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The cover cropped-field is the 'real disruptor'

KQED reporter Mark Schapiro discovered a "center of insurrection" at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center in Five Points, where UC Cooperative Extension cropping systems specialist Jeff Mitchell has been building soil on a research plot for 20 years.

Schapiro's story was part of a series titled "Reckoning in the Central Valley," a collaboration between Bay Nature magazine and KQED Science examining how climate change is exposing the vulnerabilities of California agriculture.

In the Central Valley, climate change is disrupting the predictability that is key to maintaining a profitable industrial agriculture system. Mitchell believes that employing practices that build soil - such as reducing or eliminating tillage and planting cover crops - will help farmers ride the wave of climate change.

It's that cover-cropped field “that is the real disrupter here," Mitchell said.

The soil in test plots where cover crops were grown are loaded with far more organic matter than soil in fields where cover crops were not grown. The organic matter which improves water absorption, making the land more resilient to drier conditions. Fields with cover crops also sequester carbon and produce crops that may be more nutritious.

“What you see in Five Points,” said Daphne Miller, a physician who studies the links between the health of the foods we eat and the soil in which they're grown, “is that the plots with the greatest diversity of cover crops had the most diverse microbiome in the soil.”

UCCE cropping systems specialist Jeff Mitchell is working on building soil in the San Joaquin Valley.
 
In a sister article in Bay Nature, Mitchell talked about a newly emerging term for conservation agriculture - "regenerative agriculture." The low- or no-till and cover crop system is thought to regenerate rather than deplete the soil. In addition to the other benefits, healthy soil will save water, since it reduces water evaporation levels by 4 to 5 inches annually, Mitchell said. If widely adopted, these practices could reduce water use throughout the valley by millions of acre-feet per year.

 
 
 
 
Posted on Tuesday, June 25, 2019 at 9:32 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture Environment

The California's 2019 wildfire season takes off

As California grappled with a record-breaking heatwave last week and 236 wildfires, officials are bracing for the worst, reported Maanvi Singh in the Guardian.

The fires have been mostly fueled by grass and brush that came up during the state's especially wet winter and mild spring, according to a CAL FIRE official. UC Cooperative Extension fire advisor Lenya Quinn-Davidson said California's annual wildfire season is growing longer – beginning earlier in the spring and stretching later in the fall.

“It's not unusual for us to see this many small fires in June,” she said. “But 50 years ago, so many fires this early on – plus these extreme, high temperatures in June – would have been abnormal.”

It is difficult to predict how bad the rest of this fire season will be based on the number of fires so far, said UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain.

"Our worst fire years aren't necessarily the years that we've had the highest number of fires,” he noted. “All it takes is one – one huge, destructive fire to ruin the whole year."

Lenya Quinn-Davidson, center, is the UC Cooperative Extension fire scientist serving Humboldt, Siskiyou, Trinity and Mendocino counties. She is pictured with Jeanne Pincha-Tulley, left, and Kelly Martin, right, at a Women-in-Fire Prescribed Fire Training Exchange session.
Posted on Monday, June 17, 2019 at 9:36 AM
Focus Area Tags: Environment

Riverside supervisors vote to restore UCCE funding

After more than 100 4-H members, UC Master Gardeners and others attended a Riverside Board of Supervisors' meeting in support of UC Cooperative Extension June 10, the panel voted 5-0 to restore UCCE's funding, reported Jeff Horseman and Matt Kristoffersen in the Riverside Press Enterprise.

The vote reversed an earlier decision to cut UCCE funding as part of a larger plan to deal with reduced county tax receipts. If the funding had not been restored, services including 4-H, nutrition education and agricultural programs would have been effected, said Eta Takele, UCCE director in Riverside County.

UC Cooperative Extension, a key part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, serves all California counties. Academic advisors work with farmers to implement more-efficient growing methods, solve pest management problems and develop smart water-use strategies. Natural resources advisors conduct wildfire education and research natural resources conservation. Nutrition educators promote nutritious eating habits and exercise for better health. California 4-H Youth Development Program engages youth to become leaders. Thousands of volunteers extend UCCE's through the Master Gardener, Master Food Preserver, California Naturalist, and the California 4-H Youth Development Programs.

During the June 10 meeting, the supervisors heard from Riverside 4-H members who have been aided by their involvement in the program.

4-H member Bethany Campbell told the supervisors 4-H helped her overcome shyness and gain confidence. 

“4-H helped me rise above fear and insecurity to become a leader," Campbell said.

A Blythe 4-H member, Samantha Teater, 17, said, 4-H "definitely saved me from getting into trouble."

UC ANR associate vice president Wendy Powers attended the supervisors' meeting. 

"Those who offered public comment provided heartfelt testimony about the impact of our programs and how they, personally, have benefited and how the county has benefited," Powers wrote in her blog. "The work's not over. We need to continue to engage those who don't know us but make decisions that impact us. We need to continue to engage those who do know us, and brainstorm how to do better – reach more people, have a greater impact."

The article said Riverside County officials would work with UC Cooperative Extension to save money by moving its offices from leased office space to county-owned space.

4-H members made a strong showing at the Riverside Board of Supervisors meeting. (Photo: Jose Aguiar)

 

Posted on Thursday, June 13, 2019 at 11:01 AM
Focus Area Tags: 4-H Economic Development

Screen installed over the 'parent navel' in Riverside to protect it from disease

City of Riverside staff draped a synthetic screen on a steel frame to encompass the 'parent navel' orange tree at the corner of Arlington and Magnolia avenues in Riverside to protect it from Asian citrus psyllids that spread huanglongbing disease, reported Ryan Hagen in the Riverside Press-Enterprise. Huanglongbing (HLB) is a devastating bacterial disease of citrus that is starting to spread rapidly in urban areas of Southern California. 

The newly covered tree is valued for its status as an early ancestor of all Washington navel orange trees.

UC Cooperative Extension specialist Georgios Vidalakis, the UC Presidential Researcher for Sustainable Citrus Clonal Protection, was on site when the tree was enclosed within the new cover.

“This one will buy us a few years so the city can design a more elegant structure like you see in arboretums — maybe a wood hexagonal pavilion that will be aesthetically more pleasant,” Vidalakis said. “Unless in the next few years we find a solution.”

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources specialists and advisors are working with the citrus industry, USDA and CDFA to control ACP populations and keep HLB contained while researchers search for a cure for the disease.

Georgios Vidalakis, left, and UC Riverside plant pathologist Wenbo Ma are among scientists searching for an HLB cure. (Photo: UCR Today)

 

Posted on Wednesday, June 12, 2019 at 8:43 AM
Focus Area Tags: Pest Management

More fire inspections needed to protect homes from wildfire

Public records show that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), has not kept up with its fire inspection goals in many wildfire-prone areas of California, reported Lauren Sommer on KQED radio, the National Public Radio affiliate in San Francisco.

In one CAL FIRE region in the Sierra Nevada, just 6% of properties were inspected in 2018. In the Bay Area, CAL FIRE inspected 12% of properties. Southern California coastal counties have recorded inspections at higher rates, with some looking at 100% of properties.

"We should be doing more, doing better," said Max Moritz, UC Cooperative Extension wildfire specialist. "We need to have more people aware they are living on a fire-prone landscape and taking action."

The article said the agency's goal of inspecting 33% of homes each year is impeded by a lack of inspectors and resources. Lawmakers in Sacramento are now considering a bill, AB 1516, that mandates CAL FIRE inspect properties once every three years, beginning in 2021.

"There are not too many other ways people will learn about the vulnerability of their own home, other than having an inspector or firefighter at their property," Moritz said.

Fire scientists recommend that the five-foot-zone around structures be completely free of vegetation that can burn.
Posted on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at 9:11 AM
Tags: Max Moritz (27), Wildfire (91)
Focus Area Tags: Environment

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