Bottoms, who also serves as director of the UCCE Desert Research & Extension Center in Holtville, said a full agenda of research projects including a comparison of spray rigs, seeds, varieties, weed control and reduced tillage, are underway—many for the first time this year.

“We’ve increased the number of studies by 114 percent this year and the highest percent of that research is in vegetables,” Bottoms said.

One study will compare standard to less traditional air assisted spray rigs to compare placement of products in lettuce, melons and beets.

“We are just starting a three-year study comparing different spray rigs to get more targeted applications,” he said.

An additional study will look at reduced tillage in vegetables with the goal of becoming more efficient in the use of water, fuel and other inputs.

“We are going to look at whether there are some cultural practices or cropping patterns where we could reduce tillage over a seven year study,” Bottoms said. “We are trying to be ahead of the curve before rules or expectations come our way that force us to make changes.”

Additionally, Bottoms will compare organic vegetable seed varieties against standard varieties, examining such things as growth quality, emergence and disease resistance to ultimately increase profits.

“On the average over the last five years, producers have probably received half the income value per acre from organic production versus conventional and we want to see if we can change that by reducing input costs to growers,” he said. “As Wal-Mart and other giant retailers are increasing their organic offerings to consumers we want to again get ahead of the curve to see if there are certain varieties that might be more attractive to organic producers in the desert.”

Bottoms also plans to implement full pepper and lettuce variety trials in the desert to provide growers updated comparison information.

“I think pepper acreage may expand here as housing expands in the Coachella Valley,” he said.

A field day Jan. 24 at the Research Center will bring in experts from throughout California and Arizona to address these and other issues.