Delta Smelt Are Poor Swimmers, Unlikely to Reach Pumps

How Many Smelt Are Actually At the Pumps?

By Kristi Diener, Fourth Generation San Joaquin Valley Farmer

Delta smelt are poor swimmers. When they have to swim against voluminous outflows, they struggle. They also lack endurance for distance and swimming against currents. This was the result of the taxpayer-funded swim performance test conducted more than 20 years ago. Why is this important?

Delta smelt live in the freshwater/saltwater mixing zone made up of outflow from the fresh waters of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, and the inflow of saltwater pushed towards that freshwater from the ocean tides. Smelt leave this mixing zone in search of freshwater to spawn, in the late winter to early spring. It is the same time of year when the outflows from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers are at their peak. Recently, water surging out from the rivers was equal to 104,900 basketballs per second!

If the smelt are able to swim against these powerful outflows, they don’t go too far, and generally spawn pretty close to the nearest region of freshwater they can find in the delta. However, most smelt being surveyed during spawning are not in the delta at all, rather, in the much smaller waterways to the north where there is a fraction of the freshwater outflow. Twenty-one years ago, UC Davis acknowledged outflows from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers are actually too high for the endangered smelt!

Delta smelt by metric ruler Photo: USFWS
Delta smelt by metric ruler
Photo: USFWS

Let’s jump to the “pumps.” They are about 60 miles away from where smelt live in the mixing zone of the Suisun and San Pablo Bays. The pumps capture water at the south end of the delta, where it later flows into storage at San Luis Reservoir. Eventually, it is conveyed south to 2/3 of the state.

Water that is not captured by pumping surges out from the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers into that mixing zone. These pumps are routinely throttled back because, according to the Smelt Biological Opinion, smelt are in danger of getting sucked-in and killed. The result of not pumping is huge losses of water for human use and huge increases of outflow from these two rivers into the ocean.

So how many smelt, who lack endurance for long swims according to the swim performance test, are actually surveyed near the pumps and at risk of being liquidated? Every month, a trawl survey is conducted to count smelt and find out where they’re hanging out. I pulled up the fish distribution maps for every monthly trawl over a 10-year period. The closest a smelt has been surveyed near the pumps is about 30 miles away from them, seven years ago.

Still, in spite of their own swim performance tests, the opinion is that smelt swim about a 60 mile, squiggly endurance course, destined for the pumps. Remember, they spawn in freshwater, but actually, live back in the mixing zone where they must return. Nonetheless, this opinion is the very hypothesis that ratchets back pumping at full capacity and prevents the securing of water for humans. There are many other facets of the opinion that are questionable as well. Incidentally, just two smelt have been surveyed anywhere in the last 10 months.

Here’s the good news. President Trump signed an executive memo in October, requiring the Biological Opinions to be reviewed and updated. The science is well over a decade old. Please notice it is called an “opinion”, not a fact. Trump set a timeline and a deadline to get it done too. The assessment phase had to be completed by January 31, and it was. The deadline for the new Opinions to be issued is 135 days after the assessment, which I calculate to be around June 15th. I’m counting.

In the next couple of months, we’ll likely be hearing a whole bunch of malarkey coming from the folks favoring water for the sea in the name of fish, instead of for humans and the earth. There will be an uproar when the Biological Opinions are revised to actually help endangered fish, instead of being used as a vehicle to implement an agenda of man-made water shortages, more regulations, increased fees, and new taxes. You will hear misinformation, but you will know the truth.

Delta Smelt Performance Test can be found here.

CDFA To Hold Good Ag Neighbors Workshops

Workshop Designed for Produce Growers and Livestock Areas to Promote Food Safety

News Release

In order to facilitate dialogue between different sectors of California agriculture about cooperation to prevent future foodborne illness outbreaks, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is partnering with the University of California and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to bring the livestock and produce communities together for a series of workshops.

The workshops, titled Good Ag Neighbors, are designed for fruit and vegetable growers, livestock owners, and others interested in learning about how produce safety and livestock management practices can work jointly to promote food safety.

The workshops will be held in two California locations, with the first scheduled for June 11 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Desert Research and Extension Center in Holtville. The second workshop is scheduled for June 13 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Robert J Cabral Ag Center in Stockton.

“Agriculture is complex,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “This is particularly true in California, where diverse agricultural operations often exist side-by-side, with each of them required to comply with a myriad of regulations designed to protect the public, the environment, and the food supply.”

Karen Ross, CDFA Secretary
Karen Ross, CDFA Secretary

Diversity is extremely important to the fabric of California agriculture. Also important is open communication channels between diverse partners. This has become more apparent with the CDFA’s newly created Produce Safety Program, which is working on behalf of the U.S. FDA to enforce produce safety regulations under the Food Safety Modernization Act.

The workshops will address lessons learned from recent investigations of produce-related foodborne illness outbreaks, examine key research findings, and consider future research needs.

The workshops are being conducted by the UC Davis Western Institute for Food Safety and Security and will include presentations by researchers and industry representatives. The day-long agenda will focus in the morning on reviewing regulations, laws, and practices already in place to protect food and environmental safety, while the afternoon will be spent in various breakout groups examining how these practices can be leveraged.

Participants should come prepared to share their experiences as well as their produce safety questions.

The workshops are offered free of charge. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.wifss.ucdavis.edu/good-ag-neighbors/.

Weedy Rice—Not as Simple as it Sounds

Weedy Rice is A Pesky Rice Type in Production Rice Fields

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

Contrary to its name, weedy rice is not in fact weeds in rice—but it is presenting several challenges to California rice growers. To help farmers combat the pesky variety, UC Davis Ph.D. student Liberty Galvin and the horticulture and agronomy graduate group have conducted extensive research.

According to Galvin, the genetic and physiological properties of weedy rice are the same as the cultivated varieties consumers typically eat. So what’s the issue? Galvin said that besides the fact that weedy rice is off in its coloring, it’s nearly impossible to harvest.

“The issue is that the seed shatters, or basically falls to the ground. So when you go through and try to harvest it, the grain does not get collected in the harvester,” Galvin explained.

Although right now it seems that commercially growing weedy rice is not an option, there are ways to prevent it. Galvin’s research found that drilling the seeds at least two inches into the soil will eliminate seed germination or emergence in the field. This is especially useful in California, where tillage is done only to prepare the field, not plant the rice itself.

Galvin said that while growers can produce their own rice seed, it has to be certified by the California Crop Improvement Association or a Rice Seed Quality Assurance Program.  In all cases, growers are required to plant only certified rice seed so there is no opportunity for traces of weedy rice to enter the soil.

“That is why tillage depth is so important, because that’s how you reduce your seed bank,” she said.

Cover Crops in Almonds Can Displace Annual Winter Weeds

Steve Haring Working With UC Davis on Cover Crops

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

Depending on your location, cover crops can have a big impact on your fields. Steve Haring, second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, has been collecting research on how different climates influence the effectiveness of cover crops.

Almond Cover Crop Displacing Weeds

“As we try to design cover crops, there are a lot of different paths we can take, and it’s important to test these different things out and see what is best for the specific things we can use cover crops for in the Central Valley,” Haring said.

He further mentioned that for optimum weed control in the Valley, growers should plant in the early winter months in order to prevent annual winter weeds.

Haring worked with the UC Davis Cooperative Extension on three different sites across both the Central Valley and northern Sacramento Valley collecting data on growth rates for cover crops. He found that because the northern valley had more direct sunlight hit the ground, cover crops thrived, and as a result, weeds were minimized.

The research will not stop there, though, Haring ensured. “The study I’m working on is funded by the Almond Board, and it’s continuing for a second year and maybe a third, so we’re trying to repeat it and validate and then also sort and synthesize information because there are people working on weeds but also working on water, insect pests, pollinator health, nematodes, and call sorts of ecosystem services,” he concluded.

Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus Fights Back

New Strain Creates Challenges

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

A new strain of the Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus has created a challenge among vegetable growers, making integrated pest management, or IPM, increasingly critical. Bob Gilbertson, plant pathologist at UC Davis, has insight and advice as to how farmers should tackle this new strain.

“The first thing is to know what’s out in your field. And there’s a good diagnostic test for curly top, spotted wilt, alfalfa mosaic, and other viruses,” Gilbertson said.

Bob Gilbertson

After the virus is confirmed, he encourages growers to explore their options of treatment. Prior to the new spotted wilt virus strain, growers could turn to the SW-5 resistance gene to cure their field. Unfortunately, Gilbertson explained, the new strain actually breaks that resistance, which is where IPM becomes even more important.

In the future, Gilbertson hopes to find additional resistance genes to break the new strain. Until that time comes, he wants to use good IPM to manage it.

Gilbertson further added, “Increased sanitation, removing overwintering hosts, weeds, and bridge crops like lettuce, and then timing the applications of thrips management better, to slow down the appearance of adult thrips that carry the virus,” are all examples of good IPM.

Curly Top Virus Light In 2018

CDFA Surveys Predict Curly Top Vectored by Leafhoppers

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Curly top virus is a common disease in California. In its worst years, entire fields have been lost to curly top in the foothills of the Central Valley, and it can infect a variety of plants from a total of 44 plant families as well as 300 individual species.

Curly top commonly affects tomatoes, peppers, beets, spinach, potatoes, and beans, as well as a variety of weeds. A common characteristic of curly top is stunting of the plant as well as curling and twisting of the leaves, where it gets its name, curly top. Leafhoppers are the main vector of the virus.

Currently, the CDFA conducts a yearly curly top prediction where they monitor numbers and the leafhopper population as well as the prevalence of the virus to give a scope of what the upcoming year might look like.

“Curly top virus was very low in 2018 as predicted—based on the amount of virus carried by the leafhoppers and the leafhopper population,” said Bob Gilbertson, Plant Pathologist, Department of Plant Pathology at UC Davis.

“We hope that CDFA will continue to carry out the leafhopper screening for the virus and for the population so growers get a prediction of what the curly top incidents will be the coming year,” Gilbertson said. “It’s good that we can tell growers when there’s going to be a bad curly top year so they can implement additional strategies.”

These strategies include changing where they’re going to plant a field or using timed insecticides, particularly systemic insecticides like the new Verimark (From FMC) insecticide to manage curly top.

“We’ve already found that that material can slow down the spread of curly top in a field,” Gilbertson explained. “So in a year where it’s predicted to be bad—high populations of leafhoppers carrying high amounts of the virus—then you as a grower would then want to consider using some of these insecticide approaches.”

Tea: A Potential High-Value Specialty Crop in California

California: The State That Really Grows It All—Even Tea

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

New opportunities for California Farmers are on the rise. Jeff Dahlberg, director of the Kearney Ag Research and Extension Center in Parlier, recently gave California Ag Today insight into a new project on growing tea in the state.

“The folks up at Davis have been able to propagate enough tea to get us at least half an acre or a bit more planted, so we’re trying to get that planted this fall,” he explained.

However, this isn’t the first time the idea of growing tea has been introduced to California. In fact, Dahlberg noted that Richard Nixon actually traveled to China to look into bringing it back to the states. Although the idea didn’t progress much further, plants were saved, and the project is being brought back to life.

Dahlberg said that tea has a lot of potential as a high-value specialty crop for those looking to grow it.

“There are a lot of really, really interesting things coming down,” he promised.

For more information on the Global Tea Initiative, visit GlobalTea.UCDavis.Edu.

For more information on the Kearney Ag Research and Extension Center, visit their website at: kare.ucanr.edu

Global Tea Initiative at UC Davis

UC Davis Could Be Center of Global Tea Research

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Researchers at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier are testing whether or not tea can be grown in California. California Ag Today recently spoke with Jeff Dahlberg, director of the center. He told us about the Global Tea Initiative at UC Davis. The Global Tea Initiative looks to explore the history and cultural importance of tea.

Jeff Dahlberg, director of the Kearney Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Parlier, Fresno County
Jeff Dahlberg, director of the Kearney Agriculture Research and Extension Center in Parlier, Fresno County

“There’s lots of excitement about it, and people are really starting to take to the initiative,” said Dahlberg. “People are starting to look at the Global Tea Initiative as a leader for research in the U.S.

Dahlberg believes that the support exists because of the wide variety of diverse crops in California.

We grow 400 different crops in the state because California is one of the few places in the world that has that kind of diversity.

“I think it’s going to offer some unique opportunities to some farmers who really would like to diversify and perhaps get into something that may be really unique,” Dahlberg said.

For more information on the Global Tea Initiative, visit GlobalTea.UCDavis.Edu.

UC and Israel Sign Agricultural Research Agreement

California and Israel Face Similar Challenges

By Pam Kan-Rice, UC ANR News
From left, Ermias Kebreab, Eli Feinerman, and Mark Bell sign the agreement for Israel and California scientists to collaborate more on water-related research and education.

Pledging to work together to solve water scarcity issues, Israel’s Agricultural Research Organization signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and UC Davis recently. The signing ceremony kicked off the 2018 Future of Water for Irrigation in California and Israel Workshop at the UC ANR building in Davis.

“Israel and California agriculture face similar challenges, including drought and climate change,” said Doug Parker, director of UC ANR’s California Institute for Water Resources. “In the memorandum of understanding, Israel’s Agricultural Research Organization, UC Davis and UC ANR pledge to work together more on research involving water, irrigation, technology and related topics that are important to both water-deficit countries.”

The agreement will enhance collaboration on research and extension for natural resources management in agriculture, with an emphasis on soil, irrigation and water resources, horticulture, food security and food safety.

“It’s a huge pleasure for us to sign an MOU with the world leaders in agricultural research like UC Davis and UC ANR,” said Eli Feinerman, director of Agricultural Research Organization of Israel. “When good people, smart people collaborate, the sky is the limit.”

Feinerman, Mark Bell (UC ANR vice provost) and Ermias Kebreab (UC Davis professor and associate vice provost of academic programs and global affairs) represented their respective institutions for the signing. Karen Ross (California Department of Food and Agriculture secretary) and Shlomi Kofman (Israel’s consul general to the Pacific Northwest) joined in celebrating the partnership.

“The important thing is to keep working together and develop additional frameworks that can bring the people of California and Israel together as researchers,” Kofman said. “But also to work together to make the world a better place.”

Ross said, “It’s so important for us to find ways and create forums to work together because water is the issue in this century and will continue to be.”

She explained that earlier this year, the World Bank and United Nations reported that 40 percent of the world population is living with water scarcity. 

“Over 700,000 people are at risk of relocation due to water scarcity,” Ross said. “We’re already seeing the refugee issues that are starting to happen because of drought, food insecurity and the lack of water.”

Ross touted the progress stemming from CDFA’s Healthy Soils Program to promote healthy soils on California’s farmlands and ranchlands and SWEEP, the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, which has provided California farmers $62.7 million in grants for irrigation systems that reduce greenhouse gases and save water on agricultural operations.

“We need the answers of best practices that come from academia, through demonstration projects so that our farmers know what will really work,” Ross said.

As Parker opened the water workshop, sponsored by the U.S./Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development (BARD) Program, Israel Agricultural Research Organization and UC ANR, he told the scientists, “The goal of this workshop is really to be creating new partnerships, meeting new people, networking and finding ways to work together in California with Israel, in Israel, with other parts of the world as well.”

Drawing on current events, Bell told the attendees, “If you look at the World Cup, it’s about effort, it’s about teamwork, it’s about diversity of skills, and I think that’s what this event does. It brings together those things.”

Researchers Take a Look into the Future of Strawberries

Survey Coming to Growers to Gauge Interests

By Hannah Young, Associate Editor

A strawberries survey connected to a project that looks at the future of strawberry genetics will soon be sent to strawberry growers.

Daniel Tregeagle, a postdoctoral scholar of agricultural economics at UC Davis, is working on the survey.

“This project is being run over the state of California, through a number of different institutions, different universities, including the state of Florida,” Tregeagle said. “Strawberry growers all over the country are trying to find out what we should be breeding in the next generation of strawberry cultivars.”Strawberries

The project is part of a Specialty Crop Research Initiative, which is considering what growers are looking for in the next generation of strawberries, Tregeagle said.

“Do they want better yields? Do they want more attractive features that the consumers are going to like? Do they need disease resistance?” Tregeagle asked.

However, growers can’t have everything, because when a cultivar is strong in one area, they tend to be less strong in other areas.

“So what we’re doing in the survey is asking growers what are the main diseases that they’re facing, how are they managing those diseases currently and what would they do differently if they had a better, more resistant strawberry cultivar that could resist those particular diseases,” Tregeagle explained.

Researchers are also interested in looking at fumigation and how they might change in the presence of a more resistance cultivar, Tregeagle added.