Glenda Humiston has always been involved in rural issues from her days growing up on a cattle ranch to her current efforts to connect rural communities to more resources as University of California vice president for agriculture and natural resources.
In recognition of her contributions to sustain California as a place to create and thrive and to bestow to future generations, Humiston will be presented the 2018 California Steward Leader Award by California Forward and the California Stewardship Network at the California Economic Summit in Santa Rosa on Nov. 16. She currently serves on the 2018 Economic Summit Steering Committee and is the Action Team co-lead for Working Landscapes and co-chair of Elevate Rural California.
She has been involved with the California Economic Summit from the beginning, chairing the Access to Capital Action Team at the first Summit in 2012. To raise awareness of innovative options for financing projects, she founded and chaired the California Financial Opportunities Roundtable and was instrumental in producing the Access to Capital Guidebook, a widely used resource for small business owners, policymakers and financial institutions.
Humiston served as deputy undersecretary for natural resources and environment at USDA from 1998 to 2001 under President Clinton. She then managed the Sustainable Development Institute at the 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development in South Africa and the 2006 World Water Forum in Mexico City. In 2009, Humiston was appointed by President Obama to serve as the California State Director at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Rural Development.
Working landscapes a significant sector of the economy
He added, “The fact that rural issues are on the agenda, the fact that we're talking about ecosystem services and the contributions that Working Landscapes can make in terms of meeting the Economic Summit's million-acre feet of water goal, Glenda has done a tremendous amount to make that possible.”
Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore agreed. “Glenda is a powerful and relentless advocate for triple bottom line prosperity. She has championed and delivered in every position I have seen her in. As one of the Co-chairs/Steering Committee for the Economic Summit, she has ensured that working landscapes remains a driver for rural prosperity.”
“Glenda embodies what CA Forward and the California Stewardship Network are all about: empowering regional hubs to own their own future,” added Gore, who served with Humiston at the U.S. Department of Agriculture as presidential appointees under President Obama.
Her work on rural issues continues. “Our Ecosystems Services Team has done a fantastic job in highlighting the opportunities for ecosystem services to be a powerful policy instrument as well as a compensation instrument for landowners to ensure that the many benefits from ecosystem services are available to the general public,” Humiston said. She added that recommendations from last year's Summit may be included in upcoming legislation.
Biomass, rural broadband and water infrastructure
As co-chair of Elevate Rural California, she is working on three main areas: biomass, rural broadband and water infrastructure. “We identified those issues at last year's Summit and worked this year to identify where the opportunities were as well as options to pursue. We're bringing that information to the Summit this year to get people to really rally around those three issues and move forward working on implementation.”
To support these initiatives, Humiston is working to enhance economic development efforts throughout the state by ensuring that the research and resources of the University of California are delivered to every single community in the state. UC Cooperative Extension is in 70 communities and serves all 58 counties; its mission is to conduct research and extend knowledge that supports food security, healthy environments, science literacy, youth development and economic success in a global economy.
Humiston, who joined the university in 2015 and clearly loves her work, said, “I love the mission of the programs I oversee for the University of California. This work is critical as we seek solutions to the challenges we all face: climate change, invasive species, changing workforce demands, water management and more.”
Vision based on partnerships
Her vision is really based on partnerships. “I also see great opportunity for increased collaboration between UC, CSU and the Community Colleges," she said. "Working together we can offer more robust support for innovation, regional industry clusters, new business opportunities and other aspects of local economic development; we can bring a lot of resources to the table. Working with the California Economic Summit allows us to leverage the resources of various regional initiatives as well as other sectors; this helps all the Summit's efforts to be more successful.”
As for the award, Humiston is humbled. “It's quite heart-warming to be selected by people I respect for something like that and certainly to be in the company of people who have won it in past years,” she said.
Previous recipients of the California Steward Leader Award include former California State Senator Becky Morgan, California Emerging Technology Fund's Sunne McPeak and Van Ton-Quinlivan, vice chancellor of the California Community Colleges.
Humiston will receive the award on Friday, Nov. 16, at the annual gathering of the California Economic Summit in Santa Rosa.
When it comes to watering walnuts, most California growers believe you need to start early to keep trees healthy and productive throughout the long, hot summer. But according to striking results from a long-term experiment in a walnut orchard in Red Bluff, growers can improve crop production if they hold off irrigation until later in the season and directly measure their trees' water needs.
The findings from researchers at the University of California may help farmers optimize water use.
“It's a game-changer,” said walnut grower Hal Crain, who welcomed researchers on to his orchard to test irrigation optimization. “It's clear to me you can improve nut quality and yield by applying water based on what the tree wants and needs, rather than just watering when it's hot outside and the soil is dry. That's a big deal for walnut growers and for the entire agricultural industry.”
Changing the paradigm
Crain is a second-generation farmer whose family has been growing walnuts in Butte and Tehama counties for 55 years. Like most walnut farmers, Crain had always started irrigating in early to mid-May when the days grew warmer and the trees sprouted leaves.
“That's standard practice for probably 90 percent of California's walnut growers,” said Crain, walking amid his trees on a sunny afternoon. “The theory is that when you irrigate early, you preserve the deep moisture in the soil that trees need to survive the heat of summer.”
But that's not how it works, the research shows. Instead, trees that grow in saturated soil early in the season don't develop the deep roots they need to thrive.
“With all the water right there at the surface, the lower roots suffer,” explained Bruce Lampinen, UC Cooperative Extension orchard management specialist with the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences. “Trees end up with a very shallow root system, which doesn't serve them well as they try to extract moisture from the soil later on.”
Lampinen has long suspected that walnuts were getting too much water in the spring.
“A lot of the symptoms we see like yellowing leaves and various diseases can all be explained by overwatering,” said Lampinen.
So Lampinen did what scientists do: He set up an experiment. Five years ago, with funding from the California Walnut Board and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he joined forces with Ken Shackel, a plant sciences professor with UC Davis, and Allan Fulton, an irrigation adviser with UC Cooperative Extension. Together, they led a team of scientists testing irrigation on Crain's ranch.
“Hal is an exceptional partner,” Fulton said. “Farmers have a lot to accommodate when they host an experiment like this, with researchers going in and out of the orchard at all hours. He had to work around our people and the timing of our water treatments. He's always eager to experiment with technology and learn new things, and he shares what he learns with other growers. Hal completes the circle.”
Tough nut to crack
When is the best time to irrigate? Researchers say the trees hold the answer. Scientists use pressure chambers, which are air-pressure devices that measure a leaf or small shoot to gauge how hard the plant is working to pull moisture from the soil.
“Just because the soil looks dry doesn't mean the plant is suffering,” said Shackel, who specializes in plant physiology. “Pressure chambers let you ask the tree how it's feeling — sort of like taking a human's blood pressure — which is a much more accurate way to measure a plant's water needs.”
For the last five years, the team has been applying different water treatments to five blocks of trees. One block is getting standard, early irrigation. Crain's orchard managers begin irrigating the other blocks when the trees reach different levels of water stress based on pressure-chamber readings.
The trees that experience moderate stress are doing the best. Their irrigation usually starts in mid-to-late June, several weeks later than when standard watering begins.
“You can tell just by looking at that block that the trees are healthier,” said Crain, standing beneath a canopy of lush, green trees. “And, we're starting to see greater yields and better nut quality.”
Translating the research
The research is helping scientists advise farmers on irrigation.
“My biggest take-away is knowing when to start watering is a really important factor to the health of your trees,” Lampinen says.
Pressure chambers — sometimes called pressure bombs — can cost more than $3,000, and high-tech versions are under development.
“I tell growers a pressure bomb would pay for itself even if you just used it once a year to determine when to start watering,” Lampinen said.
Crain is certainly convinced.
“When you irrigate based on your trees' needs, you optimize water,” Crain says. “I'm not using less water overall, but the water I do use is producing more food. That's good news for everyone.”
This story was originally published in the Fall 2018 issue of Outlook Magazine, the alumni magazine for the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
A key issue in the race for California insurance commissioner between former commissioner Steve Poinzer and democratic senator Richard Lara is widlfire, reported Ezra David Romero on Capital Public Radio.
The new commissioner will have to deal with a complicated insurance system and a warming climate that's increasing the number, size and impact of California wildfires, said Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor.
For many Californians, the possibility of losing their insurance due to wildfire risk is a real threat.
"I recently talked to a homeowner who had his insurance canceled about three months before his house was destroyed by a wildfire,” Kocher said.
Lara says people or companies that start fires need to be held liable and not given a free pass, and that homeowners need better protection. He says in the past some insurance companies have dropped homeowners because of the risk from wildfires.
"Unfortunately, this is our new normal,” Lara said of recent wildfires in the state. “We're going to see fires with much more veracity.”
Poinzer, a tech industry entrepreneur and career-long Republican, is on the ballot as an independent.
“There's no room in this job for a partisan politician,” Poizner told the Los Angeles Times.
UC scientists, students and water agency professionals took a critical look inwards and a radical look outwards when they gathered in Sacramento in October to reimagine California water.
The event was the fourth annual gathering sponsored by UC ANR's California Institute for Water Resources and the University of California Water Security and Sustainability Research Initiative, UC Water.
While science is the hallmark of a research-oriented institution like UC, the participants were asked to recognize their important role not just as scientists but also communicators.
“We have a big role in educating the public,” said Roger Bales, engineering professor at UC Merced who has been active in water and climate research for more than 30 years. “Scientists are political actors. Facts do not speak for themselves.”
Felicia Marcus, chair of the California Water Resources Control Board and a conference panelist, asked the scientists to make their work accessible, and if they are uncomfortable with plain language, “write it both ways.”
“Complexity can lose people easily,” she said.
The conference keynote speaker, futurist Kim Stanley Robinson, also addressed the divide between scientific discourse and popular understanding, in particular when speaking about climate change.
“There is a strange disconnect between what the scientific community is telling the world and what the world is hearing. As a result of data analysis, science is announcing to the world there is climate change. Individuals cannot perceive climate change,” he said. “Show them in ways that can be understood by the senses. The story has to be told with pragmatism and common sense.”
The Reimagining California Water Conference pursued the water journey from the high-mountain headwaters of the Sierra Nevada to the vast groundwater basins in the valleys below. Over the last century, the mountains were blanketed with snow each winter, storing water that melted slowly in the spring and summer to provide a reliable source of water for farming and communities below. However, climate change is telling a new tale. Warmer weather means less snow and more rain will fall on the mountains during the winter. The quick runoff must be managed in a way that preserves it for use in the summer.
“We need groundwater recharge because we're losing the snow pack quicker than we thought we would,” Bales said.
The new California water narrative has prompted scientists and policy makers to take a serious look at the potential for “flood-managed aquifer recharge” or Flood-MAR. Flood-MAR is a management strategy that uses water from rain or snowmelt to flood agricultural lands and working landscapes, such as refuges, floodplains and flood bypasses.
Successful implementation of Flood-MAR requires the identification of land for groundwater recharge, understanding the economic and agronomic impact of using agricultural land for recharge, and impacts of high-volume recharge on groundwater quality. But the potential is enormous.
“The state's underground basins are capable of storing 500 million acre-feet of water,” said Graham Fogg, UC Davis professor of hydrogeology. “That's like 500 Folsom reservoirs.”
Though the enormity of rewriting the California water story might seem an insurmountable challenge, panelist Debbie Franco noted that the passage of Sustainable Groundwater Management in 2014 happened when the state's unsustainable reliance of groundwater spiked during the 2011-2016 drought, reducing municipal water quality, drying domestic wells and causing land to sink.
“What seems impossible, after four years of drought, can be possible,” Franco said. “What will be the next thing? Get a sense of the solutions now.”
“When first-generation ranchers succeed, we all succeed,” says Kate Munden-Dixon, a Ph.D. student working with Leslie Roche, Cooperative Extension rangeland specialist with the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.
Munden-Dixon and Roche recently discovered that many new livestock managers aren't plugged into information networks such as UC Cooperative Extension and rancher coalitions that provide science and strategies for making sustainable rangeland management decisions. This lack of connection can make first-generation ranchers more vulnerable when dealing with challenges like drought and climate variability, according to their study, which was recently published in Rangeland Journal.
To help bridge the gap, Munden-Dixon landed a $25,000 Graduate Student Grant from Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, a USDA program, to reach out to new ranchers and rangeland managers.
Why rangelands matter
More than one half of California — 38 million acres — is rangeland that provides open space, healthy watersheds, carbon storage, food, fiber and habitat for diverse plants and wildlife. UC Davis research indicates grasslands and rangeland have become more resilient at sequestering or consuming carbon dioxide pollution than forests in California, making them especially important in a warming world.
But rangeland and livestock production are at risk because more rangeland is being converted to housing and crop production. The average age of ranchers in California is 62, and fewer children are taking over the family ranch.
Enter a new wave of rangeland managers. Many of these young ranchers don't yet have access to the capital required to purchase land and large head of cattle and other livestock. Instead, they often contract with public and private landowners to graze goats, sheep and cattle to restore landscapes and reduce fire vegetation.
“What we really need is support in connecting land and contract opportunities,” says Brittany Cole Bush, an “urban shepherdess” and former contract sheep and goat grazer. She now consults with land owners and public agencies from her home base in Southern California. “We need market research that shows the value that grazing brings to fire abatement, soil conservation and so much more. Market research would increase our value and help us become viable players.”
Munden-Dixon is interviewing 40 new rangeland managers from across California to explore how decision-making by different demographics influences adaptation to climate change and quality of life. Munden-Dixon and her team are also hosting workshops to make sure Cooperative Extension specialists understand and can respond to all ranchers' needs.
“There is both a need and opportunity for a new generation of livestock managers that is able to adapt to California's changing climate,” Munden-Dixon says. “This next generation may not look like your typical rancher, so we want to ensure organizations are helping all ranchers succeed, regardless of their demographics or land tenure.”
The power of connection
Munden-Dixon would like to become a Cooperative Extension specialist herself one day. Working with first-generation ranchers reminds her that collaboration and public engagement are critical to addressing issues in sustainable agriculture.
“There is no one answer or single expert when it comes to building healthy food systems,” Munden-Dixon says. “We find solutions when we work together.”