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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Trends we're watching in 2018: experts weigh in on water, GM, science communication and more

As we settle into 2018, it's natural to wonder what the New Year may bring. There have been dozens of "trend pieces" discussing what's in store. In this wrap, we consider possible 2018 trends in water, the GM debate, science communication, and food and nutrition.

Water

After one of the driest Decembers on record, many Californians continue to worry about water supply. I turned to UC ANR water expert Faith Kearns. Faith is a scientist and communicator at the California Institute for Water Resources, a UC ANR-based "think-tank" that integrates California's research, extension, and education programs to develop research-based solutions to water resource challenges. Faith writes about water issues for a number of publications, including UC's Confluence blog. She was recently

 quoted in a Rolling Stone article about California's "climate emergency," penned by meteorologist/writer Eric Holthaus

Faith told me this:

"Water quantity and human use tend to be the dominant lenses that we use to talk about water in California, but they're not the only thing we need to be paying attention to. For example, water quality issues loom equally as large, and are of course related. But, even beyond that, there are also many non-use oriented ways that water impacts our lives - through recreation, aesthetics, and culture, just to name a few. A trend that I hope to see in 2018 is a broadening of the conversation on water, and an expansion of the kinds of knowledge that are brought to bear on water issues."

Editor's note: The quality of American drinking water continues to be a point of local and national concern; it will undoubtedly be an important topic in the 2018 midterm elections in certain congressional districts. Learn more about this vital public health and social justice issue by visiting the National Drinking Water Alliance website (NDWA). NDWA is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and coordinated by UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute.

The debate over genetically modified food: Entering a new era?

UC Davis associate professor and plant pathologist Neil McRoberts - who was recently named co-leader of UC ANR's Strategic Initiative in Sustainable Food Systems - shared his ideas about where we might be headed in terms of framing the GM discussion.

"...The GM debate is entering a new era with the growing use of gene editing - CRSPR-Cas9technology. Interestingly, this time around the ethics and socio-economics debate seems to be keeping pace with the science, as witnessed by the latest issue of the Journal of Responsible Innovation, which focuses on gene drive technologies and their uses. The special issue grew out of a workshop hosted at NCSU last year. The use of CRSPR has re-opened debates about how genetic modification should be regulated and labeled."

Editor's note: You can learn more about Neil's work here. He recently wrote a guest blog post for UC Food Observer about the importance of cash crops to smallholder farmers in Uganda and Malaysia. For more about the GM debate, read the text of Mark Lynas' speech to the Oxford Farming Conference, in which he tries to "map out the contours of a potential peace treaty" between GM proponents and the technology's opponents. h/t Nathanael Johnson.

Will 2018 usher in an era of more civil communication around science-based topics?

*It depends on us.

Across the board, our public discourse took a dive in 2017 ... and that's a shame. Here's to a New Year ... and resolving to do a better job at communicating with clarity, integrity and with less judgment. The advancement of science (and perhaps the preservation of our sanity) depend upon it.

I loved this piece by Tamar Haspel, which recently appeared in the Washington Post and specifically addresses science communication and agriculture/food issues. Shorter: If we want to persuade people, we have to be respectful. She writes:

“Rudeness can increase polarization and entrench disagreements even further. Nasty begets nasty; it's regression toward the mean ..."

As both a scientist and a communicator, UC ANR's Faith Kearns also informed my thinking on where the communications trend line ought to go for 2018, telling me that:

"One of the bigger challenges, and opportunities, facing the science communication community is how to really push ourselves to better incorporate more perspectives from the social sciences and humanities. This is particularly true on issues like food, agriculture, and the environment where so much of what is truly challenging is related to human behavior, decision-making, and psychology. It's not just a matter of using research on science communication to inform practice, but also of responsibly integrating different forms of knowledge into communication efforts." 

Food and nutrition trends

There are an overwhelming number of food trend pieces out right now. The Hartman Group is a good account to follow to stay apprised of food trends throughout the year. Their Year in Review blog post is definitely worth a read. It identifies some trends from last year that will likely carry forward, including consumer demands for transparency, "conscious" consumerism, customized health and wellness, and the ways in which snacking is disrupting food culture. Bonus: you can access some of Hartman's industry reports via links included in the blog post.

For a largely culinary perspective of 2018 trends, check out the BBC's Good Food piece. Nationally-known dietitian Christy Brissette has written an interesting piece about nutrition trends (think algae, Stevia, chicory root fiber and eating for "Diabetes 3" - aka Alzheimer's).

And if you're having trouble keeping that New Year's resolution to exercise more, consider reading this piece, which reports on a study indicating that exercise alters our microbiome - which could improve our health and metabolism. Gretchen Reynolds for the New York Times.

Have a great week!

This article was first published in the UC Food Observer blog.

Posted on Tuesday, January 9, 2018 at 8:27 AM

San Joaquin County gardeners boost business with UC Cooperative Extension Green Gardener qualification

For a healthier family and environment, San Joaquin County homeowners can select a UC-qualified Green Gardener to take care of their lawns and landscapes.

Green Gardeners are landscape professionals who are trained and tested on up-to-date, environmentally friendly, science-based landscape practices.

“We're improving the knowledge and skill sets of workers who manage an enormous amount of urban acreage,” said Karrie Reid, the UC Cooperative Extension horticulture advisor in San Joaquin County. “We're helping them understand that they have the power to effect change in water conservation, quality of storm water runoff, and the amount of pesticides that are in the environment.”

UCCE advisor Karrie Reid (center) with Green Gardener training participants in San Joaquin County.

To become qualified as a Green Gardener, participants attend classes eight weeknight evenings and two Saturday mornings. The first module addresses the importance of healthy soil for healthy landscapes. UC Cooperative Extension scientists provide training on soil building, pest control and green waste management. The second module focuses on mastering efficient irrigation and conducting an irrigation audit. The final sessions focus on plants in the California landscape, including turfgrass, trees and shrubs.

Because the Green Gardener program is partially funded by a dumping fee paid by residents to the county landfill, green waste management is a key component of the program.

“We have to reduce our green waste,” Reid said. “Our urban soils are in need of organic matter. By building soil with green waste, we are solving two problems that inhibit our urban landscapes' sustainability.”

Beginning with Module 1, the Green Gardener qualification program is being held for the fifth time Jan. 16 to March 12, 2018. The registration deadline is Jan. 12.

On the first day of an earlier session, a landscaper wondered aloud if the $90 fee and, particularly, the time commitment, would be worth it. “Well, I know the answer is that it was worth it,” he said.

Qualified 'Green Gardeners' may use this logo in advertising.
In addition to all the knowledge gained, after passing the class, the participants can place the Green Gardener logo on their advertisements and be added to the online list of qualified UCCE Green Gardeners.

One Green Gardener, Jacob Wilson, wrote to Reid about a visit to a customer's property after a four-week break and found the lawn was significantly greener.

“I asked the customer if she had her sprinklers repaired,” Wilson said. “She said, ‘No, my sister adjusted the water schedule to two or three times during the night with shorter watering duration each time instead of watering once; like you said.'”

As his customer made her way back to the house, Wilson said he was feeling more like a professional.

Home gardeners aren't the only ones who can take advantage of the program. Reid has reached out to landscape professionals working in the county parks department and school districts. There are landscapers who tend apartment complex landscapes, commercial building landscapes, street medians and highway rights-of-way.

“I successfully pitched the program to the Sherriff's Department for their grounds landscape personnel,” Reid said.

For more information, visit the Green Gardener of San Joaquin County website at http://ucanr.edu/sites/GreenGardener.

Green Gardener training participants conduct a sprinkler test.
Posted on Monday, January 8, 2018 at 8:30 AM

No joke: The reality of the starving student and what UC is doing to help

As we celebrate the winter holiday season with its many joyful occasions, it's sobering to think how many people are in need of nutritious food. Millions of people are at risk of going hungry, says Feeding America. And according to groundbreaking studies by the University of California, we now know that a large number of college students are among the hungry.

A significant problem, “starving students” are not a lighthearted joke: students are going hungry and sometimes homeless, too. Food and housing insecurity among college students threatens their health, as well as their academic achievements.

Gauging college student food insecurity

The University of California began examining the issue of student food insecurity in 2015 with the Student Food Access and Security Surveys funded by President Napolitano as part of the UC Global Food Initiative. The resulting Student Food Access and Security Study was authored by the UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute's Lorrene Ritchie and Suzanna Martinez and UC Santa Barbara's Katie Maynard.

The Student Food Access and Security Study examined the results of two surveys administered online in spring 2015 to a random sample of more than 66,000 students across all 10 UC campuses. Fourteen percent of the students -- 8,932 undergraduate and graduate students in all -- responded.

Nineteen percent of the students responding to the survey had “very low” food security, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines as experiencing reduced food intake at times due to limited resources. An additional 23 percent of survey respondents had “low” food security, which the USDA defines as reduced quality, variety or desirability of diet, with little or no indication of reduced food intake.

Added together, an alarming 42 percent of the students surveyed were food insecure.

Communicating best practices and lessons learned

Soon after the Student Food Access and Security Survey results were published, partners of the UC Global Food Initiative throughout the UC system began developing the Student Food Access and Security toolkit.

The toolkit compiles best practices that have evolved at UC campuses as the university advanced efforts to nourish and support students.

Each section of the toolkit provides examples across multiple campuses to highlight the range of activities underway, as well as lessons learned.

Meeting basic needs: Food security and housing security

Expenses other than tuition can make up more than 60 percent of the cost of attending college today. The cost of living for college students has risen by more than 80 percent over the past four decades.

To better understand the prevalence of food insecurity among University of California students, the university has continued to examine the issue of student food insecurity and is beginning to assess students' housing insecurity. Food security and housing security are basic needs that students must meet to maintain their health and well-being so that they can focus on achieving academically.

Moving forward: implementing a basic needs master plan

A new report, “Global Food Initiative: Food and Housing Security at the University of California” was released December 20, 2017, and an executive summary is also available. This new report recognizes student basic needs as a statewide and national issue.

UC has done much over the past three years to help students meet basic needs. The findings from the new report will help UC go even further. The new findings will inform strategies for addressing basic needs security, including the creation of a UC basic needs master plan.

Perhaps we can retire the “joke” of the starving student after all.

Additional resources:

Posted on Friday, December 29, 2017 at 12:56 PM

UC ANR funds 12 new projects to address high-priority issues in California

Elina Lastro Niño, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, tests a student in the California Master Beekeeper Program. Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey

How does the increased number of dead trees affect the timing and magnitude of wildfire? What would it take to get more Latino children engaged in science? Would volunteers be interested in teaching others how to preserve honey bee health? These are some of the questions that University of California scientists will try to answer through projects funded by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Twelve new projects are being funded by UC ANR's 2017 Competitive Grants Program and High Risk, High Rewards Program to address high-priority issues in California.

With 45 competitive grant proposals requesting over $7 million and six high-risk high-reward proposals requesting over another $500,000, the number of requests received exceeded the funding available. 

“These projects truly demonstrate the forward-thinking nature of UC researchers,” said Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “They're tackling problems and issues that strike at the heart of what matters to Californians. We're pleased to support and fund this critical work.”

The list of funded proposals is below and project summaries are posted on the 2017 funding opportunities web page at http://ucanr.edu/2017anrgrantsprojects.

Title

Principal investigator

Award amount

Pathways to Your Future: Destination UC

Shannon Horrillo

$200,000

Massive tree mortality in the Sierra Nevada: Consequences for forest health

Jodi Axelson

$200,000

Reducing nitrate leaching to the groundwater by accounting for the soils' capacity to supply N through mineralization

Daniel Geisseler

$199,978

Advancing urban irrigation management to enhance water-use efficiency

Amir Haghverdi

 $199,975

The California Master Beekeeper Program: Development of a continuous train-the-trainer education effort for CA beekeepers

Elina Niño

$199,949

Silent straws: understanding water demands from woody encroachment in California's oak woodlands

Lenya Quinn-Davidson

 

$199,937

Impact of a warmer and drier future on rangeland ecosystems and ecosystem services

Jeremy James

$199,831

Closing the adaptive management loop for sustainable working rangelands

Leslie Roche

$199,502

Developing a culturally relevant civic science approach to improving scientific literacy for Latino youth

Steven Worker

$194,768

Creating cyst nematode suppressive soils by managing indigenous populations of the hyperparasitic fungus Dactylella oviparasitica

James Borneman

$100,000

Smart Farming: Monitoring the health of chickens

Maja Makagon

  $81,293

Recruiting the next generation of extension professionals

Jennifer Heguy

  $11,030

 

 

Posted on Thursday, December 21, 2017 at 1:24 PM

Connecting with farmers over pineapple postharvest practices

At the end of a long year, sometimes it helps to reconnect with what motivates your work.

For Karin Albornoz — a Ph.D. student who works in the Diane Beckles Lab at UC Davis on molecular biology related to tomato postharvest chilling injury — that means getting out into the world to work directly with small-scale farmers.

"I spend so much time in the lab," she said. "Sometimes I spend a whole day in the lab extracting RNA or writing a paper. This reminds me why I am doing this work: to make a real-world impact."

Just over a week ago, she returned from a trip to Uganda where she did exactly that. In partnership with a local organization called Ndibwami Integrated Rescue Project (NIRP), Albornoz shared her expertise with farmers through several hands-on workshops about improving harvest practices and postharvest handling of pineapple, passion fruit and tomatoes. Her work was supported by the Horticulture Innovation Lab, an international agricultural research program led by UC Davis with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Though Albornoz has worked with rural farmers before, this was her first time working in Africa. 

"Everywhere I looked, things were growing. There were people working in the field, women cooking, and everyone was working with food," she said. "I know there's a lot of stigma – when you talk about Africa, you see people's faces change and they're thinking about things like drought and famine and starving children. But what I saw doesn't fit that stereotype. The challenges they are facing seem to be about not having access to opportunities."

The workshops she led are part of the NIRP organization's efforts to connect farmers with more lucrative markets that pay higher prices for quality produce.


In this 2-minute video, Karin Albornoz visits a pineapple farm, leads a pineapple training and discusses next steps for this project led by NIRP in Uganda. The video clips and photos were taken by Karin while she was working and edited by Hallie Casey for the Horticulture Innovation Lab.


For months, Albornoz has been in contact with NIRP and making plans for the farmer workshops. She prepared postharvest handling manuals for each crop — pineapple, passion fruit and tomato — and asked questions to better understand local resources and the farmers' existing knowledge.

During her 2 weeks in Uganda, she visited farmers' fields and led three full-day workshops. The first workshop for about 50 farmers focused on pineapple — starting with understanding local quality parameters for this fruit, then best practices for harvesting, sanitation, storage and transportation. The second workshop was focused on tomato, with a similar structure, and the third workshop on passion fruit.

During the pineapple workshop, farmers had a chance to measure the fruit's total soluble solids through a refractometer.

Her favorite moment? The farmers' first chance to use a refractometer, to measure soluble solids and learn about sugar levels in the fruit. The refractometers were part of a small toolkit the organization will continue to use.

"They were excited to handle this device and see, in numbers, how the sugar levels of the fruit changed depending on the stage of maturity," she said. "Everyone in the room had a chance to try it."

Karin Albornoz leads a workshop in postharvest handling of pineapple in Uganda.

The experience reinforced her commitment to working with farmers and solving agricultural problems.

"A major mistake is to think that you are going just to train or teach other people because those people are always going to end up teaching you too," Albornoz said. "I made a promise to myself years ago, a personal commitment to working with people in vulnerable situations. I have to do this. Working in agriculture can be a very powerful tool to have an impact in the world."

As Karin's mentor and an Associate Professor in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences and Agricultural Experiment Station, Diane Beckles supported Karin's work outside of the lab and views such an experience as important to scholarly development.

"Something magical happens when we teach and engage in outreach," Beckles said. "We often deepen our understanding of what we are teaching, and interacting and engaging with others changes us in that process. It alters how we view and think about science in a way that is positive and rewarding, even though it is not easily quantified."

 More information:

Posted on Wednesday, December 20, 2017 at 8:47 AM

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