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New advisors build of the scientific work of predecessors

Carol Frate, left, and Michelle Le Strange.
When new UC Cooperative Extension advisors come on the job, they aren't starting their programs from scratch. "We are a science-based organization," said Jim Sullins, county director for Tulare UCCE. Academic advisors document their work in reports and papers. "The next advisor can build on their (predecessors') experience, their results and observations."

Sullins was quoted in an article by Luiz Hernandez in the Visalia Time-Delta that focused on the retirements of two long-time Tulare County farm advisors, Michelle Le Strange and Carol Frate, who together represent nearly 70 years of service to farmers, landscape professionals and the public.

"Both Carol and Michelle have been very dedicated advisors, committed to their clientele, and driven to help resolve grower's problems, and helping the general public make informed decisions, based on science," Sullins said. "It will take a lot of adjustment with them not on staff.

Hernandez contacted Frate by phone from vacation in Olympia, Wash. A 36-year UCCE veteran, she commented on a research trial conducted in the 1980s in which she sought to determine how much damage an alfalfa crop sustained if irrigation stopped in the summertime.

"It has come in handy in drought" Frate said. "We showed alfalfa could withstand, survive" a water stoppage.

Le Strange, who completed 31 years with UCCE, said she became interested in food production following a trip to Mexico and Guatemala. She went to college at UC Davis and accepted her position in the San Joaquin Valley.

"We are here to help find solutions for local agriculture problems," she said. "I am proud of all the research I have done."

Posted on Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 1:50 PM

California almonds are standing their ground

Almond prices are on track to beat an all-time high in 2014.
One way or another, most California almond farmers are managing to keep their orchards irrigated this year, reported Megan Durisin on

In the article, Merced County farmer Bob Weimer said he added a 12th well to draw water from the aquifer for his thirsty trees. Many farmers have opted to leave fallow fields where annual crops like tomatoes, onions and garlic are usually grown in order to save water for almonds.

"The first thing we have to take care of is our permanent crops," said Dan Errotabere, who helps farm 960 acres of almonds in Fresno and Kings counties.

Durisin quoted David Doll, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Merced County, as saying that orchards need the most water during the warmest summer months, so they may not be able to hit the USDA's almond production forecast for 2014. Next year's crop will be at significant risk if the drought continues, Doll said. Farmers may not able to continue deepening wells and drilling new ones.

The article touched on the grave warning about groundwater depletion in California, which UC scientists shared this month in a special edition of California Agriculture journal that focuses on water efficiency.

There is some good news this year for almond farmers, however. Almond prices are currently at $3 per pound and the average price for the season may beat the all-time high set in 2006.

Posted on Monday, July 21, 2014 at 10:29 AM

California agriculture to suffer $1 billion in drought losses

Dry fields and bare trees at Panoche Road near San Joaquin. (Photo: Gregory Urquiaga)
The California drought will cost the state's agriculture industry about $1 billion in lost revenue, reported David Pierson in the Los Angeles Times. Total statewide economic cost of the drought was calculated to be $2.2 billion.

The story was based on a report released Tuesday by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. The 2014 drought, the report says, is responsible for the greatest water loss ever seen in California agriculture - about one third less than normal.

A key concern is the loss of agricultural jobs, said lead author Richard Howitt at a press conference about the report. "What really hurts is you are also losing 17,000 jobs," Howitt said. "(These jobs) are from a sector that has the least ability to roll with the punches."

Consumer food prices will be largely unaffected. Higher prices at the grocery store of high-value California crops like nuts, wine grapes and dairy foods are driven more by market demand than by the drought.

The report calls the groundwater situation in California "a slow-moving train wreck."

“California's agricultural economy overall is doing remarkably well, thanks mostly to groundwater reserves,” said Jay Lund, a co-author of the study and director of the Center for Watershed Sciences. “But we expect substantial local and regional economic and employment impacts. We need to treat that groundwater well so it will be there for future droughts.”

California is currently the only Western state without a framework for groundwater management.

The UC Davis news team has provided these resources about the new drought report:

The report says the Central Valley is hardest hit, particularly the Tulare Basin, with projected losses of $810 million, or 2.3 percent, in crop revenue; $203 million in dairy and livestock value; and $453 million in additional well-pumping costs.

Drought impacts being felt

The ongoing drought has contributed to declines in Fresno County crop values, reported Bob Rodriguez in the Fresno Bee. Fresno County's overall gross value fell 2.2 percent to $6.4 billion in 2013, and with the reduction lost its bragging rights as the No. 1 ag county in California. Tulare County took the No. 1 spot with a record $7.8 billion in ag value, riding on robust dairy prices.

Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner Les Wright said the drought -- one of the worst in state history -- has pinched the production of several west side field crops including cotton, corn silage and barley. The field crop category fell by 42 percent.

Read more here:

Read more here:
Posted on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 11:18 AM

UC guards against agroterrorism

A terrorist attack on U.S. food or water supplies is a terrifying thought, but a very real possibility. A team of UC scientists who are part of the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security (WIFFS) are working to protect American agriculture from hostile threats, reported Chris Macias of the Sacramento Bee.

The scientists prepare for worst-case scenarios, such as a hypothetical foot-and-mouth disease outbreak caused by a terrorist planting the virus in a livestock enclosure.

“Say it happens in a major feed yard on I-5 or Highway 99,” said Bennie Osburn, WIFFS director of outreach and training. "They'll stop all traffic. I mean, nothing will move in or out of there. What do you do about the milk from these dairies? What do you do about getting feed? Most large dairies only have enough feed for two or three days.”

The article says agroterrorism has been used as a weapon throughout history. In 600 B.C., Assyrians poisoned the wells of their enemies with ergot fungus. Dead bodies were used to contaminate wells in 1155 during the battle of Torona in Italy. In World War I, German agents infected horses and livestock owned by the Allied armies with glanders, an infectious bacterial disease.

WIFFS scientists puzzle out the possible strategies hostile persons or powers could use to target U.S. agriculture, and how such actions can be foiled.

"We look at the potential ways in which crops or animals could be given some kind of disease agent that would create a major catastrophic event,” said Osburn. “There's concern about botulism, for instance, getting in the food supply or ricin.”

WIFFS scientists are conducting field and laboratory studies with these scenarios in mind.

“The veterinary school plays a big role, and certain disciplines work well with this: epidemiology, modern genetic testing of foods,” Osburn said. “(Our) diagnostic labs can look for toxins quickly and we're networked with all the major federal agencies. There's a constant exchange of information.”

Read more here:

The Western Institute for Food Safety and Security team at UC Davis.
The Western Institute for Food Safety and Security team at UC Davis.

Posted on Monday, July 14, 2014 at 1:22 PM

El NiƱo unlikely to be California drought savior

During droughts, farmers and cities rely more heavily on groundwater, which must be recharged to get through subsequent droughts.
Rather than pinning hopes on a possible El Niño in the Pacific Ocean to alleviate the California drought, a UC expert suggested the state's residents should continue to prepare for the worst, reported Inside Climate News.

Reporter Amy Nordrum noted in the story that El Niño conditions only bring heavy rain one-third of the time. It would take an exceptional El Niño, the type that only happens 15 percent of the time, to return California water levels to normal.

"I think we really need to be prepared for more drought," said Doug Parker, director of the UC California Institute for Water Resources. "There's a pattern of dry years happening so there's a higher probability that next year will be a dry one."

Parker said he is primarily concerned with replacing the water that Californians are using.

"The key is that a lot of our drought management comes from the groundwater and that's a great resource during the drought, but you have to put that water back in the ground," said Parker. "It's how we're going to get through the next drought."

Posted on Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 12:46 PM

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