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El NiƱo unlikely to be California drought savior

During droughts, farmers and cities rely more heavily on groundwater, which must be recharged to get through subsequent droughts.
Rather than pinning hopes on a possible El Niño in the Pacific Ocean to alleviate the California drought, a UC expert suggested the state's residents should continue to prepare for the worst, reported Inside Climate News.

Reporter Amy Nordrum noted in the story that El Niño conditions only bring heavy rain one-third of the time. It would take an exceptional El Niño, the type that only happens 15 percent of the time, to return California water levels to normal.

"I think we really need to be prepared for more drought," said Doug Parker, director of the UC California Institute for Water Resources. "There's a pattern of dry years happening so there's a higher probability that next year will be a dry one."

Parker said he is primarily concerned with replacing the water that Californians are using.

"The key is that a lot of our drought management comes from the groundwater and that's a great resource during the drought, but you have to put that water back in the ground," said Parker. "It's how we're going to get through the next drought."

Posted on Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 12:46 PM
Tags: Doug Parker (5), drought (49)

New UC advisor is already making a positive impact

Virginia Bolshakova
Virginia Bolshakova, a UC Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development advisor for less than a year, has received praise from a farm bureau director for her contributions to local agriculture, reported Julia Hollister in Capital Press.

“She brings enthusiasm, high energy, intelligence and a passion for agriculture to her job," said Bill Gass, executive director of the San Mateo County Farm Bureau.

No day is average for Bolshakova, who is also the county director for San Mateo-San Francisco counties UCCE and the director of Elkus Ranch, a place for hands-on learning experiences for Bay Area children.

One morning she is working with concerned citizens about beekeeping policies, collaborating with scientists at UC Berkeley about eradicating aphids in gardens, and in the afternoon herding students around Elkus Ranch teaching about rangeland, the story said.

“I think the biggest challenge facing San Mateo County agriculture is urban-rural interface, and that goes in both directions,” she said. “I work with many youth who never thought about plants or planting a seed and watching it grow. I worry that people are becoming disconnected to their food and where it originates.”

Bolshakova was born and raised on a 450-acre pig and crop farm in southwestern Michigan where her parents still work the land. Her childhood experiences nurtured a passion for the environment and a keen awareness of the interdependency between people and nature.

Bolshakova has a bachelor's degree in biology from State University of New York, Buffalo, a master's degree from the University of Toledo, and a Ph.D. in ecology from Utah State University.

Posted on Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 11:04 AM
Tags: 4-H (43), Elkus Ranch (1), Virginia Bolshakova (1)

Agritourism an option in the San Joaquin Valley

Even though the typical San Joaquin Valley farm is focused exclusively on food production, local growers can profit from increasing interest in agritourism, reported Helen Tracey-Noren in the Fresno Bee. The concept was touted at a recent forum in Fresno where CDFA secretary Karen Ross and the CEO of Visit California, Caroline Beteta, spoke about the agritourism trend.

UC offers a publication on agritourism and nature tourism. To order, follow the link below:
"It's about, 'here's what farmers and ranchers are doing as your neighbors,' their environmental stewardship," said Ross. "It's about the pride of what we produce here, and it's about this wonderful lifestyle and supporting the economy at the same time."

Penny Leff, the agritourism coordinator with the UC small farm program, also participated in the event. She said that from 2007 to 2012, agritourism has picked up in California.

"Most families don't have anyone on the farm anymore to go visit," Leff said. "Farmers are interested in educating the public in what's going on, what goes into making the food. They really want to share with the public and make them understand."

The story gave the example of Debbie and Jim Van Haun, a Sanger couple who opened Sequoia View Bed and Breakfast about 15 years ago, and fixed up an adjoining vineyard in 2003. They said that during the summer season, the area could use more businesses to handle all the tourists.

Agritourism and Nature Tourism in California - Second Edition
By Holly George and Ellie Rilla
151 pages, $25

Offering dinner in a winery barn is a form of agritourism.
Offering dinner in a winery barn is a form of agritourism.

Posted on Monday, July 7, 2014 at 3:49 PM
Tags: agritourism (21), Penny Leff (6)

UC is rebuilding Cooperative Extension ranks

Six of the 2014 UC Cooperative Extension retirees.
The University of California is aggressively rebuilding the footprint of UC Cooperative Extension in the wake of retirements over the last several years, reported Tim Hearden in Capital Press.

Hearden spoke to Bill Frost, associate vice president of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Going back to 2011, 33 advisors and 17 specialists have retired, he said. During the same period, the division has hired 35 advisors and 18 specialists and, in many cases, the outgoing experts are training their proteges.

“What we're trying to do is hire new people so they can interact with folks before they retire and transfer some of that knowledge,” Frost said. “The trade off for us is we're losing a lot of institutional memory and a lot of expertise … but we're getting young, talented people with lots of energy and new ideas coming forward.”

The story said that Eric Mussen, a retiring apiculturist who has served as the bee industry's go-to expert over the past 38 years, has been working with his replacement, Elina Niño, who comes from North Carolina State University.

“She's a very, very competent research scientist,” Mussen said.

For more on the 2014 San Joaquin and Sacramento valley retirees, see the division's news release.

In other news ...

A report on the Business Recorder website noted that two UC scientists spoke at a communications skills conference arranged by the University of Agriculture in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Louise Ferguson, UC Cooperative Extension pomologist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, and Mark Bell, director of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, said the lack of communication skills is a major constraint to development.

Ferguson stressed the importance of hiring teachers who are be well versed and clear about the knowledge in order to engage students. She urged agricultural students to develop marketing skills because they have to motivate the farming community to adopt the latest agricultural methods.

Posted on Friday, June 27, 2014 at 11:04 AM
Tags: Retirements (2)

UC gets FAA clearance to research drone use in ag

UCCE advisor studies crop surveillance with a drone.
A UC laboratory at the former Castle Air Force Base in Atwater received clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly dones at the Merced County Radio Control Club's field, reported Thaddeus Miller in the Merced Sun-Star.

The unmanned aircraft are part of a project funded by the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources that aims to study the possible use remote controlled aerial imaging to provide real-time information to farmers about water use and crop health. The project leader, David Doll, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Merced County, has put together a project team that includes UC Merced professors and graduate students, and UCCE advisors and staff.

Drones are also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Doll believes small, basic UAVs can provide a platform for imaging hardware that can vastly improve crop surveillance to enhance water usage and pest control. Doll's project will test the potential of UAVs for water management and pest monitoring. He also plans to write a curriculum to extend information to farmers and demonstrate the use of small, remote controlled aerial vehicles as imaging platforms.

UC Merced also has other plans for using drone technology in research. They are seeking FAA approval to fly the aircraft over the university's protected land, which includes 6,500 acres of grassland and vernal pools.

Dan Hirleman, dean of UC Merced's School of Engineering, said the university's use of drones and development of new technology could set it apart from other schools.

“We're kind of at the ground zero for a lot of what's going on in those areas,” he said. “It's just a perfect fit with our sustainability theme and the application area.”

Posted on Monday, June 23, 2014 at 8:48 AM
Tags: David Doll (7), drone (1)

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