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Bird flu in the Midwest causing egg prices to rise

Eggs are getting more expensive because of bird flu in the Midwest.
An outbreak of bird flu in the Midwest is forcing farmers to euthanize many sick chickens, causing egg prices to rise dramatically, reported Jonathan Bloom on ABC News 7 in San Francisco. Bloom spoke with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension poultry specialist Maurice Pitesky via Skype. He said the disease, highly contagious in chickens and turkeys, is being spread by migrating geese.

"And they're not, for the most part, affected by the disease, but they can be carriers of it," Pitesky said. "It means we're euthanizing those flocks that are affected."

The story said 40 million laying hens, one-eighth of the country's laying population, had to be euthanized, dramatically reducing the egg supply. Turkeys are still more susceptible to the condition.

“Turkey prices are going up also, and we're still not sure how that will affect turkey prices around Thanksgiving," Pitesky said.

California chickens haven't been hit by bird flu, but they are producing fewer eggs because new laws went into effect this year requiring more room for hens to move around, reducing some farms' capacity.

Posted on Friday, July 24, 2015 at 11:02 AM

Glenda Humiston named vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources

Glenda Humiston
Longtime Sonoma County resident Glenda Humiston has been named vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, reported Angela Hart in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Humiston was appointed by UC President Janet Napolitano and confirmed by the UC Board of Regents. Her first day in her new post is Aug. 3.

"I'm excited beyond belief," Humiston told the Press Democrat. "This is such an opportunity to make a difference on many levels."

Humiston succeeds Barbara Allen-Diaz, who retired June 29.

The new vice president grew up raising cattle in Colorado and credits her participation in 4-H as a child with developing her interest in farmland preservation and environmental sustainability. She served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Tunisia, was deputy undersecretary for the USDA during the Clinton administration, and her most recent position has been California state director of USDA Rural Development.

“I've spent my whole life trying to bridge agriculture and environmental issues,” Humiston said. “What people don't realize is it's a natural bridge. When people get past the fighting, they often realize we have 80 percent in common.”

Stephanie Larson, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor and director of the Sonoma County office, called the appointment of the Sonoma County resident "exciting."

“If you think about Sonoma County, we have a half-million acres that can function as some form of working landscape — like forest lands, croplands and water," Larson said. "Everything has an opportunity and these are going to be key to address drought and climate change.”

Posted on Thursday, July 23, 2015 at 3:39 PM

Media reaches out to UC ANR for drought news

UC ANR experts provide perspective on drought in landscapes, orchards and wildfires.
As the California drought wears on, media have reached out this week to UC Agriculture and Natural Resources advisors about consequences in agricultural cropland, urban landscapes and fire-prone wildland.

Agricultural cropland

NPR's Valley Public Radio ran a story about salt buildup in almond orchards. Without rainfall to move salts below almond trees' rootzone, harmful levels of salinity are building up in the soil. “We've been seeing this increasing problem over the past couple years, due to the lack of winter rain, of sodium burn or salt burn on leaves," said UC ANR Cooperative Extension farm advisor David Doll. “Rain will do it (leach salts) naturally for us, but if we don't get rain we've been encouraging farmers to actually fill the profile with irrigation water, whatever they can by December. And then hopefully whatever rain we do get will help aid with the flushing of the root system of the tree.”

KCOY,KEYT andKKFX TV in Santa Maria ran a story on new technologies being used by a local strawberry farmer to irrigate efficiently. The farmer installed microsprinklers and moisture sensors on his strawberry field to monitor water and fertilizer inputs. Mark Gaskell, UC ANR Cooperative Extension farm advisor, developed the technology. "By identifying and carefully documenting how much water or nutrients are lost or how much variation there is, a grower can modify their management so that they can be more efficient when applying water," Gaskell said.

Urban landscapes

KQED Science posted an eight-minute interview with UCANR Cooperative Extension urban forestry advisor Igor Laćan. He explained how to irrigate young and mature trees so they won't die during the drought. Why protect trees, even as lawns are turning brown? Laćan says they boost property values, provide shade, filter the air and makes cities more “livable.”

Fire-prone wildland

Scientific American ran a story about the wildfire that swept across I-15 in Southern California last week, setting dozens of vehicles on fire. Firefighters were puzzled by the rapid spread of the fire. “There are two factors that help fires spread - winds and topography,” explained Scott L. Stephens, a professor of fire science in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. “The thing about wind is, it can change so quickly and the fire will change with it — it can happen in 15 seconds,” Stephens said. A fire can also race up a slope very rapidly, he added.

Posted on Wednesday, July 22, 2015 at 3:40 PM

Team of scientists tackle shot hole borer at UC Irvine

A enlarged photo of the sesame-seed sized polyphagous shot hold borer.
When trees at UC Irvine became infested with polyphagous shot hole borer, the university assembled a team of scientists to use the campus as a living laboratory to study ways to protect trees from the pest, reported Sanden Totten on KPCC, the public radio station in Southern California.

Two members of the team are UC Agriculture and Natural Resources experts: Akif Eskalen, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Riverside, and John Kabashima, UC ANR farm advisor emeritus.

PSHB, a native of Asia, is killing hundreds of trees at UCI and thousands of trees in Orange, Los Angeles, and San Diego counties, including ornamental trees in urban landscapes, avocado and other farm trees in agricultural areas, and native tree species on wildland. 

"The value of trees killed by PSHB will be in the millions of dollars," Kabashima said.

The pest damages trees by boring into the bark and carrying a fungus inside.

"They actually farm that fungus as a food source," Eskalen said.

The fungus clogs the water-conducting tissue inside the tree, leading to the tree's death.

The scientists are battling the pest on many fronts, injecting various insecticide and fungicide combinations to kill the pest and fungus, and even limiting water to some trees to see if dry conditions will have an impact on the pest and fungus. However, the scientists acknowledge the complexity of the problem.

"When we do a test on sycamores that does not necessarily translate to what's going to happen when we treat an oak," Kabashima said.

For that reason, Eskalen says it's unlikely researchers will be able to eradicate the pest.

"At the end, we're going to have to learn to live with it," he said.

Posted on Tuesday, July 21, 2015 at 4:07 PM

Phase 3 complete in Kearney solar energy project

JKB Energy has completed three phases of a solar energy project at UC ANR Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension (KARE) Center in Parlier. The system eliminates thousands of pounds of emissions and saves the center tens of thousands of dollars in energy costs annually, according to a JKB Energy news release. Kearney is one of nine research and extension centers located throughout the state that are part of the University of California Division of Agricultural and Natural Resources (UC ANR).

JKB Energy has worked with Robert Ray, superintendent of the UC ANR KARE physical plant, to maximize their bill offset program. Since 2012, when the program started, UC ANR KARE has steadily cut its energy costs.

After the completion of the final phase, projected for 2016, the center's “postharvest” meter's annual electricity costs will be offset by approximately 96 percent. Postharvest research is science conducted after a crop has been harvested and includes such processes as of cooling, cleaning, sorting, and packaging and how these might affect the quality of stored fruits and vegetables.

According to JKB Energy, over 25 years, this project will eliminate the equivalent of:

  • 473,735 pounds of carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas
  • 1,520 pounds of nitrogen dioxide, which creates smog
  • 1,376 pounds of sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain
  • 94 pounds of particulates that cause asthma
  • 770,814 miles driven in an average car

The system is the equivalent of taking 2.5 cars off the road for 25 years, or planting 4.1 acres of trees. 

The solor array at Kearney is at the bottom of the photo.
Posted on Friday, July 17, 2015 at 3:49 PM

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