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UC researchers look to expand California avocado production

California avocados are the best in the world. So says downtown restaurant manager Daniel Avalos in a Valley Public Radio story by reporter Ezra David Romero.

The fact that they currently thrive only on a small swath of coastal Southern California is being challenged by UC Cooperative Extension specialist Mary Lu Arpaia. She is on a mission to find avocado varieties that withstand the hot summers and cold winters of the San Joaquin Valley, where irrigation water and crop land are more abundant and cheaper. 

She hopes to find avocado varieties that ripen at various times of year, and varieties that might be an alternative crop for citrus growers should huanglongbing, a disease that has devastated the Florida citrus crop, take hold in Central California.

"There's a void of California fruit on the market in the months of November, December and actually early January," Arpaia said. "So if we can find different selections that maybe are unique that fit into that window, then we help the entire California avocado industry."

An as-yet unnamed avocado variety.

Romero visited the UC Lindcove Research and Extension Center to see the trees in Arpaia's study. Currently, the vast majority of California avocados are the Hass variety. The goal is to breed varieties with similar eating quality that grow to a moderate height and have high yield. One potential that is already being produced by nurseries is called "gem."

"This is gem," said Eric Focht, a staff research associate in Arpaia's lab. "You can see it's a little more oval or egg shaped than Hass. It has the speckling on the skin. Now as this ripens, it will turn dark and a lot of times the speckled lenticels with get a yellow kind of golden color it it."

Another promising variety is called "lunchbox" because of its small size. According to Focht, it "just falls out of the skin." Arpaia said, "It makes wonderful guacamole and I found, with a non-replicated test in my refrigerator, the fruit doesn't brown."

Arpaia's favorite guacamole recipe is featured at the end of the story on the KVPR website.

Posted on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 1:33 PM
Tags: avocados (2), Eric Focht (1), Mary Lu Arpaia (2)

California peaches are in good shape

The warmest winter since 1907 in south-central Texas has left its peach crop with inadequate chill hours this year, reported Lynn Brezosky in the San Antonio Express-News.

Without sufficient chill hours over the winter, the buds didn't get the re-boot they need to bloom in proper synchrony, which is important for blossoms to set fruit. The leaves have also been slow to emerge. "The trees look like it's still winter," said Jim Kamas, Texas A&M AgriLife Extenson horticulturalist.

“The lack of chill hours is a big deal,” said Larry Stein, extension horticulturalist with AgriLife Research & Extension Center.

The Texas trouble combined with a cold blast that destroyed half the crop in Georgia and North Carolina this spring mean peaches are likely to be in short supply this year.

The sweet spot, Brezosky wrote, may be California, the No. 1 peach producer in the nation. Roger Duncan, UC Cooperative Extension pomology adviser, could think of no major problems affecting the southern part of the state's fresh market peach crop.

“I think in general it's probably going to be just fine,” he said.

The Elegant Lady peach is one of many excellent varieties that are produced in abundance by California peach growers.
Posted on Friday, April 21, 2017 at 1:10 PM
Tags: peaches (9), Roger Duncan (14)

California trees are under attack at many fronts

Trees in several parts of California are suffering greatly in recent years due to pests, fire, drought and now heavy rain. UC Cooperative Extension is working with landowners and communities to protect the state's natural environments, including its beloved trees.

UCCE plant pathology specialist Matteo Garbelotto said the wet 2016-17 winter is bad news for oak trees in North Coast areas because it has created conditions that support the spread of Sudden Oak Death, reported Bay Nature. He is recruiting volunteers for 15 “bioblitzes” in April and May to track the spread of the disease. See more on the Garbelotto website.

A mature live oak dying from Sudden Oak Death at the Pepperwood Preserve in Sonoma County.

UCCE forestry and natural resources advisor Susie Kocher held a workshop in Sonora for owners of forestland in the Sierra Nevada, where the epic 2010-16 drought killed millions of trees. Sally Shilling of Capital Public Radio attended and reported on the meeting. "There's just a lot of changes that need to be made to get to a resilient forest and hopefully this situation will help people notice that we have a crisis and that we can move forward and make some changes in how we do business," Kocher said. The federal government and CalFire have programs that can help landowners remove dead trees and replant.

Dead trees in the Sequoia National Forestd. (Photo: U.S. Forest Service)

In Southern California, the polyphagous shot hole borer could kill as many as 27 million trees in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, including parts of the desert, reported Louis Shagun in the Los Angeles Times. Mark Hoddle, UC Cooperative Extension biocontrol specialist, said that the tree loss is starting to cascade across the urban landscape. “Without shade trees, water temperatures will rise and algae will bloom in riparian areas, for instance,” Hoddle said. “As a result, fish, frog and native insect populations will diminish, along with the pleasure of hiking, because there'll be nothing to look at but dead boughs of trees.”

Polyphagous shot hole borer introduces a lethal fungus when it bores into trees.

In Lake County, UC Cooperative Extension director Gregory Giusti gathered with 400 members of the community to replant trees in a park that was left treeless by the devastating Valley Fire of 2015, reported Elizabeth Larson in Lake County News. While a lot of people lost their houses, “It was the trees that made it their home. People wanted to live in the forest. They wanted to live among the trees. So this is a way to rebuild their home, to get back what was lost,” Giusti said.

A wall of flames and smoke across Lake County, part of the fast-moving Valley Fire in California, Sept. 13, 2015. (Photo: CalFire)
Posted on Wednesday, April 19, 2017 at 8:35 PM

USDA's nutrition advice doesn't align with spending

USDA recommends Americans fill half their plates with fruit and vegetables.
According to the USDA's dietary recommendations - which are represented in the MyPlate infographic - half the food Americans eat should be fruit and vegetables. However, the same agency allocates under one-half of 1 percent of agency funds to specialty crops like fruits and vegetables, reported Helene Bottemiller Evich in Politico.

For the story, Evich spoke to Glenda Humiston, vice president of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR), the research and outreach arm of the University of California. UC ANR extends science-based agricultural production and nutrition information to California farmers and communities. Humiston said California agricultural industry leaders have made it clear that they don't want traditional subsidies, like price supports.

"They want help with the infrastructure to do their jobs better," she said, including more funding for research labs and data collection that can help industry solve problems.

It isn't clear whether subsidies would reduce the cost of fruits and vegetables, nor does the potential of lower-cost healthy food ensure that people will eat it, the article said.

Many consumers also lack the time or the skills to prepare and cook their perishables. And some don't care for the flavor of healthful produce like kale, kohlrabi and rapini, to name a few.

The top fruits and vegetables consumed by Americans are potatoes (french fries) and tomatoes (primarily driven by ketchup). Only 14 percent of Americans consume 1.5 to 2 fruits and veggies per day, according to State of the Plate, a 2015 study on Americas' consumption of fruit and vegetables. (See below.) The USDA's dietary guidelines recommend 9 to 13 servings of fruit and veggies per day.

Fruits and vegetables are highly perishable, which makes growing, harvesting, storing and shipping complicated and expensive.

 

State of the Plate, a 2015 Study on America's Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables by the Produce for Better Health Foundation.
State of the Plate, a 2015 Study on America's Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables by the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

Posted on Wednesday, March 8, 2017 at 10:55 AM

Researchers raise concern over paraquat health risks

The popular herbicide paraquat works well and is inexpensive, but emerging research shows a correlation of paraquat exposure and Parkinson's disease, reported Kerry Klein on Valley Public Radio.

Klein met with UC Cooperative Extension weed advisor Kurt Hembree at an almond orchard near Selma that was clear of weeds. Growers kill weeds because weeds kill crops, Hembree said.

"Direct competition for water and nutrients. Whatever the tree likes, the weeds like," he said.

Hembree explained how the paraquat works.

"Paraquat's a contact-type herbicide," he said. "In other words, it's a material that, if you sprayed it on a plant, it'll disrupt the plant's cells. And basically in five or six days, whatever it touches, it spots up and it causes necrosis and death on the tissue."

Paraquat is toxic, so it requires careful handling to protect the safety of applicators.  

“Something like paraquat, you're going to wear rubber boots, you're going to wear goggles while you're spraying,” Hembree said. “You don't want to get this stuff on your skin or on your mouth or anywhere.”

The KVPR story said paraquat is among the top 10 most common herbicides in California, and the San Joaquin Valley gets more than three-quarters of the state total. Caroline Tanner, a neurologist at UC San Francisco, was also interviewed for the story.

“People who mixed or applied this chemical had more than double the risk of developing Parkinson's disease compared to people really very similar as far as where they lived, even what they did for a living, age and gender,” she said.

However, people who were careful with personal protective equipment didn't have a greater risk of Parkinson's disease, Tanner said.

Weeds will compete with a new orchard for water, sun and nutrients, and interfere with harvest in mature orchards. Weeds in this orchard were killed with an herbicide.
Posted on Tuesday, March 7, 2017 at 11:16 AM
Tags: Kurt Hembree (1), weeds (6)

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