News Article | May 8, 2017
Source: University of California Cooperative Extension UC Cooperative Extension, San Luis Obispo County “The rapid increase in harvested acreage beginning in the late 1990s was then accompanied by a strong drop in the crop value per acre (Fig. 3). The last two seasons have seen a continuation of the trend previously outlined in the …
News Article | May 2, 2017
First in a series on lessons from California’s water crisis. When George McFadden sits at his computer to analyze crop photos, he looks like a doctor pointing out trouble spots on an X-ray. He identifies unnatural lines, “blob-like” patterns, and streaks clouding a field. All can indicate a troubling diagnosis. “Can you see these little dots?” McFadden asks, pointing at a thermal shot of a tomato field that has suffered from a defective irrigation system. The dots on the image revealed that the system’s drip line had tears in it, he says. Watering the field became “like taking a straw, putting a bunch of pinholes in it, and trying to pump water through it.” The tomato grower used the image to show the manufacturer that the irrigation line was defective. “Pretty striking,” McFadden says, still examining the screen. The 32-year-old field agronomist works for Ceres Imaging, a start-up in Oakland, California, that uses aerial imagery to help farmers optimize water and fertilizer application. The company is part of a growing contingent of technology start-ups vying to transform one of the state’s most powerful industries — agriculture — for a future in which its most important input grows increasingly scarce, and every drop counts. California is the country’s top agricultural producer, growing two-thirds of the nation’s fruits and nuts and more than a third of its vegetables. Golden State farms and ranches constitute a $54 billion annual industry. The state’s ag-focused economy means growers have historically been power players in politics, especially in discussions about apportioning water. But as growth, drought, and climate change have increased scarcity and led to louder calls for conservation, the industry’s clout has been waning. In 2015, during a record-setting drought, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered cities and towns to reduce water use by 25 percent — the first such mandatory cutback in state history. It prompted some to criticize the agriculture sector’s consumption — which makes up 80 percent of state use — and question why the industry was spared. Brown defended the decision, saying farmers were already among those hardest hit. Many faced huge cuts to water allotments from state and federal systems and had to pay overblown sums for the water they could access. This was particularly hard on farmers because they operate with narrow profit margins, and more than 80 percent of California farms are small and family-owned. A few months after the order for cities, as the drought slid into its fourth year, some farmers were slammed with further restrictions. A study released last summer estimated that the drought would cost California’s agricultural industry more than $600 million in 2016. For 2015, the estimate was $2.7 billion. And though much of the state has gotten drenched this winter — over 70 percent of California is now out of drought — the long-term forecast for severe water shortages remains unchanged. In April, Brown ended the state of emergency for most parts of California; it had been in effect since January 2014. But climate change will continue tightening the state’s water supply. To keep crop yields high, or even just to stay in business, farmers will have to become more calculating. That’s where technology comes in. Silicon Valley, the nation’s most powerful tech hub, sits in the middle of California’s most productive farmland. To the east lies the Central Valley, growing crops like almonds and walnuts; to the north is Napa Valley, with its world-famous grapes; and to the south is the Central Coast, the “salad bowl of the world.” Despite their proximity, the agriculture and technology sectors haven’t had much interaction. Though both are powerful forces in the state — ag a long-time influencer, tech a newer one — the cultural divide between the two is vast. But bridging that gap could help solve one of agriculture’s most pernicious problems: water scarcity. Technologists are betting their solutions will ensure a steady stream of revenue for both industries in an increasingly dry world. Jenna Rodriguez, Ceres’ product manager, was raised in Linden, California, a small agricultural town on the northern tip of the San Joaquin Valley in the center of the state. “I’ve grown up listening to growers talk about the water situation,” Rodriguez tells me. “They’re growing food to also feed their families. And when a family farm has water allocations cut back to zero percent, it can make or break the income for a family.” After spending summers driving tractors and bailers at her parents’ hay harvesting business, Rodriguez got a Ph.D. in hydrological sciences. Now she’s based in the Central Valley town of Ripon, working to bring Ceres’ technology to more farmers throughout the area. The day we spoke, Rodriguez had just finalized plans for Ceres’ launch into Hawaii, where its imaging system will be used on tropical crops like pineapple and coffee as well as commodities like corn and soybeans. When it launched in 2014, Ceres initially focused on lucrative nut crops in the Central Valley. Then it expanded to other crops in California, the Midwest, and even Australia. In total, the company now analyzes hundreds of thousands of acres for its clients. Some of Ceres’ aerial technology is similar to what has been used by other imaging companies for decades. But Ceres’ chlorophyll measurements are a proprietary product. Its image processing and the guidance it offers to growers are also unique. To assess fields, Ceres hires pilots who fly their aircraft low over the ground. The company attaches special cameras focused on particular wavelengths to assess water stress, chlorophyll content, and biomass — all indicators of health in a crop. Within 24 to 48 hours, growers can access processed imagery on devices like phones or tablets, which McFadden says are popular with growers in the field. Then someone on Ceres’ small staff of 24, often Rodriguez or McFadden, will work with growers to explain the significance of the patterns and colors expressed in the images. Blue and green indicate healthy plants, while red and yellow show water stress and potential irrigation problems. “It’s like this constant battle of maintaining and operating your irrigation system,” says McFadden, sitting at a gray folding table in Ceres’ bare-bones office. “A big thing with tomatoes is identifying the leaks. Currently [growers] have teams of people who will go and walk each row of the tomato field, which is a pretty inefficient use of time.” According to independent field tests, the imagery works. Since 2014, Ceres has teamed up with the University of California Cooperative Extension, a program that has provided agricultural data to growers in California for over a century. The extension has worked on several studies with Ceres, including a trial for the Almond Board of California that measured the response of nuts to different rates of watering. In that study, data from Ceres images matched well with the extension’s ground measurements, says Blake Sanden, who headed up the trial. He’s an irrigation and soils management adviser for the extension program — or, as he calls himself, in a voice as slow as molasses, “the water and mud guy for Kern County,” which sits at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. Ceres’ relationship with the extension program has helped the company gain trust with sometimes-skeptical farmers. Sanden says the extension’s government-funded trials are “the gold standard of efficacy” for new products in the ag market. Even with that kind of validation, though, it takes effort to convince growers that a new product isn’t snake oil. Farmers tend to be skeptical of change and hesitant to acknowledge that they’ll need to cede more water to other uses in the state. Sanden told me the Central Valley’s attitude toward a water-stressed future can be summed up in two words: “Fear and trepidation.” Farmers, who Rodriguez calls “the original stewards of the environment,” are not prone to waste. But in the past, many California growers had cheap, consistent access to water distributed by systems like the Central Valley Project, a federal network of reservoirs and irrigation channels. More recently, though, programs developed to keep growers flush have dried up or apportioned some of them much less water than in the past — down to nothing. “The attitude used to be, ‘I can find water,’” says Sanden. “I would say that 30, 40 years ago there was an attitude of hope, overconfidence — whatever you want to call it — that some of the restrictions on pumping water [would] go away.” He says growers expected decision-makers “to come back to reality and understand that we’ve got to make money in California and grow food.” But the restrictions didn’t go away. Instead, they became stricter. Those constraints, along with the drought, have threatened grower livelihoods across the state. The uncertainty has made farmers friendlier to new technologies. For many, it’s been the only way to survive. Dave Santos, who grows apricots, cherries, and almonds in Patterson, a Central Valley town sandwiched between I-5 and the San Joaquin River, remembers the advent of drip irrigation, which his 900-acre farm has used for more than 30 years. Since then, he says, a lot more innovation has sprung up — so much so that 67-year-old Santos leaves some of it to his son, like experimenting with aerial imaging. “I’m just a neophyte in all of this stuff,” he says. “We’re trying to do our best.” Today, growers like Santos and his son attend conferences to learn about the latest tools and meet with a rotating cast of salespeople who pitch them on new products and services. “Obviously, with the California drought, anything that can help with water efficiency, they’re willing to spend time and listen to see what’s available,” McFadden says. “In general, all these costs are increasing, but the revenue is not. So how do they deal with that? Become more efficient.” Scott Bryan and Tom Ferguson meet me in a French café in San Francisco’s Financial District. Next door is a hip ice cream shop, and above that is their tiny office — in a coworking space — from which they run the only California-based start-up accelerator focused specifically on water innovation. Each year, Imagine H2O handpicks about 10 start-ups working on “solving” water. Competition is fierce. The nonprofit’s staff of four and a group of judges comb through about 100 applications for each cycle. They’re looking for a special sauce that includes commercial potential, interesting technology, and solutions that keep the customer in mind. “There are a lot of people in water who just have an idea,” says Bryan, the group’s president. “It can be something on the side.” “Let’s tow icebergs down from Alaska — which is a thing,” offers Ferguson. The day we sit down together in January, they’d just begun working with the 12 companies selected for the 2017 program. Over the course of nearly a year, the selected companies will work with industry mentors, hone their pitches, and liaise with potential customers, partners, and investors. Imagine H2O’s goal is to get start-ups from point A to whatever a company envisions as point B. Since 2009, the program has helped 650 companies that are working on water scarcity and conservation in more than 30 countries. In March, Imagine H2O held a swanky champagne reception for its new cohort at a San Francisco event space bathed in blue light. While suited attendees milled around the room, the cohort’s entrepreneurs floated next to display tables, ready to pitch their technologies. Last year, Ceres was among Imagine H2O’s chosen cohort. At the 2016 reception, the company was selected from the larger group as the program’s Water Data Challenge winner. “They had clearly spent a hell of a lot of time with their customers,” says Ferguson, the vice president of programming. “Your network is crucial.” Farmers want to know: “What’s my neighbor doing? Does he trust it?” he says. “Totally,” Ferguson agrees. “That’s kind of the determinant of virality — to use a terrible San Francisco phrase.” What many tech entrepreneurs get wrong, according to the two, is assuming growers have an unlimited capacity to adopt new technology. “Is a farmer going to have 10 different phones with 40 different apps on each phone?” Bryan asks. “No. The farmer is going to be like anyone else — they’re going to use technology, but they’re going to use the stuff that has some kind of return for them.” Rodriguez says there’s still “a substantial barrier in general between ag tech and agriculture.” But people working at the intersection insist both sides have the desire to find technological solutions that address the water crisis. “The agricultural industry wants to be more productive, they want to make money, they want to be profitable,” says Graeme Jarvis, an Imagine H2O accelerator judge and mentor, who has worked in start-ups and who helped build John Deere’s precision agriculture business unit. “It just so happens that by leveraging technology and new ways of understanding how to drive those in-field decisions,” Jarvis says, “[you] actually end up having this secondary or complementary benefit, which is better water stewardship. That said, it’s early days in the realization of a lot of this.” To succeed, technologists will have to meet farmers in the field. Bryan says, “The biggest mistake people make: They don’t understand what the on-the-ground needs and limitations are.” You can only grasp that by talking, and especially listening, to growers. “If you don’t, you’re just another entrepreneur with a gadget looking for a problem.”
News Article | April 17, 2017
Current wildfire policy can't adequately protect people, homes and ecosystems from the longer, hotter fire seasons climate change is causing, according to a new paper led by the University of Colorado Boulder. Efforts to extinguish every blaze and reduce the buildup of dead wood and forest undergrowth are becoming increasingly inadequate on their own. Instead, the authors -- a team of wildfire experts -- urge policymakers and communities to embrace policy reform that will promote adaptation to increasing wildfire and warming. "Wildfire is catching up to us," said lead author Tania Schoennagel, a research scientist at CU Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. "We're learning our old tools aren't enough and we need to approach wildfire differently." This means accepting wildfire as an inevitable part of the landscape, states the new paper published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The western U.S. has seen a 2-degrees-Celsius rise in annual average temperature and lengthening of the fire season by almost three months since the 1970s; both elements contribute to what the authors refer to as the "new era of western wildfires." This pattern of bigger, hotter fires, along with the influx of homes into fire-prone areas--over 2 million since 1990--has made wildfire vastly more costly and dangerous. "For a long time, we've thought that if we try harder and do better, we can get ahead of wildfire and reduce the risks," said Schoennagel, who also is an adjunct faculty member in CU Boulder's Geography Department. "We can no longer do that. This is bigger than us and we're going to have to adapt to wildfire rather than the other way around." As part of this adaptation process, the authors advocate for actions that may be unpopular, such as allowing more fires to burn largely unimpeded in wildland areas and intentionally setting more fires, or "controlled burns," to reduce natural fuels like undergrowth in more developed areas. Both these steps would reduce future risk and help ecosystems adapt to increasing wildfire and warming. They also argue for reforming federal, state and local policies that have the unintended consequence of encouraging people to develop in fire-prone areas. Currently, federal taxpayers pick up the tab for preventing and fighting western wildfires--a cost that has averaged some $2 billion a year in recent years. If states and counties were to bear more of that cost, it would provide incentive to adopt planning efforts and fire-resistant building codes that would reduce risk. Re-targeting forest thinning efforts is another beneficial reform suggested by the authors. The federal government has spent some $5 billion since 2006 on thinning dense forests and removing fuel from some 7 million hectares (17 million acres) of land, often in remote areas. But these widespread efforts have done little to reduce record-setting fires. Directing thinning projects to particularly high-risk areas, including communities in fire-prone regions and forests in particularly dry areas, would increase adaptation to wildfire, the authors said. Additionally, as climate change forces species to move their ranges, some may vanish entirely. Familiar landscapes will disappear, a fact that makes many people balk. But such changes, including those caused by wildfire, could be necessary for the environment in the long run, says Max Moritz, a fire scientist at the University of California Cooperative Extension and a co-author on the paper. "We need the foresight to help guide these ecosystems in a healthy direction now so they can adjust in pace with our changing climate," he said. "That means embracing some changes while we have a window to do so." Critical to making a policy of adaptation successful, said Schoennagel, will be education and changing people's perception of wildfire. "We have to learn that wildfire is inevitable, in the same way that droughts and flooding are. We've tried to control fire, but it's not a control we can maintain. Like other natural disasters, we have to learn to adapt."
Larson-Praplan S.,University of California Cooperative Extension
Rangelands | Year: 2014
On the Ground Spanish colonists brought cattle to California when they landed in San Diego in 1769, with two hundred head of cattle arriving by overland routes. Mexico, achieving independence, established rules to petition for land grants in California, paving the way for additional settlers by making land grants easier to obtain. The Gold Rush resulted in cattle numbers quadrupling and sheep numbers increasing more than 60-fold between 1850 and 1860. Multiple uses, such as agriculture crop production, impacted California rangelands. Public policies now influence management of approximately 38 million acres of privately and publicly owned rangelands. © 2014 by the Society for Range Management.
Costello M.J.,University of California Cooperative Extension
HortScience | Year: 2010
Nodding needlegrass [Nassella cernua (Stebbins & R.M. Love) Barkworth], a California native perennial grass, was tested for its effects on grapevine and soil-water relations in a drip-irrigated vineyard in Parlier, CA. Vine water status and in-row and between-row soil moisture (at 0.3 m, 0.6 m, 0.9 m, 1.2 m, and 1.5 m) were monitored semiweekly from June to September. There was no overall significant difference in leaf water potential between treatments. In-row soil moisture was lowest at depths of 0.6 m to 0.9 m within the nodding needlegrass treatment but was lowest from 0.3 m to 0.9 m within the clean cultivation treatment. Compared with clean cultivation, nodding needlegrass in-row soil moisture was significantly higher at depths of 0.3 m and 0.6. m and did not differ at depths of 0.9 m and 1.2 m. In contrast, in-row soil moisture was significantly higher under clean cultivation compared with nodding needlegrass at 1.5 m. Betweenrow soil moisture was significantly higher under clean cultivation compared with nodding needlegrass at every depth. Combining in-row and between-row data, overall vineyard soil moisture was slightly lower, by 1.2% points, in the nodding needlegrass treatment compared with clean cultivation. There was no interaction between treatment and depth for between-row soil moisture, indicating that the vines used little water from the between-row area. The lack of difference between treatments in the rate of soil moisture depletion over the season indicates that nodding needlegrass used little water during the summer. Based on these results, nodding needlegrass appears to be suitable as a permanent cover crop in California drip-irrigated vineyards where competition for summer water is a concern.
Alexander J.,University of California Cooperative Extension
Environmental Management | Year: 2010
Sudden Oak Death has been impacting California's coastal forests for more than a decade. In that time, and in the absence of a centrally organized and coordinated set of mandatory management actions for this disease in California's wildlands and open spaces, many local communities have initiated their own management programs. We present five case studies to explore how local-level management has attempted to control this disease. From these case studies, we glean three lessons: connections count, scale matters, and building capacity is crucial. These lessons may help management, research, and education planning for future pest and disease outbreaks. © 2010 The Author(s).
Koike S.T.,University of California Cooperative Extension
Plant Disease | Year: 2013
Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) is a plant in the Asteraceae that is grown commercially as a cutflower commodity and also as a beneficial insectary plant. In June 2012 in coastal California (Santa Cruz County), several fields of organic lettuce (Lactuca sativa) were interplanted with direct-seeded rows of Mexican sunflower (cv. Torch) in order to attract beneficial insects. When approximately 2 to 3 weeks from harvest, lettuce plants began to wilt and collapse. Lettuce crowns were decayed and covered with white mycelium and small (0.5 to 3 mm diameter), irregularly shaped, black sclerotia. These plants were confirmed to have lettuce drop disease caused by Sclerotinia minor (2). In addition, Mexican sunflower plants began to wilt and eventually died. Initial symptoms on crowns and bases of the main stems in contact with soil consisted of a light tan discoloration. These discolored areas turned darker brown, became necrotic, and later were covered with white mycelium and sclerotia that were identical to those found on lettuce. Symptomatic sunflower stems were surface disinfested and small pieces from the margins of necrotic areas were placed into petri plates containing acidified potato dextrose agar. Resulting fungal colonies were white, produced profuse numbers (approx. 39 sclerotia/cm2) of small black sclerotia, and were identified as S. minor. Six-week-old Mexican sunflower plants grown in a peat moss-based rooting medium in 5-cm square pots were used to test the pathogenicity of four isolates. Isolates were grown on cubed and autoclaved potato pieces and resulting sclerotia were recovered and dried (1). For each isolate, 12 plants for each of three cultivars (cvs. Fiesta del Sol, Torch, and Yellow Torch) were inoculated by placing 3 to 5 sclerotia 1 cm below the soil level and adjacent to the plant crowns/stem bases. Sterile sand was placed next to crowns of the control plants. Plants were maintained in a greenhouse at 22 to 24°C. Symptom development was rapid and after 6 to 7 days, inoculated Tithonia plants exhibited brown necrosis at inoculated areas. After 10 days, Tithonia crowns were decayed and plants wilted. S. minor was reisolated from selected necrotic crown and stem tissues. Diseased plants that were not used for reisolations later supported the growth of the characteristic white mycelium and black sclerotia. There were no significant differences between the Tithonia cultivars, and overall disease incidence ranged from 74 to 100%. Non-inoculated plants were asymptomatic. The experiment was repeated and results were similar. In addition, the sclerotia of the four Tithonia isolates were similarly inoculated onto sets of 12 romaine lettuce plants (cv. Green Towers). After 5 to 6 days, all plants developed lettuce drop disease and the pathogen was reisolated. To my knowledge, this is the first report of Mexican sunflower as a host of S. minor. These findings indicate that Mexican sunflower and lettuce are susceptible to the same lettuce drop pathogen, and that this beneficial insectary plant could increase soilborne inoculum of S. minor. Growers should therefore be aware of the host status of beneficial insectary and other plants interplanted with crops. © The American Phytopathological Society.
Molinar R.H.,University of California Cooperative Extension
HortScience | Year: 2012
Sinqua and moqua, better known as Luffa actuangula and Benincasa hispida var. chiehgua, are but a few of the 70 or so Asian vegetables being grown in Fresno, CA. These little-known vegetables are very common to the 1300 Hmong, Mien, Lao, and Chinese farmers growing them for the specialty and wholesale markets in Fresno. This article discusses 24 Asian vegetables commonly grown on farms and sold to more than a dozen specialty crop packing houses in Fresno and at farmers markets in California. Cultural information, pest problems, and culinary uses are also briefly discussed.
Battany M.C.,University of California Cooperative Extension
Agricultural and Forest Meteorology | Year: 2012
Upward-blowing wind machines have been commercialized for use in frost protection but little quantitative information exists regarding how their operation alters site temperatures. In particular, their performance relative to conventional wind machines has been debated. To address this need, experiments were conducted on 12 spring frost nights in 2010 and 2011 in a commercial winegrape vineyard where either two upward-blowing wind machines or a single conventional wind machine were operated. Comprehensive measurements of air temperature changes caused by wind machine operation were evaluated on multiple transects at heights of 1.1, 4, 7 and 10m. All 12 frost nights were characterized by low wind and clear sky conditions, with temperature inversion strengths commonly associated with beneficial wind machine use occurring on 9 of the 12 nights. The operation of the conventional wind machine produced consistently larger and more statistically significant increases in temperature, particularly at the 1.1m vine level, as compared to the operation of the upward-blowing wind machines which produced very minor increases in temperature at the 1.1m level under strong inversion conditions and either no change or decreases in temperature under weaker inversion conditions. Based on the summary relationships between temperature changes as a function of inversion strength, under conditions of an inversion gradient of 0.2°Cm -1 the conventional wind machine would be expected to raise target area temperatures by 1.6°C at the vine level, while the upward-blowing wind machines would have no net effect under the same inversion conditions. Smoke tracking of the air flow from the upward-blowing wind machines indicated that the air jet reached 25m height, and then tended to slowly settle back towards the ground. These results indicate relatively poor performance of this type of low-powered (6.3kW) upward-blowing wind machine compared to a conventional wind machine under the conditions of this study. © 2012 Elsevier B.V..
Cloyd R.A.,Kansas State University |
Bethke J.A.,University of California Cooperative Extension
Pest Management Science | Year: 2011
The neonicotinoid insecticides imidacloprid, acetamiprid, dinotefuran, thiamethoxam and clothianidin are commonly used in greenhouses and/or interiorscapes (plant interiorscapes and conservatories) to manage a wide range of plant-feeding insects such as aphids, mealybugs and whiteflies. However, these systemic insecticides may also be harmful to natural enemies, including predators and parasitoids. Predatory insects and mites may be adversely affected by neonicotinoid systemic insecticides when they: (1) feed on pollen, nectar or plant tissue contaminated with the active ingredient; (2) consume the active ingredient of neonicotinoid insecticides while ingesting plant fluids; (3) feed on hosts (prey) that have consumed leaves contaminated with the active ingredient. Parasitoids may be affected negatively by neonicotinoid insecticides because foliar, drench or granular applications may decrease host population levels so that there are not enough hosts to attack and thus sustain parasitoid populations. Furthermore, host quality may be unacceptable for egg laying by parasitoid females. In addition, female parasitoids that host feed may inadvertently ingest a lethal concentration of the active ingredient or a sublethal dose that inhibits foraging or egg laying. There are, however, issues that require further consideration, such as: the types of plant and flower that accumulate active ingredients, and the concentrations in which they are accumulated; the influence of flower age on the level of exposure of natural enemies to the active ingredient; the effect of neonicotinoid metabolites produced within the plant. As such, the application of neonicotinoid insecticides in conjunction with natural enemies in protected culture and interiorscape environments needs further investigation. © 2010 Society of Chemical Industry.