How are you celebrating American agriculture in your life? In advance of National Ag Week, March 19-25, and National Ag Day, March 21, Central Valley third-grade students were “learning with lettuce” how to bring more agriculture into their lives last week. The UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center offers the free lettuce plantings every year at Farm and Nutrition Day in Fresno County and Kings County, typically around the time of National Ag Week.
Students with the help of volunteers learned how to plant tiny lettuce seedlings into a pot of healthy soil to take home for transplanting later. In addition to helping the students connect their food to agriculture, the lettuce planting offered an engaging, hands-on experience growing healthy and nutritious food at home.
National Ag Week is a nationwide effort coordinated by the Agriculture Council of America to tell the vital story of American agriculture and remind citizens that agriculture is a part of all of us. National Ag Day encourages every American to:
• Understand how food and fiber products are produced.
• Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products.
• Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy.
• Acknowledge and consider career opportunities in the agriculture, food and fiber industry.
Each American farmer feeds about 144 people. As the world population soars, there is even greater demand for the food, fiber and renewable resources produced in the United States. Agriculture is this nation's #1 export and incredibly important in sustaining a healthy economy. That's why National Ag Week is a great time to reflect on and be grateful for American agriculture.
Both agricultural and household pesticides can poison people if they are not properly handled. In agriculture, poisoning most often results from pesticide mixing and loading, and the most harm occurs due to spills, splashes and equipment failure. In the home, many pesticide poisoning incidents involve children swallowing pesticides, including garden products, disinfectant cleaners, or other chemicals used to control pests.
One of the most important things you can do to prevent pesticide poisoning is to follow the instructions on the pesticide label. Labels address critical information about how to use a pesticide safely, including the kind of personal protective equipment (PPE) you should wear to prevent overexposure, how much of the product to apply, the minimum time you must wait to enter the area after applying the pesticide (the restricted entry interval), and the minimum time that must pass between application and harvest (preharvest interval).
Labels also include important signal words such as “Danger,” “Warning,” or “Caution” that indicate how acutely toxic the chemical is to humans, as well as directions to avoid pesticide contamination of sensitive areas such as schools and hospitals. These instructions are meant to protect anyone who is at risk of being exposed to hazardous pesticide residues. It is essential to thoroughly read and understand the pesticide label before working with the pesticide, and to carefully comply with label instructions throughout the process. The UC IPM guide to Understanding Pesticide Labels for Making Proper Applications can help you do this, and is available in both English and Spanish.
If you apply pesticides in or around your home, be sure to store them properly and keep them out of the reach of children. Keep in mind that even mothballs may look like candy to very young children. It is illegal and unsafe to store pesticides in food or drink containers, which can easily fool people into consuming them and being poisoned. According to the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, these mistakes caused 62 incidents of child poisoning from pesticide ingestion in California in 2014, and 47 of those cases involved children under six years of age.
To learn more about poisoning and how to prevent it, consider visiting the following resources:
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention Leading Causes of Death Reports
- California Poison Control
- National Poison Prevention Week website
- National Pesticide Information Center
- UC IPM online course: Proper Pesticide Use to Avoid Illegal Residues
California tree nut growers will soon have to comply with new agriculture water testing requirements under the Produce Safety Rule in the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). University of California researchers and advisors are holding seminars to share information about the agricultural water requirements and proper water sampling methods in order to be in compliance with the regulations.
While irrigation or spray water is generally not the source of contamination, it is a vehicle for pathogens that are harmful to humans, especially on produce that is consumed raw; therefore, agricultural water was included as a part of the new regulation.
The UC Cooperative Extension office in Yolo County was the site of the first information sessions for nut tree growers/producers. It was an ideal location, as the fertile soils of the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys are home to the largest tree nut production industries in the U.S. Some nuts are also grown in the coastal valley regions and Sierra foothills.
Good news for nut consumers
The new regulations and the focus on food safety practices, particularly within the nut tree industry, is of great interest because of the popularity of nutritious and delicious tree nuts. I for one am a big consumer. My day starts with almond butter on toast. That's followed by snacks of raw walnuts and dates. And there's always the handful of roasted pistachios to be grabbed for a salty treat.
It is lucky for someone who is nuts about nuts to live in California. The state is the nation's No. 1 walnut, almond and pistachio producer. California produces 80 percent of the world's almonds. We produce one million tons of almonds each year, followed by walnuts at nearly half a million tons, and pistachios at over a quarter million tons.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture reports the state's leading agricultural export products by value in 2015 were almonds ($5.14 billion), dairy products ($1.63 billion), walnuts ($1.49 billion), wine ($1.48 billion), and pistachios ($848 million).
Melissa L. Partyka, an ecologist at the UC Davis Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, (WIFSS) and Ronald F. Bond, a water quality researcher and field coordinator with WIFSS, are engaging local growers on issues of food safety and helping to educate them on not only the regulations but on ways to improve their water quality.
Partyka and Bond are staff in the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Vet Med Extension and Atwill Water and Foodborne Zoonotic Disease Laboratory, headed by UC Cooperative Extension specialist Rob Atwill, director of WIFSS.
They are affiliated with the Western Center for Food Safety, a Food and Drug Administration Center of Excellence, and are helping break down the regulations for the growers, regulations which can be a little overwhelming to the untrained.
Agricultural water, according to FSMA, is that water used to irrigate, treat, harvest, wash commodity or equipment on farm.
Growers are required to test water if it:
- Comes in contact with the harvestable portion of the commodity
- Is used to clean harvest equipment
- Is used to mix pesticides/fungicides applied to commodity
- Is used by harvest crews to wash hands
As of January 2016 growers will have 2 to 4 years (depending on farm size) to comply with most aspects of the Produce Safety Rule. Basically, the larger the production, the higher potential for risk to the consumer. How often a grower samples water depends on the water source. Well water requires an initial four samples, followed by one sample per year. Surface water, requires an initial 20 samples, followed by five samples per year. Water samples should be collected as close to harvest as is practical. During a long harvest season, samples can be spread out; in short harvest seasons, samples should be collected closer together; and in multiple harvest seasons, samples should be taken near each harvest if water is coming from the same source.
A full day workshop to be hosted by UC Cooperative Extension is planned for late June. Look for announcement of date, time, and location on the following websites: www.wcfs.ucdavis.edu, http://ucanr.edu, www.wifss.ucdavis.edu.
The UC California Institute for Water Resources (CIWR) has announced the recipients of six grants to address the most critical water issues in the state. For this program, the Institute leverages funds it receives from the Water Resources Research Act of 1964 through the Department of Interior.
CIWR, which is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, facilitates collaborative research and outreach on water issues across California's academic institutions and with international, federal, state, regional, nonprofit, and campus communities.
Small grants to support initial work will be dispersed to the following projects (click the headline for more information):
Suitability of alfalfa for winter groundwater recharge
Helen Dahlke, professor in the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, UC Davis
One proposed solution for recharging overdrawn aquifers is flooding farmland during the rainy season. Optimizing agricultural groundwater banking for specific crops can be challenging. The goal of this project is to better understand how alfalfa, which is grown year-round, responds to winter flooding.
Fish habitat response to streamflow augmentation
Ted Grantham, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science Policy and Management, UC Berkeley
Declining water levels can degrade or eliminate fish habitat during California's summer season. Storing water off-channel during the rainy season can improve flow during the summer. The study is designed to gain a better understanding of the relationship between stream flow and habitat.
Remote sensing of turfgrass response to irrigation
Amir Haghverdi, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, UC Riverside
Turfgrass is common in urban landscapes and provides valuable recreation areas and ecosystem services. This project will help determine the best irrigation strategies for common turfgrass species.
Habitat restoration impacts on water management
Eric Palkovacs, professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UC Santa Cruz
The natural conditions of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have been changed by habitat alteration and non-native predacious fish introduction. This project will examine the interplay between altered habitat and predatory fish, and how they impact native salmon populations.
Evaluating water conservation policy in California
Leah Stokes, professor in the Department of Political Science, UC Santa Barbara
During the recent drought, California required that on-average urban water districts conserve 25 percent of their water. While some districts were successful, others failed to meet their target. This project will examine how variation in policy – pricing, messaging and penalties – and drought severity affected water conservation.
Groundwater dynamics after California drought
Amelia Vankeuren, professor in the Department of Geology, Sacramento State University
As part of California's groundwater management act, some basins were designated as high management priorities. This project will characterize groundwater using age, location and temperature. This information will be valuable for stakeholders creating a groundwater sustainability plan.
This winter, a generous amount of rain and snow has fallen on California, but it can't erase the brown swaths of dead and dying trees in the Sierra Nevada caused by five years of drought and decades of forest mismanagement.
Fire suppression and the harvest of the largest and most resilient trees in the forest led to a large population of weak trees. The prolonged drought further weakened the trees' defenses against native insects. Aerial detection surveys show that more than 102 million trees have died since 2010; more than 62 million died in 2016 alone. Public and private landowners are now struggling to recover from this natural disaster.
UC Cooperative Extension forester and natural resources advisor Susie Kocher recommends dead trees be removed and the landscape reevaluated.
“The dead trees will eventually fall,” Kocher said. “Removing trees around homes and other buildings is especially important for safety. Also, when they fall on the ground they become large fuels on the forest floor, leading to more intense fires.”
The cost of removing the trees can be substantial. The State of California is funneling disaster relief funds through California counties, utilities are felling trees that pose a threat to power lines, and local jurisdictions are removing trees that could fall on roads and other public infrastructure. However, most tree removal is the responsibility of private landowners.
When the dead trees are gone, before considering replanting, Kocher suggests Sierra residents carefully assess what has survived.
“There is often a lot of live vegetation remaining,” Kocher said. “Make a map and mark where you find living trees and shrubs and identify them by species and size. If you have a significant number of trees left, you may not need to replant.”
Kocher suggests nurturing the remaining young trees.
“You may want to thin trees out so that available sun and soil moisture are focused on the healthiest individuals. Some watering in the summer may help counter stress caused by increased solar radiation,” she said.
If removing the dead trees leaves the landscape too bare, replanting native conifers is a good strategy. Conifers include pine, cedar and fir trees, but in California's dense forests, firs and cedars – which do well in shady conditions – are beginning to dominate. Replanting may be a time to give native pines – such as Jeffrey, ponderosa and sugar pines – a chance to recover ground.
“The fact that many pines have died does not necessarily mean they are no longer adapted to your location, even with our warming climate,” Kocher said. “There may be a few locations that are less suitable for trees that have grown there in the past, but for most areas, local growing conditions should support native conifers in the near future.”
Native plants and shrubs that died during the drought or were damaged during tree removal will likely come back on their own without replanting. Shrubs and oaks can re-sprout and native herbaceous plants generally store seed in the soil that will grow under native rainfall conditions.
Replanting of trees also gives landowners the chance to shape the landscape for best effect. Kocher offers the following recommendations on replanting trees in natural landscapes:
- Space trees at least 10 feet apart.
- Trees and flammable vegetation should be kept at least 10 feet away from the home, planted sparsely within 30 feet of the home and spaced widely enough in the 30 to 100-food zone so the crowns of the trees will not touch when they are mature. Beyond 100 feet, trees can fill into a more natural looking forest.
- Plant trees at least 10 feet from power lines.
- Do not plant trees within the road right of way to prevent interference with snow clearance, maintenance and construction projects.
- Plant pines where there is a lot of sun. Do not plant sugar pine on the driest sites.
- Avoid planting where the mature trees will block desired views.