Posts Tagged: blueberries
November News Clips (11/1-11/14)
As wildfires grow deadlier, officials search for solutions
(Associated Press) Matthew Brown and Ellen Knickmeyer, Nov. 14
…"There are ... so many ways that can go wrong, in the warning, the modes of getting the message out, the confusion ... the traffic jams," said Max Moritz, a wildfire specialist with the University of California Cooperative Extension program.
As deadly urban wildfires become more common, officials should also consider establishing "local retreat zones, local safety zones" in communities where residents can ride out the deadly firestorms if escape seems impossible, Moritz said.
… In the mid-20th century, California ranchers burned hundreds of thousands of acres annually to manage their lands, said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, director of the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council.
That was phased out in the 1980s after California's fire management agency stepped in to take over the burns, and by the last decade, the amount of acreage being treated had dropped to less than 10,000 acres annually, Quinn-Davidson said.
Former agricultural land that rings many towns in the state became overgrown, even as housing developments pushed deeper into those rural areas. That was the situation in the Northern California town of Redding leading up to a fire that began in July and destroyed more than 1,000 homes. It was blamed for eight deaths.
"You get these growing cities pushing out - housing developments going right up into brush and wooded areas. One ignition on a bad day, and all that is threatened," Quinn-Davidson said. "These fires are tragic, and they're telling us this is urgent. We can't sit on our hands."
Camp Fire vs. Tubbs Fire: The two most destructive fires in California history
(San Francisco Chronicle) Amy Graff, Nov. 14
Comparing California's most destructive wildfires -- the current Camp Fire and last year's Tubb's Fire -- College of Natural Resources Dean Emeritus Keith Gilless, also a forest economics professor, says: "One fundamental difference that occurs to me is that the Tubbs fire broke out late at night, which made notification and evacuation particularly difficult." Professor Gilless also discussed California's wildfires on WBUR's On Point program.
Trump and Brown stir up rhetoric on wildfires but overlook pressing problems
(LA Times) Bettina Boxall, Nov. 14
… “I've been following these issues for 40 years, and I don't remember a time when the issue of wildfire has ever been politicized anywhere close to the extent it is now,” said Richard Frank, director of the California Environmental Law and Policy Center at UC Davis.
… Similarly, UC Berkeley fire scientist Scott Stephens said that although climate change is playing a role in wildfire growth, he worries that a focus on global warming can leave the public thinking that “there's really nothing to be done.”
In fact, he said, “Communities could still be better prepared.”
Staggered evacuation plan questioned in fire's aftermath
(Associated Press) Paul Elias, Kathleen Ronayne, Nov. 14
…Paradise sits on a ridge between two higher hills, with only one main exit out of town. The best solution seemed to be to order evacuations in phases, so people didn't get trapped.
“Gridlock is always the biggest concern,” said William Stewart, a forestry professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
…Likewise, Stewart, the forestry professor, said the wildfire that hit Paradise disrupted the orderly evacuation plan because it “was moving too fast. All hell broke loose.”
He said experts continue to debate how best to issue evacuation orders and no ideal solution has been found.
Blueberry growers focus on open market window
(Ag Alert) Padma Nagappan, Nov. 14
…It makes sense to tap the market earlier in the year, when California growers are not competing with others entering the market and there are better margins to be had. That's why Ramiro Lobo and others from the University of California have been working on a long-term berry trial in Southern California, to look for the best varieties that can be produced early in the year.
"You have to be in the market as early as you can, because by April and beginning of May, the prices are so low, it doesn't even pay for the harvest," Lobo said. He is a small farms and agricultural economics advisor with UC Cooperative Extension.
Sanitation is foundation of Navel orangeworm control
(Farm Press) Logan Hawkes, Nov 14
So far this year, early estimates reveal that nut damage and subsequent losses from NOW larvae, will be less than in 2017, though the pest remains a major concern in almond, pistachio, and even walnut orchards. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resource (UC-ANR) advisors note that a successful management plan for controlling Navel orangeworm starts in the fall following harvest and continues through the winter months.
"Sanitation is the foundation of Navel orangeworm control," says Pheobe Gordon of UC Cooperative Extension. "Post-harvest sanitation is the first step in slowing the emergence of the pest when the new season begins."
… UC-ANR Extension IPM Specialist Dr. Jhalendra Rijal is one of the leading researchers on Navel orangeworm control in almonds and walnuts. "We have been working vigorously to better understand Navel orangeworms, how they reproduce, migrate, and survive,” he says.
How Does California's Wildlife Cope With Massive Wildfires?
(Atlas Obscura) Anna Kusmer, Nov. 13
While many animals are indeed displaced by wildfires, it's important to note that fire is not wholly bad for landscapes in an ecological sense. In fact, many California ecosystems rely on fire to thrive. “Fire in the human sense can often be catastrophic, but it's not necessarily the same for animals,” says Greg Giusti, a retired University of California researcher and an expert on the relationship between wildfires and wildlife. He says California wildlife have evolved to respond to fires, and can even sometimes benefit from the disruption. “It's harsh out there, but you know these animals have evolved to survive in that hostile environment.”
There are a variety to survival tactics that California wildlife will use, says Giusti. For example, birds are easily able to fly away and are usually not impacted as long as fires don't occur during the spring when they are nesting and raising their offspring.
The Manmade Causes Of California's Endless Fire Season
(OnPoint) Meghna Chakrabarti, Nov 13
California's endless fire season. Whether it's climate change, development or forest management, we'll look at the causes — all manmade.
Scott McLean, deputy chief, chief of information for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
Ryan Lillis, reporter for the Sacramento Bee who has covered most of Northern California's fires for last 12 years. (@Ryan_Lillis)
J. Keith Gilless, professor of forest economics at University of California, Berkeley and chair of the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection on Cal Fire's policy board.
Glen MacDonald, professor of geography at University of California, Los Angeles who has spent decades studying climate and the effects of wildfires. He and his family were among the hundreds of thousands of people who evacuated their homes because of the Woolsey Fire. (@GlenMMacDonald1)
California Must Better Prepare For The Inevitability Of Future Fires
(Pacific Standard) Max Moritz, Naomi Tague & Sarah Anderson, Nov 13
Wildfire has been an integral part of California ecosystems for centuries. Now, however, nearly a third of homes in California are in wildland urban interface areas where houses intermingling with wildlands and fire is a natural phenomenon. Just as Californians must live with earthquake risk, they must live with wildfires.
Forest management debate
(KTVU) Heather Holmes, Nov. 12
In a live interview, Bill Stewart, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, said,
“It was actually on the private land that we saw better performance in terms of being able to put out the fire quicker and a lot less smoke being produced. There is a package of vegetation management and fire suppression on private lands that have proved to be more effective than what's being used on federal land.
“What we found is about half the difference comes from the private land managers do more aggressive timber harvesting and some of that profit they spend to reduce the shrubs and fuels that are on the ground because they have that cashflow. They're protecting their long-term assets. The other half is CALFIRE is much more aggressive when it comes to fire suppression in forests or shrublands.
Trump Right? Hack-and-Squirt the Forest. Created the Huge California Fire Hazard
(Mary Greeley News) Mary Greeley, Nov. 12
On average, the cost of thinning forests through hack-and-squirt while leaving the dead trees standing is about $250 per acre, said Greg Giusti, a forest advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension. The cost of cutting and leaving them on the ground is about $750 an acre, while cutting and hauling them away is about $1,000 an acre.
Trump's Misleading Claims About California's Fire ‘Mismanagement'
(New York Times) Kendra Pierre-Louis, Nov. 12
…Mr. Trump is suggesting that forest management played a role, but California's current wildfires aren't forest fires.
“These fires aren't even in forests,” said Max Moritz, a wildfire specialist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
…“We have vulnerable housing stock already out there on the landscape. These are structures that were often built to building codes from earlier decades and they're not as fire resistant as they could be,” Dr. Moritz said. “This issue of where and how we built our homes has left us very exposed to home losses and fatalities like these.”
Carbon Farming Initiative Takes Tentative First Steps in Santa Ynez Valley
(Noozhaw) Garrett Hazelwood, Nov. 12
On a recent morning in the Santa Ynez Valley, a crowd of people gathered at the Ted Chamberlin Ranch to discuss soil health and so-called carbon farming.
The event –– hosted by the Community Environmental Council, the Cachuma Resource Conservation District, and the Santa Barbara Agricultural Commissioner's Office –– showcased successful carbon farming trials recently conducted on the ranch, and was attended by local landowners, environmental activists, scientists and county officials.
Matthew Shapero, Livestock and Range Advisor for the UC Cooperative Extension, explained that the grasses surrounding the site had sprouted green last spring and have since died in the heat of summer, becoming what he calls “residual dry matter.” Now the brittle, golden shoots have become a sparse cover for hard-packed soil that's cracked and dry.
California's year-round wildfire threat: Why aren't communities doing more?
(SF Chronicle) Peter Fimrite and Kurtis Alexander Nov. 10,
…“To have a president come out and say it's all because of forest management is ridiculous. It completely ignores the dynamic of what's going on around us.” said LeRoy Westerling, a climate and fire scientist at UC Merced, who blamed the increasing number of fires on rising temperatures and more variable precipitation, leading to longer spells of dry weather.
…“It's like a tragic replay of last year, with strong winds in both Northern California and Southern California blowing fire,” said Max Moritz, a wildfire specialist at the Bren School at UC Santa Barbara, recalling the 2017 Wine Country fires and the Thomas Fire, which burned through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in December.
…“We had a lot of discussion after the fires last year about the liability issue with utilities, but it's interesting to see what didn't happen,” Moritz said. “Nobody has talked about mapping neighborhoods and homes in fire-prone areas like they do in flood plain hazard zones, engineering resilience into communities, or building a little smarter.”
…Everybody agrees the situation is dire. Fire officials blame shorter winters, hotter temperatures and drier vegetation, but very little is being done to improve the situation, said Scott Stevens, a professor of fire science at UC Berkeley.
“There is an under-appreciation of fire risk in a lot of communities,” Stevens said. “It feels like we can do better at allowing local communities to access information, reduce their vulnerability and understand their vulnerability a little bit more.”
Stevens urged the creation of cooperative programs at his and other universities that would allow local government officials to collaborate with fire experts on safety planning.
California's most destructive wildfire should not have come as a surprise
(LA Times) Bettina Boxall and Paige St. John, Nov. 10
…“We have these Santa Ana-like events happening in places that are appearing to catch people by surprise,” said Max Moritz, a cooperative extension wildfire specialist at UC Santa Barbara's Bren School. “But they shouldn't be catching people by surprise.”
“These are areas that have burned before,” he said. “And if we were to go back and do the wind mapping, we would find that at some intervals, these areas are prone to these north and northeasterly Santa Ana-like events.”
… “We have all kinds of tools to help us do this smarter, to build in a more sustainable way and to co-exist with fire,” he said. “But everybody throws up their hands and says, ‘Oh, all land-use planning is local. You can't tell people that they can't build there.' And the conversation stops right there.”
Are Organic Farms Ruining California's Rural Coast?
(Pacific Standard) Laura Fraser, Nov. 9
David Lewis, county director of the UC Cooperative Extension in Marin County, estimates that the Point Reyes ranches contribute as much as 20 percent of the county's $110 million in annual agricultural production. Given the industries that support agriculture—feed companies, veterinary services, a grass-fed beef butchery—the overall economic output of the ranches may be three times that amount. If the ranches closed, Lewis says, "You'd be losing about $60 million a year in production." The ranchers also contribute more than 5,000 jobs in the region, on and off the farms.
Countries Embrace Genome Editing in Contrast of EU's Opinion
(AgNet West) Brian German, Nov. 8
The United States joined 12 other nations to encourage policies to enable continued agricultural innovation, including genome editing. Australia, Canada, Brazil, and Vietnam were among the countries issuing support of the International Statement on Agricultural Applications of Precision Biotechnology. Noticeably absent from the joint statement of support was the European Union (EU).
…“Ideally, or in theory, regulations are meant to be in place to address risk. And so the more risk, the more regulation and the less risk the less regulation,” said Alison Van Eenennaam, Animal Genomics and Biotechnology Specialist at UC Davis. “But in this case, it's just regulation triggered by a particular process irrespective of the risk of the product.”
University of California's Glenda Humiston wins 2018 California Steward Leader Award
(CA Economy) Nadine Ono, Nov. 8
Glenda Humiston has always been involved in rural issues from her days growing up on a farm to her current position as vice president of University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
“I was really involved in the 1990s in trying to figure out how agriculture and environmental interests find common ground, as well as building bridges between rural and urban sectors," said Humiston. "In the 2000s, I started focusing on economic development and sustainability. In my current job, I'm bringing all of those together around the reality that sustainability truly has to be a triple bottom line. We've got to develop ways for people, the planet and prosperity to all thrive and enhance the synergies between them."
Humiston will be awarded the 2018 California Steward Leader Award at the California Economic Summit. She currently serves on the 2018 Economic Summit Steering Committee, as well the Action Team co-lead for Working Landscapes and co-chair of the Elevate Rural California initiative.
Instances of Bindweed Popping Up in Central Valley Farms
(AgNet West) Brian German, Nov. 7
Waterhemp is continuing to cause some concern in and around Merced County, but there is another problematic weed species that growers should be aware of and remain on the lookout for. “Bindweed is actually a big problem throughout the central valley of California,” said Agronomy and Weed Science Advisor for Merced and Madera Counties, Lynn Sosnoskie. “It's really a concern particularly where we have crops that are grown on drip irrigation and reduced tillage systems.”
Agriculture group to hear from extension speaker
(Ventura County Star) Nov. 7
The Ventura County chapter of California Women for Agriculture will host a presentation by Annemiek Schilder of the University of California Cooperative Extension and Hansen Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
Minorities Are Most Vulnerable When Wildfires Strike in U.S., Study Finds
(New York Times) Kendra Pierre-Louis, Nov. 3
…The study, which appears in the journal PLoS One this month, suggests that people of color, especially Native Americans, face more risk from wildfires than whites. It is another example of how the kinds of disasters exacerbated by climate change often hit minorities and the poor the hardest.
…Rachel Morello-Frosch, a professor of environmental health at the University of California, Berkeley, said the research could be useful in preparing for future disasters. “Results of this study can help inform planning and outreach efforts to enhance the resilience of fire-prone communities, particularly for communities of color that are often overlooked when these disasters happen,” she said in an email.
Wildfire Risk A Key Issue In California Insurance Commissioner Race
(Capital Radio) Ezra David Romero, Nov. 2
…"I recently talked to a homeowner who had his insurance canceled about three months before his house was destroyed by a wildfire,” said UC Cooperative Extension forestry and natural resources advisor Susan Kocher.
Kocher says calls from homeowners come often, and that people's reality is something the new commissioner will have to deal with: a complicated insurance system and a warming climate that's increasing the number, size and impact of fires in California.
A New Hue
(California Bountiful) Kevin Hecteman, Nov. 1
… C. Scott Stoddard, a University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Merced County, is running trials with different purple varieties, working in concert with a sweet potato breeder at Louisiana State University.
One recent test variety, he noted, started off well from a color and yield standpoint a couple of years ago, but the interior color wasn't quite purple enough—he was getting more of a lavender potato.
"We are still very experimental," Stoddard said. "There's nothing that looks like it's going to have something there any time soon."
Eating right learned at school
(Roseville Press Tribune) Carol Feineman, Nov. 1
More than 25 percent of youth ages 5 to 19 are overweight in Placer and Nevada counties, according to University of California CalFresh Nutrition Education Program, Placer/Nevada counties. The program is part of the University of California Cooperative Extension.
UC CalFresh is trying to lower that percentage by offering nutrition classes for adults and also teaching some Roseville, Lincoln and Sheridan public school students how to eat healthier. The organization also works with area school gardens.
…“As students get older, they're making more of the choices themselves. So many kids end up being home by themselves or packing their lunch,” said Rosemary Carter, UC CalFresh program manager for Placer-Nevada Counties. “I want them to understand what the healthy foods will do for their bodies. I want them to make the healthy choices, to make an educated choice.”
Why the FDA's plan to regulate gene editing in animals has some scientists worried
(Pacific Standard) Emily Moon, Nov 1
…While genetically engineered animals have been met with controversy, animal geneticist Alison Van Eenennaam believed her own work would be immune. In her lab at the University of California–Davis, Van Eenennaam uses genetic editing technology to develop cows without horns. The process, she says, is no different than traditional breeding, in which breeders select for naturally occurring mutations. "Nature does this routinely, because there are always breaks getting introduced into double-stranded DNA by radiation and sunlight and alcohol, you name it," she says. "That's how evolution happens."
UCCE small farms advisor Mark Gaskell retires
Mark Gaskell is best known these days for cultivating the idea of California-grown coffee that launched the emerging industry. But coffee isn't the first crop that Gaskell convinced California farmers could be locally grown. For more than 23 years, the UC Cooperative Extension advisor has been researching new specialty crops, such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, kiwi berries, Pakistani mulberries, sweet onions, lychees and longans, for small farms to grow for a profit.
Gaskell, who began his career with the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources as an advisor for small farms and specialty crops in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties in 1995, retired July 1.
Blueberries become a California crop
Blueberries weren't grown in California until Gaskell planted test plots of southern highbush blueberries in 1996 to give small-scale growers a new crop option. He hosted his first blueberry field day in 1998. In collaboration with UC Cooperative Extension advisors in other counties, Gaskell identified varieties suited to the local climate and developed cultural practices for California growers to successfully produce blueberries. What was once a niche crop is now planted on over 7,000 acres in the state, according to the California Blueberry Commission. California currently leads U.S. production of fresh blueberries, Gaskell said.
“If it wasn't for Mark Gaskell, I wouldn't have lasted three years,” said Tony Chavez, who grows 40 acres of blueberries, blackberries and some raspberries in Nipomo.
Chavez had grown bored after selling La Tapatia Norcal, a tortilla shop that he operated for 34 years, and retiring in San Luis Obispo County.
“After I retired, I started a little farm. I started with blackberries,” Chavez said. “I have friends who farm. I didn't realize it would be such hard work.”
Someone told Chavez that Gaskell helps small farmers. “He's been my teacher about how to grow berries. Everything I know about farming, I owe to Mark,” said Chavez, who has been working with Gaskell for about 10 years. “I don't know what I'm going to do after he retires. He's a wonderful person and very, very knowledgeable.”
Recently Gaskell's knowledge of coffee production has been in demand.
“Personally, I would not be where I am today professionally without Mark's guidance, support and friendship,” said Jay Ruskey, CEO and co-founder of Good Land Organics.
“I met Mark in 1996 through the California Rare Fruit Growers,” Ruskey said. “We started work with lychee and longans and we worked for several years on bringing in plant material and planting trials. He brought me my first coffee plants in 2002.”
The exotic fruit didn't work out for the Goleta grower, but with Gaskell's research-based advice Ruskey has produced premium coffee. His Caturra coffee made Coffee Review's Top 30 coffees in 2014 and in 2017 Daily Coffee News reported that Blue Bottle was selling the California-grown coffee for $18 per ounce.
Prior to joining UC, Gaskell had worked for several years in Central America in coffee growing areas.
“I became curious about coffee in 2000 after I had seen some plants growing at botanical gardens in SoCal, but I assumed the hand labor and processing requirements would prevent profitable growing here,” Gaskell recalled. “About that time, I had the opportunity to visit the coffee production area in Kona on a totally unrelated project – we were doing research with lychees and longans and that is how I began to work with Jay. But visiting coffee farms and the coffee cooperative in Kona made me rethink coffee in SoCal because of similarities to coastal sites around Santa Barbara – Jay's farm – and the fact that costs of water, land and labor were high in Kona and yet they were making a business out of coffee.”
California is now in the coffee business with 15 varieties of Arabica coffee that Gaskell's research has shown are growing well with acceptable yields and high quality.
“Currently, there are about 30 farms with maybe 30,000 coffee plants between San Luis Obispo and San Diego counties,” Gaskell said. “I would expect that to double this year and again next year.”
Ruskey recently co-founded Frinj Coffee, Inc., a company that provides aspiring California coffee growers with plant material and production and marketing advice.
“Industry-wide, there are many farmers who have benefited directly from working with Mark, but there are far more farmers who are currently benefiting today from the specific crops and farming systems he has introduced through his service as a University of California farm advisor,”Ruskey said. “Mark's retirement will certainly leave a resource void for farmers who are looking for allies to help them navigate the complex and dynamic world of farming.”
Educating growers beyond California
Gaskell began his career as an agronomy instructor for four years at Iowa State University, after earning his B.S. in agronomy and his M.S. and Ph.D. in crop physiology and production at Iowa's land-grant college. He became an assistant professor of agronomy from 1980 to 1987 at Rutgers University, where he began working with small farmers in Panama. For two years, he conducted agricultural research in Central America for the U.S. Agency for International Development and became fluent in Spanish. From 1989 to 1992, Gaskell was director of agricultural technical services, overseeing crop production in Latin America and Central America for Chestnut Hill Farms in Miami, before returning to USAID to develop new crops for farmers in Central America.
After joining UC in 1995, the Iowa native continued his international work through consulting projects and sabbatical leave, sharing his expertise in Albania, Portugal, Turkey, Italy, Sicily, France and Spain, Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bolivia, Uruguay, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
As a Fulbright Senior Scholar, 2011 to 2014, Gaskell worked with the Moroccan National Agronomic Research Institute training growers and establishing a national research program to develop blueberries, blackberries and raspberries as alternative crops.
Gaskell's achievements were recognized by USDA-National Institute for Food and Agriculture with the 2010 National Extension Excellence Program Award for the UC Small Farm Program Team. In 2007, he was named “Outstanding Educator” by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
“My work in California - beyond horticulture and agronomy – has been one of relationships,” Gaskell said. “I have worked with dozens of farmers in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, in many cases, for more than 20 years. These farmers have often been collaborators for on-farm trials or educational events, or I have assisted them with farming and marketing, problem-solving with diverse crops and settings. These have been very rich, enjoyable and fulfilling relationships that I will truly miss.”
Can less water grow better berries?
It might be pouring rain today, but soon enough California will be dry again. As demand for water for a growing urban population and for environmental restoration increases, farmers throughout the state are working to grow crops using as little water as possible, and UC is working with them.
"Water supplies are being constrained. Farmers are facing reduced access to water," said Shermain Hardesty, a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis.
The research involves using some elaborate formulas for determining how much water is needed. UCCE advisor Richard Molinar, working with small farms in Fresno County, is irrigating small plots of strawberries with different amounts of water, some at 125 percent of the normal rate, some at 100 percent, and others at 75 percent and 50 percent of normal. In San Diego County, UCCE advisor Ramiro Lobo is doing similar research on strawberries and blueberries; UCCE advisor Manuel Jimenez is working with blackberries and blueberries in Tulare County; UCCE advisor Aziz Baameur is planting strawberries and blackberries in Santa Clara County, and UCCE advisor Mark Gaskell is studying blackberries in Santa Barbara County.
Once the berries are grown, they need to be tested - and testing means tasting in this project. The research team is holding tasting sessions to let the public judge which berries they prefer. If you've ever tasted a dry-farmed tomato, you might guess the answer. The first tasting session was held at the Davis Farmers' Market in June, with seven more coming soon at farmers' markets and grocery stores around the state.
Taste is a great quality to measure, but only one aspect of the study. Berries are already known for having a high nutrient content, but growing them with less water might give them even higher nutritional value. The team expects to find nutrition density to be highest at the lowest irrigation levels. To test this concept, UCCE specialists Elizabeth Mitcham and Marita Cantwell, experts in postharvest science affiliated with the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, are doing nutritional quality analysis of the berries as they are picked.
"Over-irrigation is cheap insurance, especially for such high value crops," he said.
He explained that more water tends to grow bigger berries. Since the harvest is not mechanized for berry crops, it takes as much effort to pick a small berry as a large berry, making more efficient use of the pickers' time and filling the basket more quickly if the berries are bigger.
Such a trade-off for the farmers! The public may decide that they prefer smaller berries with more taste, and the scientists may decide that smaller berries are more nutritious, but will it be profitable to grow better berries? It may depend on how much smaller, and on how much less water for how much better nutrition and taste. It may depend on the water rates, says Hardesty. She will be taking all of these variables into account to determine the potential impact on profitability of lower irrigation rates on berries.
The team, which also includes UCCE advisors Michael Cahn in Monterey County and David Shaw in San Diego, will report the results of their study to California farmers in the final year of the project. This project is funded by a California Department of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant.
Western Farm Press runs 1,000-word story on Kearney blueberry event
The annual Blueberry Open House at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center last month warranted lengthy coverage by Western Farm Press.
Freelance writer Dennis Pollock reported that Manuel Jimenez, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Tulare County, a small-scale farming expert, walked among the mature blueberry plants at Kearney, describing their good points and bad points.
"The perfect blueberry would be one that is big, firm, sweet, easy to harvest and grows in high pH (soil conditions)," he said.
At the event, Richard Molinar, UCCE advisor in Fresno County, small-scale farming, conducted a blueberry tasting, allowing those who attended to vote for their favorite three varieties. He said that variety isn't the only factor impacting flavor.
"Flavor is also affected by weather, soil factors, plant nutrition and irrigation frequency," Molinar said.
Jimenez introduced growers to two new research projects in blueberries:
- Jimenez and Larry Schwankl, Kearney-based UCCE irrigation specialist in the UC Davis Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, have teamed to study the effects of varying irrigation levels on blueberries.
- Jimenez has grafted popular blueberry varieties onto the roots of farkleberry (Viccinium abroreum), which has greater tolerance of alkaline soils like those found in the San Joaquin Valley. By reducing or eliminating soil and water acidification, using the alternate rootstock may provide a significant cut in production costs.
Manuel Jimenez leads a tour of the 15-year-old blueberry research plot.
UC aims to improve economic viability of California blueberry farms
California’s abundant sunshine enables growers to produce high-quality, very sweet Southern Highbush variety blueberries. But, blueberry plants are difficult and expensive to establish and maintain, in part because of California's soil chemistry.
“Blueberries are adapted to grow in forests, in acidic soils,” Jimenez said. “We’re growing them in a desert in alkaline soil. That requires that we acidify the soil when we establish the crop and continuously acidify the irrigation water – which is very costly.”
For example, a 2009 Blueberry Cost Study produced by UC Davis calculated that equipment needs for acidification - including a storage tank, pump and monitoring kit - amounts to $5,500. In addition, the growers must purchase large quantities of sulfuric acid to add to the soil and irrigation water.
Reducing acidification cost is the goal of a new blueberry trial at Kearney, in which Jimenez has grafted the most common commercial blueberry varieties on the roots of farkleberry plants (Vaccinium arboreum). Farkelberry is a small, stiff-branched evergreen bush that is more tolerant of alkaline soils than blueberries.
So far, the two-month-old plants seem to be growing well in their naturally alkaline soil. The coming years will reveal whether using this technique will improve the economic viability of California blueberry farms and provide California consumers with local, healthful and delicious blueberries at a reasonable cost.
The project is being conducted in collaboration with Oregon State University and Florida State University.
Learn more about the blueberry trial by viewing the video below:
Grafting 640 x 360