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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Q&A: UC ANR's Doug Parker talks drought

Recently, the UC Food Observer caught up with one of California's foremost experts on water: Doug Parker of the University of California. Parker is the director of the University of California's Institute for Water Resources. The mission of the institute is to integrate California's research, extension and education programs to develop research-based solutions to water resource challenges. The institute has recently launched a blog, The Confluence.

Doug Parker
As director, Parker works with federal, state and local agencies to guide academic expertise toward finding solutions to California's water challenges. He brings together local, state and federal stakeholders to identify issues and sources of political and financial support for water-related research. Dr. Parker is vitally concerned about improving the understanding of the complexities surrounding California and water, and to that end, he also serves as a key spokesperson on the state's water issues. 

Prior to joining UC, Parker worked on water quality issues related to the Chesapeake Bay as an associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Maryland. An economist by training, he earned his Ph.D. in agricultural and resource economics at UC Berkeley, and was on faculty there as an extension specialist. He holds bachelor's degrees in economics and environmental studies from UC Santa Barbara.

 

Q: Governor Brown recently issued an executive order that will restrict urban water usage by 25 percent. How do you see this being enforced across the state? What might enforcement mechanisms look like?

A: The State Water Resources Control Board will set restrictions for each of the over 400 water districts that serve residential consumers in the next month. The 25 percent reduction is meant to be a statewide average for urban users, and the actual reductions will be based on per capita water consumption in 2013. So, areas that are already conserving water will not be asked to reduce as much as the largest water users, who will have to make bigger reductions.

To meet the reductions, individual water districts will each have to draft a plan of how they will bring consumers in their district into compliance. This may include restrictions on outdoor water use and pricing structures that greatly increase costs to large water users and monetary fines. In essence, the reductions are not solely aimed at individual users, but will be made by a combination of reductions by homeowners and industrial and commercial users.

In terms of enforcement, the State Board can fine water districts that are out of compliance up to $10,000 per day. Before fines are enforced, the board will engage the water district to try to help figure out how they can meet the goals.

 

Q: How much is this going to hurt the average person? What kinds of changes will individuals have to make?

A: The average person will most likely need to reduce outdoor water use, such as landscape watering, and increase conservation measures indoors as well. The easiest way to meet the water reductions is to reduce or eliminate outdoor watering. The governor's order calls for a voluntary, incentive-based program to remove 50 million square feet of turf. Many homeowners may want to consider replacing turf with drought tolerant landscaping. There will also be programs for water efficient appliances like dishwashers and clothes washing machines, and low-flow shower heads. In general, I don't see major changes for the average person, particularly if they've already been conserving and cut outdoor watering, but they will need to take action and be more mindful of their water use.

 

Q: Increasingly, the narrative of California's water problem has taken on a divisive tone that pits agriculture versus urban users, Northern California against Southern California, etc. Is there any perspective you could offer that might make people realize water issues are shared issues?

A: I find it rather disturbing that some people see this as an urban vs. agriculture issue. The California Constitution states that water belongs to the people of the state. It is our water to use for the benefit of all Californians. I myself am happy to be able to cut back on my water use so that it can be used to grow food. What greater use of water do we have? It is inconvenient and perhaps aesthetically unpleasing to have a brown lawn, but compared to food production and food insecurity, the impact on my own life seems pretty minor.

In addition to growing food, the agricultural sector supports jobs in many of our most needy communities. The agricultural water restrictions in 2014 were estimated to have cost the agricultural sector over 17,000 jobs and a loss of over $2 billion. We expect those numbers to increase in 2015.

In the urban sector the drought has had very little impact on jobs or income. In the landscaping industry it remains unclear what impact the drought is having or will have. Reductions in turf irrigation may reduce the need for mowing and other uses of labor. But an increase in turf removal and replacement with drought-tolerant landscaping will lead to an increase in landscaping expenditures and labor.

The thing that I try to keep in mind is that it's all of our water, and we're all in it together.

 

Q: What happens to California agriculture in the next few years? What might the industry look like 20 years from now? What kind of cropping patterns might we see?

A: I think agriculture will reassess their perception of how secure their water supply is. For those that are seeing large cuts in water allocations, future planting decisions may be more conservative. We may see a decrease in permanent crops to increase flexibility in response to water shortages, though this may be balanced by the fact that things like almonds continue to yield a high value and if you are already reducing crops, keeping the most valuable ones is a rational decision. We will continue to see increases in efficiency, whether through irrigation technology or management of irrigation. We will also see increased investment in surface and groundwater storage to increase resiliency.

 

Q: Historically, is this drought a bump in the road or a harbinger of things to come?

A: All droughts are a bumps in the road and all droughts eventually end. But, I think we are more used to the speed bump type of drought that slows us to 25 mph. This one is a bit more severe and we probably need to take it down to 5 mph and do some serious long-term planning. Climate models predict that we will see an increase in the frequency and severity of drought. We need to start preparing for this drought to last a few more years and for future droughts as well.

 

Q: What resources would you recommend people seek out for information on a practical level? What about resources for those who might want to dig deeper?

A: The University of California has many resources to help homeowners, businesses, landscapers and farmers adapt to the drought. Many of those resources can be found on our webpages.

 

Q: What policies do we need in California to make sure we are able to more effectively respond to these types of crises in the future? What kind of infrastructure would help us more effectively meet our water needs?

A: I think this drought has brought to light the critical importance of groundwater as a resource to lessen the impacts of drought. California passed historic groundwater legislation in 2014 that will ensure this resource is available to us in future droughts. We need to work now to implement this law as quickly as possible. The law's timeline is very generous but I believe that communities that work to accelerate the timeline will greatly benefit from such efforts.

Rose Hayden-Smith is a UC ANR advisor who writes as the UC Food Observer. The UC Food Observer is your daily serving of must-read news from the world of food, curated by the University of California. Visit our blog, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

This article first appeared on the UC Food Observer.

Posted on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at 8:35 AM

Bats in the belfry? No, bats in walnut orchards

A pallid bat catching dinner mid air. (Photo: Bat Conservation International)
Bats are voracious predators of night-flying insects that target California crops. Research statistics show that a pregnant or nursing female can consume as much as two-thirds of her body weight in insects per night. That's somewhat like a 150-pound man eating 100 pounds of food per day.

What's the economic value of bats to the agricultural pest control? It probably exceeds $23 billion per year, according to recent studies. However, very little data exists on the benefits of bats for individual crops, such as walnuts.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers, together with UC Davis, are launching a survey to better understand the value of bats (and birds) on managed lands. The voluntary survey, focused on growers and landowners in California's Central Valley, may be completed online.

Work is already underway to assess the pest-control impact of bats on walnut production in the Central Valley with a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency STAR (Science to Achieve Results).

California produces almost all of the nation's walnuts. Farmers grow some 500,000 tons of walnuts on 290,000 acres, with the annual crop valued at $1.8 billion. Due to popular demand, new orchards are planted every year, calling for more intensive farming practices to manage costly crop pests. For walnuts, the key pest is the codling moth, a larva that feeds on developing nuts. The adult moths begin to fly and lay eggs on the nutlets in May and produce up to four generations per year.

Rachael Long with a bat detector under the Davis causeway. (Photo: California Farm Bureau)
Growers, as part of their pest control management practices, typically use insecticides, spraying once or twice a year for this pest. Many also use pheromones, a mating-disruption technology that prevents males from finding females. Although generally effective, pesticides are expensive and they can have harmful impacts on the environment.

Bats forage in walnut orchards for codling moths and other insects. Colonies of bats double their activity on farms when they roost in bat houses attached to barns in the orchards. The Mexican free-tailed bat is the most abundant species, followed by the Yuma and California myotis, and five other species, including the pallid bat.

In an effort to quantify the economic impact of bats' consumption of codling moths, we captured 36 Mexican free-tailed bats over a three-night period in an 80-acre walnut orchard in Yolo County. Some 3,000 bats live in the bat houses in an abandoned shop on the property.

The research procedure: We opened our mist net from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. to correspond with codling moth flights and bat activity, and captured the bats as they returned to the roost after feeding. We placed the bats individually in sterile cloth sacks and kept them there until they defecated, then we released them. We quickly froze the guano pellets and shipped them to a USDA lab, where scientists genetically tested them for the presence of codling moths.

Our preliminary data suggest that 5 percent of these bats – about 150 bats from this colony of 3,000 – consumed at least one codling moth per night. We calculated 30 nights per generation for the codling moth, and four generations per year, with each female moth laying 60 viable eggs on individual nuts.

Bats help protect California walnuts from coddling moth.
For a typical 80-acre walnut orchard producing a total of 136 tons of walnuts per year, we estimate that bats can protect about 6 percent of the crop yield, or $29,700 worth of walnuts per season at the current price of $1.65 per pound. That's an economic value of $10 per bat per year. And that figure probably underestimates the true value, since for some species of bats, up to 40 percent of their diet can consist of moths – an average of about 15 moths per night.

The next steps: we are refining our economic data and determining whether these insect-hunting bats help reduce pesticide use in walnut orchards.

Bats provide these pest control services for free while farmers enjoy a decrease of pests in their orchards and an increase in profits.

Co-authors: Rachael Long, UC ANR advisor; and Katherine Ingram, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, UC Davis.

Posted on Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at 8:22 AM

Becoming a fire-adapted community

A fire-adapted community is a community that can survive a wildfire with little or no assistance from firefighters.
Between January 1 and March 15 of this year, 374 wildfires have burned 3,240 acres in California. According to CALFire, the five-year average for the same time period is 359 wildfires burning 1,124 acres. All of this during California's supposed wet winter months. As the East Coast bundles up and digs out from yet another storm, we in California have been shedding layers and applying sunscreen. Though we appreciate lower than normal seasonal disorder blues, we are facing a tough year ahead in terms of potential fire activity. The forest and shrub ecosystems are dry and with little relief in sight, many who live and recreate in the in these areas and their surrounding communities, are crossing their fingers that wildfire will not disrupt their lives this year.

The magnitude of wildfires especially affects those communities that are part of the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Many communities, whose back doors open out into conifer forests, shrub fields or grasslands, have been working towards becoming more resilient and proactive about wildfire. One way is to become a Fire-Adapted Community. A Fire-Adapted Community is a community that can survive a wildfire with little or no assistance from firefighters. The community acknowledges and takes responsibility for this by preparing for a fire at multiple levels including the use of appropriate building construction materials, and proper vegetation management. Members of the community are concerned with safety: safety of the individual, homes and businesses, community infrastructure, open spaces, riparian areas, any and all community assets. They address issues, plan, prepare and work with their local government agencies, fire services and citizenry to reduce their risk if a wildfire comes their way.

There are four elements to a Fire-Adapted Community:

  1. Community collaboration - Strong fire-adapted communities have a role for everyone. This means that all members of the community (government, schools, businesses, homeowners, renters, fire services, emergency responders, etc.) work together to raise awareness of fire risks and increase knowledge of fire ecology and mitigation actions. This is done through various outreach activities, partnerships and incentives. It also includes completing a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) that will assess your community's risk and identify actions to take to lower those risks. It could also involve participating in the Ready Set Go! program which is a collaboration between residents and local fire departments to help people prepare (Ready), understand the threats (Set) and evacuate early (Go) in a fire event.

  2. Surrounding environment – Fire adapted communities look beyond their fences to see what risks exist and what actions can be taken in the surrounding landscape to reduce those risks. These actions can include fuels reduction projects, improving community ingress and egress and/or the protection and enhancement of riparian and wildlife habitat.

  3. Planning and regulatory considerations - Fire adapted communities work with their local and state government agencies to ensure that policies, standards and regulations support actions that reduce the risks of wildfire in the community. This may include building codes and standards that encourage the use of non-combustible materials in home construction; the creation of community protection zones that would create a safe environment in the case of resident evacuation; maintaining large turnaround areas for large pieces of equipment; and having a reliable and easily accessible water system.

  4. Neighborhood, landscapes and buildings - All members of a fire-adapted community work to ensure that their homes, businesses and community assets are prepared in the event of a wildfire. This means reducing flammable materials around homes and businesses; maintaining the immediate landscape and using appropriate, less combustible building and landscaping materials; creating fuel buffers around the community; ensuring that streets and homes are well signed; creating safety zones for residents and animals; having a communication plan – who to call and how to connect if a fire occurs; and designating evacuation routes.

All of these actions taken together, in a collaborative process, help build a strong fire adapted community that is better prepared to face and survive a wildfire.

       

In the Sierra Nevadas, Incline Village, Nev., is an example of a fire-adapted community. For the past 10 years, they have implemented fuels reduction projects based on their CWPP and involved homeowners and local businesses in planning and implementing mitigation actions. Recently, their goal was to engage a larger audience, build personal connections and recruit new volunteers. Their efforts led to a large gathering where participant input was an essential part of community building and the creation of next steps for the fire adapted community leadership. One participant said that it Gave me hope that a coordinated, cohesive strategy to prepare our community is seriously underway.”

“I really admire the many active citizens in communities throughout the Sierra Nevada working to reduce wildfire hazards in their neighborhoods," said Susie Kocher, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources forestry and natural resources advisor. "It really will take all of us working together to help our communities become adapted to wildfire.”

Becoming a fire adapted community also means joining a network of people and projects. The Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network is a repository of information and encourages the development and sharing of ideas that can help your community build capacity, raise awareness and take actions towards wildfire resiliency.

For more information on becoming a fire adapted community, or other items mentioned in this blog, please visit:

 Images courtesy of the National Fire Protection Association.

Posted on Friday, April 10, 2015 at 4:26 PM

New study focuses on food safety practices on small and medium-size farms

Food safety study looks at farms that raise livestock and grow fresh produce.
To improve food safety, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources studies every link in the food chain, from producers' farms to consumers' kitchens.

A new UC study is looking at small to medium-size farms, both organic and conventional production, to identify on-farm food safety practices that are specific to farms that raise livestock and grow fresh produce. These are farms that sell their products directly to consumers at farm stands and farmers markets or through community supported agriculture (CSA).

“Much of the produce food-safety research in recent years has focused on large commercial farms,” said project co-leader Michele Jay-Russell, microbiologist and program manager at the Western Center for Food Safety at UC Davis. “In this study, we hope to identify best practices that may be unique for smaller operations and to share this information with the farmers.”

The 12-month study is being conducted on commercial farms in Northern California, from the Shasta Cascade region down to the Central Valley, including the coast. Fecal-borne pathogens can be spread to fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables through animal intrusions, or indirectly through contaminated water or soil. The researchers are looking for the best practices that prevent pathogens from contaminating fresh market tomatoes and leafy greens such as lettuce and spinach.

“Raising livestock and growing fresh produce together for the local community presents certain opportunities and challenges from a food safety perspective,” said Alda Pires, UC ANR Cooperative Extension urban agriculture and food safety specialist in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis, who is leading the project with Jay-Russell, who is liaison to the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security.

“Our research aims to identify practical, scale-appropriate approaches that reduce risk from pathogens, while maintaining sustainable and economically viable family farms in Northern California,” said Jay-Russell, who has a small dairy goat herd in the Yuba Foothills.

Researchers will visit participating farms to collect samples of their produce, water, compost and livestock feces to test for bacteria. Farmers will be asked to complete a short survey about farm management practices. The testing is free and the farm identities are confidential.

“We anticipate publishing our results, without revealing farm names, next year and sharing the findings with the agricultural community through workshops and trainings,” said Pires, who grew up on a small family farm in Portugal.

A USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) multi-state grant is funding this study and a similar study in the northeast – New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware – looking at microbial food safety issues potentially unique to small and medium-scale farms. The results of that study have been published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology and Applied Environmental Microbiology.

For more information about this food safety study, contact Alda Pires, UC ANR Cooperative Extension urban agriculture and food safety specialist, at (530) 754-9855 or apires@ucdavis.edu.

Posted on Wednesday, April 8, 2015 at 8:49 AM

Bedbug eradication requires tenant cooperation

Bedbugs go back to their hiding places after eating a blood meal. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
To successfully eliminate bedbugs, pest management professionals say they need the cooperation of people living the pests, according to a survey conducted by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists.

California's pest management pros are divided over whether they believe that some of the state's bedbug populations are resistant to insecticides, but they agree that the bugs may survive treatments by finding safe harbor in excessive clutter and personal items that tenants didn't want treated or thrown away. In addition, some settings – such as hotels, motels, college dorms and homeless shelters – may be continually reinfested.

Bedbugs are among the most challenging and expensive pests to manage. Because they are so difficult to eradicate, the job is typically left in the hands of pest management professionals, who face an increasing number of bedbug infestations in California.

UC ANR scientists are working closely with pest management professionals in the state to find ways that will make bedbug eradication easier and more likely to succeed.

Bedbugs co-evolved with humans, and feed exclusively on blood. Their preferred habitat is inside warm rooms near where humans sleep and rest. Bedbugs are drawn to the carbon dioxide that humans exhale with every breath, and they seek out a blood meal by piercing the skin of a sleeping person. A few minutes later, they scurry back to hiding places.

According to an often-referenced annual report conducted nationwide by Orkin Pest Control, the San Francisco Bay Area is No. 14 on the list of 50 cities with the most calls for help controlling the pest. Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto, now at 27, jumped 14 spaces from 2013 to 2014. Los Angeles is fourth on the list, the highest of any area in California. A Terminix report said bedbug calls in Sacramento increased 54 percent from 2012 to 2013, more than any other city in the nation.

“Increases in bedbug infestations may be partly due to changes in the way we manage household pests,” said Andrew Sutherland, the urban integrated pest management advisor for UC ANR in the Bay Area. “In the 1930s and 40s, DDT was commonly used indoors. The pesticide is very persistent and effective and controlled all indoor pests, including bedbugs, sometimes for years.”

Bedbug bites cause swellings that become red and irritated when scratched. (Photo: Chet K. Fukushima)
In the 1980s and 90s, other broad-spectrum insecticides, such as chlorpyrifos and diazinon, were commonly sprayed, but they are no longer approved for indoor use. Today, safer methods, such as baits and traps, are used to control common pests (such as ants and cockroaches), and bedbugs are usually unaffected.

When Sutherland was hired three years ago, he realized there was little information available about obstacles to bedbug control in California.

“Most of the information about bedbugs is from research taking place in the Midwest and the Eastern Seaboard,” he said.

UC ANR awarded funds to Sutherland and Dong-Hwan Choe, a UC ANR urban pest specialist based at UC Riverside, to collect data from those who were on the frontline in the battle against bedbugs – pest management professionals and managers of multi-unit housing facilities. The researchers later received funds from the USDA's Western IPM Center to expand the study to 13 western states.

Early results of Sutherland and Choe's surveys showed that 75 percent of pest management professionals said bedbug infestations in 2014 had increased from the previous year. Forty percent said they believed they have encountered bedbugs that were resistant to insecticides, while 60 percent said they had not.

“There was no correlation between the amount of experience the professionals had and their perception about bedbug resistance in California,” Sutherland said.

The most common way for professionals to become aware of bedbug infestation has been visual inspections after complaints by tenants. Now, prevention is on the rise, an important component of integrated pest management.

“Our objective is to manage pests below unacceptable levels with minimal negative impacts on communities and the environment,” Sutherland said. “Prevention comes before all other management practices.”

The survey found that pitfall traps (interceptors) are used at least sometimes by 40 percent of pest management respondents to monitor for the pests. Active monitors, glue board monitors and harborage or shelter monitors are also employed.

The pest management professionals reported using a wide variety of treatments against bedbugs. Insecticides were most common, used by 91 percent of respondents most of the time. Desiccants, encasements and heat were used most of the time by about half of respondents.

Housing managers had similar responses to the survey questions. Bedbug control is challenging, they reported, when tenants don't report infestations, are not willing or able to prepare their living space for treatment, when tenants bring secondhand furniture into their units, and when they fail to take information about the pest seriously.

One housing manager respondent complained about an “almost total inability to prevent infestation, or to prove its source and (having to shoulder) almost total responsibility for all concomitant costs.”

For detailed information on bedbug life cycle, detection and treatment, see the UC IPM Pest Note on bedbugs.

An initiative to manage endemic and invasive pests and diseases is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Monday, April 6, 2015 at 11:24 AM

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