Safe, healthy and happy Thanksgiving
COVID-19 does not currently pose major threats to overall global food security because adequate stores of staples — like wheat and rice — remain available. But the sustainability of California specialty crops may face greater hurdles, reported Laura Poppick in Scientific American.
Poppick spoke with two UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) scientists for perspective on the future of California agriculture considering the market and production constraints posed by measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“Everybody is scrambling to figure out what to do,” said Gail Feenstra, deputy director of UC ANR's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program. “There's just a lot of disruption.”
Specialty products — such as some fruits and organic produce grown on smaller-scale farms — are often sold to restaurants and farmers markets, many of which are now closed or have reduced service, rather than directly to the grocery stores that are still operating. Even if these farmers are able to continue working, they may have limited places to sell their goods, the article said.
Strawberries are another crop likely to be affected. Laborers picking strawberries typically work more closely than is advisable to prevent the spread of the virus, said Mark Bolda, a University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor based in Watsonville. He said farmers are already making plans to spread workers between rows.
Strawberries, however, hit prime ripeness within a narrow window of just two to three days and must be picked quickly, Bolda says. Spacing workers may slow picking, and, "being slower is expensive."
UC Cooperative Extension specialist David Sunding and UC Berkeley professor David Roland-Holst estimate that one-fifth of cultivated farmland in the San Joaquin Valley will be permanently lost as groundwater plans take hold and water supplies are severely restricted, reported Todd Fitchette in Western Farm Press.
The report, Blueprint Economic Impact Analysis: Phase One Results, says statewide the losses could total about 992,000 acres of farmland, losses of over $7 billion from crop revenue and a loss in farm operating income of nearly $2 billion.
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) was passed during the 2011-2016 drought to return California aquifers to sustainable levels after decades of over drafting. Local agencies will ensure that groundwater extraction matches groundwater replenishment by 2040.
The report says the rise in almond acreage across the state will soon need to end as farmers in the San Joaquin Valley fallow more than 325,000 acres of tree nuts. Two-thirds of that acreage will be pulled from Fresno and Kern counties.
The labor market will also take a hit.
"We calculate that the direct employment losses from SGMA plus anticipated surface water reductions will total 42,000 jobs on average," Sunding and Roland-Holst wrote. These employment losses ... total $1.1 billion annually in the San Joaquin Valley."
Stephen Cantu, a UC Master Gardener in San Diego County UC Cooperative Extension, is well aware of ways to improve accessibility and inclusiveness in gardening for people with mobility issues, reported Lisa Deaderick in the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Cantu, who has used a wheelchair for 37 years due to a job site accident, identifies obstacles and solutions that help people of all abilities benefit from the joys of tending a home garden. He is active in the UCCE Master Gardener Association program that assists community members in designing garden spaces for maximum accessibility called Friendly Inclusive Gardening (FIG).
FIG teaches people how to implement the principles of universal design to make home, school and community gardens safer and more accessible to people with physical disabilities, seniors with mobility issues and young children. A workshop scheduled for March 21 had to be postponed in order to comply with efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19, so Deaderick published a Q&A with Cantu to share how people can start a small garden at home while waiting out the coronavirus.
He said FIG is not just for wheelchair users. "In other words, a garden designed for the whole family to use, from young children to grandma and grandpa," Cantu said.
He recommends new gardeners start simple and build on success.
"Start out with a small kitchen garden of mostly herbs, something that is in small containers that you can grow next to your kitchen. . . Don't buy anything until you have an understanding of your needs. For a small garden, all you really need are your hands, a pair of gloves, some soil, and a few herbs," Cantu said.
Have you given your favorite tree a hug lately? Perhaps you would rather plant a tree? Well, on March 21, International Forest Day, Californians have a good excuse to do both.
In the first two decades of this new century, fire is having a transformative effect on California forests. Fires are burning with larger proportions of high severity and these high-severity patches are much larger, in many cases exponentially larger than would have occurred under natural fire regimes. This creates landscapes where all living trees – and potential seed sources for the next forest – have been killed. While fires can also have restorative effects and many species in California are adapted to fire, some species, like ponderosa pine, aren't adapted to these large, high-severity fire patches which alter the natural regeneration dynamics of the dry Sierran mixed conifer forests.
Across U.S. Forest Service lands in California, an average of 50,000 acres of forestland burned at high severity between the years 2000 and 2015; however, less than 30% of these acres were reforested on an average annual basis during this period. This creates a net cumulative loss of forest cover across public lands in the state.
To compound the complexity of this problem, there are growing instances of these large high-severity patches, burning again at high severity one to two decades later due to the homogeneity of vegetation and fuel profiles in the early seral stages after a fire. In 2013, the Rim Fire burned over 257,000 acres of largely mixed conifer forest, a notable portion of which had been replanted after the 1987 Stanislaus Complex Fire. Now foresters have to think: "Not only do we have to consider reforestation after a fire, but we must consider how we keep these young trees from burning up again!"
A common theme many ecologists agree on is that heterogeneous landscapes may be more resilient to fire – essentially breaking up the continuity of fuels and diversifying forest structure helps moderate fire behavior. However, over the past half century in California, we have tended to replant fires with a somewhat dense uniform square grid-spaced pattern of trees, which grow into a homogeneous carpet of new forest. As these trees grow, these dense plantations require maintenance – also referred to as “timber stand improvement” – activities to reduce competing shrub competition and “thin” the trees in order to maintain tree vigor and growth and reduce the fire hazard within the planted stand. Funding for timber stand improvement can wax and wane with the forest products market or federal budget priorities, and, on U.S. Forest Service lands, many of these plantations did not have follow-up treatment.
Seeing this problem brewing across the state, in 2005, a small sect of curious silviculturists and forest ecologists started asking some poignant question such as “Why do we spend money to plant trees which we will then spend time and money to remove a few years later – why don't we just plant less trees?” and “If heterogeneity is important for resilience, why do we always plant new trees in evenly spaced rows?” To many, this was, and still might be, heresy. But it begs a broader philosophical question that if we have diverse objectives for our forests, is it always appropriate to re-establish them in generally one uniform way? More importantly, given the latest fire trends, how can we promote heterogeneity and resilience to fire when we establish forests through planting?
I was one of these intrigued silviculturists. Linda Smith, culturist on the Plumas National Forest, and I started designing and planting low density, wide-spaced cluster plantations in 2007, after the 2006 Boulder Fire. The fire burned in a recreation area adjacent to a lake and part of our objective was to create a forest that would mimic a more naturally appearing structure, but we also knew this could be congruent with fire management objectives as well.
Ten years after the 2007 Moonlight Fire, much of the public lands were dominated by a homogenous fuel profile of flashy grasses, standing dead trees, a jack-strawed arrangement of fallen dead logs, and chest-high shrubs. While some of these stands had been planted, no site preparation or management of competing vegetation had been funded. We knew that any trees in this intermix would have a long haul competing against the shrubs, and in the meantime were exposed to high fuel-hazard each fire season.
Knowing something had to be done, the Plumas National Forest developed partnership agreements with the Sierra Nevada Conservancy and the Feather River Resource Conservation District to prepare the site, reforest and manage competing vegetation over approximately 3,000 acres. They also developed partnership agreements with Brandon Collins, a research scientist with both the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Research Station and UC Berkeley Fire Science Laboratory, and Malcolm North, UC Davis associate professor of forest ecology, to monitor the success of different reforestation techniques at promoting heterogeneity and resilience to fire.
Through this partnership, we set up a replicated study to examine the effects of site preparation, planting, and competing vegetation treatments at promoting tree establishment and heterogeneity in young plantations.
This spring will be the one year mark for the planted seedlings! There's still a bit longer to go before we're ready to reintroduce fire to the plantations, but we're on our way to that end goal.
In a sense, wildfire may have beat us out: Some of the wide-spaced cluster plantations that Linda and I planted in 2008 after the 2007 Antelope Fire burned 11 years later in the 2019 Walker Fire. I am pleased to see tree survival and some variable mortality. Looks like there will be some trees that deserve a hug this spring!
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources is available to assist Californians across the state during the new coronavirus crisis. We are working differently, but we are still working to help residents improve their lives and businesses with resources on growing food in a garden, preserving food, entertaining kids with educational activities and many other useful topics at ucanr.edu.
We are finding opportunities to make life easier for communities. For example, in Sonoma County, UC Cooperative Extension developed an online Food Distribution Directory with CropMobster. “By changing our relationship to food waste, we can use excess, high quality food to feed people in need,” said Stephanie Larson, UC Cooperative Extension director for Sonoma County. For more information visit https://maps.cropmobster.com/food-distribution-directory/ and https://ucanr.edu/sites/SCRFC.
UC ANR Climate Smart Agriculture Community Education Specialists are assisting growers in applying for cost-share funds from CDFA's Climate Smart Agriculture programs, helping with filing paperwork with CDFA and implementing the cost-shared Climate Smart Agriculture practices. All of our technical assistance providers are currently working remotely and available via email, telephone, Zoom and other virtual communications technologies.
The University of California is vigilantly monitoring and responding to new information about the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, which has been declared a global health emergency. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources employees are working remotely during their normal business hours and performing essential duties (such as feeding animals), protective measures that align with COVID-19 guidance from public health officials and the UC Office of the President. This status will be in effect through April 7, 2020, and may be extended.
We are also mindful of official guidance concerning social distancing; all in-person events will be canceled, postponed or conducted by Zoom through April 7 or until the guidance is modified. This includes all volunteer-led youth or adult programming, meetings or gatherings. Visit https://ucanr.edu/sites/PSU/ or contact your local UC Cooperative Extension office for information on event status.
Again, we are working and available. UC ANR is maintaining critical research projects and delivering programs online. We are exploring innovative ways to connect with the public using technology and working with our partners. UC ANR employees can be reached as normal through email or Zoom video conferencing.
Useful information is available at the following links.
- 4-H Youth Development Program
- Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program
- UC Master Food Preserver Program
- UC Master Gardener Program
Find your local UC Cooperative Extension office contact information here.
Additional information from our programs may be found at:
- Agricultural Issues Center
- California Institute for Water Resources
- California Naturalist Program
- CalFresh Healthy Living, UC
- Informatics and GIS Program
- Nutrition Policy Institute
- Research and Extension Center System
- Research and Information Centers
- Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM)
- Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP)
We also encourage members of the public to subscribe to our YouTube channels and follow our social media platforms:
- UC ANR (English)
- UC ANR (Spanish)
- Master Gardener Program
- Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM)
We look forward to seeing you online for the present time. What else can we do to help you? Send your suggestions to UC ANR Strategic Communications.
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources professionals are working and available. (Photo: Pixabay)