Category Archives: Uncategorized

California Releases New Drought Recommendations

Environment. 6 March 2015. State officials are considering additional modest regulations on water use – from prohibiting irrigation within 48 hours of rain to requiring districts to report their enforcement efforts – but water experts say the recommendations missed opportunities to address waste.

The staff recommendations to the State Water Board were released Friday. The board will consider the proposals at its meeting March 17. If adopted, the recommendations would extend existing emergency drought regulations that expire April 25. Continue reading California Releases New Drought Recommendations

HARD FREEZE DAMAGES CALIFORNIA CITRUS AND OTHER CROPS

Ag Alert.  11 December 2013.  A double-dip cold spell has had California tree fruit farmers and winter crop growers scrambling to protect their crops from freezing for more than a week. Although higher overnight temperatures materialized last weekend, California Citrus Mutual said Sunday night’s extremely low temperatures will likely result in some damage to the San Joaquin Valley’s $1.5 billion citrus crop.

Farmers continued battling low temperatures through mid-week, with hard freezes at night—temperatures dipping into the danger zone between 21 to 27 degrees F, lower still in some valley areas. The National Weather Service predicted moderation in cold temperatures into next week.

“Damage in our orchards is variable,” said Tulare County citrus grower Keith Watkins. “The water and wind machines have been effective, but there are spots along the edges of orchards and places away from the wind machines that look like they’ll have damage.”

Although it’s still too soon to tell how much damage freezing temperatures have caused, Watkins said, “I think the mandarins will be affected fairly severely. I’ve cut some fruit in the field that looks like it will be OK, but I’ve also cut into frozen fruit.”

Crews throughout the state have been working around the clock to increase temperatures in the groves and orchards to prevent freeze damage to crops and trees, even raising temperatures a few degrees can prevent fruit damage, experts said.

“Our crews are working 14 to 16-hour night shifts, Watkins said. “Sunday night we started the wind machines about 7 p.m. and didn’t turn them off until about 9 a.m. Monday morning. Our propane costs to operate 200 wind machines for that many hours runs about $60,000 a night.”

California Citrus Mutual estimates the overall cost to citrus growers for six nights of frost protection at $23 million with additional nights of freezing temperatures forecast. San Joaquin Valley citrus growers also are starting to run out of water to protect trees and fruit from freeze damage.

“It’s a double-edged sword because this is a low water year and we’re short of water for frost protection,” Watkins said.

While damage is expected, growers said it’s certainly not at levels close to damage caused by the last significant freeze events in 1998 and 1990. Improved frost protection technology and advanced weather forecasting have allowed farmers to better prepare for freeze events than in prior freeze years. The industry is confident there is a sufficient level of harvested and undamaged fruit to supply the market.

To help ensure adequate market supplies of mandarins, Imperial County farmer Joe Colace Jr. said he would be bringing in helicopters to stir the night air over mandarin groves and keep temperatures up. He said temperatures could dip into the mid-20s this week, more than cold enough to damage mandarins.

Freezing temperatures also are slowing harvest of winter vegetables because crews have to wait until it’s warm enough to cut and pack, which shortens work days. There will be some damage to the winter vegetables and probably tight supplies going to Eastern markets, Colace said.

In the Sacramento Valley, Samuel Sanchez, owner of Orange Blossom Ranch in Orland, said he is at risk of losing his entire orange crop because of freezing temperatures.

In 2011 and 2012, Sanchez lost his crop to freeze damage and faces the risk again in 2013. He is currently irrigating to help prevent his oranges from freezing.

“I was changing my water on all different sections to try to protect my trees,” he said. “I’ve got Chandler walnuts, young trees planted last April, so I’ve been working pretty hard all night to take care of my orchards,” he said.

In Kern County, tree crop farmer Mike Young said the freezing temperatures may offer some benefits to fruit and nut growers because the trees require chill hours and they’ve gotten plenty during the past two weeks. He also said pest pressure is often lower during growing seasons after a freeze event.

Citrus is another matter, Young said. With temperatures that have dropped into the 20s overnight, there will be citrus damage, but it may be a couple of weeks until the extent is known.

At Belmont Nursery in Fresno, owner Jon Reelhorn said he has done everything he can think of to plan for the possibility of plant-killing cold.

“We’ve been spending days covering plants with frost protection fabric and we’ve been moving plants into greenhouses,” Reelhorn said. “We’ll have some damage and that will set us back. Usually we can save plants, but we need to prune and allow them to regrow. That means taking more time before plants are ready for market.

“For us, it’s the added labor costs that come with these freeze events that are hard to plan for,” Reelhorn said.

Food Safety Confirmed By Pestide Report

Western Farm Press. 26 February 2013.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has posted data from the 2011 Pesticide Data Program (PDP) Annual Summary. This information, along with an explanatory guide for consumers, can be found at www.ams.usda.gov/pdp. The 2011 PDP report confirms that overall pesticide chemical residues found on the foods tested are at levels below the tolerances established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and do not pose a safety concern.

In May of 1991, USDA initiated the PDP to test commodities in the U.S. food supply for pesticide residues. Since passage of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), one of PDP’s focuses has been on testing foods that are most likely consumed by infants and children.

AMS partners with cooperating state agencies to collect and analyze pesticide chemical residue levels on selected foods. In implementing the FQPA, the EPA uses data from PDP to enhance its programs for food safety and help evaluate dietary exposure to pesticides.

Each year, USDA and EPA work together to identify foods to be tested on a rotating basis. In 2011, surveys were conducted on a variety of foods including fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, soybeans, eggs, dairy products, and water. Similar to previous years, the 2011 report shows that overall pesticide chemical residues found on foods tested are at levels well below the tolerances set by the EPA. The report does show that residues exceeding the tolerance were detected in 0.27 percent of the samples tested. Some residues were found with no established tolerance levels or tolerance exemptions, but EPA has determined the extremely low levels of those residues are not a food safety risk, and the presence of such residues does not pose a safety concern.

Statement from USDA:

“Consistent with guidance from health and nutrition experts – and as affirmed federal nutrition guidance that urges people to make half their plate fruits and vegetables – we encourage everyone to continue to eat more fruits and vegetables in every meal and wash them before you do so.”

Statement from FDA:

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is responsible for assessing whether pesticide chemical residues found on food make the food unlawful under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

FDA reviews possible violations revealed by the USDA’s PDP testing and conducts follow-up sampling if necessary, under its own pesticide residue monitoring program to ensure compliance and to protect the public health.

Statement from EPA:

“The newest data from the PDP program confirm that pesticide residues in food do not pose a safety concern for Americans. EPA remains committed to a rigorous, science-based, and transparent regulatory program for pesticides that continues to protect people’s health and the environment.”

Since its inception, the program has tested 109 commodities including fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, meat and poultry, grains, catfish, rice, specialty products, and water. This year, the program expanded to include samples of canned beets, papayas, snap peas, and tangerines.

The data is a valuable tool for consumers, food producers and processors, chemical manufacturers, environmental interest groups, and food safety organizations.

The findings of the Pesticide Data Program Annual Summary, Calendar Year 2011 can be downloaded at www.ams.usda.gov/pdp

UC LOOKS AT GROWING COSTS OF ALFALFA, SILAGE, RICE, PRUNES, RASPBERRIES, AVOCADOS

Western Farm Press. 21 December 2012.  New studies showing production costs for beef, alfalfa hay, corn silage, rice, prunes (dried plums), raspberries, and avocados (conventional and organic) are now available from the University of California Cooperative Extension.

Each analysis is based upon hypothetical farm operations using practices common in the region. Input and reviews were provided by farm advisors, researchers, growers, farm accountants, pest control advisers, consultants and other agricultural associates.

Assumptions used to identify current costs for the individual crops, material inputs, cash and non-cash overhead are described.  A ranging analysis table shows profits over a range of prices and yields. Other tables show the monthly cash costs, the costs and returns per acre, hourly equipment costs, and the whole farm annual equipment, investment, and business overhead costs.

The new studies are:

Sample Costs for Finishing Beef Cattle on Grass, 2012, Sacramento Valley, by Larry C. Forero, Roger S. Ingram, Glenn A. Nader, Karen M. Klonsky, and Richard L. De Moura.

Sample Costs to Produce Corn Silage, 2012, San Joaquin Valleyby Carol A. Frate, Brian H. Marsh, Karen M. Klonsky, and Richard L. De Moura.

Sample Costs to Produce Rice, 2012, Sacramento Valley by Christopher A. Greer, Randall G. Mutters, Luis A. Espino, Paul Buttner, Karen M. Klonsky, Richard L. De Moura and Kabir P. Tumber.

Sample Costs to Establish a Prune Orchard and Produce Prunes, 2012, Sacramento Valley by Richard P. Buchner, Joseph H. Connell, Franz J. Niederholzer, Carolyn J. DeBuse, Karen M. Klonsky, and Richard L. De Moura.

Sample Costs to Produce Fresh Market Raspberries, 2012, Central Coast by Mark Bolda, Laura Tourte, Karen M. Klonsky, and Richard L. De Moura.

Avocado Sample Establishment and Production Costs and Profitability Analysis for Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, 2011,Conventional Production Practices and Avocado Sample Establishment and Production Costs and Profitability Analysis for San Diego and Riverside Counties, 2011. Conventional Production Practices by Etaferahu Takele, Gary Bender and Mao Vue.

Avocado Sample Establishment and Production Costs and Profitability Analysis for Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, 2011, Organic Production Practices and Avocado Sample Establishment and Production Costs and Profitability Analysis for San Diego and Riverside Counties, 2011, Organic Production Practices by Etaferahu Takele, Gary Bender and Mao Vue.

All cost of production studies are available online at http://coststudies.ucdavis.edu, at UC Cooperative Extension offices or by calling (530) 752-3589. For additional information on the studies, contact Richard De Moura at rdemoura@ucdavis.edu in the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

Argument: History Has Proven Rachel Carson Wrong

Western Farm Press. 17 December 2012.  This year marks the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the book credited with launching the modern environmentalist movement. Carson famously warned man-made chemicals, particularly pesticides, were a significant threat to human health.

In a new study, Angela Logomasini, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, argues history has proven Rachel Carson wrong. Agrochemicals have not caused the “sinister” ills Carson predicted. In fact, it is her anti-chemical legacy that now poses a global risk both to food supply and the environment.

Logomasini reports:

– The incidence of pesticide-related health problems is low. When the Centers for Disease Control investigated the health effects of widespread spraying to control mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus during 1999-2002, they found only two cases of definite health impacts and 25 probable cases.

– Agrochemicals help defend against the spread of disease. DDT, which many governments banned after the publication of Silent Spring, had been used to control the spread of malaria, which now kills more than 1 million people annually. In Burkina Faso, applications of pesticides to livestock now help prevent transmission of trypanosomiasis-a potentially fatal disease spread by tsetse flies.

– Agrochemicals enable farmers to grow more crops per acre for longer periods, increasing global food supply. Russian farmers have increased marketable yields on apple orchards by as much as 90 percent after beginning pesticide applications. In Zimbabwe, farmers were able to grow tomatoes during rainy seasons by using fungicides.

– The use of pesticides actually has had environmental benefits. Because pesticides allow farmers to grow more per acre, less land is needed by the agricultural industry to supply the global market. The rate of deforestation is now declining, and reforestation has begun in several countries.

Despite the benefits of agrochemicals and the dearth of evidence to support their health claims, environmental activists continue Rachel Carson’s legacy of anti-chemical misinformation. “As a result,” Logomasini writes, “regulatory trends around the world have supplanted wise management with heavy regulations and product bans.”

The world population continues to grow. For a variety of reasons, including bad weather and changing trade policies, the rate of food production has declined. Now is the time to employ all the tools of modern farming to ensure a growing food supply. Unfortunately, Logomasini says, policy trends are moving the opposite way: “The cost and risks associated with bureaucratic regulations alone dampens the market for innovative new products, diminishes the supply of pest control options for farmers, and reduces their efficiency. The result is lower food production, higher food prices and fewer environmental benefits.”

New Blueberry Varieties Gain Interest

Growing Produce. November 2012.  Anyone who grows blueberries knows that some of the berries may turn pink before they finally ripen to a familiar dusty blue. When a Pink Lemonade blueberry is ripe and ready to eat, however, it is, in fact, pink.

Though not a first, this intriguing coloration is “still somewhat unusual” for a ripe, harvest-ready blueberry, according to USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) plant geneticist Mark K. Ehlenfeldt.

Ehlenfeldt has his laboratory, greenhouse, and test plots at the Philip E. Marucci Center for Blueberry and Cranberry Research and Extension in Chatsworth, NJ, about 60 miles south of Newark in the state’s pine barrens.

Here’s more about Pink Lemonade and a glimpse of several other interesting blueberries developed through the Chatsworth research.

Pink Lemonade: Pretty And Tasty

Pink Lemonade “may be the prettiest blueberry around,” says Ehlenfeldt. This plant bears moderate yields of firm, glossy, medium-sized berries, with a mild flavor that Ehlenfeldt describes as “sweet and flowery.” It ripens from mid-late to late season.

“Pink Lemonade is also a nice plant for landscaping,” Ehlenfeldt says. “It has shiny green leaves in spring and summer and dusky, reddish-brown twigs in winter.”

Ehlenfeldt says Pink Lemonade is suited for USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 6 — where the weather, on average, never gets colder than 0°F — and for milder regions.

Pink Lemonade resulted from the crossing of two parent plants: an experimental blueberry developed by Nicholi Vorsa, a Rutgers University scientist stationed at the Chatsworth center, and a commercial blueberry, Delite, which was developed by USDA and the University of Georgia. Ehlenfeldt crossed these two plants in 1991 and, in 1996, chose one of the offspring — designated as “Selection Number ARS 96-138” — for further testing.

While Ehlenfeldt was scrutinizing the plant’s performance in New Jersey test plots, colleague Chad E. Finn, a plant geneticist in the ARS Horticultural Crops Research Unit in Corvallis, OR, was evaluating it on the West Coast, in response to interest by the nursery industry in that region.

Based on that interest and the good scores that ARS 96-138 achieved in these evaluations, the scientists formally released the variety in 2005, assigning the selection number as its identifier. In 2007, to help build market identity for the plant, the researchers named it “Pink Lemonade.” In that same year, the novel blueberry garnered a “best new shrub” honor at the prestigious Far West Horticultural Show.

Razz: Its Flavor Will Surprise

Razz is a blueberry with a taste that’s rather surprising. Its name is a hint: Razz tastes quite a bit like a raspberry. “The remarkable raspberry overtones make Razz unlike any other commercial blueberry that we know of,” says Ehlenfeldt.

Razz is a “rediscovered” blueberry. It was bred in 1934 by USDA’s first blueberry breeder, Frederick V. Coville. It was selected for further study by USDA scientist George M. Darrow and Rutgers plant breeder J.H. Clarke in 1941. After that, it “just hung around for a long time,” says Ehlenfeldt. “It was considered unsuitable for large-scale commercial production because it was too soft for shipping or storing. And, although people appreciated its flavor, the berry was simply too different for the times. Eventually, several nurseries expressed an interest in growing and marketing it to backyard gardeners. We decided to test it here in New Jersey and released it in 2011.”

Razz produces good yields of medium to large berries that ripen in midseason. “In New Jersey, that is the end of June through the first week or two of July,” Ehlenfeldt says. “Razz should do well in most places where northern highbush blueberries can be grown. Growers, pick-your-own farms, and backyard gardeners might want to give this specialty berry a try.”

Sweetheart: A Berry To Begin, And End, The Season

Sweetheart may be the perfect plant for those who just can’t wait for the first blueberries of the growing season — and, of course, hate to see the season end. That’s because Sweetheart meets both needs. It produces firm, delectable, medium to medium-large berries early in the season, about mid-June through the end of the month. Then, if the autumn is mild, Sweetheart may reflower and refruit, Ehlenfeldt says. “The autumn yield is not really large enough to be called a ‘second crop,’” he explains, “but it’s a nice treat at a time when most blueberry plants have long since stopped fruiting.” Late-season refruiting is “a somewhat unusual trait,” he notes.

Sweetheart berries have “a superior flavor that lasts, even in storage,” he says. That’s unlike some blueberries, which “begin to lose some flavor soon after they’ve been picked.”

Well suited for commercial growers, Sweetheart is “great for home gardens, too,” says Ehlenfeldt who, in 1996, made the cross that resulted in today’s Sweetheart plants. In 1999, he chose it from among other candidate seedlings for further study, continued testing it at Chatsworth through 2009, then formally released it as a named variety in 2010.

Sweetheart can be grown in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 5 — where temperatures usually won’t get colder than –10°F, on average — and in milder zones. What’s more, some preliminary studies “suggest that Sweetheart may also be hardy in regions colder than Zone 5,” says Ehlenfeldt.

Cara’s Choice: Outstanding Flavor

Cara’s Choice is “regarded by some blueberry aficionados as having the best flavor of any blueberry,” says Ehlenfeldt. “This is a very sweet, medium-sized blueberry, with a pleasant aroma.”

Even though its yields are only moderate — about 35% less than industry standards such as Bluecrop, for example — this berry nonetheless offers growers the significant advantage of keeping its quality while still on the bush. “That’s a plus,” notes Ehlenfeldt, “because it allows growers to distribute their harvests over a longer period of time.” Meanwhile, the berries’ sweetness tends to increase. “The berries can stay on the plant for several weeks after ripening, without losing flavor or firmness,” he reports. Best for Zone 6 and milder zones, this berry is ready for harvest in midseason.

Blueberry researcher Arlen D. Draper, formerly with USDA in Beltsville, MD, and now retired, made the cross that yielded today’s Cara’s Choice in the late 1970s and, in 1981, singled it out for further study. Since then, evaluations at the Atlantic Blueberry Company and at Variety Farms — both in Hammonton, NJ — by Draper, Ehlenfeldt, now-retired ARS scientists Gene J. Galletta and Allan W. Stretch’ and Rutgers’ Vorsa led to the plant’s release in 2000.

Ehlenfeldt expects to have yet another superb blueberry ready to introduce in the near future.

U.S. DAIRY INDUSTRY IN A CRISIS

Wall Street Journal. 11 December 2012. In an age of vitamin waters and energy drinks, the decadeslong decline in U.S. milk consumption has accelerated, worrying dairy farmers, milk processors and grocery chains.

The industry “is coming to recognize this as a crisis,” says Tom Gallagher, CEO of Dairy Management Inc., a farmer-funded trade group that promotes milk products. “We cannot simply assume that we will always have a market.”

Per-capita U.S. milk consumption, which peaked around World War II, has fallen almost 30% since 1975, even as sales of yogurt, cheese and other dairy products have risen, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. The reasons include the rise in popularity of bottled waters and the concern of some consumers that milk is high in calories.

Another factor, according to the USDA, is that children, who tend to be heavy milk drinkers, account for a smaller share of the U.S. population than they once did.

To revive sales, milk companies and retailers are pushing smaller, more-convenient packages and health-oriented varieties, including protein-enhanced milk aimed at fitness buffs.

The dairy industry is also retooling its marketing to tout the authenticity of cow’s milk and to deride fast-growing alternatives like soy and almond milk as “imitation milk.”

The decline’s recent acceleration is due in part to increases in milk’s retail price, a result of the soaring costs for grains fed to dairy cows, according to industry officials. But the depth of this year’s slide has surprised some food-industry executives because retail milk prices have risen only slightly this year after surging 9.2% last year, according to federal data.

Americans drank an average of 20.2 gallons of milk last year, a decline of 3.3% from the previous year and the biggest year-over-year slide since at least 1975, according to the USDA.

So far this year, sales volume at U.S. food retailers for all types of liquid milk, including nondairy varieties, has fallen 2.9% from a year earlier, and total dollar sales have slipped 2.2%, according to Chicago-based market-research firm SymphonyIRI Group Inc. Sales volume for the biggest milk category—skim and low-fat milk—has dropped 4%.

Organic milk sales are growing but account for only about 4% of retail sales, according to Dairy Management.

The protracted slide is troubling for retailers, which have long sold milk at the back of the store to lure shoppers through the aisles, often as a loss leader. “Milk is an extremely important category for us,” says Alan Faust, director of dairy and frozen products at Kroger Co., KR -0.19% the second-biggest U.S. food retailer by sales after Wal-Mart Stores Inc. WMT -1.75%

Kroger CEO David Dillon said in a recent interview that consumers may no longer consider milk as healthful as they once did. So Kroger, which runs its own dairies, plans to start selling a milk brand called CARBMaster next month that contains 20% more protein and lower sugar content than conventional milk.

Shamrock Farms Co., an Arizona-based milk producer, recently began selling a “muscle builder” version of its high-protein milk, Rockin’ Refuel, in partnership with retailer General Nutrition Centers Inc. GNC -1.14% With the product, which combines chocolate milk and added protein, Shamrock is attempting to lure consumers who buy nondairy drinks such as CytoSport Inc.’s Muscle Milk, says Shamrock’s marketing director, Sandy Kelly.

The milk industry is also trying to target busy families with new packaging sizes and styles. Shamrock, for instance, came up with with 12-ounce easy-to-grip bottles of milk that are sold at Subway restaurants and seven-ounce bottles that are sold at Arby’s restaurants and targeted at children.

Meanwhile, Dean Foods Inc., DF -1.00% the largest U.S. dairy producer, last year introduced a low-sugar chocolate milk for kids called TruMoo, and it sells lactose-free milk in grocery stores.

But in a sign of how shifts in consumer preferences are shaking up the industry, Dean Foods earlier this year spun off its fast-growing WhiteWave division, which makes Horizon Organic milk and Silk soy products.

The move was designed to get investors to pay more for shares in a business unit with higher profit margins and faster growth prospects than conventional milk.

In its marketing, the dairy-milk industry is seeking to take some steam out of the plant-based alternatives by tweaking its two-decade-old “Got Milk?” campaign and other advertising efforts.

Visitors to the GotMilk.com website, run by the California Milk Processor Board, have been greeted since May with a series of interactive games that explore the “science of imitation milk,” a parody of soy, almond, rice and other nondairy milk products.

And early next year, the industry said it plans to expand use of the “Real” seal that some dairy producers affix to milk cartons and other dairy products.

The red, teardrop-shaped seal is aimed at distinguishing dairy milk from plant-based products, says Tom Balmer, executive vice president of the National Milk Producers Federation, which manages the program.

The dairy industry may have a difficult time winning back consumers like Dan Anderson, a college literature professor who consumes milk only with breakfast cereal. “The last time I was a heavy milk drinker, I was six years old,” Mr. Anderson, 47 years old, said as he shopped at a Jewel-Osco store in the Chicago suburbs. “What would you drink it with? Spaghetti?”  read more

AN EXCITING TIME FOR AGRICULTURE

Western Farm Press. 6 December 2012. It’s an exciting time to be involved in agriculture.

Farmers and ranchers face significant opportunities but equally daunting challenges as they seek ways to double food production by 2050. Success depends on improving productivity and enhancing international trade, according to a respected agricultural economist who sees a bright future for U.S. agriculture.

“I am more optimistic about agriculture that at any time in my career,” says Dick Crowder, professor, international trade, at Virginia Tech University. “Agriculture has a huge opportunity and responsibility.” Crowder was keynote speaker at the Rural Economic Outlook Conference at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.

Crowder, who also worked extensively in the private ag industry sector and served as chief agriculture negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, said maintaining the status quo will fail to double agricultural production. The limitations are real and substantial. If agriculture must double food production with perhaps 10 percent more land but less water, less labor and the same policies and technology available today, the effort will fail.

Success, he said, depends on increasing per acre yields with less waste and increased efficiency. That will require new technology, wide adoption of new policies, improved infrastructure and better management. “Intellectual property rights must be protected,” he said. “Also, in some countries, management is a limiting resource.”

Some areas, he added, especially developing nations, face serious infrastructure inadequacies, including too little storage and transportation problems.

“Can we double food production by 2050?” Crowder asked. “Yes, but we have to change. We have to thrive on change and risk.”  read more

Calif. Researchers Working on Agriculture/ Environmental Issues

Western Farm Press.  30 April 2012.   Researchers and educators from the University of California and California State University have received funding for joint projects on priority issues such as urban residential water demand, restoring pollinator communities, and estimating alfalfa’s impact on nitrogen and nitrate leaching in the Central Valley.  Leadership of California’s higher education systems made the funding available to jointly address issues in agriculture, natural resources and human sciences. Project criteria include collaborative research, teaching, or course development; development of student internship opportunities; and workshops, conferences, and symposia. Eight projects totaling more than $79,500 were selected from 30 proposals submitted.

“These research projects will help leverage limited resources to produce quick results on important issues in California,” said Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis. “They are also building stronger connections among researchers throughout the state and providing hands-on learning opportunities for students.”

Researchers involved in this year’s projects are from UC Davis, UC Berkeley and California State University campuses at Chico, Fresno, Humboldt, Pomona, Sonoma, San Marcos and San Luis Obispo. The awarded projects, with principal investigators, are listed below:

  • “Estimating residential water demand functions in urban California regions” — Economists from UC Berkeley and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo will estimate residential water demand of municipalities and water companies that serve 19 million people in the Bay Area and Southern California. (Maximilian Auffhammer, Stephen Hamilton)
  • “Reintroduced mammals and plant invaders as key drivers of ecosystem processes in coastal and interior grasslands” — Researchers from Sonoma State University and UC Davis will study how reintroducing tule elk and reducing invasive Harding grass affects the availability of soil nutrients and the composition of plant communities. (Caroline Christian, J. Hall Cushman, Valerie Eviner)
  • “Genetics of plant defense responses to pesticides and spider mites on grapes” — Scientists from UC Davis and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo will conduct laboratory, greenhouse and field studies to learn more about factors affecting grapevine response to spider mites, including cultivar resistance, drought impact and pesticide exposure. (Michael Costello, Richard Karban, Andrew Walker, Jeffrey Wong)
  • “Defining the functions of polyphenol oxidase in walnut” — Through genetic analysis, researchers at CSU San Marcos and UC Davis seek to learn more about an enzyme involved in the postharvest browning of cut or bruised fruit. (Matthew Escobar, Monica Britton, Abhaya Dandekar)
  • “Modeling the costs of hazardous fuel reduction thinning treatments and removal of woody biomass for energy” — Researchers from Humboldt State University, UC Davis, and the U.S. Forest Service will develop a model to estimate the costs of removing hazardous wildland fuels with different equipment and systems over a wide range of forest stand, site and road conditions. (Han-Sup Han, Bruce Hartsough)
  • “Restoration of pollinator communities and pollination function in riparian habitats” — Researchers from California State University, Chico, and UC Davis will characterize native pollinator communities at restored riparian habitats within the Central Valley and test whether successful restoration of pollinator communities also leads to restoration of pollination. (Christopher Ivey, Neal Williams)
  • “Estimating alfalfa’s impact on regional nitrogen budgets and nitrate leaching losses in the Central Valley of California” — Researchers from California State University, Fresno, and UC Davis will collect alfalfa and non-legume plants from irrigated fields and also identify San Joaquin Valley farm sites for a multi-year study of alfalfa’s impact on regional nitrogen budgets, groundwater nitrate leaching, and nitrogen requirements of rotation crops. (Bruce Roberts, Stuart Pettygrove, Daniel Putnam)
  • “Community and ecosystem response to elevated nitrogen in managed grassland ecosystems” — Restoration ecologists from Cal Poly Pomona and UC Berkeley will investigate how elevated nitrogen levels affect competition among native and exotic plant species with regard to fuel characteristics at UC’s South Coast Research and Extension Center. (Erin Questad, Katharine Suding)

Mexico’s Drought Opens Door For U.S. Exports

Western Farm Press.  24 April 2012. While recent and substantial rains are a promising sign that drought conditions are improving for much of the U.S. Southwest, a cold and dry winter in northern Mexico has exacerbated conditions there with reports of widespread famine, escalating food prices and extreme dry conditions that have forced the Mexican government to truck drinking water to nearly a half million residents in remote villages across six northern states where lakes and ground wells have run dry. In addition, Mexican aid workers have been offering food rations throughout the winter to more than 2 million residents who are desperately clinging to life in a region that is experiencing its driest period on record.

The drought is credited with destroying some 7.5 million acres of cultivable land in 2011 and is responsible for $1.18 billion in lost harvests and has destroyed about 60,000 head of cattle and weakened two million more causing a substantial spike in food prices. In addition, officials say acute food and grain shortages caused Mexico’s imports to soar 35 percent last year and they could go even higher in 2012 as conditions worsen.

In a USDA report in late March, Mexico’s grain sorghum imports were expected to increase significantly this spring, and now corn has been added to the import list, providing U.S. growers, especially those in the Southwest, an expanded market for their crops.  Farmers in the [Texas] Rio Grande Valley opting to grow more grain sorghum than cotton this year as a result of a strong market in Mexico.   Shortages for grain and food corn will cause many U.S. growers to look hard at market potential in Mexico in the months ahead.

In Mexico the shortage of white corn is marked by higher food prices and a shortage in tortillas, a food staple for Mexican families.  This is not the first time there has been an extreme shortage. The last time was in 2008 when corn shortages caused a tortilla crisis that resulted in riots and price limit controls by federal authorities. Coincidentally, this happened in another drought period.   In January of 2010 U.S. corn exports totaled about 20,000 metric tons.  But this year that increased to 60,000 metric tons, so there is a market opening up for U.S. corn growers, especially those across the Midwest who were able to get an early corn crop in the ground.