Apr 10, 2020
New researcher, funds for organic research in California

Much of the research produced by U.S. land-grant universities is directed at traditional agriculture, but in the last 12 months, several organics-focused initiatives have been announced in California.

California has the most organic farms in the U.S., according to a 2016 USDA survey. California’s nearly 3,000 certified organic farms grow crops on land that represents 21% of all U.S. certified organic land.

In May 2019, Joji Muramoto was hired as the University of California’s first Cooperative Extension Specialist dedicated entirely to organic agriculture. A longtime research associate with the University of California (UC) Santa Cruz, he is known for pioneering organic production of strawberries.

In December, as Muramoto manned a booth at the Organic Grower Summit in Monterey, grower friends stopped by. Rod Koda, a grower at SK Berries in Monterey County, said he appreciated how Muramoto has helped him over the years. For instance, Koda said Muramoto and his colleague Carol Shennan taught Koda an organic technique for suppressing verticillium in the soil.

Muramoto’s dedication to organics goes deep. As a young boy growing up in Tokyo, his family became involved in the organics moment following the death of his 6-year-old sister to leukemia, according to a press release from UC. His mother used to buy produce via a “Teikei” system that’s similar to community-supported agriculture. He later began working on suburban farms during school breaks.

“Organic farmers there told me repeatedly, ‘Soil is the foundation of farming,'” he said. “That’s when I got interested in soil science.”

As a statewide organics specialist, he’s coordinating research and Extension efforts among other staff who work on both conventional and organic agriculture. One project recently funded by California’s Fertilizer Research and Education Program is “Developing a Nitrogen Mineralization Model for Organically Managed Vegetable Farms on the Central Coast.” Muramoto will work with Michael Cahn and Richard Smith of UC Cooperative Extension, and Daniel Geisseler of the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources.

The project will create a database of organic fertilizers and amendments, crop residues and soil organic matter, cataloging the rates at which nitrogen becomes available as these materials decompose. The team will then use the data to develop a nitrogen mineralization model for organic vegetable production in coastal California. That model then can be integrated into CropManage – UC’s decision-making tool for irrigation and nutrient management.

Clif Bar & Co. founder Gary Erickson is pictured with Kit Crawford, with whom he shares ownership of the company and CEO responsibilities. Photo: Clif Bar & Co.

At least one company in the private sector is willing to bankroll organics research. In January, UC announced the creation of the California Organic Institute in its Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) division. A million-dollar endowment was set up with a $500,000 gift from Clif Bar & Co. and matching funds from UC President Janet Napolitano.

The Institute gives UC ANR “more capacity to focus on challenges specific to organic farming,” said Glenda Humiston, UC vice president. It’ll do that by building on UC ANR’s Cooperative Extension and Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program and Extension advisors who already work with organic growers.

The California Organic Institute is Clif Bar’s third organic research endowment, but the first in its home state of California, where the organic foods and beverages company sources several key organic ingredients.

“We recognize that the future of our food company depends on the ecological and economic success of organic and transitioning farmers,” said Lynn Ineson, vice president of Sustainable Sourcing for Clif Bar.

— Stephen Kloosterman, associate editor


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