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2019 Annual UCCE Caneberry Meeting Planned for February 21 in Watsonville

My colleague Oleg Daugovish has been super generous and is offering his annual caneberry meeting this year up in Watsonville so we can all be together and mites (including Lewis mite), substrates from an expert, plant nutrition, tunnel management, new variety evaluations for blackberries and raspberries, and a discussion of market trends are all on tap.

Don't miss it!

2019 Caneberry Meeting Agenda
2019 Caneberry Meeting Agenda

Posted on Friday, January 25, 2019 at 12:02 PM

Dried Strawberries in White Chocolate from Japan

Just sampled some strawberries in white chocolate from Japan this afternoon for lunch (picture below).  What's interesting is how dehydrated the strawberries are inside, they couldn't be bigger than the tip of my pinky finger.  Great texture though, the berries basically dissolve in one's mouth. 

Suspecting that these tiny little berries are in fact alpine strawberries Fragariae vesca, I asked my wife but she assured me that these are indeed normal strawberries, the ones we know as Fragaria x ananassa.  Reading the package didn't help since it just says 乾燥イチゴ, or "dried strawberries".  I didn't realize freeze drying would result in such a terribly small fruit.

Anyway, if you get the chance, try them, they are quite good. 

Freeze dried strawberries in white chocolate from Japan.
Freeze dried strawberries in white chocolate from Japan.

Posted on Thursday, January 10, 2019 at 3:52 PM

Confirmation Bias: A Story from the Field

The idea of "confirmation bias", which is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories, has been covered before in the abstract in this blog as being a route to erroneous judgment and mistakes on the farm.

Let's take an actual story to see what this looks like in the field.  

What happens is the grower finds a suspect pest arthropod on his plants, and calls the person serving as the Pest Control Advisor to check it out. There is no visible damage in the field.  The guy comes out, takes a look and says since this pest is quite small and has a lot of benign kin, tells the grower that it's going to take a trip to headquarters and some time to get a positive identification on this deal. 

Lo and behold a little while later, the grower calls back and has indeed found damage that matches that of the purported pest.  He goes ahead with the spray, which probably is the conservative thing to do, but will certainly disrupt the biological controls already in place in the field and cause problems further on down the road.

WHOA.  Did you see what happened here?  The grower was forcing his own belief, that the arthropod in question was a pest, on the situation in the field, and to support that belief, was discovering evidence, the damaged plants, to support this preconception.  In other words, once the possibility of a certain pest was brought up, he found evidence to support that belief, even though a clear positive identification was yet in the offing. 

I can't emphasize how important it is be alert to the snare of confirming one's own bias. While it's only natural for us to build up stories and find evidence for things we want to be true, if we aren't we aren't careful about managing these tendencies we can make very costly mistakes, both in terms of money and time. 


Posted on Sunday, January 6, 2019 at 11:41 AM

Announcing the 2019 UCCE Annual Strawberry Production Research Meeting

The 2019 UCCE Annual Strawberry Production Research meeting for the Central Coast is set to take place February 14 at the usual location at the Elk's Lodge in Watsonville.

Even a cursory glance at the agenda below informs one that this is not your grandfather's (or your father's, for that matter) extension meeting!  Back to back presentations by the best researchers in the business, all new data on topics of extreme importance to the industry.

Personally, to take the full advantage, I'd be sure to get a full eight hours of sleep the night before and bring a thick notepad.  Get there early too because attendance at this quality of meeting is certain to be very strong.

See you there!

Paint 2019 Strawberry meeting English
Paint 2019 Strawberry meeting English

Posted on Friday, January 4, 2019 at 12:51 PM

Bad Blood

I spent some time over the holidays doing some reading, and one intriguing book I finished was the recently published "Bad Blood" by John Carreyrou of the Wall Street Journal.  If you aren't familiar with the story, it's the account of Theranos, the Silicon Valley start up that blew up in spectacular fashion when its blood testing machine supposedly testing for some 200 factors from a single drop of blood drawn from the patient's finger was found to be bogus.

Whatever drove them to do this, be it money, hubris or just a bad moral compass, it was actually pretty dangerous, since as a medical device generating inaccurate data on real people it was putting many unsuspecting people in harm's way.

What is striking about all of this is that the science already says that a finger stick system drawing a single drop of blood from a finger can't be accurate. A scientist from the UC San Francisco Department of Laboratory Medicine, quoted well into the book, shared with the author that since the capillary blood from the small vessels located in the fingertips is so polluted with fluids and cells it will render any sort of measurement unreliable.  He underlines this statement by saying of what Theranos was doing, "I'd be less surprised if they told us they were time travelers who came back from the twenty seventh century than if they told me they cracked that nut".

So pray tell me why we had a questionable medical technology being rolled out on live patients all the while the real scientists in academia knew it wasn't going to work in the first place?  That this basic information didn't reach the people who were involved in doing business with Theranos, from big money investors, to the retailers who were going to use this system in stores, to the unsuspecting customers serving as guinea pigs for the machine tells me something is not right here.

It's clear that academics have a lot of valuable information and comprehension of the world, both old and new, that should be shared.   Cooperative Extension does exactly that, and and believe me if there is a fraudulent technology being touted to the growers we work with, we are going to apply the cold unemotional eye of science to it, call it for what it is, and spare people the cost (and possible danger, apparently) of having to figure it all out on their own.  

When it comes to agriculture in California, charlatans, carpet-baggers, shysters and snake oil salesmen still need to take heed.




Posted on Sunday, December 30, 2018 at 5:13 PM

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