, for a combined attendance of nearly 400 community members. Giusti has shared his results with the board of supervisors for Lake and Mendocino counties, local news media, local foresters and the staff of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
“My intention was to initiate a communitywide discussion to ask, ‘Is this what you want to happen to your forests?’” Giusti said. “Up until now it's been talked about in hushed tones, and I wanted to initiate a dialogue out loud. Everybody has been whispering about it.”
The presentation he developed for those meetings continues to generate discussion. Most recently, he has presented to the North Coast Water Quality Control Board staff and other agencies. He has shared photos collected for his presentation with Congressman Mike Thompson’s office as well.
“With the water quality control board, I had the opportunity to engage people whose job it is to protect the beneficial uses of water — and hopefully stimulate an internal dialogue so that they can continue the discussion after I leave their office,” he said. “There are other resource agencies that need to be involved, and county planning departments too. This is an unregulated land-use practice.”
This month, the Lake County Record-Bee ran an article by reporter Linda Williams with the headline “Thirsty marijuana grows suck Eel River dry,” which included some information presented at Giusti’s meetings.
“My efforts seem to be improving people's awareness,” he says. “The very thing I wanted to accomplish — creating broader dialogues — is happening.”
Weeds, weeds, weeds! Have you noticed? This has been a banner year for weeds. Puncturevine where I’ve never seen it before. Garden soil covered with common purslane (at least it’s good in salads). And solid stands of yellow starthistle everywhere!
What can be done? First of all, identify your weeds. Different weeds require different treatments. Is it an annual or perennial? Does it propagate by wind-blown seeds or by runners? The University of California Integrated Pest Management website, has weed-identification guides that are fun and easy to use. The website also offers treatment guidelines.
In the California foothills, yellow starthistle (YST) is perhaps the most common weed of concern. It impacts much of our open space - agricultural and rangeland - and intrudes into our neighborhood landscapes. Yellow starthistle currently infests more than 15 million acres of land in California. Not only does it prevent recreational use, like walking or hiking, but it chokes out native grasses and wildflowers. It is also poisonous to horses, causing a neurological disorder called "chewing disease” which can be fatal once symptoms develop.
That said, yellow starthistle can be hand-pulled at any time in its lifespan. In its present dry and spiny stage, pulling the weeds can inflict pain, so be sure to wear gloves. Double-bag the plants and burn them later in the fall.
There is a fairly new herbicide (2009) on the market from Monterey Chemical called Star Thistle Killer.
Local pest control companies are also available to provide a one-time herbicide application for yellow starthistle. For more information, go to the Central Sierra Cooperative Extension website or call the Yellow Starthistle Leading Edge Project in the UC Cooperative Extension office at (530) 621-5533 or (209) 533-6993.
Information adapted from the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program and from “Yellow Starthistle: Brief Homeowner Information Sheet” by John E. Otto, Amador County Master Gardener.
Also see the following video on yellow starthistle control.
California’s vast dry rangelands are dotted with water troughs ideal for quenching cattle’s thirst. But in most cases, the troughs’ designs are a torment to wildlife drawn for a drink.
Monterey County rancher George Work observed how traditional water troughs frustrated the wildlife on his family’s 12,000-acre cattle ranch. Small birds couldn’t reach water two or three inches below the top edge. Coyotes, bobcats and cottontails weren’t tall enough to reach over the rim. Work set to making a water trough that would meet the needs of all animals on the range – from cattle, hunting dogs and horses to deer and rabbits.
While raising cattle remains the primary function of the Work Ranch, in order to generate more income from the scenic open space the ranch opens its doors to hunting wild boar, quail and Tule elk. The visitors enjoy seeing a diversity of wildlife.
“One-third of our business comes from wildlife,” Work said.
In 1998, Work drew from decades of first-hand experience to design a better water trough. With a grant from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, he constructed a prototype. The concrete trough is sunk into the ground under an elderberry tree. Work modified a float like those used in toilet tanks to keep the water within centimeters of the rim.
That first man-made watering hole was an improvement for many species, but it also revealed some problems. Birds needed an escape ramp to climb out of the water should they fall in while drinking; the ramp should be shallow enough to allow the birds to bathe. Larger animals had to be kept from using the trough for a cooling dip. Work found that sloping the sides to a sharp V at the bottom of the trough made it unappealing for a soak.
Years of experimentation and innovation resulted in the development of pre-manufactured concrete water troughs, which are now commercially available. The next challenge is selling the idea to ranchers.
Enter UC Cooperative Extension. On an unrelated visit to the Work Ranch, UC Berkeley wildlife biologist Reg Barrett was impressed by Work’s invention and encouraged UC Cooperative Extension rangeland advisor Royce Larsen and NRCS rangeland conservationist Karl Striby to help spread the word.
Larsen and Stirby are now completing the first step, adding the ground-level water trough specifications to NRCS's published Technical Notes. The publication will provide ranchers and other land owners with the information they need to install the wildlife-friendly troughs.
“If you’re thinking of installing a basic, traditional trough for cattle, it may or may not be the best idea,” Larsen said. “But you’re thinking about supporting both cattle and wildlife, it’s great.”
In the video below, rancher George Work shows the ground-level water trough prototype and the second-generation, pre-manufactured version.