Can a pay raise fix agriculture industry's labor crisis? Yes and no
Lisa M. Krieger, San Jose Mercury News, July 30, 2017
“As migration drops, it becomes more important to keep the best workers around, so farmers are willing to do that,” said Jeffrey M. Perloff, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California at Berkeley. Meanwhile, companies that pay premium wages just pull workers from elsewhere, said UC Davis agricultural economist Philip Martin. “They tend to cream off the best workers….It's like when everybody wanted to work for IBM.” Higher wages and rising labor costs are prompting farmers to pursue four strategies, which Martin calls “stretch, substitute, supplement and satisfy.”
New orchard systems advisor returns home
David Eddy, Growing Produce, July 29, 2017
Luke Milliron, the new orchard systems advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Butte, Glenn and Tehama counties, knows the lay of the land. He grew up in nearly Chico and completed his bachelor's degree at Chico State. Milliron also earned a master's degree at UC Davis in the midst of the drought, a good time to study the measurement of almond tree water stress during dormancy.
Tehama County UC Cooperative Extension gets new director
Julie Zeeb, Red Bluff Daily News, July 26, 2017
Josh Davy may be new to the Tehama County UC Cooperative Extension Director position, assuming it July 1 following the retirement of Rick Buchner, but he is not new to Tehama County. Davy joined UCCE as a research tech in 2004. He returned to school while working and graduated with a master's degree in animal biology from UC Davis. Davy was named a UCCE advisor in 2009.
Holy Guacamole: How the Hass Avocado Conquered the World
Brian Handwerk, Smithsonian, July 28, 2017
Looking for a sign of the apocalypse? Consider this: Our global obsession with guacamole and avocado toast has helped spawn record avocado prices, financial woes for millennials and even an uptick in avocado-related crime. Recently, three men were busted for selling off more than $300,000 worth of Hass avocados. They'd stolen the produce from the California agriculture firm that employed them, then passed them off at discount prices that seemed—and were—too good to be true. “Avocados are very subject to theft,” says Mary Lu Arpaia, a horticulturist and expert avocado breeder at the University of California at Riverside. “If you're not very honest, it's sometimes easy picking.” Call it Grand Theft Avo.
Wildfire Season Is Scorching the West
Andrea Thompson, Climate Central, July 28, 2017
Now bouts of hot, dry weather are coming earlier and earlier, setting the stage for prime fire conditions. Southern California already has a nearly year-round fire season, Scott Stephens, a professor of fire science at the University of California, Berkeley, said. With those hot periods likely coming earlier and earlier in spring and summer as global temperatures continue to rise, “you're going to have a longer period where fire can ignite and move,” Stephens said.
Calif. continues citrus pest program with widespread support
Tim Hearden, Capital Press, July 28, 2017
For its part, the UC has hired and trained four “scouts” to carefully roam citrus orchards looking for signs of the psyllid. The scouts examine newly emerging leaves and tap branches to bat pests onto a clipboard. The scouting project aims to avoid a repeat of what happened in Florida, where the pest was left unchecked when it first invaded citrus growing regions and swept through the state, UC entomology specialist Beth Grafton-Cardwell said.
Master Gardener: Darker areas on citrus leaves could signal iron deficiency
Ottillia “Toots” Bier, Press Enterprise, July 25, 2017
Q. The newest leaves of my citrus trees have dark green areas around the veins but the rest of the leaf is light green. What is wrong?
A. The leaf condition you describe is called interveinal chlorosis and is most commonly caused by a deficiency of iron in the plant. Ottillia “Toots” Bier has been a UC Cooperative Extension master gardener since 1980.
California winemakers no longer fight drought – now it's mildew
Lynn Alley, Wine Spectator, July 24, 2017
After years of drought, California vintners are enjoying wetter conditions this year. But that means vineyards are being plagued with a new problem: mildew. "If you don't find mildew in your vineyards, you haven't looked hard enough," said Glenn McGourty, a UCCE viticulture for Mendocino County. Mark Battany, UCCE viticulture advisor for San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties, says that cooler coastal areas in those counties have been ripe for powdery mildew this year. "We've also seen some limited downy mildew, a European import, in a few locations this season," he said. "Quite rare for California."
Worsening labor shortage poses financial challenge to East Contra Costa County farmers — and consumers
Rowena Coetsee, East Bay Times, July 24, 2017
Growers were facing smaller profit margins following the elimination of tariffs on produce imported from Mexico, but the real trouble began when the federal government began cracking down on illegal immigration in the 1990s. East Bay growers also are competing for workers with their counterparts in the Central Valley, where there's a shortage as well, said Janet Caprile, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Contra Costa County.
Aggressive, stinging colonies of wasps out early this year in Sacramento County
Bill Lindelof, Sacramento Bee, July 24, 2017
In on Sacramento County five-acre property, officials treated 90 yellow jacket nests. The reporter used UC ANR resources to round out the story, noting that yellow jackets usually sting at nesting sites and when someone tries to swat them away from a food source. Defensive behavior gets more aggressive as populations become larger at the same time food gets scarce late in the season.
California academic institutions join the AgTech revolution
Aaron Melgar, SiliconAngle.com, July 24, 2017
The food supply chain is so intertwined and complex that making a meaningful change to it requires coordination, according to UC ANR vice president Glenda Humiston. “It really does take a systems approach. A great example is that UC Davis, my division and other parts of the UC system are working on a central valley agriculture plus food and beverage consortium,” Humiston said. “It's looking at bringing around the table folks from R&D, trained workforce, adequate infrastructure, finance, supply chain and having them actually work together to design what's needed.” This article features 15-minute interview on The Cube with Humiston and Helene Dillard, dean of the UC Davis College of Agriculture and Environmental Science.
Smoke from wildfires worries winemakers
Jenice Tupolo, Daily Democrat, July 22, 2017
Exposure to wildfire smoke during veraison can drastically change a grape's flavor. “Smoke in the wine is difficult to blend out and it makes wine less marketable,” said UC Cooperative Extension viticulture specialist Kaan Kurtural. Luckily, the smoke flavor doesn't carry over to the next season, Kurtural added.
The Detwiler Fire is active at night, and a scientist says that's relatively new
Lewis Griswold, The Fresno Bee, July 22, 2017
A prolonged drought, tall grasses, steep terrain and erratic winds made the Detwiler Fire in Mariposa County difficult to get under control. In addition, the fire isn't “laying down” at night, which is critical for operations. “People keep saying the fire isn't going down at night,” said Scott Stephens, UC ANR researcher and fire science professor at UC Berkeley. “That's something we've been hearing from firefighters since 2008.”
Why California's wildfires have burned so much area so early this season
Sally Schilling, Capital Public Radio, July 21, 2017
California wildfires have burned more than three times the acreage compared to this time last year, which is attributed to thick grass that grew after this year's heavy rainfall. "I think that really hot June weather dried out the fuels much more quickly and made them available to burn," said Scott Stephens, UC ANR researcher and fire science professor at UC Berkeley. “Now we're into just the beginning of August, late July and we're seeing these types of fires."
One good thing about temperatures above 104 degrees
Debbie Arrington, Sacramento Bee, July 21, 2017
The summer heat wave appears to have squelched Sacramento's local population explosion of brown marmorated stink bugs. “This year, BMSB started off at historic lows (since 2013),” said UC Cooperative Extension advisor Chuck Ingels. “Then, the June heat wave hit and the population that was there plummeted. It seems to be proof that temperatures over 100 for extended periods reduces the population – probably especially eggs and nymphs.”
As California's labor shortage grows, farmers race to replace workers with robots
Geoffrey Mohan, Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2017
The $47-billion agriculture industry will have to remake its fields with more machines and better-educated workers, or risk losing entire crops, economists say. On crop mentioned in the story is raisins, which requires new varieties to accommodate mechanization. The Sunpreme, developed for “dried on the vine” production by a retired USDA plant scientist, may soon be widely available, said Matthew Fidelibus, UC Cooperative Extension specialist.
Avocado demand is up, but California growers have been pulling out trees. What gives?
Gabrielle Karol, KXTB ABC 10, July 20, 2017
With high prices for avocados and ever-growing demand for the fruit, who's getting rich off avocados? It's not California's growers, says San Luis Obispo farmer Jim Shanley, pointing to the high cost of labor in California compared to Mexico. UC Cooperative Extension specialist Mary Lu Arpaia and staff research associate Eric Focht are working on identifying new, hardier varieties that could weather more extreme temperatures in the Central Valley.
New UCCE farm advisor Luke Milliron explains focus as orchard systems advisor
Cecilia Parsons, Western Farm Press, July 19, 2017
Luke Milliron belongs to the newest ‘crop' of University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisors. Milliron was a UCCE horticulture intern through an internship program funded by the Almond Board of California and the California Dried Plum Board. The program trains the next generation of UCCE farm advisors, ensuring that vital research continues for California farm commodities.
Supervisors vote to end participation in Elk River program
Ruth Schneider, Times-Standard, July 18, 2017
The program was designed to support projects and activities that are beneficial to the watershed and was a coordinated effort from multiple agencies including Humboldt County Public Works, University of California Cooperative Extension, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, CalTrout and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Public Works and UC Cooperative Extension decided this year “irreconcilable differences” were straining the cooperation and opted to end participation in the program.
Students learn about hydrology, wildlife, forests, climate and ecology
Union-Democrat, July 14, 2017
California Big Trees State Park graduated 25 students in its summer 2017 California Natural Class. The class is held in partnership with UC ANR. The graduates are now part of a larger, growing community of California Naturalists, who continue to learn about and protect the unique and precious natural resources and public lands. Volunteerism is a key focus of all California Naturalists, and the new graduates will share the new knowledge of nature at Big Trees and throughout California.
UCCE economist Shermain Hardesty retires after more than 30 years
Penny Leff, Davis Enterprise, July 9, 2017
After serving farmers and ranchers as an economist for more than 30 years, including 13 years as a UC Cooperative Extension specialist, Shermain Hardesty retired on July 1.
Drone video: Take a flight over the Sacramento Valley sunflower fields that are exploding right now
Amy Graff, San Francisco Chronicle, July 7, 2017
The Sacramento Valley has nearly 50,000 acres of sunflowers and is the largest producer of hybrid seeds in the country, making up more than 90 percent of the U.S. crop, according to Rachel Long, a farm advisor with the UC Cooperative Extension based in Woodland. Most of the seeds in the valley are shipped to Russia, Eastern Europe, Canada and North and South Dakota, where they are used for sunflower oil production.
Your orange tree may be harboring a dangerous pest
Dale Kasler, Sacramento Bee, July 7, 2017
The discovery of an Asian citrus psyllid in Roseville is the third to be found in the Sacramento area since last fall. The bugs generally move north on agricultural trucks or are carried by unwitting consumers carrying plants or fruit. “It's incidental, it's accidental, but it's happening,” said Chuck Ingels, a UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor.
Quick – how does broccoli grow? The crop-challenged can find answers here
Debbie Arrington, Sacramento Bee, July 7, 2017
The California State Fair will again include a 3.5 acre farm during its July 14-20 run. In addition to edible crops, the farm features several home gardening displays including how to attract pollinators and alternatives to lawn. Over the course of the fair, more than 100 UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners will offer advice and answer questions.
The sweltering summer of 2017 has a silver lining. When the temperature rises above 104, brown marmorated stink bug population growth is significantly slowed, reported Debbie Arrington in the Sacramento Bee.
An invasive pest from Asia, brown marmorated stink bugs showed up in midtown Sacramento in 2013. Their spread to commercial crops has been a concern. The stink bugs feed on dozens of California crops, including apples, pears, cherries, peaches, melons, corn, tomatoes, berries and grapes, said Chuck Ingels, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Sacramento County. Feeding on fruit creates pock marks and distortions that make the fruit unmarketable. In grapes, berries collapse and rot increases.
In 2014 and 2015, the bugs' numbers continued to rise. In early 2016, Ingels feared a population explosion, but a heat wave in July, with seven days at 100 degrees or higher, plus two days at 104, wiped them out.
“This year, BMSB started off at historic lows (since 2013),” Ingels said. “Then, the June heat wave hit and the population that was there plummeted. Most of our trap counts for the last few weeks have been at or near zero, whereas there's usually a peak in June. So, it seems to be proof that temperatures over 100 for extended periods reduces the population – probably especially eggs and nymphs."
Ingels and UC Davis entomologists are studying the connection between high heat and stink bugs in the lab, where the pest is exposed to extreme temperatures. One hour at 113 degrees killed all the bugs, but mortality was also high over 104 degrees.
A new study out of UC Riverside projects an increase in rain and snow in California due to climate change, reported Matt Smith on Seeker.com. Anthropogenic impacts on climate are expected to produce a chronic El Niño-like weather pattern off the Pacific coast of the U.S., leading to about 12 percent more rain and snow by 2100.
The study used a newer computer model and relied on other models that have a better record of simulating precipitation and the effects of an El Niño on the state. El Niño, the cyclical warming of the Pacific Ocean near Earth's equator, typically produces warmer temperatures across much of the United States and more rainfall over California.
Meanwhile, an article by Joshua Emerson Smith in the San Diego Union-Tribune presented less-welcome climate change news. It concluded that wildfires are expected to get longer and more intense in California due to climate change.
“We will need some very new approaches to deal with both the increasing hazard of fire and our increasing exposure to it,” said Max Moritz, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in fire ecology and management at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources. “The situation we have created is dangerous, and without a major shift in perspective it will only get worse.”
There are ways to limit the ignition of the wildfires. The article said about 95 percent of all wildfires are caused by people, so it's important to be aware of fire-safe practices pertaining to home maintenance, campfires, target shooting, vehicle use and other outdoor activities.
Here are a few examples of fire-safe best practices:
- Mow lawns in the morning before it gets too hot. Never mow when it is windy or extremely dry. Avoid rocks when mowing; metal blades can cause sparks when they hit rocks.
- Don't drive a vehicle on dry grass or brush. Don't allow vehicle brakes to wear thin, as thin brakes can cause sparks. Carry a fire extinguisher in the car.
- Maintain 100 feet of defensible space around homes in fire-prone areas. UC ANR experts recommend a five-foot zone immediately adjacent to the home be completely devoid of plants and anything combustible.
One of Los Angeles' quintessential icons - palm trees - are being threatened by an invasive pest from overseas - the South American palm weevil. KQED Science produced a clever overview on the life and times of this devastating pest, punctuating it with a surprise ending that features UC Cooperative Extension specialist Mark Hoddle.
The story outlines the pest's life cycle, which starts when a female lays its eggs in the crown of a palm. They hatch and larvae eat the plant from the inside out, eventually killing the palm. The larvae pupate, complete metamorphosis, then fly off to find another palm to attack.
Hoddle conducted an experiment to determine how far the weevils can fly. He glued the pest on a sort of insect treadmill and let it fly in circles. He found that they can travel up to 15 miles a day, enough to easily hopscotch from palm to palm on their own and spread widely.
The biocontrol scientist demonstrates one way to get rid of South American palm weevils. If you're not squeamish you can view the video on the KQED website.
Wildfires used to be rare in the Great Plains, but that is no longer the case. A new study shows the average number of large fires grew from about 33 per year in 1985 to 117 per year in 2014, reported Chris Mooney in the Washington Post.
The study's lead author, Victoria Donovan of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, said the increasing number of wildfires is consistent with climate change and an incursion of more invasive plant species that could be providing fuel.
UC Cooperative Extension specialist Max Moritz said the study's results align with his observations. However, he added that he suspects that they reflect not so much human-caused climate change, but rather, changing human behavior. Humans have been found to be overwhelmingly responsible for lighting U.S. wildfires over the past 20 years, according to research he cited. But these facts should not downplay the importance of dealing with anthropogenic climate change.
"It does highlight the importance of human ignitions and where/how we build our communities on the landscape," Moritz said. "Wildfire is not going away anytime soon. We must learn, as a society, to coexist with wildfire."