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Legacy of the drought may be fewer permanent crops

Louise Ferguson.
The California drought is expected to change planting patterns for the state's agricultural industry, reported Clint Jasper on Australian Rural Radio. Jasper interviewed Louise Ferguson, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and director of the UC Fruit and Nut Research and Information Center.

"Whether it's good or bad, in California we've become accustomed to a steady water supply though our catchments, dams and aqueducts that deliver water to the (Central) Valley," Ferguson said. "In the past 3 or 4 years of drought, we've become more dependent on wells, what you're always dependent upon here in Australia."

She predicted that, in the next three to five years, California will see a significant decrease in tree crops as a result.

"In California, up till now, we did not have groundwater use regulations," she said. "The increase in wells very shortly will lead to regulations, both quantity and quality. Meaning how much you can draw out and how much nitrogen you can use in your fertilization program."

Jasper also interviewed Almond Board of California president and chief executive officer Richard Waycott.

"As an industry we've been doing deficit irrigation research, and applying water efficiency research across our industry for many years," Waycott said. "The drought is caused by Mother Nature. All agriculture needs water, and our growers are responsible with the water they use."

Posted on Thursday, November 20, 2014 at 1:27 PM

UC helps urban farmers cultivate crops

The City of Los Angeles has about 8,000 vacant lots, which potentially could be used for urban agriculture.
There is plenty of vacant land that could potentially be farmed in urban Los Angeles County, but there are hoops to jump before a hoe can rake through the earth, reported Rick Paulas in a Q&A article with UC Cooperative Extension advisor Rachel Surls, published on the KCET Food Rant blog.

"Sometimes, I think there's local elected officials who feel the highest use of that land is to build businesses that will create jobs," Surls said. "And although urban agriculture can sometimes create jobs, it has other community benefits that perhaps aren't entirely valued, like offering healthy food, beautifying the neighborhood. Oftentimes, neighborhoods get a Burger King on a piece of vacant land rather than a community garden."

Surls said beginning urban farmers at first need basic horticultural information - what to grow, when to plant, how to irrigate and how to manage pests. As they gain experience, they often encounter challenges there weren't aware of at first, such as regulatory or zoning issues.

"And if they stick around long enough," Surls said, "they get to a phase where they need more sophisticated production information, more marketing and business-oriented information, and advice on things like labor. How can I legally use volunteers? What are California labor laws? Just a lot of information that commercial farmers have been dealing with for a long time."

To help farmers at each of these stages, Surls developed a website for urban farmers that aggregates information and resources needed to start a new farm, work with city and county officials, and market their produce.

Posted on Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 1:05 PM

New booklet advises Santa Cruz County residents 'Fresh Starts Here'

Produce tasting, nutritional tips and raffles were part of a celebration around the release on Monday of a new guide to local fruit and vegetables in Santa Cruz County, reported Donna Jones in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

The 40-page booklet - titled "Fresh*Starts*Here" - was developed by UC Cooperative Extension, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau. It includes nutrition information, tips for choosing and storing produce, recipes, and profiles of local farmers and health care professionals.

"It's about healthy eating and a healthy community," said Laura Tourte, UCCE farm management advisor in Santa Cruz County.

Tourte said the guide promotes consumption of food grown by local farmers. The recipes were chosen with an eye toward simple preparation and appeal to families.

UCCE contributed $4,100 to support the printing of the booklet, and all development committee members and participants contributed their time and effort. Funds to produce additional copies and a Spanish-language version are being sought.

Additional events marking the release of the booklet take place at 3 p.m. Nov. 18, at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation main clinic, 2025 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz; and at 3 p.m. Nov. 20 at the PAMF westside clinic, 1303 Mission St., Santa Cruz.

Berry grower Javier Zamora is one of the farmers featured in the new booklet, 'Fresh*Starts*Here'
Posted on Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 9:24 AM

UCCE's Larry Forero is helping ranchers cope with drought

UCCE advisor Larry Forero is helping Shasta and Trinity county ranchers make water-use decisions.
The California drought is helping UC Cooperative Extension advisor Larry Forero focus his outreach program. Forero is working closely with livestock producers to help them maximize the benefit they get from the water they have available, according to a profile of the farm advisor written by Tim Hearden and published in Capital Press.

The story said Forero is working with a rancher in eastern Shasta County to measure the efficiency of well water on irrigated pasture. He plans to share results with other ranchers at "irrigation school" in January. (Date and location TBA at

“If they're over-irrigating in September or October, could we do something different with that water?” Forero said. “What we're hoping with this irrigation school is to get this real-time data out there and share it with participants so they can look at what alternatives they might develop with irrigation scheduling.”

Forero is well-positioned to help with new regulations that will likely come down now that Gov. Brown has signed legislation that will give the state water board broad control over groundwater in California. Forero has experience helping farmers comply with new regulations.

In 2012, when local farmers with surface water rights had to begin submitting precise monthly water-use records, Forero and his colleague UCCE advisor Allan Fulton wrote a paper that explained how to measure surface water diversion.

"What we really tried to do," Forero said, "is make it so it wasn't so overwhelming that people said, 'I don't have time to do this.' From a Cooperative Extension perspective, we don't buy, sell or regulate. We try to provide ideas for folks, and what they do with them is up to them.”


Posted on Monday, November 17, 2014 at 1:24 PM

Roof-top gardens on LA skyscrapers connect people with food

UC Cooperative Extension's Rachel Surls said consumer preferences are driving the growth of urban agriculture.
Galvanized horse troughs arranged on the top of a Los Angeles skyscraper have become a productive high-rise herb and vegetable garden, providing ultra-fresh produce to an on-site restaurant, reported Robert Holguin on KABC TV.

"Chefs are using what's produced (in the garden) in their kitchens because they know their customers appreciate fresh, local food," said Rachel Surls, the sustainable food systems advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County.

Surls was part of a recent tour of urban agriculture in downtown Los Angeles, a story that was also covered by the LA Times.

The visitors — who included growers, urban policymakers, consultants, entrepreneurs and representatives of nonprofits — wandered around the vegetable beds and asked questions as they got a taste of the garden. The article said the garden, on the fifth floor of a building at 6th and Figueroa streets, cost about $40,000 to build and yields as much as $150,000 worth of produce every year.

Other news:

Drought clouds future of California wine industry
W. Blake Gray, Wine-searcher-com

The California drought didn't impact the wine industry in 2014, but a dry forecast for next year has growers worried. One major issue is the buildup of salts in soils, said Mark Battany, UC Cooperative farm advisor in San Luis Obispo County. During a wet winter, these salts are washed away. But California hasn't had a wet winter in three years. Farmers were able to irrigate at the beginning of the drought to make up the difference, but increasingly water supplies are restricted.

Battany says that excess salt buildup in the soil can cause grapevines to lose their leaves. "Without a way to process sunlight, you won't see sugar ripening," he said.

Showdown looms as California eyes pesticides
Ellen Knickmeyer, Associated Press

Organic farmers are challenging a proposed California pest-management program they say enshrines a pesticide-heavy approach for decades to come, including compulsory spraying of organic crops at the state's discretion.

The farmers are concerned about the California Department of Food and Agriculture's pest-management plan, the article says. The 500-page document lays out its planned responses to the next wave of fruit flies, weevils, beetles, fungus or blight that threatens crops. Many groups challenging the plan complained that it seems to authorize state agriculture officials to launch pesticide treatments without first carrying out the currently standard separate environmental-impact review.

The article reported that the California organic agriculture industry grew by 54 percent between 2009 and 2012. California leads the nation in organic sales, according to statistics tracked by UC Cooperative Extension specialist Karen Klonsky, who says the state is responsible for roughly one-third of a national organic industry.

Posted on Thursday, November 13, 2014 at 9:49 AM

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