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Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

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UC and Israel sign agricultural research agreement

From left, Ermias Kebreab, Eli Feinerman and Mark Bell sign agreement for Israel and California scientists to collaborate more on water-related research and education.

Pledging to work together to solve water scarcity issues, Israel's Agricultural Research Organization signed a memorandum of understanding with UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and UC Davis on July 16. The signing ceremony kicked off the 2018 Future of Water for Irrigation in California and Israel Workshop at the UC ANR building in Davis.

“Israel and California agriculture face similar challenges, including drought and climate change,” said Doug Parker, director of UC ANR's California Institute for Water Resources. “In the memorandum of understanding, Israel's Agricultural Research Organization, UC Davis and UC ANR pledge to work together more on research involving water, irrigation, technology and related topics that are important to both water-deficit countries.” 

The agreement will enhance collaboration on research and extension for natural resources management in agriculture, with an emphasis on soil, irrigation and water resources, horticulture, food security and food safety.

“It's a huge pleasure for us to sign an MOU with the world leaders in agricultural research like UC Davis and UC ANR,” said Eli Feinerman, director of Agricultural Research Organization of Israel. “When good people, smart people collaborate the sky is the limit.”

From left, Ermias Kebreab, Eli Feinerman, Karen Ross, Shlomi Kofman and Mark Bell. “We need the answers of best practices that come from academia," Ross said.

Feinerman, Mark Bell, UC ANR vice provost, and Ermias Kebreab, UC Davis professor and associate vice provost of academic programs and global affairs, represented their respective institutions for the signing. Karen Ross, California Department of Food and Agriculture secretary, and Shlomi Kofman, Israel's consul general to the Pacific Northwest, joined in celebrating the partnership.

“The important thing is to keep working together and develop additional frameworks that can bring the people of California and Israel together as researchers,” Kofman said. “But also to work together to make the world a better place.” 

Ross said, “It's so important for us to find ways and create forums to work together because water is the issue in this century and will continue to be.”

She noted that earlier this year the World Bank and United Nations reported that 40 percent of the world population is living with water scarcity.  “Over 700,000 people are at risk of relocation due to water scarcity,” Ross said. “We're already seeing the refugee issues that are starting to happen because of drought, food insecurity and the lack of water.”

Ross touted the progress stemming from CDFA's Healthy Soils Program to promote healthy soils on California's farmlands and ranchlands and SWEEP, the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, which has provided California farmers $62.7 million in grants for irrigation systems that reduce greenhouse gases and save water on agricultural operations.

“We need the answers of best practices that come from academia, through demonstration projects so that our farmers know what will really work,” Ross said.

Scientists from Israel and California met to exchange ideas for managing water for agriculture.

As Parker opened the water workshop, sponsored by the U.S./Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development (BARD) Program, Israel Agricultural Research Organization and UC ANR, he told the scientists, “The goal of this workshop is really to be creating new partnerships, meeting new people, networking, and finding ways to work together in California with Israel, in Israel, with other parts of the world as well.”

Drawing on current events, Bell told the attendees, “If you look at the World Cup, it's about effort, it's about teamwork, it's about diversity of skills, and I think that's what this event does. It brings together those things.”

 

Posted on Friday, July 20, 2018 at 9:42 AM

USDA awards UC and Karuk Tribe $1.2 million for collaborative research and education to increase tribal ecosystem resilience in a changing climate

The USDA-funded Tribal Food Security Project team includes members of the Karuk, Yurok and Klamath Tribes along with UC researchers. In front row, Jennifer Sowerwine is second from left and UCCE farm advisor Deborah Giraud is far right. Photo courtesy of Karuk Píkyav Field Institute.

As California and the nation grapple with the implications of persistent drought, devastating wildfires and other harbingers of climate change, researchers at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources and the Karuk Tribe are building on a decade-long partnership to learn more about stewarding native food plants in fluctuating environmental conditions. UC Berkeley and the Karuk Tribe have been awarded a $1.2 million USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant for field research, new digital data analysis tools and community skill-building aimed to increase resilience of the abundant cultural food and other plant resources – and the tribal people whose food security and health depend on them.

Jennifer Sowerwine, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley and co-founder of the Karuk-UC Berkeley Collaborative, and Lisa Hillman, program manager of the Karuk Tribe's Píkyav Field Institute, will co-lead the xúus nu'éethti – we are caring for it research project.

UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Karuk Department of Natural Resources will support the project with postdoctoral researchers, botany, mapping and GIS specialists, and tribal cultural practitioners and resource technicians. The San Rafael-based nonprofit Center for Digital Archaeology will help develop a new data modeling system.

Project activities include expanding the tribe's herbarium (a research archive of preserved cultural plants launched in 2016 with UC Berkeley support), developing digital tools to collect and store agroecological field data, and helping tribal community members and youth learn how to analyze the results.

“For the xúus nu'éethti – we are caring for it research project, UC ANR's Informatics and Geographic Information Systems (IGIS) team will lead hands-on workshops and consultations to build Karuk Tribal capacity to assess, monitor and make management decisions regarding the agroecosystem,” Sowerwine said. “Workshop curricula for tribal staff and community members will include GIS training, 360 photospheres and drone images, and storymapping techniques. ​IGIS will also provide technical analysis of historical land use and land cover records to support researchers' understanding of agroecological resilience over time.”

Sowerwine, right, shown cleaning tanoak mushrooms, an important cultural food, will study effects of climate change on the Karuk food system.

“We are delighted to continue our connection with UC Berkeley through this new project,” said Hillman. “Through our past collaboration on tribal food security, we strengthened a network of tribal folks knowledgeable in identifying, monitoring, harvesting, managing for and preparing the traditional foods that sustain us physically and culturally. With this new project, we aim to integrate variables such as climate change, plant pathogens and invasive species into our research and management equations, learning new skills and knowledge along the way and sharing those STEM skills with the next generation.”

The research team will assess the condition of cultural agroecosystems including foods and fibers to understand how land use, land management, and climate variables have affected ecosystem resilience. Through planning designed to maximize community input, they will develop new tools to inform land management choices at the federal, state, tribal and community levels.

All project activities will take place in the Karuk Tribe's Aboriginal Territory located in the mid-Klamath River Basin, but results from the project will be useful to other tribes and entities working toward sustainable management of cultural natural resources in an era of increasing climate variability. Findings will be shared nationwide through cooperative extension outreach services and publications.

The new project's name, xúus nu'éethti – we are caring for it, reflects the Karuk Tribe's continuing commitment to restore and enhance the co-inhabitants of its aboriginal territory whom they know to be their relations – plants, animals, fish, water, rocks and land. At the core of Karuk identity is the principle of reciprocity: one must first care for these relations in order to receive their gifts for future generations.

This work will be supported by the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Resilient Agroecosystems in a Changing Climate Challenge Area, grant no. 2018-68002-27916 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

For more information, visit the Karuk – UC Berkeley Collaborative website at https://nature.berkeley.edu/karuk-collaborative

Posted on Wednesday, July 18, 2018 at 2:33 PM

Grow cover crops to attract beneficial insects, add nutrients, suppress weeds and build soil

George Washington, the father of our country, said it well when he proclaimed he grew “crops to eat and sell” and “crops to replenish the soil.”

Generations of farmers follow his footsteps.

Cover crops (also known as green manures) are plants primarily grown for the benefit of the soil rather than for crop yield. With autumn only a few months away, now's a good time to think about planting cool-season cover crop seed mixes for your farm or garden.

Cover crop in a walnut orchard, with flowers to attract beneficial insects, Yolo County, 2018.

Why grow cover crops?

The benefits of cover cropping include reduced soil erosion, adding organic matter, nutrients, and mycorrhizae to the soil, and weed and nematode suppression. Cover crops also increase nutrient retention and water infiltration. And some, such as radish, break into compacted soil layers, making it easier for the following crop's roots to develop more fully. Flowering cover crops on farms also increase beneficial insects, including bees and natural enemies, that provide pollination and pest control services in crop production.

How do cover crops benefit natural enemies?

Beneficial insects need nectar and pollen to survive and reproduce. For example, adult parasitoid wasps feed on flowers, while the parasitoid larvae prey on pests such as aphids, caterpillars, and stink bugs. Lady beetle, aka ladybugs, feed on flowers, especially during times of prey scarcity. In addition to flowers, cover crops, such as vetch and bell (fava) beans, have extra-floral nectaries or spurs at the base of the leaves. These secrete a sugary syrup that attracts beneficial insects, such as syrphid flies to control aphids.

UCCE advisor Rachael Long holding a lacewing, a beneficial insect that feeds on aphids. She is standing in a cover crop in a walnut orchard. (Photo: California Farm Bureau)

Insectary cover crop seed mixes.

Winter mixes that attract beneficial insects (aka Insectary Plants) and fix nitrogen include bell beans, clovers, field peas, and vetch. Other insectary plants to add to a cover crop mix include forbs such as baby blue eyes, poppies, phacelia, purple Chinese houses, sweet alyssum, and tidy tips. Small grains (triticale, barley, and rye) are good pollen sources for beneficial insects. It's a good idea to order insectary cover crop mixes from local sources to avoid potential introduction of non-native forb-type plants from other areas.

Cover crops to perhaps avoid in some crop rotations.

Avoid cover crop species that host arthropod pests or plant pathogens that can damage nearby crops. For example, bell beans are a key host for tomato spotted wilt virus vectored by thrips insects, UC IPM. Mustards attract beneficial insects, but are significant hosts for pests such as stink bugs, cucumber beetles, flea beetles, and lygus bugs. Alfalfa has extra-floral nectaries, but is not a recommended insectary plant because it hosts pathogens, including alfalfa mosaic virus that infects a number of crops, including tomatoes (UC IPM).

How important are floral resources for natural enemies?  

In a 1998 research article, Beneficial insects move from flowering plants to nearby crops, published in California Agriculture journal, I pointed out that beneficial insects extensively use flowering cover crops. In a mark-and-recapture study in an almond orchard with a cover crop, 80 percent of the syrphid flies and 40 percent of the lacewings (both aphid feeders) trapped in the trees fed on flowers and extra-floral resources that the insectary plants provided, as did 10 percent of the parasitoid wasps, which prey on peach twig borer.

Ladybugs primarily feed on aphids, but they will also feed on floral resources during times of prey scarcity.

Balancing multiple needs of cover crops.

Note that legumes need to be mowed or disked prior to full bloom for maximum nitrogen fixation, limiting floral resources. To favor beneficial insects, don't mow or disk all of your cover crop at once; instead, leave occasional strips of flowering plants on your farm. Beneficial insects will find the flowers, as they move around (at least 600 feet for many natural enemies and over a mile for bees). If frost is a concern in your orchard, consider planting strips of low-growing insectary plants, such as tidy tips and other forbs listed above. Be sure to select seed mixes that work with surrounding crops.

George Washington used cover crops to replenish the soil; they're also good for the soul when you savor the benefits, especially all the flowers and beneficial insects attracted to them. Why not play a game of “I Spy” in your cover crop and see if you can find a bumble bee or one of the myriad of natural enemies featured in the UC IPM poster, Meet the Beneficials

 

Multiple benefits of cover crops. (Diagram: Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program)

Additional reading

Flowering cover crops support wild bees and a regional sustainability agenda, part of the June 2018 research update in California Agriculture journal.

UC ANR publications on cover crops:

Cover crops for California Agriculture

Cover Cropping for Vegetable Production

Cover Cropping and Conservation Tillage in California Processing Tomatoes

Small Grain Cover Crops

Cowpea Production: Sample Costs and Benefits as a Summer Cover Crop

Cover Cropping in Vineyards: A Grower's Handbook

Cover Crops for Walnut Orchards

Posted on Tuesday, July 17, 2018 at 8:35 AM

College students to build apple-picking robots in ASABE competition

For the 2018 ASABE Student Robotics Challenge, teams will simulate the mechanical harvest and storage of apples.

Nineteen teams of college students from top universities in the U.S., Canada and China will compete to build robots to mechanize farm work at the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers Annual International Meeting in Detroit.

The 2018 ASABE Student Robotics Challenge, being organized by Alireza Pourreza, University of California Cooperative Extension agricultural mechanization specialist, will be held on July 31.

“The labor availability for agriculture is decreasing while the need for more food is increasing to feed the growing world population,” said Pourreza, who is based in the UC Davis Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering. “So agriculture should switch to technologies that are less labor-dependent, such as using more robots, to overcome this challenge.”

Ali Pourreza, shown flying a drone to collect crop data, is organizing the 2018 ASABE Student Robotics Challenge.

The ASABE Student Robotics Challenge provides an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills of robotics in agriculture.

“The goal of this event is to encourage young agricultural engineers to get involved in building robots for agricultural applications and to get experienced as the next generation of farmers,” Pourreza said.

The challenge will be to simulate the harvest and storage of apples, a crop commercially grown in several states. The students will design and operate robots that will autonomously harvest “apples” on field that measures 8 feet by 8 feet. The robots will harvest eight mature apples (red ping-pong balls), remove and dispose of eight diseased or rotten apples (blue ping-pong balls) and leave eight immature apples (green ping-pong balls) on the tree.

This year, the competitors are being divided into a beginner division and an advanced division.

Beginner Teams

California Polytechnic State University        Green and Gold Mustangs
China Agricultural College                          China Ag, Beginners
McGill University                                       We Are Groots
Purdue                                                     ABE Robotics
Purdue                                                     Harvestiers
Texas A&M                                               Texas A&M
University of California Merced                   Bobcats
University of Nebraska Lincoln                    HuskerBots 2
University of Nebraska Lincoln                    HuskerBots3
University of Wisconsin River Falls               Falcon Robotics
Zhejiang University                                    ZJU team 1
Zhejiang University                                    ZJU team 2
Clemson University                                    CARA

Advanced Teams

China Agricultural College                             Dream
McGill University                                          Agrobots
University of Georgia                                    UGA Engineers
University of California – Davis                      Ag-Botics
University of Florida                                      RoboGators
University of Nebraska Lincoln                       HuskerBots 1

The competition will be held in Cobo Center Exhibit Hall, 1 Washington Blvd., Detroit, Michigan. There will be three rounds throughout the day and each team will participate once in each round.

The 2017 robotics challenge was to simulate raspberry cane thinning, removing green canes and pruning the yellow canes.

For more information, visit the 2018 ASABE robotics competition website: https://www.asabe.org/Awards-Competitions/Student-Awards-Competitions-Scholarships/Robotics-Student-Design-Competition.

Video of 2016 competition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1ymUiCr3Mc

Video of 2017 competition: https://vimeo.com/250379863

 

Posted on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 at 2:12 PM

Fresno’s Southeast Asian farmers are on trend with new ‘superfood’

Farmer Vang Thao has been managing a successful farm south of Fresno for nearly 30 years, producing a spectacular array of vegetables – heirloom tomatoes, purple bell peppers, water spinach, bitter melon, Thai eggplant and dozens of others.

Every weekend the family traverses the Grape Vine to set up a visual feast at farmers markets in Santa Monica, Hollywood, Palos Verdes, Torrance and Hollywood. Acclaimed Los Angeles chefs rave about his produce, according to a Los Angeles Times feature story on the Thao family.

Produce like sweet potato leaves, amaranth and black nightshade are essential for families hailing from Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, the Philippines and India who seek ingredients for their traditional cuisine, but the market is limited. Now, small-scale farmers like the Thaos are on the cusp of something with much wider appeal.

One of their crops is moringa, a tropical tree that produces an abundance of fresh shoots to sell at the farmers market booth for $1 a bundle. Moringa is a delicate green that can be added to salads, soups and nearly any other dish. It has a pleasant nutty, earthy and slightly pungent green flavor. While it tastes good, it's the plant's nutrient profile that is commanding attention.

Fresno farmer Vang Thao in his moringa plantation.

On the internet, moringas are called miracle trees. All parts of the plant are edible – the tender leaves can be cooked or eaten fresh, moringa flowers are considered a delicacy, the tree's young pods can be used like green beans, roasted seeds are said to have antibiotic and antifungal properties. The roots and bark have medicinal potential, but need more study to determine the right dose. A 100 gram serving of moringa greens has more protein than a cup of milk, more iron than a cup of spinach, and is high in calcium, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin A.

Moringa is the Superfood of 2018, according to the trend watchers at SPINS.com. UC Davis nutrition researcher Carrie Waterman is studying moringa's use, production and processing worldwide. She is pursuing moringa for therapeutic applications in treating cancer, HIV and inflammatory bowel disease.

Vang sells small bundles of moringa shoots at farmers markets for $1 each.

Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, the UC Cooperative Extension advisor to small-scale farmers in Fresno and Tulare counties, recognized moringa's potential to supplement income for Southeast Asian farming families who are marketing specialty Asian vegetables and herbs to immigrant communities.

“Moringa is a drought tolerant tree known for its excellent nutritional content,” Dahlquist-Willard said. “We believe it could improve the economic viability of small-scale farms in our community. We are helping small-scale farmers with moringa product development and marketing.”

Supporting farmers growing moringa in marketing the product to new buyers is an objective of the UCCE moringa project, a partnership with the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, which was funded by a California Department of Food and Agriculture specialty crop block grant. Lorena Ramos, the project lead, is working on developing marketing materials, outreach opportunities, and value-added options.

UCCE moringa project leader Lorena Ramos and Vang Thao with purple bell peppers.

While using moringa is second nature for many immigrant groups, expanding the market includes demonstrating how easily the green can be used in the kitchen. Dahlquist-Willard and Ramos called on another sector of UC Cooperative Extension – the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program – for assistance. UCCE offers nutrition education in schools and community settings to children and families eligible for the USDA's nutrition assistance programs. Each year, Fresno State dietetic students serve two-week internships at UCCE. In 2018, one of their tasks was developing creative, healthful recipes incorporating moringa. Among the recipes were overnight oatmeal, pesto, smoothies, guacamole and energy bites – all with moringa.

“We are publishing the best recipes to share with the public to help them add this nutritional green into their diets,” Ramos said.

Recipe cards and moringa samples will be available July 26 at the Fresno Food Expo, where UCCE is hosting a booth to raise awareness about moringa by introducing farmers to Fresno area chefs, buyers and consumers and sharing information about the vegetable's health benefits, culinary versatility and its ability support small-scale farmers in Fresno and Tulare counties.

Fresh moringa can be easily added to many recipes.

Following is a USDA recipe ideal for incorporating moringa:

Grilled quesadilla with vegetables

Ingredients

Nonstick cooking spray
1 medium zucchini, diced
½ broccoli head, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 medium onion, minced
1 carrot, peeled and grated
16 (6 inch) flour tortillas
12 ounces cheese, shredded
½ cup moringa leaves

Directions

  1. Wash all vegetables.
  2. Collect, dice, shred and measure all ingredients before starting to prepare the recipe.
  3. Spray a large skillet with cooking spray. Add zucchini, broccoli, green pepper, onion and carrot. Cook vegetables on medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove vegetables from skillet, and put on a clean plate.
  4. Spray skillet with cooking spray again and place 1 tortilla in the skillet. Top with ½ cup vegetables and 1/3 cup cheese. Sprinkle on fresh moringa leaves.
  5. Place a second tortilla on top. Cook on medium low heat for 2 to 3 minutes or until the cheese starts to melt and the bottom tortilla starts to brown.
  6. Flip over the quesadilla. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes until tortilla brons.
  7. Repeat steps 4 through 6 to make additional quesadillas
  8. Cut each quesadilla in half or quarters, serve hot with your favorite salsa or other toppings.
  9. Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours. Eat within 3 to 5 days.

 

UCCE agricultural assistant Michael Yang, left, and Vang Thao snack on a freshly picked melon during a field visit.
 
UCCE nutrition projects coordinator Evelyn Morales demonstrates moringa recipes.
Posted on Monday, July 9, 2018 at 9:03 AM

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