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Day 2 – I-LEAD Class 6 Domestic Agriculture Mission

Posted on March 9, 2014 at 11:37 AM by Iowa Corn

Day 2 of the California mission was focused on production agriculture. California ranks #1 in U.S. production and brings in over $400 billion annually.  This “salad bowl” state is known for their produce, viticulture, and tree nut production.

Visiting the University of California Davis
University of California Davis was our first stop in our trip around the nation’s salad bowl. Dr. Charles Bamforth specializes in the science of malting and brewing. His current research program focuses primarily on the wholesomeness of beer, including studies on the psycho-physics of beer perception, on polyphenols and on the residues from non-starchy polysaccharide digestion that constitute soluble fiber and potential prebiotics in beer. As beer connoisseurs ourselves, we enjoyed having the opportunity to learn about the production process from an expert. Upon completion of our time with Bamforth, Amy Zhoug, UC David Food Science undergraduate, treated us to a unique olive oil tasting opportunity. The group learned the proper way to taste test olive oils and identify attributes of high quality extra virgin oils.


Phil Hogan, NRCS Conservationist, joined the group on the trip from UC Davis to our next stop. Hogan spoke with the group about conservation practices in Yolo county, California, as a prelude to our visit to Dixon Ridge Farms. Russ Lester, Dixon Ridge Farm’s co-owner, invited the group on a tour of his organic walnut farm in Winter, CA. Lester oversees the largest organic walnut farm in the nation with over 400 acres in walnut production. That equates to 800 tons of walnuts produced annually. The walnut trees require 200 units of nitrogen and 52 inches of rain each year to produce nuts successfully. After harvest in late August, their crop is dried, frozen, and sold internationally to organic markets in Japan, China, Australia, and the U.S. Production practices and capacity were eye opening to class members.

Just down the road from the Dixon farm, we were greeted by Christine McMorrow with the Center for
Land-Based Learning. She is the director of the FARMS Leadership program with the center. McMarrow specializes in the integration of a vision a local farmer had for sharing his passion for agriculture with the public. The center’s land is made up of wildlife habitats and orchards for utilization of education programs. In addition to a learning center, the farm is also used to foster beginning farmers. There are two programs focused on assisting local citizens in the agriculture industry. The Beginning Farmers Program encourages individuals to become growers by offering personalized growing classes and financial seminars. The Incubator Farming Program goes one step further by offering farmers land at a low-cost to start and stabilize farm operations before they expand into their own operations. Class members had the opportunity to see producers working out in their designated fields picking produce for a local farmers market.

With a tight schedule, Dave Steiner graciously agreed to join us on the bus as we drove through California wine country, Napa Valley, to explain their production practices. Producers in the valley have experienced many hardships as well as great successes in the past few years in the industry. Disease and insect pressure has caused them to replace vineyards and utilize grafting technologies to reduce hardships. Grafting is the practice of putting together a root stem and a plant stem to create a disease and pest resistant plant. This practice has been used for years and has proven to be a vital lifeline for grape growers in the valley. Farming practices for viticulture also include drip irrigation, frost protection sprinklers or fans, cover crops, and no-till farming. Fine table wines, the valley’s claim to fame, desire a semi-arid climate, well-drained soils, and moderate winter temperatures. As urbanization becomes a major issue in California agriculture production, the valley’s farmers rely on a 50 year old agriculture preserve regulation allowing them to keep their land in production. As a quality measure, new wineries must use 75% locally grown grapes in their wine blends to be in compliance with the valley’s branding regulations. Currently, there are 400 wineries and thousands of wine growers in the valley. 3.5 tons of grapes can be harvested on each acre in the valley with a $6,000 return per acre.

Touring the winery
After an eventful morning of California production agriculture, the class was treated to a meal at the Culinary Institute of America. Fine wines and decadent foods were enjoyed by all. At the conclusion of our meal, Mark Linder took us on a tour of the culinary school. Members were able to walk through a classroom and view the students’ test kitchen. There are currently 320 students who attend this institute with a vision to become chefs for fine dining restaurants and entrepreneurial ventures. The students receive a 2 year degree from this institute with the option to continue at their school’s headquarters in Hyde Park, New York for a 4 year degree. With a price tag of $40,000 per year, these students are passionate about food and culinary science.

Roger Louer, Iowa State University graduate and Napa Valley vineyard owner, entertained us as his house after lunch. Louer and several of his best friends bought 11 acres of vineyards in Napa Valley, near Calistoga. Originally, there was no plan to produce wine, but after a few years of selling grapes to one of Napa Valley’s top wineries, they decided to take the plunge into the winemaking world.  As current market price, land in the area goes for $250-500,000 per acre making this one of the most volatile agriculture economies in the world. As a comparable, Louer bought the land in 1986 when it was valued at $50,000 per acre. He currently harvests 28 acres of grapes each year to make his well-known cabernet wine. The team was treated to samples of his wine and all agreed that it was the best they had tasted thus far on the trip. Members enjoyed a tour of his property and vineyard while sipping wine and reminiscing about the days past at Iowa State.

In celebration of our tour of the nation’s salad bowl, the class concluded their trip at Farmstead, a restaurant at Long Meadow Ranch American farmhouse in the Valley. Chef Stephen Barber, Kentucky native, brings a local ingredient-driven approach to his restaurant by preparing dishes for consumers that include organic produce, grass-fed beef, eggs, and olive oils. Class members conversed with the restaurant’s chefs over drinks and happy hour appetizers. The food was great and comradely was enjoyed by all.

Carly Cummings is a program assistant at Iowa State University Ag Entrepreneurship Initiative.  Cummings, who is also a current graduate student, grew up on a farm near Pleasantville.  She is a past member of the Iowa Corn Collegiate Advisory Team.

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