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Women play key role in Nigerian agriculture

Women express their appreciation to Maria Alfaro for coming to Ebonyi State in Nigeria.
The most populous country in Africa, Nigeria has more than 180 million people. Located in West Africa on the Gulf of Guinea, Nigeria produces crops such as cassava, maize, sorghum, rice, yams, cowpea, oil palm and groundnuts. Agriculture is important for the economy, employing about 30 percent of its population. Women play a primary role in producing the staple crops.

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources program assistant Maria Alfaro, part of the Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, got to see first-hand the role of women in Nigerian agriculture. As part of a three-week volunteer project with Winrock International, Alfaro traveled throughout Nigeria visiting farms, co-ops, and local and state farming and agricultural agencies.

Alfaro meets with a chemical store manager from Fountain Agriculture Markeing Agency (FAMA) in Ado-Ekiti State.
Alfaro's mission was to conduct a pesticide safety evaluation and assess the depth of knowledge of local farmers around safety issues. Alfaro traveled to six of Nigeria's 36 states, speaking to farmers, pesticide distributors, pesticide applicators and government officials. As she traveled from state to state, Alfaro discovered that women are key in Nigerian agriculture.

“The role of women varied by region, crop and local customs," Alfaro said. "In some of the northern regions, women were involved in all aspects of farming, including applying pesticides. Yet in other regions of the South, women were only involved in small, subsistence farming, and did not apply pesticides."

As Alfaro conducted interviews with various individuals from local and state agencies, she was consistently told that for the family's needs to be met, the profits from farming should go to the women.

Alfaro was told in other interviews that the best way to disseminate pesticide safety information to families was “through the moms!”

Alfaro conducts a discussion with the FAMA director and staff in Ado-Ekiti State.
Although this was primarily an information-gathering mission, Alfaro provided local farmers and parents with tips on preventing and protecting themselves from pesticide exposure. She discovered that empty pesticide containers were being rinsed and reused as juice or water containers in children's school lunches. Empty containers will always contain pesticide residues, even if only in small amounts. Alfaro explained to parents that reusing empty containers poses a huge risk for exposing children to pesticides and told them to stop using them.

At Alfaro's final stop in Ebonyi State, women expressed their appreciation for her coming and sharing important information on how to protect themselves from the pesticides they use on their farms.

“It was a great way to end the conversations on the ground,” said Alfaro.

Alfaro's next task is to report her findings and recommendations, which include more training in a train-the-trainer format. In this type of training, students who are trained in an approved pesticide safety course become qualified to train pesticide handlers and field workers.

“Many farmers are eager to learn about what they can do to continue using pesticides in a safe and effective manner in combination with learning integrated pest management methods of control,” said Alfaro.

Winrock International is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Farmer-to-Farmer Program.

Posted on Monday, April 25, 2016 at 11:40 AM
Tags: IPM (12), Nigeria (1)

Sustainable grape production and precision viticulture

Cluster imaging with high resolution camera (Photo: Dr. Kaan Kurtural, UC Davis)
Grape acreage being removed from production and the strong demand for nut tree crops have grape growers concerned about the economic sustainability of grape production in the San Joaquin Valley. The gross income of grapes per acre depends on two elements: price per ton and tons per acre. Price per ton is determined by a lot of factors, e.g. quality, region, demand, and inventory, and it is really difficult to predict the price per ton for a certain vintage. So the major target for growers is to achieve the optimum tons per acre from their vineyards.

Recently, it seems we have reached a plateau of production with current planting materials and management methods in the San Joaquin Valley vineyards. Making a vineyard less variable with more uniformly productive grapevines regardless of their location within a given vineyard is the most important question to the viticulturists.

Vineyard variability was first studied in Australia, and the yield variation within-vineyard is typically of the order of 8 to 10 fold . The fruit quality variation might follow the similar pattern as yield variation under or over a certain crop load window. Differential harvest was first applied in Australia with yield monitor installed on the mechanical harvesters to separate the low yield zone and high yield zone for high quality and low quality fruit for different wine programs. It was an improvement from the winemaking point of view. However, differential harvest still didn't solve the problem of vineyard variability for both yield and quality. Then viticulturists started to think of differential management or even differential planting may provide a solution to variation in vineyards.

Then the question becomes: is the variation pattern always consistent? Unlike annual broadacre crops, e.g. corn or soybeans, grapevines are a perennial crop and the yield variation carry-over effect is always something important for viticulturists to keep in mind. Initial research results suggested the variation pattern can be consistent in 2 years' period. However, different site location may contribute to vineyard variation as well. Soil texture, water holding capacity, and soil mineral nutrient content were believed to be the main cause of the variability. Further investigation is needed to confirm that the variation pattern is somehow consistent and manageable to make the vineyards produce uniformly.

Once it is assessed vineyard variability can be managed. Defining vineyard variability becomes the next question. Assessing vineyard variability visually may not be possible for large vineyards. Yield monitoring, on the other hand, is only suitable to define the variability at harvest and might be also financially difficult for small growers. Early detection of the vineyard variability in order to manage the vineyard differentially is an active area of research. Currently, different sensors have become available for vineyard managers to tell how much variability is in the vineyard through measurement of canopy reflectance through use of NDVI, thermal images, irrigation scheduling using sap flow sensors and availability of soil moisture through measurement of soil matric potential. UAVs and satellite imagery are also available to assess vineyard variability at an economical cost, as they may provide larger data sets with relative cheap cost. However, ground-truthing is needed to make sure how accurately these data from different sensors define the variability in the vineyard.

Recently, Cornel University, Carnegie Mellon, and UC Davis were awarded a $6 million grant from the USDA's Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) to further study the proximal sensing, crop estimation, and soil mapping to develop tools for variable rate management in table and wine grape vineyards. The goal of the project is to increase/optimize yield and quality within a vineyard by spatially tuning (a) vine balance and (b) canopy light microclimate.

The challenge for San Joaquin Valley grape growers is to make grape growing more economically sustainable for future generations. Optimizing yield per acre with less labor and energy inputs should be the goal of growers. Reducing the vineyard variability to have more uniform production might give growers more profit per acre by increasing the yield per acre without adversely affecting fruit quality. Ultimately, new breeding materials will be the long term goal to increase the yield potential and profitability for vineyards.

Posted on Friday, April 15, 2016 at 9:09 AM

Lake County plants 100,000 seeds to reforest area destroyed by Valley Fire

Native conifer seedlings will be planted to reforest burned areas such as Cobb Mountain

Lake County community groups have raised nearly $60,000 to reforest the areas ravaged by last September's Valley Fire. The funds have allowed the greenhouse planting of 100,000 native conifer seedlings that will be ready for distribution in time for the winter 2016 planting season. The Valley Fire, which started in Cobb on Sept. 12, burned more than 76,000 acres.

In October, Greg Giusti, UC ANR Cooperative Extension director and forestry advisor in Lake County, and Korinn Woodard, district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation District (NRCS), began to estimate the numbers of seeds needed for the first year of planting.

Dan Desmond, East Lake RCD director and UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor emeritus (right), and Mark Egbert, El Dorado RCD manager, show ponderosa pine seedlings from this year’s crop.
“We determined that 100,000 trees could be needed this first year,” said Giusti. “We knew getting the seeds ordered and in the planting medium during the winter was the only way to have seedlings ready for planting in late 2016, early 2017.”

Two local entities have provided funds to jumpstart the much-needed reforestation in the areas affected by fire. #LakeCountyRising is a collaborative fundraising effort of the Lake County Winegrape Commission, Lake County Winery Association and Lake County Wine Alliance. The Lake Area Rotary Club Association (LARCA) is a nonprofit foundation that comprises the four Rotary Clubs in Lake County – Lakeport, Middletown, Clearlake and Kelseyville. Together they have allocated the nearly $60,000 to the East Lake Resource Conservation District (RCD) to get the seedlings planted and the program in place.

By collaborating with the El Dorado/Georgetown Divide RCD's established native-plant seed collection and propagation program, the funds have resulted in the greenhouse planting of 100,000 native conifers – mostly ponderosa pine, but also some Douglas fir and sugar pine. The species available are suitable for higher elevation burned areas such as Cobb Mountain.

“Getting our forest lands replanted as soon as possible is a cornerstone in the healing process of the spirit of these communities,” said Andy Peterson, chair of the LARCA Fire Relief Committee. “The LARCA Fire Relief Committee identified that as a top priority from day one and we are extremely pleased to be partnering with these other agencies to get that done.”

#LakeCountyRising representatives were interested in helping to support the effort, but any donation would need to go to an established organization responsible for the program. At the same time, LARCA had also identified funding for reforestation efforts as a major priority.

“An experienced agency was needed to lead this effort, and our board agreed that we had the experience and resources to make it happen, if funds were available,” said Charlotte Griswold, East Lake RCD president.

This is where #LakeCountyRising and LARCA stepped up to the plate. Timing was of the essence, as seeds would need to be purchased in time for winter planting in order to have seedling stock available by late 2016.  

“It was evident there was urgency, so we presented it to our steering committee and they wholeheartedly supported it,” said Debra Sommerfield, president of the Lake County Winegrape Commission, one of the three organizations involved in the #LakeCountyRising fundraising effort.

“The intention is to make conifer seedlings available for planting each winter for the next few years at a pace that will align with the community rebuilding process and demand,” Griswold said. “We expect to work with NRCS to start taking advance orders before the end of April and to partner with the ag and natural resources programs at area high schools to organize several community planting projects.”

 

Posted on Thursday, March 24, 2016 at 1:43 PM
Tags: Greg Giusti (4), Lake County (1), wildfire (23)

How is climate change affecting agriculture? It depends.

If the current trend of warmer winters continues in Yolo County, chill hours may be insufficient for many walnut varieties by the year 2100.

Of 12 crops examined in Yolo County, walnuts are most vulnerable, while processing tomatoes and alfalfa acreage may increase due to warmer winters.

In an effort to forecast how climate change may affect agriculture, University of California agricultural economists looked at how climate has affected crop acreage in the past. The effect of temperature changes on plants depends on local conditions and the crops grown. In a case study of Yolo County agriculture, warmer winter temperatures would reduce chill hours, potentially reducing yields for some crops while extending the growing season for others, according to a University of California study published in the peer-reviewed journal California Agriculture.

Insufficient chill hours can delay the opening of leaf and flower buds in crops such as walnuts, which may result in a smaller yield.
“Growers change crops depending on many factors, including climate change and market conditions,” said Hyunok Lee, lead author and research economist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis. “The challenge was to separate the effects of climate on acreage. To isolate the climate effects from the market effect, we used an econometric model.”

This technique used in Yolo County could be used for projecting the effects of climate change on agriculture in other regions, said Lee.

Using about 100 years of climate data and 60 years of farm acreage, Lee and her co-author looked at the relationships between the evolution of local climate conditions and the acreage of 12 major crops grown in Yolo County. The crops included processing tomatoes, rice, alfalfa, wheat, corn, prunes, grapes, walnuts, almonds, safflower, pasture and other fruit.

“When we look at maximum and minimum temperatures, the minimum temperatures are higher while the maximum temperature stays about the same,” Lee said. “And the lower temperature is rising at a faster rate, especially in winter. That's good for winter crops, but not so good for crops that require chill hours.” Many tree crops require cold for a certain number of hours below a critical temperature, commonly 45 degrees Fahrenheit, to stimulate the growth of leaves and flowers.

Processing tomato acreage, which accounts for 90 percent of vegetable acreage in Yolo County at present, could expand by 14 percent by 2050 if current climate trends persist.
In Yolo County, warmer winters could result in increased rice, tomato and alfalfa acreage while winter wheat could decline.

Among trees and vines, the most sensitive to climate change are walnuts, which require more chill hours. Walnut acreage would decline, Lee said, while there would be a modest change in grape and almond acreage.

Lee emphasized that market conditions exert a great deal of influence on the crops growers choose to plant. Growers who consider trends in climate change may choose different cultivars rather than different crops, such as a walnut variety that requires fewer chilling hours.

Lee and co-author Daniel Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center and Frank H. Buck, Jr. Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at UC Davis, based their acreage projections on following the trend of climate change for the past 105 years, but were not able to incorporate climate variability, extreme weather events, accelerated warming or availability of irrigation water in their modeling.

This research, which was part of a larger study of climate change and agriculture funded by a grant from the California Energy Commission, was also supported by the UC Agricultural Issues Center, a program of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Posted on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 at 10:37 AM

Invasive superweed Johnsongrass is the target of a new nationwide research effort

A team of researchers has received a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to find new ways to combat Johnsongrass, one of the most widespread and troublesome agricultural weeds in the world.

“Johnsongrass is a huge problem,” said Jeff Dahlberg, UC Cooperative Extension sorghum specialist and director of the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, Calif. “It impacts many different crops and is very hard to control.”

Dahlberg is part of the team that includes scientists from Virginia, Kansas, North Carolina, Texas and Georgia. Andrew Paterson, director of the Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory at the University of Georgia, Athens, is the lead investigator.

Johnsongrass, one of the most troublesome weeds in the world, is closely related to sorghum, which is grown for food, fodder and biofuel.
Native to the Mediterranean region, Johnsongrass has spread across every continent except Antarctica. It was introduced to the U.S. in the 1800s as a forage crop, but it quickly spread into surrounding farmland and natural environments, where it continues to cause millions of dollars in lost agricultural revenue each year, according to the USDA.

The naturalization of Johnsongrass across much of the U.S. has also allowed the plant to develop attributes — such as cold and drought tolerance, resistance to pathogens and the ability to flourish in low-fertility soils — that make it particularly difficult to control. Adding to the challenge is the adoption of herbicide-resistant crops around the world.

“Herbicide-resistant crops have been associated with a dramatic increase in herbicide-resistant weeds,” Patterson said. “With 21 genetically similar but different types of Johnsongrass known to be resistant to herbicides, it will only become more problematic in the future.”

Over the course of their five-year project, the researchers will work to better understand the weed's capabilities and the genes that make Johnsongrass so resilient. Johnsongrass [Sorghum halepense] is closely related to sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench], a healthy gluten-free grain, animal feed and biofuel crop. Lessons learned from the Johnsongrass research may lead to strategies to improve sorghum.

For his part, Dahlberg plans to use the global information system (GIS) to map the locations of Johnsongrass in California to better record its distribution in the state and to help understand how it spread into California by relating it to other populations of johnsongrass in the U.S.

“Ideally, we will use an app to map, identify, manage, and catalog populations that have developed different traits – such as susceptibility to plant disease, ability to host a particular insect, or resistance to herbicides,” he said.

This information may lead to new management strategies that target and curb its growth, providing farmers with more options to combat the invasive plant. The researchers also hope that learning more about the fundamental structures that give Johnsongrass its unusual resilience will pave the way for new genetic tools to improve useful plants, such as sorghum.

Other researchers working on this project are Jacob Barney, Virginia Tech; C. Michael Smith, Kansas State University; Wesley Everman, North Carolina State University; Marnie Rout, University of Texas, Temple; and Clint Magill and Gary Odvody, Texas A&M University.

Posted on Friday, March 4, 2016 at 8:28 AM
Tags: Jeff Dahlberg (3), Johnsongrass (1), sorghum (2)

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