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

UC blogs

Hmong farmers getting help from UC Cooperative Extension to weather the drought

UCCE advisor Ruth Dahlquist-Willard (right) demonstrates how to evaluate soil moisture with a soil sampler. In the center is UCCE Hmong ag assistant Michael Yang. Ka Xiong
After the Central Valley Hmong Agriculture radio show last week, the phones at the UC Cooperative Extension office in Fresno County were buzzing non-stop with farmers anxious to apply for state grants to improve irrigation systems and energy efficiency. Michael Yang, UCCE Hmong agricultural assistant, has hosted the one-hour show each Tuesday afternoon on KBIF 900 AM for 19 years.

“Sometimes we don't see the farmers that often. They are busy on the farm,” Yang said. “But when they hear something (important) like this on the radio, they show up.”

UC Cooperative Extension office staff - including UCCE advisor Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, Yang, part time staffer Xia Chang, Fresno State student volunteer Sunny Yang, and research assistant Janet Robles from Fresno State's Center for Irrigation Technology – are working with small-scale and socially disadvantaged farmers one-on-one to line up the necessary paperwork and information to submit successful grant applications. (Read more about UC staffer Xia Chang, millennial Hmong farmer.)

“We helped eight farmers submit applications in the last two rounds, and seven received grants,” Yang said. “The money is significant.”

The grants allowed the farmers to make improvements in energy efficiency and water savings, Dahlquist-Willard said.

“This can make a huge difference for the profitability of a small farm,” she said.

The application requires energy bills from the previous growing season, a pump test and a plan for redesigning the irrigation system to result in reduced water use and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

“There are a lot of calculations to do,” Yang said. “It's very complicated, and no one is available to help underserved farmers.”

While assisting farmers with applications for other programs is not usually part of UCCE's extension efforts, the small farms program in Fresno County has identified this form of assistance as crucial to the success of small-scale and minority-operated farms.

Help with the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) grants is one in a series of outreach efforts for Hmong farmers spearheaded by Dahlquist-Willard since she was hired in 2014 to work with small-scale farmers in Fresno and Tulare counties. After just two weeks on the job, she was invited to an emergency meeting with the National Hmong American Farmers and USDA's Farm Service Agency to address the challenges faced by Hmong farmers as groundwater levels continued to drop during the drought.

“Wells were starting to dry up. Some Hmong farmers were reportedly calling suicide hotlines,” Dahlquist-Willard said. “We knew we had to take action.”

Dahlquist-Willard and her staff began researching programs that could offer the farmers financial assistance. They identified a free PG&E rate analysis, which could help the farmers choose the best electric rate for their irrigation practices to minimize charges. They searched for financing to deepen wells for farmers who had difficulty qualifying for existing USDA loans. And in 2015, they began helping farmers with applications for the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program.

The dire circumstances also prompted Dahlquist-Willard to commission a survey of Hmong farmers to see how they were impacted by the drought. Documenting their plight would be useful in seeking support. The survey was conducted in conjunction with outreach efforts with Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board and Jennifer Sowerwine, UCCE Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. The survey was funded funded with a grant from the USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach and with support from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources via Sowerwine.

Sixty-eight farmers were interviewed by phone or in-person. Twenty-two percent said their wells had dried up, and 51 percent reported a decreased water flow.

“For the ones with dry wells, it could be $20,000 to $50,000 to drill a new well,” Dahlquist-Willard said. “A lot of them cannot get access to loans.”

To deal with irrigation water limitations, some farmers told interviewers they reduced acreage or changed the time of day they irrigate. Some stopped farming all together.

“One farmer told us he was irrigating his crops with his domestic well,” Dahlquist-Willard said.

Energy efficiency programs turned out to be very important for this population of farmers. Eighty-seven percent said their utility bills increased during the drought. As a result, UCCE has been promoting PG&E programs for energy efficiency as well as the SWEEP program.

The survey also showed the power of radio in reaching the Hmong farming community. Eighty percent of the survey respondents said they were regular listeners to Michael Yang's Central Valley Hmong Agriculture radio show.


 Xia Chang: Millennial Hmong farmer

Xia Chang works with a Hmong farmer on making changes to energy billing.
Xia (pronounced “sigh”) Chang, 26, was hired in 2015 to use his Hmong language skills in collecting survey responses for UCCE. Chang was born in Thailand, and immigrated with his family to the U.S. four years later. His father cultivates Southeast Asian vegetables along with a second job at Red Lobster. Many of the nine children in the family help out on the farm.

Chang attended college, but his financial aid was depleted before he earned a degree. In addition to part time work with UCCE, Chang is now farming.

“Last year we expanded our farm from 4 acres to 14 acres, with a new three-year lease,” Chang said.

The family's many technical agricultural questions led to Chang's frequent visits to the Cooperative Extension office, and ultimately to his being hired to help conduct the Hmong farmer survey.

“I spend a lot of time speaking Hmong on this job,” Chang said. “I've had to learn a lot of new vocabulary.”

He said he's also learning a lot about new farming techniques that he wants to apply on the family farm. However, there are obstacles.

“My dad is not open to new ways because he is afraid it would not be as successful,” Chang said. “But, in everything you do, you learn.”

Chang is now looking into a career in plant sciences. He is working with Dahlquist-Willard and Kent Daane, UC Cooperative Extension biological control specialist based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, testing integrated pest management techniques in Southeast Asian vegetable crop production. In time, Chang plans to return to Fresno State to complete a degree in agriculture.

Posted on Monday, July 25, 2016 at 10:44 AM

Lessons from six California soil care farmers

Firebaugh farm manager Jesse Sanchez speaks at a soil care demonstration.
Despite the growing interest in soil health in many parts of the country, the notion hasn't captured the imagination of most farmers in California. The Golden State's lackluster attention to soil care is likely due to “phenomenal yield increases over the past several decades, the sheer diversity of cropping systems, and widespread perception that California's environment and crop production mix doesn't lend itself to soil health improvements,” said Jeff Mitchell, UC Cooperative Extension agronomy specialist.

A series of farm visits this summer in the Central Valley prove this rationale wrong, Mitchell said. The farm visits were sponsored by the UC Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation Center (CASI), USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service and the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts. The farm visits showcased the soil health goals and experiences of six farmers who are familiar with soil care principles across a wide range of local cropping contexts.

The series of visits demonstrated the use of no-till and minimum tillage farming, cover cropping, enhancing the diversity of above-ground species and underground soil biology, surface residue preservation, and compost applications.

John Teixeira is a diversified farmer in Firebaugh working to develop integrated crop and livestock systems that are not reliant on external inputs. Pursuing a diverse rotation that includes alfalfa, cover crops, and a variety of heirloom grain crops that are marketed as both raw seed and value-added pasta, Teixeira is working to enhance soil function and fertility so that all external impacts are eliminated.

Michael Crowell and his son Adam grow silage crops near their Turlock dairy and dryland small grain crops using no tillage along Highway 4 in the rolling hills south of Dixon. They use no-till as a means to reduce soil water evaporation and to increase the water holding capacity of their soil, thereby enabling them to produce economically viable crops on the region's typical 14 inches of winter rainfall.

Darrell Cordova and his son Trevor of Denair also use no-tillage for their summer silage corn and winter small grain forage mixes and as a means for stabilizing the soil, adding surface residues, increasing infiltration and reducing runoff under their center pivot-irrigated crops growing on undulating terrain. These practices also cut costs and eliminate considerable labor.

Tom Willey of Madera uses compost applications ahead of each of his organic vegetable crops to build the nutrient-provision and water-holding capacities of his soils. His sustained dedication to these amendment applications and his farming goal of attempting to mimic natural systems in terms of active, high-functioning soil biology enable him to produce a great diversity of very high quality vegetables.

Alan Sano and Jesse Sanchez in Firebaugh have combined the conservation ag/soil care practices of reduced disturbance and cover crops for more than 10 years in their processing tomato fields. They report lower costs, improved soil tilth, and the ability to reduce nitrogen fertilizer inputs by about half.

“These six soil care farmers share an uncommon dedication to the principles that are at the core of soil health and conservation agriculture systems,” Mitchell said. “Each of them reported tangible value that they are receiving from their attention to caring for the soil and working to improve soil function.”

Mitchell and the network of organizations that are part of CASI now seek a new wave of farmers who are interested in evaluating conservation agriculture, climate-smart practices at their farms.

For information on how to become involved with farm performance monitoring and the educational activities, see the CASI website at http://casi.ucanr.edu/

 

The rapidity of water infiltration into the soil is a measure of soil health.

 

Posted on Thursday, July 21, 2016 at 8:10 AM

How to make something sweet even sweeter

There's still time to enter your honey in the Good Foods competition. Beekeepers across the country are invited to do so. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey, they say, is the "soul of a field of flowers."

It's more than that if you're a beekeeper. It's your pride and joy.

Whether beekeeping is your livelihood, your leisure activity, or something you do to help the declining bee population, that byproduct of your bees--honey--can also be an opportunity for bragging rights.

Entries are now being accepted for the nationwide honey competition sponsored by Good Food Awards.

If you're one of the nation's beekeepers, there's still time to enter your honey, says contest coordinator Amina Harris, director of the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center.

The deadline to do so is Sunday, July 31. The four subcategories are Liquid and Naturally Crystallized, Creamed, Comb, and Infused Honey.  

The contest is divided into five regions--East, South, North, Central and West--with seven or more states assigned to one region, Harris says.

  • West: California, New Mexico, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Hawaii and Alaska.
  • North: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota and Minnesota
  • Central: Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky
  • East:  Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland and West Virginia
  • South: Virginia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas

"Finalists from each region are selected on a tasting day in September," Harris explains.  "They are vetted according to criteria on this page. Winners are selected during the fall months and announced at the end of the year. The awards will be presented in mid-January."

Harris says there are more than 300 unique types of honey in the United States. The Good Food Awards will showcase honeys most distinctive in clarity and depth of flavor, produced by beekeepers practicing good animal husbandry and social responsibility. The honey can come from hives located in numerous places, from rooftops to fields to backyards.

Last year's top awards went to:

To enter the competition, access this page: http://www.goodfoodawards.org/honey/

The Honey and Pollination Center is affiliated with the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science and the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. For more information, email Harris at aharris@ucdavis.edu

Posted on Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at 10:15 AM

A moth's night out: Celebrate moths at Bohart Museum

Moths are attracted to porch lights, like a moth to a flame. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If you're the kind of person who deliberately allows cobwebs or spider webs to grace your porch light, you may be the curious type - or have a little bit of entomologist in you.

Like a moth to a flame?

Yes, and you can learn more about moths at the Bohart Museum of Entomology's "Celebrate Moths!" open house on Saturday night, July 30 from 8 to 11.

The Bohart Museum is located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane at UC Davis.

The event is in keeping with "International Moth Week: Exploring Nighttime Nature,"  July 23-31, a citizen science project celebrating moths and biodiversity.

It promises to be  informative, educational and engaging, according to Bohart Museum director Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology and the recipient of the UC Davis Academic Senate's 2016 Distinguished Public Service Award.

Free, open to the public and family friendly, the three-hour open house will include:

  • outdoor collecting
  • viewing of the Bohart's vast collection of worldwide moth specimens
  • information on how to differentiate a moth from a butterfly
  • family arts-and-crafts activities
  • free hot chocolate

Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's public education and outreach coordinator, said that after the sun sets, a black light demonstration will take place just outside Academic Surge. You can observe and collect moths and other insects from a white sheet, much as you may do around your porch lights.

Moths are considered among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth. They continue to attract the attention of the entomological world and other curious persons. Scientists estimate that there may be more than 500,000 moth species in the world.

“Their colors and patterns are either dazzling or so cryptic that they define camouflage,” according to International Moth Week spokespersons. “Shapes and sizes span the gamut from as small as a pinhead to as large as an adult's hand.”

Most moths are nocturnal, but some fly during the day, as butterflies do.

Among the thousands of moth specimens at the Bohart is the Atlas moth, Attacus atlas. One of the world's largest moths, it's found in the tropical and subtropical forests of Southeast Asia, and commonly found across the Malay archipelago. And it's huge! A record specimen from Java measured 10.3 inches.  Atlas moths may have been named after the Titan of Greek mythology, or their map-like wing patterns. It apparently inspired the movie, Mothra.

Scientists participating in the Bohart Museum's Moth Night will include UC Davis entomology graduate student Jessica Gillung, who speaks fluent Spanish and Portuguese, in addition to English. A fourth-year graduate student, she is a member of the UC Davis Linnaean Games team that won the Entomological Society of America's national championship last year. The Linnaean Games are a college-bowl type game in which competing university teams answer trivia questions about insects and entomologists.

The Bohart Museum is a world-renowned insect museum that houses a global collection of nearly 8 million specimens. It also maintains a live “petting zoo,” featuring walking sticks, Madagascar hissing cockroaches and tarantulas. A gift shop, open year around, includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.

The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free. 

More information on the Bohart Museum is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or bmuseum@ucdavis.edu.

Posted on Tuesday, July 19, 2016 at 1:20 PM

Organic symposium proceedings now available

Summaries of presentations from the 2016 Organic Agriculture Research Symposium (OARS) held in Pacific Grove are now available online at http://eorganic.info/node/16778. Many of the workshops and keynote presentations were recorded live and may be viewed via the eOrganic YouTube channel.

Ten acres at Kearney are set aside for organic research.
The event, which was co-sponsored by the Organic Farming Research Foundation and UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, covered topics ranging from soil health, seeds, plant breeding, and biological control, to biodiversity, economics, and livestock — all with a focus on organic production.

“We are making these presentations available free online to extend the reach of all the valuable information shared at the symposium,” said Jeff Dahlberg, director of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center. “We're now planning the 2017 symposium and it will build on the cutting edge research shared by scientists this year.”

In the opening address, president of Organics International, André Leu, said organic agriculture offers the promise of a future to produce and distribute food and other farm products in a healthy, economically sound, truly sustainable and fair way. He called the current state of organic agriculture “Organic 3.0.”

“This is a concept we put out a year ago and it is resonating around the world,” Leu said. Organic 1.0 dates back to the 1920s and represents organic farming founders and visionaries, he said. Organic 2.0, beginning in the 1970s, represents the establishment of private standards, public regulations and global recognition. The current stage of organic farming is a time for market reinvention, widespread conversion and performance improvement.

Financial support for the 2016 OARS was provided by the USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture Organic Research and Extension Initiative and the Gaia Fund.

"The OARS conference was very successful in bringing national and international scholars and farmers together to present findings about the latest research and how it is advancing organic farming and ranching," said Diana Jerkins, OARF research director. "OFRF will continue to encourage and participate in events such as these to ensure current research, education, and extension efforts are widely disseminated."

Organic Farming Research Foundation is a non-profit foundation that works to foster the improvement and widespread adoption of organic farming systems. OFRF cultivates organic research, education, and federal policies that bring more farmers and acreage into organic production.

The UC Kearney Agricultural REC is one of nine UC Agriculture and Natural Resources research and extension centers across the state of California. Ten acres at the 330-acre center are certified organic and available for organic research.

Posted on Monday, July 18, 2016 at 10:31 AM

Next 5 stories | Last story

 
E-mail
 
Webmaster Email: jewarnert@ucanr.edu