Posts Tagged: Desert Research and Extension Center
The UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) Desert Research and Extension Center (DREC) is in the heart of the Imperial Valley, surrounded by green fields, feedlots, busy farmers and a growing urban community. Jairo Diaz, a Colombian native, is the director of the center, and he proudly talks about its importance.
"This valley is one of the most amazing ag valleys that we have in the (United) States. We are one of the top valleys in agriculture. We have diverse agriculture here, from being the salad bowl of vegetables in the winter along with Yuma, Ariz., to forage all year round for the feedlots," Diaz said.
Diaz is the Hispanic academic with the highest rank in UC ANR, and he oversees all the research and outreach programs conducted there.
Last fiscal year, the center conducted 42 projects in the following areas: plant breeding and variety trials (13), irrigation and fertilizer management (8), forage and agronomic crops (6), vegetable disease management (3), environmental studies (2), food safety (1), weed management (1), livestock (1), and outreach and educational programs (7). Lead academics are from the University of California system (UC ANR, UC Davis, UC Riverside), the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Canada. Research at the center tackles a diversity issues in Imperial County's top 10 agricultural and livestock commodities.
"We have over 40 different projects, including research to improve vegetable production, irrigation practices, management of cattle in the feedlots, nutrition and so on. All that impacts our communities because all this research is connected to the industry and the growers. So, we have a direct connection with our stakeholders daily," Diaz said.
This year has not been easy for DREC; COVID-19 forced them to implement drastic measures to ensure the safety of the staff and the communities they serve.
"We scaled down our field and laboratory research and implemented research plans with researchers and leadership to move forward critical research during this global pandemic time. We also implemented safety plans for on-site staff performing daily infrastructure and maintenance of critical activities," stated Diaz.
Once those safety measures were in place, they have been busier than ever, supporting more than 40 research projects and providing maintenance to more than 70,000 square feet of facilities. During the spring, under the supervision of Gilberto Magallon, the center's superintendent, they harvested to collect research data in small grains, vegetables, sugar beets, melons and corn. At the same time, forage and cattle studies are ongoing. Diaz acknowledges the staff's exceptional work and the investigators who, far from being stopped by the pandemic, manage to conduct their research remotely.
One of the jewels of the center is the Farm Smart outreach and educational program.
"This program is top-rated and successful. It focuses on major issues occurring in our local communities, including access to high-quality education and food, healthy habits and higher education pathways," Diaz said.
Farm Smart, supervised by community education specialists Stacey Amparan and Stephanie Collins, engaged 7,253 participants in community activities and presentations. Before the pandemic outbreak, DREC hosted extension field days, commodity board meetings, and workshops where growers, ranchers, industry and academics could discuss and share knowledge about current research activities at the center and within the California low desert region.
Diaz notes that the Farm Smart programs are tailored to everyone's needs, from toddlers to seniors citizens.
While the center quietly sees another hot summer pass by and waits for things to get back to normal, Diaz and his staff are working on new ways to connect with the communities they serve. Some of the Farm Smart programs offer online classes, and their social media platforms have become the door of contact with their stakeholders.
"We are so thankful for the high level of support we have from our local communities. Early in June, we received donations from two local organizations to support our educational efforts," said Diaz.
“The intent of this workshop is to start bringing the knowledge about unmanned aerial systems to the University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources division and the public at large,” said Sean Hogan, coordinator of Informatics Geographic Information Systems for UC ANR. “There is so much curiosity about it right now, it's a growing industry and there is a lot of concern and controversy about the misuses on it.”
The article said the UC system now has the green light to begin using drones. Hogan is holding workshops throughout the state to share his expertise with UC ANR employees and members of the community.
Desert Research and Extension Center director Jairo Diaz said the workshop was important because participants were able to see a demonstration of how the technology works and how it can be applied to the projects and research they are currently working on.
“These workshops that give growers and stakeholders can use in the area are very important because tech like this can help in the near future help find out different types of issues on the field like management of nutrients, water and find out to improve management of field,” Diaz said.
At the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center last week, technicians tested a drone that will be used throughout the summer to collect growth data on 600 varieties of sorghum begin produced under different irrigation regimens. With imaging and lidar, the drone collects information on leaf area and biomass in half an hour that would take a full day for a person in the field.
Read more about the sorghum research at Kearney here.
“Pizza can be a healthy meal, if you build it right,” said Stephanie Collins, outreach assistant at the Desert REC. “We can teach kids to add vegetables and educate them about whole grains and non-fat cheese.”
Collins initially envisioned the pizza garden teaching tool when she joined UC Cooperative Extension four years ago as a nutrition educator. The recent removal of a large tree stump made the location available.
The pizza garden will be part of the center's UC FARM SMART program, in which about 5,000 school children and “snowbird” winter residents annually visit the station to learn about UC's ongoing agricultural research in the desert area, tour the 255-acre facility on a hay wagon and taste products that are grown in the vicinity.
“Alfalfa is cheese in the making,” Collins said.
Tomatoes, onions and arugula are planted in the next wedge. The tomatoes are used for traditional sauce and onions are a healthy and flavorful topping, but arugula?
“Arugula is great on pizza,” Collins said. “It has a strong, peppery flavor.”
In another section, visitors can smell, feel and taste the herbs that season pizza sauce. Oregano, basil, sage, thyme, chives, parsley and rosemary fill the third wedge.
The fourth section holds bell peppers and rhubarb.
The garden is encircled with marigolds for the appearance of crust, and the wedges are dotted with a variety of non-pizza plants, like ornamental kale, vinca and lavender. These plants also serve an educational purpose, said Sam Urie, the UC FARM SMART manager at the Desert REC.
“A diversity of plants attracts beneficial insects, so they help the garden out,” Urie said.
The mostly senior citizen visitors pay $20 per person for the station tour, which includes a homemade lunch featuring locally produced foods. This year, the centerpiece of the meal will be carrot-ginger soup.
The visitors' fees help offset the cost of the tours for local children, who pay just $3 each.
For more information or to schedule a tour, contact Urie at (760) 791-0261, firstname.lastname@example.org.
An initiative to enhance competitive and sustainable food systems is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.
FARM SMART is offered in January and February each year. Attendees learn about irrigation and soils, pick vegetables to take home and enjoy a lunch of local produce.
The tour was eye-opening for visitors Joe and Nadyne Greschner, farmers from Goodsoil, Saskatchewan.
"What surprised me is that there is no rain here," Joe said.
The 2015 FARM SMART program continues through Feb. 26.
Giant King Grass is a fast-growing, high-yield grass that grows under a variety of soil conditions, according to Viaspace Green Energy Inc. It is propagated vegetatively and, with sufficient rain or irrigation, can grow 15 to 18 feet high in six months.
At the UC Desert Rec, scientists compared two planting processes:
- Planting single nodes that grow into individual plants with some space between them.
- Planting whole stalks continuously end to end, which results in a dense row of plants about six inches apart.
Preliminary results showed the whole stalk planting germinated earlier and grew more quickly. The individual plants had a significant number of skips where the nodes failed to germinate.
Two harvesting regimens were tested:
- Harvest when the plant is 6 to 8 feet tall every two months for animal feed and to produce biogas for anaerobic digestion.
- Harvest when the plant is 15 to 18 feet tall for bioenergy applications, such as direct combustion in a power plant, energy pellets or cellulosic biofuels.
"It was 108 degrees when I arrived in Holtville last Monday evening (Sept. 8, 2014) at 6 p.m.," said Carl Kukkonen, CEO of Viaspace. "Giant King Grass is planted in the worst soil at the University of California site, and still the results are good. I am pleased that Giant King Grass grows well in this extremely hot and dry environment."