- Author: Saoimanu Sope
UC Cooperative Extension Ventura County recently hosted a Pierce's disease grapevine demonstration meeting at Ojai Vineyard, in collaboration with owner and long-time winemaker Adam Tolmach. Participants were invited to taste wines made from the new varieties as well as examine the vines.
On July 29, Andy Walker, emeritus viticulture professor at UC Davis, discussed his success breeding for PD resistance, which produced five new grape varieties that were released in 2020. Pierce's disease is caused by the bacterium Xyella fastidiosa, which kills plants by clogging their water-conducting system. Glassy-winged sharpshooters spread the bacteria, which can also move vine to vine.
“Most of what you've heard is true about Pierce's disease. But in reality, when you see symptoms, and they are distinctive and consistent, those vines are dead. And if they're not dead then, they will be very soon,” said Walker.
Unfortunately, PD cannot be resolved with the use of insecticides alone because PD is transmitted by vectors that often live in nearby wooded areas and landscapes. The “obvious solution,” as Walker puts it, is resistance.
But the downside of breeding for resistance is twofold: the species you need for PD resistance are “not very good and have a lot of faults” and grape breeding takes too long.
Walker persevered and discovered that Vitis arizonica located in Northern Mexico has high resistance and does extremely well against PD. Many American grapes have strong flavors that some find incompatible with fine wine. The classic is the “foxy” flavor of concord grapes. V. arizonica, however, has fruit characteristics that are relatively neutral.
“The resistance in V. arizonica was homozygous and dominant,” explained Walker. “What does that mean? It means that both forms of the resistance gene had an effect, an overwhelming effect, and every progeny from crosses to this V. arizonica was resistant to Pierce's disease.”
After producing about 5,000 seedlings over several years of crosses, Walker and his team began screening for features such as size and color with high resistance being top priority.
The PD-resistant varieties resulted in two whites and three reds: caminante blanc, ambulo blanc, paseante noir, errante noir and camminare noir.
When learning about this breakthrough, Tolmach jumped at the opportunity to grow Walker's varieties.
“I'm growing these for my own personal pleasure, and it's been a really fun project because you're taking something that you don't have any idea what the quality is going to be like,” said Tolmach.
Tolmach admits to having challenges growing the plants. “We spent an excessive amount of time thinning the vines,” he said. “I fumbled a little bit at times and had not been completely happy, but each year made a teeny tiny bit of progress.”
Despite not knowing what to expect, Tolmach was shocked when he realized how good the wines are, referring to them as “worthy and special.”
“People expect hybrids not to be good,” he said. “They taste different, but they are an example of what exist beyond cabernet and chardonnay. People are interested in the obscure and environmentally more sound.”
The Ojai Vineyard is in their fifth year of growing Walker's varieties and Tolmach appreciates that they can be grown without the use of insecticides.
“It's unusual to have a vineyard that is so healthy, and these vines are happy,” he said.
Walker and Tolmach hope to reassure growers and winemakers that these varieties are worth the investment and encourage them to champion this message.
“The biggest problem is getting [winemakers] to spread information to consumers and convincing them to try [the wine],” explained Walker.
During a past wine tasting, Tolmach shared that a group of visitors including wine experts mistook the wine that Tolmach presented as syrah – the varietal Tolmach is known for. In fact, the wine was Walker's paseante noir.
It was a testament to the quality of these varietals, according to Tolmach.
Butte, Feather River, Lake Tahoe, Reedley and Shasta community colleges, Chico State, UC ANR and Sierra Business Council to train workers for urgently needed work
California's forested, rural communities are suffering from record-breaking wildfires that burned 2.5 million acres and destroyed multiple communities in 2021 alone. To create well-paying jobs and improve forest health and fire safety, the Sierra Nevada and Cascade regions have received $21.5 million for a project that will strengthen the infrastructure for workforce development and increase access to those jobs for local community members from all backgrounds.
The project, funded by the federal Good Jobs Challenge, is being rolled out by the Foundation for California Community Colleges, California State University Chico, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Sierra Business Council.
“There is so much work to be done in California to increase the resilience of forests and communities to wildfires and climate change, and there are just not enough trained workers to do all this work,” said Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor for the Central Sierra. “A recent assessment estimated upcoming shortages of 6,000 fire managers, 4,000 conservation scientists and foresters, 7,000 loggers and 1,500 utility line clearance technicians. California desperately needs skilled workers to fill those jobs to protect and rebuild communities in rural parts of the state. And these are well-paying jobs with benefits.”
The four-year project will help train and place qualified workers into high-quality jobs in the forestry sector, responding to urgent needs to build economic and climate resilience in California's forested, rural communities. Five community colleges – Butte College, Feather River College, Lake Tahoe Community College, Reedley College and Shasta College – California State University Chico, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Sierra Business Council are partnering on the project. This group has proven experience delivering effective workforce-training programs in partnership with industry and communities.
The emerging forestry and fire-safety sector has the potential to grow into a $39 billion industry. By working to recruit, support and train local community members in partnership with Hispanic-serving institutions, Indigenous-led partners and other community-based organizations, the project will expand the industry's talent pool while diversifying the field.
The “California Resilient Careers in Forestry” project is being awarded one of 32 grants from the $500 million Good Jobs Challenge funded by President Biden's American Rescue Plan and administered by the Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration.
“We are honored to be selected as one of the Good Jobs Challenge award recipients alongside a talented group of partners serving rural communities, including several of our California community colleges,” said Keetha Mills, president of the Foundation for California Community Colleges. “This work is critical to help Californians access good jobs, especially as we help our state respond to the urgent needs of climate change and support economic growth in regions greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters.”
- Author: Saoimanu Sope
Middleton describes himself as a “full-time entomologist and part-time ninja warrior.” When he is not training for ANW, Middleton works as an integrated pest management (IPM) advisor for University of California Cooperative Extension in San Diego County.
“Broadly, I like to think of IPM as increasing your knowledge and diversifying your tools so that you rely on pesticides a lot less for conventional agricultural practices,” he explained.
Middleton's own background is anything but conventional. His popularity on the hit TV show can largely be attributed to his unique culinary tastes in insects. During season 10 of ANW, Middleton struck a deal with the show announcers, Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, claiming that if he completed the obstacle course, the pair would have to eat an insect of his choosing.
Spoiler alert: Iseman and Gbaja-Biamila did have to eat tempura-fried tarantula and scorpion thanks to Middleton, who says that he has also tried the two delicacies.
A part of his backstory on ANW includes b-roll of Middleton prepping and eating his favorite – a tempura-fried tarantula. During his on-camera interview, he explained that insects offer nutritional value and can be a viable source of protein when countering climate change's effect on food sources.
Studying bugs and becoming an entomologist was not a career path Middleton always had in mind. Rather, it was a realization that became more apparent the more time he spent with his mother.
“I grew up in Utah. My mom is a geologist, and I spent a lot of time with her out in the field,” he said. “She was always looking at rocks. Rocks aren't the most interesting to me so I would find things more interesting to look at, like bugs.”
It was not until he began college that Middleton decided he would become an entomologist. “I really wanted to learn more about the natural world, and insects are a good way to do that because they're so involved in natural processes and ecosystems,” he explained.
Middleton earned a B.S. in biology from the University of Utah and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.
One of Middleton's fondest memories while attending the University of Minnesota is when he designed and taught an undergraduate course on insect warriors. Middleton wanted a course that would “engage undergrads in a way that would get them interested in entomology.”
Leveraging his stardom from ANW, Middleton based the course on how insects were used in warfare. Students who took the course were intrigued and genuinely wanted to learn why insects make such formidable warriors or athletes.
While working as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Florida's Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, Middleton focused on developing management options for the Lebbeck mealybug in Florida citrus.
Now that he has relocated to San Diego, Middleton expressed excitement for the diversity that comes with living in southern California, which includes working with citrus, floriculture, avocado growers, small farms, or all the above.
“What's really interesting about working with UC ANR is the fact that you could work with almost anything you want,” he explained. “It also provides a great opportunity to do research that's applicable and impactful to a diverse group of people.”
One of the challenges that Middleton is already mindful of is prioritizing needs. Floriculture and nurseries, for example, face many challenges. Given that they are two of the biggest industries in the area, focusing on them alone can lead to other aspects becoming more neglected.
When asked how he plans to address the challenges ahead, Middleton said that it all comes down to intentionality and, ideally, conducting research that becomes standard practice. One of Middleton's goals is to essentially identify pest management practices that are beneficial for the environment.
“It's broad, but I'd really like to make regenerative agriculture, ways of producing food or other commodities, more sustainable,” he said.
Meanwhile, he continues to build momentum for his work from his participation in ANW – using the platform to challenge people's perspectives about the natural world and applying his ninja skills to overcome obstacles that California growers face.
If you cannot find Middleton in the office or field, try tuning into the latest season of ANW. His results are still under wraps, but the nation will find out just how determined the “Bug Ninja” is soon enough.
Middleton is based out of the UCCE office in San Diego and can be reached at email@example.com.
Daniel Munk, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor, retired from a 36-year career with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources on July 1.
“Dan has played a pivotal role in the success of cotton that has been grown in California, especially his work on drought-related growing conditions and how best for cotton to overcome those conditions and thrive,” said Roger Isom, president and CEO of California Cotton Ginner & Growers Association and Western Agricultural Processors Association in Fresno.
“And while I know he has been involved most recently in reduced tillage research, it is his irrigation work that he will be remembered for,” Isom said. “Dan put on numerous irrigation workshops and grower meetings over the years, and he was the cotton industry's ‘go to guy' on deficit irrigation and related topics.”
As a youngster, the Bay Area native was interested in the natural sciences so he earned a B.S. in soil and water science and an M.S. in soil science from UC Davis.
In 1990, he became a UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Fresno County.
“Dan has been helpful,” said John Diener, a Five Points farmer who began working with Munk in the 1990s. “If I needed anything, he was helpful, bringing information like for lygus bug or diseases or new varieties.”
To solve a salinity problem, Diener consulted Munk. “Dan was an irrigation guy and worked with USDA ARS and NRCS. This was bigger than what a local farmer can do,” Diener said, adding that Munk brought UC technical knowledge and resources from USDA Agricultural Research Service and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to the West Side of Fresno County to build a tile system for managing the salinity in drainage water. “It took a whole group of people to make it happen,” Diener said.
When Munk joined UC Cooperative Extension, California was growing over 1 million acres of cotton, mostly Acala varieties. During the state's six years of drought spanning the 1980s and 1990s, growers began planting the higher priced extra-long staple Pima cotton varieties instead of Upland cotton types.
In response, Munk began studying ways to improve irrigation management for Pima cotton. He and colleagues also studied plant growth regulators and found that by treating vigorously growing Pima cotton plants with plant growth regulators following first bloom, cotton yields improved by 60 to 120 pounds per acre, which translated to a $50 to $100 per-acre increase in crop value, with higher cotton quality and fewer problems with defoliation.
As water became increasingly limited in California, the state's cotton acreage plummeted and Munk turned his research to producing crops with less water using reduced tillage systems. In one study, he and his research collaborators found that they could improve water use efficiency by 37% by growing cotton in wheat residue versus conventional tillage. In other research, Munk and colleagues showed that reduced till cotton systems could reduce fuel use by more than 70%, increase soil carbon by more than 20%, and reduce dust emissions by more than 60%, relative to conventional till approaches. Another of Munk's projects suggests that garbanzos and sorghum can be grown under no-till practices in the San Joaquin Valley without loss of yield.
“He has also been helpful in issues related to nitrogen uptake and air and water quality,” Isom said.
Because of Munk's expertise in nutrient and water management practices, he was asked to serve on the state's Agricultural Expert Panel in 2014 to assess agricultural nitrate control programs. They developed recommendations for the State Water Resources Control Board to protect groundwater.
One of the recommendations was to develop a comprehensive and sustained educational and outreach program. As a result, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and UC California Institute for Water Resources created the Irrigation and Nitrogen Management Training Program, for which Munk helped develop curriculum and train growers and farm consultants on best farm practices for nitrogen and water management. Leading the program's southern San Joaquin Valley courses, he helped certify more than 300 growers, consultants and farm advisors in protecting groundwater.
“I hope these more recent programs will have lasting impacts on farm economic viability and improved groundwater quality,” Munk said.
The farm advisor also extended his irrigation knowledge beyond farms. Working with fellow UCCE advisors and specialists, Munk conducted hands-on training for school landscape staff in 2012-2013. The staff learned how to measure irrigation output, sample soil and manage water to avoid runoff and improve water quality.
“He has had a huge impact, and his work will remain instrumental in the cotton industry's survival in California as we deal with ongoing drought issues,” Isom said. “His departure will leave an empty spot in the cotton world today without a doubt!”
With increased funding from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature, University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources is continuing to hire scientists and staff to better serve California communities. The most recent people hired for UC Cooperative Extension bring expertise in wildfire, orchard crops, grapes, small-scale farms and youth development.
Barb Satink Wolfson began in her role as UC Cooperative Extension fire advisor for Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties on June 30.
Her primary responsibilities include wildland fire-related research and outreach for the Central Coast region, while building trust, strong partnerships and collaborative relationships within both professional and non-professional communities.
Satink Wolfson earned her B.S. and M.S. in forestry from Northern Arizona University, and brings to UC ANR more than 20 years of fire-research and outreach experience in Arizona. Her favorite job, though, was working as a backcountry ranger in Yosemite National Park during her undergraduate years.
In her new role, Satink Wolfson hopes to address some of the questions behind the use of prescribed fire in a variety of ecosystems (such as coastal prairies and oak woodlands), and help all Central Coast communities build resilience to wildland fire so residents can live safely within fire-adapted landscapes.
Satink Wolfson, who will be based at the UCCE office in Hollister starting Aug. 1, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cameron Zuber has been named UC Cooperative Extension orchard crops advisor for Merced and Madera counties as of June 6. For Merced County, he will cover orchard crops such as stone fruit, walnuts and almonds, not including pistachios and figs. For Madera County, he will work with walnuts.
Zuber joined UC Cooperative Extension in 2016 as a staff researcher in Merced County. In his education and professional career, he has worked in understanding environmental and agricultural systems and their interactions with people, society and governance. Specifically with orchard crops, he has worked on fumigants and other soil pest controls, rootstocks and scion varietals, cultural practices relating to tree spacing and whole orchard recycling. He has also studied flood irrigation for groundwater recharge, irrigation and water management and soil, water and air interactions.
He earned his bachelor's degree in environmental biology and management from UC Davis and a master's degree in environmental systems from UC Merced.
Zuber is based in the UC Cooperative Extension office located at 2145 Wardrobe Ave, Merced, CA 95348 and can be reached at email@example.com and (209) 385-7403.
Joy Hollingsworth began working as the new UCCE table grape advisor serving Tulare and Kings counties on May 16.
Prior to becoming a table grape advisor, Hollingsworth served for three years as the UCCE nutrient management/soil quality advisor for Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties. In that position she worked on research and extension projects in a variety of agricultural systems, including work on dairy manure, cover crops and biostimulants in raisin grapes.
Previously, Hollingsworth spent six years working as a research associate for the University of California on agronomic cropping systems, including sugar beets, canola and sorghum.
She earned a master's degree in plant science from California State University, Fresno, and a bachelor's degree in communication from UC Davis.
Luca Carmignani joined UCCE as a fire advisor for Orange and Los Angeles counties May 2. His research interests include image analysis, computer programming and scientific outreach.
Prior to joining UC ANR, Carmignani was a postdoctoral researcher in the Berkeley Fire Research Lab at UC Berkeley. His research has focused on fire and combustion applications, from wildland fires to material flammability.
He earned his Ph.D. in engineering sciences from the joint doctoral program between UC San Diego and San Diego State University after obtaining his bachelor's and master's degrees in aerospace engineering from the University of Pisa in Italy.
Kirsten Pearsons joined UC Cooperative Extension on March 1 as a small farm advisor for San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. She is developing research and extension programs focused on integrating soil health practices and pest management strategies for small-scale farmers and specialty crops.
Prior to joining UC ANR, Pearsons was a postdoctoral researcher at the nonprofit Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, where she focused on studying and promoting organic and regenerative agriculture. She worked on Rodale's long-term Farming Systems Trial, studying how organic and reduced-till field crop production affects long-term farm economics, soil health and water quality compared to conventional practices.
She earned a Ph.D. in entomology at Pennsylvania State University and a B.S. in environmental toxicology at UC Davis.
Pearsons is based in San Luis Obispo and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (805) 788-9486. She will be posting event information and resources for small-scale farms in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties on Instagram @ucceslosmallfarms.
Ricky Satomi joined UCCE Sutter-Yuba on March 15 as an area forestry and natural resources advisor in the Western Sierra Region (Sutter, Yuba, Butte, Nevada and Placer counties). He specializes in forest management with a focus on new technologies and wood products.
Prior to moving to UCCE Sutter-Yuba, Satomi served as a UCCE area forest advisor working on forestry and youth education issues for Shasta, Trinity and Siskiyou counties.
Satomi earned a Master of Forestry looking at the cost efficiency of forest mastication treatments, and a B.S. in forestry & natural resources and society & environment, both from UC Berkeley. He has also worked as a field forester working on various inventory and timber management programs throughout California.
In the coming year, he hopes to offer workshops for forest landowners and professionals around novel GIS tools, climate-smart silvicultural practices, reforestation best practices, and workforce development opportunities.
Satomi is based in Yuba City and can be reached at (530) 822-6213 or email@example.com.
Erika Armstrong has joined the UCCE Central Sierra team as 4-H Program Representative for Tuolumne County.
Armstrong, who has spent her career working with nonprofit agencies and managing volunteer programs, worked with United Way Monterey County and the Alliance on Aging. She also was a campaign manager for a candidate for the Board of Supervisors of Monterey County. Her most recent job was stay-at-home mother for her daughters.
She holds a bachelor's degree in collaborative health and human communication from California State University Monterey Bay.
Armstrong is based at the Tuolumne office and can be reached at (209) 533-6990 and firstname.lastname@example.org.