In Placer and Nevada counties, UCCE received a CDFA Specialty Block Grant to encourage consumers to eat more fruits and vegetables and support the local agricultural industry by buying the produce from them. The project led to the creation of the “Eat Local Placer Nevada” campaign.
“Buying locally grown products supports local farmers and ranchers and it keeps land in agriculture,” said Cindy Fake, UCCE farm advisor in Placer and Nevada counties. “Simply put, it's the right thing to do.”
To give consumers extra incentive to eat local, the group launched a seven-month study to compare prices at farmers markets and grocery stores. Volunteers and staff collected price data at four farmers markets and six grocery stores from January to July 2014. Specials and sale items were not part of the study. The data suggests that organic produce at farmers markets is priced about the same as organic produce at grocery stores.
In terms of conventional produce, grocery stores had cheaper prices on 6 out of 11 items; however, consumers would still save money picking up red apples, beets and chard at the farmers markets. The cost of conventional butternut squash and sweet potatoes was virtually equal at the two venues.
“Contrary to many consumers' perception, farmers market prices are competitive with regular supermarket prices,” Fake said. “Some prices are slightly higher, some slightly lower, but they are in the same range. “
However, there are other factors shoppers should keep in mind when deciding to buy supermarket produce or fruit and vegetables grown by their neighboring farmers.
“Produce at the farmers market is sold the same day or the day after it is harvested,” Fake said. “Because of that, its shelf life is two to three times longer than what is found in the supermarket. And because it is so fresh, you have a higher nutrient content and it will taste better.”
Fake said experts believe buying local also supports the local economy. She is collaborating on a project led by Shermain Hardesty, UCCE specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis, to document the economic impact of local food systems in Placer, El Dorado, Sacramento and Yolo counties. The researchers will gather data about farmers' purchases of inputs and local sales of produce.
“This project will provide science-based evidence to guide public policy and program design aimed at supporting local farmers and local food systems into the future,” Fake said.
The study – titled Measuring the Impact of Local Food Marketing on the Local Economy – is supported with a $226,048 grant from the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Saving the declining populations of Mojave desert tortoise is a big challenge. But scientists think that raising newborn “hatchling” tortoises in a controlled environment in the Mojave National Preserve for a year, then releasing the juvenile tortoises into the wild, may help save this threatened species.
The protected tortoises — which live up to 80 years and can go without water for a year — have existed for eons, but are now being decimated by habitat loss and predation. Professor Brian Todd, in the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology at UC Davis, worries that the increasing use of Southern California deserts for solar and wind energy, will add to the loss of tortoise habitats, and add further pressure to regional wildlife habitats. While developing renewable energy to combat climate change is a good thing, in this case it impacts desert species and their habitats.
Ivanpah Desert Tortoise Research Facility. The new facility, located in the Mojave National Preserve, was designed for scientists to conduct research on juvenile tortoise survival. It was constructed largely by Chevron and Molycorp, and is managed by the National Park Service. Scientists from the University of California, University of Georgia, and elsewhere, are conducting a 15-year study to see if hatchlings released into the wild and/or relocated elsewhere can survive and reverse the population decline.
We can all keep our fingers crossed that this research will preserve desert tortoise populations, and serve as a model for conserving biodiversity.
- “Protecting the desert tortoise,” video of UC Davis researchers and desert tortoises.
- “Habitat selection, space use, and factors affecting recruitment of desert tortoises in the Mojave National Preserve”; Brian Todd website, UC Davis
- “Baby desert tortoises get a headstart in the Mojave,” by Andy Fell and Kat Kerlin, Egghead blog, UC Davis. With a video of tortoises and scientists.
- “Tortoise territory,” by Robin DeRieux, CA&ES Outlook magazine (see pages 2 and 10), UC Davis, spring/summer 2012.
- “Mojave National Preserve celebrates dedication of Ivanpah desert tortoise,” Mojave National Preserve website.
California has emerged as the world's almond orchard because of near-perfect conditions for the crop, but in terms of production, it may have hit its peak, reported Jennifer Rankin in The Guardian.
"The future for farming almonds in California will always be there," said David Doll, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Merced County. "It is more about coming into balance with our water resources."
The story quoted from a UC report that California farmers have spent an extra $500 million this year pumping extra water to cope with the drought.
Co-author of the study, Richard Howitt, professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis, cautioned against singling out particular crops.
"Don't blame almonds for the problem," he said. "The problem is one of water mismanagement."
He suggested changes in how California manages water so farmers monitor their groundwater use and replenish supplies when there is more rain.
"[The farmers] should be repaying what they are taking. And if they are taking more, as they always are in droughts, then they should be making plans to repay it back in wet years. If you treat your groundwater the way you treat your retirement account, then everything would be OK."
More information about water stress in almonds may be found in David Doll's blog, The Almond Doctor.
Because of the drought, California almond farmers have been forced to drill new wells, rely on salty groundwater for irrigation and bulldoze some trees, reported Robert Rodriguez in the Fresno Bee.
The story presented results from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, which worked with state ag officials to send surveys to 688 California almond farmers; 458 of them responded.
The survey found that nearly 70 percent of almond farmers have only groundwater to irrigate their trees. About 23 percent said they had to drill new wells and 32 percent were reconditioning existing wells.
Normally growers mix surface water with groundwater to dilute the salts in water that has been pumped up from wells. But for many farmers, that hasn't been possible this year.
"Consequently, the amount of salt in the trees has placed them under stress and it is being reflected in smaller nut size, reduced growth and the potential for small crops in the future," said Bob Beede, University of California Cooperative Extension emeritus adviser who specialists in nut crops. He added that salt buildup can kill a tree.
UC Desert Research and Extension Center in Holtville this month, reported Ethanol Producer Magazine.
Giant King Grass is a fast-growing, high-yield grass that grows under a variety of soil conditions, according to Viaspace Green Energy Inc. It is propagated vegetatively and, with sufficient rain or irrigation, can grow 15 to 18 feet high in six months.
At the UC Desert Rec, scientists compared two planting processes:
- Planting single nodes that grow into individual plants with some space between them.
- Planting whole stalks continuously end to end, which results in a dense row of plants about six inches apart.
Preliminary results showed the whole stalk planting germinated earlier and grew more quickly. The individual plants had a significant number of skips where the nodes failed to germinate.
Two harvesting regimens were tested:
- Harvest when the plant is 6 to 8 feet tall every two months for animal feed and to produce biogas for anaerobic digestion.
- Harvest when the plant is 15 to 18 feet tall for bioenergy applications, such as direct combustion in a power plant, energy pellets or cellulosic biofuels.
"It was 108 degrees when I arrived in Holtville last Monday evening (Sept. 8, 2014) at 6 p.m.," said Carl Kukkonen, CEO of Viaspace. "Giant King Grass is planted in the worst soil at the University of California site, and still the results are good. I am pleased that Giant King Grass grows well in this extremely hot and dry environment."