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UC Master Gardener program nurturing public seed libraries

Seed libraries are sprouting in California, including a new one in San Bernardino created with the support of UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners, reported Suzanne Sproul in the San Bernardino Sun. The story was picked up by the Los Angeles Daily News and the Orange County Register.

San Bernardino County Regional Seed Library was set up at the Chino Basin Water Conservation District in Montclair. Here, visitors learn how to obtain seeds for flowers, fruits, vegetables and more. A key component is returning seeds, so the process continues to expand and grow.

“We're interested in germination quality, yield and any other information that helps with categorizing the seeds,” said Dona Jenkins, UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener coordinator in San Bernardino County. “Any and all seeds are welcome, but we are focusing on edible ones and those from pollinator plants."

Jenkins said saving seeds for next year's garden and sharing them with friends and neighbors isn't new, just enjoying a revival.

"It's what people used to do and is important today because we have lost 94 percent of our diversity with seeds," she said.

Saving seeds from your garden and sharing them in a seed library works with open-pollinated plants. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

 

Posted on Wednesday, May 24, 2017 at 7:57 AM

The drought may be over, but water concerns haven't been doused

Record winter rainfall during the 2016-17 winter has enabled farms to emerge from survival mode in the short term, but scientists are still working hard to be ready for the next drought, reported Tim Hearden in Capital Press.

Hearden spent a day at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier to learn how researchers at the facility and the UC West Side Research and Extension Center near Five Points are combining technology with management practices to put every drop of irrigation water to work.

Director of the UC Kearney REC, Jeff Dahlberg, said the facility is ideal for conducting drought research. (Photo: Evett Kilmartin)

“This is one of the few places in the world where you can do drought research on a field level,” said Jeff Dahlberg, director of the 330-acre Kearney facility. “What I'm planning is a world-class drought nursery.”

At the West Side REC, researchers are working with farmers to perfect micro-irrigation efficiency and test drought stress on the area's most prevalent crops.

“We'll grow a tremendous number of cultivars of a crop” and identify “what seem to be the most promising cultivars when you grow them under drought conditions,” said Bob Hutmacher, a cotton specialist and the center's director.

Overhead irrigation is one of the promising techniques being used in conservation agriculture systems.

Hearden spoke to Jeff Mitchell, UCCE cropping systems specialist and director of the Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation center (CASI). CASI is encouraging farmers to adopt farming practices that save water, reduce dust and help improve the condition of soil, such as subsurface drip irrigation, overhead irrigation, minimum tillage, cover crops and crop residues. 

“This is not done right now in California,” Mitchell said. “In the future, there may be a strong likelihood of certain agricultural sectors adopting these practices.”

UCCE irrigation specialist Khaled Bali said underground drip systems in alfalfa fields have achieved 20 to 30 percent more yields while in some cases using 20 percent less water. (Photo: Evett Kilmartin)

Other subsurface irrigation trials are showing dramatic increases in yields. Khaled Bali, an irrigation water management specialist at Kearney, said underground drip systems in alfalfa fields have achieved 20 to 30 percent more yields while in some cases using 20 percent less water.

Kevin Day, a UCCE pomology advisor in Tulare County, is trying subsurface drip in a peach and nectarine orchard after working with the USDA to use it for pomegranates. He's seen as much as a 90 percent reduction in weeds because there's no surface water to feed them.

“Fewer weeds, fewer pesticides,” he said. “We use high-frequency irrigation. We irrigate as the crop needs it. When you do that, you keep the roots deeper, which makes for better aeration.”

Posted on Thursday, May 18, 2017 at 11:00 AM

Loss of trees could portend loss of human life

An invasive pest from Asia is killing thousands of trees in Southern California, which may lead to the death of thousands of humans, reported Adam Rogers on Wired.com.

Polyphagous shot hole borer females drill holes inside trees to lay their eggs. In the process, they deposit a fungus that grows and provides food for larvae. The fungus gums up the trees' channels for water and nutrient transport, eventually killing it. Called Fusarium dieback, the condition is on track to kill 26.8 million trees across Southern California in the next few years.

With data from a U.S. Forest Services study, which found that fewer trees is related to respiratory and cardiovascular disease deaths in people, the reporter underscored the dire human-health implications of polyphagous shot hole borer.

Sycamore trees are particularly susceptible to the ravages of polyphagous shot hole borer. These majestic trees provide shade, clean the air, and protect water - valuable ecosystem services that are lost when a pest kills the tree.

Trees also provide valuable "ecosystem services," such as reducing light and heat intensity, protecting water, cleaning the air of pollutants, providing wildlife habitat and storing carbon. The forest service combined satellite data and field plot data to calculate the costs and benefits of trees. The potential loss of ecosystem services because of polyphagous shot hole borer is $1.4 billion, not including the public health cost.

“A normal response to an invasive pest means millions of dollars would be thrown at it,” said John Kabashima, UC Cooperative Extension advisor emeritus who is working on staving off a catastrophe. “This one has received hundreds of thousands.”

Kabashima and other scientists are identifying infected trees to cut them down and chip the wood to prevent further spread. The tell-tale signs are little holes and sugar volcanoes that tend to show up first on the north side of the trunk or limb.

"You have to get out and walk around each tree, which we're doing in Orange County parks," Kabashima said. "We go out on off-road Segways. We can cover square miles in a day."

 

Posted on Tuesday, May 9, 2017 at 11:07 AM

Internet start-up gleans trust from association with UCCE

Ceres Imaging, an Oakland-based start-up, is working closely with UC Cooperative Extension on its aerial imaging of farm fields, a fact that is helping the company gain trust by association, reported Emma Foehringer Merchant on Grist.org.

Ceres puts equipment on low-flying airplanes to take pictures that will help farmers optimize water and fertilizer application. According to field tests, the imagery works. Since 2014, Ceres has teamed up with UC Cooperative Extension to conduct field trials, including one for the Almond Board that measured the response of nuts to different rates of watering. 

UCCE advisor Blake Sanden conducted trials in an almond orchard like this one to confirm data produced by Ceres Imaging.

In that study, data from Ceres' imaging matched well with the UCCE ground "truthing," said Blake Sanden, UC Cooperative Extension water and soils farm advisor. 

According to the article, "Ceres' relationship with the extension program has helped the company gain trust with sometimes-skeptical farmers." Sanden called UCCE trials the "gold standard of efficacy" for new products in the ag market. 

There is also increased interest in precise water management after years of drought and cutbacks on federal water allocation.

"The attitude (among farmers) used to be, 'I can find water,'" Sanden said. "I would say that 30, 40 years ago, there was an attitude of hope ... that some of the restrictions on pumping water (would) go away." He said growers expected decision-makers "to come back to reality and understand that we've got to make money in California and grow food."

But the restrictions didn't go away. Instead, they became stricter. The uncertainty about water deliveries has made farmers friendlier to new technologies, like the one offered by Ceres.

UCCE advisor Blake Sanden, shown here making a presentation, says UCCE confirmation is "the gold standard of efficacy" for new products in the ag market.
Posted on Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 3:12 PM

UC researchers look to expand California avocado production

California avocados are the best in the world. So says downtown restaurant manager Daniel Avalos in a Valley Public Radio story by reporter Ezra David Romero.

The fact that they currently thrive only on a small swath of coastal Southern California is being challenged by UC Cooperative Extension specialist Mary Lu Arpaia. She is on a mission to find avocado varieties that withstand the hot summers and cold winters of the San Joaquin Valley, where irrigation water and crop land are more abundant and cheaper. 

She hopes to find avocado varieties that ripen at various times of year, and varieties that might be an alternative crop for citrus growers should huanglongbing, a disease that has devastated the Florida citrus crop, take hold in Central California.

"There's a void of California fruit on the market in the months of November, December and actually early January," Arpaia said. "So if we can find different selections that maybe are unique that fit into that window, then we help the entire California avocado industry."

An as-yet unnamed avocado variety.

Romero visited the UC Lindcove Research and Extension Center to see the trees in Arpaia's study. Currently, the vast majority of California avocados are the Hass variety. The goal is to breed varieties with similar eating quality that grow to a moderate height and have high yield. One potential that is already being produced by nurseries is called "gem."

"This is gem," said Eric Focht, a staff research associate in Arpaia's lab. "You can see it's a little more oval or egg shaped than Hass. It has the speckling on the skin. Now as this ripens, it will turn dark and a lot of times the speckled lenticels with get a yellow kind of golden color it it."

Another promising variety is called "lunchbox" because of its small size. According to Focht, it "just falls out of the skin." Arpaia said, "It makes wonderful guacamole and I found, with a non-replicated test in my refrigerator, the fruit doesn't brown."

Arpaia's favorite guacamole recipe is featured at the end of the story on the KVPR website.

Posted on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 1:33 PM

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