The $1 million UC Cooperative Extension Presidential Chair for California Grown Rice has been awarded to Whitney Brim-DeForest, UCCE rice advisor for Sutter, Yuba, Placer, Sacramento and Butte counties.
Brim-DeForest said she will use the funds generated from the endowed chair to hire a full-time technician to monitor a research study at UC Davis on weedy rice. Weedy rice is the same species as cultivated rice and it produces rice, however the grain falls off the plant before harvest.
She is part of a team of UC scientists that includes UCCE advisors Luis Espino and Michelle Lindfelder-Miles, and UCCE specialists Bruce Linquist and Kassim Al-Khatib who are conducting the five-year demonstration project to help farmers manage the problem.
“We don't know where weedy rice came from,” Brim-DeForest said. “It's a weed in every major rice growing area around the world. We were among the last areas to see it.”
In the UC Davis experiment, the scientists plan to demonstrate two potential weedy rice management strategies: rotate the rice crop with sorghum and create a “stale seed bed,” in which the field is irrigated and plants allowed to germinate, and then killed with an herbicide before the desired rice is planted.
“We want to demonstrate this in the field,” Brim-DeForest said. “In theory, it works. We want to show growers how long it will take to get weedy rice out of their fields.”
Half the funds for the endowed chair was provided by UC President Janet Napolitano; the other half was donated by the California Rice Research Board.
“The establishment of this endowed chair strengthens the long-standing public-private research partnership UC Cooperative Extension has had with the California rice industry,” said UC Agriculture and Natural Resources associate vice president Tu Tran, when the endowment was announced in 2016. “Continued research advancements will help the rice industry maintain its reputation for supplying a premium product for domestic and world markets.”
The chair appointment will be for a five-year term, and then reviewed and renewed or offered to another specialist or advisor working on California rice.
Brim-DeForest joined UCCE in 2016 after serving as a graduate student researcher in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, working at the California Rice Experiment Station in Biggs. She managed the UC Davis Weed Science field and greenhouse trials, and worked with industry and academic scientists to design field and greenhouse trials for weed management in rice.
As sorghum plants cope with drought conditions, the plants' roots and adjoining microbial communities are communicating in a chemical language that appears to improve the plants' chances under water stress.
“It's amazing,” said Peggy Lemaux, UC Cooperative Extension specialist. “We know there are lots of microbes in the soil and, for the most part, ones in the surrounding soil stayed the same under drought conditions. We only saw changes in those microbes closely associated with the roots.”
The role of drought in restructuring the root microbiome was the first published discovery to come out of a sweeping drought research project underway since 2015 in the fields at UC Kearney Research and Extension Center in Parlier. The five-year study, funded with a $12.3 million grant from the Department of Energy, aims to tease out the genetics of drought tolerance in sorghum and its associated microbes. Using sorghum as a model, scientists hope the research will help them understand and improve drought tolerance in other crops as well.
The new research results from the lab of USDA's Devin Coleman-Derr at UC Berkeley, published April 16, 2018, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, document the fate of microbes associated with sorghum roots under three distinct irrigation regimens. Because the San Joaquin Valley generally sees no rain during the growing season, it is the ideal place to mimic drought conditions by withholding irrigation water.
All plots received a pre-plant irrigation to initiate growth. In the control plots, sorghum was irrigated normally, with weekly watering through the season. In the plot simulating pre-flowering drought stress, the plants received no additional water until flowering, about halfway through the season. The third treatment was watered normally until it flowered, and then water was cut off for the rest of the season.
Beginning when the plants emerged, the scientists collected samples from each plot on the same day and time each week for 17 weeks. In a mini, in-field laboratory, roots, rhizosphere (zone surrounding the root), leaves and soil samples from 10 plants in each plot were immediately frozen and transported to Berkeley, where they were disseminated to collaborators, who investigated the plant and microbial responses at the molecular level.
“When a sorghum plant is subjected to drought, it starts sloughing off metabolites, nutrients and amino acids from the roots. The compounds appear to communicate to the neighboring microbial community that the plant is under stress,” Lemaux said. “That selects out a certain population of microbes. Certain types of microbes increase, others go away. When you add water back, the microbial community returns to its pre-drought population in just a few days.”
The researchers cultured two specific microbes that were enriched in the rootzone under drought conditions. They coated sorghum seeds with the microbes and planted them under drought conditions in a growth chamber. This treatment encouraged the plant to grow more roots.
“The microbes appear to improve plant growth during drought,” Lemaux said. “Those microbes appear to be helping plants survive drought. We didn't know that was happening before we got these results.”
Lemaux said the research might lead to future field use of the research breakthrough.
“A lot of companies are interested in the microbiome,” she said. “Some are already selling microbes to coat seeds.”
Pests have always been a bane of human existence. Modern society has developed effective pest management, “but there is no kind and gentle way to kill things,” said Brian Leahy, the director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, in remarks at the April 2018 IPM Summit.
The ever increasing incidence of invasive pests and the concerns about how to manage them will be a continuing challenge. Leahy said society is on a pest treadmill; and the best way to address it is with integrated pest management (IPM).
The concept of integrated pest management emerged 60 years ago when scientists recognized that imposing a harsh chemical on a natural system threw it off kilter, often causing unexpected, usually negative consequences. They realized that combining an array of pest control methods – such as careful supervision of insect levels, promotion of beneficial insects, and using less harsh products – would be more effective, safer for families and farmworkers, and kinder to the environment in the long run.
And yet, pesticides are still widely used in agricultural, horticultural and structural systems.
“We need to make IPM more robust,” said Pete Goodell, UC IPM advisor emeritus who spent 36 years as an IPM researcher, leader and teacher. “We need to make IPM easier to adopt.”
The meeting in Davis brought together nearly 200 people engaged in the science, business and regulation of pest management. They were assembled to address the tensions around pesticides and their alternatives, and usher in a new generation of researchers and practitioners to maintain and expand on six decades of progress in integrated pest management.
The IPM Summit is the final chapter of a collaborative effort titled “The Pests, Pesticides & IPM Project,” which was funded by DPR to enhance dialog about pest management. The project leader is Lori Berger, UC IPM academic coordinator.
“This project addresses the challenges pests pose to society,” Berger said. “We want to increase adoption of IPM practices on farms, and also in schools, homes, museums and golf courses. We're all in this together.”
One example of urban IPM efforts was presented by the IPM Summit keynote speaker Kelly Middleton, director of community affairs for the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District. She outlined the substantial public health concerns associated with pest control in California's largest urban area. A primary target is mosquitos.
“In the early 1900s, vector control started with concerns about malaria and mosquito populations,” Middleton said.
Over decades, the vector control district worked behind the scenes to keep mosquito populations in check. But in recent years, new species of mosquitos capable of spreading Zika, West Nile encephalitis, chikungunya and yellow fever have made their way to LA, intensifying concerns.
A key IPM tool in Los Angeles is minimizing standing water where mosquitos can breed. With year-round water flow irrigating vast landscapes and concrete drainages that inhibit infiltration, the vector district is faced with mosquito breeding grounds created by “urban drool,” Middleton said.
Trash rife with nutrients – such as discarded food and plant materials – are perfect nourishment for immature mosquitos, a condition referred to as “urban gruel.”
Higher temperatures predicted because of climate change only threaten to exacerbate the problem.
“A warming world is a sicker world,” Middleton said.
An effective IPM approach to mosquitos is short-circuiting their reproduction opportunities by enlisting residents to maintain swimming pools, drain any receptacles that can capture rainwater or irrigation, and be vigilant about basins containing water in their environments.
These efforts are emblematic of the societal collaboration that can tackle pest problems without pesticides.
In his IPM Summit presentation, Goodell called for public sector investment in basic research, applied research, extension and education to find IPM solutions and encourage implementation. He appealed for IPM outreach to include community organizations, home owners associations and other non-traditional partners. He suggested agriculture take advantage of farmworkers' presence in the field for early pest detection.
“Technical pest management skills are critical, but it's connections with people that are key to bringing about change,” Goodell said.
The Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors has approved an artist's rendering of a mural that honors UC Cooperative Extension advisor and county director Steve Orloff, who passed away in late 2017, reported Danielle Jester in the Siskiyou Daily News. The mural also depicts Siskiyou County's agricultural heritage.
The mural will be painted on the south-facing wall of the UCCE office, a county owned building, said Rob Wilson, the UCCE advisor and director of the UC Intermountain Research and Extension Center who is serving as interim county director for Siskiyou County UCCE.
County resident Sari Sommarstrom said that, about a year before Orloff's passing, she contacted Orloff about the UCCE headquarters "boring building."
Orloff responded that, “Our office is not only boring, it is ugly.” Orloff pursued having a mural painted on the cooperative extension building's wall about 15 years before, but it never went anywhere.
Mount Shasta-based artist Kim Solga has been selected to paint the mural.
Help the environment on Earth Day, which falls on Sunday, April 22, this year, by growing insectary plants. These plants attract natural enemies such as lady beetles, lacewings, and parasitic wasps. Natural enemies provide biological pest control and can reduce the need for insecticides. Visit the new UC IPM Insectary Plants webpage to learn how to use these plants to your advantage.
The buzz about insectary plants
Biological control, or the use of natural enemies to reduce pests, is an important component of integrated pest management. Fields and orchards may miss out on this control if they do not offer sufficient habitat for natural enemies to thrive. Insectary plants (or insectaries) can change that — they feed and shelter these important insects and make the environment more favorable to them. For instance, sweet alyssum planted near lettuce fields encourages syrphid flies to lay their eggs on crops. More syrphid eggs means more syrphid larvae eating aphids, and perhaps a reduced need for insecticides. Similarly, planting cover crops like buckwheat within vineyards can attract predatory insects, spiders, and parasitic wasps, ultimately keeping leafhoppers and thrips under control.
Flowering insectaries also provide food for bees and other pollinators. There are both greater numbers and more kinds of native bees in fields with an insectary consisting of a row of native shrubs planted along the field edge (called a hedgerow). Native bees also stay in fields with these shrubs longer than they do in fields without them. Therefore, not only do insectaries attract natural enemies, but they can also boost crop pollination and help keep bees healthy.
Insectary plants may attract more pests to your plants, but the benefit is greater than the risk
The possibility of creating more pest problems has been a concern when it comes to installing insectaries. Current research shows that mature hedgerows, in particular, bring more benefits than risks. Hedgerows attract far more natural enemies than insect pests. And despite the fact that birds, rabbits, and mice find refuge in hedgerows, the presence of hedgerows neither increases animal pest problems in the field, nor crop contamination by animal-vectored pathogens. Hedgerow insectaries both benefit wildlife and help to control pests.
How can I install insectary plants?
Visit the Insectary Plants webpage to learn how to establish and manage insectary plants, and determine which types of insectaries may suit your needs and situation. If you need financial assistance to establish insectaries on your farm, consider applying for Conservation Action Plan funds from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
- Flower flies (Syrphidae) and other biological control agents for aphids in vegetable crops. (PDF)
- Good news for hedgerows: no effects on food safety in the field.
- Hedgerow benefits align with food production and sustainability goals.
- Habitat restoration promotes pollinator persistence and colonization in intensively managed agriculture. (PDF)
- Reducing the abundance of leafhoppers and thrips in a northern California organic vineyard through maintenance of full season floral diversity with summer cover crops.