Recap: The 2018 FREP WPHA Annual Conference

FREP WPHA Conference 2018
Jocelyn Bridson speaking about compost at the 2018 FREP/WPHA Conference.

The twenty-sixth annual Fertilizer Research and Education Program (FREP) and Western Plant Health Association (WPHA) Conference took place October 23-24, 2018 in Seaside, CA. Speakers from industry, academia, and agricultural consulting provided cutting edge information on nutrient and irrigation management in California agriculture. Below you will find a highlight reel featuring key talks at this year’s conference. The PowerPoint presentation for each presenter is linked in this article and posted on the FREP website at: www.cdfa.ca.gov/go/FREPConference.

Day One: Morning

The conference began with introductory comments from Renee Pinel, Executive Director of WPHA, and Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). They each reviewed important recent developments in California agriculture and recognized FREP’s efforts addressing agricultural challenges and opportunities to improve on-farm management decisions and practices.

The conference then transitioned into current research to further develop decision-support tools and improve nitrogen management in central valley crops. These projects included adapting CropManage, the online irrigation and nitrogen management support tool, for processing tomatoes, and implementing early leaf sampling techniques in Walnuts, Prunes, and Pears.

After a short break, industry members spoke on two unique nutrient management considerations. The first touched on the growing use of compost and how to account for its contributions in nutrient management planning. The second presentation went back to the basics and discussed considerations for managing fertility in a newly recognized crop in California, cannabis.

Day One: Afternoon

In the afternoon, a panel of specialists and growers discussed irrigation management and efficiency. Panel members represented regions across California including the Central Coast, Central Valley, and the low desert. Attendees had the opportunity to participate as the panelists discussed past, present, and future irrigation innovations for the crops they work with across California.

After several presentations and discussions on research and management practices, attendees heard from a team of researchers who are surveying growers to better understand how they make management decisions. Their work will help guide future research and education projects and inform how FREP and technical service providers can better support grower decision making.

The late afternoon featured three speakers who described monitoring and evaluation techniques to guide agricultural practice improvements. This section included talks on the use of drone technology for crop monitoring, evaluating improved best management practices in a production walnut orchard, and management practice evaluation to reduce nitrogen losses to the environment.

Day Two

On day two, speakers focused on the importance of various plant nutrients, including nitrogen and phosphorous in organic leafy greens, the role of calcium in overall plant health, and common micronutrient deficiencies in crop production systems.

Attendees then heard about an education program through the University of California Nursery and Floriculture Alliance that hosts workshops to help growers improve their fertilizer efficiency while maintaining high-value production. Nursery and greenhouse growers face unique nutrient and irrigation management challenges and the Alliance workshops help them improve their efficiencies and meet regulatory requirements.

The last two sessions of the day highlighted the impacts of soil health on plant disease and insect pressures and gave the audience a quick update about projects they can expect to hear about in the coming years. Some of these projects include further adaptation of CropManage to include more crops (processing tomatoes, alfalfa, and almonds), the evaluation of biochar as a soil amendment, and the evaluation of organic fertilizers and amendments for long-term nutrient planning.

Looking Forward

Each year, the FREP program strives to evolve our approach to the annual conference to meet the changing needs of the agricultural community. Next year’s conference will be held October 29-30, 2019 in Fresno, CA. If you have suggestions for topics that you would like to hear about or farms that we might visit on next year’s farm tour, please do not hesitate to contact us at frep@cdfa.ca.gov.

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