Safe, healthy and happy Thanksgiving
Houston Wilson has been named the Presidential Director for the University of California's Organic Agriculture Institute, which was established in January 2020 with a $500,000 endowment by Clif Bar and a matching $500,000 endowment from UC President Janet Napolitano.
Wilson, a UC Riverside agricultural entomologist based at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, joined UC ANR as assistant Cooperative Extension specialist in 2017. He will launch the institute and chart a path for future growth while also focusing on immediate priorities such as a survey of organic production in California, multiple outreach and training opportunities for growers, publication of organic production guidelines, and developing research programs. Wilson's long-term goal is to continue to grow the endowment and position the organization to successfully support the state's growing organic farming economy.
“Organic growers in California face an array of interconnected agronomic, economic and regulatory challenges,” said Wilson. “Tackling these issues simultaneously requires a multidisciplinary approach to develop solutions that work in all scales of production. The economic opportunities are there, and we want to help position California growers to reap these benefits, and in doing so increase the supply of affordable organic food for consumers.”
Since 2007, Wilson has conducted research and extension in orchard and vineyard systems with a focus on integrated pest management strategies, many of which are readily applicable to organic agriculture. Key studies have included evaluating the use of mating disruption to control navel orangeworm in fig production, cover crops to increase biological control of vineyard leafhoppers, pheromone lures to improve monitoring of leaffooted bug in almonds, and more.
“We are excited about Houston's vision for establishing and growing California's first organic institute,” said Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources (UC ANR). “Continued research advancements will be critical to the future of organic farming in our state as well as the health of our environment.”
“Clif Bar is thrilled to see Houston's appointment. We've heard from orchardists in our supply chain who have worked with him in the past and are excited that he'll have more resources to help serve the needs of organic producers,” said Matthew Dillon, senior director of agriculture for Clif Bar. “We look forward to working with Houston, UC ANR, and the organic agriculture community to continue to improve the sustainability and economic resiliency of California farmers.”
Wilson earned his doctoral degree in environmental science, policy and management and also holds a bachelor's degree in international area studies, both from UC Berkeley.
About UC ANR
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources brings the power of UC to all 58 California counties. Through research and Cooperative Extension in agriculture, natural resources, nutrition, economic and youth development, our mission is to improve the lives of all Californians. Learn more at ucanr.edu.
About Clif Bar & Company
Clif Bar & Company is a leading maker of nutritious and organic foods and drinks, including CLIF® Bar energy bar, LUNA®, The Whole Nutrition Bar for Women®; and CLIF Kid®, Nourishing Kids in Motion®. Focused on sports nutrition and snacks for adventure, the family and employee-owned company is committed to sustaining its people, brands, business, community and planet. For more information on Clif Bar & Company, please visit www.clifbar.com, check out our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/clifbar and follow us on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/clifbar.
Four staff research associates will join the ranks of UC Cooperative Extension scientists in the coming months to support nut crop advisors conducting critical research in walnut, almond and pistachio production.
The California Walnut Board, the Almond Board of California and the California Pistachio Research Board together have provided about $425,000 to cover annual salaries, benefits, travel and equipment for the new UC Cooperative Extension staff. Under the terms of the agreement, the new positions will be funded annually for up to three years, pending available funds and success of the program.
“By supporting these new positions in UC Cooperative Extension, the California Walnut Board, the Almond Board of California and the California Pistachio Research Board show their recognition for the value of applied research conducted by our nut crop advisors,” said UC Agriculture and Natural Resources vice president Glenda Humiston. “We are grateful to these industry organizations for this vote of confidence and the generous funding to generate science-based knowledge to apply on California farms.”
The new research associates will each devote time supporting two advisors with tree nut assignments:
- Allan Fulton and Luke Milliron, serving Butte, Glenn and Tehama counties
- Katherine Jarvis-Shean and Franz Niederholzer, serving Colusa, Sacramento, Solano, Sutter, Yolo counties
- Mae Culumber and Phoebe Gordon, serving Fresno, Madera and Merced counties
- Elizabeth Fichtner and an advisor under recruitment, serving Tulare and Kings counties
The arrangement reflects a change in how UC Cooperative Extension supports the agriculture industries in California with applied research. With less funding from its traditional revenue sources – USDA, the state government and counties – advisors cover more territory than in the past. Over the years, they have also taken on an increasing share of UC's applied research mission serving the state's specialty crops industries.
The new staff research associate positions were crafted to attract highly qualified candidates who will support advisors' applied research efforts. Their primary focus will be on assisting advisors with planning, execution and gathering data on experimental and demonstration field trials.
UCCE advisor emeritus Joe Grant, who now serves as production research director of the California Walnut Board, chaired an industry working group that drafted the plan based on advisors' input about their needs.
“Advisors are competent and creative people with the skills and knowledge to do research. They need the same support that researchers on campus have,” Grant said.
The California Pistachio Research Board previously provided funding for a plant pathology researcher and an integrated pest management advisor at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier. In addition, the board supported creation of $1 million endowments for a nut genetics researcher and a tree nut soil science and plant-water relations researcher as part of an initiative co-funded by UC President Janet Napolitano.
“We've been concerned for a long time about UC Cooperative Extension's research capacity and infrastructure issues,” said Bob Klein, manager of the California Pistachio Research Board. “This new initiative will increase efficiency and productivity for farm advisors and also reduce their stress from being overcommitted.”
Josette Lewis, the Almond Board chief scientific officer, said the organization depends on UCCE farm advisors for unbiased, quality information about almond production.
“Advisors are a valuable link between UC campuses and growers, not only in doing applied research that helps growers thrive, but in meeting California's goals of environmental and social sustainability,” Lewis said. “The information they generate is shared with a host of ag industry professionals – pest control advisers, crop consultants and people in the private sector who provide services to growers.”
Commodity industry funding for UC Cooperative Extension reflects the value the nut crop industries leverage from one of the strongest agricultural research and extension systems in the world, Lewis said.
The new program is modeled after a pilot project in Colusa County in which the Almond Board provided funding for Niederholzer to hire an intern to support almond research. A young scientist who held the post from 2015-16 was Milliron. In 2017, UC Cooperative Extension named Milliron a sustainable orchard systems advisor for Butte, Glenn and Tehama counties and he will now supervise one of the new staff research associates.
“We had a chance to keep him in the system and capitalize on what he learned during his internship,” Lewis said.
There are other tree nut and fruit advisors in need of research help, Grant said. For example, there are concentrations of tree fruit and nut acreage and growers in Kern, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.
“We positioned these four research associates where we heard the need for help was most critical. We can see adding another position or two in the future if funds are available,” Grant said.
Americans' interest in traditional homemaking activities – gardening, cooking, baking bread and canning – has risen dramatically over the last few months, according to Google Trends.
Getting reliable information is particularly important when it comes to home food preservation. But internet search results don't always display research-based information at the top. Using the wrong procedure won't qualify as a hilarious Pinterest Fail; it can be fatal.
To make reliable home food preservation how-to videos easy to find, a team of UC Cooperative Extension professionals and volunteers reviewed and aggregated research-based food preservation videos produced by Cooperative Extension programs across the nation on one website – http://ucanr.edu/MFPvideolibrary.
“As far as we can tell, this site is the only website with a full collection of food safety and food preservation videos from the Cooperative Extension system,” said UCCE Master Food Preserver coordinator Sue Mosbacher. In partnership with states, counties and universities, the USDA's Cooperative Extension system provides higher education to farmers, ranchers, communities, youth and families. In California, UC Cooperative Extension is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The videos are divided into 10 categories: food safety, food preservation methods, jam & jelly, pickle & ferment, dehydrate, refrigerate & freeze, can fruit, can tomatoes, can vegetables and preserve meat & fish.
The UC Cooperative Extension Master Food Preserver Program trains and certifies volunteers to teach the public about food preservation techniques and safety. Certified UC Master Food Preservers typically hold community classes to extend the information. During the COVID-19 crisis, in-person classes have been canceled, so video-based learning is critical to educating families who are interested in the craft.
Dustin Blakey, director of UC Cooperative Extension in Inyo and Mono counties and coordinator of the local Master Food Preserver volunteers, created one of the videos in the collection. In seven minutes, Blakey outlines the process of preserving dry beans. (View the video below.)
“Right now, with people losing their jobs, if you have a pressure canner, you can buy a five-pound bag of beans for $5 and make 16 cans of beans,” Blakey said. “If you have the equipment and jars, it's a great way to preserve the food and then this summer, you have it ready to go.”
Blakey said he and his team will be producing more home food preservation videos in the future.
Livestock grazing could be beneficial for organic farming systems. To see if the practice poses any food safety risks, university, government and nonprofit partners will receive a nearly $1 million U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Multistate Program grant to study the impacts of livestock grazing of cover crops on bacterial population dynamics, soil building and environmental health.
“Fresh produce growers and their advisors will benefit from learning about the impacts of integrating livestock grazing with winter cover crop management on soil health including soil organic matter, nutrient cycling and reduced nitrate leaching, and potential food safety risks discovered in this project to make decisions on adoption, management, and environmental benefits of winter cover crop management in annual vegetable systems,” said Alda Pires, University of California Cooperative Extension specialist in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and principle investigator in the study.
The $999,985 project, titled “Evaluating the food safety impacts of cover-crop grazing in fresh produce systems to improve cover crop adoption, crop-livestock integration, and soil health,” is being led by the University of California in partnership with The Organic Center, USDA's Agricultural Research Service, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, the University of Minnesota and California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Livestock grazing of cover crops could be beneficial for organic systems because it maximizes the strengths of cover cropping, including enhanced soil fertility, structure, water infiltration and storage, and reduced nitrate leaching, while addressing challenges that have limited the expansion of cover crop use. These challenges include concerns over cover-crop water use and nutrient immobilization, which could result in nutrient deficiencies and increase input costs for the crops that follow.
Many growers consider livestock grazing of cover-cropped fields in fresh produce operations as a way to enhance soil health and environmental benefits by increasing carbon inputs and nutrient cycling.
“This study will allow farmers to complement the benefits of both cover cropping and livestock integration into cropping systems,” said Jessica Shade, The Organic Center's director of science programs. “Like cover cropping, integrating animals into cropping systems can be beneficial to farm environmental impacts and profitability by improving nutrient cycling, reducing dependence on external inputs, improving soil health and diversifying profit streams.”
Despite the well-known benefits of animal-crop integration, concerns over microbial food safety are limiting the expansion of animal integration into cropping systems. Recent research has shown that integrated crop-animal systems perform well in keeping pathogens out of meat, but additional research is needed to examine the synergistic impacts of the use of livestock for cover crop grazing on ecosystem health and food safety.
This project will fill this research need by examining food pathogen persistence and survival in soil and transfer to vegetable crops, and the relationship between soil health properties, environmental factors and pathogen survival in grazed cover crop-vegetable production in three states.
The researchers will graze sheep in cover-cropped fields before planting spinach and cucumber. They will measure changes in soil health indicators over two years of grazed cover crop-vegetable production and assess benefits and potential tradeoffs of vegetable cash crop productivity. The results will be compared to vegetable fields planted in tilled cover crops and a fallow field.
Pires' research team is multi-institutional, multiregional and interdisciplinary, including
- Michele Jay-Russell, Western Center for Food Safety, UC Davis
- Nicole Tautges, Agricultural Sustainability Institute, UC Davis
- Amelie Gaudin, UC Davis
- Patricia Millner, USDA-ARS
- Fawzy Hashem, University of Maryland-Eastern Shore
- Paulo Pagliari, University of Minnesota
- Jessica Shade, The Organic Center
The Organic Center will lead outreach efforts focusing on the benefits of grazing and food safety impacts such as online tools, outreach events, conference presentations, and publications targeted to growers, policymakers and consumers.
At the end of February, before COVID-19 disrupted normal life, members of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Tribe, in a remote area of Riverside County, gathered to plant vegetables and herbs in the A'Avutem (elders) garden.
Six raised garden boxes were installed several years ago with funding from the California Rural Indian Health Board, but stood empty. UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family and consumer sciences advisor Chutima Ganthavorn and vegetable crops advisor Jose Aguiar obtained approval from the Tribal Council to engage the Youth Council in planting a new garden with seniors.
This intergenerational group planted chili peppers, bell peppers, onions, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, corn, mint, basil and lemon grass Feb. 27. Select tribal members, including three youth and six seniors, harvested produce on the morning of May 12. While wearing masks and practicing social distance protocols, they harvested three boxes of tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and chili peppers.
"It is really nice to see the fruit of their efforts," Ganthavorn said.