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


Enjoy your tree nuts: UC scientists help with regulatory compliance

California tree nut growers will soon have to comply with new agriculture water testing requirements under the Produce Safety Rule in the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). University of California researchers and advisors are holding seminars to share information about the agricultural water requirements and proper water sampling methods in order to be in compliance with the regulations.

While irrigation or spray water is generally not the source of contamination, it is a vehicle for pathogens that are harmful to humans, especially on produce that is consumed raw; therefore, agricultural water was included as a part of the new regulation.

The UC Cooperative Extension office in Yolo County was the site of the first information sessions for nut tree growers/producers. It was an ideal location, as the fertile soils of the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys are home to the largest tree nut production industries in the U.S. Some nuts are also grown in the coastal valley regions and Sierra foothills.

Almond kernel emerging from dried hull. (Photo: Melissa L. Partyka)

Good news for nut consumers

The new regulations and the focus on food safety practices, particularly within the nut tree industry, is of great interest because of the popularity of nutritious and delicious tree nuts. I for one am a big consumer. My day starts with almond butter on toast. That's followed by snacks of raw walnuts and dates. And there's always the handful of roasted pistachios to be grabbed for a salty treat.

It is lucky for someone who is nuts about nuts to live in California. The state is the nation's No. 1 walnut, almond and pistachio producer. California produces 80 percent of the world's almonds. We produce one million tons of almonds each year, followed by walnuts at nearly half a million tons, and pistachios at over a quarter million tons.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture reports the state's leading agricultural export products by value in 2015 were almonds ($5.14 billion), dairy products ($1.63 billion), walnuts ($1.49 billion), wine ($1.48 billion), and pistachios ($848 million).

Almond harvesting in California's Central Valley. (Photo: Melissa L. Partyka)

Melissa L. Partyka, an ecologist at the UC Davis Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, (WIFSS) and Ronald F. Bond, a water quality researcher and field coordinator with WIFSS, are engaging local growers on issues of food safety and helping to educate them on not only the regulations but on ways to improve their water quality.

Partyka and Bond are staff in the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Vet Med Extension and Atwill Water and Foodborne Zoonotic Disease Laboratory, headed by UC Cooperative Extension specialist Rob Atwill, director of WIFSS.

They are affiliated with the Western Center for Food Safety, a Food and Drug Administration Center of Excellence, and are helping break down the regulations for the growers, regulations which can be a little overwhelming to the untrained.

Agricultural water, according to FSMA, is that water used to irrigate, treat, harvest, wash commodity or equipment on farm.

Growers are required to test water if it:

  • Comes in contact with the harvestable portion of the commodity
  • Is used to clean harvest equipment
  • Is used to mix pesticides/fungicides applied to commodity
  • Is used by harvest crews to wash hands

As of January 2016 growers will have 2 to 4 years (depending on farm size) to comply with most aspects of the Produce Safety Rule. Basically, the larger the production, the higher potential for risk to the consumer. How often a grower samples water depends on the water source. Well water requires an initial four samples, followed by one sample per year. Surface water, requires an initial 20 samples, followed by five samples per year. Water samples should be collected as close to harvest as is practical. During a long harvest season, samples can be spread out; in short harvest seasons, samples should be collected closer together; and in multiple harvest seasons, samples should be taken near each harvest if water is coming from the same source.

A full day workshop to be hosted by UC Cooperative Extension is planned for late June. Look for announcement of date, time, and location on the following websites: www.wcfs.ucdavis.edu, http://ucanr.edu, www.wifss.ucdavis.edu.

Posted on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at 8:10 PM

UC water institute announces 2017 grant recipients

The UC California Institute for Water Resources (CIWR) has announced the recipients of six grants to address the most critical water issues in the state. For this program, the Institute leverages funds it receives from the Water Resources Research Act of 1964 through the Department of Interior.

CIWR, which is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, facilitates collaborative research and outreach on water issues across California's academic institutions and with international, federal, state, regional, nonprofit, and campus communities.

Small grants to support initial work will be dispersed to the following projects (click the headline for more information):

Farmer Jim Morris on an alfalfa field being flooded for groundwater recharge.

Suitability of alfalfa for winter groundwater recharge
Helen Dahlke, professor in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, UC Davis
One proposed solution for recharging overdrawn aquifers is flooding farmland during the rainy season. Optimizing agricultural groundwater banking for specific crops can be challenging. The goal of this project is to better understand how alfalfa, which is grown year-round, responds to winter flooding.

Fish habitat response to streamflow augmentation
Ted Grantham, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science Policy and Management, UC Berkeley
Declining water levels can degrade or eliminate fish habitat during California's summer season. Storing water off-channel during the rainy season can improve flow during the summer. The study is designed to gain a better understanding of the relationship between stream flow and habitat.

Remote sensing of turfgrass response to irrigation
Amir Haghverdi, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, UC Riverside
Turfgrass is common in urban landscapes and provides valuable recreation areas and ecosystem services. This project will help determine the best irrigation strategies for common turfgrass species.

UC Santa Cruz professor Eric Palkovacs in the field.

Habitat restoration impacts on water management
Eric Palkovacs, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UC Santa Cruz
The natural conditions of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have been changed by habitat alteration and non-native predacious fish introduction. This project will examine the interplay between altered habitat and predatory fish, and how they impact native salmon populations.

Evaluating water conservation policy in California
Leah Stokes, professor in the Department of Political Science, UC Santa Barbara
During the recent drought, California required that on-average urban water districts conserve 25 percent of their water. While some districts were successful, others failed to meet their target. This project will examine how variation in policy – pricing, messaging and penalties – and drought severity affected water conservation.

Sacramento State geology professor Amelia Vankeuren and graduate students collect samples at the American River.

Groundwater dynamics after California drought
Amelia Vankeuren, professor in the Department of Geology, Sacramento State University
As part of California's groundwater management act, some basins were designated as high management priorities. This project will characterize groundwater using age, location and temperature. This information will be valuable for stakeholders creating a groundwater sustainability plan.

Posted on Monday, March 13, 2017 at 9:27 AM

Reevaluate the Sierra Nevada landscape after removing dead trees

This winter, a generous amount of rain and snow has fallen on California, but it can't erase the brown swaths of dead and dying trees in the Sierra Nevada caused by five years of drought and decades of forest mismanagement.

Fire suppression and the harvest of the largest and most resilient trees in the forest led to a large population of weak trees. The prolonged drought further weakened the trees' defenses against native insects. Aerial detection surveys show that more than 102 million trees have died since 2010; more than 62 million died in 2016 alone. Public and private landowners are now struggling to recover from this natural disaster.

UC Cooperative Extension forester and natural resources advisor Susie Kocher recommends dead trees be removed and the landscape reevaluated.

“The dead trees will eventually fall,” Kocher said. “Removing trees around homes and other buildings is especially important for safety. Also, when they fall on the ground they become large fuels on the forest floor, leading to more intense fires.”

Dead trees in the Sequoia National Forest. (Photo: U.S. Forest Service)

The cost of removing the trees can be substantial. The State of California is funneling disaster relief funds through California counties, utilities are felling trees that pose a threat to power lines, and local jurisdictions are removing trees that could fall on roads and other public infrastructure. However, most tree removal is the responsibility of private landowners.

When the dead trees are gone, before considering replanting, Kocher suggests Sierra residents carefully assess what has survived.

“There is often a lot of live vegetation remaining,” Kocher said. “Make a map and mark where you find living trees and shrubs and identify them by species and size. If you have a significant number of trees left, you may not need to replant.”

Kocher suggests nurturing the remaining young trees.

“You may want to thin trees out so that available sun and soil moisture are focused on the healthiest individuals. Some watering in the summer may help counter stress caused by increased solar radiation,” she said.

If removing the dead trees leaves the landscape too bare, replanting native conifers is a good strategy. Conifers include pine, cedar and fir trees, but in California's dense forests, firs and cedars – which do well in shady conditions – are beginning to dominate. Replanting may be a time to give native pines – such as Jeffrey, ponderosa and sugar pines – a chance to recover ground.

Replanting may be a time to give native pines a chance to regain a foothold in Sierra forests.

“The fact that many pines have died does not necessarily mean they are no longer adapted to your location, even with our warming climate,” Kocher said. “There may be a few locations that are less suitable for trees that have grown there in the past, but for most areas, local growing conditions should support native conifers in the near future.”

Native plants and shrubs that died during the drought or were damaged during tree removal will likely come back on their own without replanting. Shrubs and oaks can re-sprout and native herbaceous plants generally store seed in the soil that will grow under native rainfall conditions.

Replanting of trees also gives landowners the chance to shape the landscape for best effect. Kocher offers the following recommendations on replanting trees in natural landscapes:

  • Space trees at least 10 feet apart.
  • Trees and flammable vegetation should be kept at least 10 feet away from the home, planted sparsely within 30 feet of the home and spaced widely enough in the 30 to 100-food zone so the crowns of the trees will not touch when they are mature. Beyond 100 feet, trees can fill into a more natural looking forest.
  • Plant trees at least 10 feet from power lines.
  • Do not plant trees within the road right of way to prevent interference with snow clearance, maintenance and construction projects.
  • Plant pines where there is a lot of sun. Do not plant sugar pine on the driest sites.
  • Avoid planting where the mature trees will block desired views.


Posted on Thursday, March 9, 2017 at 1:21 PM

Fine feathered friends forever

Jarred Burkett holds Twilight and Frostbite, chocolate red cochin bantams. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Forget BFF (Best Friends Forever).

For Solano County 4-H'er Jarred Burkett, it's also FFFF (Fine Feathered Friends Forever).

Jarred, 10, a member of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club in Vallejo raises free-range chickens at his American Canyon home — not for showing at fairs or selling at junior livestock auctions, but as pets. The self-described “Chicken Dude” is as proud, protective and possessive of his poultry as the owner of the best-of-show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

He and Frostbite, his chocolate red cochin bantam, born April 1, 2016, are good buddies, just like the iconic TV stars Lassie and Timmy. In this case, it's not about “a boy and a dog” but “a boy and his chicken.”

At the recent Solano County 4-H Presentation Day, held at the Tremont Elementary School, Dixon, Jarred eagerly talked about Frostbite in his presentation that won a blue seal (“very good”) award. The origin of the name? “She was the whitest chick and she always pecked.”

“He loves his chickens,” says his mother, Mary Ann Burkett, a co-community leader of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club and the Vallejo-Benicia representative to the Solano County 4-H Leaders' Council. “He climbs The Hill behind our house, where the chickens are. I'd say he spends about two hours a day, total, with them. He hangs out with them, collects the eggs (about 8 to 10 a day) and cleans the pens.”

Mom Mary Ann, dad Rick and their three children, Jessica, 16, Jordan, 12, and Jarred, live in a residential area that allows backyard chickens. The benefits, the family agrees, include not only positive learning experiences, but companionship, fresh eggs, and a bug-free environment.

There are no bugs at the Burkett property, thanks to their flock of 11 chickens.

“The 4-H Poultry Project provides youth a fun and hands-on learning experience that develops life skills; as well the opportunity to learn about caring for and raising chickens responsibly and humanely,” said Solano County 4-H Representative Valerie Williams. “Although it should not be their only source of food, chickens will snack on weeds, vegetable trimmings, as well as eat insects in your garden, making them great recyclers!”

A boy and his chicken: Jarred Burkett reads a book, "Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones," to Frostbite on The Hill. (Photo by Mary Ann Burkett)
“Chickens,” Williams said, “can make great pets, although not all communities allow backyard chickens.  If you decide to raise chickens, you should first review local ordinances.”

The Burketts, who home-school their youngsters, have also found a way to encourage both reading and physical education. That involves climbing The Hill and tending to the flock. Jarred pulls up a chair and reads to his chickens.

When he or his sisters feel a little sad, a hike up the hill to be with the chickens is all it takes. “Therapy,” says mom.

Frostbite clings to Jarred, and Jarred to her, especially after the bantam's near-death experience in January with a hawk. Jordan helped rescue her. Now one of their dogs alerts the flock to pending danger and the chickens run for cover.

As a 4-H'er, Jarred shows Frostbite at 4-H events; at the Solano County Fair's Youth Ag Day; and at other special events, but not for competition at county fairs. She's a pet. For Jarred, that means he won't leave his pet there alone, especially in a cage. Besides, her wings are clipped (a disqualification).

Another chicken enthusiast is Jarred's sister, Jordan, who owns Frostbite's mother, Twilight. Known as “The Chicken Whisperer,” Jordan communicated with her chicken during her gold-award talk on “Fowl Language, How Chickens Communicate” at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. Twilight “talked” and Jordan “deciphered.”

“Buh dup” is a general greeting that means “Hello, how are you? What's up?” Jordan says, while “Doh, doh, doh” is a call heard when the flock is roosting at night, and with broody hens saying “It's okay” to her chicks. “Bwah, bwah, bwah, bwah” is a loud deliberate noise, saying “I'm going to lay an egg.” Then when she does, it's “Bah-Gaw-Gawk, Bah-Gaw-Gawk, Bah-Gaw-Gawk,” a sound starting low and reaching a crescendo.

Poultry does have its rewards. Last year Jarred's record book was named the county winner in poultry. The third-year 4-H'er also takes three other projects: remote control projects, recordkeeping and paper quilling. When he's not involved with his chickens or studying, he's hanging out with his friends and family or playing video games, hiking and bicycling.

Jarred also takes Frostbite, cradled in his arms, when the Burketts shop at the Tractor Supply Co., American Canyon. Now their new mode of transportation is a "pet buggy," a gift from a friend. In fact, Jarred and Jordan wheeled their chickens around the playground in the mesh-covered buggy at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. The buggy, resembling a baby buggy (yes, passersby do a double take), not only keeps them safe, they said, but soothes them.

Mary Ann Burkett is sold on 4-H. “If it weren't for his love of chickens, Jarred would probably never do Presentation Day,” she said, adding “4-H brings youth out of their shells, or out of their comfort zone. Kids tend to be more outgoing when they enroll in 4-H.”

Seven of Solano County's 11 4-H clubs offer poultry projects: Elmira 4-H Club, Pleasants Valley 4-H Club, and Vaca Valley 4-H Club, all of Vacaville; Roving Clovers 4-H Club and Tremont 4- Club, both of Dixon; Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo-Benicia; and the Rio Vista 4-H Club. 

Tremont offers their poultry projects countywide, so youth in any Solano County 4-H may enroll, Williams said. Tremont offers poultry projects to two age groups: primary members, 5 to 8 years old, and all other members,  9 to 19 years old.

The Solano County 4-H Youth Development Program, part of the UC Cooperative Extension Program, follows the motto, “Making the Best Better.” 4-H, which stands for head, heart, health and hands, is open to youths ages 5 to 19.  In age-appropriate projects, they learn skills through hands-on learning in projects ranging from arts and crafts, computers and leadership to dog care, poultry, rabbits and woodworking. They develop skills they would otherwise not attain at home or in public or private schools. For more information, contact 4-H Youth Development program representative Valerie Williams at vawilliams@ucanr.edu.

Jarred Burkett, 10, of the Sherwood Forest 4-H Club, Vallejo, talks about his chicken, Frostbite, at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day, held recently in Dixon. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

4-H'ers Jordan and Jarred Burkett wheel their chickens, Frostbite and Twilight in a specially designed pet buggy, a gift from a friend. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Chickens transported in crates? No, in a buggy at the Solano County 4-H Presentation Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Closeup of a chocolate red cochin bantam, a 4-H pet. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, March 8, 2017 at 8:46 AM

Protect your poultry from avian flu

To prevent exposure to avian influenza virus, use housing, fencing or netting to prevent contact between your birds and wild birds, say UC poultry experts.

University of California poultry experts are urging poultry owners to examine biosecurity for their flocks after avian influenza was confirmed in commercial chickens in Tennessee by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service on Sunday (March 5). To protect the birds' health, UC scientists recommend taking measures to prevent poultry from coming into contact with wild birds.

"Based on the initial sequence of the virus, the source of the virus is thought to be waterfowl, said Maurice Pitesky, UC Cooperative Extension poultry specialist in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis. “This is consistent with the current understanding of how avian influenza spreads and evolves. Specifically, juveniles are infected at breeding locations and travel south in the fall carrying virus. As the waterfowl move southward, they are more likely to interact with other species, increasing the risk of interspecies transmission and formation of new varieties of avian influenza.”

Lincoln County is located in an area identified by UC researchers as one of the medium-high risk areas for avian influenza.

The case in Lincoln County, Tenn., is the first report of highly pathogenic H7 avian influenza in commercial poultry in the United States this year. The flock of 73,500 affected chickens is located within the Mississippi Flyway, one of four North American flyways for migratory birds.

“Lincoln County is located in one of the medium-high risk areas that were identified by our risk map, said Beatriz Martínez López, director of the Center for Animal Disease Modeling and Surveillance in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis.

Avoid using water that comes from sources where waterfowl migrate. USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service
The UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researcher, who studies risk factors for the spread of avian influenza, noted that California is within the Pacific Flyway.

“We need to increase awareness of poultry producers to maximize the biosecurity implemented in their operations, particularly in those located in high risk areas, mainly farms that are in close proximity to wetlands or other wild bird feeding and resting areas,” said Martínez López.

Poultry owners can identify biosecurity strengths and weaknesses for their own farm or backyard flock by filling out a free survey designed by Martínez López and other poultry experts. People who raise chickens, quail, ducks, turkeys, geese or other birds anywhere in the United States are invited to use the resource. At the end of the survey, participants receive specific research-based recommendations of biosecurity measures they can apply on their own types of farms. The poultry biosecurity survey is available in English http://bit.ly/2kkMycf and Spanish http://bit.ly/2mjO13G. The survey takes 15 to 20 minutes to complete and will be open until June 1.

If you would like UC Cooperative Extension to notify you if there is an avian influenza outbreak in your area, sign up on the California Poultry Census page: http://ucanr.edu/sites/poultry/California_Poultry_Census.

Owners of backyard chickens who observe illness or increased mortality among their birds should call their veterinarian or the California Department of Food Agriculture sick bird hotline at (866) 922-BIRD (2473).

For more information about raising poultry, visit http://ucanr.edu/sites/poultry.

Posted on Tuesday, March 7, 2017 at 5:01 PM

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