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Monthly news roundup: December 2017

2017 top story: Wet start to 2017 brought end to 5-year drought
Bill Hicks, Daily Republic, Dec. 30, 2017
Even though wildfires have dominated the headlines at the end of 2017, the Daily Republic selected the end of the drought as its top story of 2017. The deluge of rainfall was nearly a case of too much of a good thing. “The dose is the poison,” said Gene Miyao, a UC Cooperative Extension advisor for Yolo and Solano counties. “Dose in farming often relates to timing. Rain days after planting tomatoes, for instance, is good, but days before planting can delay the season.”

What will the Thomas Fire burn zone look like in the future?
Emily Guerin, 89.3 KPCC (SoCal Public Radio), Dec. 25, 2017
Ventura and Santa Barbara counties' countryside is scorched, but with normal rainfall, wildflowers will cover the hillsides in the spring. If it is a dry winter, many of these new seedlings won't survive. And without healthy adult chaparral on the landscape, fast-growing invasive grasses will soon move into to take their place, said Max Moritz, UC Cooperative Extension wildfire specialist in Santa Barbara.

Labor unions see organizing California marijuana workers as a way to grow
Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 25, 2017
The United Farm Workers, Teamsters and United Food and Commercial Workers are looking to unionize the tens of thousands of potential workers involved in legal marijuana production. Cannabis in California is already a $22-billion industry, including medical marijuana and a black market that accounts for most of that total, according to UC ANR agriculture economics researcher Philip Martin.

California ranchers will need vet's prescription to use livestock antibiotics
Julia Mitric, Capital Public Radio, Dec. 22, 2017
UC Cooperative Extension advisor Dan Macon said the new California requiring a veterinarian prescription for livestock antibiotics doesn't require a vet to be on site for each animal that needs treatment. But there will need to be a "veterinary-client-patient relationship." "Where the vet knows the operation, knows the rancher and has some idea of the types of animals and types of issues the rancher may be dealing with," Macon said. "And so it does require some semi-annual check in with the vet at the ranch."

How local farmers are coping with the devastating Thomas fire
Gillian Ferguson, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 19, 2017
Two weeks of unrelenting wind stoked wildfires that severely damaged avocados and other crops in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. The wind also spreads smoke damage, according to Ben Faber, UC Cooperative Extension advisor. "There are a lot of gases in the smoke like ethylene that is a ripening agent," Bender said. "I was out looking at a cherimoya orchard in Carpinteria on Friday, and it didn't get hit by fire or heat, but there were a lot of cherimoyas on the ground."

Farmers who lost crops in  the Lilac Fire seek advice from experts
Jaime Chambers, Fox 5 News, Dec. 19, 2017
Dozens of farmers whose citrus and avocados were burned in the Lilac Fire gathered to hear advice from UC Cooperative Extension experts. “The first thing I tell farmers is not to panic,” said Gary Bender, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in San Diego County. “When the fire burns hot and fast, that means the leaves will be burned but the tree might be fine.”

‘Defensible space' couldn't keep Thomas Fire from burning Ventura County
Emily Guerin, KPCC Public Radio, Dec. 19, 2017
The Thomas Fire in Ventura County surprised firefighters by destroying so many homes the first day after it broke out. UC Cooperative Extension specialist Max Moritz, who lives in Santa Barbara, said that defensible space isn't enough to protect structures during a wind-driven firestorm. “Defensible space has a very specific use. It's to provide a place for firefighters to do their work. It doesn't actually necessarily in and of itself protect the home from ignition,” he said. “We also have to think of the structure itself. What if nobody is there to defend it?” Homeowners must take precautions to keep flying embers from landing on flammable objects in and around the home and igniting a fire.

Lilac Fire resources for crop growers
Laura Acevedo, ABC 10 News, Dec. 19, 2017
The University of California Cooperative Extension and the USDA Farm Service Agency hosted an information meeting to provide agricultural assistance after the Lilac Fire. Some growers lost millions of dollars and thousands of pounds of fruit. UCCE advisor and county director Eta Takele spoke on estimated tree loss and advisors Sonia Rios and Gary Bender were also on the program.

Google Earth helps researchers map environmental impact of cannabis
Hana Baba, KALW Public Radio, Dec. 19, 2017
In Humboldt County, a team of researchers have been using satellite images to study cannabis grow sites for three years. “We were surprised by the location of the grows, the fact that most of the grows are in areas that are really bad for agriculture,” said Van Butsic, UC Cooperative Extension specialist. “There's good places to hide.” Butsic said the landscape will be really different in a year, and really different in five years.

California wildfire 45% contained, but devil winds persist
Mark Chediak, Bloomberg, Dec. 18, 2017
In CalFire terminology, 45 percent containment means that about that much of a hot zone is penned in by physical barriers, either roads, waterways or bulldozed or hand-shoveled clearings. “The problem is, when winds shift, the line of containment can be breached and embers can create spot fires,” said Max Moritz, a fire specialist for the University of California Cooperative Extension. “That's what we see with these wind-driven events.”

Are real or artificial Christmas trees better for the environment?
Jessica Roy, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 14, 2017
There's a common misconception about where real trees come from. Lynn Wunderlich, who works with Christmas tree farmers in her role as farm advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension, said many people assume the trees are cut down in forests and stolen from nature. In reality, Christmas trees are grown on farms in California, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee and other states, and they are meant to be cut down.

Climate change may shift vineyard planting
Dan Berger, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Dec. 12, 2017
The warming climate is already having an impact on North Coast wines. UC Cooperative Extension viticulture advisor Glenn McGourty said “heat storms” before the 2017 harvest may result in satisfactory wines, but occasionally such conditions will produce characteristics that are atypical: “It's contrary to our handcrafted image of wines made from exquisitely grown fruit. If you're a pinot noir grower and all of a sudden the temperatures rise to 100 degrees for several days in a row, well, that's not the kind of wine you want to make. It's not what you signed up for.”

The invasive, flammable plants making California's fires worse
Jacob Margolis, Los Angeles Public Radio, 89.3 KPCC, Dec. 12, 2017
Dense amounts of grasses have squeezed in between the native coastal sage brush and chaparral. "The invasive grasses have had a major role in most of the fires this year," said Richard Minnich, AES researcher and UC Riverside earth sciences professor. "The fires have largely been at low elevations where exotic annual grassland is most abundant. And the amount of grass and biomass was unusually high this year because of the heavy rains last winter."

How to protect your house from a wildfire with plants
Kurt Snibbe, Orange County Register, Dec. 12, 2017
On average, about 1,445 structures are destroyed by wildfires each year in California. There have been more than 8,000 damaged and destroyed in California this year. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources is a source for science-based methods to reduce the likelihood a home will go up in flames during a wildfire event.

Why (and how) to cut down your own Christmas tree
Natalie Brunell, KCRA News, Dec. 12, 2017
Many national forests in California offer a limited number of tree permits for people to cut down their own Christmas trees. "You definitely would not necessarily expect perfection," said Susie Kocher, the forestry adviser for the UC Cooperative Extension in the central Sierra Nevada. "Farmed trees (in lots) are tended by farmers who prune them to get the perfect shape. Natural trees are going to look a little different than farmed trees."

California avocados hit with triple whammy of fire, wind and ash
Dan Whitcomb, Reuters, Dec. 8, 2017
The Ventura County wildfire destroyed much of the region's avocado crop not just with flames, but also with fierce Santa Ana winds and a thick blanket of ash. Avocados are planted in hillside groves because of their shallow roots, said Ben Faber, a UCCE farm advisor in Ventura. The fruit, typically harvested in February or March, is full-sized and a heavy fruit by December, held by a long stem. Those factors make avocados more vulnerable to the whipping winds than the lemon orchards dotting the flatlands of Ventura, Faber said.

California's climate emergency
Eric Holthaus, Rolling Stone, Dec. 8, 2017
As holiday music plays on the radio, temperatures in Southern California have soared into the 80s, and bone-dry winds have fanned a summer-like wildfire outbreak. Southern California is under siege. As California-based scientist Faith Kearns writes in Bay Nature magazine, "The admission that our best efforts may not always be enough opens a small window to shift how we think about disasters."

Pioneering practice could help California reverse groundwater depletion
Michelaina Johnson, Water Deeply, Dec. 6, 2017
A 2015 University of California study identified 3.6 million acres of farmland where farmland can be used to recharge the aquifer. “I think it is safe to say that if infrastructure were in place we could begin to replenish what is typically pumped from groundwater in most years if floodwaters are available,” said Toby O'Geen, UCCE soil resource specialist. Some of the regions with the worst groundwater overdraft and best suitability for on-farm recharge, like the Tulare Basin, have no access to surface water, according to UC Davis hydrologist Helen Dahlke.

In California fires, a starring role for the wicked wind of the West
Anne C. Mulkern, Science Magazine, Dec. 6, 2017
UC Cooperative Extension specialist Max Moritz said the state needs to incorporate wind corridors into its fire hazard severity zone maps. Stricter building codes apply in places designated as high-risk.

Bugs in the Christmas Tree? Shake, Relax, Decorate
Kathleen Doheny, WebMD, Dec. 6, 2017
Live Christmas trees could shelter some bugs, but commercial trees are probably pretty clean, said UCCE advisor Lynn Wunderlich. But consumers need not worry. “You aren't going to find black widows or brown recluse spiders in Christmas trees," Wunderlich says. Those spiders prefer to hang out in more protected surroundings, she says, such as the corner of your dark garage or shed.

2017 is California's worst year for wildfires on record
Jill Replogle, KPCC 89.3, Dec. 6, 2017
The 2017 fire season has been the most severe on record, due to a combustible combination of drought, rains, and especially, wind. “What really makes big years in terms of acres burned is essentially how many really windy days we have,” UCCE forestry specialist Bill Stewart. Last year's wet winter, which led to increased vegetation, and this year's record-breaking heat waves aren't as indicative of fire danger as Santa Ana winds, known in Northern California as Diablo winds, Stewart said. “It's always dry. There's always fuel,” he said.

California's massive fires reveal our illusion of control over disasters
Faith Kearns, Bay Nature, Dec. 6, 2017
"Unstoppable" is a word the firefighters have used to describe both the Tubbs Fire in northern California and the Thomas Fire in the southern part of the state. This is a marked change from top-down, command-and-control institutions like CAL FIRE. While it's scary, recognizing the reality that we aren't always in control when it comes to disasters also invites us to re-imagine how we can live with them.

Ali and the drones
Nick Papadopolous, CropMobsterTV, Dec. 5, 2017
Alireza (Ali) Pourreza travelled from Iran to Florida then to the UC ANR Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, Calif. He's a music-loving precision ag specialist working to help address some of the most vexing challenges facing agriculture.

Hillside berry farms trigger erosion, speed flooding on central coast
Sarah Derouin and Emma Hiolski, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Dec. 4, 2017
Strawberries are one of California's most profitable crops, but the plastic row covers that protect berries from cold and pests also increase water runoff and erosion on hillside fields. UCCE advisor Mark Bolda estimates that one inch of rainfall onto a 30-acre plastic-covered farm could send enough water downhill to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. And the hills' sandy soil only exacerbates the problem. Nevertheless, he said, “It's not an option to not use plastic” in commercial strawberry farms.

Posted on Tuesday, January 2, 2018 at 9:47 AM

No joke: The reality of the starving student and what UC is doing to help

As we celebrate the winter holiday season with its many joyful occasions, it's sobering to think how many people are in need of nutritious food. Millions of people are at risk of going hungry, says Feeding America. And according to groundbreaking studies by the University of California, we now know that a large number of college students are among the hungry.

A significant problem, “starving students” are not a lighthearted joke: students are going hungry and sometimes homeless, too. Food and housing insecurity among college students threatens their health, as well as their academic achievements.

Gauging college student food insecurity

The University of California began examining the issue of student food insecurity in 2015 with the Student Food Access and Security Surveys funded by President Napolitano as part of the UC Global Food Initiative. The resulting Student Food Access and Security Study was authored by the UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute's Lorrene Ritchie and Suzanna Martinez and UC Santa Barbara's Katie Maynard.

The Student Food Access and Security Study examined the results of two surveys administered online in spring 2015 to a random sample of more than 66,000 students across all 10 UC campuses. Fourteen percent of the students -- 8,932 undergraduate and graduate students in all -- responded.

Nineteen percent of the students responding to the survey had “very low” food security, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines as experiencing reduced food intake at times due to limited resources. An additional 23 percent of survey respondents had “low” food security, which the USDA defines as reduced quality, variety or desirability of diet, with little or no indication of reduced food intake.

Added together, an alarming 42 percent of the students surveyed were food insecure.

Communicating best practices and lessons learned

Soon after the Student Food Access and Security Survey results were published, partners of the UC Global Food Initiative throughout the UC system began developing the Student Food Access and Security toolkit.

The toolkit compiles best practices that have evolved at UC campuses as the university advanced efforts to nourish and support students.

Each section of the toolkit provides examples across multiple campuses to highlight the range of activities underway, as well as lessons learned.

Meeting basic needs: Food security and housing security

Expenses other than tuition can make up more than 60 percent of the cost of attending college today. The cost of living for college students has risen by more than 80 percent over the past four decades.

To better understand the prevalence of food insecurity among University of California students, the university has continued to examine the issue of student food insecurity and is beginning to assess students' housing insecurity. Food security and housing security are basic needs that students must meet to maintain their health and well-being so that they can focus on achieving academically.

Moving forward: implementing a basic needs master plan

A new report, “Global Food Initiative: Food and Housing Security at the University of California” was released December 20, 2017, and an executive summary is also available. This new report recognizes student basic needs as a statewide and national issue.

UC has done much over the past three years to help students meet basic needs. The findings from the new report will help UC go even further. The new findings will inform strategies for addressing basic needs security, including the creation of a UC basic needs master plan.

Perhaps we can retire the “joke” of the starving student after all.

Additional resources:

Posted on Friday, December 29, 2017 at 12:56 PM

Connecting with farmers over pineapple postharvest practices

At the end of a long year, sometimes it helps to reconnect with what motivates your work.

For Karin Albornoz — a Ph.D. student who works in the Diane Beckles Lab at UC Davis on molecular biology related to tomato postharvest chilling injury — that means getting out into the world to work directly with small-scale farmers.

"I spend so much time in the lab," she said. "Sometimes I spend a whole day in the lab extracting RNA or writing a paper. This reminds me why I am doing this work: to make a real-world impact."

Just over a week ago, she returned from a trip to Uganda where she did exactly that. In partnership with a local organization called Ndibwami Integrated Rescue Project (NIRP), Albornoz shared her expertise with farmers through several hands-on workshops about improving harvest practices and postharvest handling of pineapple, passion fruit and tomatoes. Her work was supported by the Horticulture Innovation Lab, an international agricultural research program led by UC Davis with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Though Albornoz has worked with rural farmers before, this was her first time working in Africa. 

"Everywhere I looked, things were growing. There were people working in the field, women cooking, and everyone was working with food," she said. "I know there's a lot of stigma – when you talk about Africa, you see people's faces change and they're thinking about things like drought and famine and starving children. But what I saw doesn't fit that stereotype. The challenges they are facing seem to be about not having access to opportunities."

The workshops she led are part of the NIRP organization's efforts to connect farmers with more lucrative markets that pay higher prices for quality produce.

In this 2-minute video, Karin Albornoz visits a pineapple farm, leads a pineapple training and discusses next steps for this project led by NIRP in Uganda. The video clips and photos were taken by Karin while she was working and edited by Hallie Casey for the Horticulture Innovation Lab.

For months, Albornoz has been in contact with NIRP and making plans for the farmer workshops. She prepared postharvest handling manuals for each crop — pineapple, passion fruit and tomato — and asked questions to better understand local resources and the farmers' existing knowledge.

During her 2 weeks in Uganda, she visited farmers' fields and led three full-day workshops. The first workshop for about 50 farmers focused on pineapple — starting with understanding local quality parameters for this fruit, then best practices for harvesting, sanitation, storage and transportation. The second workshop was focused on tomato, with a similar structure, and the third workshop on passion fruit.

During the pineapple workshop, farmers had a chance to measure the fruit's total soluble solids through a refractometer.

Her favorite moment? The farmers' first chance to use a refractometer, to measure soluble solids and learn about sugar levels in the fruit. The refractometers were part of a small toolkit the organization will continue to use.

"They were excited to handle this device and see, in numbers, how the sugar levels of the fruit changed depending on the stage of maturity," she said. "Everyone in the room had a chance to try it."

Karin Albornoz leads a workshop in postharvest handling of pineapple in Uganda.

The experience reinforced her commitment to working with farmers and solving agricultural problems.

"A major mistake is to think that you are going just to train or teach other people because those people are always going to end up teaching you too," Albornoz said. "I made a promise to myself years ago, a personal commitment to working with people in vulnerable situations. I have to do this. Working in agriculture can be a very powerful tool to have an impact in the world."

As Karin's mentor and an Associate Professor in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences and Agricultural Experiment Station, Diane Beckles supported Karin's work outside of the lab and views such an experience as important to scholarly development.

"Something magical happens when we teach and engage in outreach," Beckles said. "We often deepen our understanding of what we are teaching, and interacting and engaging with others changes us in that process. It alters how we view and think about science in a way that is positive and rewarding, even though it is not easily quantified."

 More information:

Posted on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 at 8:47 AM

Almond and Walnut Pest Management Guidelines revised just in time for the holidays

‘Tis the season for baking lots of tasty treats. Breads, cookies, cakes, and candy are just a few that come to mind. What makes many of these treats so tasty is the addition of almonds or walnuts to the list of ingredients.

In California, we are lucky to be at the center of almond and walnut production. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture's (CDFA's) latest Agricultural Statistics Review, more than 99 percent of the almonds and walnuts produced in the United States are grown in California.

Almond and walnut growers work tirelessly to supply enough nuts to not only satisfy domestic demand, but also for export. Worldwide, almonds rank as the largest specialty crop export. California is the top almond producer in the world, accounting for about 80 percent of all almonds grown. For walnuts, California ranks as the second largest producer in the world. To keep up with this demand, almond and walnut growers must be constantly aware of pests, diseases, and abiotic problems that can affect the tree and growing nuts.

California is the top almond producer in the world, accounting for about 80% of all almonds grown. (Photo: Jack Kelly Clark)

The University of California Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) has recently published revised Pest Management Guidelines for almonds and walnuts, helping growers prevent and manage pest problems with the most up-to-date information.

Revisions in the Almond Pest Management Guidelines include:

  • A new section on bacterial spot, a new disease of almond in California found in the Sacramento and northern San Joaquin valleys
  • A renamed section on fruit russeting, revised from the old powdery mildew section
  • Significant revisions made to the management section of navel orangeworm, one of the major pests attacking California almonds
  • Improvements on how to do dormant spur sampling section with easier-to-understand information on monitoring and thresholds
Bacterial spot on almond, a new disease of almond in California. (Photo: Brent A. Holtz)

Revisions in the Walnut Pest Management Guidelines include:

  • Updated information on the association between walnut twig beetle and thousand cankers disease
  • New sections for Botryosphaeria and Phomopsis cankers, branch wilt, and paradox canker
  • Significant changes to the walnut husk fly management section
Male (left) and female walnut twig beetles. (Photo: Larry L. Strand)

Both the almond and walnut revised Pest Management Guidelines also include updated information on fungicide efficacy, weed management, and vertebrate management.

Authored by University of California specialists and advisors, the Pest Management Guidelines are UC's official guidelines for monitoring and managing pests in California crops. For more information on pest management in these or other crops, visit the UC IPM website.

Posted on Tuesday, December 19, 2017 at 11:03 AM

California’s nascent coffee industry to hold summit Jan. 18

Jay Ruskey, left, and Mark Gaskell, shown at a coffee tasting in 2015. They planted their first California coffee field trial in 2002.
Coffee is being commercially grown in California and coffee drinkers can't get enough of the locally produced beverage, which currently retails for about $18 per cup. Anyone who is interested in growing, processing or marketing specialty coffee in California is invited to a Coffee Summit on Jan. 18 at Cal Poly Pomona.

Until recently, American coffee was grown commercially only in Hawaii. To make the most of their precious water, California farmers have begun experimenting with coffee plantings and producing beans that fetch a premium.

“There are about 30,000 coffee trees now planted on about 30 farms and that acreage will continue to grow during 2018 with programmed new plantings,” said Mark Gaskell, UC Cooperative Extension advisor who works with coffee growers in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. “Only a relatively small amount of the planted acreage is now producing, but the market interest and demand continue to outpace anticipated new production for the foreseeable future.” 

At the Coffee Summit, participants will learn about new opportunities for this high-value crop from industry professionals. Summit topics will include development of estate coffee, coffee production, pests and diseases, processing methods and marketing.

Coffee is planted from Morro Bay to San Diego, with production concentrated in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Diego counties, according to Gaskell.

Coffee interplanted with established avocado orchards requires no additional land, water or fertilizer.

California coffee industry leaders from Santa Barbara and San Diego counties and agriculture professionals with University of California Cooperative Extension, University of Hawaii and U.S. Department of Agriculture will give presentations and answer questions.

Good Land Organics grower Jay Ruskey, who has been growing coffee in Santa Barbara County since 2002, and Gaskell will discuss growing coffee in California.

Based on their coffee variety research trials, UC Cooperative Extension advisors Ramiro Lobo and Gary Bender, both based in San Diego County, and Duncan McKee of Cal Poly Pomona will discuss which varieties are suitable for production in California.

“We are working collaboratively with UC Cooperative Extension to determine the best coffee varieties for our area,” said Valerie J. Mellano, Cal Poly Pomona professor and chair of the Plant Science Department. “Much of the California coffee is grown along the more coastal areas, but we are really interested in determining what will do well in the more inland areas, where it is a little hotter in the summer and a little colder in the winter.

“We are starting the second year of our trial and will be able to see how certain varieties hold up in the colder weather this winter, but we will not have any coffee yield data for a couple more years.”

Andy Mullins of Frinj Coffee, a cooperative of 24 farms including Good Land Organics, will discuss business and marketing opportunities for new California coffee growers.

The Inaugural Coffee Summit will be hosted by the Huntley College of Agriculture on Jan. 18, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the AgriScapes Conference Center at Cal Poly Pomona. Registration is $75 and includes a continental breakfast, lunch and coffee tasting. For more information and registration, visit http://bit.ly/2jtXyFP.


Related reading:

California Coffee http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/uc2/2015/03/california_coffee.html

Your coffee is from where? California https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/business/your-coffee-is-from-where-california.html?_r=0

Farmer breaks ground with California-grown coffee success https://www.cbsnews.com/videos/18-cup-of-california-grown-coffee-sparks-industry-interest/

Posted on Tuesday, December 12, 2017 at 3:28 PM

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