"And the hits just keep on comin’” those old Top 20s disc jockeys used to say. In a way it is true of California’s world-renowned agricultural empire as new ways of doing old chores just keep on appearing.
And none of it is by accident; on the contrary. Diligent and dedicated research and application remains underway at colleges and universities, in federally and state supported laboratories, in experiment stations and field research centers and in on-farm shops and garages
Just a few weeks ago we learned about those pint-sized unmanned helicopters that are about to be widely used for spraying agricultural nutrients and other chemicals in vineyard and orchards. In smaller settings the drones can do a better job than manned aircraft or manned tractors towing heavy duty sprayer equipment, and probably do it at lower cost and with less drift and waste of costly and agricultural chemicals.
More recently word has arrived from the University of California, Riverside (UCR), of a compound that can be sprayed on plants to inhibit their loss of moisture. Instead of shriveling or wilting like their untreated cousins, the sprayed plants stand erect and strong, producing a crop as they maximize the use of available moisture.
Discovered by UCR plant biologist Sean Cutler, the compound is called quinabactin. It mimics the function of the plant hormone absisic acid that makes plants conserve water. It might never rival the proposed twin tunnels for outright water volume, but it has interesting potential for conserving water used in agriculture.
The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has just announced new attractants for the widespread pest codling moth. By adding the compounds pear ester and acetic acid to the already useful scent of a sex attractant researchers now can attract significantly larger female numbers of the pest to their deaths in traps.
The number attracted has been used for some time to tell orchard managers when they must spray to control the troublesome pest. However, the enhanced attractants lure so many more moths that it becomes a control mechanism of its own. The old method of wholesale spraying becomes a touch-up application, saving significant dollars in chemical costs.
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In small scale trials the researchers found that the more precise action thresholds developed with the stronger lures allowed reduction of pesticide applications by 30 percent to 70 percent.
Orchard sized trials are underway, as well as studies to determine if the more natural lures will work with other pests as well.
From winged pests to ground based intruders. A new process for pumping carbon dioxide into the underground burrows of squirrels, gophers, voles and other burrowing animals promises much more widespread control of these rural-based nuisances. The gas, in handy sized containers is heavier than air. When it settles in the burrows of these animals it displaces oxygen, leaving them nothing to breathe. Internment is taken care of automatically.
This privately developed exterminator called the Terminator, follows an earlier technique that pumped propane into the burrows and ignited it, blowing the troublesome critters to smithereens. The Terminator is quiet by contrast, an attractive feature, especially in residential or recreational areas.
Couple these money-saving tools and applications with dozens of new packaging and shipping containers that not only protect and preserve perishables in transit, but compliment their natural allure when displayed for shoppers and the appeal of agriculture on the California scale takes on an even broader and deeper context.
If those groovy 30-somethings could just absorb more of what is happening in agriculture to make its life and theirs better, the world might be more a harmonious place, whether you’re on the AM or FM dial.
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