- Author: Jennifer McNulty
For the first time, the University of California has hired a Cooperative Extension specialist dedicated to organic agriculture.
Joji Muramoto, a longtime research associate with the University of California Santa Cruz, will coordinate a statewide program focused on the organic production of strawberries and vegetables. His first day in the new position will be May 29.
Muramoto is highly regarded for the depth of his knowledge of soil science and for his pioneering contributions to the organic production of strawberries—a high-value crop that is notoriously vulnerable to pests and soil-borne disease. He will have a joint affiliation with UC's Cooperative Extension (CE) and the Environmental Studies Department and the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) at UCSC.
CE specialists serve as liaisons between the university and the agricultural sector, building research programs that align with the needs of farmers and conducting collaborative on-farm studies that address problems growers are facing.
"I'm honored and humbled to have this position," said Muramoto, who plans to focus on soil fertility and the organic management of soil-borne diseases. In his position as assistant specialist, he looks forward to expanding his reach statewide and to coordinating short courses on organic pest management and organic soil fertility management.
CASFS Director Daniel Press said the establishment of an organic specialist is long overdue — and that Muramoto was an excellent choice.
"This is highly visible, public recognition of the significance of agroecology and organic agriculture," said Press. "It signals to the community of organic growers that we are a partner with them. They know this is for them, and they really love it."
UC Santa Cruz has played a vital role in the flourishing of organic farming on the Central Coast and beyond, through undergraduate education, training provided by the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture, CASFS, and faculty research projects, many of which Muramoto supported in his capacity as a research associate. Thirty percent of agriculture in Santa Cruz County is certified organic, said Press, who called the figure "astonishing."
"Joji is an exceptionally accomplished, skilled, talented, and respected scientist," said Press. "His list of publications is as long as many of my colleagues.' Now it's his show. He's the organic production specialist in the state."
It is also a sign of the times that UC Santa Cruz was selected to partner with UC's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) to create this CE position, said Press. Despite its strength in agroecology, Santa Cruz is not one of UC's traditional "ag schools." But times are changing, and the Berkeley, Davis, and Riverside campuses are no longer the only hosts of these valued positions.
"We have a long record of important ag research coming out of UC Santa Cruz, but it hasn't been part of a permanent program or a formal network," said Press, citing pathbreaking work by his colleagues in Environmental Studies, including Professor Emeritus Steve Gliessman, Professor Carol Shennan, former CASFS Director Patricia Allen, and former CASFS Associate Director Sean Swezey, all of whom Muramoto collaborated with. Most recently, in collaboration with Shennan, he helped pioneer the development of anaerobic soil disinfestation, a biological alternative to fumigants that has become a key strategy in conventional and organic strawberry production in coastal California.
"I can't overstate the different ways Joji has been engaged with campus research and undergraduate and graduate students," said Press. "He has played a key role in CASFS research for more than 20 years."
Tragedy inspires a commitment to organic agriculture
Muramoto's commitment to organic agriculture is almost as old as he is. When he was a boy growing up in Tokyo, Muramoto lost his 6-year-old sister to leukemia. His parents were shocked and devastated. Their loss took place when many people in Japan were concerned about pesticide residues in produce, spurred in part by Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring and the emergence of the organic movement in Japan.
"My mother wanted to do something," recalled Muramoto. "There was no direct evidence between pesticide residue and cancer, but she didn't want her daughter's death to have been in vain, so she joined the early organic movement. She started buying organic produce via the 'Teikei' system, which is similar to Community Supported Agriculture."
During middle school, Muramoto spent school breaks on organic farms in suburban Tokyo. "Organic farmers there told me repeatedly, 'Soil is the foundation of farming,'" he said. "That's when I got interested in soil science."
Today there is much more evidence showing an association between pesticide use and cancer, and Muramoto said, "It is important to increase our efforts to develop agroecological practices to manage pests without using pesticides."
Uphill battle to study organic processes
As a young assistant professor studying soil science at the Tokyo University of Agriculture, a private ag school, Muramoto found it difficult to get support for the work he wanted to do on organic production—while others in his department were well-supported for their work on conventional farming practices, including studies on chemical pesticides. The stress took a toll on Muramoto's health, and he left the university.
He reached out to Steve Gliessman after reading an academic article about Gliessman's early work on organic strawberries. Muramoto visited Gliessman in 1995 and joined Gliessman's agroeology lab at UCSC as a visiting scholar the following year. "I am so thankful, because he gave me the second chance I needed," said Muramoto. "I ended up working on organic strawberries ever since."
The Central Coast is well known around the world for the high concentration of organic production, and UC Santa Cruz is internationally recognized as a hub of organic activity and expertise.
Muramoto looks forward to building his research program; he hopes to develop ways to measure indicators of soil health, including levels of readily decomposable organic carbon and nitrogen. "Soil health has become a mainstream research topic among soil scientists worldwide, but there's no regional data for the Central Coast," he said.
Intuition + scientific expertise = a winning formula
Jim Cochran, founder of Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, met Muramoto shortly after he arrived in Santa Cruz. Cochran was the first farmer who managed to grow organic strawberries commercially, a success he credits to his collaboration with CASFS researchers, including Gliessman, Swezey, and Muramoto.
"I'm more of an intuitive farmer, but intuition isn't everything," said Cochran, who values the curiosity and scientific discipline Muramoto brought to their collaboration. "Science is super important. You don't want to live by one or the other."
Soil biology encompasses physics, chemistry, geology, and biology, making it extraordinarily complex, said Cochran. "There's no magic bullet, but Joji was ready to put a close scientific eye on the complexity of it," he said. "Joji embraced that complexity. Chemical farming was reductionist."
Unlike other academics who specialize in a particular segment of a complex problem, Muramoto takes a "holistic approach" to soil science and has kept his eyes on the larger picture, said Cochran. "He's been able to make some serious progress understanding soil biology, but there's a long way to go—which is good news for graduate students," he said. "It's wonderful to be able to call Joji and ask him what he thinks."
Benefits for conventional growers, too
Rod Koda of Shinta Kawahara Family Farms has grown strawberries in Watsonville since 1984. He has worked with Muramoto for nearly a decade and attended the "candidate talks" by the three finalists vying for the new organic specialist position. Still, he was "blown away" to learn how long Muramoto has been active in organic research, and the number of researchers across the country with whom he collaborates.
"For me, that was the game changer," said Koda. "Joji is this quiet, humble guy, but he's been working all over the place with so many people."
Koda farms 10 acres conventionally and seven acres organically, and he said "it's time" for organic to get the support it deserves. But all growers can benefit from paying close attention to soil health, he said.
"Conventional growers, we don't have fumigants like methyl bromide anymore, so we've got to get smarter about how we farm," said Koda. "Joji is going to be a part of that."
Koda first started growing berries organically in 2006, steadily adding acreage over the years. "I eased into it, drawn by the sustainability of organic," he said, adding that organic alternatives to managing pests and controlling soil-borne disease were key to his willingness to make the leap. Muramoto and his colleagues' focus on maximizing soil health and using the functions of soil bacteria and organisms to suppress soil fungal diseases was eye-opening.
"I've learned a lot from Joji over the years," said Koda. "He's going to be the conduit that's going to bring that knowledge to other people—not just strawberry growers, and not just organic growers. Anyone who pays attention will glean some information from his work and his collaborations with other researchers."
Among California's agricultural commodities, cattle rank fifth in revenue. The University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources' Agricultural Issues Center has released a new study showing the cost and returns of a beef cattle operation.
“Ranchers can use UC beef-cattle cost studies to guide their production decisions, estimate their own potential revenue, prepare budgets and evaluate production loans,” said Rebecca Ozeran, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor for Fresno and Madera counties.
The study estimates costs and returns of a representative owner-operated beef cattle operation located on rangeland in the Central San Joaquin Valley and foothills of Madera and Fresno counties. The study describes a 200-head cow-calf operation and includes pasture costs on the basis of the rental per animal unit month.
The analysis is based upon a hypothetical cow-calf operation, where the cattle producer both owns and leases rangeland. The “typical” ranch in the Central San Joaquin Valley is an owner-operated cow-calf operation, often relying on multiple private leases. The operations described represent production practices and materials considered typical of a well-managed ranch in the region.
Input and reviews were provided by ranch operators, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors and other agricultural associates. The study describes in detail the assumptions used to identify current costs for the cow-calf herd, material inputs, cash and non-cash overhead. The cost calculations in this study are based on economic principles that include all cash costs and overhead costs. The study also includes a “ranging analysis” to show potential net returns over a range of market prices. Other tables show the average costs and revenues, the distribution of monthly costs and revenues over the year, and the annual equipment, investment and business overhead costs.
“In addition to producing meat, cattle play an important role in California's landscape and environment by grazing on vegetation that could fuel wildfire,” Ozeran said. “Ranching therefore has ecological and social impact on rural and fire-prone communities. If we can help ranchers remain economically viable, then we help support local stewardship of productive natural landscapes and contribute to fire resiliency and food security.”
The new study, “Sample Costs for Beef Cattle, Cow-Calf Production - 200 Head Operation, Central San Joaquin Valley - 2019” is authored by Ozeran, Donald Stewart, staff research associate of the University of California Agricultural Issues Center; and Daniel A. Sumner, director of UC Agricultural Issues Center.
This study and other sample cost of production studies for many commodities are available for free download at http://coststudies.ucdavis.edu. The program is supported by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, including both Agricultural Issues Center and UC Cooperative Extension, and the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
For more information, contact Stewart at (530) 752-4651 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To discuss this study with a local UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor, contact your county UC Cooperative Extension office https://ucanr.edu/About/Locations or contact Rebecca Ozeran at (559) 241-6564 or email@example.com.
Three scholarships are being offered by the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources for college students majoring in agriculture. The scholarships will be awarded for the 2019-20 academic year. The deadline to apply or nominate for the scholarships is May 6, 2019.
KNOWLES A. RYERSON AWARD IN AGRICULTURE
Amount: $2500 – two awarded each year, one each at UC Berkeley and UC Davis
The Knowles A. Ryerson Award in Agriculture is awarded annually to a foreign undergraduate student in a college of agriculture at UC Berkeley and UC Davis, in any curriculum, preferably after completion of the junior year. Students must be nominated by UC faculty or academic advisors. The $2,500 award is made on the basis of high scholarship, outstanding character and promise of leadership. One recipient will be selected from the Berkeley campus and one from the Davis campus.
HOWARD WALTON CLARK PRIZE IN PLANT BREEDING AND SOIL BUILDING
Amount: $5,000 – one awarded each year
The Howard Walton Clark Prize in Plant Breeding and Soil Building is given to a senior student in a college of agriculture at UC Berkeley, UC Davis or UC Riverside who seems to show the greatest promise. Students must be a senior at some point during the 2018-19 academic year and nominated by UC faculty or academic advisors. Selection for the $5,000 scholarship is based on high scholastic achievement, talent for independent research and other characteristics, with particular reference to either plant breeding (leading to new/improved crops and new/improved varieties using appropriate tools) or soil building (leading to improving soil quality related to soil productivity and sustainability as a resource).
BILL AND JANE FISCHER VEGETATION MANAGEMENT SCHOLARSHIP
Amount: $1,000 – one awarded each year
The $1,000 Bill and Jane Fischer Vegetation Management Scholarship will be given to promising students with demonstrated interest in vegetation management (weed control) careers. Students from any accredited California university are eligible, with preference given to graduate students. The recipient will have an academic major and emphasis in one of the following areas (listed in order of preference):
- Vegetation management in agricultural crop production;
- Plant science with emphasis on vegetation management in horticultural crops, agronomic or vegetable crops;
- Soils and plant nutrition with emphasis on field, vegetable crop relationships;
- Agricultural engineering with emphasis on developing tools for vegetation management;
- Agricultural botany with emphasis on weed biology and weed ecology;
- Plant pathology with emphasis on integrated vegetation management;
- Plant protection and pest management with emphasis on field, vegetable, or horticultural crop relationships; or
- Agricultural economics with emphasis on vegetation management in field, vegetable or horticultural crops.
For more information about the scholarships and nomination and application processes, visit http://ucanr.edu/scholarship.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Ashraf El-Kereamy named UCCE citrus specialist
Ashraf El-Kereamy was appointed UC Cooperative Extension citrus horticultural specialist in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences at UC Riverside on Feb. 1, 2019. He is based at the UC Lindcove Research and Extension Center in Exeter.
El-Kereamy had been working as a UCCE area viticulture advisor serving Kern, Tulare and Kings counties since 2014.
Prior to joining UCCE, El-Kereamy was a post-doc research associate at University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, studying plant drought and heat stress tolerance in plants from 2013 to 2014, and studying the genotypes variation in nitrogen use efficiency and plant heat stress tolerance from 2008 to 2012. From 2012 to 2013, he was assistant/associate professor in the Department of Horticulture, Ain Shams University, Egypt, where he taught undergraduate and postgraduate courses for horticultural science and served as the principal investigator for a U.S.-Egypt joint collaborative research project between University of Wyoming and Ain Shams. As a post-doctoral scientist at the University of Guelph, El-Kereamy studied the pathogenesis-related proteins during plum fruit ripening. As a University of Manitoba post-doc, he studied the physiological role of abscisic acid in plants.
El-Kereamy earned his doctorate degree in agriculture with an emphasis in grape physiology and molecular biology at Toulouse University, in France, and a master's degree in pomology and bachelor's degree in horticulture, both from Ain Shams University, in Cairo, Egypt.
Giuliano Galdi joins UCCE in Siskiyou County
Giuliano C. Galdi joined UCCE on Jan. 2, 2019, as a UC Cooperative Extension agronomy advisor in Siskiyou County.
Prior to joining UCCE, Galdi was a junior specialist at UC Davis, where he worked on a variety of field trials aimed at improving sustainable water use and hay quality. Tasks included irrigation scheduling, planting/harvesting trials, and data handling and analysis. As a master's student and student research assistant at Fresno State, Galdi evaluated salinity tolerance in different alfalfa varieties and presented research in the form of posters and talks. He speaks Portuguese fluently.
Galdi earned a master's degree in plant sciences from Fresno State and a bachelor's degree in agronomy engineering from University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Galdi is based in Yreka and can be reached at (530) 842-2711 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow him on Instagram and Twitter at @uccesiskiyou.
Ian Grettenberger joins UCCE as field and vegetable crops specialist
Ian Grettenberger joined UCCE on Jan. 2, 2019, as a field and vegetable crops assistant specialist in the Department of Entomology and Nematology at UC Davis. Grettenberger is interested in advancing integrated pest management in field and vegetable crops, plant-insect interactions, and applied insect ecology.
Grettenberger earned a doctorate degree in entomology from Penn State University and a bachelor's degree in biology from Western Washington University.
Prior to joining UCCE, Grettenberger was a postdoctoral research scholar at UC Davis, working first with UCCE entomology specialist Larry Godfrey and then UCCE entomology specialist Frank Zalom.
Yu Meng joins UCCE in Imperial County
Yu Meng joined UC Cooperative Extension on Jan. 2, 2019, as the youth, families and communities advisor serving Imperial County, UC Desert Research and Extension Center and communities near the U.S.-Mexico border. Her responsibilities will focus on providing community development programs in the area of youth, families and communities, with major outreach to Latino youth and families.
Prior to joining UCCE, Meng worked for a USDA-funded project known as "the WAVE~Ripples for change" in collaboration with Oregon State University professionals, extension, community partners, high school soccer coaches, school districts and other volunteers. The program was designed to prevent unhealthy weight gain among 15- to 19-year-old soccer players. Most of the youth she worked with were Latinos and from low-income families. During this time, Meng helped develop and test the first sports nutrition, physical activity, family and consumer sciences curriculum for active youth. Her work resulted in positive developments in youth, reducing added sugar intake, maintaining fruit and vegetable intake over time, and improving the awareness of sports nutrition. Participating youth also applied additional skills they learned from gardening and cooking workshops at their homes, and shared the lessons and practical applications with their families.
Meng is fluent in Chinese and originally from China, where she worked for food industries and started to notice the nutrition issues with processed foods and their effects on children's health. With that in mind, she came to the U.S. and studied nutrition.
She completed a doctorate degree in nutrition science from Oregon State University, a master's degree in food science and nutrition from Utah State University, and a bachelor's degree in food science and engineering from Southern China University of Technology, China.
Meng is based in Holtville and can be reached at (442) 265-7700 and email@example.com.
Beatriz Nobua-Behrmann named UCCE advisor in urban forestry and natural resources
Beatriz Nobua-Behrman joined UC Cooperative Extension as an urban forestry and natural resources advisor serving Orange and Los Angeles counties on March 25, 2019.
As a UCCE staff research associate in Orange County since 2017, Nobua-Behrman provided management and direction to conduct a research and extension program focused on the impact of invasive insects on urban landscapes and wildlands surrounding urbanized environments. The main focus of the program was to conducting surveys of infestations in regional parks and open spaces in order to develop management strategies that are efficacious and economically feasible.
Nobua-Behrmann completed bachelor's and doctorate degrees in biology from the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina.
Nobua-Behrman is based at the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine. She can be reached at (949) 301-9182, Ext. 1006, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan Tompkins named forestry and natural resources advisor
Ryans Tompkins joined UC Cooperative Extension as a forestry and natural resources advisor on March 18, 2019, serving Plumas, Sierra and Lassen counties. Prior to joining UCCE, Tompkins held forester positions with the U.S. Forest Service, worked in the fire effects program with the National Park Service and served as associate faculty in the Environmental Studies Department at Feather River College, teaching forest ecology and management.
Most recently, Tompkins served as the forest silviculturist and vegetation program manager at the Plumas National Forest, where he designed, planned and implemented landscape-scale forest restoration projects.
Tompkins earned master's and bachelor's degrees in forestry from UC Berkeley.
Tompkins can be reached at (530) 83-6125, email@example.com.
Robert York joins UCCE as silviculture and forest specialist
Robert York joined UC ANR on Jan. 2, 2019, as a UC Cooperative Extension silviculture and applied forest ecology assistant specialist and adjunct associate professor of forestry in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. He directs research and management activity on the Berkeley Forests, a network of five research forests covering the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mixed conifer forest from Shasta to Tulare counties.
York is a Registered Professional Forester in California. He earned a doctorate degree in forest ecology and silviculture, a master's degree in forest community ecology and a bachelor's degree in forest management, all from UC Berkeley.
Prior to joining UCCE, York has been the research station manager at Blodgett Forest Research Station with UC Berkeley.
York is based in Georgetown and can be reached at (530) 333-4475 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wine grape growers in the San Joaquin Valley who want to switch from hand pruning to mechanical pruning won't have to replant their vineyards to accommodate machinery, according to a new study published in HortTechnology by University of California Cooperative Extension researchers. Instead, growers can retrain the vines to make the transition, without losing fruit yield or quality.
Mechanical pruning reduced labor costs by 90%, resulted in increased grape yields and had no impact on the grape berry's anthocyanin content. That's welcome news for growers because the cost of re-establishing a vineyard in the region is roughly $15,600 per acre.
“We found that growers do not have to plant a new vineyard to mechanize their operations,” said Kaan Kurtural, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology. “We have proven beyond a doubt that an older vineyard can be converted to mechanization. There is no loss in yield during conversion and post-conversion yield is better and fruit quality is equivalent to or better than hand-managed vines. The economies of scale are evident in the savings per acre and per vine as depicted in the balance sheet provided with the newly published paper.”
The research was conducted in an 8-acre portion of a 53-acre, 20-year-old Merlot vineyard in Madera County. After completion of the research project, the grower converted the rest of the 53-acre vineyard to single high-wire sprawling system. Many other wine grape growers have followed suit.
The Wine Group, which manages 13,000 acres of vineyards across Central California, is establishing new vineyards and converting old vineyards for mechanical pruning and suckering, said vineyard manager Nick Davis. Davis, who works closely with Kurtural and the UCCE viticulture advisor in Fresno County, George Zhuang, said the company greatly values the UC Cooperative Extension research that is guiding the changes.
“I think extensionists are undervalued,” Davis said. “We lean on them for applied research, which has been wonderful. They offer us what we can't provide ourselves.”
More than half of all California wine grapes are grown in the San Joaquin Valley. Worker shortages, rising labor costs, low returns and occasional droughts are driving wine grape growers to seek innovative ways to sustain their businesses.
“To help growers maintain the profitability of their vineyards, we're studying the use of machines to reduce the number of people needed to perform tasks like pruning,” Zhuang said.
“Because the canopy architecture and yield characteristics of mechanically pruned vines are different from vines that are hand-pruned, the water and fertilizer requirements for the mechanically pruned vines can be quite different. So we are studying the yield and fruit quality of grapes produced on different rootstocks in mechanical pruning systems in the San Joaquin Valley,” Zhuang said.
The Madera field study was conducted for three consecutive seasons in the hot climate conditions typical of the San Joaquin Valley. In this area, traditional vineyards are head-trained to a 38-inch-tall trunk above the vineyard floor and two eight-node canes are laid on a catch wire in opposite directions and two eight-node canes are attached to a 66-inch high catch wire. Although this traditional training system can work for mechanical harvesting, it doesn't accommodate mechanical dormant pruning and shoot removal with limited success in other mechanical canopy management operations.
To accommodate mechanical pruning and shoot removal, the vines were converted to a bilateral cordon-trained, spur-pruned California sprawl training system, or to a bilateral cordon-trained, mechanically box-pruned single high-wire sprawling system.
The latter option proved to be the most successful system for mechanical pruning in the San Joaquin Valley.