July 2019 News clips (July 16-31)

Jul 31, 2019

‘We Have Fire Everywhere'

(New York Times Magazine) Jon Mooallem, July 31

…Those towns grew into cities; the land around them, suburbs. More than a century of fire suppression left the ecosystems abutting them misshapen and dysfunctional. To set things right, the maintenance once performed naturally by fire would have to be conducted by state and federal bureaucracies, timber companies, private citizens and all the other entities through whose jurisdictions that land splinters. The approach has been feeble and piecemeal, says William Stewart, a co-director of Berkeley Forests at the University of California, Berkeley: “Little pinpricks of fuel reduction on the landscape.” We effectively turned nature into another colossal infrastructure project and endlessly deferred its maintenance.



California Releases Roadmap for Water Resources Sustainability

(California Forward) July 30

…Glenda Humiston, vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and team lead for Ecosystem Vitality and Working Landscapes said, “The San Joaquin Valley and Sierra Nevada are ground zero for developing resilient strategies to make our regions prosperous, equitable, and sustainable. The Summit is the forum for aligning and advancing triple-bottom-line policies that work.”



Avocado prices are the pits for shoppers, but local growers are chipper

(Ventura County Star) Mo Jazi, July 26

…“When California and Peru are out of production, a strong price increase is expected again,” said Ben Faber with the University of California Cooperative Extension in Ventura County. “This will take place between August and September, when most avocados will come from Mexico.”



The quest for a more perfect California avocado

(Los Angeles Times) Julia Wick, July 26

The long road to a more perfect avocado certainly didn't begin in Parlier, Calif. But the tiny agricultural town 30 minutes southeast of Fresno is where a U.S. Department of Agriculture flavor scientist has been pushing samples through sliding doors into evaluation booths, for a panel of tasters to individually consider.

The goal of the study is to figure out how people describe the flavor of a good avocado and what components in the fruit contribute to that perceived flavor, said Mary Lu Arpaia, a leading avocado researcher and director of UC Riverside's avocado breeding program.

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, the nine trained participants spend an hour evaluating avocado samples in a University of California sensory science building specifically designed for testing like this, just down the street from an agricultural research service division of the USDA.



Woodland's Wheat lab tests for new varieties

(Ag Alert) Bob Johnson, July 26

…The commission uses the lab's diagnostic capabilities to evaluate varieties tested by the University of California, Davis, wheat breeding program, and to help UC Cooperative Extension outreach efforts.

Research on other small grains, like barley and oats, is also aided by the diagnostic capabilities at the Woodland facility.



Why This Community Is Fighting Wildfires By Setting Fire To Itself

(Huff Post) Greta Moran, July 26

…“It's a simple premise,” said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, a local resident and fire ecologist at the University of California Cooperative Extension. “Neighbors helping neighbors.” 

In 2018, Quinn-Davidson, her colleague Jeffrey Stackhouse and their neighbors formed the Humboldt County Prescribed Burn Association, which now has 85 members. The first organization of its kind in the Western U.S., it pools together supplies (drip torches, weather monitors, fans to suppress the fire) and trains anyone interested in how to safely apply fire to the landscape in order to save it.

To date, they have burned a total of 1,022 acres on private land, which would have otherwise remained highly vulnerable to wildfire. 

After a burning session, they often throw a potluck. “You have people from different parts of the community that would never be together ? you have ranchers and then you have old hippies,” said Quinn-Davidson. “It's just everyone working together and sharing experiences.”  



As rats overrun California cities, state moves to ban powerful pest-killers

(Sacramento Bee) Ryan Sabalow and Philip Reese, July 25

… “When you're at the stage where you have to close down your playground because you're worried about exposing children to rats and the disease they harbor, you need to use your full arsenal,” said Niamh Quinn, a scientist who studies rodent infestations at the University of California Cooperative Extension.



Water shortages force a reckoning in Calif. wine country

(E&E News) Marc Heller, July 25

…Water plays heavily into wine production; California vineyards on average use 318 gallons of water per gallon of wine, just for irrigating grapes, according to Daniel Sumner, a researcher at the University of California, Davis. But the range varies widely from place to place, from 243 gallons in the Delta region to 471 on the Central Coast.

Much less water, by comparison, is used in actual production of wine — an average of 4.15 gallons of water per gallon of wine, Sumner said. But producers said they're cutting back there, as well, with more efficient ways to wash barrels, for instance.



A Year of Unusual Weather Affects Vegetable Crops

(Cal Ag Today) Mikenzi Meyers, July 25

A year filled with abnormal weather is starting to show its effects on vegetable crops. Tom Turini of the University of California Cooperative Extension Fresno County, who is a plant commodity specialist, shared some of the early seasonal problems he has witnessed.

“We had unusual weather this year—a very cool, late spring—and with the rains we've had, we expected to see some issues that are unusual. We just didn't see the incidence of those problems that we would have expected,” Turini said.



Sprouting onions and scarred tomatoes: How to tell whether fading produce is still safe to eat

(Washington Post) Rachael Jackson, July 25

…The onion looked fine when you took it home, but, now, it has sprouted green shoots. Is your stir-fry doomed? Not at all. The onion, prompted by factors such as age and temperature, simply moved to its next stage of life.

“It's certainly not dangerous to eat,” said Elizabeth J. Mitcham, of the University of California Postharvest Technology Center, noting that it just won't be optimal quality. “If it's in my cabinet, I'm not going to throw it away.”

…Mitcham, with the UC Postharvest Technology Center, said that one moldy strawberry doesn't doom the entire carton.

“I will take it out as quickly as possible because otherwise it might spread to others in the container,” she said. And, of course, as with all produce, you'll want to give the fruit a good rinse before eating it.



Where Will We Find Tech-Savvy Farm Workers?

(Growing Produce) Matthew J. Grassi

University of California, Davis (UC Davis) professor David Slaughter, a man at the forefront of digital technologies in specialty crop farming, can feel the early tremors of farming's major disruptive force approaching. What will rapidly adopting automation do to the current agricultural workforce?

Slaughter heads up UC Davis' SmartFarm. It's an ongoing project that imagines what farms in 2050 will be and develops the tools needed to reach that vision.

The SmartFarm team has had some remarkable achievements. It developed one of the first robotic fruit harvesting systems. It's also delivered the early stage technologies that spawned innovations like automated, pesticide-free, intra-row weed control in specialty crops.



Davis Chamber to host ‘Forest Resiliency' luncheon

(Davis Enterprise, Woodland Daily Democrat) July 24

The public is invited to attend the Davis Chamber of Commerce's Forest Resiliency Luncheon on Tuesday, Aug. 13, at El Macero Country Club.

Glenda Humiston, vice president of UC Davis Agriculture and Natural Resource office will be a featured speaker.

Humiston is set to talk about the product development taking place on culling forests of dead wood, in order to lessen wildfire risks plaguing California.




Indigenous Food Security is Dependent on Food Sovereignty

(Civil Eats) Andi Murphy, July 24

…A new study from Hillman, a member of the Karuk tribe and the manager of its Píkyav Field Institute, and colleagues from U.C. Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, explores the profound lack of food access among tribal members in the northwestern corner of California.

Over the course the last five years, the researchers received more than 711 survey responses, conducted 115 follow-up interviews, and worked with 20 focus groups to determine the food access challenges that members of the Karuk, Yurok, Hoopa, and Klamath tribes face. The study found that 92 percent face at least some level of food insecurity—compared with 11.8 percent of all U.S. households.



California's bad romance with Bromus fuels wildfire

(YubaNet) July 24, 2019

When wildfires burn in California, people often call them forest fires or brushfires, but the odds are high that an invasive weed is an unrecognized fuels component, says a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources scientist.

“We have all of the nasty non-native Bromus species here in California, and the ubiquitous weeds are key drivers of increasing fire frequency,” said Travis Bean, UC Cooperative Extension weed science specialist based at UC Riverside.



UC Riverside taste test continues decades-long search for perfect avocado

 (Press-Enterprise) Matt Kristoffersen, July 23

…Mary Lu Arpaia, the cooperative extension subtropical horticulturalist at UCR who led the Wednesday, July 17, experiment, has been working for decades to perfect the California staple. Her team breeds avocado strains for certain qualities such as taste, texture and color.



Butte County's bats: An ally for farmers

(Chico Enterprise-Record) Brody Fernandez, July 23

…A colony of 150 bats can consume more than a million insects each year, Rachael Long said. Long is a bat researcher and farm adviser for field crops-pest management with the University of California's Cooperative Extension's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Experts conclude that bats in Butte County are a multi-million dollar industry, providing major agricultural and economic benefits for our local farmers and growers. Surrounding Butte County's farm lands and orchards, millions of dollars are saved each year on the use of insecticides as a result of bats gobbling up crop hungry insects on a nightly basis. In Butte County alone, bats provide $14 million annually worth of pest control value, according to research from the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.



UC Riverside taste test continues decades-long search for perfect avocado

(Riverside Press-Enterprise) Matt Kristoffersen, July 23

The line to Room 2158 in UC Riverside's Batchelor Hall spilled into the lobby.

Inside, a team of students, faculty members and researchers each sat in front of four anonymous avocado slices, a large carrot and a cup of water.

Their task: Determine which slice tasted best. The challenge lay in describing them.

Mary Lu Arpaia, the cooperative extension subtropical horticulturalist at UCR who led the Wednesday, July 17, experiment, has been working for decades to perfect the California staple. Her team breeds certain avocado strains for certain qualities such as taste, texture, and color.



Machines Poised To Replace Vineyard Workers

(JPR) July 23

One of the greatest expenses of making wine is the cost of people. 

Much of the work in picking wine grapes, or really any fruit, is the cost of doing the work by hand.  Many hands are required.  For now, that is; inventors continue to tweak designs for machines that can prune and pick in the vineyards and orchards. 

The Viticulture & Enology program at the University of California-Davis is involved in the transition, as is the UC's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Kaan Kurtural of UCD visits with George Zhuang of UCANR .



Some saw deadly Camp Fire as the 'new normal.' Experts say we already know how to prevent a repeat

(Arizona Republic) Dianna M. Nanez, July 22

…"It's unimaginable," Max Moritz, a cooperative extension wildfire specialist at the Bren School, University of California, Santa Barbara, said of the death and destruction.

After this fire, experts say, no one should wait for more studies because we already know solutions: controlled burns, vegetation management, development and building standards in or near forests and enforcement of utility safety standards.

But those efforts often get bogged down in arguments over local versus federal control, Moritz said.

"The problem has been decades in the making, and the solutions are not hidden, they're not going to come out in a (cause-of-fire) report," he said. "There are Paradises all over the place just waiting to happen. That's what's really urgent and the message we need to get out there."

While the Camp Fire should be a game-changer, Moritz said, he's seen outrage and resolve wane following a deadly fire.

"The fear that many of us have is we're going to see an event like this catastrophe and nothing substantive has changed — it's going to be bundled into the new normal that we're hearing about now," Moritz said. "Rather than accept it … why aren't we rising up and demanding change?"

"Really, the problem of fatalities and evacuations and homes themselves burning are the result of homes being the fuel (for the fire)," Moritz said. "It wasn't a forest fire sweeping through this town; it was fire moving home to home, and that's how it spread. That isn't getting out. That isn't widely understood."

It's ghastly to imagine people who wanted to evacuate, but couldn't, said Faith Kearns, a fire, water and climate scientist at University of California's Institute for Water Resources.

…Kearns said shifting the conversation from fire-management to public health and safety would make it easier to have tough conversations about the vulnerable who may not be able to evacuate — people with disabilities and older residents, for example — and to designate sites where they can shelter in place when it's too late to evacuate.

"When do you finally look at fire through a new lens? This a public-health-and-safety issue that we need to take a good hard look at it and say then, 'What do we do?'" Mortiz asked. "As long as we view it as a fuel- and fire-management problem, we're never going to get ahead of it."

This new perspective, he said, views wildfires like other natural disasters. No one thinks you can fight a tornado, so the focus is on minimizing the danger. With wildfires, he said, the keys are warning systems that include modern and basic technology, such as sirens, sheltering in place and building structures that are fire-resistant.



‘Fire-resistant' plants help reduce risk around homes

(Calaveras Enterprise) Noah Berner, July 22

…If homeowners must have plants on their properties, the University of California Cooperative Extension recommends the use of hardy, slow-growing plants with open structures that accumulate fuels at a slower pace and require less maintenance.

The organization also advocates for the planting of drought-tolerant native species capable of maintaining a high-water content with a limited amount of water.

According to Bev Vierra-Pennington, the coordinator of the Demonstration Garden at the Government Center in San Andreas for the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners of Calaveras County, plant maintenance and spacing are much more important than the types of plants cultivated when it comes to fire safety.

“Having a list of plants (that are fire-resistant) is very misleading,” Vierra-Pennington said. “The secret is to plant plants that won't touch each other at a mature size and are nonwoody.”

…Susan Kocher, the natural resources adviser for the UCCE, Central Sierra, warned that all plants are combustible, although some are more so than others.

Home fire safety “usually means taking away vegetation, rather than adding it,” Kocher said. “A more safe landscape would be more sparse.”



The State of Wildfire Risk Reduction in California

(PPIC) Lori Pottinger, July 22

After a few horrific years of extreme wildfires, California has been taking steps to reduce future risks with new programs, increased funding, and new policy efforts. We talked to Van Butsic—a land use scientist at UC Berkeley and an adjunct fellow at the PPIC Water Policy Center—about these efforts.

PPIC: Is California doing enough to manage its forests and reduce wildfire risk?

Van Butsic: Probably not, but it's definitely doing a lot more than it was five years ago. The state has made a substantial effort to deal with the issues around wildfires—just not yet at the scale needed to get big results.



Technology, temporary help keeps farmers on job longer

(Associated Press) Andrew Soergel, July 20

…Farmers staying on the job longer can restrict land options of younger farmers, making it harder for beginners to crack into the industry, experts say. They worry that without the older farmers, there might not be enough younger people interested in agriculture to support America's food production needs.

"It's a problem," says Milt McGiffen, an agronomist, plant physiologist and researcher at the University of California, Riverside. "There isn't a magic bullet to fix it. And the other problem is you have less people going into ag and you need more food coming out the other end" with a growing U.S. population.



Trump administration's plan to slow Western wildfires would clear large strips of land

(Associated Press) Brady McCombs, July 19 [Published in 190 news outlets]

…These fuel breaks are a useful tool if used along with other wildfire prevention methods that can keep firefighters safer and potentially help out in broad scopes of land because they are long and thin, said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, the area fire adviser for University of California Cooperative Extension. They can especially helpful by providing perimeters for prescribed burns. But they must be in the right places and don't stop fires, she said.



Kill Or No Kill? What Is The Best Way To Deal With SoCal's Rising Coyote Population

(89.3 KPCC) Larry Mantle, July 18 

Niamh Quinn, human-wildlife interactions advisor with the University of California's Cooperative Extension, a branch of the UC system which researches local issues; she tweets @niamhnichuinn


Produce growers get new ammunition in the battle against outbreaks

(Washington Post) Virginia Gewin, July 17

…Perhaps the most significant shift is greater interest in a “kill step,” a process that could reduce the number of live microbes by 99.9 percent, or 100,000-fold. Water washes are inconsistent and, at best, reduce microbes tenfold.

“You can roast almonds or pasteurize milk to kill bacteria, but spinach washes aren't necessarily enough to eliminate every pathogen coming out of the field,” said Michele Jay-Russell, a research microbiologist and the program manager of the Western Center for Food Safety at the University of California at Davis. “If people want convenient, raw produce, we need a safe kill step as an option at the processing level.”



Entomologists warn invasive lanternfly cause for concern

(Farm Press) Logan Hawkes, July 17

The University of California, Riverside Center for Invasive Species Research has received funding to test biological control of the SLF ahead of the possible arrival of the pest in the Golden State. Dr. Mark Hoddle, Director of the Center, says the pest has not been discovered in California but research is underway to determine if a small predator wasp is safe and effective in helping to control their numbers if they should eventually arrive.



The place is California, the most populous and powerful state in the richest country on earth......and the year is 2019. Would you believe that one of the biggest threats to public health here..........is rats?

(KNX In Depth) Charles Feldman and Mike Simpson, July 16

Niamh Quinn, human-wildlife interactions advisor with the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Niamh, you have been out around downtown LA, Skidrow, you have seen the situation for yourself. How many rats are there?

There are rats everywhere! I heard of the issue. I had been to some of the other typhus zones – because there isn't just typhus in downtown LA, it's in Long Beach, it's in Pasadena, we have it pretty much in LA and Orange County – but in downtown LA, I was shocked. I mean absolutely floored at how bad the rat issue was there. So I have been to some of the alleyways in downtown LA and while the trash was cleaned, the streets were filled, and I mean filled, with feces. So that is a disease risk right there. Not only were the streets filled with feces, but we were seeing rats running around during the day. Which doesn't necessarily mean that there's huge population, rats can get disturbed and run around. There's lots and lots of burrows around downtown LA that definitely need some attention. 



New Data vs. Pests and Diseases for Vines: Separating Hype from Reality

(Advances in Imagery) John Bourne / July 16

Featuring George Zhuang of UC Cooperative Extension and Jenna Rodriguez of Ceres Imaging. George and Jenna will discuss limitations and use cases of in-field probes, imagery, and more as it relates to pest and disease management. What does the future hold for pest and disease management using data?


By Pamela Kan-Rice
Author - Assistant Director, News and Information Outreach