- Author: Brent Hales
Recently I had the pleasure of visiting San Diego with Lynn Schmitt-McQuitty. While in town, I met with members of San Diego County Farm Bureau, San Diego County supervisors and county administrators to learn about their concerns and to find out how UC ANR can be a better partner. I had the pleasure of hanging out with our colleagues in the UC Cooperative Extension office in San Diego on Friday, Oct. 20. It's exciting and inspiring to hear what they are working on.
My plan is to visit each of the 58 counties and meet with their county supervisors, county administrators and local Farm Bureau members to better understand their needs. I want to hear and learn from our local partners.
About 15 years ago, Mary Maser saw an ad in the classified section of her local newspaper for a job opening with the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program serving San Diego County. As a community education specialist with EFNEP, she has provided nutrition lessons for thousands of Spanish-speaking residents until her retirement on July 1.
Maser, who is of Mexican descent and fluent in Spanish, enjoyed working with the Spanish-speaking community in San Diego because it kept her connected to her roots. Before joining University of California Cooperative Extension, Maser taught factory workers English and served as an interpreter in the medical field.
“I've had a lot of different jobs and being fluent in Spanish has helped me in my line of work tremendously,” she said.
“We offer the EFNEP courses in English and Spanish, but a majority of my students were Spanish speakers,” recalled Maser, who taught nutrition education and healthy living practices to adults. Making her students feel as comfortable as possible was important to Maser.
Based on her time with EFNEP, Maser said that she is most proud of her students' dedication.
“I was impressed with the number of students who showed up to every class, wanting to learn, even during the pandemic,” Maser said. When the COVID-19 shelter-in-place mandate hit California, Maser said she started teaching students over the phone.
“I had one student who was spending quality time with family in Tahoe, and I told her that it was okay for us to postpone class,” Maser said. “But she insisted and said she wanted to do it, so we did.”
Maser was the only community education specialist who worked in San Diego's North County. For years, she participated in community events like the Fallbrook Clinic Health Fair, promoting EFNEP and connecting with residents. In 2019, she was recognized by Senator Brian Jones for her work with EFNEP and continued efforts teaching healthy living.
“Many of my students didn't speak English well or at all and had varying levels of education. For some, it was the first class they ever took in their life,” said Maser. “There's a lot of fear and stress they deal with on a daily basis, but it never stopped them from coming to class,” she added, emphasizing how much she admires her students' tenacity to learn.
Shirley Salado, UCCE nutrition supervisor for EFNEP in San Diego County, described Maser as a positive, respectful and considerate teammate. “Mary loved to teach nutrition and fondly cared for the Hispanic community. She was so attentive to her participants, ensuring nutrition knowledge was clearly presented to help families make better healthy choices for their well-being,” Salado said.
In her retirement, Maser is looking forward to traveling and learning another language. “I think Italian would be the easiest for me to learn, and I know a little bit of Portuguese, but I'm also interested in French,” she said.
Maser will also be using retirement to practice what she has preached for so many years, by focusing on her health and wellness.
‘Ag Order' for San Diego County expected to be enforced by end of 2023
Generally known for its steady warmth and picturesque beaches, San Diego County is also home to nearly 5,000 small farms and is an economic hotspot for nurseries and floriculture. But the great diversity of ornamental crops that dominate the growing region and complexity of regulations make compliance challenging for growers, some of whom grow over 400 crop varieties.
“The regulatory environment for the growers is still complicated and overwhelming because, along with the Regional Water Board, growers are regulated by the County of San Diego,” said Gerardo “Gerry” Spinelli, University of California Cooperative Extension production horticulture advisor for San Diego County.
To help growers with compliance, Spinelli is prioritizing education and expanding growers' knowledge. By partnering with organizations such as the Farm Bureau of San Diego County and the San Diego Region Irrigated Lands Group, Spinelli works to reach more than 1,200 growers, supporting them as they navigate regulatory agencies.
Formally referred to as the Regional Water Quality Control Boards, the Regional Water Board aims to develop and enforce water quality objectives and implement plans to protect the beneficial uses of California's waters.
A unique place to grow in California
About 10 years ago, the Regional Water Board created the Agricultural Order (Ag Order), a set of rules outlining how growers manage water discharge from agricultural operations.
The new Ag Order for San Diego County, expected to be enforced by the end of 2023, will focus on nitrogen management and groundwater quality. However, new considerations are needed to address the variety of crops grown by a single farmer, a common practice in San Diego.
Calculating nitrogen input and output for more than 400 crop varieties is not feasible for small farmers, a challenge exacerbated by the meticulous attention needed for San Diego's high-end specialty crops like ornamentals, native plants and specialty fruit.
Furthermore, many San Diego growers have limited expertise and experience because they are entering agriculture as a second or third career. Many have become “accidental growers” in that they purchased land with a preexisting avocado or cherimoya grove, for example.
To help address these challenges, the grower community is emphasizing the need for more educational opportunities that are accessible and relatable.
Equipping growers through education
Enrico Ferro, president of the San Diego Region Irrigated Lands Group – a third-party entity that manages water sample testing on behalf of growers – has relied on Spinelli's teaching to “bridge the gap” for growers, including himself.
“Gerry has been great because he has expertise in nurseries, but the educational content he creates is relevant to all growers,” said Ferro, who is an avocado and citrus grower in San Diego's North County.
Spinelli, who specializes in containerized production in nurseries and floriculture, has been instrumental in providing technical assistance to growers since he joined Cooperative Extension in 2020.
“I started teaching over Zoom since I became an advisor during the pandemic, and I try to cover different topics for each training,” Spinelli said, adding that he teaches in English and Spanish, making his content more accessible to the grower community in San Diego.
For in-person educational opportunities, Spinelli created the “Last Wednesday” monthly meetings hosted at the Farm Bureau of San Diego County, which brings together growers and other agricultural experts to learn from one another.
“We try to get our information out in creative ways and Gerry is instrumental in that. He's our primary source of really wonderful information delivered in an engaging way,” said Tasha Ardalan, program coordinator for the SDRILG. “He's proactive and is always willing to try new things, too.”
Planning for San Diego's agricultural future
Currently, the Ag Order is modeled around regulations for the Central Valley. As conversations and planning for San Diego County continue, Spinelli is supporting the Regional Water Board with information on nurseries and greenhouses in hopes that the final Ag Order will better serve San Diego growers.
“I'm trying to help others understand how nursery and greenhouse production systems function, and how and why they are different from an almond orchard or tomato field in Fresno,” explained Spinelli.
Michael Mellano, CEO of Mellano & Company, a fresh cut flower grower and distributor in Oceanside, feels the impact of the Ag Order and its failure to account for variability. Growing over 100 varieties of flowers, Mellano said that for several plants there is little scientific research on how much nitrate to apply.
“Farmers want to do a good job. We make mistakes and we try to fix them as quickly as we can, and we try to educate others on what works,” said Mellano, who is also a member of the SDRILG.
Growers like Mellano and Ferro agree that the farming community in San Diego needs to be given the latitude to solve problems within their means, an ability that requires an understanding of San Diego's uniqueness.
“San Diego is significantly different, and we need an Ag Order that is reflective of our differences,” said Valerie Mellano, SDRILG consultant and former UCCE environmental issues farm advisor. “In developing the new Ag Order, there's a huge opportunity for education and research, something that we know Gerry can easily do and continue to support us in.”
Thus far, Spinelli's educational content has reached two-thirds of SDRILG's 1,200 members. In addition to the live training sessions, growers can watch videos that cover topics such as evapotranspiration, irrigation distribution uniformity, water quality indicators and more on Spinelli's YouTube channel.
Since the Ag Order requires all growers to complete two hours of water-quality education, the SDRILG has agreed to apply one hour of credit to growers who attend a one-on-one session with Spinelli.
As San Diego's growers continue to leverage educational opportunities – whether it's alongside Spinelli, SDRILG or learning from one another – Spinelli emphasized that their success also relies on an ag order that adheres to a distinctive landscape, multitude of specialty crops and growers with varying expertise.
- Author: Mike Hsu
During summer swarming season, homeowners urged to check for signs of Formosan subterranean termite
In the lottery of troublesome termite infestations, “Roger,” a Rancho Santa Fe homeowner, hit the jackpot (a pseudonym is used to protect his privacy). In 2021, his house in San Diego County was identified as home to only the fourth documented colony of the Formosan subterranean termite (Coptotermes formosanus) in California.
“FST is one of the most destructive urban pests in the world,” said University of California, Riverside entomologist Chow-Yang Lee, affiliated with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources through the campus' Agricultural Experiment Station. “It's also the only termite species listed in the ‘100 of the World's Worst Invasive Alien Species.'”
Endemic to East Asia, this termite is now established in many tropical and subtropical regions, including across the American South. Annually, its infestation costs more than $4 billion in control measures and damage repairs of structures in the U.S.
FST was first discovered in California in La Mesa (San Diego County) in 1992, and it was rediscovered in that city in 2018. Another infestation was reported in Canyon Lake (Riverside County) in 2020. And then, the following year, Roger received his surprise.
“Imagine being in your kitchen looking at your drywall and it's totally normal and then the next day there's a four-inch hole there and you're like ‘What the heck is that? Who put their elbow into the drywall?'” he recalled.
FST colonies can reach millions of individuals
Roger hired a pest control company, Green Flash Pest Control, which sprayed a powerful liquid termiticide in the soil around the house. But the termites – workers, soldiers and winged “alates” – continued to appear. The company tried a second application of soil treatment. But, again, the termites kept popping up.
“We were deeply concerned about the potential damage these termites could cause to the home since these invasive termites are extremely destructive,” said Eric Veronick, director of operations at Green Flash. “Unfortunately, there isn't a whole lot of information available on the behavior and management of this termite in California.”
“Some colonies are aerial, meaning that they are formed above the ground with limited or no connection to the soil – in such cases, soil treatment using contact insecticides may not be very effective in managing these termites,” Taravati said. “Furthermore, contact insecticides usually kill a much smaller portion of the colony when compared to termite baits.”
To make matters worse, once FST is established in an area, there have been no records of successful eradication anywhere in the world, according to Taravati. He added that a major reason why the Formosan subterranean termite is so destructive is the enormous size of their colonies.
“Their colonies can reach millions of individuals, versus most native subterranean species that reach a few hundred thousand individual termites per colony,” Taravati explained.
This termite, through its sheer numbers, can turn the wood in a structure into a “spongy kind of cake,” in Taravati's words. More than 10 pounds of wood in a house can be eaten by a mature colony each month. The financial hit for a homeowner can be substantial, up to tens of thousands of dollars – not to mention the increased risks to safety.
“Anything from studs to rafters to door frames and window frames – everything is going to be compromised, if the termites are left unchecked. And then, as soon as we have a major stress on the building, let's say there's a big storm or an earthquake – there's a high risk of at least part of the building collapsing,” said Taravati, who also noted that, unlike California native subterranean termite species, FST can attack and kill live trees and plants.
“These termites can be a nightmare,” he said.
Summer is ‘swarming season' for FST
Since the Rancho Santa Fe case in 2021, four more colonies have been documented, in La Mesa again and also in Highland Park, Hollywood Hills and La Verne (the latter three in Los Angeles County). Taravati said it's possible that FST has been spreading via structural lumber or potted plants and soil.
And even if a colony appears to be eliminated at a certain locale, Taravati noted, there is always the chance that part of the colony survives or more colonies of termites already have been established in nearby locations, as a result of swarming termites from the originally infested property.
Although nominally “subterranean,” certain members of an FST colony grow wings and fly to nearby locations to establish new colonies. These winged alates are also called swarmers because of their behavior during the “swarming” season, when termites mate and reproduce.
For the Formosan subterranean termite, that swarming season in California is late May through early August, so now is the time for homeowners and building managers in southern and central California to keep an eye out for those winged termites.
“If you experience a termite swarm in your house, contact a pest management professional and keep some termite samples in a Ziploc bag in the event you need to send the samples to UC Riverside for morphological and DNA-based identifications,” said Lee, who added that it's a good idea to periodically check your structure for signs of infestation, such as wood damage or shelter tubes (mud tubes).
Lee said FST swarmers have a lighter colored body compared to the dark color of native subterranean termites and the orange-brown body of drywood termite swarmers (see this flyer for additional identification information).
Following an especially wet winter, there's a chance California could see more FST infestations, as this termite generally requires moist environments to thrive, Lee added. He recommends that concerned community members seek professional advice.
“Do not attempt to control an FST infestation by yourself,” Lee said. “This is not your typical native Californian subterranean termite species; they are highly destructive, and you want to intercept the problem with the right strategy before it's too late.”
Homeowner: ‘I owe them my house'
In Roger's case, Taravati enlisted the help of Lee and his UC colleague, Greg Kund. They made multiple visits to inspect the home and analyze the situation – going “above and beyond,” according to Roger.
At Lee's suggestion, they used a caulk gun to insert a gel-like experimental bait into the wall where the termites were coming out. Once spread and passed on to the other nestmates, the product – which contains a chitin synthesis inhibitor (a type of insect growth regulator) – interrupts the termites' development so they are unable to properly molt and replace the short-lived “workforce” of foragers and soldiers. The colony eventually collapses and is eliminated.
“Generally speaking, IGRs are much more effective, but they require more patience,” Taravati explained. “You're not going to see the results the next day, or two-three days. You're going to see the results in a few weeks – but when you see the results, it's massive.”
And that's exactly what Roger and Green Flash Pest Control saw.
“Soon after their bait application, the termites stopped emerging from the walls and that gave us and the homeowner a big sigh of relief,” Veronick said. “I appreciate their expertise and dedication in helping us get rid of this destructive pest."
Roger said he is immensely grateful to the UC team.
“They were fantastic; I owe them my house,” he said. “They were super gracious and helpful and responsive and – ultimately, the thing I care most about – they were effective; they fixed the problem. Here we are two years later and – knock on wood, or maybe I should knock on something else! – everything is good.”
Lee also credited Taravati for bringing his knowledge and “can-do” attitude to communities across Southern California.
“He is highly knowledgeable and always able to come up with feasible solutions,” Lee said. “We need good Cooperative Extension urban IPM advisors like Siavash who could provide good advice and bring solutions to the stakeholders, be they homeowners or pest management professionals.”
Taravati said community members need to maintain their vigilance and urges them to download and share the FST flyer that includes identification tips and contact information. He said they are always free to e-mail him with their concerns and photos of suspected FST – not only to help stop the spread of the pest but to expand scientific understanding.
“This termite is so new to California – even for us, as researchers. Despite being in La Mesa since the 1990s, it wasn't until 2020 when these termites were detected in other places, including Riverside and Los Angeles counties,” Taravati explained. “All of us need to learn more about this pest and closely monitor the behavior of this pest.”/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
A celebration of culture and diversity in honor of Black History Month
Agriculture makes up over 85% of Ethiopia's workforce and the journey into the field is not for the faint of heart, according to Oli Bachie, UC Cooperative Extension director for San Diego and Imperial counties. In addition to managing the research and program teams in these regions, Bachie provides research-based technical and educational assistance to producers, growers, farm operators and pest control advisors in agronomy and weed management
Bachie was born to two farmers of the Oromo ethnic group in Ethiopia. As the oldest of 12, his training to become a farmer was the most comprehensive and rigorous since he would set an example for his siblings to follow. At the age of six, Bachie was given his first test of responsibility: raising chickens in the backyard.
“Chickens is what everyone starts off with as a child,” Bachie said. “We then grow into specialization as we age, but it starts with raising chickens.”
Eventually, Bachie's parents sold the chickens on his behalf and used the money to purchase goats. When he mastered goat herding, Bachie worked his way up to managing oxen and farming.
“If you have a lot of oxen, you can do more for longer periods of time during the day,” he said. “You can start early in the morning with a few, then switch them out so they can break. That way you don't tire all your oxen out and the work will still go on.”
While Bachie's exposure to agriculture was inevitable, it required sacrifice.
In Ethiopia, if you are serious about a career in agriculture, high school is where you first make it evident. Because high schools were scarce and far away, academic performance was used as an indication of whether you were worth investing more time and resources into.
For Bachie, the nearest high school was a long way from home. “It was maybe as far as San Diego to Los Angeles,” he said.
Among thousands of high school students, Bachie was one of very few to be admitted to Addis Ababa University, the only university in Ethiopia at the time, where he earned a bachelor's degree in plant sciences.
When reminiscing about his childhood, Bachie couldn't help but acknowledge how special his homeland is to him. He described its rugged terrain but lush vegetation. He acknowledged the lack of transportation including paved roads in his area, and how traveling by foot prepared him for the experiences he has endured over the years.
“You ever see those skinny Ethiopians winning the Olympics as runners?” he asked. “Do you know why they win? Because they are prepared. You know why? Because they run for a living!”
In Ethiopia, most schools are located far away from residential communities, forcing students to run to and from school if they want to get there on time. “When I was younger, the nearest elementary school was a two-hour walk away,” said Bachie. “Running is connected to survival, and everyone runs.”
Oromo communities truly embody the saying, “it takes a village to raise a child” – another aspect of Bachie's culture and upbringing that makes him proud. “Children belong to the community,” he said. “There is no hurting of children. Anyone who passes or sees a child will take care of them, will take them back to their house, or they will feed them.”
The values he grew up with like education, independence and discipline, have made it possible for Bachie to work in additional fields like computer network administrations and forestry, and in places like the Philippines and Canada. Eventually, he made his way to the United States and earned a doctorate degree in biological sciences from UC Riverside.
When asked about his experience as an African man working in agriculture in California compared to Ethiopia, Bachie acknowledged the everyday struggles that come with being Black in America, like navigating unwelcoming or unpleasant assumptions and biases of who he is based on his skin color.
“I remember when I was a professor, a student asked me if I was qualified to teach the class,” said Bachie. “I responded to the student and asked, ‘Are you qualified to be my student?'”
Since it was the first class of the year, Bachie said that he did not understand what prompted the student to ask such a question. If it was his physical appearance, he wanted the student to know that skin color does not correlate with qualification.
“It's frustrating,” he said. “But what they think about me has more to do with them than it does me.”
Today, Bachie continues to help growers improve crop productivity and yield with minimal impact to the environment. He is also focused on opportunities for innovation in Southern California. Last October, the City of Escondido proclaimed October 21 as “Dr. Oli G. Bachie Day” in recognition of his vision to explore the future of agriculture and technology.
Bachie wholeheartedly believes that growing up in Oromia, Ethiopia prepared him for the leadership role he now has, and he hopes that his story is an example of how strength will take you farther than you can ever imagine./span>/h3>