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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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

Five UC Cooperative Extension advisors retired on July 1, 2018

At the end of June, the distinguished careers of five UC Cooperative Extension advisors concluded when they retired. The new retirees are

  • Mark Gaskell, UCCE small farms advisor for San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties
  • Gene Miyao, UCCE vegetable crops advisor for Yolo, Solano and Sacramento counties
  • Kim Rodrigues, director of the Hopland Research & Extension Center and UCCE forest advisor
  • Blake Sanden, UCCE irrigation, soils and agronomy advisor in Kern County
  • Steve Tjosvold, UCCE horticulture advisor for Santa Cruz and Monterey counties

Below are brief vignettes about each of the retirees.

UCCE small farms advisor Mark Gaskell retires

Mark Gaskell at Jason Mraz's coffee-avocado farm.
Mark Gaskell is best known these days for cultivating the idea of California-grown coffee that launched the emerging industry. But coffee isn't the first crop that Gaskell convinced California farmers could be locally grown. For more than 23 years, the UC Cooperative Extension advisor has been researching new specialty crops, such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, kiwi berries, Pakistani mulberries, sweet onions, lychees and longans, for small farms to grow for a profit.

Gaskell, who began his career with the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources as an advisor for small farms and specialty crops in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties in 1995, retired July 1.

“If it wasn't for Mark Gaskell, I wouldn't have lasted three years,” said Tony Chavez, who grows 40 acres of blueberries, blackberries and some raspberries in Nipomo. 

Blueberries weren't grown in California until Gaskell planted test plots of southern highbush blueberries in 1996 to give small-scale growers a new crop option. What was once a niche crop is now planted on over 7,000 acres in the state and California currently leads U.S. production of fresh blueberries.

Recently Gaskell's knowledge of coffee production has been in demand.

“Personally, I would not be where I am today professionally without Mark's guidance, support and friendship,” said Jay Ruskey, CEO and co-founder of Good Land Organics. “He brought me my first coffee plants in 2002.”

With Gaskell's research-based advice, the Goleta grower has produced premium coffee. His Caturra coffee made Coffee Review's Top 30 coffees in 2014 and in 2017 Daily Coffee News reported that Blue Bottle was selling the California-grown coffee for $18 per ounce.

“Industry-wide, there are many farmers who have benefited directly from working with Mark, but there are far more farmers who are currently benefiting today from the specific crops and farming systems he has introduced through his service as a University of California farm advisor,” Ruskey said. (Author: Pam Kan-Rice)

 

Gene Miyao, UC Cooperative Extension vegetable crops advisor, retiring after 38 years

Gene Miyao.
Gene Miyao was named the UCCE vegetable crops farm advisor for Yolo County in 1980. In 1990, Solano County was added to his territory and about 10 years later, he also took on responsibility for Sacramento County.

Miyao had been exposed to UCCE farm advisors from a young age.

“My parents were small-scale farmers in Yolo County. We knew of the value of UCCE and the UC system,” Miyao said.

During his 38-year-career, Miyao has witnessed dramatic changes in production systems of processing tomatoes, a crop on which he focused much of his efforts. Growers went from using open-pollinated seed to hybrids and they changed from direct seeding to transplants. Tomato production has seen a major reduction in Phytophthora root rot, and a rapid spread of Fusarium wilt race 2.

Over the years, Miyao has conducted significant research, including work to better understand the benefits of cover crops, supplemental applications of potassium and phosphorous, and applying composted chicken manure in tomato production. He cooperated with a team of advisors to demonstrate the value of sulfur dust for powdery mildew control and the risk of spreading the disease fusarium wilt from infested stem pieces. Miyao was an author of the recent cost production study titled Cost of producing processing tomatoes in the Sacramento Valley and Northern Delta with sub-surface and surface drip irrigation.

In all Miyao wrote 69 peer reviewed articles. However, he said, the local newsletters, field meetings and field calls were always his priority in order to stay well connected to his local clientele. 

In retirement, Miyao said he will complete some of his 2018 field projects. He's also planning to travel with his wife Donna to national parks and other destinations. And he is looking forward to fishing in the local waters. (Author: Jeannette Warnert)

 

Kim Rodrigues, Hopland Research and Extension Center Director, retires after 27-year career with UC ANR

Kim Rodrigues.
Kim Rodrigues, Hopland Research & Extension Center (HREC) director, retires at the end of June, after a 27-year career with UC ANR. Initially hired as the forest advisor in 1991 in Humboldt and Del Norte counties, she became county director a few years later and has had an administrative assignment attached to her academic career ever since.

When she became regional director for the 23 counties in the North Coast and Mountain Region in 1999 and relocated her family to Davis from Eureka, she recounted that “it was July, and they went from cool, coastal fog to the Valley heat and wondered about my sanity!”

She later became the executive director of Academic Personnel for ANR when the regions were restructured and ANR was centralized.

She returned to county-based academic work at HREC in the summer of 2014. Initially there as an interim assignment, Rodrigues fell in love with the place and the people and accepted the formal assignment at HREC in 2015. She notes that working at HREC has been “an excellent culmination to my career. Working with colleagues on relevant research, such as living with wildlife, integrates the many professional roles I have had throughout my career.”

Noted as a competent and trusted forester, she has served on the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (BOF) briefly and on the BOF Professional Forester's Examining Committee for several years.

Rodrigues is also known for her collaborative leadership and facilitation skills and led the public participation team, together with Drs. Maggi Kelly and Lynn Huntsinger, for the long-term research titled the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project. She is recognized as an excellent facilitator for large-scale and smaller scale public meetings designed to share science with diverse public interest groups, agencies and decision-makers, in order to seek new solutions for resolving ongoing conflicts over public trust resources, such as water, wildlife and more.

Her passion is working with diverse groups to address complex environmental conflicts to seek shared understanding and new agreements. “It is amazing how diverse input can help frame innovative solutions that individuals or small groups may not readily identify,” she said.

She plans to remain engaged in research and extension related to living with wildlife, cumulative watershed effects and managing conflicts of all types. She is also looking forward to spending more time with her husband, four children and grandchild.

Although sad to leave many aspects of her work at UC ANR, she said, “I remain deeply grateful to UC ANR for such a wonderful career, and I remain committed to support UC ANR to succeed in any way I can going forward. I have been fortunate to work with amazing colleagues and truly respect the work we do for the land grant mission.” (Author: Liz Sizensky)

 

Blake Sanden, UCCE irrigation, soils and agronomy advisor in Kern County

Blake Sanden.
Blake Sanden.
Blake Sanden of UCCE Kern County retired on June 28. For 26 years, he has been the Irrigation, Soils and Agronomy farm advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. 

He helped growers with on-farm soil and water problems, organized and spoke at workshops across California and conducted applied field research projects focusing on irrigation, salinity/fertility management for all crops, and agronomic field crop production of alfalfa, dry beans and oil crops.

Blake has a bachelor's degree in International agricultural development and agronomy and master's degree in irrigation and drainage from UC Davis and 35 years of experience in California production ag, international ag development and extension. 

Significant projects of his include: development of salt tolerance thresholds for high production California pistachios in the San Joaquin Valley, soil moisture monitoring techniques and irrigation efficiency assessment on 12,000 acres in Kern County and deficit irrigation in early citrus navel oranges. 

Over the last eight years, Sanden has fulfilled a vision that started nearly 30 years ago. Through collaboration with nearly 50 University of California researchers, farm advisors, extension specialists, the Wonderful Farming Company and almond industry representatives, he played a crucial role in documenting the increased level of water and fertilizer use necessary for optimal almond yield – increasing the statewide average yield by more than 50 percent.

But some of his greatest joys and heart-felt satisfaction lay in development work in Africa – 3 years of missionary service in the 1980s developing vegetable gardens in Zambia and month-long training/consulting trips working with farmers and extension agents in Uganda, Ethiopia and central Asia.

When asked what he'll miss the most about his career, he said the interaction with the growers, most notably “seeing the ‘ah-ha' light up in a grower's eyes when he finally grasps the solution.”

He remembered a particular time in May of 2004 when a sugarbeet grower called him seeking his advice on whether or not to irrigate his 380 acres of beets one last time before harvesting. That was the way he had always done it. So Sanden went out and spent a couple of hours using his hand probe to check the moisture of the fields down to a three-foot depth.

“I ask, ‘Ken, when did you last probe this field?'” Sanden recalled.

‘“Oh, I really didn't check it this year?' he says.”   

“Do you really need to irrigate or is this enough water to get through harvest?” noting that he already had enough moisture.

“I guess it's enough, but that's why I asked you out here. It wouldn't hurt to put on the irrigation would it? I'd feel better. Of course we did get the digger stuck a couple times last year because the field was too wet.”  

“Too much water does hurt beets because you will reduce sugar percentage and can get rot and lose tonnage,” Sanden replied.

“OK, it makes me a bit nervous but you say I have at least four inches of water stored in the soil that the beets can get at.”   

That year Ken was the top sugar producer in Kern County and got the Silver Beet Knife for highest percentage of sugar, Blake recalled.

“With that two hours worth of field scouting he probably made an extra $300,000 in the saved irrigation and increased sugar,” Blake said. (Author: Tyler Ash)

 

 

Steve Tjosvold, UC Cooperative Extension environmental horticulture advisor, 38 years

Steven Tjosvold.
Steve Tjosvold joined UC Cooperative Extension as a farm advisor intern from 1980 to 1983, working in Alameda, Orange and San Bernardino counties. The internship allowed recent college graduates the opportunity to get experience working with a UCCE advisor in their field of interest. 

“I interned for two advisors and then separately filled in for the programs of two advisors that went on sabbatical leave,” Tjosvold said. “I use that experience, knowledge, contacts and friendships to this day.”

Tjosvold was named the environmental horticulture advisor in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties in 1983.

Tjosvold's early career focused on the management of nursery and landscape plant diseases and insect problems, as well as methods to improve water use and postharvest handling in nursery crops. In addition, Tjosvold helped establish the use of scouting in ornamental production by working with other farm advisors to document effectiveness statewide. Later, his research and outreach on sudden oak death and light brown apple moth helped growers understand the pests and take action to reduce their impact on production systems and the environment.

Tjosvold wrote or contributed to 94 peer-reviewed publications and 234 industry publications. He served as editor/co-editor of UCNFA (UC Nursery and Floriculture Alliance) News.

During his career, Tjosvold received three distinguished service awards for outstanding teamwork (1997, 2004, and 2006) and one for outstanding extension (2004). He received the 2008 Western Extension Directors' Award of Excellence for a farm water quality planning project. In 2012 he received the outstanding research award from the California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers, and in 2015 he was honored with the Award of Excellence from the Western Extension Directors Association for a team effort that addresses Sudden Oak Death.

In retirement, Tjosvold plans to start a UCNFA blog to help replace the loss of the UCNFA newsletter due to retirements. He will also be available locally for focused educational projects and consultation. Tjosvold, an avid fly fisherman, said he will spend the first month of his retirement camping and fly fishing in Montana. (Author: Jeannette Warnert)

Posted on Tuesday, July 3, 2018 at 3:00 PM

UCCE small farms advisor Mark Gaskell retires

Mark Gaskell shown among blackberries bushes, but the UC Cooperative Extension advisor is known for his pioneering work on blueberries and coffee in California.

Mark Gaskell is best known these days for cultivating the idea of California-grown coffee that launched the emerging industry. But coffee isn't the first crop that Gaskell convinced California farmers could be locally grown. For more than 23 years, the UC Cooperative Extension advisor has been researching new specialty crops, such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, kiwi berries, Pakistani mulberries, sweet onions, lychees and longans, for small farms to grow for a profit.

Gaskell, who began his career with the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources as an advisor for small farms and specialty crops in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties in 1995, retired July 1.

Blueberries become a California crop

"Everything I know about farming, I owe to Mark,” says San Luis Obispo County grower Tony Chavez, right, shown with Gaskell and Glenda Humiston, vice president for UC ANR.

Blueberries weren't grown in California until Gaskell planted test plots of southern highbush blueberries in 1996 to give small-scale growers a new crop option. He hosted his first blueberry field day in 1998. In collaboration with UC Cooperative Extension advisors in other counties, Gaskell identified varieties suited to the local climate and developed cultural practices for California growers to successfully produce blueberries. What was once a niche crop is now planted on over 7,000 acres in the state, according to the California Blueberry Commission. California currently leads U.S. production of fresh blueberries, Gaskell said.

“If it wasn't for Mark Gaskell, I wouldn't have lasted three years,” said Tony Chavez, who grows 40 acres of blueberries, blackberries and some raspberries in Nipomo.

Chavez had grown bored after selling La Tapatia Norcal, a tortilla shop that he operated for 34 years, and retiring in San Luis Obispo County.

“After I retired, I started a little farm. I started with blackberries,” Chavez said. “I have friends who farm. I didn't realize it would be such hard work.”

Someone told Chavez that Gaskell helps small farmers. “He's been my teacher about how to grow berries. Everything I know about farming, I owe to Mark,” said Chavez, who has been working with Gaskell for about 10 years. “I don't know what I'm going to do after he retires. He's a wonderful person and very, very knowledgeable.”

California-grown coffee

Jay Ruskey and Gaskell, shown at a California-grown coffee tasting in 2015, have been studying coffee growing together since 2002.

Recently Gaskell's knowledge of coffee production has been in demand.

“Personally, I would not be where I am today professionally without Mark's guidance, support and friendship,” said Jay Ruskey, CEO and co-founder of Good Land Organics.

“I met Mark in 1996 through the California Rare Fruit Growers,” Ruskey said. “We started work with lychee and longans and we worked for several years on bringing in plant material and planting trials. He brought me my first coffee plants in 2002.”

The exotic fruit didn't work out for the Goleta grower, but with Gaskell's research-based advice Ruskey has produced premium coffee. His Caturra coffee made Coffee Review's Top 30 coffees in 2014 and in 2017 Daily Coffee News reported that Blue Bottle was selling the California-grown coffee for $18 per ounce.

Prior to joining UC, Gaskell had worked for several years in Central America in coffee growing areas.

“I became curious about coffee in 2000 after I had seen some plants growing at botanical gardens in SoCal, but I assumed the hand labor and processing requirements would prevent profitable growing here,” Gaskell recalled. “About that time, I had the opportunity to visit the coffee production area in Kona on a totally unrelated project – we were doing research with lychees and longans and that is how I began to work with Jay. But visiting coffee farms and the coffee cooperative in Kona made me rethink coffee in SoCal because of similarities to coastal sites around Santa Barbara – Jay's farm – and the fact that costs of water, land and labor were high in Kona and yet they were making a business out of coffee.”

Mark Gaskell examines fiber cloth that protects coffee plants from cold and wind during the first year at Jason Mraz's coffee and avocado farm in San Diego County.

California is now in the coffee business with 15 varieties of Arabica coffee that Gaskell's research has shown are growing well with acceptable yields and high quality.

“Currently, there are about 30 farms with maybe 30,000 coffee plants between San Luis Obispo and San Diego counties,” Gaskell said. “I would expect that to double this year and again next year.”

Ruskey recently co-founded Frinj Coffee, Inc., a company that provides aspiring California coffee growers with plant material and production and marketing advice.

“Industry-wide, there are many farmers who have benefited directly from working with Mark, but there are far more farmers who are currently benefiting today from the specific crops and farming systems he has introduced through his service as a University of California farm advisor,”Ruskey said. “Mark's retirement will certainly leave a resource void for farmers who are looking for allies to help them navigate the complex and dynamic world of farming.”

Gaskell, right, coaches Jennifer and Chuck Lenet on acidifying the soil and maintaining adequate drainage in 1999

Educating growers beyond California

Gaskell began his career as an agronomy instructor for four years at Iowa State University, after earning his B.S. in agronomy and his M.S. and Ph.D. in crop physiology and production at Iowa's land-grant college. He became an assistant professor of agronomy from 1980 to 1987 at Rutgers University, where he began working with small farmers in Panama. For two years, he conducted agricultural research in Central America for the U.S. Agency for International Development and became fluent in Spanish. From 1989 to 1992, Gaskell was director of agricultural technical services, overseeing crop production in Latin America and Central America for Chestnut Hill Farms in Miami, before returning to USAID to develop new crops for farmers in Central America.

After joining UC in 1995, the Iowa native continued his international work through consulting projects and sabbatical leave, sharing his expertise in Albania, Portugal, Turkey, Italy, Sicily, France and Spain, Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bolivia, Uruguay, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

As a Fulbright Senior Scholar, 2011 to 2014, Gaskell worked with the Moroccan National Agronomic Research Institute training growers and establishing a national research program to develop blueberries, blackberries and raspberries as alternative crops.

Gaskell's achievements were recognized by USDA-National Institute for Food and Agriculture with the 2010 National Extension Excellence Program Award for the UC Small Farm Program Team. In 2007, he was named “Outstanding Educator” by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“My work in California - beyond horticulture and agronomy – has been one of relationships,” Gaskell said. “I have worked with dozens of farmers in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, in many cases, for more than 20 years. These farmers have often been collaborators for on-farm trials or educational events, or I have assisted them with farming and marketing, problem-solving with diverse crops and settings. These have been very rich, enjoyable and fulfilling relationships that I will truly miss.”  

 

Posted on Friday, June 29, 2018 at 6:27 PM

UCCE helps farmers see the potential in agricultural use of drones

In the late 1800s, when automobiles started replacing horses in the United States, farmers were likely pondering how the new technology could be adapted for agricultural production. Before long, tractors revolutionized the industry.

A similar scenario unfolded in June at a UC Cooperative Extension field day in Merced County. Farmers, scientists and entrepreneurs gathered at Bowles Farm in Los Banos to learn how drones may be deployed on farms of the future to improve irrigation, fertilization and pest management practices and monitor the crop to maximize yield and profit.

Instead of driving a pickup truck around the perimeter of the field, pushing through hip-high row crops, or meticulously sampling dozens of tree leaves, a quick fly-over with the right equipment could provide farmers all the data they need to make production decisions.

During a field day demonstration, this drone flew autonomously back and forth over the field, then landed within two feet of the takeoff location.

This won't happen tomorrow. Regulations still hamper drone use and the cost of some equipment is prohibitive. But UCCE advisor David Doll is working with scientists at UC Merced and Fresno State to find low-cost alternatives for data collection and analysis that will make the information collected by drones of value to farmers.

“We were able to get good correlation with plant water stress using a thermal camera, however the platform is too expensive,” Doll said.

Doll's research, funded by a grant from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, uses data from hundreds of drone flights over an almond orchard. The project has shown that monitoring perennial cropping systems from the sky presents challenges.

“Perennial crops will have water stress before the crops show stress,” Doll said. “We need to find an algorithm to identify water stress before it's too late for the orchard.”

Justin Metz, left, and Emory Silberton are part of the technology integration team at Bowles Farm. They flew a small drone to demonstrate their crop monitoring practices.

Bowles Farming Company, which hosted the field day, flies drones over its farms three days a week, said Justin Metz of the company's technology integration team. The high-definition imagery is shared with the on-staff agronomist, who can diagnose emerging issues.

“Our use of drones is in its infancy, but we're ahead of others,” Metz said. “Knowing the capabilities is really exciting. Drones are here, and they're going to stay.”

Lynn Sosnoskie, left, and David Doll talk at the drone field day.

UCCE agronomy and weed science advisor Lynn Sosnoskie attended the drone field day to gather ideas and make contacts. She believes drones have the potential to monitor crops for herbicide injury.

“I want to ground truth drone images to see if they can predict yield loss,” Sosnoskie said.

Retired pest control adviser Richard Stewart, one of about 100 attendees, is considering how drones could be used to monitor for rodent damage in irrigation ditch banks.

“I've never see anyone do that,” he said. “I'm just looking into it. It's a new idea.”

UC Merced graduate students Michael Haoyu, left, and Joshua Ahmed, right, demonstrated the drone they use to gather data over farms. In the center is retired PCA Richard Stewart, who is considering starting a consultancy using drones to monitor for rodent damage.
 
During a drone flight, Emory Silberton shows real-time crop monitoring on a tablet computer.
 
Drone technician Jacob Flanagan is part of the UC ANR's Informatics and Geographic Information Systems drone team.
James McKay of CalTec Ag Inc. showed a drone that takes off and lands vertically, then levels out in the sky.
 
Fresno State electrical engineering professor Gregory Kriehn is conducting research on the use of sensors in farm fields to collect data and transmit the information to drones.
 
Michael Noricia, co-founder and CEO of Pyka autonomous aerial application, said his battery-powered drone can carry 200 pounds of chemicals to spray on crops.
 
Brad Anderson of Yamaha Motor Corporation said the company's mini helicopter, which can carry a 4.2 gallon payload, is used widely for spraying crops in Japan.
Posted on Friday, June 29, 2018 at 8:34 AM

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