Two Cal Berkeley Students Honored

Two Cal students selected as UC ANR Global Food Initiative fellows

By Pam Kan-Rice, UCANR News and Information Outreach

Two graduate students from the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health have been selected by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources as the Global Food Initiative (GFI) Fellows for 2019-2020. Elsa Esparza and Andrea Jacobo will focus on community-based initiatives and programs related to food access, food insecurity, addressing the needs of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and highlighting the work of the local UC Cooperative Extension offices.

Elsa Esparza

Esparza, second-year Masters of Public Health student, will work with UC Nutrition Policy Institute researchers on the CDFA Healthy Stores Refrigeration Grant Program Evaluation to assess the effects of neighborhood stores obtaining refrigeration units on store environments, store owner perceptions, and consumer perceptions. As an undergraduate at UC Davis, Esparza admired the GFI Fellows’ work and aspired to be a part of the program for professional and academic opportunities.

“I hope to grow as a researcher and advocate,” Esparza said. “I hope to branch the two roles – advocacy and research – in my work at NPI. This will be possible through my work in other projects, including creating public-facing materials for policymakers. I want to learn how to frame issues and research appropriately in order to target and educate folks who are in positions of political power.”

Jacobo, the first-year Doctor of Public Health student, will work with the UC ANR strategic communications team to highlight the work of the local Cooperative Extension offices to improve food security in the community.

As a former community health extension agent at the University of Tennessee, Jacobo saw the impact Extension programs have on the community’s ability to manage their food dollars, cook healthy and nutritious meals, develop good agricultural practices, and develop their children’s leadership skills through 4-H. Jacobo, who is fluent in Spanish as well as English, hopes to connect California’s diverse community members to nutrition education, gardening, and other programs to enhance their access to nutritious food.

Andrea Jacobo

“I am deeply invested in making sure every person in the community, from child to senior citizen, has access to healthy and affordable foods and resources that improve their quality of life,” Jacobo said. “I am excited to be a GFI fellow because it will allow me to pursue what I am most passionate about, community and healthy food.”

The UC Global Food Initiative was launched by UC President Janet Napolitano in 2014 with the aim of putting UC, California and the world on a pathway to sustainability. The GFI fellows are part of a group of UC graduate and undergraduate students working on food-related projects at all 10 UC campuses, UC Office of the President, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC ANR.

Each participant receives a $3,000 award to help fund student-generated research, projects or internships that support the initiative’s efforts to address the issue of how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach 8 billion by 2025.

In addition to their individual projects, GFI fellows are invited to participate in systemwide activities designed to enhance their leadership skills and enrich their understanding of the food system in California.

 

Vigilant Seed Bank Reduction for Weed Control

Vigilant Seed Bank Reduction: Whatever it takes, don’t let weeds set seed.

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

For the past 15 years, Robert Norris, professor emeritus and vegetable crops weed specialist, UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, has continued to attend Weed Day each year at UC Davis and to contribute weed photography for CalPhotos, a UC Berkeley Digital Library Project photo database of world-wide plants, animals, landscapes, and other natural history subjects developed to provide a testbed of digital images for computer science researchers to study digital image retrieval techniques. Norris was involved with initiating the Plant Protection and Pest Management Graduate Program at UC Davis.

 

“I’ve been a botanist since I was 14 years old,” Norris said, “and I still have a lot of passion regarding weed control.” Norris has a strong and steady philosophy on weed control and it all comes down to seeds. “The last 25 years of my work, I looked at population dynamics of weeds, like seed longevity in the soil and what we call the size of the seed bank also known as the seed production by weeds. That’s really where I spent most of my time.

Field Bindweed
Field Bindweed

 

“I found that most people have a very poor idea of how many seeds are produced by a weed. This led me to question some of our current management philosophies; namely, the one that comes out of entomology—the use of thresholds (or how many weeds need to be present before treating them),” noted Norris. “I felt that for weed science, thresholds were not the way to go, and my position has been vindicated by the problems we’ve run into using thresholds.”

 

Norris offered the example, “Barnyard grasses are probably one of our most serious summer grass weeds. A small plant can produce 100,000 seeds; while a big plant, well over a million. I can remember going put in a tomato field years ago and looking at one barnyard grass plant. Because I had been working with it, I can say that plant probably put out 50,000 seeds. If you spread those seeds around an acre, that’s enough to give you serious yield loss the next year,” Norris explained. “Again, that’s one plant, spread out over an acre. Obviously its seeds wouldn’t spread over an acre [on their own], but with our tillage equipment we would move it around quite a bit.”

 

“My bottom line for about 30 years now is: Don’t let the weeds set seed. Whatever it takes, don’t let them set seed,” Norris said. If you follow that philosophy, Norris said after a while you drive the seed bank down.

 

“Many people don’t realize this, but some of our really big growers got on to it a long time ago. One farming operation I worked with for years, J. G. Boswell Co., with most of its land in Kings County. “I knew the manager in the late ’50s, into the ’70s. He now is retired now, but he came to this conclusion himself back in the late ’50s,” Norris said. “I haven’t been on Boswell’s property now for 20 years, because I retired. However, if you go down there, you will not see a weed problem, at least not like most growers.”

 

“The difficulty really is, in order to carry out this philosophy, you need to use hand labor for weed management and it is becoming less and less easy to find,” explained Norris. “Most weed management is done on a one-year one-crop basis; whereas, the type of management we’re talking about where we’re really thinking seed bank dynamics, has to be done over multiple years. Another big problem that I still see is if you miss one year, you can undo 5 to 10 years of what you’ve just been doing, because of this high seed output,” he said.


NEVER LET ‘EM SET SEED, by Robert Norris, Weed Science Society of America.


 

Allen-Diaz honored by range management professionals

The Society for Range Management bestowed its highest honor, the Frederick G. Renner Award, on Barbara Allen-Diaz, UC vice president for the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the society’s annual meeting today (Feb. 2) in Sacramento. A tremendous milestone, Allen-Diaz is the first female SRM member to receive the award in the society’s 68-year history.

The premier award is given annually to SRM members who have sustained accomplishments or contributions to rangeland management during the last ten years.

“Barbara has a record of outstanding research productivity that has affected the understanding and management of California rangelands and has had global impacts,” said Amy Ganguli, assistant professor of range science at New Mexico State University.

“Barbara is also a well-regarded educator who has mentored several graduate students and young professionals who are making significant contributions to rangeland and natural resource management,” said Ganguli, who, along with Fee Busby, Utah State University wildland resources professor, nominated her for the award.

This is not the first time Allen-Diaz has been recognized by her peers for her research on the effects of livestock grazing on natural resources, oak woodlands and ecosystems of the Sierra Nevada. The national society honored her with its Outstanding Achievement Award in 2001, and the following year the California chapter named her Range Manager of the Year.

In 2007, Allen-Diaz was among 2,000 scientists recognized for their work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to the IPCC and Vice President Al Gore. Allen-Diaz’s contributions focused on the effects of climate change on rangeland species and landscapes. She has authored more than 170 research articles and presentations. She has been an active member of the Society for Range Management, serving on its board of directors and on various government panels.

Allen-Diaz, who has served as UC ANR’s vice president since 2011, is also a tenured UC Berkeley faculty member in the College of Natural Resources and currently holds the prestigious Russell Rustici Chair in Rangeland Management. She has been with the University of California since 1986.  She earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at UC Berkeley.

California’s ‘Exceptional Drought’

Long Term Solutions, Desperately Needed For California Drought

 

By John Vikupitz, president and CEO of Netafim USA in Fresno, California

 

Aaron Barcellos, a partner with A-Bar Ag Enterprises in Los Banos, is a fourth-generation farmer. His 7,000-acre operation produces crops, including pistachios, pomegranates, asparagus, and tomatoes.

The farm creates jobs for up to 40 people full-time and over 100 at peak season. This year, the operation took an unprecedented move in letting 30 percent of its productive acreage go fallow for lack of water, redirecting available water to permanent crops and to honor tomato contracts.  This fallowing of acreage has resulted in a loss of work for over 30 part-time employees and an estimated loss of $10 million to the local business economy from his operation, alone.

“It’s a ‘batten down the hatches’ year,” notes Mr. Barcellos. “We are trying to survive this year while hoping the severity of this drought will provide momentum for more long term solutions to our water crisis.”

California’s ‘exceptional drought’ – said by University of California (UC) Berkeley paleoclimatologist B. Lynn to perhaps be the worst in 500 years – places the state at a critical juncture.

California’s historic low precipitation of 2013 and the below normal 2012 precipitation left most state reservoirs at  between six percent storage in the Southern Sierra to 36 percent in Shasta – levels not been seen since the 1977 severe drought. Snowpack is nearly non-existent.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reports nearly half of the U.S. is in some form of drought.

Water is one of life’s greatest conveniences. Turn on the tap and water appears, often at less cost than other household bills, providing the lifeblood for food production, human health, climate, energy and the ecosystem.

We may take water for granted until we’re in danger of losing it as sources dry up. We may not contemplate the support system and cost that brings water to the tap: the extensive pipe conveyance system, treatment plant, chemicals needed for purification, labor and energy costs.

Consequently, every drop saved by one water user benefits all users.

Homeowners may do their part in water conservation by installing low-flow fixtures – often incentivized through government rebate programs – by washing vehicles less or taking shorter showers. The payoff: lower water bills.

The agricultural sector is doing its part, too, using water-saving technology investments that reap returns for Californians, as well as those elsewhere benefitting from its exports. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), the state produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, vegetables and nuts and leads the world in almond and pistachio production. California’s 80,500 farms and ranches received a record $44.7 billion for their 2012 output.  Exports totaled more than $18 billion.

Tens of thousands of productive acres are being fallowed. The number of jobs, specifically those of farmworkers, will subside as food prices increase. California, the nation’s top dairy producer, is shipping cows out of state due to water uncertainties with no guarantee that alfalfa and other crops cows consume will continue to be available.

It’s critical that people appreciate their food source. California’s regulations ensure safe and reliable food, while California’s highly progressive and efficient farmers enable that food source to be the cheapest in the world Mr. Barcellos points out.

Food safety and quality drive those innovations, as well as economics. Regulations mean the cost to produce food and get it to the store requires farmers to be highly efficient to remain competitive.

Mr. Barcellos farms in five different irrigation districts with various water rights and water supplies. A-Bar Ag Enterprises has converted 5,500 acres from flood irrigation to drip irrigation creating a combined water savings and production efficiency of over twenty percent.

“What we do in California with the different irrigation technologies creates significant efficiencies in water application without waste, enabling farmers to increase yields with fewer inputs. With that said, it doesn’t matter what the crop – it still takes water to grow it,” Mr. Barcellos points out.

According to The Center for Irrigation Technology at California State University, Fresno, Agriculture uses 40 percent of all dedicated water, including environmental, municipal and industrial uses in order to meet the needs of the eight million irrigated agricultural acres in California.

When farmers were short on water, they used to purchase it on the open market or pump more ground water. This year, there is no water to buy and wells are starting to run dry, says Mr. Barcellos.

While the federal government has offered temporary food money for farmworkers, “the people in our communities want to work, not receive handouts from a food bank,” Mr. Barcellos says, adding that it’s time to work on long-term solutions to water problems.

California’s water system was developed for 20 million people, with residents and farmers sharing the water supply, with those same resources later shared to meet environmental concerns. That – and the nearly doubled population – has taxed the water system, Mr. Barcellos says.

“We haven’t spent any serious funds to improve California’s infrastructure since the early 1970s to keep pace with population growth and environmental demands,” Mr. Barcellos says. “If the environment needs more water, let’s use sound science and invest in more storage and better conveyance systems for long-term solutions.”

Following Governor Edmund Brown Jr.’s January declaration of a drought emergency, the State Water Project cut water deliveries to all 29 public water agencies to zero for 2014.

Even if there is some short-term relief, mitigation is needed to protect against long-term unpredictable weather patterns.

UC Berkeley’s David Sedlak, professor of civil and environmental engineering, explains:  the drought notwithstanding, California’s aged infrastructure calls for increased investments in water recycling, rainwater harvesting and seawater desalination with a focus on local water supply development.

The United States Department of Agricultural (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), California indicates three priorities: protecting soils made vulnerable by water cutbacks, protecting drought-impacted rangeland, and stretching every drop of irrigation water using improved hardware and management Farmers and ranchers are encouraged to develop a water conservation plan and seek funding opportunities such as the $30 million available through USDA NRCS California to help drought-impacted farmers and ranchers with conservation practices and the $25 million to help pay for conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Irrigation is the final stop on the train that begins with water supply and continues with delivery methods. Water conservation technology – much of which has been proven overseas for decades on arid farmlands – offers a solution right now to apply water more precisely and even improve crop yields and quality.

Our world’s growing population calls for large-scale farming to provide food. For decades, California farmers with reasonable and secure access to water have used water conservation technologies to continue farming and create more water for other purposes, such as the needs of growing urban areas and for environmental remediation, which uses half of California’s water supply.

Farmers like Mr. Barcellos are great stewards of the environment. Many California farmers have successfully adopted this technology to a large degree, using water more efficiently and leaving more in the system for other uses. We need to expand that effort more.

Does “The West Without Water” Portend our Future?

Sources: Excerpts from UC Berkeley; Steve Hockensmith, UC Berkeley NewsCenter; University of California Press; The Commonwealth Club of California.

As 2013 came to a close, the drought was reported to have been the driest year in California since records began to be kept in the 1840s. That was, academically speaking, not quite the truth.

“This could potentially be the driest water year in 500 years,” says B. Lynn Ingram, a UC Berkeley paleoclimatologist professor of earth and planetary science and geography.

B. Lynn Ingram
B. Lynn Ingram

As a paleoclimatologist, Ingram analyzes sediments and archaeological deposits to determine how climates change over the course of millennia. And according to the width of old tree rings (which can record the coming and going of wet or waterless stretches), California hasn’t been so parched since 1580.

“These extremely dry years are very rare,” she says.

But soon, perhaps, they won’t be as rare as they used to be. The state is facing its third drought year in a row, and Ingram wouldn’t be surprised if that dry stretch continues.

If you go back thousands of years, you see that droughts can go on for years if not decades, and there were some dry periods that lasted over a century,” Ingram said in a recent interview with Steve Hockensmith, UC Berkeley NewsCenter. “The 20th century was unusually mild here, in the sense that the droughts weren’t as severe as in the past. It was a wetter century, and a lot of our development has been based on that.”

Ingram continued, “The late 1930s to the early 1950s were when a lot of our dams and aqueducts were built, and those were wetter decades. I think there’s an assumption that we’ll go back to that, and that’s not necessarily the case. We might be heading into a drier period now. It’s hard for us to predict, but that’s a possibility, especially with global warming.”

“When the climate’s warmer,” she said, “it tends to be drier in the West. The storms tend to hit further into the Pacific Northwest, like they are this year, and we don’t experience as many storms in the winter season. We get only about seven a year, and it can take the deficit of just a few to create a drought.”

“Yet, if you look at the past, you realize that our climate is anything but reliable. We’ve seen these big fluctuations. Extreme droughts and extreme floods.”

The co-authors want the public to know that if you’re going to buy a house in the Central Valley, you should know about these floods. “And we have to start assuming that we could go into one of these longer droughts and maybe start doing some serious conservation and rethinking of agriculture here,” Ingram commented.

West Without Water

Together, B. Lynn Ingram, Professor of Earth & Planetary Science and Geography, UC Berkeley; and Frances Malamud-Roam, Associate Environmental Planner and Biologist, Caltrans; Visiting Scholar, UC Berkeley; co-authored The West Without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us About Tomorrowwhich was released by the University of California Press last year.

The West without Water documents the tumultuous climate of the American West over twenty millennia, including past droughts and deluges and predictions about future climate change and water resources. Looking at the region’s current water crisis from the perspective of its climate history, the authors ask the central question of what is “normal” climate for the West, and whether the relatively benign climate of the past century will continue into the future. 

The authors show that, while the West may have temporarily buffered itself from such harsh climatic swings by creating artificial environments and human landscapes, our modern civilization may be ill-prepared for the predicted climate changes and  warn that we must face the realities of the past and prepare for a future in which fresh water may be less reliable.

The co-authors will present their ideas and research at The Commonwealth Club’s “In conversation” with Lisa Krieger, Science and Medical Research Reporter, San Jose Mercury News on Tuesday, Mar 11, 2014 at 6:30pm at the Lafayette Library, 3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette.

Join Ingram and co-author Frances Malamud-Roam for a discussion on California’s current water crisis, the region’s climatic past and predictions about the future of climate change and its effect on water resources.