- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
UC Cooperative Extension specialist Jeff Dahlberg, also the director of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center (KARE) in Parlier, invoked his 35 years of sorghum expertise to increasing interest in growing the crop in California and to better understanding plants' ability to tolerate drought. Dahlberg retires Jan. 8.
As a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger in the early 1980s, Dahlberg was intrigued by sorghum, a staple food being cultivated by the country's vast population of subsistence farmers.
“I was impressed with the fact that sorghum was so drought tolerant,” Dahlberg said. “Nigerien farmers relied solely on rain for their sorghum and millet crops.”
Upon returning to the U.S., he earned a master's degree at the University of Arizona and a Ph.D. at Texas A&M, where his research focused on sorghum. He worked with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Puerto Rico for 7 years and then spent the next 10 years as research director with the National Sorghum Producers in Lubbock, Texas.
When Dahlberg took the helm of the 330-acre UC agricultural research center in 2010, he and colleagues at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center and at UC Davis began conducting sorghum forage variety trials. Sorghum wasn't new to California. In the past, it had mainly been used for animal feed. But Dahlberg believed the crop's adaptability – excellent for forage, biofuels and gluten-free human food – offered the grain a rosy future in the Golden State.
"With our research, we have provided California farmers who are thinking about growing sorghum access to locally generated, research-based information to help them make the decision," Dahlberg said.
In 2015, Dahlberg and UC Berkeley specialist Peggy Lemaux launched a sweeping drought research project at KARE. The five-year study, funded with a $12.3 million grant from the Department of Energy, researched the genetics of drought tolerance in sorghum and how soil microbial communities interacted with sorghum roots to battle drought stress.
A journal article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2018 presented the first detailed look at the role of drought in restructuring the root microbiome. The plant switches some genes on and some genes off when it detects water scarcity and access to water.
“That has implications for feeding the world, particularly considering the changing climate and weather patterns,” Dahlberg said.
In recent years, Dahlberg helped reestablish tea research at Kearney, initiated nearly 60 years ago in a study funded by Thomas J. Lipton, Inc. At the time, Lipton was seeking to grow tea for the instant tea market. When the Kearney tea research program was scrapped in 1981, a researcher had a handful of the best tea clones planted in the landscape around buildings at Kearney.
Those shrubs became the basis for a new tea research trial planted at Kearney in 2017 with UC Davis professor Jackie Gervay Hague to determine whether drought stress impacts the production of phenolics and tannins in the tea.
“We know we can grow good tea here and we can grow high tonnage,” Dahlberg said. “We want to determine if we can do that on a consistent basis and whether we can improve tea quality through irrigation management.”
In retirement, Dahlberg plans to relocate to Lake Ann, Mich., to be close to family. UC Cooperative Extension irrigation specialist Khaled Bali will serve as interim director of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Rachel Elkins, UC Cooperative Extension pomology farm advisor for Lake and Mendocino counties, plans to retire from UC July 1 after 36 years, 33 years in her current position.
“Rachel has been invaluable to the pear industry in Mendocino and Lake counties,” said Bob McClain, California Pear Advisory Board's field and research director.
The Richmond native's first UC job was as a typist at UC Berkeley. Elkins was introduced to UC Agriculture and Natural Resources after earning a bachelor's degree in international studies at University of the Pacific and bachelor's degree in agricultural pest management at UC Berkeley, then landing an internship with UCCE integrated pest management advisor Bill Barnett in Fresno County in 1982. After earning two master's degrees, in pomology and plant protection and pest management at UC Davis, Elkins joined UC Cooperative Extension as a farm advisor intern in 1986 and was hired as a farm advisor in Lake and Mendocino counties in 1987.
She co-edited and co-authored the 2007 UC Pear Production and Handling Manual, 1999 UC Integrated Pest Management for Apple and Pear, and UC IPM Pear Pest Management Guidelines. Her most recent co-authored article on predatory phytoseiid mites, detailing work completed in 2008 was just published in California Agriculture journal.
Elkins is well-known for her research to control codling moth populations by interfering with the insect's sex life instead of using insecticides. In 1996, she worked with UC Riverside researcher Harry Shorey to introduce the pheromone ‘puffer,' fashioned after the devices in public restrooms that intermittently emit a fragrance. Releasing pheromones confuses male moths seeking mates. The method proved successful and ideal in large-scale management because as acreage increases the number of units needed per acre decreases. As a result, organophosphate insecticide use for codling moth control in many pear orchards has almost entirely ceased.
“She was instrumental in developing pheromone puffers for codling moth control,” McClain said, noting that pheromones distributed in orchards on plastic ties were hung by hand 200 per acre. “With the puffer, you needed two per acre, which saved on labor costs.”
A 2003 UC cost study showed that the pheromone puffers saved growers $9 per ton or nearly $200 per acre, based on 20 tons per acre. The cost savings came from reduced insecticide use – due to fewer outbreaks of secondary pests such as mites and pear psylla – and less need to operate spray equipment, which was becoming increasingly expensive.
The California Department of Pesticide Regulation honored the pheromone puffer project with its 2000 IPM Innovator Award. The puffer is now used on nearly all the pear acreage in Lake County. This success in pears led to its use in apple and walnut orchards.
“The most gratifying part of the puffers' success is that I put myself out of the codling moth control business and was able to devote more time to horticulture,” she said. “For example, developing modern orchard systems amenable to mechanization, finding alternatives to antibiotics for fire blight control, and joining multistate efforts toward breeding size-controlling rootstocks.”
In 2002, Elkins was named Agriculture Person of the Year by the Lake County Farm Bureau.
Although pears are her specialty, she has worked with growers on more than 25 fruit and nut crops, mainly walnuts, but also apples, kiwifruit, olives and wine grapes.
“My walnut research program has greatly increased in the past decade as higher prices and organic markets have led to new Lake County plantings,” she said. “I established four long-term rootstock trials in 2011-2012, which are providing local growers with important data to decide whether to replace seedling Paradox with newer clonal selections.”
In 2015, she received the American Society for Horticultural Science award for Outstanding Extension Education Materials for producing the video “Budding, Grafting and Planting Walnut Trees in the Field,” a labor of love honoring renowned Lake County nurseryman Alex Suchan.
She has also covered environmental horticulture and, in 1993, started the UC Master Gardeners Program in Lake County, which is still going strong today.
In addition to her research, Elkins has served as UCCE director in Lake County, from 2002 to 2006 and again from 2018 to the present, maintaining excellent relationships with local government officials and partnering with county departments.
Elkins has been granted emeritus status by UC ANR and will continue ongoing research trials. She will return part-time funded by the California Pear Advisory Board and Pear Pest Management Research Fund to continue assisting the statewide pear industry, including as UC ANR commodity liaison.
“I am very glad to work part-time doing pure farm advisor work, which is what I love and why I entered this profession,” Elkins said.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
UC ANR vice provost Mark Lagrimini visited the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, the Lindcove REC and the West Side REC in October as he continues to become familiarized with the diversity of resources in the Division.
After a morning meeting with Kearney director Jeff Dahlberg on Oct. 15, Lagrimini traveled 45 miles southeast to the Lindcove REC. At Lindcove, director Beth Grafton-Cardwell led Lagrimini on a tour of the facility's greenhouse, laboratories, office facilities, the screenhouse, conference facility and research packing line.
The next day, Lagrimini was 70 miles due west to visit the West Side REC, where director Bob Hutmacher showed him research projects at the center in pistachios, cotton and other row crops.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
People raising cattle, sheep, goats, poultry, swine, horses, llamas, alpacas, aquaculture species or other production-oriented animals in California who have experienced at least one wildfire on their property within the last 10 years are being asked to participate in a Fire Impact and Risk Evaluation (FIRE) survey.
“We will aim to quantify the impact of wildfires in different livestock production systems,” said Beatriz Martinez Lopez, director of the Center for Animal Disease Modeling and Surveillance in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “The idea is also to create a risk map showing areas more likely to experience wildfires with high economic impact in California.
“This economic and risk assessment, to the best of our knowledge, has not been done and we hope to identify potential actions that ranchers can take to reduce or mitigate their losses if their property is hit by wildfire.”
Martínez López, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Medicine & Epidemiology at UC Davis, is teaming up with UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisors and wildfire specialists around the state to conduct the study.
The research team includes
- Matthew Shapero, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Ventura County
- Rebecca Ozeran, UCCE advisor in Fresno and Madera counties
- Stephanie Larson, UCCE livestock range management advisor in Sonoma and Marin counties
- Sheila Barry, UCCE livestock and natural resourcesadvisor, in Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties
- Josh Davy, UCCE livestock, range and natural resources advisor in Tehama, Colusa and Glenn counties
- Max Moritz, UCCE wildfire specialist, UC Santa Barbara
- Luke Macaulay, UCCE rangeland planning and policy specialist at UC Berkeley
- Lenya Quinn-Davidson, UCCE wildfire advisor in Humboldt, Siskiyou, Trinity and Mendocino
“The idea came up in a conference in San Diego, just when we had several ongoing wildfires and we were discussing how poorly are some areas prepared for this and the need for better emergency planning, coordination and response when not only people, but also large animals are involved,” Martínez López said. “We hope this study will provide the foundation to advance in this direction.”
“Right now, we have no good estimate of the real cost of wildfire to livestock producers in California,” said Rebecca Ozeran, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor for Fresno and Madera counties. “Existing UCCE forage loss worksheets cannot account for the many other ways that wildfire affects livestock farms and ranches. As such, we need producers' input to help us calculate the range of immediate and long-term costs of wildfire.”
Stephanie Larson, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and range management advisor for Sonoma and Marin counties, agreed, saying, “The more producers who participate, the more accurate and useful our results will be.”
“We hope the survey results will be used by producers across the state to prepare for wildfire,” said Matthew Shapero, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor for Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, “And by federal and private agencies to better allocate funds for postfire programs available to livestock producers.”
The survey is online at http://bit.ly/FIREsurvey. It takes 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the number of properties the participant has that have been affected by wildfire.
“Survey answers are completely confidential and the results will be released only as summaries in which no individual's answers can be identified,” said Martínez López. “This survey will provide critical information to create the foundation for future fire economic assessments and management decisions.”
The team would like your help in encouraging livestock producers who have experienced wildfire to participate in the FIRE survey.
- Author: Maci Mueller
Two University of California graduate students have been selected by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources as UC Global Food Initiative (GFI) fellows for 2018-19. Graduate students Melanie Colvin at UC Berkeley and Maci Mueller at UC Davis will work with ANR academics and staff to conduct and communicate about UC research for improved food security and agricultural sustainability.
Melanie Colvin, a graduate student at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, focuses on addressing nutrition-related diseases through preventative measures. As a GFI fellow, Colvin will work with Nutrition Policy Institute researchers to conduct a secondary analysis of the Healthy Communities Study, a six-year observational study that included more than 5,000 children and their families from 130 communities in the United States. The native of Chapel Hill, N.C., will analyze the relationship between household food insecurity and physical activity. Colvin plans to pursue a Ph.D. with a goal of a career in public health research.
"The GFI fellowship allows me to experience many facets of developing meaningful research questions that I will address on my own one day as a principal investigator," Colvin said.
Maci Mueller, a doctoral student in animal biology at UC Davis, is interested in a career at the interface of agricultural science and policy, particularly related to the problems that might be solved using innovative breeding tools, such as gene editing. Using a variety of communication tools, the Princeton, Neb., native will work with UC ANR's Strategic Communications team to inform the public about UC ANR's contributions to agricultural, food and nutrition research and related policies.
“I am excited to learn from UC ANR's Strategic Communications team and for the opportunity as a GFI fellow to gain hands-on agricultural research communication experience,” Mueller said.
In addition to their individual projects, the 2018-19 GFI fellows are invited to participate in systemwide activities designed to enhance their leadership skills and enrich their understanding of the food system in California.
The UC Global Food Initiative was launched by UC President Janet Napolitano in 2014 with the aim of putting UC, California and the world on a pathway to sustainability. The GFI fellows are part of a group of approximately 50 UC graduate and undergraduate students working on food-related projects at all 10 UC campuses, UC Office of the President, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC ANR. Each participant receives a $4,000 award to help fund student-generated research, projects or internships that support the initiative's efforts to address the issue of how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach 8 billion by 2025.