- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
As a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger in the early 1980s, Dahlberg was intrigued by sorghum, a staple food being cultivated by the country's vast population of subsistence farmers.
“I was impressed with the fact that sorghum was so drought tolerant,” Dahlberg said. “Nigerien farmers relied solely on rain for their sorghum and millet crops.”
Upon returning to the U.S., he earned a master's degree at the University of Arizona and a Ph.D. at Texas A&M, where his research focused on sorghum. He worked with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Puerto Rico for 7 years and then spent the next 10 years as research director with the National Sorghum Producers in Lubbock, Texas.
When Dahlberg took the helm of the 330-acre UC agricultural research center in 2010, he and colleagues at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center and at UC Davis began conducting sorghum forage variety trials. Sorghum wasn't new to California. In the past, it had mainly been used for animal feed. But Dahlberg believed the crop's adaptability – excellent for forage, biofuels and gluten-free human food – offered the grain a rosy future in the Golden State.
"With our research, we have provided California farmers who are thinking about growing sorghum access to locally generated, research-based information to help them make the decision," Dahlberg said.
In 2015, Dahlberg and UC Berkeley specialist Peggy Lemaux launched a sweeping drought research project at KARE. The five-year study, funded with a $12.3 million grant from the Department of Energy, researched the genetics of drought tolerance in sorghum and how soil microbial communities interacted with sorghum roots to battle drought stress.
A journal article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2018 presented the first detailed look at the role of drought in restructuring the root microbiome. The plant switches some genes on and some genes off when it detects water scarcity and access to water.
“That has implications for feeding the world, particularly considering the changing climate and weather patterns,” Dahlberg said.
In recent years, Dahlberg helped reestablish tea research at Kearney, initiated nearly 60 years ago in a study funded by Thomas J. Lipton, Inc. At the time, Lipton was seeking to grow tea for the instant tea market. When the Kearney tea research program was scrapped in 1981, a researcher had a handful of the best tea clones planted in the landscape around buildings at Kearney.
Those shrubs became the basis for a new tea research trial planted at Kearney in 2017 with UC Davis professor Jackie Gervay Hague to determine whether drought stress impacts the production of phenolics and tannins in the tea.
“We know we can grow good tea here and we can grow high tonnage,” Dahlberg said. “We want to determine if we can do that on a consistent basis and whether we can improve tea quality through irrigation management.”
In retirement, Dahlberg plans to relocate to Lake Ann, Mich., to be close to family. UC Cooperative Extension irrigation specialist Khaled Bali will serve as interim director of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) and the Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California (CENIC) have connected key UC ANR facilities to CENIC's ultra-fast 100Gbps research and education network, extending ultra-broadband capacity to UC researchers in rural sites across California.
UC ANR is comprised of nine research and extension centers (RECS) and 57 local UC Cooperative Extension offices. These facilities, until now, have been hampered by poor Internet connectivity to support the 700 UC academic researchers who are engaged with community and industry partners to ensure that California has healthy food systems, environments and communities.
The UC ANR RECS extend from the Oregon border in the north, through the Sierra foothills and Central Valley, along the Pacific Coast and south to the Mexican border. The REC facilities are situated among California's rich and unique agricultural and natural resources and they connect both applied and basic scientific research and extension activities to regional challenges and issues in these diverse settings. Today nearly all research and data analysis involves remote collaboration. In order to work effectively and efficiently on multi-institutional projects, researchers depend heavily on high-speed networks and access to large datasets and computing resources.
One of the first RECS to be connected is the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, located in rural Fresno County between the small cities of Parlier and Reedley. The Kearney REC now has very high speed broadband capability, far surpassing the speeds typically available outside urban centers.
“The Internet at Kearney was like a drinking straw delivering and retrieving information, when what we needed was a fire hose,” said Gabe Youtsey, chief information officer for UC ANR. “High-speed, broadband Internet at Kearney will allow UC ANR to lead innovative, on-farm agriculture technology research and extension for the UC in the Central Valley. It will allow Kearney researchers to share big data and big computing among UCs and globally.”
Currently, offices, laboratories and meeting facilities at Kearney have access to this high-speed Internet. In the coming months, high-speed wireless connectivity will become available throughout 330-acre center. Researchers will be able to collect and upload data without having to make a stop in their offices or laboratories.
“You can't do big data with dial-up Internet speed,” said Jeffery Dahlberg, director of the UC ANR Kearney REC. “Before this upgrade, our Internet was slower than my home Internet speeds. Now we have speeds more like you will find on UC campuses.”
Dahlberg said high-speed Internet will become a powerful research tool allowing researchers to collect and share data in real time.
“For instance, a researcher can use an infrared camera in a field collecting readings to determine how a crop responds to heat as it changes throughout the day, but even this modest instrument needs significant bandwidth,” he said. “We now have the bandwidth to do that.”
The research center draws hundreds of farmers to the site for meetings and field days. With the new capability, who that live too far way to travel to Kearney will be able to tune in to real-time video streams.
Many of UC ANR's research and extension centers are even more remote than Kearney. The Hopland (Mendocino County) and Desert (Holtville, Imperial County) RECs are now online and connected to the CENIC Network. By the end of the academic year (June 2017), West Side (western San Joaquin Valley), Hansen (Santa Clara Valley), South Coast (Orange County), Intermountain (Tulelake), Sierra Foothill (Browns Valley) and Lindcove (Tulare County), will all be on the CENIC Network. UC's environmental education center for Bay Area youth, Elkus Ranch, will also be connected to high-speed Internet via CENIC.
“CENIC is one of the most advanced research and education networks in the world and a critical resource for University of California research, education and clinical communities,” said Tom Andriola, UC Vice President and Chief Information Officer and CENIC Board member. “Extending the CENIC network to the full UC community — including UC ANR's key research and education sites — is essential to the UC mission. Today we have achieved a significant milestone, thanks to the dedication of both CENIC and ANR leadership.”
About UC ANR www.ucanr.edu
The Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) is a statewide network of University of California researchers and educators dedicated to the creation, development and application of knowledge in agricultural, natural and human resources. The University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources is the bridge between local issues and the power of UC research. ANR's advisors, specialists and faculty bring practical, science-based answers to Californians.
ANR works hand in hand with industry to enhance agricultural markets, help the balance of trade, address environmental concerns, protect plant health, and provide farmers with scientifically tested production techniques and Californians with increased food safety. ANR is comprised of
- 200 locally based Cooperative Extension advisors and specialists
- 57 local offices throughout California
- 130 campus-based Cooperative Extension specialists
- 9 Research and Extension Centers
- 6 statewide programs
- 700 academic researchers in 40 departments at 3 colleges and 1 professional school:
UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources
UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
UC Riverside College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences
About CENIC www.cenic.org
CENIC connects California to the world — advancing education and research statewide by providing the world-class network essential for innovation, collaboration and economic growth. This nonprofit organization operates the California Research & Education Network (CalREN), a high-capacity network designed to meet the unique requirements of over 20 million users, including the vast majority of K-20 students, together with educators, researchers, and other vital public-serving institutions. CENIC's Charter Associates are part of the world's largest education system; they include the California K-12 system, California Community Colleges, the California State University system, California's Public Libraries, the University of California system, Stanford, Caltech, and USC. CENIC also provides connectivity to leading-edge institutions and industry research organizations around the world, serving the public as a catalyst for a vibrant California.
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers are working in the San Joaquin Valley with UC Berkeley and Department of Energy (DOE) scientists to examine the role of epigenetics in plant survival under drought conditions, an increasing concern for agriculture as the effects of climate change are felt in California and globally.
The five-year study is funded with a $12.3 million grant from the DOE.
Epigenetics is the study of trait variations caused by environmental factors that switch genes on and off. At the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier and the UC West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points, sorghum nurseries will be grown under drought and well-watered conditions to compare the environmental impacts on the plants' gene expression.
“We hope to tease out the genetics of drought tolerance in sorghum,” said Jeff Dahlberg, a sorghum expert who will manage the trials at Kearney. “Using sorghum as a model, we expect this research to help us understand drought tolerance in other crops as well.”
Dahlberg is the director of the UC Kearney Research and Extension Center. The director of the UC West Side Research and Extension, Bob Hutmacher, will manage the sorghum nursery at that facility. Funds from the DOE grant will allow Dahlberg and Hutmacher to hire two research associates and purchase new research equipment, including a new planter, a plot combine, a forage chopper and specialized tools for measuring data.
Peggy Lemaux, UC ANR Cooperative Extension plant biology specialist based at UC Berkeley, is the overall leader of the project, titled Epigenetic Control of Drought Response in Sorghum or EPICON. Other collaborators are Devin Coleman-Derr, Elizabeth Purdom and John Taylor from UC Berkeley; Chia-Lin Wei from the DOE Joint Genome Institute; and Christer Jansson from the DOE Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Over the next three years, a variety of observable plant traits will be followed, such as plant height and grain yield. In addition, leaf and root samples will be taken to investigate responses to drought at the molecular level, including how gene expression changes and which proteins and metabolites are altered.
Researchers will also be tracking changes in the sorghum-associated microbial communities in the soil to determine whether they correlate with changes that directly contribute to the crop's drought tolerance. It is now well known that associations of specific bacteria and fungi with plants and animals have positive effects on host fitness. For example, microbes in both plants and humans are known to help fight disease and, in the soil, can help deliver nutrients and other resources to plants.
EPICON efforts will generate a variety of large datasets, which will be shared via an open, online platform that will include methods and results.
"Availability of this data in an open forum will enable comparative genomic studies by other scientists," said Coleman-Derr, a UC Berkeley adjunct assistant professor in plant and microbial biology. "Being able to analyze the large datasets in an integrated fashion will enable a more thorough understanding of the complex and interconnected processes responsible for sorghum's ability to respond positively to drought."
The researchers expect that the project will allow better predictions of how sorghum and other cereal crops are affected by future climate scenarios, and will lead to approaches to improve growth and production of sorghum and other crops under water-limiting conditions in commercial fields and on marginal lands.
The Energy Department's Genomic Science Program is funding this project through its Office of Biological and Environmental Research.
Jeff Dahlberg, firstname.lastname@example.org, (559) 646-6060
Bob Hutmacher, email@example.com, (559) 884-2411, Ext. 206
Peggy Lemaux, firstname.lastname@example.org, (510) 642-1589
Center director Jeff Dahlberg, who will be 108 years old in 2065, predicted in his letter that today's modern technology – smart phones and computers – will be ditched by then in favor of holographic demonstrations about new plants and agronomic practices.
“You'll be able to see, in 3-D, how plant systems function, how genes work, and what happens when you turn a gene off or on and the cascading effects of those actions,” Dahlberg predicted.
A time capsule containing the letters will be buried on May 26, exactly 50 years after the May 26, 1965, dedication of the sprawling research station near Parlier in the Central San Joaquin Valley. It will also contain a 20-foot-long banner with a timeline showing significant research accomplishments at Kearney. The banner will have signatures and messages from all the attendees at the 50th anniversary celebration on May 26, 2015.
Kearney is one of nine agricultural research and extension facilities UC Agriculture and Natural Resources maintains in California. The northernmost is on the Oregon border near Tulelake; the southernmost is in Holtville, a short drive from the border with Mexico. Centers are found in the Sierra foothills, in the North Coast and in suburban Southern California. Each center represents local conditions and focuses on crops and activities important in the area.
At the 330-acre UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, scientists conduct research on a diversity of Central San Joaquin Valley crops, including grapes, stone fruit, almonds, pistachios, pomegranates, kiwi fruit, blueberries, alfalfa and more recently sorghum. Twenty Ph.D.-level scientists are based at the center, where they conduct research in pest control, new crop varieties, plant disease control and irrigation strategies.
A scientist who joined the staff in 2013, Kris Tollerup, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor with the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM), will be looking for some answers from his successors.
“Growers and pest control advisors are reluctant to adopt new IPM practices until they are well proven,” Tollerup wrote. “I am curious, do you face the same challenge?”
Since Tollerup will be 105 when the time capsule is opened, his young children, who will be 54 and 58 in 2065, may have to collect the responses for him.
UC IPM advisor Pete Goodell, who with 34 years of service to UC ANR is approaching retirement, had sage advice for successors that might continue to be bombarded with modern conveniences.
“My advice,” Goodell wrote. “Get out of the office and get to the farm . . . Create and nourish human networks as well as virtual ones.”
Goodell tells his successors that, no matter the technological advances that are sure to come, knowledge transfer will always be based on personal contact and trust.
“Humans, even in your time, are high touch species who thrive on social interaction,” he said.
The other three letters going in the time capsule include these quotes:
“I assume that (nematodes) still will be around when you read this letter. At least this is something that I tell my students: ‘nematode problems will outlive us.'” – Andreas Westphal, UC ANR Cooperative Extension nematology specialist.
“Release of genetically modified mosquitoes carrying sex lethal genes has been approved on a relatively small scale in a few countries. I wonder if this method of control will be better perceived in the future and become the norm?” – Anthony Cornel, entomologist and director of the Mosquito Lab at Kearney.
“It will be interesting to see how the citrus industry adapts to the (Asian citrus psyllid/huanglongbing) situation. Growers are very creative people and I believe they will find a way.” – Beth Grafton-Cardwell, UC ANR Cooperative Extension entomology specialist.
Author: Jeannette Warnert