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UC ANR advisor featured on U.S.-Indian news outlet

Surendra Dara in a Central Coast strawberry field.
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) advisor Surendra Dara was featured on a half-hour program broadcast by NRI Samay, a California-based public radio service focused on Indian-American news. Dara, an Indian native himself, shared with the host the academic path that led him to his current position serving as an advisor to strawberry and vegetable crops growers in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. Dara is also affiliated with the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program.

The program's host asked how California came to be the No. 1 agricultural state in the United States and a world leader in many specific crops. Dara said the weather plays a role, of course, but he attributed much of the success to California farmers, who are continually improving their production practices. He said the research and extension programs provided by UC ANR Cooperative Extension also contributes significantly to the success of California agriculture.

In India, he said, there is an extension system, but the channels are different. He pointed out that extension is also different in other U.S. states. The University of California is a world renowned 10-campus system that has a separate division dedicated to the extension program - UC ANR.

"We have around 250 scientists responsible for various crops and commodities," Dara said.

The scientists are in regular contact with growers, plus they work to anticipate agricultural problems that might develop in the future.

"We are involved in applied research," Dara said. "We provide science-based practical solutions to farmers that can be used right away."

Posted on Wednesday, September 2, 2015 at 3:52 PM

California summer fruit smaller and tastier this year

Drought and warm winter weather combine to reduce the size, and increase the taste, of 2015 California stonefruit.
California's summertime stonefruit - peaches, nectarines, plums, and apricots - are tending to be smaller in 2015, reported Lesley McClurg on Capital Public Radio. But don't despair. The smaller fruit is typically tastier, said a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) expert.

"That smaller peach this year very likely is sweeter than the moderate-sized peach of last year," said Kevin Day, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor and director in Tulare and Kings counties.

Most of the change in fruit size can be attributed to the drought. When irrigation is limited, water content of the fruit diminishes and sugars become a greater proportion of the fruit mass. However, Day says drought isn't the only reason for 2015's smaller fruit size. California also had unusually warm temperatures in January and February 2015, causing fruit to ripen faster.

"A variety that might ripen after 120 days of being on a tree in a year like this ripens in only 110," Day said. "And, so it's consequently shortchanged out of 10 days of growing."

Posted on Monday, August 31, 2015 at 9:38 AM

Adapting to drought by removing urban landscapes has unintended impacts

A Western scrub jay on a California lawn. (Photo: Wikimedia commons)
Removing landscaping in urban areas to adapt to the California drought carries a gamut of potential repercussions on wildlife and the environment, reported LA Weekly. Two of Gov. Brown's water conservation rules - withholding water from grassy road medians and encouraging residents to remove their lawns - are taking an unexpected toll.

The subject was raised recently by two University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) experts in a position paper they published on their website, the story said. Don Hodel, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor in LA County, and Dennis Pittenger, UC ANR Cooperative Extension area environmental horticulturist at UC Riverside, said landscapes and turf offer tremendous benefits to residents, communities and the environment.

"Nobody thought this out," Hodel said. 

The LA Weekly article also quoted Loren Oki, the UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist for landscape horticulture based at UC Davis. Among the obvious problems created by California's turf-removal program, Oki said, is "encouraging people to plant during the heat of the summer, which is the worst time" for new plants to survive in the ground. He predicts many of the low-water plants will not survive the late-summer heat.

Another UC Davis scientist, biochemistry professor William Horwath, raised the potential for turf removal to kill the "decomposition community" that lives in soil.

When cities and homeowners remove vegetation from land, that diminishes the diversity of the soil biology, especially the larger fauna such as worms, which feed off of the droppings of leaves and other materials from plants.

"If you are not growing anything, just gravel or mulch, you'll be losing a lot of worms, and you will at the same time be losing a lot of carbon from under the soil back into the atmosphere," Horwath said.

Oki was one of the authors of a recent post on the UC ANR California Institute for Water Resources blog, The Confluence, that provides practical, well-thought-out advice on drought-tolerant landscaping in California.

"A variety of options exist for gardeners implementing landscaping changes," the article says. "Trading in your turf for concrete, rock, or artificial turf are options. However, none of these selections promote healthy soils and other ecosystem services. In fact, all of these options can be problematic because they create a heat island effect and may have water infiltration or runoff issues."

The story details seven strategies for conserving water while maintaining a living landscape.

Posted on Thursday, August 27, 2015 at 12:07 PM

Give oaks water once a month

Even though California's majestic oak trees are generally considered drought tolerant, the last four years of well-below-average rainfall are taking a toll, reported the Sierra Sun Times.

"In some parts of the state, oaks are being deprived of water for as long as nine months, creating extreme water stress," said Greg Giusti, a forest and wildlands advisor for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. Giusti is headquartered in the UC ANR Cooperative Extension office in Mendocino County. 

Giusti and Kris Randal, the UC Master Gardener coordinator for Mariposa County, suggest that California residents with oaks on their property give the trees a good soaking once a month during the summer.

The water should be applied around the drip line - the area below the outstretched branches - but not near the trunk. A permeable soaker hose is an ideal tool for slow application over the wide area. Allow the water to run until it has soaked down to a depth of 12 to 18 inches, which can be detected with a long probe such as a screwdriver. "If it comes up with signs of moisture at the tip, you're good," the article says.

Randal said it is important to let the soil dry out completely between waterings, because oaks are susceptible to root fungus that can grow in warm, damp soil.

Even if water is unavailable and the leaves begin to turn brown or fall, the experts suggest waiting for spring before considering removing the tree.

"If you tree leafs out, it's still alive," Randall said. "And in this drought, give it extra time to leaf out."

A large blue oak in Mariposa County.


Posted on Friday, August 21, 2015 at 12:58 PM

South Coast REC research helps landscapers plan for the next drought

Covering the ongoing drought, Peter King wrote a story in the Los Angeles Times about different approaches being taken around the state to manage with less water. From desalination facilities to solar-powered telemetry towers to help improve irrigation efficiency in an almond orchard to water storage projects, the former UCOP news director highlighted a number of efforts to plan for a drier future. He ended up at UC ANR's South Coast Research and Extension Center, looking at the landscape project built for studying plant types and urban water use.

Visitors observe a demonstration of different types of sprinkler heads and drip irrigation.
“Three beige classrooms have been outfitted and landscaped to resemble a row of suburban homes, complete with white picket fences,” King wrote. “They are not-so-poetically identified as residences A, B and C. A offers conventional landscaping: fescue lawn, birch trees and boxwood. B's plants and grasses are better suited to a Mediterranean climate. C's are natives: sedge grasses, manzanita and sycamores.”

As the drought persists, requests from municipal landscapers and private gardeners to tour the project have picked up, Tammy Majcherek, a UCCE community educator in Orange County, told King.

“I am not sure the old mindset has changed,” she said, “but I think maybe we are beginning to turn the corner.”

Members of the public will have a chance to tour the faux neighborhood on Sept. 26 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the Urban Landscape & Garden Education Expo at South Coast Research and Extension Center. The event is free. Visitors will get to learn about drought friendly plants and how to reduce landscape water use. For more information, visit

SCREC landscape expo Sept. 26
SCREC landscape expo Sept. 26

Posted on Wednesday, August 19, 2015 at 7:18 PM

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