Cooperative Extension, Sutter-Yuba Counties
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Cooperative Extension, Sutter-Yuba Counties

Posts Tagged: agriculture

Trends we're watching in 2018: experts weigh in on water, GM, science communication and more

As we settle into 2018, it's natural to wonder what the New Year may bring. There have been dozens of "trend pieces" discussing what's in store. In this wrap, we consider possible 2018 trends in water, the GM debate, science communication, and food and nutrition.

Water

After one of the driest Decembers on record, many Californians continue to worry about water supply. I turned to UC ANR water expert Faith Kearns. Faith is a scientist and communicator at the California Institute for Water Resources, a UC ANR-based "think-tank" that integrates California's research, extension, and education programs to develop research-based solutions to water resource challenges. Faith writes about water issues for a number of publications, including UC's Confluence blog. She was recently

 quoted in a Rolling Stone article about California's "climate emergency," penned by meteorologist/writer Eric Holthaus

Faith told me this:

"Water quantity and human use tend to be the dominant lenses that we use to talk about water in California, but they're not the only thing we need to be paying attention to. For example, water quality issues loom equally as large, and are of course related. But, even beyond that, there are also many non-use oriented ways that water impacts our lives - through recreation, aesthetics, and culture, just to name a few. A trend that I hope to see in 2018 is a broadening of the conversation on water, and an expansion of the kinds of knowledge that are brought to bear on water issues."

Editor's note: The quality of American drinking water continues to be a point of local and national concern; it will undoubtedly be an important topic in the 2018 midterm elections in certain congressional districts. Learn more about this vital public health and social justice issue by visiting the National Drinking Water Alliance website (NDWA). NDWA is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and coordinated by UC ANR's Nutrition Policy Institute.

The debate over genetically modified food: Entering a new era?

UC Davis associate professor and plant pathologist Neil McRoberts - who was recently named co-leader of UC ANR's Strategic Initiative in Sustainable Food Systems - shared his ideas about where we might be headed in terms of framing the GM discussion.

"...The GM debate is entering a new era with the growing use of gene editing - CRSPR-Cas9technology. Interestingly, this time around the ethics and socio-economics debate seems to be keeping pace with the science, as witnessed by the latest issue of the Journal of Responsible Innovation, which focuses on gene drive technologies and their uses. The special issue grew out of a workshop hosted at NCSU last year. The use of CRSPR has re-opened debates about how genetic modification should be regulated and labeled."

Editor's note: You can learn more about Neil's work here. He recently wrote a guest blog post for UC Food Observer about the importance of cash crops to smallholder farmers in Uganda and Malaysia. For more about the GM debate, read the text of Mark Lynas' speech to the Oxford Farming Conference, in which he tries to "map out the contours of a potential peace treaty" between GM proponents and the technology's opponents. h/t Nathanael Johnson.

Will 2018 usher in an era of more civil communication around science-based topics?

*It depends on us.

Across the board, our public discourse took a dive in 2017 ... and that's a shame. Here's to a New Year ... and resolving to do a better job at communicating with clarity, integrity and with less judgment. The advancement of science (and perhaps the preservation of our sanity) depend upon it.

I loved this piece by Tamar Haspel, which recently appeared in the Washington Post and specifically addresses science communication and agriculture/food issues. Shorter: If we want to persuade people, we have to be respectful. She writes:

“Rudeness can increase polarization and entrench disagreements even further. Nasty begets nasty; it's regression toward the mean ..."

As both a scientist and a communicator, UC ANR's Faith Kearns also informed my thinking on where the communications trend line ought to go for 2018, telling me that:

"One of the bigger challenges, and opportunities, facing the science communication community is how to really push ourselves to better incorporate more perspectives from the social sciences and humanities. This is particularly true on issues like food, agriculture, and the environment where so much of what is truly challenging is related to human behavior, decision-making, and psychology. It's not just a matter of using research on science communication to inform practice, but also of responsibly integrating different forms of knowledge into communication efforts." 

Food and nutrition trends

There are an overwhelming number of food trend pieces out right now. The Hartman Group is a good account to follow to stay apprised of food trends throughout the year. Their Year in Review blog post is definitely worth a read. It identifies some trends from last year that will likely carry forward, including consumer demands for transparency, "conscious" consumerism, customized health and wellness, and the ways in which snacking is disrupting food culture. Bonus: you can access some of Hartman's industry reports via links included in the blog post.

For a largely culinary perspective of 2018 trends, check out the BBC's Good Food piece. Nationally-known dietitian Christy Brissette has written an interesting piece about nutrition trends (think algae, Stevia, chicory root fiber and eating for "Diabetes 3" - aka Alzheimer's).

And if you're having trouble keeping that New Year's resolution to exercise more, consider reading this piece, which reports on a study indicating that exercise alters our microbiome - which could improve our health and metabolism. Gretchen Reynolds for the New York Times.

Have a great week!

This article was first published in the UC Food Observer blog.

Posted on Tuesday, January 9, 2018 at 8:27 AM
Focus Area Tags: Food

Delta farm tour gives UC students a broader view of food system

“Eighty percent of waterfowl depend on agriculture for food,” said Dawit Zeleke, second from right.

UC Global Food Initiative student fellows from University of California campuses throughout the state gathered for a springtime field trip in the Central Valley to learn more about the relationships between food, farming and the environment.

The day-long tour, hosted by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, began at a farm that is maintained to support wildlife in the breezy Sacramento-San Joaquin River delta region. The GFI fellows also viewed a habitat restoration project at LangeTwins Winery then watched freshly harvested cherries being processed at Morada Produce's packing plant. They wrapped up the day with a tour of a demonstration garden and a discussion of nutrition education at the UC Cooperative Extension office in Stockton. 

UC President Janet Napolitano, who, along with UC's 10 chancellors, launched the Global Food Initiative in 2014, met with the 17 fellows for lunch at LangeTwins Winery.

“We started the Global Food Initiative several years ago with the goal of creating a pathway to a sustainable, nutritious food future for the planet. A small, modest goal,” Napolitano said, adding that she is excited to learn about the fellows' projects.

The GFI fellows are working on projects that range from raising awareness about food production to analyzing the effects of climate change on pollination, and from efforts to make soils safe for growing food in urban areas to using food waste to fuel batteries.

UC Merced senior Ever Serna's GFI project is to educate his fellow college students about where food comes from, before it gets to the grocery store.

“The tour gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation about how food is developed and grown,” he said. “I think when I eat vegetables and fruits, I'm going to be more conscious of what I eat now.”

Reid Johnsen, a third-year Ph.D. student in agricultural and resource economics at UC Berkeley, Global Food Initiative fellow for UC ANR, and participant in the Graduate Students in Extension program, is working with UC Cooperative Extension in Sonoma County to study ranchers' preferences for different payment structures for conservation easement to compensate them for the ecosystem services provided by their land.

“To be able to see agriculture in action makes such a difference to me, to see the way the crops are produced and the variety that's out here,” said Johnsen. “The diversity of crops was not something I was aware of before coming on this trip.”

President Napolitano visited with the GFI fellows over lunch.

“I thought it was interesting to see a lot of different agricultural production systems,” said UC Santa Barbara senior and campus GFI ambassador Bryn Daniel, who works with student activists on student food access and housing security issues.

In addition to learning more about food production, the outing gave the fellows an opportunity to network with peers from other campuses.

“That's what I liked about today's meeting, just meeting everybody and getting these fantastic connections,” said Ryan Dowdy, a third-year Ph.D. student at UC Davis who is converting food waste into energy-producing microbial fuel cells.

“I think this program, and especially the fellowship, is really important for young scientists who dive into this really huge subject of global food,” said Claudia Avila, a graduate student at UC Riverside who studies trace metals in urban agricultural soils.

Best kept secret

In welcoming the UC GFI fellows, Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources, said, “I have a feeling a lot of you aren't familiar with our division. As I travel around the state to different campuses, I keep being told that we're the best kept secret, which I personally do not think is a good thing." 

She explained that agricultural research has been part of the University of California since the land-grant institution's beginning in 1868 in Oakland. UC ANR has researchers on the Berkeley, Davis and Riverside campuses and UC Cooperative Extension advisors in the county offices, she said, adding, “Here in California, our advisors have very robust research programs.”

Aaron Lange, left, explains that he planted the elderberry bush to create habitat for the threatened valley elderberry longhorn beetle.

Farms are wildlife habitat

Michelle Leinfelder-Miles, UC Cooperative Extension delta crops advisor, introduced Dawit Zeleke, associate director of conservation farms and ranches for The Nature Conservancy, who explained why he farms 9,200 acres of corn, triticale, potatoes, alfalfa and irrigated pasture to enhance foraging habitat for sandhill cranes and other wildlife on Staten Island. The Nature Conservancy partners with UC Cooperative Extension along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, California Department of Water Resources, Oregon State University, UC Merced and UC Davis to study the relationships between agriculture and natural resources.

The Pacific Flyway for migrating birds passes over the delta. “Eighty percent of waterfowl depend on agriculture for food,” Zeleke said. After wheat harvest, they flood the fields. “You should see it in September, October, November and December. Thousands of birds, ten thousand cranes use this place for habitat.”

Randy Lange, on right, said, "We reuse our water as much as possible." Waste water from the winery is captured and used to irrigate vineyards.

Lodi region is zin-ful

En route to lunch, Paul Verdegaal, UC Cooperative Extension viticulture advisor for San Joaquin County, described the Lodi region's wine industry. There are about 750 growers, many of which are small family operations. While 10 to 15 acres used to be typical vineyard size, most have 100 acres to be sustainable and one family member works at an outside job. 

“Agriculture is a tough job and there is no guaranteed income,” Verdegaal said.

About 40 percent of the zinfandel in California is grown in the Lodi region, but there are several wine grape varieties planted. 

Pointing out the bus window to a vineyard interplanted with a crimson clover cover crop, Verdegaal said, “We do see interest in using as few chemicals as possible and using techniques of the integrated pest management program.”

After eating lunch at LangeTwins Winery in Acampo, the GFI fellows took a tour of the winery with the fourth- and fifth-generation owners, Randy Lange and Aaron Lange. The Langes are founding members of the Lodi Rules Program, which helps growers produce grapes and wines in a manner that is environmentally respectful, socially sensitive and economically sound. They pointed out an array of solar panels covering the grape press room that provide electricity. The Langes are planting native plants around the winery to reduce sedimentation, improve water quality and restore wildlife habitat along the Mokelumne River.

The cluster cutter gently separates the cherry clusters into individual cherries.

Bing is king of cherries

When the GFI fellows visited at the end of April, sweet cherry harvest had just begun in Bakersfield area orchards, and cherries were being packed and shipped in San Joaquin County.

“Hemmed in by rain to the north and heat to the south, cherry season is only eight to 10 weeks long,” said Joe Grant, emeritus UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor for San Joaquin County.

“While the Bing variety is still the mainstay of the California cherry industry because of its excellent eating and shipping quality,” said Grant, “acreage of other high quality and earlier-maturing varieties has increased in recent years to lengthen the harvest season. But Bing is still king.” Asked about the effects of climate change on cherries, Grant explained that warmer temperatures are reducing the number of winter chilling hours, which cherries need.

Morada Produce uses waste water from the cherry processing plant to water these walnut trees, said Scott Brown, fifth from left.

The fellows saw the hand-picked fruit being processed for packing at Morada Produce, a family farm in Linden that also grows walnuts, peppers and onions.

“Keeping produce cold is key to maintaining quality,” said Scott Brown, Morada's production manager, as the fellows watched fresh, cold water rain down onto the freshly picked sweet cherries. The leaves and stems floating to the top were removed as the red clusters glided in the water to the cluster cutter, which gently separated the clusters into individual cherries.  Gently conveyed through the plant in flowing water, the cherries were sorted by size and quality at the highly mechanized facility. Air ejectors spit out rejected fruit, so only 70 percent makes it into a packed box. 

“Fruit picked on Monday is packed Tuesday, then shipped to Korea, Japan, Australia and other export markets to be eaten by Friday,” Brown said.

The fellows were fascinated to see the steps taken to ensure high-quality cherries are cooled, sorted and packaged for shipping to stores and consumers. 

“It was just so much more complicated than I knew,” said Jess Gambel, a third-year Ph.D. student at UC San Diego who is studying the effects of climate change on bee pollination in squash plants.

UC Berkeley graduate student Sarick Matzen reads about the brightly colored plants in the demonstration garden that attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

Sustainable gardening

The tour wrapped up at the UC Cooperative Extension office in Stockton, with a discussion about how UC CalFresh and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program help low-income Californians attain adequate nutrition and food security, followed by a tour of the demonstration garden maintained by the UC Master Gardener Program volunteers.

“There are more pollutants in urban runoff than in ag runoff,” said Karrie Reid, UC Cooperative Extension landscape horticulture advisor in San Joaquin County. Reid described how she and the UC Master Gardeners work with home and community gardeners to reduce pesticide and water use, and noted that a Water Use Classification of Landscape Species plant list, based on UC research, is available to help gardeners choose landscape plants.

“As a soil scientist, I really appreciated the recurring emphasis on soils as the foundation for agriculture,” said a fourth-year Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley and GFI fellow with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “From talking with The Nature Conservancy farm operator about how they were conserving carbon in those soils and doing wetlands management to hearing about special properties of the sandy loam soil in this part of the county, and talking with the Master Gardener folks about soil contamination issues.”                      

This is the third class of GFI student fellows. The undergraduate and graduate student fellows, representing all 10 UC campuses plus UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, have helped further UC's Global Food Initiative efforts to sustainably and nutritiously feed the world's growing population by working on food-related projects and raising awareness of this critical issue.

UC President Napolitano, center in blue blazer, met with GFI fellows at LangeTwins Winery during their agriculture tour.

 

 

 

Posted on Tuesday, May 30, 2017 at 2:29 PM

'Agriculture: Food for Life' is the theme of National Ag Week

How are you celebrating American agriculture in your life? In advance of National Ag Week, March 19-25, and National Ag Day, March 21, Central Valley third-grade students were “learning with lettuce” how to bring more agriculture into their lives last week. The UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center offers the free lettuce plantings every year at Farm and Nutrition Day in Fresno County and Kings County, typically around the time of National Ag Week.

National Ag Week and National Ag Day celebrate American food, fiber and fuel producers and their important contributions to our lives.

Volunteers enjoyed working with each student to get their seedling off to a great beginning.

Students with the help of volunteers learned how to plant tiny lettuce seedlings into a pot of healthy soil to take home for transplanting later. In addition to helping the students connect their food to agriculture, the lettuce planting offered an engaging, hands-on experience growing healthy and nutritious food at home.

Third grade students from Fremont Elementary School joined classmates on their way to Kearney's lettuce planting at last year's Farm and Nutrition Day.

 

Julie Sievert and Laura Van Der Staay prepared a lesson that teaches students about the parts of a plant and what a plant needs to grow our food, fiber and fuel crops.

National Ag Week is a nationwide effort coordinated by the Agriculture Council of America to tell the vital story of American agriculture and remind citizens that agriculture is a part of all of us. National Ag Day encourages every American to:

• Understand how food and fiber products are produced.
• Appreciate the role agriculture plays in providing safe, abundant and affordable products.
• Value the essential role of agriculture in maintaining a strong economy.
• Acknowledge and consider career opportunities in the agriculture, food and fiber industry.

 
Kearney director Jeff Dahlberg was interviewed about Kearney's education and outreach programs.

Each American farmer feeds about 144 people. As the world population soars, there is even greater demand for the food, fiber and renewable resources produced in the United States. Agriculture is this nation's #1 export and incredibly important in sustaining a healthy economy. That's why National Ag Week is a great time to reflect on and be grateful for American agriculture.

With lettuce seedlings in hand, happy junior gardeners were ready to continue the learning experience at home.

 

Central Valley students eagerly lined up to get started on their lettuce planting fun.
Posted on Friday, March 24, 2017 at 8:45 AM
  • Author: Roberta Barton
Tags: agriculture (18), food (9), healthy (1), Kearney (2), lettuce (1), National Ag Day (1), National Ag Week (1), UC (2)

October is National Farm-to-School Month

Partner with the University of California for National Farm to School Month.
Schools across the country are celebrating local connections to local food producers in October during National Farm to School Month. Education and outreach activities such as school gardens, cooking lessons and field trips are teaching students about healthy, local foods and food's journey from the farm to their forks.

There are plenty of opportunities for teachers and schools to celebrate and get involved in National Farm to School Month with the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR). Here are a few ideas to get you started.

4-H youth development

Launch a 4-H Club at your school. The 4-H Youth Development Program emphasizes enrichment education through inquiry-based learning. Core content areas include Healthy Living as well as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Clubs have access to a wealth of curricula materials exploring food, agriculture and natural resources. 4-H also offers the Ag in the Classroom school enrichment program.

Lettuce planting delights young gardeners.
Boots on the ground

Invite UC ANR academics and program staff to your career day or science fair or to make a classroom presentation. Specialists from Master Gardeners, Nutrition Education, Project Learning Tree, California Naturalist and other UC ANR programs know how to engage and inspire your students.

Some programs, including Project Learning Tree, offer "train the trainer" professional development workshops that equip educators with the skills and knowledge to teach concepts in their own classrooms. Project Learning Tree also provides free activity guides to teachers who attend their workshops. The guides highlight differentiated instruction, reading connections, and assessment strategies and offer ideas to integrate technology into classroom instruction,

Research and Extension Centers

Take your students on a field trip to a UC ANR Research and Extension Center (REC). The nine RECs in California are focal points for community participation and for active involvement in current and relevant regional agricultural and natural resource challenges.

Visiting a REC offers students a unique opportunity to learn about food production through the lens of applied science research in plant pathology, integrated pest management, conservation tillage, water conservation, development of new crop varieties, and much more. Some RECs also host extended education programs such as Sustainable You! Summer Camp and FARM SMART.

Students learn about post-harvest research at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
Take the first step

The 2016 National Farm to School Month theme is One Small Step, which highlights the easy ways anyone can get informed, get involved and take action to advance farm to school in their own communities and across the country.

Each week will have a different focus:

  • Education (October 3-7)
  • Healthy School Meals (October 10-14)
  • Farmers & Producers (October 17-21)
  • The Next Generation (October 24-28)

Join the celebrations by signing the One Small Step pledge then take your own small step to support healthy kids, thriving farms and vibrant communities this October by partnering with UC ANR.

This story en español.

 

Posted on Wednesday, September 28, 2016 at 7:29 AM
  • Author: Roberta Barton

The science of sensory evaluation

Mouth-watering anticipation of holiday food is part of the science of sensory evaluation. (Photo: Pixabay.com)
Holidays fan the flames of our love affair with food. As soon as summer melts into fall, our thoughts leap ahead with mouth-watering anticipation to family gatherings around a Thanksgiving or Christmas feast with all the trimmings. Months before the turkey is carved, you can almost smell it roasting in the oven. You can almost taste the salty goodness of stuffing and gravy. You can almost see colorful visions of home-baked treats dancing in your head.

Your sense of taste, smell, sight, hearing and touch sends signals to your brain that the holiday feasting season has arrived. These basic senses are the tools that influence how much you like – or dislike – the foods you eat.

Sensory evaluation also has practical applications in agriculture. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers and their colleagues often conduct sensory panels for specific food crop studies. Recently volunteer evaluators filed into the sensory evaluation lab at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center to participate in a grape sensory panel. UC researcher Mary Lu Arpaia and USDA researcher David Obenland collected data for a study on the impacts of various storage conditions on grape varieties.

David Obenland of the USDA prepares citrus samples for evaluation.
Evaluators tasted grape samples and recorded their responses to appearance, taste and texture. Samples given to each evaluator were randomly ordered to eliminate bias in the test results. Evaluators were instructed to sip water between tastings to cleanse the palate. Evaluation procedures can vary slightly from product to product. When sensory panels are conducted for avocados, evaluators are instructed to munch on raw carrots before sipping water due to the oil in avocados. The coarse texture of carrots more fully cleanses the palate between avocado tastings. Other sensory panels have been conducted on citrus.

“There's a bit of psychology involved as well. How the product looks can influence your perception of how it tastes. To further eliminate bias, evaluators are intentionally isolated in individual stations so as not to be influenced by their neighbors' reactions,” explained David Obenland.

Grapes are displayed for evaluators to rate fruit appearance.
Sensory evaluation is used by commodity groups like the Table Grape Commission too. Data collected from a grape sensory panel provides important feedback to growers to identify factors that will inform marketing strategies and produce a quality product that consumers are more likely to buy. Evaluators can be recruited from industry groups, in which case they are considered to be “semi-experts,” or from the general public which are classified as “true consumers.”

The sensory evaluation lab at the Kearney Agricultural REC reflects the current philosophy of fruit commodity research that the industry's focus should be on sensory evaluation, from new pest management to horticultural practices to varietal improvements. The lab was completed and dedicated in April 2008 with support from the California Avocado Inspection Committee, Citrus Research Board, Food Machinery Corporation, Peach, Plum and Nectarine Growers of California, Sunkist and Table Grape Commission.

Author: Roberta Barton

Posted on Wednesday, November 25, 2015 at 8:37 AM
Tags: agriculture (18), Kearney (2), lab (1), senses (1), sensory (1), UC (2)

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