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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Kern County farming families with a 100-year legacy to be honored by UC Cooperative Extension

A UC Cooperative Extension septic tank demonstration project in Kern County.
Fourteen families who have a farming heritage in Kern County stretching back more than 100 years will be honored Aug. 21 by UC Cooperative Extension, which itself is celebrating 100 years of service to local farms and families.

In 1914, Congress and the president realized that, in order to feed a great nation, ag research advances from top universities had to reach farmers. So they created Cooperative Extension. For 100 years, Cooperative Extension academics have worked side-by-side with farmers to boost yields, battle pests, ensure food safety, protect the environment and make the best use of irrigation water available.

Some of the families to be honored Thursday are:

The Carver-Bowel family
The first generation of the Carver-Bowel family came by wagon train to California in 1850. Six generations have worked the cattle ranch that straddles the Kern-Tulare county line.

The Porter family
Farmer Dick Porter's grandfather planted oranges in Kern County in 1902. When the trees produced fruit, he hooked up his private train car to a trainload of Midwesterners to sell them land where they could grow "California gold." (A photo of the train car is below.)

The Fry family
Like UC Cooperative Extension, the Fry Ranch got its start in 1914. Mary Rebecca Yarnell Fry Lamb purchased 20 acres of undeveloped land in the Shafter area. In time, the family began a dairy and grew feed for the milk cows. They acquired land and, over 100 years, grew everything from alfalfa to wheat.

"When Kern County was created, the flatlands were considered uninhabitable, but over the years determined farming families put down roots and became the foundation of an industry that now produces farm crops valued at more than $6 billion a year," Marsh said. "Agricultural research and teaching have played a tremendous role in achieving that milestone and will continue to do so in the future."

When:

5:30 to 8 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 21

Who:

Members of 14 local families who have been farming in Kern County for more than 100 years

Leticia Perez, Chair of the Kern County Board of Supervisors

Zack Scrivner, District 2, Kern County Board of Supervisors

Helene Dillard, Dean of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences

UC Cooperative Extension Kern County academic staff

Where:

Kern Agricultural Pavilion, 3300 E. Belle Terrace, Bakersfield

Info:

Brian Marsh, director, UC Cooperative Extension, Kern County
(661) 868-6210, bhmarsh@ucdavis.edu

 

The Porter family rail car used to entice Midwestern families to Kern County.
Posted on Friday, August 15, 2014 at 9:41 AM
Tags: Kern County (1)

Ladderless peach and nectarine orchards explored

UC researchers are experimenting with peaches on semi-dwarfing rootstock.
Can shorter peach and nectarine trees reduce labor costs without sacrificing fruit quality and yield?

The answer may be developing soon at a 4-acre test orchard south of Fresno, where University of California researchers are planting semi-dwarfing rootstocks as part of a large, integrated experiment on virtually every aspect of peach and nectarine production.

“We're designing ‘ladderless' orchards, which have the potential to cut labor costs by 50 percent or more and improve worker safety,” said UC Cooperative Extension specialist Ted DeJong, a plant physiology professor at UC Davis. DeJong and Kevin Day, a Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Tulare County, are leading the experiment.

Conventional peach and nectarine trees grow about 13 feet tall. Setting up, climbing and moving ladders to prune the trees and harvest fruit consumes about half the workday. Ladders are dangerous, too, which is why peach and nectarine growers pay about 40 percent more for workers' compensation insurance than growers who work with more low-lying commodities, like grapes.

Developed by breeders at UC Davis, the new rootstocks will produce trees that grow about 7 or 8 feet tall and can be pruned and harvested from the ground. With the right orchard management — which Day and DeJong will test at their plots at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, near Fresno — the shorter trees could produce just as much high-quality fruit as their lofty kin.

“Ladderless orchards would be huge for our industry,” said Bill Chandler, who grows several varieties of peaches and nectarines on his 250-acre Chandler Farms in Selma, California. “There are so many costs associated with ladders that many growers are switching over to almonds just to stay in business. It costs me $1,400 an acre to thin our trees.”

Rod Milton, a fourth-generation stone-fruit grower, said he would welcome a ladderless system for the peaches and nectarines he grows in Reedley, California.

“Even with conventional rootstocks, I prune my trees so workers can take two fewer steps on the ladder come harvest time,” he said. “And the savings are huge, even with that. It's important to keep farm work safe. And it's important to keep farming viable, or else we'll be getting all our produce from overseas.”

Shorter trees are just one of the elements of DeJong's and Day's experiment, which explores best practices for keeping peach and nectarine production economically and environmentally sustainable. Funded by the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, their model orchard will integrate virtually every UC pomology advancement in the past 30 years.

The team will plant conventional, tall trees in one plot and cultivate them using standard irrigation, fertilization and pruning practices. On three other plots, they will grow shorter trees with new, “best-management” practices such as minimal pruning, using pressure chambers to measure a tree's water needs, and applying compost and nitrogen sprays to minimize nutrient leaching and groundwater contamination. They will compare fruit size and yields, canopy light interception, water and nitrate leaching, and more. Graduate students will have opportunities to get hands-on experience as the next generation of stone-fruit experts.

“We're excited to take our experiments to the next level, to provide growers what they need to make good management decisions,” Day said.

Growers are excited, too.

“If it wasn't for people like Ted DeJong and Kevin Day, I'm not sure there'd be any of us peach and nectarine growers left,” Chandler said. “They work so hard to make farming efficient.”

The team will begin planting in spring 2015 and should have preliminary data by 2016.

Posted on Friday, August 8, 2014 at 11:52 AM
Tags: Kevin Day (1), peaches (1), Ted DeJong (1)

New mosquito death trap being tested in Clovis

A mosquito death trap outside a home in Clovis.
A new mosquito surveillance and control program gets underway this week in Clovis which aims to strike down populations of Aedes aegypti mosquitos, said Anthony Cornel, a UC Davis entomologist based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier. Ae. aegypti made a surprise appearance in three California communities last year – Clovis, Madera and San Mateo – and to Cornel's disappointment, survived the winter. Now mosquito abatement officials are actively tracking and eradicating the pest before it develops a strong foothold in California.

Not all mosquitos are alike. Certain mosquitos have the ability to spread certain viruses. The illnesses spread by Ae. aegypti – yellow fever, dengue fever and more recently Chikungunya – were never given much thought in California, until now.

To test a new weapon in the arsenal against Ae. aegypti, Cornel is working with Consolidated Mosquito Abatement District personnel to deploy 146 mosquito death traps in the front yards of homes in a neighborhood east of Clovis Elementary School in Clovis. The traps were supplied by the Centers for Disease Control and made by hand in Puerto Rico.

The traps look like black five-gallon buckets. Orchard grass and water are placed inside.

“When the orchard grass decomposes, it releases a plume of chemicals that attracts female Ae. aegypti to lay their eggs in,” Cornel said.

A screen prevents them from flying down to the water to lay eggs, but the mosquitos adhere to black sticky paper that lines the top opening of the trap. Each week, district officials will count the number of mosquitos that have been trapped inside. Meanwhile, other, more sophisticated traps will continue to monitor Ae. aegypti mosquitos in the test area and in two other nearby neighborhoods where Ae. aegypti have been found.

An inexpensive and safe mosquito death trap.
“The new black bucket traps don't require power, they are inexpensive and safe. It would be a tremendous break if we find that we can use this method to effectively control Ae. aegypti,” he said.

The most deadly disease spread by Ae. aegypti is yellow fever. The illness has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives over centuries, mainly in tropical countries of Central and South America and Africa. A safe and effective vaccine is available, but yellow fever still takes a toll where medical infrastructure is inadequate.

Ae. aegypti also spreads dengue fever, for which there is no vaccine. Also known as “breakbone fever,” increasing cases of dengue worldwide is attributed to urban adaptations of this mosquito, human population growth, increased international travel and global warming.

A less severe but still debilitating disease, Chikungunya, is caused by a virus that mutated in 2005 in a way that allows it to switch vectors and be transmitted by Ae. aegypti and another mosquito Aedes albopictus. Chikungunya, which means “to be contorted” in an East African tribal language, causes a fever at first and later joint pain that can persist for months. However, more than half the people who contract Chikungunya have no symptoms at all. In July, two Florida residents were the first Americans who hadn't traveled outside the country to contract Chikungunya.

The arrival of Chikungunya in the United States has given greater urgency to officials trying to eradicate Ae. aegypti in California. Mosquito abatement officials have been going door-to-door, and with homeowners' permission, walking properties to make sure any pools of standing water are drained and treated with a pesticide that will kill mosquito larva if the receptacle again collects water. Treatment of landscape foliage with pyrethroid is also used for mosquito control, however, preliminary research by Cornel has found that Ae. aegypti possess a mutation that potentially allows them to resist chemical exposure, which requires further research to confirm their resistance status.

The map below shows the study area. The new mosquito death traps were placed in the front yards of homes in area "A."

Posted on Monday, July 28, 2014 at 6:50 PM
Tags: Anthony Cornel (1), mosquitos (1)

California Agriculture focuses on water efficiency

New UC research shows recycled water is suitable for Napa vineyards, but adds chloride to Salinas Valley soil.

Last year was California's driest on record, and we are now in our third straight year of drought. Growers have fallowed fields they can't irrigate, ranchers have sold cattle they can't feed, and the state wants cities to cut water use by 20 percent. The July–September 2014 issue of California Agriculture presents a special collection of original University of California research on water efficiency.

"This drought is unprecedented — we've never had such a lack of rainfall since we started keeping track," says Doug Parker, who directs UC ANR's California Institute for Water Resources and also leads UC ANR's Strategic Initiative on Water Quality, Quantity and Security. "Farmers are looking for ways they can stretch their water budget."

One way is irrigating vineyards with recycled wastewater from municipal waste treatment plants. California recycles only 7 percent of the 9 million acre-feet of urban wastewater produced per year, and the state wants to nearly quadruple that by 2030. Besides providing a source of irrigation water during drought, recycling water is cost-effective and reduces wastewater discharge to rivers.

To see if recycled water is suitable for use in Napa vineyards, UC Cooperative Extension researchers evaluated the quality of water treated by the Napa Sanitation District (NSD) as well as its impact on soil. They found that the quality of the recycled water was similar to that of other local sources of irrigation water. Additionally, in a vineyard that was irrigated with recycled water for 8 years, the soil did not accumulate salts or toxic ions, such as boron.

"Our work suggests that treated wastewater from the NSD is suitable for irrigation of vineyards over the long term," the researchers say.

One caveat is that the recycled water was relatively high in nitrogen. The higher soil nitrogen levels will be fine for many vineyards but, when needed, growers can easily reduce nitrogen by planting cover crops such as cereals and other grasses during the winter. 

 

Also in this issue:

Recycled water increases chloride in Salinas Valley soil

Most growers in the northern Salinas Valley have irrigated their crops with recycled wastewater since 1998, raising concerns about salt accumulation in the soil. New research shows that since the year 2000, only a small amount of sodium has accumulated in the 12-inch deep rooting zone. In half of the fields studied, chloride has accumulated to levels that could affect yields of strawberry plants and leafy greens such as spinach. This chloride buildup may be due to the recent lack of winter rainfall, which normally washes salts out of the root zone, and could be mitigated by improving drainage and avoiding soil amendments that contain chloride.

Reducing runoff from alfalfa fields

Accounting for nearly 20 percent of total agricultural water use statewide, alfalfa is California's thirstiest crop — large amounts of irrigation water can be wasted as runoff. New UC research shows that alfalfa growers can reduce this runoff to a comparative trickle by using a mathematical model that predicts the advance of irrigation water across a field in combination with wireless sensors that track the water's advance. This new approach also frees growers from checking the irrigation status of fields in person, saving time and labor.

Predicting which plants will invade California

Most ornamental plants are happy to stay in gardens, but some jump the fence, invading wildlands and crowding out native plants. California has a wealth of native plants, about 3,400 species, but is also plagued by more than 1,500 species of invasive plants, many of which were introduced by the horticultural trade. New UC research identifies 186 ornamentals that have invaded Mediterranean areas in other parts of the world, and so are at high risk of becoming invasive here too. This work could help focus further risk assessments of imported ornamentals, as well as help land managers identify which species to watch for in wildlands.

The entire July-September 2014 issue can be downloaded at http://californiaagriculture.ucanr.edu.

California Agriculture is the University of California's peer-reviewed journal of research in agricultural, human and natural resources. For a free subscription, go to http://californiaagriculture.ucanr.edu or write to calag@ucanr.edu.

Posted on Monday, July 21, 2014 at 8:33 AM
  • Author: Debbie Thompson

Community gardens help stretch food dollars

Jerry Ligsay grows 14 varieties of tomatoes in a community garden in San Jose. A UC study shows vegetables can be grown in community gardens at a lower cost than buying from a store.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are essential foods in a nutritious diet, but not everyone can afford or easily buy produce. As part of the local food movement, more and more people are growing food in neighborhood community gardens. While these gardeners are guaranteed fresh produce, a UC nutrition expert wondered how the cost of growing their own compared to buying from a store.

This month Susan Algert, UC Cooperative Extension nutrition advisor, published research that shows gardeners can save money by growing their own vegetables.

“Low-income people in cities may be able to improve their nutrition by eating fresh vegetables grown in community gardens,” said Algert, who works with UC Cooperative Extension in Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties.

To better understand how community gardens affect the affordability and amount of food available, she recruited 10 gardeners in San Jose to weigh the vegetables they harvested from their community gardens during the spring and summer.

The most common crops they grew were tomatoes, squash, green beans, peppers, onions, eggplants and cucumbers.

People saved more money by growing more high-value crops such as tomatoes that grow vertically.
The citizen scientist gardeners harvested an average of 0.75 pounds of vegetables per square foot, which is more than the 0.60 pounds of vegetables per square foot USDA calculates as the typical harvest from conventional farming.

Algert found that community gardens produced on average 2.55 pounds of food per plant over the four months. For the season, buying the same vegetables at retail prices would have cost $435 more. People saved more money by growing more high-value crops such as tomatoes and peppers that grow vertically and occupy less ground space, she learned.

“We know that community gardens can be an important source of fruits and vegetables for people who don't live near a grocery store or a farmers market,” said Algert. “This study shows that vegetables from community gardens can also be more affordable than buying from a store. That's important to people who live on a low or fixed income.”

The amount of money people save by growing their own vegetables will vary. “Our citizen scientists who worked on this study are all experienced gardeners,” she said, “A novice gardener would likely need training to get the same results.”

Currently Algert is studying the amount of food grown in backyard gardens of low-income families in San Jose.

“It's a wonderful collaboration of nutrition educators, UC Cooperative Extension small farm advisors, UC Master Gardeners, Santa Clara University and Sacred Heart/Catholic Charities,” said Algert.

The Flores family weighs vegetables grown in their backyard. They are part of a UC study to find out how much food can be harvested from backyard gardens.
Her research team is metering water usage to include in their calculations of the cost of growing the food. The UC Master Gardeners have provided soil, raised beds, seeds and drip irrigation to families who are eligible for CalFresh assistance, formerly called food stamps.

In addition to fresh produce, gardeners get some exercise. “Gardening is an excellent form of physical activity,” said Algert.

The study “Vegetable output and cost savings of community gardens in San Jose, California” is published in the July edition of the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at http://www.andjrnl.org.

The community garden study was conducted in collaboration with the City of San Jose's Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services Department, which manages 18 community gardens on 35 acres of land.

Posted on Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 10:23 AM

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