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Lighter crop of wine grapes blamed on drought

Sangiovese grapes.
Wine grape growers are expecting a lighter than normal crop in 2014 due to the drought, reported Jeremy Thomas in the Contra Costa Times.

"The drought is impacting everybody," said Kevin Zollinger, a Livermore vintner. "Everybody's cutting back. Are our vines more stressed this year? Yeah, probably, because you don't have the charge in the soil that you normally have."

The winegrape grower said he and other farmers are holding back water as much as possible without stressing the vines.

Janet Capriele, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Contra Costa County, said winemakers typically withhold water to limit vine growth and intensify berry flavor and color. However, excessive underwatering could be harmful.

"We're already cutting back, so the plants are already a bit stressed," Caprile said. "With these additional cutbacks, we may be stressing the grapes beyond the quality you'd want. We'd expect to have smaller crops and smaller berries."




Posted on Friday, August 29, 2014 at 4:28 PM

143-year-old Washington navel mother tree gets special care

The mother of millions of navel orange trees around the world, a 143-year-old Washington navel orange tree in Riverside, is carefully protected by UC scientists and the Riverside parks department, reported Suzanne Hurt in the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

Georgios Vidalakis vows to protect the Washington navel 'mother tree.'
"We're not going to let this tree die," said Georgios Vidalakis, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Riverside. Vidalakis is the director of the UC Citrus Clonal Protection Program.

Scientists protect the tree using special tools, insecticides and disease monitoring.

According to legend, the seedless and sweet Washington navel was an accidental mutant that appeared on the grounds of a Brazil monastery in the early 1800s. Tree clones were sent to USDA in Washington, D.C., and from there acquired by Eliza Tibbets, who tended the trees at her home in Riverside.

"Producing budding stock to make other saplings, Tibbets' trees birthed a citrus industry dubbed California's second gold rush," the Press-Enterprise story said.

John Bash, a UC Riverside staff researcher who worked with the Washington navel for 32 years, called the mother tree "one of the world's agricultural icons."

"There are literally millions and millions of trees that can trace their ancestry back to that single tree," Bash said.

Posted on Friday, August 29, 2014 at 9:17 AM

Weekly food dispatch


Healthy fast food coming to California
A pair of celebrity chefs plan to open healthy fast food restaurants in L.A. and San Francisco communities where there is limited access to affordable, healthy food options. “Don't tell me we don't want great delicious cheap fast food,” said chef Roy Choi, who's opening the chain with partner Daniel Patterson. “We destroy our youth and our neighborhoods with corporations that serve addictive poison.” Colorlines

Food banks cope with growing need
San Joaquin Valley farmworkers are flooding local food banks because of the drought, said the manager of Fresno's Catholic Charities. The organization has set up mobile sites to serve families who can't afford to buy gas to get to town. The Community Food Bank in Fresno said its organization added five distribution sites to serve those affected by the drought. “People start lining up at 5 a.m.,” the food bank director said. National Catholic Reporter

California farmers turn to social media to reduce food waste
A Northern California social media venture is trying to reduce food waste and keep small farms in business by forging connections on the Internet. CropMobster.com, currently active only in the Bay Area, sends instant alerts to spread the word about local food excess at any supplier in the food chain. The idea is to get the food to those in need and help local businesses recover costs. Free Speech Radio News

The nation

USDA challenges Americans to stop wasting food
Americans waste enough food every day to fill a 90,000-seat football stadium, reported USDA. Much of this “waste” is actually safe, wholesome food that could feed millions of Americans. Excess food, leftovers and scraps that are not fit for consumption can be recycled into a nutrient-rich soil supplement. The USDA is joining with the EPA to launch a national Food Recovery Challenge. USDA

Nearly 50 million Americans are food insecure
One in 7 Americans have uncertain or inadequate access to food, according to 2014 Hunger in America, a study conducted by a network of food banks. Nearly 29 percent of those getting meals from food banks are children; 42 percent of recipients are unemployed and not looking for work because they are retired, disabled or in poor health. Christian Science Monitor

Food companies give the FDA keys to the vault
Grocery Manufacturers Association announced a major initiative that will give the FDA access to a large database of safety information about chemicals used in processed foods. The database will focus primarily on new ingredients or new ingredient uses, but will also include some that are currently used in the market. Parts of the database will be made public, but the bulk of the information will only be accessible to FDA officials and GMA members. Politico

Hawaii's GMO law ruled invalid
A U.S. magistrate in Hawaii ruled in favor of four seed companies who sued to stop a new disclosure law from going into effect in Kauai. The law would have required companies to disclose their use of pesticides and GMOs and provide buffer zones around sensitive areas like schools and hospitals. “If they were good neighbors, they would just comply,” said the ordinance's author. Fresno Bee

The world

Ebola crisis prompts food crisis
The UN World Food Program is scaling up operations in West Africa to provide food to Ebola patients, their relatives and others in quarantined areas. Farmers are abandoning crops, travel and trade are inhibited, and hunting for bush meat has been banned. Observers have seen dramatic food price increases in affected countries. USA Today

Too much junk food rewires the brain
Eating high-calorie, high-fat food with loads of sugar and salt rewires the brain's reward mechanism, reported researchers at the University of New South Wales Australia. The study, conducted with rats, found that junk food makes them fat and also reduced their desire for novel foods. The study helps researchers understand why people know about nutrition, but still eat indiscriminately. Newsweek

A compilation of news from the World Wide Web relevant to the UC Global Food Initiative, which 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 Friday, August 29, 2014 at 8:52 AM

California's 'exceptional drought' to cost the state millions

California suffered severe droughts in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s, but the current drought is the worst in history, according to Daniel Summer, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center. He outlined the reasons in a story published on Food, Nutrition and Science.

For one thing, the state's population is larger than ever before, requiring more water resources. Increased planting of trees and vines in the state has given farmers less flexibility. In addition, recent increases in crop and livestock prices increase losses from lower production, Sumner said. He suggests the drought can be a lesson for the future.

"This current drought has highlighted some weaknesses in drought preparation that could be improved for future drought scenarios," the story said.

In dry years, California relies heavily on groundwater. Sumner said the aggregate measures of groundwater depth over time and space are good, but their estimates of regional groundwater use are poor and need improvement. Improved management of groundwater basins will be key to securing California's agriculture in the future, Sumner said.

The story also quoted Leslie Roche, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. Roche said the drought will have lasting impacts on how ranchers plan and prepare for future droughts.

"There is a deep undercurrent of concern within the ranching community that this drought will persist, and that practical options to maintain productivity in that event are very limited. This is true throughout all quarters of California's agricultural community,” Roche said.

Key proactive measures for ranchers to cope with drought include using conservative livestock numbers and resting pastures from grazing to enhance forage growth and storage.
Posted on Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 9:04 AM

California drought steps-up need for high-tech solutions

Ken Shackel (right) demonstrates a pressure chamber
With California suffering through the third year of drought, more farmers are turning to technology that will help them make smart irrigation decisions, reported Sarah Shoen in the Fresno Bee.

The story focused on Tom Chandler, a fourth-generation Sanger farmer who uses a pressure chamber to measure the amount of water is in the leaves of his almond trees.

"Using the pressure chambers is like having a fuel gauge for your plants," Chandler said.

For the story, Shoen talked to Allan Fulton, the UC Cooperative Extension irrigation and water resources advisor in Glenn, Colusa and Shasta counties. Fulton has experience with pressure chambers stretching back more than a decade.

"Understanding what the chamber is trying to tell you helps farmers concentrate water in areas that need it the most," Fulton said. "This means more production while using the same amount of water."

The pressure chamber results show farmers whether the crops need water, or if they can get by without water at the moment.

Ken Shackel, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, learned by conducting research that dry soil doesn't mean the plant is suffering.

"You can save tons of water thanks to the chambers," Shackel said.

Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 at 1:18 PM

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