Posts Tagged: UC Davis
Study highlights 4 strategies to overcome barriers to prescribed fire in the West
Prescribed fire, which mimics natural fire regimes, can help improve forest health and reduce the likelihood of catastrophic wildfire. But this management tool is underused in the fire-prone U.S. West and Baja California, Mexico, due to several barriers.
A paper from the University of California, Davis, pinpoints those obstacles and suggests four key strategies that policymakers and land managers can take to get more “good fire” on the ground in North America's fire-adapted ecosystems. The paper also provides examples of how people are surmounting some of these obstacles.
“Prescribed fire is one of the most important tools we have for restoring natural fire regimes and undoing the effects of a century of fire suppression,” said lead author John Williams, a project scientist with the UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy. “But there are a number top-down barriers at the upper levels of management that keep us from growing the workforce and getting burns done at the scale and extent needed. We point out some of the big ways that agency leaders and policymakers can dismantle those barriers and empower the full range of people capable of doing this work, from burn bosses and citizen-prescribed burn associations to nonprofits and tribal groups.”
The paper, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, centers on the North American Mediterranean climate zone, which includes most of California, southwestern Oregon, western Nevada and northern Baja California in Mexico. Lenya Quinn-Davidson, director of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Fire Network, is a co-author of the paper.
A natural process
Fire is a natural process that has helped shape this region, but the area has experienced a spike in destructive, high-severity wildfires over the past decade. In fact, three of the five largest wildfires in continental U.S. history occurred in this region in just the past five years. This is due to a combination of climate change and fuel accumulation driven by a century of policies that encouraged fire suppression, curtailed Indigenous cultural burning, and favored harvest of the largest, most fire-tolerant trees, the study notes.
While scientists and resource managers recognize the need for more prescribed fire, its application has not kept pace with the enormity of the challenge. The study said that is because management policies prioritize fire suppression over prevention. There is also a limited fire workforce; regulatory hurdles like permitting, insurance and liability; and few incentives or protections for landowners, tribal members and other people who burn responsibly.
4 key strategies
Researchers identified four key areas where supportive institutional and agency leadership can help expand prescribed fire in the region:
1) Fire culture. After decades of emphasizing wildfire suppression, current fire management culture “does not adequately promote prescribed fire as a management tool,” the study said. Support for prescribed fire along the entire chain of command within agencies is needed to foster a new culture that incentivizes and enables prescribed fire practitioners within and outside of government agencies.
2) Funding. Prescribed fire is considerably more cost-effective than wildfire suppression, which can cost more than $2 billion a year in the U.S., but there is little dedicated funding for prescribed fire projects and lack of flexibility as to when such money can be spent. This impedes fire staffing and limits the kinds of projects that can be done. Year-round, dedicated funding and resources could help increase prescribed fire capacity.
3) Capacity building and cooperation. Connecting agencies with landowners, community members, tribes, prescribed burning associations (PBAs), prescribed fire training exchanges (TREXs) and others can facilitate responsible, effective prescribed fire and cultural burning exchanges. Such groups have limited reach and require investment and support to meet demand.
Inter-organizational agreements can also help local, state and federal agencies share resources and staffing. Formalizing and fully integrating such agreements into fire management plans remains a challenge, the study said. Collaborations that support Indigenous cultural burning are also key.
Partnerships must recognize the unique dimensions of cultural burning, which are inseparable from Indigenous culture. Educating land managers and decision makers about tribal sovereignty and federal American Indian law is critical. Introducing legislation that supports cultural burning can also foster such collaborations.
4) Monitoring and adaptive management. Designated funding and personnel for quantitative monitoring after a prescribed burn can help practitioners better measure success and then apply lessons to future burns.
“All of the barriers identified in the study can be overcome, and they have been at least partially resolved in other parts of the U.S., as well as in other Mediterranean climate regions, such as southwestern Australia,” said co-author Hugh Safford, a research ecologist in the UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy and director of the California Prescribed Fire Monitoring Program. “Fundamental to setting the situation right is developing a culture of safe and regular fire use in California and neighboring states by all landowners and managers, and reducing the officiousness, risk aversion and bureaucracy that hinders access to the tool by the public.”
Additional co-authors include Ashley Grupenhoff and Beth Rose Middleton of UC Davis; Joe Restaino of CAL FIRE; Edward Smith of The Nature Conservancy; Chris Adlam of Oregon State University; and Hiram Rivera-Huerta of Autonomous University of Baja California, Mexico.
This research received financial support from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE).
This story was originally published on the UC Davis News site./h3>/h3>/h3>
When flown at the right times, drones can help farmers adapt to a changing climate
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have developed a web application to help farmers and industry workers use drones and other uncrewed aerial vehicles, or UAVs, to generate the best possible data. By helping farmers use resources more efficiently, this advancement could help them adapt to a world with a changing climate that needs to feed billions.
Associate Professor Alireza Pourreza, director of the UC Davis Digital Agriculture Lab and postdoctoral researcher Hamid Jafarbiglu, who recently completed his doctorate in biological systems engineering under Pourreza, designed the When2Fly app to make drones more proficient and accurate. Specifically, the platform helps drone users avoid glare-like areas called hotspots that can ruin collected data.
Drone users select the date they plan to fly, the type of camera they are using and their location either by selecting a point on a map or by entering coordinates. The app then indicates the best times of that specific day to collect crop data from a drone.
Jafarbiglu and Pourreza, who is also a UC Cooperative Extension specialist of agricultural mechanization, said that using this app for drone imaging and data collection is crucial to improve farming efficiency and mitigate agriculture's carbon footprint. Receiving the best data — like what section of an orchard might need more nitrogen or less water, or what trees are being affected by disease — allows producers to allocate resources more efficiently and effectively.
"In conventional crop management, we manage the entire field uniformly assuming every single plant will produce a uniform amount of yield, and they require a uniform amount of input, which is not an accurate assumption," said Pourreza. "We need to have an insight into our crops' spatial variability to be able to identify and address issues timely and precisely, and drones are these amazing tools that are accessible to growers, but they need to know how to use them properly."
Dispelling the solar noon belief
In 2019, Jafarbiglu was working to extract data from aerial images of walnut and almond orchards and other specialty crops when he realized something was wrong with the data.
"No matter how accurately we calibrated all the data, we were still not getting good results," said Jafarbiglu. "I took this to Alireza, and I said, 'I feel there's something extra in the data that we are not aware of and that we're not compensating for.' I decided to check it all."
Jafarbiglu pored through the 100 terabytes of images collected over three years. He noticed that after the images had been calibrated, there were glaring bright white spots where they were supposed to look flat and uniform.
But it couldn't be a glare because the sun was behind the drone taking the image. So Jafarbiglu reviewed literature going back to the 1980s in search of other examples of this phenomenon. Not only did he find mentions of it, but also that researchers had coined a term for it: hotspot.
A hotspot happens when the sun and UAV are lined up in such a way that the drone is between the viewable area of the camera's lens system and the sun. The drone takes photos of the Earth, and the resulting images have a gradual increase in brightness toward a certain area. That bright point is the hotspot.
The hotspots are a problem, Jafarbiglu said, because when collecting UAV data in agriculture, where a high level of overlap is required, observed differences in the calibrated images need to come solely from plant differences.
For example, every plant may appear in 20 or more images, each from varying view angles. In some images, the plant might be close to the hotspot, while in others it may be situated further away, so the reflectance may vary based on the plant's distance from the hotspot and spatial location in the frame, not based on any of the plant's inherent properties. If all these images are combined into a mosaic and data are extracted, the reliability of the data would be compromised, rendering it useless.
Pourreza and Jafarbiglu found that the hotspots consistently occurred when drones were taking images at solar noon in mid-summer, which many believe is the best time to fly drones. It's an obvious assumption: the sun is at its highest point above the Earth, variations in illumination are minimal, if not steady and fewer shadows are visible in the images. However, sometimes that works against the drone because the sun's geometrical relationship to the Earth varies based on location and the time of year, increasing the chance of having a hotspot inside the image frame when the sun is higher in the sky.
"In high-latitude regions such as Canada, you don't have any problem; you can fly anytime. But then in low-latitude regions such as California, you will have a little bit of a problem because of the sun angle," Pourreza said. "Then as you get closer to the equator, the problem gets bigger and bigger. For example, the best time of flight in Northern California and Southern California will be different. Then you go to summer in Guatemala, and basically, from 10:30 a.m. to almost 2 p.m. you shouldn't fly, depending on the field-oriented control of the camera. It's exactly the opposite of the conventional belief, that everywhere we should fly at solar noon."
Grow technology, nourish the planet
Drones are not the only tools that can make use of this discovery, which was funded by the AI Institute for Next Generation Food Systems. Troy Magney, an assistant professor of plant sciences at UC Davis, mainly uses towers to scan fields and collect plant reflectance data from various viewing angles. He contacted Jafarbiglu after reading his research, published in February in the ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, because he was seeing a similar issue in the remote sensing of plants and noted that it's often ignored by end users.
"The work that Hamid and Ali have done will be beneficial to a wide range of researchers, both at the tower and the drone scale, and help them to interpret what they are actually seeing, whether it's a change in vegetation or a change in just the angular impact of the signal," he said.
For Pourreza, the When2Fly app represents a major step forward in deploying technology to solve challenges in agriculture, including the ultimate conundrum: feeding a growing population with limited resources.
"California is much more advanced than other states and other countries with technology, but still our agriculture in the Central Valley uses technologies from 30 to 40 years ago," said Pourreza. "My research is focused on sensing, but there are other areas like 5G connectivity and cloud computing to automate the data collection and analytics process and make it real-time. All this data can help growers make informed decisions that can lead to an efficient food production system. When2Fly is an important element of that."
Researchers identify key markers to help professional retail buyers choose authentic products
Avocado oil has become a popular choice for many people in recent years because of its heart-healthy benefits and versatility in cooking. However, not all avocado oil products on store shelves are created equal. Some products are labeled as “pure” avocado oil when they contain other oils or additives. No enforceable standards defining the chemical and physical characteristics of avocado oil exist yet.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, analyzed samples of 36 private label avocado oil products and graded them based on quality and purity. Private label products are made by a third-party processor and sold under a grocery store or retailer brand label. Their findings, published in the journal Food Control, show that 31% of the samples tested were pure, and 36% were of advertised quality. Quality refers to whether the oil is fresh or has gone bad due to aging, heat or light exposure. For purity, researchers measured fatty acids, sterols and other components that differentiate avocado oil from other oils.
The study included oils purchased from 19 retailers in the U.S. and Canada with various price points. They found that lower-priced oils were more likely to be tainted with other oils.
“We found that low-cost products indicate a higher probability for adulteration, but high cost didn't guarantee purity or quality,” said Selina Wang, associate professor of Cooperative Extension in the Department of Food Science and Technology. She and Hilary Green, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis, co-authored the paper.
Researchers also identified certain chemical markers in avocado oil that professional retail buyers can use to make more informed decisions when it comes to choosing suppliers. This way, consumers can feel confident about the products they buy.
This is the second comprehensive study conducted by UC Davis researchers on the quality of avocado oil sold in the U.S. The first study released in 2020 found that many of the test samples were of poor quality, mislabeled or adulterated with other oils.
“This study demonstrates that although progress is being made in standard development since our first market study in 2020, there are still issues with purity in avocado oil and these issues extend significantly into private label oils,” Wang said.
Avocado oil standards
Since the release of the first UC Davis study, Wang said there's been a coordinated effort by researchers, industry leaders and government agencies to establish enforceable standards. The Avocado Oil Expert Group was formed in collaboration with the American Oil Chemists' Society to discuss potential standards and future research projects.
Wang's research group has been studying how natural factors like different types of avocados, harvest times, geographic origins and processing methods could affect the chemical composition of avocado oil. They want to create standards that will accommodate natural variations while detecting any adulterations.
Wang hopes that the study's findings will contribute to the establishment of standards that benefit both consumers and avocado oil producers who want to compete in a fair market.
“I'm very optimistic for the future of the avocado oil industry,” Wang said. “It's a high-value product with high consumer demand, similar to what I saw with olive oil 10 years ago. Olive oil quality and purity have improved significantly, which is where I see avocado oil going, if we can establish fair standards and eliminate fraudulent products.”/h3>/h3>
Outbreaks similar to El Niño-influenced issues of the 1990s
The wave of atmospheric rivers that swept across the state this winter has created the right conditions for plant pathogens that haven't been seen for decades in California. University of California, Davis, plant pathologist Florent “Flo” Trouillas is getting more calls from growers and farm advisors concerned about potential crop damage.
“Generally, whenever you have rain events, you're going to have problems,” said Trouillas, a Cooperative Extension specialist who is based at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier. “In wet years we get really busy because most pathogens need and like water.”
Trouillas is like a disease detective. He splits his time between the field and the lab, working to diagnose pathogens, diseases and other ailments that strike fruit and nut crops such as almonds, cherries, olives and pistachios.
On a recent visit to an almond orchard near Fresno, Trouillas joined Mae Culumber, a nut crops farm advisor for UC Cooperative Extension Fresno County. A few weeks earlier, the two had walked the orchard, taking note of the base of some trees that had gumming — a thick, jelly-looking substance indicating a pathogen had taken hold.
“A lot of what Florent is doing is trying to assess patterns on a landscape,” Culumber said. “Sometimes things may look like they are one thing, but it could be another problem.”
When the two returned weeks later, the amber-colored gumming had moved into the canopy, looking like gumballs stuck to branches, some of which were already dead. “It's getting out of control from before,” Trouillas says. “This branch was killed. This is widespread.”
From the field to the lab
Lab testing confirmed what Trouillas believed was the culprit: Phytophthora syringae, a pathogen that can affect almond crops but is rarely seen in California. If it is found, generally the site of infection are wounds caused by pruning, but that is not the case here, where the infection began in the canopy at twigs, or small branches.
It is a threat to a key crop, which according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, generates $5 billion annually. The last time Phytophthora syringae hit California was in the 1990s after a series of El Niño-influenced storms. Trouillas, who has a photographic memory, remembered reading about it in an old manual.
“It's rare for California and one that we see mostly following atmospheric rivers,” he says.
“The disease will only happen following these extremely wet winters.”
Phytophthora is soilborne, mostly found in tree roots, and doesn't generally spread up into branches. But the intense storms created the right conditions for the pathogen to “swim” up trunks as winds blew spores into the air and rain dropped them back down into the canopy, Trouillas said.
Some of the trees in this orchard will die; others can be saved by pruning infected branches and applying a recommended fungicide, he said.
Identification, diagnosis, education
Trouillas is one of more than 50 Cooperative Extension specialists at UC Davis and each is charged with identifying problems and developing solutions for those issues in support of agriculture, the ecosystem and communities throughout the state.
In his role, Trouillas focuses not only on pathology and research but also on educating growers, nursery staff, pest control advisers and others in agriculture about ways to manage potential threats and how to prevent crop damage.
“His role is very crucial,” said Mohammad Yaghmour, an orchard systems advisor for UC Cooperative Extension Kern County. “He's not only on this mission to educate growers but he's also a source of education for us.”
Trouillas typically conducts one or two site visits a week, usually after a farm advisor reaches out about a problem they can't solve on their own.
“This allows us to be at the forefront of disease detections in California,” he said.
He likens these visits to house calls a doctor would make, only to fields instead. And one of those calls recently took him to a cherry orchard in Lodi.
“These guys help me quite a bit,” said Andrew Vignolo, a pest control adviser with Wilbur-Ellis who asked for a consult. “I bug them a lot.”
The visit starts like any consult in a doctor's office, only the questions come fast as they walk around the Lodi orchard where branches are dying, there is gumming and the trees appear stressed. Some look to be sunburned from exposure. Old pruning wounds show cankers, indicating that past disease treatments didn't get rid of whatever was affecting the trees.
Trouillas asks about the cultivar of the trees because some varieties are more susceptible to pests or diseases. He focuses on stress because that opens the door to disease.
Do they prune in the dormant winter months or in summer when pathogens are more prevalent? Does the soil get tested? How old are the trees? What about nutrition?
“I'm trying to figure out how they got infected so bad,” Trouillas said, walking the orchard. “Bacterial canker is a very mysterious disease.”
He thinks it might be a bacterial canker disease and shaves some bark to take to the lab for testing. He wants to come back next winter to take some samples to see where the pathogen is overwintering.
“We'll know in a few weeks if we have a fighting chance,” Vignolo said.
Be it Lodi, Fresno or elsewhere in the state, Trouillas focuses on local conditions. But what is learned in one field can be passed on to others, providing early warnings or advice for those in similar situations. “All these efforts at collaboration, from the field, to the lab, going through research projects, there's only one goal here — to help the farmers of California.”/h3>/h3>/h3>
Hopland REC turns 2018 River Fire devastation into research opportunity
The destructiveness of wildfire flames is easy to see, but dangers may lurk in the ashes they leave behind. A group of UC Davis scientists studied lambs at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center, investigating whether pastures regrown after a wildfire cause toxic metal residues in grazing animals. The results, published in California Agriculture journal, showed that grazing on regrown pastures did not significantly alter the metal content of the lambs' meat and wool. That's good news for ranchers and consumers from a food safety perspective.
In 2018, the River Fire burned six miles north of Hopland, scorching two-thirds of the land at Hopland REC, including areas in its sheep station. Since Hopland REC conducts ecological and agricultural research, they had data and some meat samples from the sheep flock that lived on site before the River Fire occurred.
“A bunch of researchers came together to brainstorm how we could take advantage of this unfortunate event,” said Sarah Depenbrock, assistant professor and agronomist in the Medicine and Epidemiology department of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Burning has played a role in agricultural processes for many years, but wildfires in California are creating a new fire landscape that interests researchers like Depenbrock. “The problem, now, is that these big wildfires probably interact with agricultural land differently than routine prescribed burns,” she said.
Large, older plants on lands that have not recently burned may contain high concentrations of metals, sequestered over years of growth. Mercury is an example of a potentially dangerous metal that can be sequestered in living things over time. These metals may be distributed in ash after the vegetation burns so the scientists examined lambs that had grazed on Hopland REC's recently burned pastures, during the first plant regrowth.
Uncertain results raise more questions
The researchers compared meat from lambs that grazed on regrown pastures in 2019, after the River Fire, to frozen meat samples that were collected the year before the fire. Lead, mercury, arsenic, molybdenum, cadmium, beryllium, cobalt and nickel were not detected in any animal samples. There were, however, a few (3 out of 26) samples that tested positive for the non-essential (potentially toxic heavy metals) chromium and thallium in the group grazing after the fire.
Due to the small number of samples testing positive, researchers could not determine statistically if this contamination was associated with grazing the burn regrowth. The concentrations of chromium and thallium found may or may not be potentially toxic, depending on the specific forms and how much meat a person consumes.
Another aspect of the study included testing lambs' wool to determine if it is a good method of judging the mineral content of its meat. “In general, we learned that it wasn't well-correlated with most meat metal content of interest, which is worth knowing. However, because we did not identify many of the non-essential metals of particular toxologic concern, such as lead or mercury, in any animal samples we could not determine if testing wool would be useful for those metals, as they are in other species,” said Depenbrock. She also notes that the wool from animals whose meat tested positive for chromium and thallium, did not test positive for these metals in their wool.
As the challenges in managing wildfires persist, so does the risk of contamination of food products stemming from grazing livestock.
“We didn't get striking evidence that tells us, when there's a fire, it means everything is contaminated with heavy metals,” said Depenbrock. “But it does raise the question that maybe we should be doing a little bit of surveillance to see if this is spurious or common. And we should be finding a way to screen grazing herds.”
Recommendations to manage copper concerns
“It's a very small study, but it was quite interesting to find that copper was actually lower in the postfire grazing group, which makes me wonder,” Depenbrock said.
Diseases associated with copper deficiency are a major concern in sheep. For example, congenital swayback can result in stillbirth or an animal's inability to stand on its own due to incurable changes to the spinal cord. Other adverse effects include reduced growth rate, anemia, wool defects and fiber depigmentation, and osteoporosis with higher risk of spontaneous fractures. Copper excess can also cause serious and sometimes fatal disease.
Many of the forage sources, grazing areas and rangelands in California are copper deficient, while some feed sources have excess copper. Screening and monitoring livestock herds for trace minerals including copper is crucial.
To test for copper, she advises livestock owners to obtain mineral concentrations from the organs of euthanized or dead animals. Samples from the liver and kidney are the most valuable organs to identify a potential problem in the herd. UC Davis Veterinary Medicine's California Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS) labs do this testing routinely.
Second, monitor and record mineral supplementation and, third, maintain updated health records to make informed decisions regarding supplementation based on a herd or flock's known problems. For example, if a producer is not accustomed to supplementing copper, Depenbrock highly recommends working with a veterinarian to start out (as there are numerous copper supplement products of varying concentration on the market), to determine a testing or screening plan, and review health records for problems potentially associated with copper.
To read the full text of the study, visit https://calag.ucanr.edu/Archive/?article=ca.2022a0016.