Welcome to the Ultra Gro Agronomy Letter!
Two weeks ago, several of us from Ultra Gro attended the APG Pistachio Conference. It was a wonderful event and we are very proud of our own, Rich Kreps, in his leadership role at the conference. One of the big follow-on stories that has gained a huge amount of buzz and traction is “Regenerative Ag.” We asked Rich and Ultra Gro Agronomist, Robert Smith, to put together their general thoughts on the subject and to speak specifically to our audience about the Ultra Gro approach to Sustainability/Regenerative Ag

And just one more thing… Rich puts the finishing touch on this Agronomy Letter with his ideas for dealing with saturated soils and the specific issues we are facing TODAY throughout California. Please see his article at the end of this email. Thank you…
By Robert Smith, Agronomist
There has been much discussion recently and a focus by the University research moving agriculture to a more “sustainable system.” California farmers and ranchers are leading the way in climate-smart practices that reduce emissions, enrich the soil, and protect our water and air, all while producing more food, fiber and renewable fuel than ever before. Growers in California have a deep commitment to wisely use natural resources, human resources, and incorporate innovation and the newest technologies to produce the world’s safest, abundant, and highest quality fruit, nut, and vegetable products. 

Sustainable Agriculture: an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long-term satisfy human food and fiber needs. The term ''sustainable agriculture'' as described in U.S. Code Title 7, Section 3103 means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long-term:

  • Satisfy human food and fiber needs.
  • Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends.
  • Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls.
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations.
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society.

A common philosophy among sustainable agriculture practitioners is that a "healthy" soil is a key component of sustainability; that is, a healthy soil will produce healthy crop plants that have optimum vigor and are less susceptible to pests. While many crops have key pests that attack even the healthiest of plants, proper soil, water, and nutrient management can help prevent some pest problems brought on by crop stress or nutrient imbalance. Furthermore, crop management systems that impair soil quality often result in greater inputs of water, nutrients, pesticides, and/or energy for tillage to maintain yields.

In sustainable systems, the soil is viewed as a fragile and living medium that must be protected and nurtured to ensure its long-term productivity and stability. Methods to protect and enhance the productivity of the soil include:
  • using cover crops, compost and/or manures
  • reducing tillage
  • avoiding traffic on wet soils
  • maintaining soil cover with plants and/or mulches

Conditions in most California soils (warm, irrigated, and tilled) do not favor the buildup of organic matter. Regular additions of organic matter or the use of cover crops can increase soil aggregate stability, soil tilth, and diversity of soil microbial life.

Many inputs and practices used by conventional farmers are also used in sustainable agriculture that include (4R’s) using the right source of nutrient, at the right rate, at the right time and in the right place to increase the nutrient use efficiency (NUE) of the fertilizers used. Sustainability principles, however, maximize reliance on natural, renewable, and on-farm inputs. Converting to sustainable practices does not mean simple input substitution. Frequently, it substitutes enhanced management and scientific knowledge for conventional inputs, especially chemical inputs that harm the environment on farms and in rural communities. The goal is to develop efficient, biological systems which do not need high levels of material inputs. Sustainable approaches are those that are the least toxic and least energy intensive, and yet maintain productivity and profitability. Preventive strategies and other alternatives should be employed before using chemical inputs from any source. There will be situations where the use of synthetic chemicals will be more "sustainable" than a strictly non-chemical approach or an approach using toxic "organic" chemicals. 

The concept of sustainable agriculture is important for maximizing soil health, reducing our reliance on pesticides, maximizing fertilizer-use efficiency, promoting profitable crop production, and protecting the environment from pollution due to losses of nutrients from agricultural land. Easier said than done. Such is our challenge of bringing together the different viewpoints on sustainable agriculture and putting them into practice, especially when working on solutions for concrete problems. 
Sustainability/Regenerative Ag/Ultra Gro
by Rich Kreps, CCA
A few of us just returned from the 2023 annual American Pistachio Growers conference in southern CA. A great time was had by all and APG definitely put together another fantastic event for our members, processors, associates and their families. Ultra Gro was proud to be a part of sponsoring the production seminars along with Corteva to give our growers more insight into best practices for yields and orchard health. Bob Beede always takes the reins there and brings in industry experts like this year’s line-up of Kent Daane, Bob Klein, and Joel Siegel to help him in presenting timely information for pistachio production. Justin Wylie invited John Kempf to speak again this year about regenerative agriculture. This seemed to generate quite a buzz.

Regenerative ag is the process of creating healthier soils and optimizing yields with less traditional inputs and system disruption. Sounds a lot like like Sustainability, right? Cover Crops, animal grazing, soil amendments, beneficial insect and biological applications, minimal tillage, and timely, specific nutrient applications all play a role in making this happen. It is difficult to create the one size fits all approach to any farming system but that’s where Ultra Gro steps in.  

The Ultra Gro Crop Advisors are always researching and testing our farmer’s fields and crops to make sure we are meeting the demands of the crops. Consulting on irrigation modifications, strategic fertigation inputs, coupled with timely foliar applications targeting specific nutrient demand requirements cannot be put into a blanket nutrition program. As CCA’s, Agronomists and Sustainability Specialists, we pride ourselves on creating the perfect formulas for your farm. The sustainable, regenerative approach can help reduce water inputs, reduce pesticide applications, and increase nutrient absorption with the use of more plant ready and symbiotic product applications, while increasing yields.  

We built our business on active biological inoculation way before it was trending towards the norm in agriculture.  
  • Filamentous actinomycetes casting their net and making Nitrogen more efficient and absorbable, 
  • Bacillus breaking down sulfur while also eating nematode eggs, 
  • Pseudomonas breaking down Phosphorus and exchanging it with roots all make the natural, native mycorrhizae more prolific.  
We have grown our own cultured microbiology from day 1 at Ultra Gro, and we have been doing it for 39 years! The healthier you make the soil, the better your plants assimilate nutrition and water, in the right amounts. A healthy soil biome will also give your crops SAR (systemically acquired resistance) to invasive pest pressure, both above and below the ground. We often see a significant reduction in nutrients such as nitrogen and even potassium applications when we fertigate properly, with a systematic approach, make immediate adjustments to micronutrients with foliar sprays and apply at proper pH levels. Balancing nutrition is a much better approach than over applying any one nutrient at any given time. Leaving nothing to chance, we confirm it with tissue tests and have been playing with sap analysis the last few years as well when appropriate.   

Working together with your PCA, we pride ourselves on finding solutions to your farming needs by first analyzing what has and has not worked on your farm in the past. We then take a team approach to creating the best solutions that match your best farming practices to ensure your success. You don’t just get an advisor at Ultra Gro, you get the power of the team behind modifying your approach to proper nutrition on your farm. 
Ultra Gro and Sustainability... A Long Story
by Robert Smith, Agronomist
Founded in 1985, Ultra Gro has been a pioneer of Sustainable Ag since birth. Our first products focused on foliar plant nutrition and biological soil health products. We take pride in being recognized as one of the oldest and most experienced companies in the development of biological alternatives for California agriculture. We were making and selling snake oil before it was cool to sell snake oil. To this day, we continue to propagate beneficial bacteria in our Madera facility and use it in many of our products. 

Solving Plant Problems with Nutrition

From the beginning, Ultra Gro Plant Food has focused on solving plant problems with nutrition. Our search is for better methods to improve production and quality while reducing costly and environmentally damaging inputs. This requires a comprehensive understanding of plant physiology of distinct crops and specific soil environments and the interactions between the two. The goal is to grow crops in balanced, complex microbial soils and then incorporate the minerals/nutrients that are needed for more robust root growth, more effective leaf area development, stronger trunks; all to support more efficient vascular systems. These are the foundations for more effective:

  • Nutrient uptake and photosynthesis
  • Translocation of minerals, water, and other building blocks of healthy plants
  • Large root systems
  • Enhanced plant growth and hardiness 
  • Faster/earlier fruit bearing
  • Fruit quality, structure, sizing and profitability
  • Better pack-out and longer shelf life

5 Step Process- The Way We Do It

  • Listen and Learn…determine the needs of the grower
  • Lab Analysis…determine the needs for the crop
  • Develop a Budget/Nutrition Plan…stay on budget and plan
  • Get started…conduct grower trials
  • Call balls and strikes and go forward from there
TODAY: March 15, 2023
by Rich Kreps, CCA
”Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore!”
Unless you have been living under a rock lately, or sheltering in place, you’ve noticed that your good old fashioned weather rock has been wet, or…tumbling down a swollen river. In my case, I probably won’t have to turn the water on for at least three weeks in our family pistachio orchard. All of which leads to the discussion I have been having with my growers (especially with almonds and vineyards): how do we get the nutrition we need in our crops, this early, with these wet soils? I have good news…

It starts with irrigation
A fertigation doesn’t have to be a full blown irrigation set. You can run the water for a few hours, get your nutrients or biology sucked in and flushed, then turn the system off. Of course, there are logistic issues if your system hasn’t been checked in a while. This needs to be done ASAP anyway to start the season, so make it happen. And, when we do start to run normal sets, (remembering that this year isn’t normal), shorter sets, more often, will help to keep things active.  

I have a static water level sonar in my well so I always know where my water sits and my draw-down level. At the worst last year, my standing level reached 351 feet. As of the middle of March, my standing water level is 308 feet! I’ve come up in the well over 40 feet. We were told most ground water recharge takes 1 year to improve significantly after a solid winter. We haven’t even begun our snow melt yet. And we have a lot of it!  

Wet Soils…Wet Feet…Calcium now…Potassium later
What does this all mean? The ground it still wet and will be for a while. We are experiencing very anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions. Detrimental bacteria flourish in anaerobic conditions. We need to focus on two things. Re-inoculating beneficial soil biology, and flocculating our soils. This has been the greatest increase to the leching fraction that mother nature has given us in a long time. Sodium levels should be very low in the top foot of soil. However, we have probably lost some calcium and potassium as well. To compensate, we can keep that rolling with the addition of soluble calcium right now and open the soil up further to drain. In almonds, we have 27 days after pollination for total cell division. That is heavily calcium dependent, but it must be in ionic (solubilized) form, not locked up as a salt. For the time being, don’t focus on K as much yet. Potassium will block some of the calcium absorption (as will magnesium and sodium). K amending will come later. Calcium is your friend right now.  

N and P
In addition, our crops always start the season high in N and P to capture the spring energy and amino acid demand, then taper off in the tissue levels. You can even fly some Nitrogen and Phosphorus on from above, while the soils soak up the Calcium from below. Attack it from both sides in this critical period as we wait for our soils to dry up. This is not the time to be injecting 30-50 units of N! Remember this: in the middle of the growing season an acre of trees can only use 10 units per week of N. We aren’t even close to that demand yet. Don’t pay for it and then see it all get leached. Why add 5 times the amount of a typical week, in one fertigation, with spring storms still in the mix?! Keep your Nitrate in the root zone and get it absorbed instead of washed away.

Drastic times call for drastic measures
We need to manage around these wet soils and stay on budget. In summary: 
  • Add some beneficial biology in the soil and soluble Calcium in a short irrigation set now.
  • Hold off on K applications for the next 30 days
  • Let the good bugs work on the other nutrients that are being freed up in these conditions, to make them plant ready. Biology is what makes this happen. 
  •  Add supplemental N and P upstairs in this critical demand period. An aerial application is way more efficient when time is critical, labor and diesel are high, and the ground is wet. No big slugs of N.
  • Start your crops off right and set them up to be more efficient this season. You may find you can get away with way less total nutrient applications with smaller, timely shots, and save yourself a significant amount of money in a year when we will need it.  
Please call your Ultra Gro Crop Advisor if you have any questions.
Thank you!