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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California Oak Symposium to attract hundreds of oak researchers to Visalia Nov. 3-6

Oak woodlands are the most biologically diverse habitat in the state of California.
The foremost oak researchers in California and the Pacific Northwest, plus researchers from Spain and South Korea, converge in Visalia for the 7th California Oak Symposium Nov. 3-6. This is the symposium's first appearance in the San Joaquin Valley since its inception 35 years ago.

"The drought will be a major focus of the symposium," said Rick Standiford, UC Cooperative Extension forest management specialist based at UC Berkeley, and symposium coordinator. "We will also have cutting edge research and policy presentations on sudden oak death, gold-spotted oak borer and conifer encroachment in black and Garry oak woodlands, among much more."

California's oak woodlands cover 10 percent of the state, and oaks are a key ecological component of conifer forests. There are more than 20 species of native California oaks; several are found nowhere except within the state's borders and some others range only as far as Canada and Mexico. Oak woodlands are the most biologically diverse habitat in the state, making conservation a policy and management priority.

The symposium begins with tours of regional oaks on Nov. 3. One group will tour the Visalia urban oak forest; a second group visits the Kaweah Oaks Preserve and Dry Creek Preserve. Over three days, scientists will present 58 research papers on oak management, wildlife, ecosystem services, ranching and utilization, gold-spotted oak borer, oak restoration, and sudden oak death. Ten of the projects focus on oak conservation, touching on such topics as economic incentives for oak conservation, the oak conservation program at Tejon Ranch, and establishment of Oregon white oak and California black oak in northwestern California.

The wildlife series of presentations provides new information about native and introduced species that make their homes among the oaks, including European starlings, Pacific fishers, bats and wild pigs. Some of the ranching topics to be discussed include the public and private incomes from forests in Andalusia, Spain, economic incentives related to recreational use of private oak woodland, and acorn production and utilization in South Korea.

Since 1979, the California Oak Symposium has been held every 5 to 7 years; the last one was in Rohnert Park in 2006. Visalia was selected for the symposium because of its geographic convenience for both northern and southern California oak scientists, and the city's commitment to the preservation and protection of native oak trees.

Posted on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 11:13 AM
Tags: oak (3), Rick Standiford (1)

California's youngest citizens are forming a lifelong habit of drinking water

Children are getting used to reaching for water to quench their thirst.
Young children in daycare in California are getting into the habit of reaching for water to quench their thirst, according to research published in September 2014 by the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The research, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shows that more preschool-aged children have ready access to water during all activities, mealtimes and snacktimes, indoors and out, when they are in Head Start, private and public centers and licensed family home daycare.

“This is so important for child nutrition and obesity prevention,” said Lorrene Ritchie, the director of the UC Nutrition Policy Institute and the study's principal author. “We've learned from older children that many of them never drink plain water, so they're not used to it and don't like the taste.”

In fact, national surveys in the early 2000s found that, on any given day, 84 percent of 2- to 5-year-old children drank sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, sports drinks and fruit punch. The calories amounted to 11 percent of the children's total energy intake. At the same time more than one-quarter of young children in the U.S. did not drink plain water on any given day.

“Humans evolved to drink water, so our bodies don't register very well the calories in juices, sodas and sweetened beverages,” Ritchie said. “Giving a child a cup of Hi-C, Capri Sun, SunnyD or other sweetened beverage is like setting a sugar bowl in front of them. It's sweet and goes down easy, but they're consuming calories very quickly without realizing it.”

Changing beverage preferences isn't a “silver bullet” cure for the obesity crisis, she said, but if there is one dietary factor that has had a significant impact on overweight and obesity, it is calories from sugary drinks.

In 2008, University of California researchers documented the types of beverages served to children in childcare settings. They found that one-fifth of the childcare providers served whole milk, 2 percent offered flavored milk, and 27 percent gave children juice more than once per day. A small fraction, about 8 percent, served sugar-sweetened beverages to the children. Only 28 percent always served water with meals and snacks, and 36 percent served no water at all.

“Fully one-quarter of children are already overweight or obese when they enter kindergarten,” Ritchie said. “It was clear from the research that we needed to focus on the beverages in childcare.”

The UC research informed the writing of Assembly Bill 2084 by Rep. Julia Brownley in early 2010. The measure passed, was signed by Gov. Brown and went into effect in January 2012. Also in 2010, Congress enacted legislation, based on UC and other research, that requires drinking water be available all day in childcare facilities that take part in the federally funded Child and Adult Care Food Program.

“The UC Nutrition Policy Institute's research was tracked provision by provision into groundbreaking state legislation,” said Kenneth Hecht, Nutrition Policy Institute coordinator. “NPI research is now the basis for the law of the land.”

After the state and federal laws went into effect, Ritchie and her research team embarked on a second study to determine the impact of the legislation on beverages served in childcare settings. At the time of the second survey, 77 percent of providers had self-serve water available indoors and 78 percent had it available outdoors. Nearly half of the providers served water with meals and snacks.

Children in programs following the new law have access to drinking water throughout the day and at meal and snack times. Children are no longer offered whole milk (after age 2), flavored milk or sugar-sweetened beverages and given no more than one glass of 100 percent juice each day.

“We've made great strides using research to inform policy, but there is still much to do to improve the nutrition of young children,” Ritchie said. “We are sticking with it.”

Posted on Monday, October 20, 2014 at 9:27 AM

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

Media contacts:

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

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