California Institute for Water Resources
California Institute for Water Resources
California Institute for Water Resources
University of California
California Institute for Water Resources

Water management as farming practice

“Water management is one of the most important farming practices you or your clients should be practicing, full stop,” wrote Phoebe Gordon, UC Cooperative Extension orchard systems advisor in Madera and Merced counties.

Born and raised in California, Gordon is excited to share her knowledge with growers to improve orchard production and sustainability in the San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Her research and extension program focuses on water quality, soil salinity, plant nutrition, and pests and diseases in tree crops including almonds, pistachios, figs, and prunes.

“I'm still early in my career and my program is still evolving. I'm a generalist – I work in horticulture, entomology, pathology, and I've just started some weed projects. I'm particularly focused on almonds and figs. Figs present a really unique opportunity for me since the industry is centered in the counties I cover. No other farm advisor really has it as a major commodity, so that gives me a lot of room to grow.”

As a farm advisor, Gordon's focus changes with the seasons. “There really is no typical day for me. This time of the year I spend most of my time indoors writing, or working on talks. Once almond hull split starts, I spend the majority of my time outdoors collecting data. I have farm calls and out of town trips sprinkled in for good measure.”

In addition, Gordon and colleague Luke Milliron, a UC Cooperative Extension area sustainable orchard systems advisor in Butte County, created a podcast called Growing the Valley where they tackle a wide variety of issues in an easy to access format. “The podcast is intended for anyone with interest in agriculture in the Central Valley,” says Gordon.

In a recent episode on irrigation, Gordon talks about water potential and the soil-plant-atmosphere continuum – a topic that may sound intimidating, but which Gordon breaks down easily. The episode is one in a still growing series – there are currently ten episodes included – on irrigation that features experts including Mae Culumber, Allan Fulton, David Doll, and others.

Throughout the podcast, Gordon and Milliron interview other cooperative extension affiliated experts, as well as researchers from government agencies and other universities. The duo also discusses relevant research and what's in the news. 

Like many in the Central Valley, Gordon sees the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, or SGMA, as something that is reshaping the state's agricultural landscape. “While SGMA will drastically change California agriculture, I think it presents a really unique opportunity for growers to rise to the challenge and get even better at managing their water,” says Gordon. “I don't want to distract or dismiss the hardships that many will encounter, but tough times give everyone – researchers, engineers, and practitioners – the opportunity to really innovate.”

“We all know water is critical for agriculture,” Gordon notes. “And, with groundwater management, it's even more important that growers know they're applying just enough water to trees at the right time to maximize an orchard's water use efficiency, and that's where I hope my work can be a contribution.”

Follow Gordon on Twitter @PhoebeG_Orchard.

Posted on Monday, March 23, 2020 at 5:45 PM

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