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'Mow, blow and go' workers another drought casualty

Removal of lush green lawns will require adjustment for the lawn care industry.
If you take out 5.4 million square feet of turf across Orange County, you save 645 million gallons of water. But you also uproot an entire industry, reported Aaron Orlowski in the Orange County Register.

The reporter spoke to a yard worker who said customers are asking for service once a week, where they used to have it twice a week.

“The grass is starting to die out because they've been told to bring down their watering times. Before, they watered two times a day, four times a week. Now, they only water once a week," the worker said.

But in time, the industry is bound to adjust to a new water-conserving reality, assured Doug Parker, director of the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) California Institute for Water Resources.

“Eventually, with redesign and installation, those landscapes will need maintenance as well. So it could be in the long term, those maintenance crews come back to where they were," Parker said. "They may not be mowing as much as they were, but the bushes will still need to be trimmed.”

Other drought news:

Ag woes have big impact on San Joaquin Valley economy
Tim Hearden, Capital Press, May 21, 2015
While agriculture may seem small compared to the entire California economy, it has a big impact on commerce in the San Joaquin Valley, according to Daniel Sumner, director of UC ANR's Agricultural Issues Center. “Statewide, agriculture is 2 percent of the state's economy,” Sumner said. “That's the number, and if agriculture is cut 10 percent, that's two-tenths of 1 percent (of the economy).” But, he adds, “…That doesn't mean it's tiny.” In some communities in western Fresno County, a lack of ag-related jobs because of fallowed acres has led to an unemployment rate of nearly 40 percent.

 

Posted on Thursday, May 28, 2015 at 2:28 PM

Vaccine field trials for deadly 'foothill abortion' cattle disease expand

A new vaccine developed by veterinary immunologist Jeff Stott shows promise for preventing foothill abortion disease, which kills calves before or at birth. (Don Preisler/UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine photo)
Cattle ranchers in California, Nevada and Oregon are one step closer to having a vaccine available to treat a tick-borne bacterial disease – commonly known as foothill abortion – which kills cow fetuses.

The USDA approved the expansion of ongoing field trials in November for an experimental vaccine, developed by UC Davis veterinary researchers, after it was shown to be effective in preventing foothill abortion in more than 2,000 cattle. 

Foothill abortion – endemic in California's coastal range and the foothill regions of California, Southern Oregon and Northern Nevada – is a bacterial disease in cattle also known as epizootic bovine abortion. It is a major cause of economic loss for California beef producers, annually causing the death of an estimated 45,000 to 90,000 calves.

The disease is transmitted by bites from the pajaroello tick, found only in the intermountain West. The tick lives in the soil around juniper, pine and oak trees, and in dry brush areas and around rock outcroppings of foothill rangelands. The disease became known as "foothill abortion" after ranchers in the 1930s and 1940s noticed that the pregnant heifers they sent to pasture in the foothills aborted after returning to valley pastures. Infected pregnant cows show no obvious symptoms but the bacteria can infect their fetuses in the first half of gestation before they develop an immune system capable of fighting off the infection. Cows will carry the infected fetus to term but the calves are born either dead or very weak and fail to thrive.

“Our Western cattle producers are desperate for some relief to stop their losses resulting from this disease,” said Jeff Stott, a UC Davis professor and veterinary immunologist. Stott is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Fifth generation rancher Buck Parks from Lassen County is one example of a cattle producer who has experienced losses as a result of foothill abortion. Until recently, he was losing an average of 25 to 35 calves each year to the disease from a herd of about 300 cows. He said about 20 percent of the losses are from “first-calf heifers,” or first-time mother cows. According to Parks, while the disease is regional, and spotty within those regions, it is challenging to run a cattle ranch for those affected.

“For those of us who suffer, it's a very difficult thing to deal with,” he said. “Like any business, these kinds of losses make it tough to operate within our margins.”

Parks has been participating in the trials since the experimental vaccine first became available four years ago and has experienced significant results – with only eight abortions in his cattle this year.

Preliminary vaccine field trials began in 2011 and have since involved more than 4,000 cattle in California and Nevada. The expanded trials which began in spring involving several thousand more cattle will further establish the vaccine's effectiveness in varied conditions as well as provide relief to ranchers. The trials are expected to last into 2017.

Stott is confident the vaccine can help prevent foothill abortion for cattle producers like Parks. And, according to him, there already has been interest from niche pharmaceutical companies in manufacturing the vaccine.

Identifying the cause of foothill abortion and developing a vaccine to prevent it has proved a long-term challenge for researchers.  In fact, some scientists have spent entire careers pursuing identification of the causative agent of foothill abortion. 

Professor Stott has led the effort in collaboration with the California Cattlemen's Association, the USDA Center for Veterinary Biologics, the Animal Health Branch of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Nevada Department of Agriculture, and the University of Nevada, Reno. It is a project of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine Center for Food Animal Health (CFAH). The CFAH serves as the veterinary medical component of the Agricultural Experiment Station of UC ANR.

(A news article about the vaccine trials appeared May 8, 2015 in the journal Science.)

Author: Monique Garcia Gunther

Posted on Wednesday, May 27, 2015 at 8:46 AM

Central Coast cattle industry suffering losses due to drought

Central Coast ranchers are facing a 'bust cycle' due to drought.
Since the late 1700s, grazing has been the best use for the rolling hills and valleys of California's Central Coast, reported Louis Sahagun in the Los Angeles Times. However, because of the state's four-year drought, three-quarters of the cattle in San Luis Obispo County have been sold or taken out of state. The sell-off brought in a record $129 million last year.

"We see clearly what a bust cycle looks like," said Mark Battany, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources viticulture and soils advisor in SLO County. "Ranchers have no choice but to sell off their cows and rebuild the herd when the rain comes back."

Sahagun reported that ranchers in the area have suffered severe drought for centuries.

"During a drought that ended in 1864, some ranchers drove their herds off cliffs and into the ocean below to stop their suffering," the article said.

The current drought is leaving landowners few options. The county placed a two-year moratorium on new agriculture that depending on the aquifer, so rangeland can't be converted to vineyards at the moment.

"Ranchers are getting hit hard from every direction," said Royce Larsen, UC ANR natural resource watershed advisor in SLO County. "It's a grim and desperate outlook."

Other news over the weekend included:

Holy S***! Almonds require a ton of bees
Tom Philpott, Mother Jones, May 25, 2015
Growing almonds in California takes about 1.7 million bee hives, drawing a large fraction of the nation's available bee hives. Why don't they stay in California? The state is already home to 500,000 of the nation's 2.7 million hives, said Eric Mussen, UC ANR specialist emeritus based at UC Davis. The almond bloom is great for a few weeks, but in terms of year-round foraging, "California is already at or near its carrying capacity for honeybees," he said.

Farm Beat: Here is how hikers, cattle can coexist
John Holland, Modesto Bee, May 22, 2015
UC ANR released a five-page brochure last month that shows how hikers and other visitors can avoid conflicts with cattle that graze on public land. Cattle fatten up nicely when they can graze calmly – good for the rancher and good for the buyer of the meat down the line, the story said.

Posted on Tuesday, May 26, 2015 at 9:48 AM

Public to weigh in on Sierra Nevada forest recommendations May 27

Pacific fisher
To protect forests and homes from wildfire, vegetation is often removed to reduce fuel for a fire. But how do those forest management treatments affect fire risk, wildlife, forest health and water?

Since 2006, a team of University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists has been studying the effects of vegetation management in the Sierra Nevada forest on fire behavior, forest health, water quality and quantity, the Pacific fisher (a small mammal in the weasel family) and the California spotted owl. The researchers are writing up their final reports and seeking public feedback on their recommendations and next steps in the process.

On Wednesday, May 27, community members are invited to discuss the recommendations with the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP) team at an all-day meeting in the Sacramento area.   

“Although adaptive management as a theory of practice in resource management has been in the literature for decades, few studies have been done to truly apply theory to actual practice,” said Susie Kocher, a UC ANR Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor for the Central Sierra area.

Spotted owls
“SNAMP was designed in an open and transparent process, engaging the public, agencies and land managers with the scientists,” said Kocher, who has encouraged public participation in the process.

The US Forest Service's 2004 Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment calls for managing the 11 national forests in the Sierra Nevada using the best information available to protect forests and homes. SNAMP is designed to provide resource managers with research-based information for making forest management decisions.

The SNAMP meeting will be held 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 27 at the Wildland Fire Training Center, 3237 Peacekeeper Way in McClellan (near McClellan Airfield outside Sacramento).

To attend, please register at http://ucanr.edu/snamp2015annualmeeting by Sunday, May 24. Registration is free.  

For more information about the project, visit http://snamp.cnr.berkeley.edu. The final SNAMP report will be available for download at http://snamp.cnr.berkeley.edu/snamp-final-report. Comments will be accepted online at http://ucanr.edu/snampreportcomments until July 15.

SNAMP participants view a treatment site in 2011
Posted on Friday, May 22, 2015 at 6:16 PM

Safety of GMOs debated online

Using genetic engineering, science has found a way to produce alfalfa with less lignin, a component of the plant that has no nutritional value.
A UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) genomics expert participated in an online debate about GMOs with a Canadian scientist who argued against the ubiquitous use of the technology. The debate can be viewed on The Real News.

Alison Van Eenennaam, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Animal Sciences at UC Davis, said research has shown that genetically engineered crops do not pose a risk to human health.

"There's a recent review paper where they summarized data from 1,700 different studies, and about half of those are publicly funded. And basically the results of those studies have been that there haven't been any unique risks or hazards associated with the use of this breeding method in the production of crops," she said.

The counter point was offered by Thierry Vrain, a soil biologist and genetic engineer with Agriculture Canada. He focused on the fact that more than 90 percent of the genetically engineered crops now in use were altered to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. He said this fact results in overuse of the herbicide.

"In terms of specific toxicity of the molecule glyphosate, which has very little acute toxicity - as it is advertised, it is safer than table salt. But in terms of chronic toxicity over time, over weeks and months, it will damage the microbiome and induce all kinds, all kinds of symptoms. In mice, and probably in humans," Vrain said.

Van Eenannaam tried to keep the discussion focused on the safety of GMOs.

"I think the most misunderstood thing is it's a breeding method that can be used to introduce all sorts of crop traits into crops and animals, and we always seem to get discussing the one particular application rather than looking at how it could be used to address many different problems that are associated with agriculture, including things like drought tolerance, disease resistance, biofortification of crops," she said.

Vrain agreed with most of Van Eenennaam's points.

"I agree with you, Alison, that GMOs are not necessarily toxic, et cetera, et cetera," he said. "There's all kinds of benefits, it's a very powerful technology. Used properly, it's probably very beneficial to humanity.

At the end of the debate Vrain reiterated his concern that the preponderance of GMOs are for glyphosate-resistant crops.

Posted on Friday, May 22, 2015 at 3:42 PM

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