Joyce spoke to a a dismayed winemaker, a worried vineyard manager and he gathered background for his four-minute story by interviewing Lynn Wunderlich, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor for El Dorado, Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne counties.
"There's a lot of concern out there amongst growers that I work with in the four counties in the Central Sierra," Wunderlich said. "Generally in the foothills we have a shorter depth in the soil from the surface to the bedrock, so that all impacts the available water that a grower has."
Because of the drought, Wunderlich said some growers are extending their wells or digging new wells to increase groundwater supply.
"I even had an email from a small grape grower who said he's collected rainwater this season," Wunderlich said. "So people are getting quite creative in their attempts to conserve water, knowing that we're going to have potentially a tough season."
Barbara Allen-Diaz, vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, noted in the story that 2013 was the first time in recent years that UC hired more Cooperative Extension faculty than had retired. In December, she approved hiring of another 29 advisors and 16 specialists for the 2015-16 cycle.
"So we turned the corner for the first time in this long downward spiral," she said. "My goal is to continue to rebuild the footprint of Cooperative Extension."
Lee also interviewed UCCE vice provost Chris Greer, who said he expects ANR to end 2015 with a net gain of academics.
"It's not huge leaps and bounds; it's a small gain, but we're hoping as we continue this process of filling these positions, that we'll start gaining some ground," he said.
Rather than automatically refilling vacant positions, Greer said much thought is put into revamping job descriptions or creating new positions to better fit the evolving needs of agricultural business. To help prioritize which positions should be hired first, UC sought public input, receiving more than 900 individual comments last year, including from agricultural organizations.
Jim Sullins, the UCCE director for Tulare County who is planning to retire in mid-2015, said more advisors are covering multiple counties and must travel longer distances to make farm visits, so they are turning to new communications strategies in their work, such as email, social media, and other web technology. But traditional farm calls are still a mainstay service.
Katherine Pope, the new UC Cooperative Extension orchard systems advisor in Yolo County, was also featured in the AgAlert story. She talked about the importance of having enough staff to enable advisors to call on farmers personally. Pope said going out to the farm gives her a fuller picture of what she's dealing with that she can't get over the phone or with photos via email. Sometimes she may notice other issues unrelated to the original problem, or the visit may prompt other questions from the farmer.
"My job is to spread information and knowledge, and doing that in person is absolutely the best way to do that," she said.
The story said scientists compared exquisitely detailed tree data collected in the 1920s and 1930s with tree surveys made between 2001 and 2010. They identified significant and rapid changes in basic forest structure. As large tree density fell across the state, and the density of small trees increased.
"The thing that I think is particularly worrisome is how widespread this is," said Maggi Kelley, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. "These changes will have an impact on how animals use the forest, how fire moves through the forest and the way we view the forest."
"Our grandkids will definitely see a difference," she said.
LA Times reporter Taylor Goldenstein spoke to study co-author Mark Schwartz, a professor of environmental science and policy at UC Davis and director of the John Muir Institute of the Environment. Schwartz said a denser forest allows fire to travel faster, causing more devastation. After a fire, new, smaller trees grow that are more likely to catch fire, and the cycle continues.
“These are historically fire-maintained ecosystems,” Schwartz said. “The firemen are faced with this notion of when a fire is reported and started, do they go out and bring out helicopters, trucks and people and put the fire out or do they let it burn?”
Just how much the change in forest structure is due to fire suppression and how much results from climate change is hard to tell because the two are interrelated, Schwartz said.
National Geographic magazine invoked Peter, Paul and Mary's mournful ballad in its headline, "Where have all the big trees gone? They've gone to logging and housing - but especially to climate change."
Reporter Warren Cornwall wrote that no area was immune to the forests' decline, from the foggy northern coast to the Sierra Nevada mountains to the San Gabriels above Los Angeles.
The loss of big trees was greatest in areas where trees had suffered the greatest water deficit. Large trees in general appear to be more vulnerable to a water shortfall. Though the 2011-14 drought might have an impact on forest change, it was not reflected in this study because the data was collected before the drought began.
FARM SMART is offered in January and February each year. Attendees learn about irrigation and soils, pick vegetables to take home and enjoy a lunch of local produce.
The tour was eye-opening for visitors Joe and Nadyne Greschner, farmers from Goodsoil, Saskatchewan.
"What surprised me is that there is no rain here," Joe said.
The 2015 FARM SMART program continues through Feb. 26.
UC Cooperative Extension advisors Gurreet Brar in Fresno County and David Doll in Merced County were among the sources. The reporter also spoke to Richard Howitt, an agricultural economist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis.
Much of the article focused upon the industry's growth in recent years, especially in the face of the California drought. Farmers in the Central Valley once grew mostly wheat and cattle. But over time, they have gravitated toward more-lucrative crops.
"It's a normal, natural process driven by market demand," Howitt says. "We grow the stuff that people buy more of when they have more money."
But the shift impacts water use flexibility, the article said.
While farmers can forgo annual crops like tomatoes and melons during droughts, failing to irrigate trees means losing the entire orchard. That leaves many nut and fruit farmers with only one option: groundwater.
Brar told the reporter that the amount of water it takes to produce a pound of almonds has fallen by a third since 1990. But increases in the number of irrigated orchards has off-set those gains.
Doll, author of The Almond Doctor blog, said he believes the "nut boom" is still going strong.
No other region has California's combination of land, climate, infrastructure and research support. "India and China have tried, and failed," Doll said.