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Drip irrigation in alfalfa cuts water use, but isn't for everybody

The drought is forcing farmers to reexamine the way they water their crops, but converting to drip irrigation in alfalfa is unlikely to be widely implemented, reported David Wagner on KPBS Radio News.

The drip irrigation system conserves water - almost by half, said farmer Jack Cato - but is expensive and requires regular maintenance. After six years, the drip system is yet to pay for itself.

"Drip irrigation is not the answer for everything," said Khaled Bali, irrigation advisor with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR). "I would not recommend switching every acre in the Imperial Valley to drip irrigation."

Cato added that new drip irrigation users face a steep learning curve.

"Whatever farm starts doing this, he needs to take baby steps," Cato said. "It's not something you learn overnight, or in a book. You have to study your fields daily."

For more on water use and alfalfa, see Why alfalfa is the best crop to have in the drought by Daniel Putnam, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist based at UC Davis, in the Alfalfa & Forage Blog.

Photo by Daniel H. Putnam, UC ANR alfalfa specialist.

 

Posted on Tuesday, July 7, 2015 at 4:28 PM

Food assistance and education combine to ease food insecurity

UC ANR nutrition educator teaches the Plan, Shop, Save & Cook curriculum.
Celebrities have taken the “food stamp challenge,” trying to feed themselves on a budget equivalent to federal food benefits for the poor. Most have failed, but UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) has found a way to help low-income families successfully stretch their food dollars and eat healthier while receiving food assistance.

The curriculum, called “Plan, Shop, Save & Cook,” was adapted for UC CalFresh nutrition education by UC ANR Cooperative Extension academics. The program, offered in 31 California counties, is proven to help recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) eat healthier and avoid running out of food by the end of the month. In California, SNAP is known as CalFresh.

The proof stems from an analysis of pre- and post-program surveys of nearly 4,000 adults who completed the four-part “Plan, Shop, Save & Cook” course. Researchers concluded that food assistance combined with nutrition and resource management education reduces food insecurity in low-income families. The results were published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Plan, Shop, Save & Cook was implemented in California in 2011. From 2011 to 2013, educators in 15 counties asked participants to fill out a brief survey before and one month after completing the four-week course. The survey aimed to determine whether they were using key strategies shared in the classes, including planning meals, using a shopping list, comparing prices, reading labels, thinking about healthy choices and eating varied meals.

“We confirmed that our program helps educate and motivate participants, leading to healthier eating,” said Lucia Kaiser, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist based in the Department of Nutrition at UC Davis. “Increasing resource management skills – the ability shop smart and read food labels – is important to reducing food insecurity.”

Kaiser, the study's lead author, also pointed out that receiving the supplemental food benefits is a critical factor in addressing food insecurity.

“Families need SNAP and access to healthy foods in their neighborhoods,” Kaiser said. “The people in our study who were receiving food assistance were eating the best. It's really important to help eligible people get enrolled and receive food assistance.”

In the United States, 14.5 percent of households are “food insecure” – they don't have access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members. Among those below the income eligibility cutoff for SNAP, the percentage of food insecure households is considerably higher. Food insecurity has been associated with inadequate nutrient intake, poor mental and physical health, substandard economic performance, increased risk of chronic disease, poor psychological cognitive function and obesity.

“It may seem counter-intuitive, but research has shown that body mass index is greater in households with lower socio-economic status,” Kaiser said. “Food insecurity and obesity may coexist because the least expensive foods are often lowest in nutrients and highest in calories, and in low income areas, healthy food is not always available.”

A higher level of food assistance benefits may allow families to purchase more fruits, vegetables, whole grain products and lean dairy and protein foods. Effective education also contributes to these healthy eating habits. The Plan, Shop, Save & Cook classes are offered to small groups of adults in community settings and include skill-building activities, such as writing a menu and comparing it to dietary recommendations. Participants taste low-cost healthy foods and receive recipes to try at home.

For more information about Plan, Shop, Save & Shop contact a county UC ANR Cooperative Extension office.

An initiative to maintain and enhance healthy families and communities is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Author: Jeannette Warnert

Posted on Tuesday, July 7, 2015 at 1:54 PM

4-H teaches kids environmental awareness at inaugural camp

4-H teens planned and presented a week-long camp for local youth called Sustainable You! at the UC Desert Research and Extension Center in Holtville.
Twenty-five schoolchildren learned what it means to be “sustainable” at the inaugural 4-H Sustainable You! Summer Camp at the UC Desert Research and Extension Center in Holtville, reported Michael Dukes in the Imperial Valley Press.

The environmental impact of humans is something children need to be aware of, said Shanna Abatti, UC ANR 4-H Youth Development Program representative. The camp was designed to provide new or different perspectives on how to save water, recycle, use renewable energy and understand the benefits of buying local food.

Preparation for the camp began last July, the article said. Abatti called upon 15 4-H high schoolers to help run and coordinate activities. 

“Being the first year, it was a lot of work," said recent Central Union High School graduate and camp council president Natalie Gonzalez. "The camp was originally (designed) for Utah, so we had to change a lot of the games to fit the Valley and what we have here, the weather we have here, the crops that we grow."

The first day centered on recycling, composting, and how waste effects planet earth. The campers did activities on landfills and took home worm composting bins. Day 2 focused on air, with campers learning about air quality and the impact of pollutants. The campers finished the day by harvesting fresh vegetables at the research center. Day 3 the campers learned about food packaging, food origins, and the importance of buying local or regional food. The campers visited a local dairy. Day 4 was focused on energy, with activities involving wind turbines and a solar oven. The campers took part in an (indoor) "camp out" and glow-in-the-dark nature walk. The camp ended with a session on water. Campers tried out water quality testing and took a virtual tour of wetlands. Each of the campers had perfect attendance.

The camp was made possible by support from the Vesper Society.

Posted on Tuesday, July 7, 2015 at 10:45 AM

What do you know about ants?

Entomologist Phil Ward will give a program on native ants on Friday, July 17 at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, UC Davis.
What do you know about ants?

If you think they're just uninvited guests at your picnic or something to spray or stomp, think again. 

They're marvelous creatures, as any ant specialist will tell you. 

You can learn about them from noted ant specialist Phil Ward, professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, when he presents a program Friday, July 17, on the native ants found in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, UC Davis campus.

The event, free and open to the public, is set from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the half-acre bee garden, located on Bee Biology Road, next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, west of the central campus.

Among the native ants at the haven are:

  • Dorymyrmex insanus (workers small, ~3 mm long, black; conspicuous crater-shaped nests in bare soil)
  • Dorymyrmex bicolor (workers small, ~3 mm long, bicolored, dull orange and black; conspicuous crater-shaped nests in bare soil)
  • Prenolepis imparis (also known as the “winter ant” or “winter honey ant”; workers small (3-4 mm long), brown, with shiny gaster; inconspicuous nests in soil)
  • Formica moki (sometimes called “field ants”; workers medium-sized (6 mm long), with a dark head, orange-brown mesosoma (thorax) and silvery-gray gaster; nest in soil)

Images of these species can be found on the AntWeb, a website hosted and supported by the California Academy of Sciences that provides specimen-level data, images, and natural history of ants.

Approximately six other species of native ants reside in the vicinity of the garden, including Formica aerata, Pogonomyrmex subdentatus, and Solenopsis xyloni. The introduced Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) occurs around the Bee Biology building, but it appears not to have colonized the bee garden.

Attendees will learn how to observe and identify California native ants, and learn about the differences between bees and ants, said Christine Casey, director of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, which is owned and operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. It was planted in the fall of 2009.

The program is part of a brown bag lunch series. For more information on the ant program, see the flier and/or access the haven web site.

Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about ants, be sure to download (free!) Dr. Eleanor's Book of Common Ants, an entry-level book by entomologist/science writer Eleanor Rice; entomologist/ant specialist/photographer Alex Wild (he received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, studying with Phil Ward, and is now a curator at the University of Texas, Austin); and designer Neil McCoy.

"Of the nearly 1,000 ant species living in North America, fewer than 30 are true pests, and fewer still actually can hurt us," Rice points out in her book. "We might not notice them, but they're there, and they shape, literally shape, our world," she writes. "Look at the colossal trees in your forest, the plants around your lawn. Ants, like winnow ants, plant the forest understory, ultimately contouring plant distribution that becomes those giants of trees, animal homes, abounding green life. Other ants help turn soil (more than earthworms in some places!), break up decomposing wood and animals, and keep the canopy healthy."

Ants are also crawling in the international spotlight now. Did you know the North American release of the superhero movie, Ant-Man, is Friday, July 17?

That makes Friday, July 17, a good day for ants.

Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey

 

Formica moki (Photo by Phil Ward, www.entweb.org)
Formica moki (Photo by Phil Ward, www.entweb.org)

Formica moki (Photo by Phil Ward, www.entweb.org)

A honey bee and its cousin, an ant, a velvety tree ant, Liometopum occidentale.  (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee and its cousin, an ant, a velvety tree ant, Liometopum occidentale. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee and its cousin, an ant, a velvety tree ant, Liometopum occidentale. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An ant crater, the work of a species in the genus Dorymyrmex. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An ant crater, the work of a species in the genus Dorymyrmex. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An ant crater, the work of a species in the genus Dorymyrmex. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, July 7, 2015 at 8:23 AM

NPI study: Law improves beverage environment in California childcare

Childcare providers must serve only fat-free or low-fat unsweetened, plain milk for kids two years or older.
Obesity among preschoolers is a serious health problem, with one in four obese or overweight by the time the child is ready for kindergarten. Given that well over half of preschool age children are in childcare, UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute researchers decided to investigate whether healthy beverage standards in childcare could improve their nutrition. Another reason to focus on this age group is that young children are still developing their eating habits. Those who get an early start at eating a nutritious diet will likely have better health outcomes than children who get in the habit of eating junk food and drinking sugary beverages.

In 2008 and 2012, NPI researchers conducted a survey of more than 400 randomly selected California licensed childcare facilities to look at beverages in childcare before and after California's Healthy Beverages in Child Care Act (AB 2084) took effect in January 2012. Under this law, only fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) unsweetened, plain milk for children two years of age or older is allowed, and no more than one serving per day of 100 percent juice. No sugary drinks are allowed at all. Also, drinking water must be readily available throughout the day, including at all meal, snack and play times.

NPI Director Lorrene Ritchie presented NPI's research findings on June 30 at the 8th Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference in San Diego. The NPI study found that the policy was effective at improving the beverage environment in California childcare. Provision of whole milk dropped from nearly 30 percent of childcare facilities in 2008 to less than 9 percent of facilities 2012. The provision of other beverages also improved. In 2008, 27 percent of facilities offered juice more than once a day, compared to just 20 percent in 2012. Facilities offering any sugar-sweetened beverages dropped from 7.6 percent in 2008 to 6.9 percent in 2012.

“We know the beverages children consume can put a child at risk for overweight and obesity,” said Ritchie. “The good news is that the healthy beverage standards did improve the beverage environment in California childcare. This law impacts potentially a million young children in our state.”

Despite the improved beverage environment, NPI found that only 60 percent of childcare facilities were aware of the law, and only 23 percent were in full compliance with all provisions.

Water is a healthful beverage for children.
“We need to do more to improve the beverage environment,” said Ritchie. “Based on our findings, we recommend that all childcare providers have access to nutrition training so that more understand and are able to comply with California's childcare beverage standards.”

The NPI study also looked at the effects of serving water at the table with meals and snacks.  While this was not a provision of the California law, it is a best practice for teaching children to reach for water first for thirst. Putting water on the table did not have an impact on children's intake of milk and other foods, which was a common concern of providers caring for young children. However, the study found the law didn't make much of a difference in increasing children's water intake either.

“Simply serving water at the table with meals and snacks is not likely to interfere with intake of other healthy things,” said Ritchie. “But we don't know what would happen if water were provided in such a way as to substantively increase water intake.”

The University of California Global Food Initiative aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.

 

Posted on Tuesday, June 30, 2015 at 12:00 PM

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