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'Mow, blow and go' workers another drought casualty

Removal of lush green lawns will require adjustment for the lawn care industry.
If you take out 5.4 million square feet of turf across Orange County, you save 645 million gallons of water. But you also uproot an entire industry, reported Aaron Orlowski in the Orange County Register.

The reporter spoke to a yard worker who said customers are asking for service once a week, where they used to have it twice a week.

“The grass is starting to die out because they've been told to bring down their watering times. Before, they watered two times a day, four times a week. Now, they only water once a week," the worker said.

But in time, the industry is bound to adjust to a new water-conserving reality, assured Doug Parker, director of the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) California Institute for Water Resources.

“Eventually, with redesign and installation, those landscapes will need maintenance as well. So it could be in the long term, those maintenance crews come back to where they were," Parker said. "They may not be mowing as much as they were, but the bushes will still need to be trimmed.”

Other drought news:

Ag woes have big impact on San Joaquin Valley economy
Tim Hearden, Capital Press, May 21, 2015
While agriculture may seem small compared to the entire California economy, it has a big impact on commerce in the San Joaquin Valley, according to Daniel Sumner, director of UC ANR's Agricultural Issues Center. “Statewide, agriculture is 2 percent of the state's economy,” Sumner said. “That's the number, and if agriculture is cut 10 percent, that's two-tenths of 1 percent (of the economy).” But, he adds, “…That doesn't mean it's tiny.” In some communities in western Fresno County, a lack of ag-related jobs because of fallowed acres has led to an unemployment rate of nearly 40 percent.

 

Posted on Thursday, May 28, 2015 at 2:28 PM
Tags: Daniel Sumner (14), Doug Parker (11), drought (99), lawn (4)

Central Coast cattle industry suffering losses due to drought

Central Coast ranchers are facing a 'bust cycle' due to drought.
Since the late 1700s, grazing has been the best use for the rolling hills and valleys of California's Central Coast, reported Louis Sahagun in the Los Angeles Times. However, because of the state's four-year drought, three-quarters of the cattle in San Luis Obispo County have been sold or taken out of state. The sell-off brought in a record $129 million last year.

"We see clearly what a bust cycle looks like," said Mark Battany, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources viticulture and soils advisor in SLO County. "Ranchers have no choice but to sell off their cows and rebuild the herd when the rain comes back."

Sahagun reported that ranchers in the area have suffered severe drought for centuries.

"During a drought that ended in 1864, some ranchers drove their herds off cliffs and into the ocean below to stop their suffering," the article said.

The current drought is leaving landowners few options. The county placed a two-year moratorium on new agriculture that depending on the aquifer, so rangeland can't be converted to vineyards at the moment.

"Ranchers are getting hit hard from every direction," said Royce Larsen, UC ANR natural resource watershed advisor in SLO County. "It's a grim and desperate outlook."

Other news over the weekend included:

Holy S***! Almonds require a ton of bees
Tom Philpott, Mother Jones, May 25, 2015
Growing almonds in California takes about 1.7 million bee hives, drawing a large fraction of the nation's available bee hives. Why don't they stay in California? The state is already home to 500,000 of the nation's 2.7 million hives, said Eric Mussen, UC ANR specialist emeritus based at UC Davis. The almond bloom is great for a few weeks, but in terms of year-round foraging, "California is already at or near its carrying capacity for honeybees," he said.

Farm Beat: Here is how hikers, cattle can coexist
John Holland, Modesto Bee, May 22, 2015
UC ANR released a five-page brochure last month that shows how hikers and other visitors can avoid conflicts with cattle that graze on public land. Cattle fatten up nicely when they can graze calmly – good for the rancher and good for the buyer of the meat down the line, the story said.

Posted on Tuesday, May 26, 2015 at 9:48 AM
Tags: bees (24), cattle (6), drought (99), Mark Battany (3), Royce Larsen (1)

Safety of GMOs debated online

Using genetic engineering, science has found a way to produce alfalfa with less lignin, a component of the plant that has no nutritional value.
A UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) genomics expert participated in an online debate about GMOs with a Canadian scientist who argued against the ubiquitous use of the technology. The debate can be viewed on The Real News.

Alison Van Eenennaam, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Animal Sciences at UC Davis, said research has shown that genetically engineered crops do not pose a risk to human health.

"There's a recent review paper where they summarized data from 1,700 different studies, and about half of those are publicly funded. And basically the results of those studies have been that there haven't been any unique risks or hazards associated with the use of this breeding method in the production of crops," she said.

The counter point was offered by Thierry Vrain, a soil biologist and genetic engineer with Agriculture Canada. He focused on the fact that more than 90 percent of the genetically engineered crops now in use were altered to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate. He said this fact results in overuse of the herbicide.

"In terms of specific toxicity of the molecule glyphosate, which has very little acute toxicity - as it is advertised, it is safer than table salt. But in terms of chronic toxicity over time, over weeks and months, it will damage the microbiome and induce all kinds, all kinds of symptoms. In mice, and probably in humans," Vrain said.

Van Eenannaam tried to keep the discussion focused on the safety of GMOs.

"I think the most misunderstood thing is it's a breeding method that can be used to introduce all sorts of crop traits into crops and animals, and we always seem to get discussing the one particular application rather than looking at how it could be used to address many different problems that are associated with agriculture, including things like drought tolerance, disease resistance, biofortification of crops," she said.

Vrain agreed with most of Van Eenennaam's points.

"I agree with you, Alison, that GMOs are not necessarily toxic, et cetera, et cetera," he said. "There's all kinds of benefits, it's a very powerful technology. Used properly, it's probably very beneficial to humanity.

At the end of the debate Vrain reiterated his concern that the preponderance of GMOs are for glyphosate-resistant crops.

Posted on Friday, May 22, 2015 at 3:42 PM

Berkeley soda tax panel convenes

Berkeley's one-cent-per-ounce soda tax generated $116,000 its first month.
A nine-member panel of nutrition experts, including a long-time UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) nutrition specialist, convened for the first time this week to make recommendations to the Berkeley City Council about spending the funds raised by the city's soda tax, reported Emily Dugdale in NOSH.

"We're all in a fish bowl built out of a magnifying glass," a Berkeley City Councilmember told the panellists, referring to the national attention and strong community interest in the initiative.

Berkeley taxes sugar-sweetened beverages one cent per ounce. The tax generated $116,000 in its first month of operation.

The UC ANR panelist is Pat Crawford, the senior director of research for the Nutrition Policy Insititute, an organization of experts from throughout the University of California system brought together to share, synthesize, develop and collaborate on nutrition policy research.

In a recent Q&A with the UC Food Observer, Crawford commented on efforts to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

"We have strong evidence of sugar's contribution to diabetes, heart disease, obesity and dental caries," she said. "Hopefully educational materials for the public, including MyPlate, can begin to include water as the beverage that is first for thirst."

Posted on Wednesday, May 20, 2015 at 4:29 PM
Tags: Pat Crawford (1), soda tax (1)

UC ANR workshop inspires economic development

Sheep shearing is an art that can be learned at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center.
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) is helping get a new industry off the ground in Mendocino County, reported Justine Frederiksen in the Ukiah Daily Journal.

The UC Hopland Research and Extension Center, a UC ANR facility, hosts an annual Sheep Shearing School, thought to be the only one in  California. The students take a five-day hands-on course to learn how to maintain a quality wool clip and minimize stress to the sheep.

"It's like learning to square dance," said instructor Gary Vorderbruggen. "Except you're learning to dance with an unwilling partner."

UC ANR Cooperative Extension natural resources advisor John Harper facilitates the school in Mendocino County.

"I always say, you'll never be unemployed if you learn how to shear," Harper said. "There's never enough shearers."

One local resident who attended Sheep Shearing School twice, Matthew Gilbert, was inspired to open a local wool processing enterprise.

"It's the perfect fit for this county, because it will provide jobs for this rural economy," Harper said.

Many wineries are using sheep to clip cover crops because the sheep can't get up on their hind legs like goats to reach the foliage. Even as more sheep are working local vineyards, "we're losing the infrastructure to support the (sheep) industry," Harper said.

Last week, the Ukiah Planning Commission unanimously approved permits for Gilbert to operate a wool mill and food truck on his property, said another article in the Ukiah Daily Journal. The food truck will help supplement the family's income for the first couple of years until the mill becomes established.

Further enhancing local interest in the Mendocino County sheep industry, the Hopland REC hosts a Barn to Yarn event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 23. Visitors will see shearing, spinning and weaving demonstrations and learn how to class wool and dye it using Kool-Aid. Admission is $5 per person, and children under 12 are free. The Hopland REC is at 4070 University Rd., Hopland. For more information, call Hannah Bird at (707) 744-1424, ext. 105.

Posted on Tuesday, May 19, 2015 at 1:29 PM

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