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UC hosts conference on widely used pesticide threatened with prohibition

UC ANR expert says plant nurseries have a need for neonicotinoid pesticides.
Neonicotinoid pesticides are at the center of a global storm. Implicated in the mysterious deaths of honeybees, neonics (as they are often called for short) were banned in Europe for two years in 2014. In Canada, neonics have been banned in Ontario and several other cities and counties.

In the U.S., President Obama this year asked for a detailed report to determine the best ways to protect pollinators. His request asks the Environmental Protection Agency to assess the effect of pesticides, including neonicotinoids, on bee and other pollinator health and “take action, as appropriate, to protect pollinators.”

In California – where neonics are used widely in tree crops, vineyards, field crops, nursery plants and home gardens – growers are concerned that a safe and effective class of pesticides will be pulled from their collection of tools.

University of California researchers will explore the science-based research on neonics at a public conference from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 9, at the UC Davis Conference Center, 550 Alumni Lane. UC Davis professors, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) researchers and state officials are among the presenters.

Jim Bethke, a UC ANR Cooperative Extension environmental horticulture advisor, will be part of the afternoon panel at the event to address the use of neonics at plant nurseries.

“There is a place and a need for neonicotinoid pesticides,” Bethke said. “A tremendous amount of research has been done on the impact of neonics on honeybees, and the impact is minimal. The research is showing that there may be impacts in some uses that we need to take a closer look at. But to eliminate an entire class of pesticides from all applications doesn't make sense.”

Nurseries typically use the pesticide before the plants are shipped to retail outlets. The pesticide is not applied at retail stores. Plants are then purchased by consumers and put into landscapes. By that time, the amount of the pesticide left in the plant is very small.

“Our research has shown that there is a clear decline of the product in the plants over time,” Bethke said. “The concentrations found in nectar and pollen are at such low levels, they won't have any impact on pollinators.”

For this reason, the researchers have concluded that neonics are not contributing to colony collapse disorder, the unexplained bee die-off that has plagued commercial honeybee hives during the last decade.

“Beekeepers use more toxic pesticides than the neonics on honeybee colonies to control mites in the hive, which is far more impactful than neonics will ever be,” Bethke said.

Other speakers at the conference will address pesticide regulation of neonicotinoids in California, neonicotinoid risks associated with invasive species management, and past and current neonicotinoid and bee research.

Registration for the conference is $50, including lunch and a post-conference social hour. To register, go to the California Center for Urban Horticulture website. For more information, contact CCUH representative Kate Lincoln at kmlincoln@ucdavis.edu, (530) 752-6642.

Author: Jeannette Warnert

Posted on Thursday, August 27, 2015 at 8:58 AM
Tags: Jim Bethke (1), neonicotinoids (1), neonics (1)

Video series with water saving tips debuts

Missy Gable, director of the UC Master Gardener Program, works on video series.
The University of California Master Gardener Program offers simple tips for saving water in home landscaping in a six-part video series that debuts today, Aug. 24.

In the first episode, embedded below, UC Master Gardener director Missy Gable tells viewers about prioritizing plants in the landscape when making irrigation decisions. Because of the four-year drought, most California residents are required to reduce their water use 25 to 36 percent. Gable recommends making trees and shrubs a top watering priority in your home landscape because they take longer to become established and are more costly to replace, while inexpensive and easily replaced annual plants are a lower water priority.

Each Monday for the next six weeks a new water-saving video tip will be released on the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) YouTube channel, in the UC Green Blog, and on UC ANR's Facebook page. Topics will include irrigation timing, the importance of mulch, use of fertilizers, weed removal and adding compost.

The UC Master Gardener Program is a statewide network of more than 6,000 volunteers, organized under the auspices of UC ANR, who provide research-based gardening information to residents of California. County-based UC Master Gardener volunteers answer home landscape and gardening questions by phone and email; interact with community members at fairs, festivals, nurseries and farmers markets; manage demonstration gardens; and work with children and adults in establishing school and community gardens. Click here to find a local UC Master Gardener Program.

UC ANR also has numerous online resources for California gardeners.

Additional water-saving tips from Gable and her UC ANR Cooperative Extension colleagues are in a recently published guideline published on The Confluence, a blog of UC ANR's California Institute for Water Resources.

An initiative to improve California water quality, quantity and security is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Author: Jeannette Warnert

Posted on Monday, August 24, 2015 at 8:55 AM

UCCE intern reflects on her summer experiences

There is a mysterious sort of feeling that comes with being in a vineyard very early in the morning. It's tranquil and cool; it deceives you into thinking the temperatures won't be sweltering in a mere few hours. Surrounding alfalfa fields sweeten the air, and the sunlight that soon envelops the valley is soft. Though it's early, there is an industrious hum beneath the serenity. Birds are chirping, bugs are crawling, plants are growing, and already, workers are beginning their day.

Maybe it's the elusive feeling of belonging to something bigger than yourself, of being a part of the community whose work is rarely seen up close and even less frequently understood by the majority of society. It's a feeling of being connected to the past - part of an ageless industry, something essential and concrete.

It was this feeling that began the summer in which I learned more about agriculture than any book has yet to teach me, became even more enamored with the industry that is the heartbeat of our valley, and became involved with the community that works endlessly to keep that heartbeat steady and strong.

I was fortunate enough to be chosen for the University of California Cooperative Extension of Kern County's DiGiorgio Internship, a summer position that gives one student studying agriculture at the college level the opportunity to work with all of the farm advisors, thereby getting broad-based and hands-on work experience.

From cattle auctions and range evaluations to variety trials and almond harvests, I worked alongside the dedicated UCCE staff, helping with projects and experiments, attending lectures, going along on farm calls, and everything in between. Working with all of the advisors gave me a very realistic sense of the full cycle of farming and everything involved, from pest management and soil health to irrigation techniques and all of the extensive equipment and technology.

This summer was packed full of new experiences for me. As someone who does not come from an agricultural background, every day was a new adventure. I saw more varieties of potatoes than I knew existed at potato field day. I helped plant a field of pumpkins and then climbed onto a tractor for the first time a few weeks later, unsteady at first but soon confidently cultivating the rows, proud of a morning's work. I harvested tomatoes and admired the bright red fruit produced in the California sunshine.

Maddie Herndon, 19, an agri-business major at Bakersfield Community College, was selected for the UC ANR Cooperative Extension DiGiorgio Internship for summer 2015.
I toured cattle ranches and searched for vine mealybugs everywhere they could possibly be. I spent many mornings in the shade of almond orchards and afternoons looking at leaves in the lab. I attended Grape Day and listened in on a nutrition class being taught to 20 energetic 9-year-olds. I went all over the county, from the cotton fields of Buttonwillow to the back roads and hills of Tulare and ate many happy lunches on the tailgate of a truck with some of the nicest people I've ever met. I listened to people trying to come up with solutions to the devastation of the drought and comprehended what a risky business depending on the land can be.

I learned about the spirit of generosity that is so prevalent in the agricultural community. I received countless words of advice and wisdom from farmers, ranchers, writers, and teachers and met people ranging from 80-year-old cattlemen to fresh-out-of-college farm advisors, all equally enthusiastic about preserving the traditions of our valley while improving the industry and way of life. I came home many days hot and tired, but satisfied and feeling like I did something truly worthwhile.

This internship showed me the significance of UC Cooperative Extension's work. Behind the scenes, the advisors are constantly solving problems and doing the research to prevent them before they happen. They work towards achieving the best results possible because they know that their results do not just affect one grower, crop or sale; eventually, they affect us all. The advisors' generosity in sharing their knowledge with me was invaluable, and it was an honor to work for an organization that is constantly improving our most important industry.

That first early morning in that vineyard, only one thought ran through my mind: it's going to be a long, hot summer. Now, I'm looking my last week of work in the eye, with a pair of worn out boots in my hand and a lot more knowledge in my head. I started the summer only knowing that I had a passion for agriculture. I'm still drawn to it for the same reasons: being a part of something tangible, essential, historical, grounded and evolving. But I'm ending it with a much more realistic and extensive view of the industry, excited about the endless possibilities and confident in the years ahead. 

Posted on Friday, August 21, 2015 at 7:22 AM
  • Author: Maddie Herndon, UC ANR Cooperative Extension intern, Kern County
Tags: intern (1), Kern County (1)

International and California water conferences shine new light on lingering drought

Water conferences set course for sustainable water security.
The gauge reads 105 degrees in California's state capital as this article is being drafted. The four-year drought has baked itself into the landscape, with dead lawns crunching under feet and trees wilting under the heat, and has so far stolen a year's worth of precipitation. Deprived of moisture, the state has lost to wildfires three times the acreage of an average year. The once green valleys are now murky fishbowls of haze.

The total cost to the state, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Center for Watershed Sciences (CWS) at the University of California, Davis, is now $2.74 billion and 21,000 jobs.

Some see this as the new normal and new evidence ties it to climate change.

But despite the profound impact on the California agricultural economy, the state is actually doing well. And it's becoming the world's test kitchen for best practices in adapting agriculture to changing water supplies.

A legacy of progressive environmental regulations

“Despite the drought, we have a remarkably robust agricultural system,” says Jay Lund, director of CWS. “If you go back millennia and look at droughts, with a 30 percent loss of water you'd have a 30 percent loss of food production and you'd have 30 percent of the people starving.”

That hasn't happened today, he says, because California agriculture is more diversified than ever and its economy is connected to a world food market that advances despite the drought.

The many tools that UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) and others are deploying to help Californians better adapt today are also being translated into immediate lessons for the developing world.

Stockholm comes to Davis 

Starting Sunday, representatives from more than 200 organizations will meet in Stockholm, Sweden, for the World Water Week mega conference. Under the theme Water for Development, they will refine the United Nations' broad Sustainable Development Goals to address the one billion people who would still be without safe drinking water and basic sanitation.

Many partners of UC ANR and the UC Davis World Food Center will be leading some of the numerous discussions, including: CGIAR, the World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

A separate conference at UC Davis in October will then bring the focus to California and water for food. This global event, called Water Policy for Food Security, will draw on lessons from World Water Week through shared speakers like Chris Brown, the general manager of responsibility and sustainability at Olam International, and Claudia Ringler, a senior researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute, which is co-hosting the event.

Presentations on the Case of California will open two days of panel discussions, ranging from how climate change will impact the cost of water in different regions of the world to how groundwater aquifers can be recharged and how new policies can bolster water markets.

The goal is to seize the momentum now building for an international effort towards #WaterSecurity. By drawing development investors, leading scientists, committed policy makers and global industry partners into one room within the world's number one ag school, the event will set a course of action in sustainably securing water for food and for people across the planet.

Posted on Thursday, August 20, 2015 at 10:23 AM

Hedgerows next to crops can enhance pest control

Hedgerow planted in Yolo County.
Research has shown that hedgerows of native California flowering shrubs planted along the edge of a crop field helps keep crop pests under control by increasing the activity of natural enemies.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and UC Berkeley researchers analyzing hedgerows in Yolo County have found that not only are farmers diversifying their land by planting hedgerows, but those hedgerows are attracting natural enemies that provide economic benefits.

The two-year study of hedgerows planted adjacent to processing tomatoes showed higher numbers of natural enemies such as lady beetles (aka lady bugs) and fewer crop pests compared with conventionally managed field crops edged with residual weeds.

The researchers discovered that the increase in natural enemy activity in the hedgerows extended 600-feet into adjacent tomato crops and resulted in a reduction of aphid pests and an increase in stink bug egg predation by parasitoid wasps. Tomato fields adjacent to hedgerows required fewer pesticide treatments than the tomato fields without hedgerows.

The scientists concluded that hedgerow restoration on field edges could enhance pest control, reducing the need for chemical pest control, as reported in the Journal of Agriculture, Ecosystems and the Environment.

Syrphid fly adult feeding on pollen and nectar.
Plant selection is the key for enhancing beneficial insects on farms, the researchers found. Many natural enemies in the adult stage need nectar and pollen to survive and reproduce. For example, syrphid fly larvae are voracious predators of aphids, but the adult syrphids feed entirely on flowers. Therefore, a hedgerow planted on a field edge needs to include a seasonal range of flowering plants so floral resources are always or usually available for natural enemies. Drought-tolerant plants that thrive in hedgerows include California buckwheat, coffeeberry, toyon, redbud, coyote brush, elderberry, California lilac, and purple needlegrass.

Additional research has shown that hedgerows are important for pollinators, such as native wild bees, that feed on flowers and nest in the ground or holes in plant stems. More wild bees are present on farms with hedgerows than with conventionally farmed field edges. Native bees are important in crop pollination, especially with the decline of the honey bee population.

Syrphid fly larva feeding on aphids.
Hedgerows also provide wildlife habitat, especially for migratory songbirds that call the Central Valley their home. They do not seem to attract flocking birds, such as starlings, as these bird pests cue in on farm fields regardless of field-edge habitat. Likewise, rodents use landscapes on a much larger scale and appear to gravitate toward crops regardless of field-edge habitat. Weeds show up regardless of field-edge habitat, and need to be controlled.

Hedgerows cost about $4 per linear foot to plant and manage for the first three years for a single row of shrubs and native grasses about fifteen feet wide. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offers cost-share programs through USDA's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that covers about 50 percent of the establishment costs. However, due to less pesticide use, a hedgerow can pay off in about 15 years. Add pollination services in areas without an adequate number of honey bees for crop pollination, and that time can be significantly reduced.

With a grant from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, the Yolo County Cooperative Extension Service seeks to spread the word about the ecosystem service benefits provided by hedgerows planted on farmland. During the past two-years, the researchers hosted workshops in Northern California on the value of hedgerows on farms, reaching hundreds of farmers and landowners. The researchers also offer advice on hedgerow plantings, including plant selection and how to establish and manage hedgerows. Planting hedgerows does not take land out of production; it's using areas that cannot be farmed, such as along fence lines or terraces from land leveling, and providing economic benefits.

More information on hedgerows is available at http://ceyolo.ucanr.edu/Custom_Program/Hedgerows/. The principal investigator is Rachael Long, Yolo County farm advisor.

Additional examples of hedgerows on Yolo County farms:

Hedgerow planted in western Yolo County.
Hedgerow planted in western Yolo County.

Hedgerow planted in western Yolo County.

Hedgerow3
Hedgerow3

Hedgerow planted in northern Yolo County, CA.

Posted on Tuesday, August 18, 2015 at 8:11 AM
Tags: Hedgerows (3), Rachael Long (5)

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