Posts Tagged: Jeff Dahlberg
As a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger in the early 1980s, Dahlberg was intrigued by sorghum, a staple food being cultivated by the country's vast population of subsistence farmers.
“I was impressed with the fact that sorghum was so drought tolerant,” Dahlberg said. “Nigerien farmers relied solely on rain for their sorghum and millet crops.”
Upon returning to the U.S., he earned a master's degree at the University of Arizona and a Ph.D. at Texas A&M, where his research focused on sorghum. He worked with the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Puerto Rico for 7 years and then spent the next 10 years as research director with the National Sorghum Producers in Lubbock, Texas.
When Dahlberg took the helm of the 330-acre UC agricultural research center in 2010, he and colleagues at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center and at UC Davis began conducting sorghum forage variety trials. Sorghum wasn't new to California. In the past, it had mainly been used for animal feed. But Dahlberg believed the crop's adaptability – excellent for forage, biofuels and gluten-free human food – offered the grain a rosy future in the Golden State.
"With our research, we have provided California farmers who are thinking about growing sorghum access to locally generated, research-based information to help them make the decision," Dahlberg said.
In 2015, Dahlberg and UC Berkeley specialist Peggy Lemaux launched a sweeping drought research project at KARE. The five-year study, funded with a $12.3 million grant from the Department of Energy, researched the genetics of drought tolerance in sorghum and how soil microbial communities interacted with sorghum roots to battle drought stress.
A journal article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2018 presented the first detailed look at the role of drought in restructuring the root microbiome. The plant switches some genes on and some genes off when it detects water scarcity and access to water.
“That has implications for feeding the world, particularly considering the changing climate and weather patterns,” Dahlberg said.
In recent years, Dahlberg helped reestablish tea research at Kearney, initiated nearly 60 years ago in a study funded by Thomas J. Lipton, Inc. At the time, Lipton was seeking to grow tea for the instant tea market. When the Kearney tea research program was scrapped in 1981, a researcher had a handful of the best tea clones planted in the landscape around buildings at Kearney.
Those shrubs became the basis for a new tea research trial planted at Kearney in 2017 with UC Davis professor Jackie Gervay Hague to determine whether drought stress impacts the production of phenolics and tannins in the tea.
“We know we can grow good tea here and we can grow high tonnage,” Dahlberg said. “We want to determine if we can do that on a consistent basis and whether we can improve tea quality through irrigation management.”
In retirement, Dahlberg plans to relocate to Lake Ann, Mich., to be close to family. UC Cooperative Extension irrigation specialist Khaled Bali will serve as interim director of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
Scorching temperatures and parched earth are no match for the sorghum plant — this cereal crop, native to Africa, will remain green and productive, even under conditions that would render other plants brown, brittle and barren.
A new study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides the first detailed look at how the plant exercises exquisite control over its genome — switching some genes on and some genes off at the first sign of water scarcity, and again when water returns — to survive when its surroundings turn harsh and arid.
“With this research, we are laying the groundwork for understanding drought tolerance in cereal crops,” said Jeff Dahlberg, UC Cooperative Extension sorghum specialist. Dahlberg, co-author of the study, is also director the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, one of nine research and extension centers in California that are part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Dahlberg said researchers can use the knowledge gained from this project to search for drought genes in other cereal crops.
“That has implications for feeding the world, particularly considering changing climate and weather patterns,” he said.
The massive dataset, collected from 400 samples of sorghum plants grown during 17 weeks at Kearney, reveals that the plant modulates the expression of a total of 10,727 genes, or more than 40% of its genome, in response to drought stress. Many of these changes occur within a week of the plant missing a weekly watering or after it is first watered after weeks of no precipitation or irrigation.
Kearney is a 330-acre agriculture research facility in the heart of California's Central Valley, where field-scale, real-world research can be conducted on drought impact on plants and soil microbial communities. The climate is naturally dry throughout the summer, making it ideal to mimic drought conditions by withholding irrigation water.
“People have really shied away from doing these types of experiments in the field and instead conduct them under controlled conditions in the laboratory or greenhouse. But I believe that the investment of time and resources that we put into it is going to pay off, in terms of the quality of the answers that we get, in terms of understanding real-world drought situations,” said Peggy Lemaux, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in UC Berkeley's Department of Plant and Microbial Biology and co-author of the paper.
To conduct the research, the team cultivated sorghum plants under three different irrigation conditions — pre-flowering drought, post-flowering drought and controlled applications of water — over three consecutive years at Kearney.
Each week during the growing season, members of the research team carefully harvested samples from the leaves and roots of selected plants and set up a mobile lab in the field where they could rapidly freeze the samples until they were processed for analysis. Then, researchers at JGI sequenced the RNA in each sample to create the transcriptome data, which reveals which of the plant's tens of thousands of genes are being transcribed and used to make proteins at particular times.
Finally, statisticians led by UC Berkeley statistics professor Elizabeth Purdom parsed the massive transcriptome data set to pinpoint how gene expression changed as the plants grew and were subjected to drought or relief from drought conditions.
“We very carefully controlled the watering conditions, and we sampled over the entire developmental timeframe of sorghum, so [researchers] could actually use this data not only to study drought stress, but also to study plant development,” Lemaux said.
The researchers noticed a few interesting patterns in the transcriptome data. First, they found that a set of genes known to help the plant foster symbiotic relationships with a type of fungus that lives around its roots was switched off in drought conditions. This set of genes exhibited the most dramatic changes in gene activity that they observed.
“That was interesting, because it hinted that the plants were turning off these associations [with fungi] when they were dry,” said John Vogel, a staff scientist at JGI and co-author of the paper. “That meshed well with findings that showed that the abundance of these fungi around the roots was decreasing at the same time.”
Second, they noticed that certain genes known to be involved with photosynthesis were also turned off in response to drought and turned up during drought recovery. While the team doesn't yet know why these changes might help the plant, they provide interesting clues for follow-up.
The data in the current paper show the plant's transcriptome under both normal conditions and drought conditions over the course of a single growing season. In the future, the team also plans to publish data from the other two years of the experiment, as well as proteomic and metabolomic data.
Nelle Varoquaux and Cheng Gao of UC Berkeley and Benjamin Cole of JGI are co-first-authors of the study. Other co-authors include Grady Pierroz, Christopher R. Baker, Dhruv Patel, Mary Madera, Tim Jeffers, Judith A. Owiti, Stephanie DeGraaf, Ling Xu, Krishna K. Niyogi, Devin Coleman-Derr and John W. Taylor of UC Berkeley; Joy Hollingsworth, Julie Sievert and Jeffery Dahlberg of UC ANR KARE; Yuko Yoshinaga, Vasanth R. Singan, Matthew J. Blow, Axel Visel and Ronan O'Malley of JGI; Maria J. Harrison of the Boyce Thompson Institute; Christer Jansson of PNNL and Robert Hutmacher of UC ANR.
This research was funded in part by the Department of Energy (DOE) grant DE-SC001408; the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation grant GBMF3834; the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grant
2013-10-27; L'Ecole NormaleSupérieure-Capital Fund Management data science chair and the DOE's Office of Biological and Environmental Research grant DE-SC0012460. Work conducted by the DOE JointGenome Institute is supported by the Office of Science of the DOE contractDE-AC02-05CH11231.
- Dealing with Drought: Uncovering Sorghum's Secrets
- Berkeley to lead $12.3M study of crop drought tolerance
- Drought treatment restructures plants' microbiomes
- Microbes associated with plant roots could be a key to helping plants survive drought
From robot vacuum cleaners and doorbell cameras to social media and e-commerce, technology is continually transforming lives and businesses. The world's oldest industry – agriculture – is no exception.
Remote sensors are all but eliminating the need for farmers to walk plant rows and make decisions based solely on observations, experience and intuition. New technologies that gather and analyze data can optimize crop needs, reduce environmental impacts, increase efficiency, cut energy costs and save water. The latest innovations were on display at the fourth annual Open Farm conference Oct. 23 in Tulare.
A demonstration by PowWow Energy showed artificial intelligence technology not only improving farming, but also spinning off new ideas and local businesses in rural communities. PowWow supports farms who have solar panels with information to optimize their return on investment. By monitoring weather, utility rates and meters, and the panels' energy generation, the company calculates precisely when energy losses caused by dust on the solar panels are valued higher than the cost of cleaning them. When it's time to wash the panels, farmers receive a text notification.
That got Tulare County dairy farmer Justin Roeloffs thinking about the growing need to efficiently clean dust from solar panels. He built a solar panel cleaning system that was so effective, he started a business – Roeloffs Solutions – to offer panel cleaning to other solar owners, creating new jobs in the farming community.
“The almond season is a disaster for solar panels,” Roeloffs said. “Some farmers buy a kit and do it themselves, but we had many calls for our service the first month in business.” Last summer, Roeloffs Solutions cleaned panels that generate 30 megawatts of power.
The founder of Concentric Power, Brian Curtis, explained the business he built to manage the energy usage and needs of large food processors, beginning in the Salinas Valley. The system allows businesses to save money on their energy bills, maximize the use of renewable energy and maintain reliable energy availability, even during blackouts and brownouts. Concentric Power combines wind, solar, co-generation and battery storage to develop a company's own micro-grid.
“The recent public safety power shutoffs are ringing our bell,” Curtis said. “The stars have aligned for us.” So far three Salinas Valley food processors and one in Bakersfield have installed the micro-grid systems. Curtis said energy intensive ag industries – such as dairies, cheese processors and wine producers – are potential clients.
A variety of other automation solutions were also shared at Open Farm:
- Darryl Hadlich of WiseConn said the company's precision irrigation timing system – monitored by infield sensors and controlled by in-field nodes – allows farmers to schedule, start and end irrigation and fertigation using their cellphones or desktop computers. The associated software also shows when energy companies offer lower, off-peak rates to enable irrigation scheduling when the cost to operate the pump will be at its lowest.
- Conner Kingman of Kingman Ag Service is perfecting technology to reconfigure the tractors farmers already own with artificial intelligence-aided computers to pull a wide variety of farm implements through the field, such as a spring tooth cultivator, mower, shredder and sprayer. The driverless tractors reduce labor needs, and enable farm work to continue around the clock without breaks or worker safety concerns.
- Jose Baer at PowWow Energy detailed programmable irrigation systems for small and large farming operations. The field is monitored with aerial images and uses data from in-field sensors for targeted water application.
- John Cardoza of Sustainable Conservation explained a collaborative research project that studied methods for dairy wastewater management using sensors, sand media filters and drip irrigation. In the study, nitrous oxide emissions were cut by 70%, water use by 36% and nitrogen applications by 45%.
During a researcher and industry panel on the state of technology integration from the grower's perspective, participants reflected on how technology will help prepare for the future. The panel was moderated by Dennis Donahue, director of Western Growers Center for Innovation and Technology:
- Director of the Tulare County Resource Conservation District Mike Chrisman, a long-time Tulare County farmer, noted that data will be increasingly critical for farming as California agriculture enters the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act era in 2020. The law requires that California groundwater usage be “sustainable” by 2040 – meaning that the amount that is drawn out must match the amount that is recharged. “This will change the way we all do business,” Chrisman said. “Agriculture in 20 years won't look like it looks today.”
- Jeff Dahlberg, director of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center and a sorghum extension specialist, said high technology companies will rely on UC researchers to confirm that their products are meeting expectations. UC scientists can contribute by applying their knowledge on plant growth and development. “We understand biology and how plants use water,” he said. “We will be asked to ground truth technology.”
The event is a collaborative effort by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Fresno State's BlueTech Valley, the California Energy Commission, PowWow Energy, West Hills College and the Western Grower Center for Innovation and Technology. Open Farm 2019 was hosted at the Southern California Edison Energy Education Center.
Sorghum is not only a potential drought-tolerant crop for the San Joaquin Valley, it also presents the opportunity for scientists to understand the mechanism behind drought tolerance at the genetic level, said UCCE sorghum specialist Jeff Dahlberg in a segment on ABC 30 Action News.
Reporter Cristina Davies spent an hour and a half at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier during the sorghum harvest to learn about the potential of sorghum research.
"If we can elucidate the genetics behind (drought tolerance), what we believe is we can use those genetics to see if the genetics are available in corn, or in rice, or in wheat," Dahlberg said. "I think the genes may be there. We just don't have the tools yet to search for the genes in those crops."
Conducting drought-tolerance research in California is ideal because the summer is typically devoid of rain. Researchers can control exactly how much water is applied to each sorghum plot. The research has revealed more than 100 genetic markers that may confer drought tolerance.
"We've been really thrilled with the data that's been coming out of this. Like most research, we are learning so many things we don't understand," Dahlberg said.
The research is being conducted in collaboration with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service research center, which is across the street from Kearney. USDA research scientist Devin Coleman-Derr was present for the sorghum harvest.
"Like humans take probiotics, there may be a use for microbes in sort of promoting better and better yields in the field," Coleman-Derr said.
The 330-acre UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center is the University of California's largest off-campus agricultural research facility.
UCCE specialist Jeff Dahlberg studies sorghum at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier.
A torrent of technology is flowing into the agricultural sector. To make sense of it, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Fresno State and West Hills Community College came together with technology vendors and growers at Open Farm 2018, held in October at UC ANR's Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier.
“A lot of technology is coming out,” said Kearney director and UC Cooperative Extension agronomy specialist Jeff Dahlberg. “I need to caution you, it's not all is based on science. We are helping with testing.”
Dalhberg has been working with Blue River Technologies to monitor the growth of dozens of sorghum cultivars. Throughout the growing season, Blue River flew drones over the sorghum nursery with cameras to capture their growth and development.
“We have a huge phenotypic dataset,” Dalhberg said. “It will be compared at the genetic level with plant samples and help us identify genes associated with drought tolerance.”
At Open Farm, Dahlberg's field presentation was paired with Smartfield, a company that uses fixed cameras and field sensors to gather information for “big data crunching.”
PowWow Energy, based in San Francisco with a field office at the Water, Energy and Technology (WET) Center at Fresno State, met near a well at Kearney to explain how the company can help growers with decision support tools. The company believes their technology will be useful for farmers tracking groundwater usage, data that will be key to complying with new rules associated with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). SGMA, signed by Gov. Brown in 2014, gives local agencies the authority to manage groundwater in a way that achieves sustainability by 2042.
UCCE agriculture mechanization specialist Ali Pourezza introduced a prototype he developed with junior specialist German Zuniga-Ramirez that he believes will make early detection of the devastating citrus disease huanglongbing as easy as taking a photo with a smartphone camera.
The idea is based on the optical characteristics of the disease in leaves. By using a polarizing light, leaves on diseased trees are immediately identified. Infected trees can then be torn out before insects have the chance to spread the disease to other trees.
Pourezza and Zuniga-Ramirez are seeking funding to take the prototype to the next level, and eventually commercialize the product.
This sampling of innovations being showcased at Kearney is part of a continuing effort by UC to connect the ag community with technology developers and resources that is shepherded by a new UC ANR program called The VINE, Verde Innovation Network For Entrepreneurship. The VINE was created by UC ANR in 2017 to link entrepreneurs with mentors, advisors, collaborators, events, competitions and education.
At Open Farm 2018, UC ANR vice president Glenda Humiston was the keynote speaker. She outlined three areas where farmers, the technology sector and academia can work together to accelerate technology application in rural parts of California: improve broadband access, identify high-value uses for biomass and establish water infrastructure in rural communities.
To address the broadband issue, Humiston is leading an initiative to document mobile internet speed across California – including rural areas. In April 2019, Humiston plans to enlist 4-H members across the state to test internet speed using the free smartphone app CalSpeed several times over a period of a week.
“This will give us a snapshot of mobile broadband service availability,” Humiston said.
The crisis in the Sierra Nevada – where millions of trees died from the drought of 2010-16 – could prompt the development of high-value uses of biomass and establish a market for biomass derived in the agricultural sector, she said.
Humiston also took the opportunity to ask participants to help make sure the critical services UC ANR provides – including county-based UC Cooperative Extension, nine research and extension centers, the UC integrated pest management program, 4-H youth development, UC Master Gardeners and others – continue to fuel the California economy. Diminished funding from the State of California is taking a toll on the UC ANR budget.
“We need people like you to work with the VINE to set up improved support,” Humiston said.