I hope everyone enjoyed the warm weather over the 3-day weekend. I spent a fair bit of time outside getting the gardens ready for spring. All my plants need now is rain.
Please welcome Carolyn Whitesell who started this week as a Human-Wildlife Conflict CE Advisor, based in Half Moon Bay, with programmatic responsibilities in San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, and Sonoma Counties. I have no doubt Niamh and Roger look forward to having another colleague. Based on the news I heard this weekend regarding a mountain lion in San Mateo County, I'm sure the County is glad to have Carolyn on board.
Today was full of meetings, in part because the week is short a day and, in part, because I begin traveling with few days left available in March to schedule anything. During a call of Vice Chancellors for Research, we talked about the coronavirus and how campuses are handling risk and travel challenges. I was quite surprised to learn how few faculty have been caught in China. While there are a dozen or so students, only 3 non-student employees are impacted, thus far. Hopefully, none of the U.S. cases are impacting UC employees. We are a long way from talking about this in the past tense.
Wednesday the ANR Governing Council meets. We are taking a field trip to the South Coast REC. The meeting is a bit shorter than the typical meeting, to allow for travel, but still full of good information for the members. The agenda focuses entirely on UC ANR programs at South Coast, including urban forestry, water conservation, production agriculture, urban wildlife, and the important role UC ANR plays in urban areas. I'll be interested to hear the impressions of our Governing Council members.
Later this week, I am off on a different type of field trip for a quick board meeting in D.C. before heading back. While only a quick trip, I have big plans to get much work done onboard the plane. We'll see how that plays out.
This week was another fun time at World Ag Expo. The only disappointment was the drive down to Tulare. It looks dry, and the nut orchards were not in bloom this year as they were back in 2017. Elizabeth pointed out that the WAE is often the week before the bloom. I went back and looked at my old posts, confirming Elizabeth is correct in that my recollection of the 2017 bloom occurred the week of February 22. Of course, in 2017, I recall dairies evacuating cows due to all the rain. At least that was avoided this year. And, for perhaps the first year, I was able to get into the correct lane to park in the UCCE parking lot. Accessing the building parking lot is not as simple during WAE week, as you might think.
If you weren't aware, AVP Tu Tran enjoys getting out to program events. He's fascinated by the research and the programs delivered by our talented personnel all across the state. Tu's hectic schedule makes it difficult to get out and see the work in action, but occasionally he makes a getaway. And whether it's networking at the Citrus Gala or kicking the dirt at the WAE, Tu is right at home.
UC ANR hosted a reception on Tuesday afternoon. I enjoyed the lightning talks that included an update from Bob Hutmacher on the hemp research at Westside REC and Konrad Mathesius sharing his 'best brew' variety work. George Zhang's winegrape research was presented by a client who promoted the benefits of working with UC ANR better than anyone within UC ANR could. The last speaker, Shulamit Shroder, caught us up to date on the CDFA partnership to provide a Climate Smart Ag program. The fast pace of the updates left plenty of time for networking with the dozens of guests and members of UC ANR we don't have a chance to see often. I hope we host a reception again next year. Linda, Jeannette, and the team did a fabulous job lining things up. As far as I could tell, everything went off without a glitch.
No surprise, there were several hemp-related presentations and booths at the WAE. It is just a matter of time now, hopefully on the order of a few weeks, before USDA finalizes the hemp rules. The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture did an excellent job with their comments on the proposed rules. The key point of the comments – states need flexibility. Indeed, many of the topics addressed by NASDA reflect points of discussion raised by Bob and others as they have worked towards initiating hemp research. I have not read many of the other public comments submitted, so it's difficult to guess at this point how the proposed rules might change as a result of the public input received.
In between the WAE and keeping up with a few Zoom meetings and calls here and there, my annual countdown has begun. I have 63 packages left to read through for a 'first look' (no supervisor, ad hoc, external letters, or PRC input available at this time), of 66 packages submitted for review this year. I feel like I am far ahead! This, too, shall pass, but for now, I will savor the moment.
If you've taken a Southwest flight in February, perhaps you read the article about Sierra, a dog that helped, repeatedly, detect cancer in her person. If you've seen the movie, “A Dog's Journey”, you are familiar with the incredible sense of smell that dogs possess and how it can be tuned for specific purposes. The article went on to discuss the use of electronic nose technology, or e-noses, for this same purpose. I had the chance to work with a 32-sensor e-nose as a graduate student at the University of Florida. The Food Science and Human Nutrition Department had the equipment and was testing it for off-flavors in orange juice and other foods. At the time, 20+ years ago, the technology was under development though some food and beverage companies were using the technology for quality control of ingredients. I recall reading an article in the Wall Street Journal touting that the e-nose technology would someday be used in telemedicine and even as part of home security systems because each human has a characteristic odor. Although I did purchase a portable e-nose for my research program while in Iowa, I was never able to develop the algorithm to accurately predict nuisance odors from farms. I attributed this to site-specificity of odors, poor ability by the e-nose sensors to detect sulfur-containing compounds, humidity interference, and other unidentified shortcomings of the technology. I am unconvinced that we are near an application where an instrument is a suitable surrogate for an animal or insect with highly developed olfactory senses. With that said, my own pooches seem to use their gift only for evil, digging up bulbs I planted while they weren't looking and such.
Fun fact: Manure odor is made up of well over 200 compounds, many of which are below a threshold detectable by humans. However, some of the prominent odor components that are offensive to most humans, are the very compounds that attract flies to fresh manure. Who knows when that information will come in handy?
I had a chance to read the most recent e-newsletter from the Citrus Research Board. The recap of the 2020 UCR Citrus Day talked about not only the honoring of Beth Grafton-Cardwell for all the great work that she has done over her impressive career, but also mentioned the afternoon sessions at the event that highlighted some of the work underway to use dogs to sniff out HLB and other diseases. One of the things we've heard from the UC/UC ANR team working with the dogs is that the dogs need to be in constant ‘training' so that they are exposed to the scent of the disease but also challenged in clean orchards.
I read a summary of the President's budget proposal. While USDA NIFA funding has a proposed increase, overall funding for research is down. This is troubling, to say the least, particularly given the societal challenges that need strong science to develop solutions. The bright spot is that AI and machine learning research have proposed increases across multiple agencies. Surely the work with dogs and e-noses represents competitive funding opportunities. I hope researchers are crafting their rationale statements to be ready when the requests for proposals come out. I wonder if there is a Multistate Research Project somewhere in the system for this topic.
Off to the first day of the World Ag Expo. Who knows what interesting things will be on display this year!
I've been thinking a bit about the adage “if it's not broken, don't fix it.” It makes perfect sense. The problem is that when something is working, it's easy to overlook the need to do preventative maintenance, much less consider what happens when that something breaks. That's why many years ago, the timing chain broke in my pickup truck. The truck ran fine, so I didn't bother to heed the recommendation to have the chain replaced at 60,000 miles. Fortunately, I avoided the costly engine damage that could have occurred. As a result, I repeated my behavior in my next vehicle. Again, I was fortunate. But when that replacement timing chain broke only 10,000 miles later, I needed a new engine. The engine was replaced at Ford's expense, but I learned that what had worked in the past would not necessarily be successful in the future.
Last week I met a potato grower from Live Oak, Florida. I was taken aback to learn of this farm because Florida is not, historically, a potato state. The grower changed his crop in anticipation of declining demand for peanuts. Despite the resource investments necessary, that change in crop choice is what keeps the farm in business. We continuously need to look at new ways of doing things, if for no other reason than to be prepared when the old way no longer works. This doesn't mean we make a wholescale change but that we prepare for necessary or preventative change, including testing our options.
The SI Leaders met Tuesday and talked about things they are testing out, like video clinics coming in April and a think tank in the very early stages of development. Program Council met Wednesday and tested out a new process of asking recently reviewed statewide programs to come back and provide us an update on what's happened since the program was reviewed and received recommendations from the Vice President. Greg Ira filled us in on all that the California Naturalist program has done since the program review was completed in fall 2018. He did a fantastic job providing us with an update on program successes and activities. The program continues to expand and reach more people in different ways.
Program Council received an update from Amanda Crump about her new role on the Davis campus that the Extension, Outreach, and Science Communication certificate program she oversees. The program, developed out of a need identified by CE Specialists, will produce future Cooperative Extension professionals and professionals that have a greater understanding of what Cooperative Extension is and does. Along the way, the program provides internship opportunities for graduate students (120 hours). What I found interesting was the breadth of program areas represented by current students. I look forward to following the success of the program and identifying ways to expand the connection with UC ANR.
Now it is time to catch up on emails and prepare for tomorrow's meetings.
Congratulations to Deepa for making the headline story in last week's Ag Clips! Not only did the story feature Deepa's research and the work of her team, but it was a great plug for the EFNEP and CalFresh programs. A UC website page quotes Jodi Azuli for her work in leading a pilot staff mentorship program. The feedback from the first cohort group was very positive. A second cohort just launched in January. Excellent work, Jodi, and team!
There were good conversations at the strategic plan retreat last week. It was nice to provide an overview of the work to date and accomplishments through a consolidated presentation. For those interested in reading about the progress, be sure to check out the website where you can find 4 Accomplishment documents. I suspect the slide deck used at last week's meeting will make its way to that website soon. I appreciated the expanded participant list to include non-ANR members of UC, providing us a more comprehensive array of perspectives and not just talk to ourselves. Gemma and I had a great table of participants, including two non-ANR guests. I particularly appreciated a comment from one of them who shared that her philosophy, as a former physical therapist, is to 'work with what you've got.' Often, I think we direct our focus towards what we don't have rather than exploiting what we do.
I spent the latter portion of last week in Chicago at the Trust in Food Symposium. I believe we were talking to ourselves rather than to those we wish to learn from or influence. However, it was eye-opening to learn about the coalitions formed to educate consumers about practices behind food production. The meeting had a heavy focus on regenerative ag with coalition partners sharing how they teach growers about best practices. In general, Cooperative Extension was noticeably absent from the coalitions. As a national organization, we can change that and help other partners see the benefits of working with what already exists and builds on local research. It was fun running into Tracy Schor at the meeting. She attended the Top Producer Summit (ran in conjunction with the meeting I attended) as a finalist for a national recognition. Way to go, Tracy!
This week is Program Council. We are only meeting on Wednesday. Tuesday, the Academic Assembly Council meets, and the SI Leaders meet; I will join both groups for a short bit of time. Later in the week, I am off on a short field trip. More on that later. Before I get to that point, there are many, many meetings this week. Thursday, in particular, looks to be stacked from 8 AM to past 5 PM before needing to catch a flight. That's the way it goes when calendars are tight. You have to work with what you've got as far as scheduling options.