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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Sorghum growing in the San Joaquin Valley is the subject of $12.3M study of crop drought tolerance

Sorghum at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, where field testing will take place next year. (Photo: Peggy Lemaux)

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers are working in the San Joaquin Valley with UC Berkeley and Department of Energy (DOE) scientists to examine the role of epigenetics in plant survival under drought conditions, an increasing concern for agriculture as the effects of climate change are felt in California and globally.

The five-year study is funded with a $12.3 million grant from the DOE.

Epigenetics is the study of trait variations caused by environmental factors that switch genes on and off. At the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier and the UC West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points, sorghum nurseries will be grown under drought and well-watered conditions to compare the environmental impacts on the plants' gene expression.

“We hope to tease out the genetics of drought tolerance in sorghum,” said Jeff Dahlberg, a sorghum expert who will manage the trials at Kearney. “Using sorghum as a model, we expect this research to help us understand drought tolerance in other crops as well.”

Dahlberg is the director of the UC Kearney Research and Extension Center. The director of the UC West Side Research and Extension, Bob Hutmacher, will manage the sorghum nursery at that facility. Funds from the DOE grant will allow Dahlberg and Hutmacher to hire two research associates and purchase new research equipment, including a new planter, a plot combine, a forage chopper and specialized tools for measuring data.

Peggy Lemaux, UC ANR Cooperative Extension plant biology specialist based at UC Berkeley, is the overall leader of the project, titled Epigenetic Control of Drought Response in Sorghum or EPICON. Other collaborators are Devin Coleman-Derr, Elizabeth Purdom and John Taylor from UC Berkeley; Chia-Lin Wei from the DOE Joint Genome Institute; and Christer Jansson from the DOE Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Scientists hope to learn the secrets to the sorghum plant’s tolerance to drought. Shown here is a bee visiting a sorghum flower. (Photo: Peggy Lemaux)
"Historically, the genetic manipulation of crops, which has been critical to increasing agricultural productivity, has concentrated on altering the plant's genetic sequence, encoded in its DNA," Lemaux said. "However, recent studies have shown that environmental stresses – in our case drought – can lead to epigenetic changes in a plant's genetic information. Because epigenetic changes occur without altering the underlying DNA sequence, they allow plants to respond to a changing environment more quickly."

Over the next three years, a variety of observable plant traits will be followed, such as plant height and grain yield. In addition, leaf and root samples will be taken to investigate responses to drought at the molecular level, including how gene expression changes and which proteins and metabolites are altered.

Researchers will also be tracking changes in the sorghum-associated microbial communities in the soil to determine whether they correlate with changes that directly contribute to the crop's drought tolerance. It is now well known that associations of specific bacteria and fungi with plants and animals have positive effects on host fitness. For example, microbes in both plants and humans are known to help fight disease and, in the soil, can help deliver nutrients and other resources to plants.

EPICON efforts will generate a variety of large datasets, which will be shared via an open, online platform that will include methods and results.

"Availability of this data in an open forum will enable comparative genomic studies by other scientists," said Coleman-Derr, a UC Berkeley adjunct assistant professor in plant and microbial biology. "Being able to analyze the large datasets in an integrated fashion will enable a more thorough understanding of the complex and interconnected processes responsible for sorghum's ability to respond positively to drought."

The researchers expect that the project will allow better predictions of how sorghum and other cereal crops are affected by future climate scenarios, and will lead to approaches to improve growth and production of sorghum and other crops under water-limiting conditions in commercial fields and on marginal lands.

The Energy Department's Genomic Science Program is funding this project through its Office of Biological and Environmental Research.


Jeff Dahlberg, jadahlbergt@ucanr.edu, (559) 646-6060

Bob Hutmacher, rbhutmacher@ucdavis.edu, (559) 884-2411, Ext. 206

Peggy Lemaux, lemauxpg@berkeley.edu, (510) 642-1589

Posted on Monday, September 28, 2015 at 9:39 AM
Tags: Bob Hutmacher (1), drought (16), Jeff Dahlberg (2), Peggy Lemaux (1), sorghum (1)

California drought may be causing shifts in pest invasion behavior

Argentine ant. Photo by UC IPM
Several California news stories this summer have reported increased pest problems in homes and landscapes, citing the prolonged drought as the cause. Pest control companies quoted in those stories confirm that demand for their services now is much higher than in past years.

The drought may be driving more invasions by annoying insects such as ants, but not necessarily for the reasons one might expect.

Many people are asking, “Why are there so many more pests this year than usual?”

People may just be seeing more pests, according to an urban integrated pest management (IPM) advisor with UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“The overall abundance of pests probably hasn't changed and may even have decreased as compared to wet years,” said Andrew Sutherland, Ph.D., urban IPM advisor for the San Francisco Bay Area. “The real questions we should be asking are ‘Why are these pests appearing earlier in the year?' and ‘Why are the pests appearing all at once as opposed to throughout the year?'”

Adult house mouse. Photo by UC IPM
Sutherland says that landscape drydown has occurred more rapidly in recent years, so there may have been a more dramatic shift from high moisture to low moisture, prompting the nuisance pests to migrate earlier in the year and in a more concentrated manner.

“This is also the first year we've seen dramatic changes made by residents due to mandated water-use restrictions,” Sutherland said. “Areas with frequent irrigation and lush landscapes aren't available this year so nuisance pests like outdoor cockroaches, ants and crickets are migrating from dry areas to seek moisture.”

This search may lead the thirsty pests to homes, garages or landscape that they haven't visited before. The IPM advisor used oriental cockroaches as an example.

“Oriental cockroaches are highly dependent on moisture and humidity and are not normally found indoors,” said Sutherland. “Outdoors, if you have an irrigation control box, leaky hosebib or water meter box, or a French drain system, that's where you'll find them. But if this water supply has been reduced or shut off, this population you didn't even know of – that may have existed for years – may crawl under doors or into foundation cracks and move indoors in search of water.”

Adult male and female oriental cockroaches. Photo by UC IPM
Sutherland advises against relying on perimeter pesticide sprays to treat for nuisance pests since these applications are effective for only a short time and therefore only represent temporary solutions. Instead, Sutherland recommends using IPM methods, such as exclusion and habitat modification, which provide more long-lasting pest invasion prevention.

To learn more about home, garden, turf and landscape pests and how to exclude them, visit the UC Integrated Pest Management website at http://www.ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/menu.house.html. For more advice on pest problems, contact the UC Master Gardeners at a local UC Cooperative Extension office http://ucanr.edu/County_Offices.

Further reading

Cockroaches http://www.ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn7467.html?src=blog18995

Ants http://www.ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/invertebrates/links.ants.html?src=blog18995

Rodents http://www.ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/menu.house.html#VERT?src=blog18995

UC Master Gardeners http://mg.ucanr.edu/Become_a_Master_Gardener/Counties/?src=blog18995

Excluding seasonal nuisance pests http://www.ipm.ucanr.edu/PDF/PUBS/greenbulletin.2012.feb.pdf?src=blog18995

Posted on Friday, September 18, 2015 at 9:26 AM
Tags: Andrew Sutherland (2), ants (1), cockroach (2), drought (16), IPM (4)

Jim Farrar named UC IPM director

Jim Farrar

Jim Farrar has been named director of the Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program for the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He will begin the new position on Oct. 1.

UC IPM works with growers and residents to protect human health and the environment by reducing risks caused by pests and pest management practices.

Farrar is currently director of the Western IPM Center, where he has served since 2013. He succeeds Kassim Al-Khatib, UC IPM director since 2009, who is transitioning to a UC Cooperative Extension specialist position located in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. There Al-Khatib will focus on his research in weed management.

“UC IPM is a widely recognized national leader in integrated pest management,” Farrar said. “I am excited to continue efforts to make IPM the standard practice for managing pests in agriculture, communities and natural areas in California.”

Prior to joining the Western IPM Center, Farrar was a professor of plant pathology in the Department of Plant Science at California State University, Fresno for 12 years.

At Fresno State, Farrar received three teaching awards. He taught courses in plant pathology, plant nematology, diagnosis and control of plant diseases, crop improvement, aspects of crop productivity, mycology, sustainable agriculture and advanced pest management. His research centered on fungal diseases of vegetable crops, including management strategies for cavity spot of carrot. During his Fresno State tenure, he served four years as chair of the Department of Plant Science and a year as interim chair of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition.

From 1995 to 1997, Farrar taught in the Botany Department at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. At Weber State, he conducted research on rock cress plants infected with a rust fungus that causes false-flowers. This rust is closely related to a species that is a potential biological control agent for dyer's woad (Isatis tinctoris), an invasive weed.

Farrar has published scientific papers, extension newsletter articles, and articles in agricultural industry magazines. He also wrote a chapter in the book Tomato Health Management and five disease descriptions in the book Compendium of Umbelliferous Crop Diseases. He recently completed a three-year term as senior editor for feature articles in the journal Plant Disease and was senior editor for the online journal Plant Health Progress for three years. Farrar is a member of the American Phytopathological Society and the Pacific Division of the American Phytopathological Society.

The Wisconsin native completed his Ph.D. in botany and B.S. in plant pathology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and his M.S. in plant pathology at UC Davis.

MEDIA CONTACT: Jim Farrar, director-elect for UC ANR Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (530) 750-1271, jjfarrar@ucanr.edu


Posted on Thursday, September 10, 2015 at 2:03 PM

Connie Schneider retires from post as ANR’s Youth, Families and Communities director

Connie Schneider.
The well-being of people has been a career-long passion for Connie Schneider, who retired Aug. 27 from her current role as director of Youth, Families and Communities (YFC) Programs for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“California has the highest producing agricultural industry in the world, but there are too many children and families living here in poverty and hunger,” Schneider said. “So many of our youth do not graduate from high school and do not have opportunities to enhance their interests, skills and abilities. With ANR's youth, family and community programs, we're trying to take care of our own.”

Schneider came to ANR over 10 years ago as an academic coordinator for a large regional nutrition grant and within a year was hired as the nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Fresno County. In 2011, she was promoted to her position leading ANR's Youth, Families and Communities (YFC), which includes statewide nutrition education programs and the 4-H Youth Development program. Schneider praised her YFC team and their aim to provide support to county programs and coordinate with other ANR programs that contribute to healthy communities, such as ANR's nine Research and Extension Centers.

As a registered dietitian, Schneider worked for more than 20 years with individuals, hospitals, and communities in areas related to life span nutrition, diabetes, heart health and food management. She has a doctorate degree in food and nutrition management from Oregon State University and served as a nutrition professor at Fresno State from 2002 to 2005.

As the YFC director, Schneider and the YFC team have been developing new internal and external partnerships to facilitate the extension of UC ANR's research-proven healthy-living strategies to a larger audience in California.  

“We are in exciting times right now,” Schneider said. “We are partners with two large grants. One is with UC Berkeley, UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute and the San Francisco School District to test a smart phone app that will provide youth with school lunch menu as well as nutrition messages. The second is with UC Davis. Our component is working with UC Davis Medical Center pediatric unit to provide our Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program to their patients.”

“UC ANR advisors and specialists are working all around California developing relationships and making connections,” Schneider said. “We have the healthy living initiative in 4-H, which considers youth health holistically. There are nutrition programs in senior centers, schools, parks and recreation facilities, and other community agencies working with partners to empower people with knowledge and skills to improve their nutritional health. 4-H engages youth in afterschool programs, camps, service learning projects, and community clubs helping young people find their spark, making science citizenship activities exciting and fulfilling. When you pull this all together, you see the strength of Cooperative Extension.”

Posted on Tuesday, September 1, 2015 at 9:47 AM

Drought tips available for farmers

Drought strategies are available for growing alfalfa and other crops.
Drought strategies for managing alfalfa and many other crops are available free from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. As California endures a fourth year of drought and ever-tightening water supplies, water-management strategies have become even more critical to farmers.

To help farmers make the best use of the water they have available, a series of new and updated drought tips fact sheets has been developed by UC ANR scientists and funded by the California Department of Water Resources.  

“These drought tips provide irrigation management recommendations for a broad range of agricultural crops and under different water supply conditions,” said Daniele Zaccaria, UC ANR Cooperative Extension agricultural water management specialist at UC Davis and major organizer of the drought tip series. “The information in these tips will be of practical use for growers and other water-related stakeholders now and into the future as our agricultural community continues to adapt to climate variability and to a changing water supply situation.”

UC ANR scientists have identified best management practices for a wide range of annual and permanent crops and irrigation systems and methods during the drought. In the drought tips series, they also give advice for managing soil salinity and using shallow groundwater for irrigating crops.  For beef cattle, they provide recommendations for culling herds and feeding to supplement grazing.

The following drought tips are currently available for free download at http://ucanr.edu/drought-tips:

  • Drought strategies for alfalfa
  • Drought management for California almonds
  • Use of shallow groundwater for crop production
  • Drought strategies for walnuts
  • Fog contribution to crop water use
  • Reclaiming Saline, Sodic and Saline-Sodic Soils

As fog passes through an orchard, some of the water is intercepted by trees. (Photo: CC by-nc-nd 2.0)
Several more drought tips for dozens of commodities and situations are in the process of being published and will be posted online soon.

Decades of UC ANR research underlie the information contained in the drought tips. In the 1970s and again in the 1990s, UC ANR partnered with DWR to develop a series of drought management fact sheets.

“DWR has worked with UC ANR to update the drought tips and make sure the latest and best information on water management is available to growers,” said Peter Brostrom, DWR Water Use Efficiency Section Manager.

The California Institute for Water Resources, which coordinates water-related research and extension education across the 10 UC campuses and UCANR, has the drought tips and more drought resources online at http://ciwr.ucanr.edu.

“Even if El Niño brings rain this fall, water scarcity will continue to impact California farmers,” said Doug Parker, director of UC ANR's California Institute for Water Resources. “As climate change continues to reduce the average annual snowpack, it is likely that droughts in California will become more frequent and severe in the years to come.”

UC ANR's California Institute for Water Resources and the California Department of Water Resources also offer drought-related information in a series of videos. Water experts from UC and other agencies and institutions have recorded presentations on high-priority drought topics. Currently 38 videos can be accessed for free on computers and mobile devices at http://ucanr.edu/insights.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers and educators draw on local expertise to conduct agricultural, environmental, economic, youth development and nutrition research that helps California thrive. Learn more at ucanr.edu

Posted on Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 8:48 AM

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