Sorkin said she asked Modern Farmer's online audience to nominate standout agents in their regions. The seven profiles, she wrote, "salute the people who just might be the most important, least celebrated civil servants in the United States."
In the article, Cooper shared a defining early career experience in which she found a destructive Mediterranean caterpillar in a local vineyard that had never been seen in the U.S. Detection of European grapevine moth triggered a team of state, federal and UC scientists to develop an action plan to limit the pest's distribution in California.
“I had to learn, quickly, to balance the scientific research with the needs of local growers and the massive media attention.” Cooper said.
Cooper works with farmers who are producing California's storied Napa Valley wines. In all, her region comprises 600 grape growers and 48,000 acres of vineyards, the article said. The reporter talked to the director of operations at Huneeus Vineyards, Mayacamas Olds.
“Monica helps me work through all sorts of stuff, like controlling leaf-roll infections,” Olds says. “She always brings the right people to the table," the vineyard director of operations said.
Cooper was the only California advisor profiled in Modern Farmer. The other extension professionals hailed as 'unsung heros' were from Vermont, Arkansas, North Carolina, Colorado, Texas and Maine.
Pierce's disease is caused by Xylella fastidiosa bacteria, which can be spread by a variety of sharpshooter insects. The outbreak in Napa and Sonoma counties is associated with blue-green sharpshooters.
There's been a “huge increase in traditional (Pierce's disease) hotspots and in sites not normally affected,” said Rhonda Smith, UC ANR Cooperative Extension viticulture advisor in Sonoma County. Smith said the worst problems seem to be in areas with the warmest winters. The Russian River Valley and Dry Creek areas have been the hardest hit.
In Napa County, a similar patchwork of vineyards were impacted by Pierce's disease last year, said Monica Cooper, the UC ANR CE viticulture advisor in Napa County. She said there has been a "marked increase" in areas where the disease is normally seen. In areas along riverbanks where habitat restoration has taken place, the problem is diminished. In the past, non-native plants along riverbanks have acted as reservoirs for X. fastidiosa, keeping the bacteria in the area even after infected vines have been destroyed.
UC ANR CE advisor at the Central Coast, Larry Bettiga, said the area hasn't seen a corresponding increase in Pierce's disease.
"The more lush river system in Napa and Sonoma counties has plenty of areas to serve as reservoirs for both the bacteria that causes Pierce's and its vectors," Bettiga said. “We don't have blue-green sharpshooters in Monterey County.
For more information on Pierce's disease, see the UC Integrated Pest Management page on the topic.
The lengthy article was written in honor of UC Cooperative Extension's 100th anniversary. The organization was formed on May 8, 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Smith-Lever Act into law.
For the story, Franson interviewed Barbara Allen-Diaz, vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, and several UCCE advisors who work in Northern California viticulture. Allen-Diaz noted agriculture's wide scope in the Golden State.
“We farm 400 commodities in California with a value of $45 billion,” Allen-Diaz said. UC Ag and Natural Resources focuses on healthy food systems, healthy environments, healthy communities and healthy Californians.
Rhonda Smith, a UCCE advisor in Sonoma County, said she has seen many changes since she started in 1986.
"In early days, most growers were small, independent farmers," Now most of the people Smith works with are employees of large corporations, many multinational.
In the early days, farm advisors dealt with multiple crops, and the viticultural work and research was primarily focused on improving the culture of vines. Things soon changed. “Increasingly, the trials were associated with grapevine pests, especially exotic pests,” Smith said.
Monica Cooper, UCCE viticulture advisor since April 2009, walked into a big problem when she took her job: the European grapevine moth. She also conducts research with mealybugs and leafroll virus and believes red botch virus and water issues to be important concerns for winegrape growers in the near future.
Glenn McGourty, UCCE advisor in Mendocino County, agrees.
“I’ve been telling growers that they need to learn to farm without irrigation,” McGourty said.
“We recognize that the current population of farmers is aging, and that we need to get our younger farmers prepared and ranching,” said Stephanie Larson, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Sonoma County and director of the new training program. “We’re really hoping to not only get more farmers and ranchers trained, but to increase food access and food production in Sonoma County, and also to teach more people about where their food comes from.”
Students in the program will split their time between classwork with ag teachers, field work with local farmers and business plan development with small business experts. The program will expand to include the broader farming community, connecting students with restaurants and grocers that buy local produce and the slew of farmers’ markets around the county.
“Programs like this strengthen the parts we already have and bring farmers together,” Larson said. “We used to work mainly in silos, but we’ve been breaking those silos down, and finding it works much better together than separately.”
Another blessing for Napa
Paul Franson, Napa Valley Register
On top of wine, food, arts and culture that some large cities might envy, Napa Valley has an invaluable, little-recognized asset: an uncommonly cooperative and educated wine industry.
Responding to Napa County's higher-than-average interest in healthy foods, sustainable principles and wellness lifestyle, the board of supervisors last year created a Local Food Advisory Council. Now the council is looking for citizen input to pursue new initiatives, according to a blog on the Napa County Register website.
Monica Cooper, director of the Napa County University of California Cooperative Extension, is an ex-officio member of the council. Cooper is the county’s viticulture farm advisor and a big champion of expanding local food production, according to a previous article in the newspaper.
“It’s important to have more crop diversity,” Cooper was quoted in the story, and she sees that in small plots, not wide swaths of the county.
Napa's Local Food Advisory Council has identified three priority areas and is seeking volunteers to serve on subcommittees for:
- Education and Outreach: Help design communications networks to encourage public involvement and information sharing, such as advocacy programs, printed materials, events, website, social media, etc.
- Local Food Production and Distribution: Help develop mutually beneficial food supply systems linking local farmers to community kitchens, markets and residents;
- Food Policy: Help influence and communicate county rules, regulations and fees for growing, selling and/or donating food products by both home and commercial producers.