Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

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UC Davis professor suggests update to agricultural extension

UCCE Ventura County farm advisor Ben Faber with a grower monitoring avocado leaves for pests.
California's growers and ranchers get their agricultural information from multiple sources in a variety of ways. Intuitively, most of us know that. But new research by Mark Lubell, professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis, provides empirical evidence that the state's agriculture community relies on a network of people using new information technologies to make land-use and orchard-management decisions.

“Over the last century, agricultural knowledge systems have evolved into networks of widely distributed actors with a diversity of specializations and expertise,” said Lubell, lead author of the research recently published in the journal Society & Natural Resources.

Lubell and his team hope their work will help agriculture extension programs harness the potential of these evolving personal and professional networks and make them explicit components of their outreach strategies.

Extension 3.0

Since land-grant universities were created in the late 19th century, University of California Cooperative Extension has been the state's main campus-to-community connection that delivers sound, scientific data to growers and ranchers, landowners, environmental groups, and consumers to help develop practical solutions to real-world problems. In the early days, extension specialist shared information in person, meeting with farmers in fields or coffee shops or town halls.

The system has evolved over time, as farming has become more specialized. And the systems still works, said Lubell and coauthors Meredith Niles, UC Davis ecology alumna, and Matthew Hoffman, grower program coordinator with the Lodi Winegrape Commission. But, they argue, it could use an update. They outline a case for what Lubell calls “Extension 3.0,” a modern model for agriculture extension that capitalizes on social learning, information technology, and evolving networks of expertise.

Reviewing 10 years of surveys, Lubell's team studied how California's growers and ranchers make farming decisions and who they turn to for advice. They learned that Cooperative Extension specialists and farm advisers are still primary trusted sources, but respondents are also influenced by pest control advisers, local leaders, commodity groups, sales representatives, fellow farmers, and others.

“Our research provides an empirical layer to support what many Cooperative Extension specialists and advisors already do,” Hoffman said. “It's about making sure information reaches the right people in the right way at the right place and time.”

The authors are not calling to eliminate traditional extension professionals nor suggesting all current outreach strategies be converted to more modern methods like social media, webinars and smartphone applications.

“Instead, Extension 3.0 seeks to understand how personal networks and new information and communication technologies can work together,” Lubell said.

The authors recognize social media is already a part of agricultural extension, and they know they aren't the first to recognize its importance. But they encourage extension programs to formalize social media, information technology, and network science as part of their hiring, training and outreach strategies.

“Extension systems and professionals must be experimental, adaptive and creative with program design and implementation to maximize the synergy between experiential, technical and social learning,” Lubell said.

Encouraging conversation

Aubrey White, communications coordinator for the Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis, says she finds news she can use in “Extension 3.0.”

“Understanding key linkages in a community or area of research can dramatically shorten the distance between knowledge-seekers and knowledge-holders,” White said. “Lubell's article reminds us that extension is not just delivering information, but creating conversation.”

Cooperative Extension specialist Ken Tate, rangeland watershed expert with the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, has been a longtime proponent of collaboration and conversation.

“For me, the study reaffirms that we shouldn't abandon what works — face-to-face meetings, for example — but we have to keep building and adopting new components. Content is the key. We need to produce good science and provide practical solutions, and then use the best means possible to make sure that information reaches the people we serve, and helps meet society's needs.”

You can read the full journal article at http://environmentalpolicy.ucdavis.edu/node/321

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Posted on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at 1:46 PM
Tags: Extension 3.0 (1), Mark Lubell (1)

Some like it hotter: UC Cooperative Extension tries to grow a spicier jalapeño

Capsaicin, the yellow line of fluid, gives jalapeño peppers their heat.
Slicing open a ripe green jalapeño he had just snapped off a plant in the field, Aziz Baameur pointed the blade of his pocket knife at the yellow line. “This is where capsaicin is located. It's what gives the pepper its pungency and it's what we're trying to increase,” said the UC Cooperative Extension advisor.

“Some people think the seeds make it hot, but capsaicin is what makes chile peppers hot,” said Baameur, who works with vegetable growers in Santa Clara and San Benito counties.

Baameur is trying to grow a hotter jalapeño by studying the variables that raise the Scoville units, which measure a pepper's heat. For the past four years, he has been documenting the effects of different rates of water, potassium, sea salt and nitrogen applied to the jalapeño crop at George Chiala Farms in Morgan Hill.

“We're trying to find a way to raise the capsaicin level of the jalapeño and raise the Scoville units, which will then allow us to have spicier peppers,” said Jeff Sanders, raw product coordinator for George Chiala Farms.

Jeff Sanders, left, and Aziz Baameur pull jalapeño samples to analyze for capsaicin content.
Research studies in Mexico, Taiwan, Thailand and Spain have shown that water stress results in hotter peppers so Sanders and Baameur tried irrigating with less water. “For us, it did not show that,” Baameur said. “We sampled fruit and we analyzed it for capsaicin content, which makes a pepper hot. It was fairly low, actually it was almost half of what the normal treatment, or control, would be.”

The relatively cooler climate of the Santa Clara County area may be the reason the pepper plants produce different results. “I think it's more a relation to heat, ambient temperature, much more than just water,” Baameur said. “Cool years and hot years will result in different heat units for the same jalapeño variety.”

The amount of potassium hasn't made a difference, but adjusting nitrogen fertilizer seems promising.

“High nitrogen is promising because it produces a hotter pepper and also allows for high crop yields,” Baameur said. “Low nitrogen also resulted in higher pungency, it brings a lot of heat in the peppers,” he said. “However it is correlated with lower yields.”

Jalapeños are a standard among chile peppers.
Next season, Baameur will try to determine the optimal amount of nitrogen to apply to raise the capsaicin levels of the jalapeño without hurting crop yields.

“The trend lately is toward hotter items,” said Sanders, noting a growing popularity of foods containing habanero and even the Bhut jolokia, or ghost pepper. “Both of those are significantly hotter than jalapeños, but the jalapeno is still sort of the standard bearer for a hot pepper,” Sanders said. “Those are the items people consistently want. A jalapeño chip still has more name recognition than a habanero chip. And the hotter you get the pepper, the easier it is to adjust your end product.”

Bhut jolokias can be up to 1,000 times hotter than a jalapeño.
Although there are hotter peppers, such as habaneros, cayenne and ghost peppers, adding other peppers to the end product would alter the flavor. Bhut jolokias, for example, can be up to 1,000 times hotter than a jalapeño, but have a citrus flavor.

“When you're talking about a small amount of that pepper in your product, just a slight citrus flavor can overpower the heat very easily,” said Sanders. “So it's more important that we reach high heat levels with the flavors that our customers are requiring.”

Consistency of pungency in the peppers is also one of the pepper grower's goals.

“We're trying to get a consistent heat level so that our jalapeños going to the processing plant always reach the same Scoville unit score,” Sanders said. “This makes our end product more consistent, which makes our customers happy because then the product they receive to go into their items is more consistent.”

Jalapeño peppers are harvested by hand.
Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 12:30 PM
Tags: Aziz Baameur (1), chile peppers (1), jalapeño (1), Peppers (1)

UCCE offers online training for protecting food safety and natural resources

Cover crops provide many ecosystem services, but may trigger concerns about food safety.
On their farms, growers are active stewards of the land, protecting soil quality and water quality as well as supporting wildlife by preserving their habitat. At the same time, fresh produce growers must ensure that their crops are free from pathogens that can cause foodborne illnesses.

To help growers and food safety professionals achieve all of these important goals, UC Cooperative Extension has launched a free online course.

“Actions that farmers take to protect food safety may affect natural resources, and conservation practices may affect food safety,” said Mary Bianchi, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, who oversaw design of the course.

The intent of the training is to demonstrate that communication between food safety professionals and growers can help to achieve a balance between food safety and sustainability.

“Our co-management course will help food safety professionals better evaluate the risk of conservation practices,” said Bianchi.

“For example, cover crops attract beneficial insects, help control soil erosion and improve soil quality, but they may attract wildlife,” she said. “In the course, we demonstrate frank conversations between food safety auditors and growers about strategies for minimizing the potential risks of crops being contaminated by animal feces. Growers can often provide existing examples, such as monitoring programs or temporary fencing that excludes wild and domestic animals from produce fields.”

The course also provides growers with tools to evaluate their strategies for managing food safety and sustainability.

“After the training, growers and auditors will be better prepared to engage in realistic and frank discussions of co-management strategies used in crop production,” Bianchi said.

The free online co-management course and related resources are online at http://cesanluisobispo.ucanr.edu/Co-management_of_Food_Safety_and_Sustainability.

This project was funded by a $39,650 grant from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.

A video describing co-management practices from farm to fork can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IoQ-8OEuc4&feature=youtu.be.

The University of California Global Food Initiative 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 Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 2:52 PM

Firefighters from across western US to train in N. California

Firefighters set a controlled burn near Hayfork at the 2013 training. Photo by Lenya Quinn-Davidson
Firefighters from six states will join forces in northern California next week, but they won't be putting fires out—they'll be lighting them.

After a year of planning, a two-week controlled-burn training event will be held from Oct. 13 to 26. During the event, 30 fire professionals from California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Utah and Maine will be working and training with local hosts across northern California, with sites around Orick, Hayfork and Redding.

Last year, a similar event brought 40 firefighters from across the country to help the National Park Service and private landowners complete controlled burns as part of restoration and wildfire hazard reduction projects. Controlled burns are an important tool for creating fire safe communities, restoring resilient forests, and nurturing native plants and wildlife.

This summer, a wildfire that threatened the town of Weaverville was stopped when it hit an area burned eight months prior in a controlled burn. Previously burned areas were also critical to fire suppression efforts on the 2013 Rim Fire in the Sierra. These types of trainings are becoming increasingly important as drought and climate change increase the risk of severe fire, and land managers require new skills and experience to restore beneficial fire to the landscape while protecting communities and ecosystems from more destructive wildfires.

The Northern California Prescribed Fire Council and The Nature Conservancy are the main organizers of this year's event, which is designed to make the forests more fire resilient while at the same time helping fire professionals build new skills and partnerships. The same training model is being used across the country, with events held this year in Nebraska, Virginia, New Mexico, and in the mid-Klamath region of Humboldt County.

Participants in the fire training will include fire practitioners from local fire departments, government agencies, universities, non-governmental organizations, and local landowners. The training will be hosted by Redwood National Park, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, and the Watershed Research and Training Center. In addition to working on the controlled burns, participants will learn about local fire ecology, laws and regulations, and how collaboration contributes to greater conservation.

These controlled burns will only be implemented if weather conditions meet the parameters for a safe, effective operation. Thanks to the recent rains, we are expecting conditions to line up nicely.

For more information, contact Yana Valachovic, UC Cooperative Extension Forest Advisor at (707) 445-7351 or yvala@ucanr.edu.

Posted on Wednesday, October 8, 2014 at 3:04 PM

No sign of health or nutrition problems from GMO livestock feed, study finds

Food-producing animals such as cows, pigs, goats, chickens and other poultry species now consume 70 to 90 percent of all genetically engineered crops.
A new scientific review from the University of California, Davis, reports that the performance and health of food-producing animals consuming genetically engineered feed, first introduced 18 years ago, has been comparable to that of animals consuming non-GE feed.

The review study also found that scientific studies have detected no differences in the nutritional makeup of the meat, milk or other food products derived from animals that ate genetically engineered feed.

The review, led by Alison Van Eenennaam, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis, examined nearly 30 years of livestock-feeding studies that represent more than 100 billion animals.

Titled “Prevalence and Impacts of Genetically Engineered Feedstuffs on Livestock Populations,” the review article is now available online in open-access form through the American Society of Animal Science. It will appear in print and open-access in the October issue of the Journal of Animal Science.

Genetically engineered crops were first introduced in 1996. Today, 19 genetically engineered plant species are approved for use in the United States, including the major crops used extensively in animal feed: alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, soybean and sugar beet.

Food-producing animals such as cows, pigs, goats, chickens and other poultry species now consume 70 to 90 percent of all genetically engineered crops, according to the new UC Davis review. In the United States, alone, 9 billion food-producing animals are produced annually, with 95 percent of them consuming feed that contains genetically engineered ingredients.

“Studies have continually shown that the milk, meat and eggs derived from animals that have consumed GE feed are indistinguishable from the products derived from animals fed a non-GE diet,” Van Eenennaam said.  “Therefore, proposed labeling of animal products from livestock and poultry that have eaten GE feed would require supply-chain segregation and traceability, as the products themselves would not differ in any way that could be detected.”

Now that a second generation of genetically engineered crops that have been optimized for livestock feed is on the horizon, there is a pressing need to internationally harmonize the regulatory framework for these products, she said.

“To avoid international trade disruptions, it is critical that the regulatory approval process for genetically engineered products be established in countries importing these feeds at the same time that regulatory approvals are passed in the countries that are major exporters of animal feed,” Van Eenennaam said.

Collaborating on the study was co-author Amy E. Young in the UC Davis Department of Animal Science.

The review study was supported by funds from the W.K. Kellogg endowment and the California Agricultural Experiment Station of UC Davis.

UC Davis is growing California

At UC Davis, we and our partners are nourishing our state with food, economic activity and better health, playing a key part in the state's role as the top national agricultural producer for more than 50 years. UC Davis is participating in UC's Global Food Initiative launched by UC President Janet Napolitano, harnessing the collective power of UC to help feed the world and steer it on the path to sustainability.

About UC Davis

UC Davis is a global community of individuals united to better humanity and our natural world while seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. Located near the California state capital, UC Davis has more than 34,000 students, and the full-time equivalent of 4,100 faculty and other academics and 17,400 staff. The campus has an annual research budget of over $750 million, a comprehensive health system and about two dozen specialized research centers. The university offers interdisciplinary graduate study and 99 undergraduate majors in four colleges and six professional schools.

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Posted on Friday, September 26, 2014 at 12:53 PM

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