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Water Saving Measures for California

California is the nation’s top agricultural producer, responsible for two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts and more than one third of its vegetables. The state’s ag-focused economy means farmers have historically been power players in politics, especially in discussions about apportioning water.

Farms and ranches in the Golden State constitute a $54 billion annual industry. In 2015, during a record-setting drought, California Governor Jerry Brown instructed cities and towns to reduce water use by 25 percent, the first cutback in state history.

George McFadden, a field agronomist for Ceres Imaging, headquartered in Oakland, California, uses aerial imagery to help farmers optimize water and fertilizer application. Funding for this research was supported through USDA’s SBIR program.

When it launched in 2014, Ceres focused on lucrative nut crops in the Central Valley, but soon expanded to other crops in California, the Midwest, and even Australia.

To assess fields, Ceres hires pilots who fly their aircraft low over the ground. The company attaches special cameras that focus on particular wavelengths to gauge water stress, chlorophyll content, and biomass—all indicators of health in a crop. Within 24 to 48 hours, growers can view imagery on phones or tablets, which McFadden says are popular with growers in the field.

Ceres offers a unique, proprietary product to measure chlorophyll content and its guidance for growers is also unique.

Ceres has teamed up with the University of California Cooperative Extension to conduct several studies, including a trial for the Almond Board of California that measured the response of nuts to different rates of watering.

Read more about Ceres Imaging.

Want to read about more impacts like this? Check out Fresh from the Field, a weekly bulletin showcasing transformative impacts made by grantees funded by NIFA.

Farm Bill Priority Areas
Plant health, production, and products;
Agriculture systems and technology;
Bioenergy, natural resources, and environment
U.S. States and Territories
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