ANR in the news March 16-31, 2020
Coronavirus: Valley farmers offering roadside stands with fruits and vegetables
(ABC 30) Dale Yurong, March 31
…Heulong Siong has already opened his stand across from Clovis Community College. Consumers were urged to follow the recommended safety guidelines due to COVID-19.
UC Cooperative Extension Small Farm Advisor Ruth Dahlquist-Willard explained, "Things like keeping the minimum six-foot difference from customers, not touching any produce that you're not planning to buy, leaving as soon as you've made a purchase and washing the produce when you get home would be some good guidelines. Similar to what we're seeing at farmers markets right now."
…UC Small Farm Advisor Michael Yang said, "My farmers that go to farmers markets, even though the farmers market is still open, they only allow a few people at a time. You don't have a lot of customers walk by just like before."
Don't Overdo the Coronavirus Stockpiling
(NYTimes) Ganda Suthivarako, March 31
…Panic-buying every jar of pasta sauce in the store may also affect those who don't have the means or the space to stockpile, in particular people who don't have the financial ability to spend hundreds of dollars on groceries at once. “That is probably about half of us, especially during this time when many of us are not working or can't work, with limited incomes or no incomes coming in,” said Lorrene Ritchie, director of the Nutrition Policy Institute at the University of California. “The last thing a family in that situation can do is go out and spend $500 on groceries.”
…“Presuming you get sick and all your family's going to be quarantined, then only that amount of food is what you need, and any more than that is probably going to end up being wasted,” said Dr. Ritchie. The C.D.C. currently recommends having a two-week supply of food and knowing how to get food delivered, if that's possible where you live. If you aren't in a position to donate money, you can also donate time safely. “The food banks, your local food pantry, are experiencing shortages of people to work and put packages of food together. Often that can happen in a safe way with social distancing,” Dr. Ritchie said.
COVID-19 And Food: California Should Have Enough, Some Farms Struggle While Others Thrive, Farmworker Fears
(Cap Radio) Ezra David Romero, March 31
…“Agriculture is resilient to shocks,” said Dan Sumner, an agricultural economist with UC Davis. “Consumers can be confident that the food is safe and plentiful. That doesn't mean every product is gonna be there all the time.”
But as the pandemic lingers some products could be harder to find if they're from a part of the world hard hit by COVID-19, says Sumner. As demand is down for certain goods, he says it could mean “somewhat lower prices. But I expect it will be relatively modest for food. What I mean by that is we're going to continue to eat.”
… At the moment it's fairly simple for workers to follow social distance rules, said Rachael Long, a farm advisor with the UC Cooperative Extension. That's in part because of mechanization.
“You've got a ton of equipment, so it's not like there's a ton of people out there working together on growing the crops,” said Long. “You've got tractors and cultivators that are doing a lot of this work right now.”
Calif. specialty crop growers feel the pinch from virus
(Farm Press) Jeannette Warnert, March 31
COVID-19 does not currently pose major threats to overall global food security because adequate stores of staples — like wheat and rice — remain available. But the sustainability of California specialty crops may face greater hurdles, reported Laura Poppick in Scientific American.
Poppick spoke with two UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) scientists for perspective on the future of California agriculture considering the market and production constraints posed by measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Western Innovator: Machine learning aids irrigation
(Capital Press) Padma Nagappan, March 30
As a cooperative extension specialist with the University of California-Davis, Sahap Kaan Kurtural leverages artificial intelligence to enable vineyard managers to optimize irrigation without huge capital investments.
During his doctoral coursework at Southern Illinois University, the native of Turkey picked up skills in statistical analysis and machine learning algorithms. He now uses those skills to help wine grape growers achieve efficiencies in irrigation by setting up micro soil management zones.
California, you're doing a great job staying home, tracking data show. (Except these places)
(Sac Bee) Ryan Sabalow and Phillip Reese, March 29
… The findings that people in rural areas have been less likely to stay put are not surprising, said Philip Martin, a UC Davis professor emeritus who studies rural and agricultural economies.
… “I think you could safely say ... the rural and agricultural counties, there's probably a higher share of essential workers, and so we would expect people to go to their jobs,” Martin said.
Ag at Large: Farmers depend on trained help
(Hanford Sentinel) Don Curlee, March 26
Farmers are an independent lot, especially in bountiful California, where so many of them produce so many different crops. But when they need reliable advice they can and do turn to the university-oriented Cooperative Extension Service, often represented by their local farm advisors.
With the backing of federal, state and county funds and the full support of the University of California's Agriculture and Natural Resources division, the Extension Service offers a complete and broad body of knowledge about the origination, breeding and the latest experimentation and improvements of every crop or commodity that can be grown. All of it and more is offered without charge through its well-trained farm advisors located strategically throughout the state, within reach of farmers and others.
Is takeout safe? A UC Davis virologist shares how to stay healthy and support local restaurants
(SacTown Magazine) Erin DiCaprio, March 26
…But with coronavirus anxiety on the rise, many of us are still asking, "Is takeout or delivery safe?" Knowing how easily COVID-19 can be transmitted (via respiratory particles that can travel 6 feet from an infected person, or even just by touching a virus-harboring surface), we called up Dr. Erin DiCaprio, a virologist who specializes in community food safety at UC Davis, to ask her about the proper health and safety techniques to use while supporting regional eateries.
The Effects of COVID-19 Will Ripple through Food Systems
(Scientific American) Laura Poppick, March 25
As winter gives way to spring, farmers across the U.S. are ramping up for the growing season—hiring workers, purchasing materials and taking orders. But measures to rein in the COVID-19 pandemic may derail some of those efforts, experts say. “Everybody is scrambling to figure out what to do,” says Gail Feenstra, deputy director of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program at the University of California, Davis, who studies food systems and supply chains. “There's just a lot of disruption.”
…Strawberries are another crop likely to be affected, though for different reasons. California strawberry growers do not rely as heavily on a workforce from outside of the U.S., but laborers would typically congregate more closely than is advised to prevent the spread of the virus. Mark Bolda, a University of California Cooperative Extension farm adviser based in Watsonville, says farmers he has spoken to in the surrounding county—where roughly 40 percent of the state's strawberries sold fresh are produced—have already begun making plans to spread workers between rows.
Strawberries, however, hit prime ripeness within a narrow window of just two to three days and must be picked quickly, Bolda says. Spacing workers this way may slow picking, which could lead to more fruit being left to rot in the fields. This situation could, in turn, slow the harvest process even further as workers pause to remove old fruit so rot does not spread to ripening berries. Such a slowdown would reduce the amount of fruit picked per hour that workers were paid for and could hurt a farmer's profits, Bolda says. “Being slower is expensive.”
Food Supply Anxiety Brings Back Victory Gardens
(NY Times) Tejal Rao, March 25
…The victory garden program may be more than a century old, but “the parallels right now are pretty stark,” said Rose Hayden-Smith, the author of “Sowing the Seeds of Victory: American Gardening Programs of World War I.”
The first such push started in the context of another pandemic, the influenza outbreak of 1918. “You have to remember, we lost more Americans to the flu than we did to the battlefield,” she said.
Gardens flourished on the home front because people were eager to build their own community-based food security, and to cultivate something beautiful and useful in times of great stress and uncertainty, Ms. Hayden-Smith said.
Farm groups press to restore ag extension staff and funding
(Agri-Pulse) Edward Maixner, March 25, 2020
San Diego County is one good place to explain why a bevy of California farm groups are begging for a 28% leap in state general fund dollars for the statewide cooperative extension system.
Governor Gavin Newsom had already called for a $3.6 million boost, or 5%, in his budget for the year starting July 1 for University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR), which provides the network of county advisors, on-campus researchers and other specialists that make up Cooperative Extension (CE).
Water demands were front and center, too, when Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, a cooperative extension advisor for small farms and specialty crops in Fresno and Tulare counties, took her position in 2016 during a severe extended drought. She is an entomologist, but said her full-time job then was helping farmers find or improve their seasonal water sources “because if you don't have water, you can't farm.”
UCANR Vice President Glenda Humiston said that despite years of shrinking state funds, her division has been able to maintain its staff level in recent years by philanthropy donations and endowments, fees for service, co-funded positions and adding contracts by hiring grant experts to expand competitive grants. However, much of such funding, she pointed out, has been obligated to specific programs and purposes and couldn't be used to pay for ongoing payroll.
She said the governor's proposed 5% general fund increase was much better than the flat $72.6 million for the past two years, but “it doesn't quite keep us whole.” Owing to further various “unfunded obligations around salaries and benefits that are beyond our control.”
Resilient strawberry industry faces new challenges
(Farm Press) Tim Hearden, March 23, 2020
…“The California strawberry industry, so dependent on fumigants, has been bred for the wrong things and subsequently is not now poised to be particularly resilient to the change foisted upon it by their loss,” UC Cooperative Extension strawberry advisor Mark Bolda wrote in a blog post in November.
“Breeding has been built around methyl bromide, land use is determined around the ability to fumigate out problems and return to it with little time for rotation and rest, and labor is dependent upon the high yields enabled by fumigation,” Bolda wrote. “It all fits together under efficacious fumigation, and will all fall apart without it.”
…Steve Fennemore, a UC plant sciences specialist in Salinas, has spent more than 20 years seeking alternatives to methyl bromide. Among his efforts has been to steam-clean soil using a tractor outfitted with a boiler; he went to Norway in September to meet with a company with a commercial steamer.
While achieving buy-in among industry leaders has been a challenge, Fennemore says steam fumigation has worked better in field trials than anaerobic soil disinfestation – using flooding to change the soil's microbial ecology. He envisions growers hiring the companies to steam-fumigate their fields, or at least the most critical acres, he said.
“It's not cheap,” Fennemore told Western Farm Press. “We'll have to find a way to do it less expensively.”
Samples Needed to Help ‘Stop the Rot' Project
(AgNet West) Brian German, March 20, 2020
Researchers working on the ‘Stop the Rot' project are looking for samples of onions plants that are affected by any of the bacteria that are known or suspected to cause diseases in onions. The project looks to combat bacterial diseases of onions and will rely on surveys and sample information from growers.
“This is a national project. We are working in all seven different U.S. growing regions; obviously focusing here on California,” said Vegetable Crops Farm Advisor and one of the 24 researchers involved in the project, Brenna Aegerter. “We do have funding from USDA, which is great, but we need participation of growers.”
Coronavirus and the Farm Economy - Part 2
(Cal Ag Today) Tim Hammerich, March 19
How should agricultural producers be preparing for a slowdown in the global economy? That's the question many are asking. UC Davis Economist Dr. Daniel Sumner has a simple reminder: people still need to eat.
Sumner… “Don't forget, agriculture is hardly ever cyclical with the rest of the economy. There are booms in the economy when agriculture is struggling, like last year or the year before. There are times when the rest of the economy is not doing well and agriculture is doing okay. And even within agriculture, there are times when the dairy industry and the almond industry aren't necessarily in sync, to pick the two biggest commodities in California. People still eat. People still spend money on food even as incomes fall. A good bit of what we produce, even in California agriculture is pretty basic products for people. And if they're stuck at home, they're buying more of it, not less of it. So we're going to have some gains here in California agriculture, even if the rest of the economy's not doing well.”
Coronavirus and the Farm Economy
(Cal Ag Today) Tim Hammerich, March 18
How will food supply and demand change as a result of the coronavirus? Consumers in uncertain economic times will adjust their purchasing habits, even for essentials like food. This according to UC Davis Economist Dr. Daniel Sumner, who says different agricultural products will be effected in different ways.
Sumner… “You do have to think about it commodity by commodity. Which ones are most sensitive to income? Which ones aren't? Let me just give you a quick example from the wine industry. The premium wine industry here in California, that means the grapes that are grown along the coast. Higher proportion is sold in restaurants. Higher proportion is income sensitive. And people that still want to drink wine, they now drink it at home. And, they're a little worried about their job. They say, 'gee am I going to get laid off?' whatever. 'My company's not making any money'. 'I don't get my bonus', whatever. They move down and move in the direction of central valley wines. So you could have the central valley wine industry be better off at the same time, the coastal wine industry is hurt. And we saw that in a recession 10 years ago.”
Pistachio acreage to keep increasing, industry leader says
(Farm Press) Lee Allen, March 18
…Last fall's federal spending budget included $6 million to accelerate the battle against the pest and Houston Wilson, UC Cooperative Extension Specialist with the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, spoke to his Sterile Insect Program on that subject.
"It's an incremental process, but the short-term status involves good news," he said. "If everything goes well this year and we have good sterile moths by year-end, we'll move on to large scale field trials to figure out flooding ratios over the nearly 2 million acres of trees in California along with other susceptible crops. Short term, we're getting the model up and running before we try to figure out long term best use. It's a lengthy roadmap, but we're starting to sketch it out."
Cattle ranchers cope with dry pastures
(AgAlert) Kevin Hecteman, March 18
…Leslie Roche, a Cooperative Extension specialist at the University of California, Davis, said such observations have been commonplace this winter.
"One of the things that we're hearing from folks is that, with this lack of rain, the actual forage vegetation has progressed in maturity," she said. "We're seeing a lot of grasses heading out, producing seeds a lot earlier than would be a normal timeline. That's a problem because once they've headed out, and they've started diverting resources to producing seed, we're going to see less vegetative growth."
Commentary: We must work to save 4-H and local farm advisors
(AgAlert) Taylor Roschen, March 18
They say your branches only reach as high as your roots go—and Farm Bureau's roots go deep. Often forgotten when we discuss the California Farm Bureau's 100-year history is our roots within the University of California system and the Cooperative Extension Service.
Today, the breadth and depth of agricultural knowledge created by UCANR, the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Division, is unparalleled. Local Cooperative Extension staff, such as farm advisors and community education specialists, serve as translators, sharing the power of UC research with our farms, our families and our communities. And in a time when regulators, customers and neighbors ask more of us, it's even more important that we use Cooperative Extension staff as problem-solvers, collaborators and educators.
Yet despite UCANR's worth, its programs have found themselves teetering on the edge. Since 1990, the state's contribution to UCANR has decreased by 57%. In actual dollars, when adjusted for inflation, that's a loss of $29.5 million.
Virus' long-term impact will be mixed for ag, economist says
(Farm Press) Tim Hearden, March 17
Precautions against the novel coronavirus aren't likely to bring agricultural production to a prolonged standstill, but the economic impact will be felt by producers of the high-end wines and non-staple foods that are ubiquitous in California, says a noted West Coast ag economist.
Even in self-imposed isolation, people “are still going to eat,” which is why agricultural production in general “is not very income-sensitive,” said Dan Sumner, director of the University of California's Agricultural Issues Center in Davis.
But some agricultural products see demand increases during tough economic times, such as cheaper wine, Sumner told Western Farm Press.
“Central Valley grapes are nearly recession-proof,” he said. “When the stock market collapses or the dot-com busts, nobody's buying $200 bottles of wine anymore.”