UC scientists share techniques to sustainably grow agave in California
The researchers view agave production as an ecological and financially viable solution for agriculture in a changing climate. They work closely with growers, environmental organizations and agroecology experts to advance sustainable production practices that promote biodiversity; soil, water and air conservation; and the protection of the natural environment.
The team recently held a “Fire, Smoke & Legend” event in Sacramento to showcase their research and offer tastings of scores of agave products from research collaborators and more than 20 vendor partners. Participants also sampled food from a variety of local restaurants.
“We value science outreach and education, so we are excited to share our findings with the community,” said Samuel Sandoval Solis, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in water resources management at UC Davis and principal investigator for the research project. “Many attendees at the Sacramento event said they were inspired to grow their own agave, and we want to help them do that sustainably.”
One attendee commented, “It's great to see and sample the wide variety of products you can make with agave. I had no idea!”
In addition to its economic and environmental benefits, agave has great cultural significance in Latino and Indigenous communities. For thousands of years, these plants were vital to the survival of ancient Mesoamerican people, providing food, fibers and tools for sewing and medicine. Agave symbolizes health and abundance in Mexican culture.
Researcher Yessica Viridiana Fernandez Galicia, a Ph.D. student in agricultural economics at the Universidad Autónoma Chapingo in Texcoco, Mexico and member of the Water Resources Management Group led by Sandoval Solis, noted that the guidelines they published provide “practical, easy-to-use information on climate change resiliency in agave, which species to consider for different distilled products, temperature ranges, managing residues and more.”
J. Pablo Ortiz-Partida, senior climate and water scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, lends his expertise in developing strategies for vulnerable populations in California to adapt to the current and projected effects of climate change, particularly water impacts.
"Our research has shown that growing agave can be a profitable water-efficient alternative and climate-resilient endeavor for California farmers and others who have an interest in the industry,” he said.
Other collaborators include Gabriela Rendon Herrera, UC Davis graduate student researcher; Alyssa J. DeVincentis, director of science and technology at Vitidore, Inc.; and Louise Jackson, UC Davis professor and specialist in sustainable agriculture practices.
With support from UC ANR seed grants, the research began in March 2023 and the guidelines were published in August, 2023. The collaborators are continuing to work on developing and disseminating best practices for agave production in California through a variety of educational materials and events.
More information is available at https://california.agave.ucdavis.edu/.