Project overview

The CAL-CORE network is a project funded by the USDA Organic Research and Extension Initiative  Grant number 2011 51300 30677.  It is a consortium of researchers, farmers, extension, non-profit organizations and agricultural industry representatives formed to promote research in organic production systems.  The network first formed 10 years ago and has grown to include more than fifty members (see who we are). Current project efforts are focused on developing integrated approaches to crop rotation, fertility, soil borne disease and pest  management in organic strawberry/vegetable production systems.  Systems are being evaluated in terms of productivity, economics and environmental impacts such as carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas emissions and nitrogen cycling.  Life cycle analysis of the systems being tested is also underway.  Dr. Carol Shennan is the Principal  Investigator and together with Dr. Joji Muramoto manages the overall project.  For more information on our other research projects please visit the Shennan Lab website

Project Description

In the high input  organic strawberry and vegetable cropping systems of coastal CA, growers have to balance their desire to reduce environmental impacts with the multiple challenges of maintaining economically sustainable yields. Building from successes in our previous work that focused on specific management aspects like fertility, biological control, and disease management, this project addresses the need to develop integrated crop system designs and practices that provide long-term solutions to the problems encountered in today's organic cropping systems. We provide a platform for growers, researchers, extension and others in our region to research and develop systems approaches to improve environmental sustainability and economic viability of organic production. The research experiments ask important questions about processes and interactions in organic systems and their relationship to ecosystems services such as nutrient cycling; pest, disease, and weed suppression; and carbon sequestration in the soil. Nitrogen losses to the environment, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and energy use are used to describe the environmental imprint of practices through direct measurement, modeling and Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). For the overall project design click here.

The main experiment (Mother trial) compares different rotation treatments using a range of input levels and disease suppression strategies. A sub set of these treatments (chosen by participating farmers) are repeated across six farm sites (Baby trials). Crop production, disease suppression, economic performance and environmental impacts of each treatment are compared using a combination of direct measurements and modeling.

A second set of experiments are being conducted on farms in the Santa Maria strawberry producing region and focus on nitrogen management and use of Biochar to improve soil quality and sequester carbon. The question of whether organic farming can increase soil carbon storage is also being addressed by looking at sites in the region that have been managed organically for different lengths of time from a few to more than 30 years.

Biological control of key arthropod pests of strawberry (lygus bug) and cole crops (aphids and diamondback moth) is also being studied in both the mother and baby trials, and on additional organic farm sites.

Project Goals

Specific objectives are:

1) Expand and strengthen a research-extension-farmer network for organic production on the central coastal California and beyond;

2) Evaluate performance of crop rotations and management strategies designed to meet the combined goals of high yields, reduced disease levels, provision of adequate N with minimal environmental impacts and improved C-sequestration;

3) Improve system-based insect pest management strategies for organic strawberries and vegetables and

4) Conduct Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of different strawberry/vegetable organic rotation systems.

For more information:

More details of the project activities and findings can be found by clicking on the additional pages listed in the menu.  These pages will be updated as more findings and materials become available. Also please check out the space below for recent additions and upcoming events.

You can also contact the Project Director and Co-Director via email with any questions

Dr Carol Shennan (PD) -

Dr Joji Muramoto (Co-PD)