Courtesy of UC ANR News

This spring more scientists joined University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources to share their practical knowledge in counties across the state. UC ANR recently hired UC Cooperative Extension advisors and academic coordinators who bring expertise in small-scale farms, tree and field crops, water resiliency, weed management and pest management. In a sign of our changing times, UC Cooperative Extension added an urban agriculture technology area advisor.

UC Cooperative Extension advisors work directly with community members to apply research-based information to improve the lives and livelihoods of Californians. Increased funding from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature has enabled UC ANR to expand its expertise across the state.

To see a list of UC Cooperative Extension advisors who have joined in the past few months, visit The most recently hired scientists are introduced below.

Wheeler-Dykes returns to roots with tree crops, weeds

For Becky Wheeler-Dykes, the UC Cooperative Extension orchard systems and weed ecology advisor for Glenn, Tehama and Colusa counties, her new position is deeply rooted in her background.

“I was born and raised on a small prune and walnut farm in Gridley, in nearby Butte County, and am very excited to be putting down roots close to family,” said Wheeler-Dykes, who started in this role on June 1.

Covering olives, prunes, walnuts and almonds, with an emphasis on weed management research in those cropping systems, Wheeler-Dykes is spending her first months on the job getting to know the region’s growers and broader agricultural community.

“I hope to form great relationships with the clientele in my counties, providing a resource that they can trust and rely on,” she said. “I want to serve as an advocate for our region in developing research and finding answers for the unique systems we have here. My interests are alternative weed management in orchard systems and canopy management, but I look forward to hearing what other areas need to be addressed.”

After earning both a bachelor’s in crop science and business management and a master’s in entomology (with a focus on integrated pest management in tree crops) from UC Davis, Wheeler-Dykes has conducted extensive agricultural research.

“I’m excited to bring those experiences to the Sac Valley as the newest advisor,” she said, encouraging growers and producers in the region to contact her with the challenges they are facing. 

Based at the UCCE Glenn County office in Orland, Wheeler-Dykes can be reached at

Castiaux expands role with Small Farms and Specialty Crops Program

Marianna Castiaux began her new role on June 1 as the Small Farms and Specialty Crops Program academic coordinator serving Californians statewide. In this role, Castiaux will be focused on improving workshops across all grants, creating new curriculum and teaching staff in other counties.

Aiming to build capacity to address growing challenges across California agriculture, she is excited to continue with the Small Farms and Specialty Crops Program in Fresno, where she has been working for the last three years as a project manager for the Healthy Soils Program.

Castiaux earned a Master of Science in conservation leadership from Colorado State University and a bachelor’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology from UC Santa Cruz. She has eight years of practical cross-cultural experience in agriculture, teaching and implementing climate-smart agricultural practices and summarizing complex topics in a more simplified form to various diverse audiences.

Fluent in Spanish, Castiaux was a bilingual lead educator for community-based participatory climate change resiliency programs for sugar cane farmers in Paraguay and coffee farmers in Mexico. She also worked with the California Strawberry Commission as a grower education specialist for three years teaching farmworkers and growers food safety, practices and research.

Castiaux is based in Fresno County and can be reached by email at

Angeles brings weed expertise to San Joaquin Valley

Jorge Angeles started on May 8 as the UC Cooperative Extension weed management and ecology advisor for Tulare, Kings and Fresno counties. Angeles will be right at home – in place and in vocation.

“I was born and raised in Tulare County and have been working in agriculture my entire life,” he said.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree in plant science from Fresno State, Angeles conducted pesticide efficacy trials at the DuPont Research Farm in Madera. He later earned a master’s in plant science from Fresno State, writing his thesis under the supervision of weed science professor Anil Shrestha and retired UCCE advisor Kurt Hembree.

An employee of UCCE for the past six years, Angeles worked with a pair of emeritus UCCE academics, Steve Wright and Bob Hutmacher.

Currently, Angeles is talking with growers, pest control advisers and other farm advisors about the pressing weed-management issues across the region.

“One of my main goals is to find alternative control methods for some of the herbicide-resistant and invasive weeds that are a problem in different agricultural crops,” he said. 

Based in Tulare, Angeles can be reached at and (559) 684-3300.

Johnson joins UC ANR as urban ag tech advisor

Grant Johnson joined UC ANR on May 1 as the UC Cooperative Extension urban agriculture technology area advisor for Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Johnson provides unbiased, research-driven information to people working in urban agriculture, with a focus on controlled environments such as greenhouses. His clientele is interested in adopting technologies that can improve plant production, ranging from nurseries and commercial growers to community members managing local gardens.

In his newly created role, Johnson’s efforts will influence the scope of work for urban agricultural technology advisors to come. One of the challenges that he anticipates is “focusing knowledge” or choosing a specific problem to prioritize. 

“I’m really interested in irrigation, soil and plant culture. There’s a lot to consider and there’s a lot that can be done,” said Johnson.

Before he was hired as an advisor, Johnson worked as a staff research associate for five years at the South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine under Darren Haver, director of UC ANR’s Research and Extension Center system.

“I learned a lot while I was an SRA, but there was only so much that I could do. I wanted more freedom to explore as a researcher, so I decided I wanted to become an advisor,” Johnson said, adding that his career goal inspired him to return to school.

Johnson earned a master’s degree in horticulture and agronomy from UC Davis, as well as a bachelor’s degree in biology from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

One of the exciting aspects of the job, according to Johnson, is the ability to get creative and explore new territory. “I have some fun research interests, like how to grow wasabi or maximize saffron production using hydroponics,” Johnson explained. 

“I’m interested in the kind of things that might be culturally important or significant to certain communities, and how they can be made more affordable and accessible,” he added. 

Johnson is based out of the South Coast Research and Extension Center and can be reached at

Cohen joins UCCE as entomology advisor in Ventura County

Hamutahl Cohen joined UC ANR as a UC Cooperative Extension entomology advisor in Ventura County on June 1. Her primary responsibility is to develop environmentally sustainable pest management in local agricultural systems.

Cohen earned her Ph.D. from UC Santa Cruz, where she studied how to develop agricultural practices to promote a diversity of beneficial insects and ecosystem services. She then conducted postdoctoral research at UC Riverside, where she studied pollinator health in Yolo County sunflowers.

Her research has been presented at national and international conferences, published in more than 14 peer-reviewed publications, and shared through blogs, fact sheets and field days with her local grower community. 

Prior to joining UC ANR, Cohen worked as a commercial horticulture agent with the Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida. This summer she will work with industry and university partners across Ventura County to evaluate the needs of the local growers and design an applied research and extension program.

Cohen is excited to address a myriad of issues related to pest management, including identification and monitoring, pest biology and phenology, crop loss assessment, pesticide resistance prevention, and evaluation of integrated pest management methods with an emphasis on biological and cultural controls. She is eager to conduct this work in regional crops such as berries, avocado, citrus and more.

“Ventura County is an important place to advance agricultural practices that reduce economic damage from pests while minimizing impacts on the environment, farmworkers and consumers,” said Cohen.

Cohen is based out of the UCCE office in Ventura and can be reached at Follow her on Instagram @beescientista.

Tang joins UCCE in Napa County to work on water issues

Qicheng Tang joined UC Cooperative Extension in Napa County on April 10 as an assistant project scientist for water resources and water resiliency.

Tang will be developing water resiliency strategies for stakeholders and diverse ecosystems across Napa County. In addition, he will design and implement creative research, acquire and share technical knowledge, and promote stewardship of surface and groundwater resources to meet the needs of competing users and natural systems.

This summer, Tang will collaborate with growers, UC Davis researchers and UC ANR colleagues to measure the crop coefficient of Napa grape vineyards.

“This work aims to support groundwater sustainability planning with water budget calculations and to provide crucial information for irrigation management,” he said.

Prior to joining UC ANR, Tang earned a Ph.D. in soil science from Pennsylvania State University, where his work focused on the ecohydrology of oak-maple forest. Fluent in Mandarin, he also holds a bachelor’s degree in hydrogeology from Nanjing University in China. Tang took a one-year training at North Carolina State University as a postdoctoral scholar working on large-scale nutrient modeling. 

He Is looking forward to applying his experience and learning new skills in his new role. 

“I am very excited about this new journey,” said Tang. “Water problems are pressing, important and interesting.”

Tang is based at the UCCE office in Napa and can be reached at, LinkedIn and on Twitter @qicheng_tang.

Galdi named UCCE farm advisor in Merced County

Giuliano Galdi joined UC Cooperative Extension in Merced County on May 1 as an agronomy and crops advisor. In Merced, he will be working with alfalfa, corn, cotton, and small grain crops as well as helping with weed management and other issues related to crop production.

He had served as a UC Cooperative Extension agronomy advisor in Siskiyou County since 2019.

While in Siskiyou County, he worked on managing blue alfalfa aphids and investigating crop injury to Roundup Ready alfalfa with Rob Wilson, director of Intermountain Research and Extension Center and UCCE in Siskiyou County, and Tom Getts, UCCE weed and crop systems advisor for Lassen County. Galdi also conducted research on irrigation efficiency, winter groundwater recharge, and soil moisture sensors. 

Prior to joining UCCE, Galdi was a junior specialist at UC Davis, where he worked on a variety of field trials, mainly alfalfa and forage crops, with the objective of improving the sustainability of water use and hay quality. As a master’s student and student research assistant at Fresno State, Galdi evaluated salinity tolerance in different alfalfa varieties. He speaks Portuguese fluently. 

He earned a M.S. in plant sciences from Fresno State and a B.S. in agronomy engineering from University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Galdi is based in Merced and can be reached at

Reyes joins UCCE as orchard systems advisor

Clarissa Reyes joined UC Cooperative Extension on March 1 as an orchard systems advisor. Her role focuses on walnut, cling peach and kiwifruit production in Sutter, Yuba, Butte and Placer counties. Reyes serves as a point of contact for orchard owners when they need support diagnosing and solving problems. 

Reyes is excited about developing climate-adapted management practices and working with the recently expanded team of orchard advisors serving the northern Sacramento Valley, but she also anticipates encountering some challenges. 

“Some of the challenges I expect to face are low crop prices despite increasing costs to farmers, including labor and inputs; water scarcity; and more frequent and higher temperature heat waves affecting fruit development and quality,” explained Reyes.

Reyes earned a master’s degree in horticulture and agronomy from UC Davis. She also earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from UC San Diego. 

When describing her journey into agriculture, Reyes said that she “likes the way food makes it easy to connect with people.” She also said that after realizing a career in biotech was “not a good fit,” she let her love for gardening alter her career path. 

“I’m really into food systems and food is an important part of culture,” said Reyes. “So, it was the overlap of research and food. Even though the science part can go over someone’s head, everyone understands food.”

Before joining Cooperative Extension, she worked as a junior specialist studying plant-water relations at UC Davis. While her research was focused on grapevines, she started working with walnut trees, which exposed her to opportunities in orchard systems. Afterwards, she became a staff research associate in orchards systems in Butte, Glenn and Tehama counties. 

Reyes is based out of the UC Cooperative Extension office in Yuba City and can be reached at