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193: Looking Back on 40 Years of Sustainable Farming

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Cliff Ohmart, Principal of Ohmart Consulting Services reflects on his 40-year career in agriculture. Cliff seeded his career with a Ph.D. in Forest Entomology from Berkley University. He worked in forestry in Australia, as a Pest Control Advisor in Chico, with the Lodi Winegrape Commission, and at SureHarvest.

Cliff shares his experiences with sustainable winegrowing innovations including cover cropping, drip irrigation, solar energy, biocontrol, healthy soils, autonomous devices, and farm data management. Plus, he shares his number one tip for growers continuing on their sustainable journey.

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Transcript

Craig Macmillan 0:00

Our guest today is Cliff Ohmart. He is principal with Ohmart consulting services. And today we're going to talk about a little bit of perspective on what's happened in the past. And what's looking forward to in the future in the realm of sustainable wine growing sustainable crops just kind of in general. Thanks for being on the podcast, Cliff.

Cliff Ohmart 0:16

You're very welcome, Craig. It's nice to be with you.

Craig Macmillan 0:19

Just as full disclosure, Cliff, and I've known each other a long time. It's been really fun to see the things that he's worked on over the years, and his insights into kind of what's worked and what hasn't. So again, thanks for being on the being on the program. You've been involved in a whole variety of different crops and led different capacities over the years with different projects I've been with you see, I believe, and then also in the private sector, but how did you first get involved in this kind of thing? How did you get involved in sustainable farming?

Cliff Ohmart 0:45

Yeah, I love that question. Because it wasn't deliberate at all. I was very deliberate in my education, I wanted to be a professor of forest entmology. So I got a degree a bachelor's degree in Forestry and Forest entomology and a PhD in forest entomology. And so basically, since it wasn't delivered, but unbeknownst to me, I got a very comprehensive education especially as undergrad in biology ecology, to pretty intensive program at the College of Forestry, Syracuse, and then going to grad school, again, insect ecology, Plant Pathology, things like that. And then I wanted to be a research scientist at a university. So the only job going at the time I got out was actually in Australia. So I spent 13 years as a researcher in forest entomology and again, but don't to me, all of this was really giving me a very, very solid background to get into ag. My family and I, after living in Australia for 10 years, to make a difficult decision to want to come home. And so I had two fellows that I went to grad school with who started an IPM company in Chico, California. Going to Berkeley for a PhD get a very strong background in integrated pest management. So IPM people, and that's how I got into ag and I was a pest control advisor for seven years. It was a very unusual company in that three PhDs doing PCA work.

Craig Macmillan 2:15

That is unusual.

Cliff Ohmart 2:16

Yeah, working, especially in the 1980s, early 90s is when I worked with them. So we were really out there, independent PCA company. So we charge for our services, we didn't sell products, the thing was that they are very big IPM guys, we worked in orchard crops, and we are all entomology type. So both insects and disease management, especially in almonds, had a great IPM program for almonds. So then being there led to a contract with the Lodi Winegrape commission to help them write a grant. And then if they got the grant, we would administer the grant for them in helping them develop their integrated pest management program for winegrapes. So we got the money, and I ended up in charge of that project. Interestingly, being such having such a strong background in pest management, I quickly realized compared to the crops I've worked on wine grapes at the time really didn't have, which I would what I would consider challenging pest management issues. Of course there was powerdy mildew, which people in Lodi were managing very well made sulfur applications. So all of a sudden, it's like, hey, why don't we actually focus on the whole farm. So using that IPM background of, you know, economically viable, socially, just and environmentally sound. Let's look at the whole farm. That's really how it developed. So very quickly, we started calling our program, a sustainable winegrowing program. And one thing led to another we developed a reputation for our progressive nature, quote unquote, progressive. You know, we were very practical farmers. So that's how I got into it. And I after the first year of working on that grant, they offered me a staff position. And I realized what a great opportunity, so I took it. So that's a long road to get to it. But what's interesting is, you know, that's we're talking about 30 years ago now. So I've been added a long time. But that's how I got there. It was for somebody that was so laser focused on what they thought they wanted to do. I never would have expected to get there where I ended up but of course, it's been fantastic because you know.

Craig Macmillan 4:30

It's all about the journey. Yeah, you know, most of the most of us end up in places we never expected.

Cliff Ohmart 4:36

That's one of our mantras in Lodi is sustainable farming is not about crossing the finish line. It's about journey. And because you're never going to be there, you know, it's very almost Zen.

Craig Macmillan 4:48

Yeah, it is. Yeah, yeah. Well, I have my own perspectives on this, but this is why I wanted to have this conversation with you is you know, when you go back and you look at something like let's say 30 years ago, you know, there were certain farming practices in different crops and some have applied across crops that came along. And the science was starting to show that there was some potential. And then some of them were adopted by different types of growers and others were not some became kind of industry standards and others kind of did not. And again, you can think across crops, you know, what were some of the things that you saw that came along that seemed absolutely crazy at the time, that ended up being widely adopted.

Cliff Ohmart 5:20

I can't think of anything that I thought was crazy. Now. Crazy, but you know, this is the advantage I had kind of from the research community in the background, I had learning how to talk to growers who have lots of important concerns. But interestingly, the thing that got me early in the early days was cover cropping in wine grapes, and how if there was one, no matter what project we did, and we did things like develop that self assessment workbook, all around sustainable wine grape growing, that was the one topic that I would get in the most arguments over me, it seemed like such a no brainer. But me back to my orchard days up in Chico, because of where they were and the rainfall they had. There was a natural cover crop in all the almond orchards and they mowed it. And then of course, scientific methods was the name of the company that clients down around Fresno, and down there, everything just got tilled, and floated. All of that. And I could never figure it out. And of course, some of its rainfall. But then when I started working on winegrapes, it was clear my interpretation was It was literally like a tradition you till as soon as you can in the spring and get this incredible. And of course Lodi had these amazingly deep soils, trying to convince growers that there's all these great reasons for growing cover crops was a long, slow battle. And what I always chuckled about was, oh, Napa, we grow cover crops, you know, and I'd go over there in the middle of summer and there was bare dirt everywhere. Thank you found that there's something cover crops. I understand if you plant them that cost a lot of money, whatever. But yeah, so that was the one thing. The thing that I've seen happen over time, of course, is so many people now and I'm thinking of orchard crops, especially but wine grapes were they were using drip irrigation pretty early. But now so many orchard crops have them, whether I don't think growers necessarily thought it was a crazy idea. But for various reasons, it took a while for that to really catch on. And yet, it's such an important way to manage your water as well as crop health. The other thing, being a data guy because of my research background, the sort of high level I would call it convincing growers that measure to manage is really the best way to farm sustainably no matter who you are talking to a natural organic farmer, because they felt like they were doing great stuff. They were just as bad as not managing and measuring stuff as the conventional because they felt like they didn't really need to. So we're talking about very the thing that got me in my early days, I developed computer software system, using barcodes for company in Chico. And it really was in the early days I laptop in my truck got barcode readers for data collection, because we collect data sheet we gave growers data sheets every week. And it was all about this measure to manage when the first software companies started to SuoeHarvest was one of the earliest to come up with farm data management systems. It didn't get widely adopted. And I asked myself, and I think it's because in those days, growers weren't doing a lot of measuring to manage. Now, I think, you know, growers, because they're on site all the time, they have incredible wealth of experience in their head. I learned very quickly that what's in your head, and what you think you're seeing may not be exactly what you have what's really going on based on what you're measuring. So that was one, you know connected to that is, over time, autonomous devices for capturing data. And weather station was one of the first soil was one of the next and over time, you know, and those are those costs money. And so over time, I've seen more and more that now. I think we've actually reached the point is companies are selling things to growers that a set of ahead of its time. I'm worried that growers are getting ripped off in a way some growers depending on what they're buying from companies so but this measure to manage I think over time has really changed things and then things like solar. I think in the early growers would have thought boy, that's crazy. One thing I enjoyed about wine grape growing wine growers seemed more willing to adopt new things. So like solar really started catching on for pumps especially. And now I think it's more and more Common, and then things like measuring moisture stress with pressure bombs. I can remember in my forestry days, so we're talking about back in the 60s and 70s. Growers well, bark beetle people were measuring moisture stress in pine trees. But they had pre dawn moisture, which was so bad about the vineyard in the middle of the day, they had to go out when it was dark, because they were looking what trees are stressed or not. But it's the same idea. So all of a sudden, people started coming up with using pressure bombs in orchards and vineyards, again, around irrigation, all good stuff. And so I saw that Come on. And then coupled with this as well is just this whole, clearly farm workers are still underpaid, but things gotten you know, more and more growers are paying health care, more and more growers are paying for time off. I've seen that change again, 30 years ago, I think growers would have thought that's crazy stuff.

Craig Macmillan 10:59

And in that tradition, and that idea of like, I just physically can't I would love this, but I just there's no way well, let's let's see if we can find a way also in terms of tradition and mindset friend of mine, before those rules came into practice, he got ahead of the game and he sat his main people down, he said, Okay, listen, we're gonna go to a 40 hour week, I'm gonna give you a raise. So you have the same wage weekly, the workers were really upset. And they said, Hey, you're taking days away from me, you're taking work away from me. And he says, No, I'm not what I'm doing is I'm giving you a weekend. And I'm giving you, you know, a life, you know, plus, complying with the law, he showed people math and try to explain it. And he was really in he was really frustrated. Because, you know, these were his his managers, these are his supervisors. And these are really smart people, really sharp people. But that change to the culture was just, you know, scary. And I think that that's true for a lot of the things we've been talking about. I remember talking about cover crops friend of mine farmer and going back to like the 90s, early 90s. What was it called was cover cropping and vineyards, I think was the name of the book. It came it was I think it was a SARE book, came out.

Cliff Ohmart 12:07

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Chuck Ingles and others.

Craig Macmillan 12:11

Yeah, exactly. He also I think he also did Steel on the Field, maybe. So okay, people getting interested. Here's how you do it. Okay, now we're going to help you. And here's the crops, and here's how they grow and all that. So it was it was available. And so people were starting to get into it. And so this friend of mine who hadn't been doing it was starting to do it. And I said, Well, how's it how's it going? And he goes, Man, I don't know. He says, I feel like I'm farming two crops. And I was like, well, you are. But is it that bad? Is it that hard? Over time, they figured it out. And he actually told me that he said, I spent my whole career cultivating weeds. And now you want me to grow plants? Like that just doesn't make any sense to me. And I got it. I understand that. Like if you spent your whole career trying to knock stuff down. Now you're asking me to build stuff up? You know, it's tricky. I think we're still now working with adoption around some of these things. Cover crops, I think are widely widely widely used in the wintertime and vineyards. You see that's kind of common practice now wasn't in the past, you kind of relied upon native vegetation, but we are still tilling things under. And all of the science is showing. And we're doing tailgates and podcasts and articles and all over the place, not just Vineyard Team all over the place, about hey, you're really eliminating your soil life when you do that. And I wanted to get your opinion on that. Because this idea of soil health, I had never heard that term up until five years ago or so. And then suddenly is like, oh healthy soil, it's all about soil. But are you doing the things that you need to do to do that? And to get those benefits? What kind of experience have you had around that?

Cliff Ohmart 13:44

Negativity on that concept? It just I think so happened to the personalities involved came from actually a soils person was resistant. They thought this concept of the word health was just crazy when it came to soils. And this is a soils guy. And we just in the end agreed to disagree because we did put all of that in our original workbook back in 1999. Growers for state just, if anything, they get that that's been my experience. It's just that depending on what you want them to do like adding compost if they can or can't afford it. And I think it was more the academics but I think that's changed as they've gotten more used to the term this one person still will not use the word soil health, but it's become accepted now because I think it's been defined. And then on the scientific side, the to me, one of my regrets I don't have very many but my biggest regret is not getting into soils. I had a sales class in forestry school, but I was not interested in below ground. I was interested in the bugs. And in the end when it came to consulting and ag that been my biggest deficiency, I don't really understand the geology of soils. And what I've getting for sure is the science behind what's going on in the microbial communities, the interaction between microbes and plants, and the quality of the soil and what's going on in the soil. It's so important. And I think more and more growers are just realizing it, even though again, I'm worried that the commercial side is getting ahead of it selling inoculants and this and that, I think, we're not quite there yet. But we're learning the soil scientists are doing a great job, I think helping us get up to speed on what's really going on.

Craig Macmillan 15:41

Yeah, absolutely. I'm, I'm on a journey myself, right now, about the last two years I've been on this crash course into soils and to soil microbial communities that because I had no background that, you know, I wasn't really interested in what was happening above the ground. And I was interested in, I was primarily interested in insect pests. And then I got more interested in diseases. And that led to nutrition which led to irrigatoin. And this is the piece I'm kind of learning about. Now, it seems like if you're really interested in sustainable farming, no matter who you are, what your crop is, to me one of the limitations, and I want to see what you think about this, one of the limitations is you say, Okay, I'm an expert. Now, in almond farming, I'm an expert in wind grape farming. Now I've got to become an expert in soil microbial communities. You know, now I have to become an expert in soil, geology, impair material, you know, I mean, every topic that comes along, I now have to I have to go back to school again, that to me is an interesting one, because I find people seem to embrace it. And I find people who seem to be resistant to it, mostly because they don't have time or energy to do it. What has been your experience with folks? Are there certain kinds of different types of people that are more willing to invest the energy? How much? How much energy? Do people have to invest in these kinds of things? Is that a limitation?

Cliff Ohmart 16:51

Yeah, I think where I think, if anything, we're I've seen the biggest challenges with small growers that are basically owner operators, and they don't have any help, really, and and they I think, are really time constrained. But I think the real answer to your question is, this is where Cooperative Extension comes in. If you've got the right people writing the right educational materials, you can distill it so that a grower can take information and apply it. I don't have any proof. But I think for definitely some people that say, I don't have time to get into this, they use that as an excuse. They just don't want to deal with it. I understand that part because farming is very complicated. One of those guys, I work with a longtime Kent Reeves as a wildlife biologist, he helped us in Lodi for years. And his great saying was, farming is not rocket science, it's harder. So getting your hands on the right educational information, if you're a grower owner operator, is the secret. Now, if you're a large grower, and I've seen this, they hire people, and it's getting more and more sophisticated, as large growers are doing so they have the opportunity to hire a soil scientist PhD level. And then most people can really dive into it. And then, you know, they have a management team where they can sit down and integrate what what they've got. It's an issue for sure. Time. You could literally spend all your 24 hours a day worrying about doing stuff around the farm. But it's back to the cover crop thing back in the old days. The thing you probably know Steve Mathiason. Yeah, well, in the early days, he and I worked together for four years in Lodi, and he had this he felt that he call it recreational disking. You know, or people just wanted to get out of the house. So they got discked, you know, and we don't really know if that's true. But growers do want to do things, their program. And I saw that in my early days as a PCA, particularly when it came to spraying for insects is convincing them you don't have to do something today, because they're programmed. And so again, back to your thing about I think it can be a crutch, oh, I don't have time to get into soils or whatever. But the other the flip side is that is convincing me. So much of my experience, especially in orchards and almonds was, look, I know it's hard, but don't do anything right now. And that's how you save money. And it really is, you know, I think for insects spraying you can really make good cases for that.

Craig Macmillan 19:31

I agree. And I think that for the folks that I've seen who have implemented certain kinds of practices over the years, they find that it actually is a savings because they're their vineyards are more balanced. So there's less kind of adjusting maybe that they need to do especially if you can get your irrigation dialed in. If you get your nutrition in to where you want it, there's less manipulation is required. You can get your cost down because you're only putting on kind of what you need. I mean, I think we found out the hard way that we have a tendency to put on more inputs than you necessarily need to be putting on because I need to do something, right? I need to take care of these plants, I need to feed them, I need to water them all of which is true. The question, the question is, do you just put out a buffet of cookies for your kid? Or do you control what they eat based on what you know about nutrition? Right, that kind of that kind of a thing. I think the same is true for what you've mentioned, the time and the knowledge part of it. We have lots of great education stuff out there. And that doesn't take that long to read. And there's also lots of other professionals that can come and talk to you, or folks that you hire that can take on a lot of that I've met, I've been very, very impressed with the quality of knowledge and education of young pest control advisors that are coming out of the universities. Now. They have a very strong grounding in sustainable ag. So they see the world a little bit differently. I think one area that I wanted to ask you about, because it's near and dear to my heart, and I think it is teasers as well as biological control in vineyards.

Cliff Ohmart 20:57

Yes,

Craig Macmillan 20:58

Yes. I'll start the conversation. This part of the conversation this way I was talking to I actually interviewed was talking to a person who manages an insectary. And they said to me, what is wrong with you guys in the Central Coast? When I say What are you talking about? I sell a ton, a ton about control agents in the San Joaquin Valley. And I can't sell hardly anything on the coast. And I don't get it. And my first response was, Well, maybe the pest pressures are different this and that. And he says, no, no, no, I, I'm familiar. Yes, there's some differences. But like these, they just don't seem to like believe in it, which I thought was an interesting observation. Because as a sociologist, my backgrounds in sociology also is like, Hmm, I wonder if there is something cultural going on there? Or if there's a group adoption thing, I feel like we've kind of stalled out what is your take on the state of insect biological control right now in wine grapes?

Cliff Ohmart 21:54

I actually don't have a feel for what the state is right now. What I thought you're going to ask me is, what is my view on it?

Craig Macmillan 22:03

Let's do that.

Cliff Ohmart 22:04

Yeah, and I do have something to say. This is where my academic training especially at Berkeley, you know, that was a hotbed of control scientists, when I was there as a grad student, Robert VandenBosch, probably being the most famous. I went through this very interesting, Berkeley, and it was a huge Entomology Department when I went there. And the concept in Berkeley overall was natural enemies, regulate insect populations. And you have to be very specific, using IPM. And disease management is a whole different ballgame. As with diseases, if there there you, you're behind the eight ball, insects, you can watch them and wait. And then when I went to Australia as a research scientist, there was a school and the weight Institute in South Australia. And they felt that the environment controlled insect populations, not natural enemies. It was the classic academic thing of we're right, no, we're right. And in reality, if you study a particular insect, some insects are controlled by the environment, and others are controlled by natural enemies. So my view about bio control is not all insect populations are controlled by natural enemies. It depends on the insect and it depends on the situation. And so it's a great opportunity for insect trees to flog stuff to people. Because you know, who doesn't want biocontrol for work? The danger of bonafide control is if you're going to use insects, you need to be out there measuring and seeing if it's really helping or not, because you put out natural enemies and you don't have a pest problem, and it may not be related to them at all. Unfortunately, it's very complicated. My guess is there's probably more being agents being sold and used than ever before. Partly because some growers realizing this is important. To me, it's really, you know, things like spider mites definitely are controlled by not only the plant but also their natural enemies. Vine mealybug, again, is very much controlled by natural enemies depending but you've got ant situation. So look at these to me in each specific case. And then of course, the other thing with with natural enemies, of course, is you don't want a natural enemy that's so good. That wipes out your pest population, because then...

Craig Macmillan 24:33

...It goes away. But it's kind of the problem, isn't it? I mean, the original IPM paper from 1959 It's an economic injury level. It's an action threshold, there's some damages it's tolerated and and things like wine grapes will actually on all the all of the fruit vegetable horticultural crops. So you know, aesthetics is huge. I mean, statics is the whole deal. So you really can't tolerate stuff which makes these other techniques kind of tough. That was just exactly where I was kind of gonna go with This is that sometimes we can find a situation where biological control and release of biological control agents might work really well is an augmentative, then there's also conservation. And if we can think along those lines, if we can think along those lines, that helps balance everything out, as well. That's an area where I think that we can see some adoption, probably there's more room for growth, I don't want to sound like you've been critical of growers. I think I in my career have seen amazing commitment to innovation in the wine industry. I've seen people take on all kinds of things that again, the science didn't says it, say, oh, it's crazy. But people were like that, to me, sounds kind of crazy. It's too dangerous. You're gonna lose crop, I'm gonna lose yield. And then but there have been these companies that were like, hey, you know, we're going to trial this and see that if this works, if there's information that gets out, do you feel like we've made progress in sustainable ag, especially in vineyards? Are we have we improve?

Cliff Ohmart 25:55

I very much think so. It's a slow process, again, for all sorts of reasons that we've touched on some we haven't. But yes, I do believe, especially in wine grapes. And I think in orchard crops as well, the which is were my experiences, I just don't have a feel for for row crops, really. But yes, I think we've come a long way.

Craig Macmillan 26:20

In the area of sustainable ag in the future sustainable ag especially in vineyards, is there one piece of advice or philosophy or idea or concept that you think it'd be important for growers that are what would be the one thing you'd say to a grower this about, hey, sustainable ag is really cool. But...

Cliff Ohmart 26:36

Well, one thing I would just bring up this measure to manage and just remind them, no matter what it is, it's as simple as you know, how many growers really have a way to measure how much water they use on an annual basis in a given venue? You know, do you have a flow meter on your pump. And I still think that's the case that some people don't. And then the thing that we were touching on it, I didn't mention, so many of the things that we you and I've talked about, just bring back memories of why this is so difficult. One of them is, you know, it's can sound like we're really being critical of growers, which of course, if you're trying to work with a grower to help them, you don't want to sound like you're saying, Why are you doing this? And I used to come up with various ways. How can you get this across? And so when we developed the self assessment workbook, for example, what that does is it helps you, in the privacy of your own home, identify very specifically things you're doing or not doing. But I tried to remind people look, I said, How would you feel if someone knocked on your door and said, I don't like what you're doing in your backyard. And I'm here to help. You know, it's all partly it's about the approach. And then back to resistance. I'm a big believer in perception of risk versus real risk. And I think all of us as people, and you touched on it, about irrigation, and about fertilization, and about spraying. It's like, if I don't do this horrible things are going to happen. Again, I would just introduce it's a very high level concept. But have people say, Is this a perceived risk? Or do you think it's a real risk? And how do you know if it's real or not. And of course, this comes back to measure to manage. And again, I would try to come up with various very simple parables of why this is so difficult. And it had to do with spraying because you know, so many people, it's like, growers just spray. And of course, growers don't jump out of bed in the morning say, What can I kill today?

Craig Macmillan 28:46

No, they just don't. That's a thing. When around pesticides, people are like, Oh, growth, you're just looking for a pesticide to use. Yeah, but no, I don't want to do that, right. No, I do it because I think I have because I have to I'm not doing it for fun.

Cliff Ohmart 28:58

And as a PCA, especially in my early days spraying and reduce spraying was what we were trying to accomplish when it comes to insect spraying or disease spraying. When you don't spray, you'll learn one of two things. Gee, I wish that I did. If you don't spray and something bad happens that tends to hang with growers for years. Or the other thing you're learning is, boy, I'm glad I didn't. And that's when you realize, Wow, this is why things take a long time to evolve. And it wouldn't be the same for irrigation or nutrient. You know, if I don't put on my nitrogen, my crop yields can be down and it comes back to risk it growers that are interested in sustainable farming, but growers are risk takers. But I think there's a lot of perceived risk, as opposed to try and really get grips on what is real risk or not. So I would talk to a grower about that. And that's the kind of talk you'd have over a cup of coffee or a cup of tea in the office. But I think it's really something really for growers to think about and that doesn't make them sound Like, they're terrible. We're human. We all go through that.

Craig Macmillan 30:04

Absolutely. And there's a lot of responsibility. I mean, that's the other thing, you know, no matter what says the operation is the you know, it doesn't matter. It's the, it's the farm. It's all on your shoulders, don't screw it up.

Cliff Ohmart 30:16

And it's all financed, usually. And then I'm thinking we were talking about this labor and growers paying more in this and that and of course, one of the big budget items now on in farms is labor. And so people trying to mechanize. But if you actually back up and look at other industries, it's the same. Unfortunately, we, we meaning you and I work expense. And so again, it's not that growers are being terrible people, it's they're dealing with it as as is everyone else is just the farm. And one of the things that really was eye popping, I got I was fortunate to be on the workgroup that came up to this sustainable pest management roadmap recently.

Craig Macmillan 30:57

Oh, right. Right.

Cliff Ohmart 30:59

That was an urban as well as AG. And one of the things that I think growers need to know is there are more pesticides used in the urban environment than in the ag environment. By pound more pounds of pesticides. And yeah, who's the enemy? The farmer? Why? Because regulations make it a requirement that we know what they use.

Craig Macmillan 31:27

Yeah, no, that's true. That's it. And I think that also is a challenge for us ag, when we look around at other industries, for instance, or we look at other uses, or we look at other things, and you're like, Hey, man, I gotta do all this stuff. Like, there's all these things that I have to do that you don't have to do, you know, and and measure to manage is another good example of that is, you know, we have tools to do it, we can do it. I mean, yeah, Flow Meter cost a little bit of money. And you got to monitor it. I mean, that's the other thing, you got to look at it. I mean, that's, that's my job big. Well, I do a lot of things. But part of my job is like I during the summer, I watch our water. And if things don't make sense, I jump in and say, Hey, what's going on? You know, homeowners are not necessarily doing that, you know, other businesses are not necessarily doing that. And I think is a societal level, I think the trend is going to have to go that direction, because the resources are just going to get scarcer. Hope that you will agree, and this is kind of where I want to bring things around is would you agree that that we've seen a lot of progress? would you also agree that maybe we've seen some changes in philosophy over time, and I don't just mean from younger people coming into the business, but just folks who've been farming for a long, long time changing kind of how they think about things?

Cliff Ohmart 32:35

Yeah, I think for sure, I definitely know individuals where that's really happened, which is great. You know, I would hope I would have changed over time, because of what I know. So yes,

Craig Macmillan 32:47

Yeah, I've changed over time. I'm just much more bitter.

Cliff Ohmart 32:51

Yeah. One thing that, you know, given that I've been doing this a long time, there's some things that don't change about and one of the things and it came up during this sustainability roadmap, we had a, after it came out, I was sitting on a panel, one of the growers in the audience and older grower, somebody my age, basically said, you know, regulations are putting me out of business. It's no fun farming anymore. But I heard that 40 years ago, and I said that I was a little worried because I didn't want to sound I don't know, I just didn't want to sound too confrontational. But I said, Look, I have to say something here. I understand what you're saying. I really understand what you're saying, But, I heard this 40 years ago from someone that 40 years ago was older. And at that point, I said, Look, grow. Growers are innovative people. And we have to innovate.

Craig Macmillan 33:56

But no growers are adaptive. Yeah.

Cliff Ohmart 34:00

And it's up to us. And this was going back to the pest management roadmap. It is up to all of us to do better. And yes, it's hard. It is hard.

Craig Macmillan 34:07

But but we can change. We can make progress. We can reduce our inputs, we can protect the environment, we can make life better for people. It's all good. We're going in the right direction. So and I'm really I'm really happy to have you bring that perspective and some of those stories to this topic. We're out of time for today. We could go on for hours and I look forward to it at some point. Having dinner with you. Swapping stories, I would love to have a series on on this just on and on and on and on. But unfortunately we can't I guess today's been Cliff Ohmart. He's Principal of Omart Consulting Services. Thanks for being on the podcast Cliff.

Cliff Ohmart 34:42

You're very welcome.

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Cliff Ohmart, Principal of Ohmart Consulting Services reflects on his 40-year career in agriculture. Cliff seeded his career with a Ph.D. in Forest Entomology from Berkley University. He worked in forestry in Australia, as a Pest Control Advisor in Chico, with the Lodi Winegrape Commission, and at SureHarvest.

Cliff shares his experiences with sustainable winegrowing innovations including cover cropping, drip irrigation, solar energy, biocontrol, healthy soils, autonomous devices, and farm data management. Plus, he shares his number one tip for growers continuing on their sustainable journey.

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Transcript

Craig Macmillan 0:00

Our guest today is Cliff Ohmart. He is principal with Ohmart consulting services. And today we're going to talk about a little bit of perspective on what's happened in the past. And what's looking forward to in the future in the realm of sustainable wine growing sustainable crops just kind of in general. Thanks for being on the podcast, Cliff.

Cliff Ohmart 0:16

You're very welcome, Craig. It's nice to be with you.

Craig Macmillan 0:19

Just as full disclosure, Cliff, and I've known each other a long time. It's been really fun to see the things that he's worked on over the years, and his insights into kind of what's worked and what hasn't. So again, thanks for being on the being on the program. You've been involved in a whole variety of different crops and led different capacities over the years with different projects I've been with you see, I believe, and then also in the private sector, but how did you first get involved in this kind of thing? How did you get involved in sustainable farming?

Cliff Ohmart 0:45

Yeah, I love that question. Because it wasn't deliberate at all. I was very deliberate in my education, I wanted to be a professor of forest entmology. So I got a degree a bachelor's degree in Forestry and Forest entomology and a PhD in forest entomology. And so basically, since it wasn't delivered, but unbeknownst to me, I got a very comprehensive education especially as undergrad in biology ecology, to pretty intensive program at the College of Forestry, Syracuse, and then going to grad school, again, insect ecology, Plant Pathology, things like that. And then I wanted to be a research scientist at a university. So the only job going at the time I got out was actually in Australia. So I spent 13 years as a researcher in forest entomology and again, but don't to me, all of this was really giving me a very, very solid background to get into ag. My family and I, after living in Australia for 10 years, to make a difficult decision to want to come home. And so I had two fellows that I went to grad school with who started an IPM company in Chico, California. Going to Berkeley for a PhD get a very strong background in integrated pest management. So IPM people, and that's how I got into ag and I was a pest control advisor for seven years. It was a very unusual company in that three PhDs doing PCA work.

Craig Macmillan 2:15

That is unusual.

Cliff Ohmart 2:16

Yeah, working, especially in the 1980s, early 90s is when I worked with them. So we were really out there, independent PCA company. So we charge for our services, we didn't sell products, the thing was that they are very big IPM guys, we worked in orchard crops, and we are all entomology type. So both insects and disease management, especially in almonds, had a great IPM program for almonds. So then being there led to a contract with the Lodi Winegrape commission to help them write a grant. And then if they got the grant, we would administer the grant for them in helping them develop their integrated pest management program for winegrapes. So we got the money, and I ended up in charge of that project. Interestingly, being such having such a strong background in pest management, I quickly realized compared to the crops I've worked on wine grapes at the time really didn't have, which I would what I would consider challenging pest management issues. Of course there was powerdy mildew, which people in Lodi were managing very well made sulfur applications. So all of a sudden, it's like, hey, why don't we actually focus on the whole farm. So using that IPM background of, you know, economically viable, socially, just and environmentally sound. Let's look at the whole farm. That's really how it developed. So very quickly, we started calling our program, a sustainable winegrowing program. And one thing led to another we developed a reputation for our progressive nature, quote unquote, progressive. You know, we were very practical farmers. So that's how I got into it. And I after the first year of working on that grant, they offered me a staff position. And I realized what a great opportunity, so I took it. So that's a long road to get to it. But what's interesting is, you know, that's we're talking about 30 years ago now. So I've been added a long time. But that's how I got there. It was for somebody that was so laser focused on what they thought they wanted to do. I never would have expected to get there where I ended up but of course, it's been fantastic because you know.

Craig Macmillan 4:30

It's all about the journey. Yeah, you know, most of the most of us end up in places we never expected.

Cliff Ohmart 4:36

That's one of our mantras in Lodi is sustainable farming is not about crossing the finish line. It's about journey. And because you're never going to be there, you know, it's very almost Zen.

Craig Macmillan 4:48

Yeah, it is. Yeah, yeah. Well, I have my own perspectives on this, but this is why I wanted to have this conversation with you is you know, when you go back and you look at something like let's say 30 years ago, you know, there were certain farming practices in different crops and some have applied across crops that came along. And the science was starting to show that there was some potential. And then some of them were adopted by different types of growers and others were not some became kind of industry standards and others kind of did not. And again, you can think across crops, you know, what were some of the things that you saw that came along that seemed absolutely crazy at the time, that ended up being widely adopted.

Cliff Ohmart 5:20

I can't think of anything that I thought was crazy. Now. Crazy, but you know, this is the advantage I had kind of from the research community in the background, I had learning how to talk to growers who have lots of important concerns. But interestingly, the thing that got me early in the early days was cover cropping in wine grapes, and how if there was one, no matter what project we did, and we did things like develop that self assessment workbook, all around sustainable wine grape growing, that was the one topic that I would get in the most arguments over me, it seemed like such a no brainer. But me back to my orchard days up in Chico, because of where they were and the rainfall they had. There was a natural cover crop in all the almond orchards and they mowed it. And then of course, scientific methods was the name of the company that clients down around Fresno, and down there, everything just got tilled, and floated. All of that. And I could never figure it out. And of course, some of its rainfall. But then when I started working on winegrapes, it was clear my interpretation was It was literally like a tradition you till as soon as you can in the spring and get this incredible. And of course Lodi had these amazingly deep soils, trying to convince growers that there's all these great reasons for growing cover crops was a long, slow battle. And what I always chuckled about was, oh, Napa, we grow cover crops, you know, and I'd go over there in the middle of summer and there was bare dirt everywhere. Thank you found that there's something cover crops. I understand if you plant them that cost a lot of money, whatever. But yeah, so that was the one thing. The thing that I've seen happen over time, of course, is so many people now and I'm thinking of orchard crops, especially but wine grapes were they were using drip irrigation pretty early. But now so many orchard crops have them, whether I don't think growers necessarily thought it was a crazy idea. But for various reasons, it took a while for that to really catch on. And yet, it's such an important way to manage your water as well as crop health. The other thing, being a data guy because of my research background, the sort of high level I would call it convincing growers that measure to manage is really the best way to farm sustainably no matter who you are talking to a natural organic farmer, because they felt like they were doing great stuff. They were just as bad as not managing and measuring stuff as the conventional because they felt like they didn't really need to. So we're talking about very the thing that got me in my early days, I developed computer software system, using barcodes for company in Chico. And it really was in the early days I laptop in my truck got barcode readers for data collection, because we collect data sheet we gave growers data sheets every week. And it was all about this measure to manage when the first software companies started to SuoeHarvest was one of the earliest to come up with farm data management systems. It didn't get widely adopted. And I asked myself, and I think it's because in those days, growers weren't doing a lot of measuring to manage. Now, I think, you know, growers, because they're on site all the time, they have incredible wealth of experience in their head. I learned very quickly that what's in your head, and what you think you're seeing may not be exactly what you have what's really going on based on what you're measuring. So that was one, you know connected to that is, over time, autonomous devices for capturing data. And weather station was one of the first soil was one of the next and over time, you know, and those are those costs money. And so over time, I've seen more and more that now. I think we've actually reached the point is companies are selling things to growers that a set of ahead of its time. I'm worried that growers are getting ripped off in a way some growers depending on what they're buying from companies so but this measure to manage I think over time has really changed things and then things like solar. I think in the early growers would have thought boy, that's crazy. One thing I enjoyed about wine grape growing wine growers seemed more willing to adopt new things. So like solar really started catching on for pumps especially. And now I think it's more and more Common, and then things like measuring moisture stress with pressure bombs. I can remember in my forestry days, so we're talking about back in the 60s and 70s. Growers well, bark beetle people were measuring moisture stress in pine trees. But they had pre dawn moisture, which was so bad about the vineyard in the middle of the day, they had to go out when it was dark, because they were looking what trees are stressed or not. But it's the same idea. So all of a sudden, people started coming up with using pressure bombs in orchards and vineyards, again, around irrigation, all good stuff. And so I saw that Come on. And then coupled with this as well is just this whole, clearly farm workers are still underpaid, but things gotten you know, more and more growers are paying health care, more and more growers are paying for time off. I've seen that change again, 30 years ago, I think growers would have thought that's crazy stuff.

Craig Macmillan 10:59

And in that tradition, and that idea of like, I just physically can't I would love this, but I just there's no way well, let's let's see if we can find a way also in terms of tradition and mindset friend of mine, before those rules came into practice, he got ahead of the game and he sat his main people down, he said, Okay, listen, we're gonna go to a 40 hour week, I'm gonna give you a raise. So you have the same wage weekly, the workers were really upset. And they said, Hey, you're taking days away from me, you're taking work away from me. And he says, No, I'm not what I'm doing is I'm giving you a weekend. And I'm giving you, you know, a life, you know, plus, complying with the law, he showed people math and try to explain it. And he was really in he was really frustrated. Because, you know, these were his his managers, these are his supervisors. And these are really smart people, really sharp people. But that change to the culture was just, you know, scary. And I think that that's true for a lot of the things we've been talking about. I remember talking about cover crops friend of mine farmer and going back to like the 90s, early 90s. What was it called was cover cropping and vineyards, I think was the name of the book. It came it was I think it was a SARE book, came out.

Cliff Ohmart 12:07

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Chuck Ingles and others.

Craig Macmillan 12:11

Yeah, exactly. He also I think he also did Steel on the Field, maybe. So okay, people getting interested. Here's how you do it. Okay, now we're going to help you. And here's the crops, and here's how they grow and all that. So it was it was available. And so people were starting to get into it. And so this friend of mine who hadn't been doing it was starting to do it. And I said, Well, how's it how's it going? And he goes, Man, I don't know. He says, I feel like I'm farming two crops. And I was like, well, you are. But is it that bad? Is it that hard? Over time, they figured it out. And he actually told me that he said, I spent my whole career cultivating weeds. And now you want me to grow plants? Like that just doesn't make any sense to me. And I got it. I understand that. Like if you spent your whole career trying to knock stuff down. Now you're asking me to build stuff up? You know, it's tricky. I think we're still now working with adoption around some of these things. Cover crops, I think are widely widely widely used in the wintertime and vineyards. You see that's kind of common practice now wasn't in the past, you kind of relied upon native vegetation, but we are still tilling things under. And all of the science is showing. And we're doing tailgates and podcasts and articles and all over the place, not just Vineyard Team all over the place, about hey, you're really eliminating your soil life when you do that. And I wanted to get your opinion on that. Because this idea of soil health, I had never heard that term up until five years ago or so. And then suddenly is like, oh healthy soil, it's all about soil. But are you doing the things that you need to do to do that? And to get those benefits? What kind of experience have you had around that?

Cliff Ohmart 13:44

Negativity on that concept? It just I think so happened to the personalities involved came from actually a soils person was resistant. They thought this concept of the word health was just crazy when it came to soils. And this is a soils guy. And we just in the end agreed to disagree because we did put all of that in our original workbook back in 1999. Growers for state just, if anything, they get that that's been my experience. It's just that depending on what you want them to do like adding compost if they can or can't afford it. And I think it was more the academics but I think that's changed as they've gotten more used to the term this one person still will not use the word soil health, but it's become accepted now because I think it's been defined. And then on the scientific side, the to me, one of my regrets I don't have very many but my biggest regret is not getting into soils. I had a sales class in forestry school, but I was not interested in below ground. I was interested in the bugs. And in the end when it came to consulting and ag that been my biggest deficiency, I don't really understand the geology of soils. And what I've getting for sure is the science behind what's going on in the microbial communities, the interaction between microbes and plants, and the quality of the soil and what's going on in the soil. It's so important. And I think more and more growers are just realizing it, even though again, I'm worried that the commercial side is getting ahead of it selling inoculants and this and that, I think, we're not quite there yet. But we're learning the soil scientists are doing a great job, I think helping us get up to speed on what's really going on.

Craig Macmillan 15:41

Yeah, absolutely. I'm, I'm on a journey myself, right now, about the last two years I've been on this crash course into soils and to soil microbial communities that because I had no background that, you know, I wasn't really interested in what was happening above the ground. And I was interested in, I was primarily interested in insect pests. And then I got more interested in diseases. And that led to nutrition which led to irrigatoin. And this is the piece I'm kind of learning about. Now, it seems like if you're really interested in sustainable farming, no matter who you are, what your crop is, to me one of the limitations, and I want to see what you think about this, one of the limitations is you say, Okay, I'm an expert. Now, in almond farming, I'm an expert in wind grape farming. Now I've got to become an expert in soil microbial communities. You know, now I have to become an expert in soil, geology, impair material, you know, I mean, every topic that comes along, I now have to I have to go back to school again, that to me is an interesting one, because I find people seem to embrace it. And I find people who seem to be resistant to it, mostly because they don't have time or energy to do it. What has been your experience with folks? Are there certain kinds of different types of people that are more willing to invest the energy? How much? How much energy? Do people have to invest in these kinds of things? Is that a limitation?

Cliff Ohmart 16:51

Yeah, I think where I think, if anything, we're I've seen the biggest challenges with small growers that are basically owner operators, and they don't have any help, really, and and they I think, are really time constrained. But I think the real answer to your question is, this is where Cooperative Extension comes in. If you've got the right people writing the right educational materials, you can distill it so that a grower can take information and apply it. I don't have any proof. But I think for definitely some people that say, I don't have time to get into this, they use that as an excuse. They just don't want to deal with it. I understand that part because farming is very complicated. One of those guys, I work with a longtime Kent Reeves as a wildlife biologist, he helped us in Lodi for years. And his great saying was, farming is not rocket science, it's harder. So getting your hands on the right educational information, if you're a grower owner operator, is the secret. Now, if you're a large grower, and I've seen this, they hire people, and it's getting more and more sophisticated, as large growers are doing so they have the opportunity to hire a soil scientist PhD level. And then most people can really dive into it. And then, you know, they have a management team where they can sit down and integrate what what they've got. It's an issue for sure. Time. You could literally spend all your 24 hours a day worrying about doing stuff around the farm. But it's back to the cover crop thing back in the old days. The thing you probably know Steve Mathiason. Yeah, well, in the early days, he and I worked together for four years in Lodi, and he had this he felt that he call it recreational disking. You know, or people just wanted to get out of the house. So they got discked, you know, and we don't really know if that's true. But growers do want to do things, their program. And I saw that in my early days as a PCA, particularly when it came to spraying for insects is convincing them you don't have to do something today, because they're programmed. And so again, back to your thing about I think it can be a crutch, oh, I don't have time to get into soils or whatever. But the other the flip side is that is convincing me. So much of my experience, especially in orchards and almonds was, look, I know it's hard, but don't do anything right now. And that's how you save money. And it really is, you know, I think for insects spraying you can really make good cases for that.

Craig Macmillan 19:31

I agree. And I think that for the folks that I've seen who have implemented certain kinds of practices over the years, they find that it actually is a savings because they're their vineyards are more balanced. So there's less kind of adjusting maybe that they need to do especially if you can get your irrigation dialed in. If you get your nutrition in to where you want it, there's less manipulation is required. You can get your cost down because you're only putting on kind of what you need. I mean, I think we found out the hard way that we have a tendency to put on more inputs than you necessarily need to be putting on because I need to do something, right? I need to take care of these plants, I need to feed them, I need to water them all of which is true. The question, the question is, do you just put out a buffet of cookies for your kid? Or do you control what they eat based on what you know about nutrition? Right, that kind of that kind of a thing. I think the same is true for what you've mentioned, the time and the knowledge part of it. We have lots of great education stuff out there. And that doesn't take that long to read. And there's also lots of other professionals that can come and talk to you, or folks that you hire that can take on a lot of that I've met, I've been very, very impressed with the quality of knowledge and education of young pest control advisors that are coming out of the universities. Now. They have a very strong grounding in sustainable ag. So they see the world a little bit differently. I think one area that I wanted to ask you about, because it's near and dear to my heart, and I think it is teasers as well as biological control in vineyards.

Cliff Ohmart 20:57

Yes,

Craig Macmillan 20:58

Yes. I'll start the conversation. This part of the conversation this way I was talking to I actually interviewed was talking to a person who manages an insectary. And they said to me, what is wrong with you guys in the Central Coast? When I say What are you talking about? I sell a ton, a ton about control agents in the San Joaquin Valley. And I can't sell hardly anything on the coast. And I don't get it. And my first response was, Well, maybe the pest pressures are different this and that. And he says, no, no, no, I, I'm familiar. Yes, there's some differences. But like these, they just don't seem to like believe in it, which I thought was an interesting observation. Because as a sociologist, my backgrounds in sociology also is like, Hmm, I wonder if there is something cultural going on there? Or if there's a group adoption thing, I feel like we've kind of stalled out what is your take on the state of insect biological control right now in wine grapes?

Cliff Ohmart 21:54

I actually don't have a feel for what the state is right now. What I thought you're going to ask me is, what is my view on it?

Craig Macmillan 22:03

Let's do that.

Cliff Ohmart 22:04

Yeah, and I do have something to say. This is where my academic training especially at Berkeley, you know, that was a hotbed of control scientists, when I was there as a grad student, Robert VandenBosch, probably being the most famous. I went through this very interesting, Berkeley, and it was a huge Entomology Department when I went there. And the concept in Berkeley overall was natural enemies, regulate insect populations. And you have to be very specific, using IPM. And disease management is a whole different ballgame. As with diseases, if there there you, you're behind the eight ball, insects, you can watch them and wait. And then when I went to Australia as a research scientist, there was a school and the weight Institute in South Australia. And they felt that the environment controlled insect populations, not natural enemies. It was the classic academic thing of we're right, no, we're right. And in reality, if you study a particular insect, some insects are controlled by the environment, and others are controlled by natural enemies. So my view about bio control is not all insect populations are controlled by natural enemies. It depends on the insect and it depends on the situation. And so it's a great opportunity for insect trees to flog stuff to people. Because you know, who doesn't want biocontrol for work? The danger of bonafide control is if you're going to use insects, you need to be out there measuring and seeing if it's really helping or not, because you put out natural enemies and you don't have a pest problem, and it may not be related to them at all. Unfortunately, it's very complicated. My guess is there's probably more being agents being sold and used than ever before. Partly because some growers realizing this is important. To me, it's really, you know, things like spider mites definitely are controlled by not only the plant but also their natural enemies. Vine mealybug, again, is very much controlled by natural enemies depending but you've got ant situation. So look at these to me in each specific case. And then of course, the other thing with with natural enemies, of course, is you don't want a natural enemy that's so good. That wipes out your pest population, because then...

Craig Macmillan 24:33

...It goes away. But it's kind of the problem, isn't it? I mean, the original IPM paper from 1959 It's an economic injury level. It's an action threshold, there's some damages it's tolerated and and things like wine grapes will actually on all the all of the fruit vegetable horticultural crops. So you know, aesthetics is huge. I mean, statics is the whole deal. So you really can't tolerate stuff which makes these other techniques kind of tough. That was just exactly where I was kind of gonna go with This is that sometimes we can find a situation where biological control and release of biological control agents might work really well is an augmentative, then there's also conservation. And if we can think along those lines, if we can think along those lines, that helps balance everything out, as well. That's an area where I think that we can see some adoption, probably there's more room for growth, I don't want to sound like you've been critical of growers. I think I in my career have seen amazing commitment to innovation in the wine industry. I've seen people take on all kinds of things that again, the science didn't says it, say, oh, it's crazy. But people were like that, to me, sounds kind of crazy. It's too dangerous. You're gonna lose crop, I'm gonna lose yield. And then but there have been these companies that were like, hey, you know, we're going to trial this and see that if this works, if there's information that gets out, do you feel like we've made progress in sustainable ag, especially in vineyards? Are we have we improve?

Cliff Ohmart 25:55

I very much think so. It's a slow process, again, for all sorts of reasons that we've touched on some we haven't. But yes, I do believe, especially in wine grapes. And I think in orchard crops as well, the which is were my experiences, I just don't have a feel for for row crops, really. But yes, I think we've come a long way.

Craig Macmillan 26:20

In the area of sustainable ag in the future sustainable ag especially in vineyards, is there one piece of advice or philosophy or idea or concept that you think it'd be important for growers that are what would be the one thing you'd say to a grower this about, hey, sustainable ag is really cool. But...

Cliff Ohmart 26:36

Well, one thing I would just bring up this measure to manage and just remind them, no matter what it is, it's as simple as you know, how many growers really have a way to measure how much water they use on an annual basis in a given venue? You know, do you have a flow meter on your pump. And I still think that's the case that some people don't. And then the thing that we were touching on it, I didn't mention, so many of the things that we you and I've talked about, just bring back memories of why this is so difficult. One of them is, you know, it's can sound like we're really being critical of growers, which of course, if you're trying to work with a grower to help them, you don't want to sound like you're saying, Why are you doing this? And I used to come up with various ways. How can you get this across? And so when we developed the self assessment workbook, for example, what that does is it helps you, in the privacy of your own home, identify very specifically things you're doing or not doing. But I tried to remind people look, I said, How would you feel if someone knocked on your door and said, I don't like what you're doing in your backyard. And I'm here to help. You know, it's all partly it's about the approach. And then back to resistance. I'm a big believer in perception of risk versus real risk. And I think all of us as people, and you touched on it, about irrigation, and about fertilization, and about spraying. It's like, if I don't do this horrible things are going to happen. Again, I would just introduce it's a very high level concept. But have people say, Is this a perceived risk? Or do you think it's a real risk? And how do you know if it's real or not. And of course, this comes back to measure to manage. And again, I would try to come up with various very simple parables of why this is so difficult. And it had to do with spraying because you know, so many people, it's like, growers just spray. And of course, growers don't jump out of bed in the morning say, What can I kill today?

Craig Macmillan 28:46

No, they just don't. That's a thing. When around pesticides, people are like, Oh, growth, you're just looking for a pesticide to use. Yeah, but no, I don't want to do that, right. No, I do it because I think I have because I have to I'm not doing it for fun.

Cliff Ohmart 28:58

And as a PCA, especially in my early days spraying and reduce spraying was what we were trying to accomplish when it comes to insect spraying or disease spraying. When you don't spray, you'll learn one of two things. Gee, I wish that I did. If you don't spray and something bad happens that tends to hang with growers for years. Or the other thing you're learning is, boy, I'm glad I didn't. And that's when you realize, Wow, this is why things take a long time to evolve. And it wouldn't be the same for irrigation or nutrient. You know, if I don't put on my nitrogen, my crop yields can be down and it comes back to risk it growers that are interested in sustainable farming, but growers are risk takers. But I think there's a lot of perceived risk, as opposed to try and really get grips on what is real risk or not. So I would talk to a grower about that. And that's the kind of talk you'd have over a cup of coffee or a cup of tea in the office. But I think it's really something really for growers to think about and that doesn't make them sound Like, they're terrible. We're human. We all go through that.

Craig Macmillan 30:04

Absolutely. And there's a lot of responsibility. I mean, that's the other thing, you know, no matter what says the operation is the you know, it doesn't matter. It's the, it's the farm. It's all on your shoulders, don't screw it up.

Cliff Ohmart 30:16

And it's all financed, usually. And then I'm thinking we were talking about this labor and growers paying more in this and that and of course, one of the big budget items now on in farms is labor. And so people trying to mechanize. But if you actually back up and look at other industries, it's the same. Unfortunately, we, we meaning you and I work expense. And so again, it's not that growers are being terrible people, it's they're dealing with it as as is everyone else is just the farm. And one of the things that really was eye popping, I got I was fortunate to be on the workgroup that came up to this sustainable pest management roadmap recently.

Craig Macmillan 30:57

Oh, right. Right.

Cliff Ohmart 30:59

That was an urban as well as AG. And one of the things that I think growers need to know is there are more pesticides used in the urban environment than in the ag environment. By pound more pounds of pesticides. And yeah, who's the enemy? The farmer? Why? Because regulations make it a requirement that we know what they use.

Craig Macmillan 31:27

Yeah, no, that's true. That's it. And I think that also is a challenge for us ag, when we look around at other industries, for instance, or we look at other uses, or we look at other things, and you're like, Hey, man, I gotta do all this stuff. Like, there's all these things that I have to do that you don't have to do, you know, and and measure to manage is another good example of that is, you know, we have tools to do it, we can do it. I mean, yeah, Flow Meter cost a little bit of money. And you got to monitor it. I mean, that's the other thing, you got to look at it. I mean, that's, that's my job big. Well, I do a lot of things. But part of my job is like I during the summer, I watch our water. And if things don't make sense, I jump in and say, Hey, what's going on? You know, homeowners are not necessarily doing that, you know, other businesses are not necessarily doing that. And I think is a societal level, I think the trend is going to have to go that direction, because the resources are just going to get scarcer. Hope that you will agree, and this is kind of where I want to bring things around is would you agree that that we've seen a lot of progress? would you also agree that maybe we've seen some changes in philosophy over time, and I don't just mean from younger people coming into the business, but just folks who've been farming for a long, long time changing kind of how they think about things?

Cliff Ohmart 32:35

Yeah, I think for sure, I definitely know individuals where that's really happened, which is great. You know, I would hope I would have changed over time, because of what I know. So yes,

Craig Macmillan 32:47

Yeah, I've changed over time. I'm just much more bitter.

Cliff Ohmart 32:51

Yeah. One thing that, you know, given that I've been doing this a long time, there's some things that don't change about and one of the things and it came up during this sustainability roadmap, we had a, after it came out, I was sitting on a panel, one of the growers in the audience and older grower, somebody my age, basically said, you know, regulations are putting me out of business. It's no fun farming anymore. But I heard that 40 years ago, and I said that I was a little worried because I didn't want to sound I don't know, I just didn't want to sound too confrontational. But I said, Look, I have to say something here. I understand what you're saying. I really understand what you're saying, But, I heard this 40 years ago from someone that 40 years ago was older. And at that point, I said, Look, grow. Growers are innovative people. And we have to innovate.

Craig Macmillan 33:56

But no growers are adaptive. Yeah.

Cliff Ohmart 34:00

And it's up to us. And this was going back to the pest management roadmap. It is up to all of us to do better. And yes, it's hard. It is hard.

Craig Macmillan 34:07

But but we can change. We can make progress. We can reduce our inputs, we can protect the environment, we can make life better for people. It's all good. We're going in the right direction. So and I'm really I'm really happy to have you bring that perspective and some of those stories to this topic. We're out of time for today. We could go on for hours and I look forward to it at some point. Having dinner with you. Swapping stories, I would love to have a series on on this just on and on and on and on. But unfortunately we can't I guess today's been Cliff Ohmart. He's Principal of Omart Consulting Services. Thanks for being on the podcast Cliff.

Cliff Ohmart 34:42

You're very welcome.

Nearly Perfect Transcription by https://otter.ai

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