- Author: Hanif Houston, Associate Director, Communications & Marketing for UC ANR's The VINE
College students are invited to develop a robot that makes farm work easier while competing for cash prizes and bragging rights in the Farm Robotics Challenge, a three-month robotics development competition running from Feb. 1 to May 13, 2023.
The challenge is being sponsored by The VINE, an initiative of the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources focused on agricultural innovation, in partnership with the AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems (AIFS), farm-ng robotics company, and the Fresno-Merced Future of Food (F3) Innovation coalition.
"Our primary objective for the Farm Robotics Challenge is to empower young innovators to explore careers in agriculture technology and innovation," said Gabe Youtsey, chief innovation officer for UC ANR and head of the VINE. "The agrifood technology industry is one of the most exciting and fastest-growing sectors in the economy right now, estimated to reach $30.5 billion by 2050. Yet, because of a lack of exposure or access, our brightest minds end up entering other sectors, taking their talents and abilities with them. We hope this new competition changes that and reverses the talent flow back into agriculture."
“In order to have a next-generation food system, we need next-generation agricultural robotics developers,” said Steve Brown, AIFS associate director. “There is tremendous innovation potential in this domain that just needs more connecting points to the coders and makers.
The Farm Robotics Challenge is open to any university or college in the U.S. Student teams will be asked to address a production farming topic on any crop or size of farm, with a desired focus on small farms, by automating an essential farm-related task using the farm-ng robotics platform. Each campus will need to purchase a farm-ng robot or borrow one to participate in the challenge.
Specific challenges will either be pre-identified for teams to choose from, or teams may choose to create additional or custom functionality to solve a self-identified challenge. Challenges will fit into one or more of the following categories: autonomy, artificial intelligence or attachment. Virtual training sessions will be offered throughout the competition to provide teams with expert guidance and technical help from AIFS, farm-ng, The VINE and other partners.
Student teams will be judged on the following criteria, with a grand prize and several specific prizes for top teams in each category: accuracy and completeness, market fit and commercial potential, design elegance and ease of use, cost-effectiveness, safety, interdisciplinary inclusion, and social and economic impact. Winners will receive cash prizes and connections to robotic companies for internships and jobs, among other benefits.
For more information, please visit the Farm Robotics Challenge website at https://farmbot.ai. If you have questions, contact HannaBartram, AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems education and public engagement coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Author: Hanif Houston, Associate Director, Communications & Marketing for UC ANR's The VINE
Agriculture and the global food supply is threatened by a range of issues including drought, climate impacts, increasing business costs and labor scarcity. To forge solutions to these issues and more, nearly 1,000 attendees from 26 countries converged in Fresno on Oct. 18-22 for the inaugural FIRA - World Ag Robotics Forum to be held in the U.S. The event was co-sponsored by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' The Verde Innovation Network for Entrepreneurship, or the VINE.
Widely observed as a pivotal moment for agricultural technology and robotics in U.S. agriculture, the event was kicked off by California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross and moved into a packed agenda with panel discussions, lightning talks and pitches where automation company representatives, academics and growers had the opportunity to share their challenges, concerns and hopes for the future of autonomous farming. The event culminated at CSU Fresno with more than a dozen companies offering in-the-field demonstrations.
Although growers are the target market for most of the equipment, the benefits of automation can ripple out into society, according to Glenda Humiston, University of California vice president for agriculture and natural resources.
“Technology can help us grow, harvest and distribute food more efficiently so that it can become more affordable and accessible for those who are food insecure,” said Humiston. “If we do this right, it's good for the whole community.
Here are a few themes and takeaways from this pioneering multi-day event.
Gaining on-farm use - Focus on end-user needs and ease of use
A major question speakers tackled was why more growers aren't yet integrating automation on their farms. Automation solutions exist and are being developed to help growers in nearly every aspect of running a farm — from planting, harvesting and weeding to addressing persistent labor shortages. Despite this, ag automation companies – both big and small – still face resistance from growers to adopting new technologies.
Part of the problem, Jeff Morrison of Grimmway Farms said during a panel on mechanization versus automation, is that companies pay more attention to their product than the needs of the grower. “Farmers want technology that fills a particular need,” he said. Anna Haldewang, the founder of InsightTRAC, agreed. “Don't be married to your product, be married to your customer.”
Chuck Baresich, president of the Haggerty AgRobotics Company, emphasized the importance of creating automation solutions that are simple and intuitive to use. “For a manufacturer, the first thing I'd tell them is don't overcomplicate things,” he said. “Make sure your robot can drive straight, start with that.”
Panels also touched on the technical, business and regulatory challenges to automating agriculture. The ag tech startup market is much younger than Silicon Valley, and we don't yet know the best route to establishing a successful business, Rob Trice of Better Food Ventures and The Mixing Bowl observed during a panel on robotic product development with key industry leaders, including Walt Duflock, vice president of innovation for Western Growers. That said, panelists identified three things that startups should do:
- Get prototypes into the field as quickly as possible to get performance data and get feedback, including from farmworkers, who may come up with multiple uses for the product.
- Be transparent about development to build partnerships with investors and growers. Partners understand that startups are a work-in-progress.
- Be ready to evolve and change your technology or your business to meet the customers' needs. Love the customer, not the tech.
AgTech, Labor and Farmworkers - Forging win-win opportunities
Labor issues also emerged as a persistent theme during the event. One of the major forces driving the need for automation in agriculture is persistent labor shortages. Simply put, farmers do not have sufficient labor to sustain their operations and are turning to agtech, robotics and automation to fill the gap. At the same time, as robotics and automation take hold in the agriculture industry, farmworkers and farm labor organizations are rightly concerned about the impact that the adoption of automation will have on agriculture jobs, in particular farm labor jobs.
Hernan Hernandez of the California Farmworker Foundation acknowledges the labor concern, but also sees opportunity. “All of a sudden, you go from 100 individuals that are going to be able to harvest this season to now 10 that will harvest with a machine," he said. "But the way we look at it is as well, when we talk to farmworkers and engage them, and we look at data, there is also opportunity. We know a lot of the farmworkers want opportunities to further their skill sets.”
We've got to find ways to help our farm workers actually get the training they need to make use of this technology, which will give them a better quality of life.
This sense of optimism about the future of the farmworker was shared by Gabe Youtsey, chief innovation officer of UC ANR, who moderated a panel on the future of agricultural work. “California as a whole has begun recognizing the importance of creating the next generation of ag workers,” he observed, “and schools and industry have both taken notice.” Indeed, California community colleges have begun working on new relevant programs that translate directly to jobs, and the federal government has allocated $10 million going directly to Central Valley agricultural education and workforce development programs.
The gathering also served as a platform for launching new technology initiatives. Youtsey, in collaboration with our partners at UC Davis AI Institute for Food Systems, announced the 2023 Farm Robotics Challenge at FIRA USA 22! We look forward to co-hosting this event!
It is clear that automation and robotics will play an increasingly crucial role in agriculture. Not only in addressing the pronounced labor shortage in agriculture, but by creating new value creation opportunities related to resource efficiency, crop health, disease, harvesting and more.
“Our job at The VINE is to drive collaboration between industry, academia and government forward,” said Youtsey. “Robotics is moving very fast and there's a new set of players coming into the space. UC Cooperative Extension advisors can bring startups and farmers together in creative new ways during development and advance these solutions into commercialization faster.”
Co-sponsors of the conference included FIRA, Western Growers, University of California, Merced, California State University, Fresno and the Fresno-Merced Future of Food (F3) Innovation Initiative.
Industry sponsors included Bluewhite, Carbon Robotics, CNH Industrial, Far West Equipment Dealers Association, Grimmway Farms, Keithly-Williams Seeds Inc., Robotics Plus, VARTA AG, and Sonsray Machinery, LLC.
For more information
University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources continued hiring county-based scientists at a rapid pace over the summer. With increased funding from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature, UC ANR recently hired UC Cooperative Extension advisors who bring expertise in wood products, wildfire, wildlife, food systems, urban and small-scale farms, 4-H youth development, pest management, drought, nutrition and environmental horticulture.
UC Cooperative Extension advisors work directly with community members to apply research-based information to improve the lives and livelihoods of Californians.
To see a list of UC Cooperative Extension advisors who have joined in the past few months, visit https://ucanr.edu/About/DirectorySearch/Recent_Hires. The most recently hired advisors are introduced below.
Cindy Chen joined UC Cooperative Extension Sept. 6 as a woody biomass and wood products advisor for the Central Sierra and Alpine and Mariposa counties.
After receiving her bachelor's in social ecology and master's in demography from UC Irvine, Chen completed her Ph.D. in environmental and forest sciences from the University of Washington, specializing in wood products processing and marketing. Chen has worked and lived in all three West Coast states over the past 20 years and she is familiar with the natural environment in the western U.S.
Her multidisciplinary expertise allows her to work on a wide range of projects covering topics such as population forecasting, environmental assessment, woody biomass transportation logistics, the end-of-life treatment of wood products and mass timber production optimization.
Chen has worked with nonprofit organizations, government agencies, research scientists and local stakeholders to investigate the environmental and economic benefits of wood utilization in the construction and energy industries. Her work in evaluating the environmental impacts of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) production helped prepare for the opening of North America's largest mass timber manufacturing facility in Washington.
In addition to her work in the U.S., Chen also has collaborated extensively with international partners in research projects that explored the global market potential for wood products and bioenergy.
About this position, Chen says, “As the woody biomass and forest products advisor at UC ANR, my goal is to work with the Central Sierra communities in exploring innovative ways to better utilize California's forest resources and biomass, developing biomass processing programs that are appropriate for the region and contributing to local economic development.”
Chen is based in Tuolumne and can be reached at email@example.com.
Katie Low, who began as the University of California Cooperative Extension statewide fire coordinator on Sept. 1, will fulfill two important functions for UC ANR's team of fire experts.
First, she will coordinate and partner with UCCE fire advisors throughout California to develop and deliver wildfire-related science and outreach materials for a wide range of communities across the state. Low said encouraging diversity in the network of fire experts and engaged communities will be crucial.
“One of my goals is to help build and maintain a diverse and inclusive community of fire and natural resource professionals,” she said.
Second, based at the UCCE office in Auburn, Low will collaborate with local natural resource professionals and residents in Nevada and Placer counties on projects that bolster community and ecosystem resilience to wildfire and climate change.
“I look forward to working with community groups, land managers and scientists to implement viable fire-resilient management strategies for ecosystems in the region and statewide,” Low said.
Equipped with bachelor's degrees in geography and ecosystems management and forestry, as well as a master's in forestry, all from UC Berkeley, Low brings a wealth of knowledge and a variety of experience.
As a fire and forest ecologist, she studied the impacts of fuels-reduction and forest-restoration treatments on Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer forests. Low also worked as operations coordinator for the California Outdoor Engagement Coalition, and as a forestry aide for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's Forest Biometrics Program.
Low can be reached at (530) 889-7385 and firstname.lastname@example.org; follow her on Twitter @lowseverityfire.
Alison Deak joined UC Cooperative Extension on Aug. 22 as a fire advisor for Mariposa, Fresno and Madera counties. Since she began work, Deak has been focused on conducting a needs assessment and building rapport with community leaders.
Her role as fire advisor will include promoting the use of prescribed fire to help restore fire adapted landscapes. She will also prioritize community education, applied research and partnership building efforts that are based on scientifically informed ways to help communities mitigate, prepare for, and recover from wildfire.
Originally from northeast Ohio where there are no wildfires according to Deak, it was not until she moved to Colorado for college that she learned of their impact.
When the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire occurred, Deak felt like her playground was burning down so she acted. She began volunteering with the wildfire recovery effort and her career into fire science took off from there.
Deak earned a bachelor's degree in geography and environmental studies from the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and master's degrees in geography and nonprofit management from the University of Oregon.
Before moving to California and joining UC ANR, Deak worked as a wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
When asked what she is looking forward to most, Deak shared that she is passionate about increasing diversity in the fire science field and, particularly, empowering more women to join. She is eager to help community members prepare for wildfire and mitigate fire risk in a safe and competent manner.
Deak is located at the UC Cooperative Extension office in Mariposa County and can be reached at email@example.com.
Olivia Henry joined UC ANR on Aug. 15 as regional food systems area advisor for Solano, Yolo, Sacramento, Placer and Nevada counties. Henry will focus on issues related to marketing, resilient supply chains, distribution infrastructure, processing infrastructure, financing models and food waste.
Prior to joining UC ANR, Henry worked in various newsrooms – including CapRadio, the Mendocino Voice, KALW Public Radio, San Francisco Public Press and Mother Jones – in community engagement, membership and communications roles. She also worked with Internews, a media development organization, to conduct information needs assessments in the San Joaquin Valley and Inland Empire regions.
Henry is still involved with community media, and currently serves as the assistant editor of a bimonthly, English and Spanish-language newspaper, “The Ivanhoe Sol,” in rural Tulare County.
She earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Western Washington University and master's degree in community development from UC Davis. While at Davis, Henry studied models of community- and employee-owned news enterprises, with a focus on how stakeholder ownership can protect journalism as a public good. She also earned a graduate certificate in extension outreach and communication.
Henry said she is excited to be a part of UC ANR, which she has benefitted from as a certified California Naturalist and candidate California Master Beekeeper. She has previously worked at local farms, including a diversified orchard and targeted grazing operation.
Henry is based in Fairfield and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sally Neas began working as the 4-H youth development program advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in San Mateo and San Francisco counties on Aug. 1.
In her role, Neas incorporates environmental education into youth programs at Elkus Ranch and 4-H community clubs. She is also responsible for conducting research and developing new programs.
Neas has worked in youth development and environmental education for several years. When she first moved to California 12 years ago, she worked for Veggielution Community Farm in San Jose and helped launch their first youth development program.
Since then, she has worked in after-school programming focused on gardening and nutrition in Santa Cruz and has dedicated her time and energy to engaging youth in conversations about climate change.
“I'm interested in building conversations around climate change that focus on culturally relevant and personally meaningful approaches. Not a deficit approach that asks what we're going to give up, but what can we do as a collective,” said Neas.
Neas earned a doctorate in environmental education at UC Davis and a bachelor's in environmental studies from the University of the South in Tennessee.
Neas centered her dissertation on how young people understand and define climate change. Her research relied on oral histories collected from “youth that, historically, are not represented in the climate change space” such as youth of color and queer youth. To capture their stories, Neas initiated a digital storytelling project, drawing on the collaboration between art and science.
“I really felt bothered by not hearing educators adequately address climate change. It felt like a looming elephant in the room, where we either didn't talk about it at all or what we were saying wasn't helpful,” she said.
According to Neas, youth have a moral compass that, unlike in adults, has not been so degraded. Their creativity, compassion and drive inspire Neas to preserve these parts of herself. Moving forward, she is eager to create programs that are inclusive and representative of all youth that she serves.
Neas is based in Half Moon Bay and can be reached at email@example.com.
Tori Norville started on Aug. 1 as the new UC Cooperative Extension fire advisor for Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties.
In this capacity, Norville will work with residents and organizations within the wildland-urban interface to encourage and cultivate fire-adapted communities. She aims to provide education and outreach on home hardening, defensible space and the importance of forest and fuel management on the landscape.
While pursuing her bachelor's degree in forestry and natural resources at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Norville became interested in “disturbance ecology” – how factors such as disease, insects and fire affect landscapes and environments.
“Many of the forest health problems we are seeing are stemming from a lack of disturbance, which traditionally was fire,” Norville said.
Her understanding of fire and its effects deepened during her master's degree studies in forestry science (also at Cal Poly SLO), as well as through her seven years with CAL FIRE at the Jackson Demonstration State Forest in Mendocino County. She worked as the Registered Professional Forester for its Timber Sales Program, and then the Research and Demonstration Program.
Norville's firsthand experiences from the past few fire seasons have helped shape her goals and approach. She hopes to “work holistically with disturbances” – specifically fire – on the landscape to foster healthy forests and ecosystems that are adaptable and resilient, while also researching the environmental and social aspects of fuel-reduction projects and prescribed fire.
“Hopefully, I can begin to change the perception of fire from something we need to fear, to something we respect,” she said.
Norville, based at the UCCE office in Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jackie Atim began working as a UC Cooperative Extension specialist affiliated with UC Merced on July 11, based at Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier.
Atim's work will include applied research focused on abiotic stress, which includes plant stress caused by extreme temperatures, high salinity, floods, drought or nutrient deficiency. In particular, she will be studying the genetic makeup of sorghum, its resistance to drought and the value it contributes to byproducts such as bioenergy.
California, as Atim explained, is an ideal place to study drought resilience given its semi-arid climate and water challenges. She is hopeful that California will establish sorghum as a climate-smart crop for forage and grain to address the challenges facing water-stressed production systems.
Furthermore, Atim will focus on “transforming science that can be consumed by ordinary farmers and growers alike.”
While Atim understands the importance of research-based decision-making, she also recognizes the challenges that non-academic audiences experience when applying such information. As a start, Atim anticipates collaborating with communications experts to simplify research findings and create visually appealing resources.
Before joining UC ANR, Atim worked as a plant pathologist for the National Agricultural Research Organization based at Mukono Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute in Uganda. In addition to pathology, Atim has expertise in plant breeding and entomology.
Atim earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture and education from Kyambogo University in Uganda. She has a master's degree in plant biotechnology from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, and a doctorate in agriculture, plant breeding and entomology from the University of Greenwich in the United Kingdom.
Atim can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @JackieAtim2.
Sudan Gyawaly joined UCCE on July 5 as an area integrated pest management advisor serving Butte, Sutter, Yuba, Glenn, Colusa and Tehama counties.
Prior to becoming an IPM advisor, Gyawaly was an associate specialist at UCCE in Stanislaus County, where he studied tree nut pests, including walnut husk fly, navel orangeworm, and Pacific flatheaded borer. Before that, he was a post-doctoral researcher at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, studying pest management on vegetables and fruit trees on small farms.
In his new role, Gyawaly is learning about the crops and pest situation in the region by talking with growers and other stakeholders. He plans to develop a need-based applied IPM research and extension program for orchards, tree nuts and other crops grown in the region.
He earned an M.S. in entomology from West Virginia University and a Ph.D. in entomology from Virginia Tech.
He earned his undergraduate degree in agriculture in his native Nepal, then worked in rural areas of Nepal for a couple of years, providing sustainable vegetable production and pest management trainings to growers before moving to the United States in 2009 for graduate studies.
Gyawaly is based in Oroville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Breanna Martinico joined UC Cooperative Extension on July 5 as a human-wildlife interactions advisor for Napa, Lake and Solano counties. She will work on issues that involve wildlife as agricultural pests as well as beneficial species. To learn about priority issues for the area, she will be conducting a needs assessment.
Martinico is a wildlife biologist and ecologist, specializing in ornithology. Her past research addressed the role of birds on farms as pests and pest control agents. She has worked on projects investigating the important role farmland plays as habitat for California birds. In other work with the USDA Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, she investigated the effects of agricultural land-use and pest management practices on raptor ecology and conservation.
“I am compelled by the co-existence and mutual benefits of humans and wildlife in agroecosystems and committed to working to find solutions that benefit both people and wildlife,” Martinico said. “I am excited to be part of UC ANR where I can develop a research and extension program that has the power to increase knowledge and adoption of management practices that promote ecological sustainability and increase farm viability in California.”
She earned a B.S. in wildlife, fish and conservation biology and M.S. in avian sciences, and has nearly completed her Ph.D. in ecology, all from UC Davis.
Martinico is based in Napa and can be reached at email@example.com.
Irene Padasas started as UC Cooperative Extension community nutrition and health advisor for Tulare, Kings, Madera and Fresno counties on June 13.
Padasas will design her education and research programs for communities based on their priority needs within the broad areas of healthy lifestyles, health equity, food, nutrition, water security and safety, and climate change and health.
As part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' work to promote healthy families and communities, Padasas also will support the efforts of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in California and the Cal Fresh Healthy Living, University of California Nutrition Education Program.
After earning a bachelor's in special education at the University of the Philippines Diliman, and a master's in developmental psychology from the Ateneo de Manila University, Padasas received her Ph.D. in human sciences – with a specialization in global family health and well-being – from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
In Nebraska, Padasas played a significant role in extension programs that promote positive and healthy child and adolescent development, such as co-developing curriculum for UpStarts, a program that provides youth entrepreneurship and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) education for high school students in rural areas.
She also led the analyses of qualitative data from the Ecological Approach to Family Style Dining, a research intervention program that aims to support young children's health and nutrition in early childcare centers subsidized by USDA's Child and Adult Care Food Program.
Padasas' current research centers on social and cultural factors that shape the quality of life and well-being of families.
“To serve our communities more effectively as an advisor, I'm focused on exploring the role of culture in health communication to better understand adoption and acceptance of health and nutrition education programs in the community,” Padasas said.
Padasas is based at the UCCE office in Tulare and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clebson Goncalves joined UC Cooperative Extension on July 1 as a diversified agriculture advisor serving Lake and Mendocino counties.
Prior to moving to California, Goncalves was a postdoctoral researcher working on the management of turfgrass and ornamental crops for a USDA-SCRI project at the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Virginia Tech.
He has a bachelor's degree in agronomy (focused on plant pathology) and a master's degree and Ph.D. in agronomy sciences (plant production/ weed science) from Brazil, as well as an additional master's degree in crop and soil science (turfgrass/weed science) from Auburn University. He led field, greenhouse and lab research with a broad focus on plant production, crop protection and weed sciences.
Goncalves' current research centers around diversified agricultural farms, including vegetables, fruit and nut crops. He is also interested in integrated weed management practices exploring chemical and organic options, improving pesticide application technology, drone use for data collection, pesticide application and pollinator-serving plant communities.
Goncalves is based in Lakeport and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @clebson_g.
Chris Shogren joined UC ANR on June 5 as the environmental horticulture advisor for UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County.
Shogren described his new role as “giving back to the community.” While he has more experience “growing plants than playing with insects,” Shogren's expertise includes all aspects of horticulture such as entomology, pathology, water use and more.
He earned a bachelor's degree in horticulture and agricultural business from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and a doctorate in entomology from UC Riverside.
Much of what he knows not only comes from his formal academic training, but what he learned from his parents. Shogren grew up in Hemet, 25 miles outside of Palm Springs, and spent his childhood working at his parents' wholesale nursery. Building rapport with nurseries comes naturally to Shogren and he has been advising them since his days as a Ph.D. student.
Early in his career, Shogren worked on horticulture for Disneyland before joining the Citrus Research Board, where he focused on biocontrol rearing. Prior to joining UC ANR, Shogren mass reared fruit flies for U.S. Department of Agriculture research.
As an advisor, Shogren's top priority is to develop his program by first understanding the local issues and the key players that are addressing them such as advisors, researchers and industry groups. He believes that doing so will paint a clear picture of where and how he can be the most effective.
Shogren is based out of the UC Cooperative Extension office in Los Angeles County and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hardeep Singh joined UCCE Central Sierra as a local food systems advisor on June 1.
He transferred from the UCCE Fresno office where he worked as an assistant specialist in small farms and specialty crops. Singh, who is from Punjab, India, worked closely with Southeast Asian small farmers, African American farmers, Latino farmers and Punjabi farmers. Much of his work focused on healthy soil practices, the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program, Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, and UC San Francisco COVID-19 Equity Project since 2020. He also worked as a vineyard operations intern with UCCE Fresno in the summer of 2019.
Singh holds a master's degree in plant science from California State University, Fresno with a distinction as Dean's Graduate Medalist. He also holds a bachelor's degree in agriculture from Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana, in India.
His research background includes crops such as moringa, cover crops, wine grapes, almonds, pistachios and citrus. With the exception of pistachios, Singh also has research experience in irrigation scheduling and nutrition management for these same crops.
Singh is interested in developing crop coefficients, studying nitrogen dynamics in specialty crops, and reducing production costs for small farms, which aligns with his goal of reducing poverty by engaging with socially disadvantaged communities and moving agriculture toward greater self-sustainability.
Singh is based in San Andreas and can be reached at email@example.com and (559) 579-6065.
Amrita Mukherjee joined UC ANR on April 1 as an urban agriculture and small farms advisor serving Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange counties.
Mukherjee's priority is to understand small farms' practices and needs, and to identify opportunities for improvement and/or collaboration. One challenge that Mukherjee is eager to overcome is getting information to farmers in a timely and organized manner.
“There's so much information out there and it's hard to know who is doing what,” she said. By implementing a communication system, Mukherjee believes that supporting small farms will become more efficient.
Originally from Bangladesh, Mukherjee grew up in a family of farmers and understands the struggles farmers encounter as laborers and as a business. Her upbringing inspired her to not only pursue a career in agriculture, but to alleviate the hardships that often burden farmers.
Previously, Mukherjee worked for the International Rice Research Institute where she examined flash flood risk-management in her homeland. She also worked for the Horticulture Innovation Lab management team at UC Davis as an assistant specialist in Bangladesh, focused on nutrition impacts of horticultural innovations.
Mukherjee earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture from Khulna University, a master's degree in biotechnology from Bangladesh Agricultural University, and a master's degree in horticulture, plant biology and post-harvest physiology from Kansas State University.
While she has dedicated the first few months of her role to networking, Mukherjee feels that building rapport with small-scale farmers is an ongoing process that is crucial to her role as an advisor.
When asked what she is most excited about, Mukherjee said that she wants to help farmers grow – not just their crops, but their business strategy and network. “I don't want to be a supervisor, I want to be a connector,” explained Mukherjee.
Mukherjee is based at the UC Cooperative Extension office in Highland in San Bernardino County and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saoimanu “Saoi” (rhymes with Maui) Sope joined UC ANR Strategic Communications on June 7 as a communications specialist to help journalists connect with UC ANR experts.
Prior to joining UC ANR, Sope worked in tobacco control policy for the state of California with a focus on effective messaging. Early in her career, she worked as a communications specialist for Driscoll's in Watsonville.
Sope earned a bachelor's degree in film and digital media and community studies from UC Santa Cruz and a Master of Public Health degree in environmental health science and certificate in toxicology from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.
Based at UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine, Sope can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @saoimanu.
September is National Preparedness Month, designated to encourage disaster and emergency readiness. To help Californians prepare for extreme heat, earthquakes, public safety power shutoffs and wildfire, University of California Cooperative Extension has created a disaster preparedness website organized for quick access to critical information.
The website https://ucanr.edu/Disaster contains fact sheets with tips for getting prepared.
“Unfortunately, with a warming climate, we are facing more and more extreme climate-related events such as heat waves, wildfires, power shutoffs and storms. All Californians need to step up their preparedness efforts to be ready to meet this more uncertain future,” said Susan Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor, who co-authored the disaster preparedness resources for the website.
The fact sheet for extreme heat events offers suggestions for avoiding heat exposure, such as identifying nearby cooling centers and covering windows to keep heat out. It also suggests things to do during hot weather such as staying hydrated, taking cool showers and keeping pets indoors. It describes symptoms of heat-related illnesses, which can have serious health effects.
Public Safety Power Shutoff
During extreme weather events, electrical power in high fire-threat areas may be shut off to prevent sparking. This precaution is known as a Public Safety Power Shutoff. A PSPS is most likely to occur from May to November, when conditions are the hottest and driest.
UC Cooperative Extension recommends signing up to receive PSPS alerts from your energy company. Experts also advise making a plan for medications that need to be refrigerated or medical devices that require power. To prevent foodborne illness, they offer suggestions for ensuring food safety during and after a power outage.
Wildfire and smoke
Wildfire smoke can harm your health. During wildfires, UC Cooperative Extension recommends wearing an N95 outdoors to reduce smoke exposure and taking steps to prevent smoke from entering buildings. To reduce wildfire risk, the website describes methods of removing flammable vegetation around homes.
UC Cooperative Extension offers safety tips for before, during and after an earthquake. Identifying the safest place in your home during an earthquake in advance is helpful. For example, doorways are not the safest place to be in modern homes. Experts recommend crawling under a sturdy desk or table, while avoiding areas next to windows, beneath ceiling fixtures or near large items that may fall during an earthquake.
The website also offers resources on drought, food safety after a fire, and wildfire preparedness and recovery.
In 2020 and 2021, Cooperative Extension researchers from around the country held listening sessions with community members who had experienced extreme weather events and other types of disasters to learn what had worked well, what had not, and how communities could be strengthened.
In response, these disaster resources were developed by Kocher, UC Davis undergraduate student Caydee Schweitzer, Tracy Schohr, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resource advisor, and Vikram Koundinya, UC Cooperative Extension evaluation specialist. The group plans to add fact sheets on more disaster topics in the future.
This project was funded by a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Renewable Resources Extension Act grant.
MEDIA CONTACT: Susan Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension forestry advisor, firstname.lastname@example.org/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
Zero-emission tractors perform many tasks of diesel tractors, without noise or exhaust
The University of California, a national leader in sustainability, has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2025. To reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources has replaced several of its diesel-powered tractors with electric tractors at its research and extension centers.
Seven of the nine UC research and extension centers – Intermountain located in Siskiyou County, Hopland in Mendocino County, Kearney and West Side in Fresno County, Lindcove in Tulare County, Desert in Imperial County and Hansen in Ventura County – started using the Solectrac e25 in July. The researchers plan to share what they learn from using the electric tractors.
“Charging is easy, we are using a standard 110V connection, no charging station needed,” said John Bailey, director of the University of California Hopland Research and Extension Center. “For faster charging, you can use a 220V connection – again, no charging station needed, just a regular receptacle – but we haven't gone there yet.”
The electric tractor runs for about five hours, depending on the type of use and the speed, on a charge.
“We will use the electric tractor to mix the soil for planting trees in the greenhouse,” said Ashraf El-kereamy, director of UC Lindcove Research and Extension Center in Exeter, which focuses on citrus research. “Also, for pulling the trailer with the fruit bins during harvest, it will be good as it does not emit any gases.”
The electric tractor is being used to move materials in the loader at UC Hopland REC. “It has worked well for this, functioning similarly to a standard diesel tractor,” said Bailey.
“We have also used it to clean our sheep barn, scraping the pens to get ready for lambing season,” Bailey said. “This involves pushing or dragging straw bedding and manure. The tractor functions well in tight spaces due to its compact size.”
Bailey learned one downside is that the front end is a little too light, making it difficult to generate enough downward pressure with the loader to effectively scrape the floor without reducing the front wheel traction.
“We are planning to add some weight to the front, a standard practice with tractors to increase traction. The tractor has the mounting to enable this so it should not be a big deal,” Bailey said. “Our operators really appreciate the lack of noise and exhaust, especially when working in the barn or in tight spaces.”
The small electric tractor is also being used in tight places at the UC Intermountain Research and Extension Center in Tulelake.
“The tractor that we obtained from the company is too small for the majority of our farm needs,” said Rob Wilson, Intermountain REC director. “We purchased a small box scraper and rototiller for the tractor and we are using it around our facility grounds. We also use it out in the field in tight spaces that are too small for our larger tractors to operate.”
“The tractor is quiet, powerful for its size and operates very similar to the diesel-powered tractors with regard to the controls, hydraulics and three-point assembly. The tractor also has a lot of torque and speed.”
Annemiek Schilder, director of UC Hansen Agricultural REC, added, “I think another advantage is that the tractors can go very slowly, which is helpful for some uses such as harvesting.”
The researchers will continue to evaluate the electric tractors throughout the year.
“Our main usage will come in the spring, mowing around our headquarters and on roadsides,” Bailey said. “We are purchasing a 4-foot flail mower that can mount to the rear PTO, but won't really put it into use until April.” The power take-off, or PTO, is the shaft that transfers power from the tractor to the attachment.
Other benefits of electric tractors include no engine oil to change and no diesel fuel.
“If the farmer already has solar, they will see close to zero fuel charges,” Bailey added. “Even without solar, their fuel costs should be reduced depending on local electrical cost. Also, the engine only has one moving part compared to dozens in a diesel tractor so maintenance costs should be reduced significantly, something that is proving true in electric cars.”
The Solectrac e25 tractors each cost $27,999 and the optional loader was about $4,000.
The California Air Resources Board is offering incentives to buy zero-emission equipment through its Funding Agricultural Replacement Measures for Emission Reductions Program. FARMER provides funding through local air districts for agricultural harvesting equipment, heavy-duty trucks, agricultural pump engines, tractors and other equipment used in agricultural operations.