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New app helps strawberry growers manage pests

A screen shot of the new IPMinfo app.
IPMinfo, the first app from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) that provides integrated pest management (IPM) information to farmers, is now available for free download for iPhones on the App Store. The current version of the app contains information on invertebrate pests and diseases of strawberries and gives agricultural professionals easy one-touch access to quick summaries of various pests, pictures to help identify symptoms, and links to additional resources.

Extending research information is an important part of UC ANR Cooperative Extension. As communication technology is advancing every day, using modern channels of communication are important for successfully reaching out to growers, pest control advisers (PCAs), and other key players of the agriculture industry. Traditional newsletters (Central Coast Agriculture Highlights), blogs (Strawberries and Vegetables and Pest News), Facebook, Twitter (@calstrawberries and @calveggies), Tumblr, and online repositories of meeting handouts and presentations are some of the tools that play a critical role in making important information about the Central Coast strawberry and vegetable extension program readily available to the agricultural industry. The popularity of smartphones has made this information even easier to access.

Smartphone applications are becoming popular in agriculture to provide information and for decisionmaking. However, because there were no such applications to help California strawberry and vegetable growers, IPMinfo was developed. The first version of the app was released in December 2014 and an updated version was released in April 2015.

Growers can find information on invertebrate pests, including as aphids, cyclamen mite, greenhouse whitefly, lygus bug, spider mite, and western flower thrips.  Diseases include angular leaf spot, anthracnose, botrytis fruit rot, charcoal rot, common leaf spot, fusarium wilt, leaf blotch and petiole blight, leather rot, mucor fruit rot, phytophthora crown rot, powdery mildew, red stele, rhizopus fruit rot, verticillium wilt, and viral decline.  Each pest entry has information on biology, damage symptoms, and management options with associated photos. Links provided in the management section will take the user to the UC IPM website for more detailed information, especially about various control options.

To download the app on iPhones, go to the App Store and search for IPMinfo

Author: Surendra Dara, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties

The strawberry aphid is one of the pests included in the new app.
Posted on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 at 8:14 AM
Tags: app (1), strawberries (2), Surandra Dara (1)

The public is invited to the California Nitrogen Assessment’s Stakeholder Review Process

California farmers are seeing new nitrogen monitoring requirements they must implement in the years ahead. The state of California continues discussion on how growers can improve nitrogen use efficiency and how California can best respond to increasing concerns about nitrogen's movement through our environment. Nitrogen continues to be a pressing topic for California agriculture.

Lettuce field near Salinas, CA
Dairy manure management process

As part of that discussion, members of the public are invited to participate in the Stakeholder Review of the California Nitrogen Assessment (CNA), a comprehensive examination of the existing knowledge on nitrogen science, policy, and practice in California. Researchers have collected and synthesized a large body of data to analyze overall patterns and trends in nitrogen imports, exports, internal flows and storage throughout the state.

The CNA was designed to respond to stakeholder needs, and many scientists affiliated with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources were involved in the writing and review of the document. The review process is an opportunity to hear from stakeholders to understand how well the assessment meets those needs and what improvements can be made to the CNA before its publication. This approach aims to move beyond academic “business as usual” to more effectively link science with action and to produce information that informs both policy and field-level practice.

The Agricultural Sustainability Institute at UC Davis, the CNA's convening institution, is hosting a chapter-by-chapter public review process to allow stakeholders an opportunity to comment on the document before its final release. 

On Friday, June 12, UC SAREP hosted a webinar of Chapter 8: “Responses: Policies and Institutions.” View the webinar here. The webinar includes an introduction to the chapter by its lead author, Ken Baerenklau, associate professor of environmental economics and policy at UC Riverside, and instructions for how stakeholders can submit comments on the chapter.

Chapter 8, “Responses: Policies and Institutions,” provides an overview of available policy instruments for nonpoint source pollution control and examines outcomes from the implementation of these policies in previous cases to control nitrogen pollution in practice.

This is the fourth in a series of webinars and stakeholder review periods to discuss the California Nitrogen Assessment, which includes:

  • Identification of underlying drivers (e.g., regulations, population growth) and direct drivers (e.g., fertilizer use and soil management, fuel combustion) that affect stocks and flows of nitrogen in California agriculture.
  • Calculation of a mass balance to examine how nitrogen moves through California agroecosystems and the state as a whole (including agriculture, sewage, industry and transportation).
  • Evaluation of the state of knowledge about nitrogen's impacts on ecosystem health and human well-being. 
  • A series of scenarios, or "plausible stories about the future," that provide insights about nitrogen issues that will require attention over the next 20 years.
  • A suite of practices and policy options and the potential effects each would have on agriculture, the environment and human health.

Stakeholder comments for Chapter 8 will be accepted until June 26, 2015. The comment period for Chapter 7, “Responses: Technologies and Practices” is still open, with comments due by June 15, 2015. The webinars for all stakeholder presentations done to date are available on the California Nitrogen Assessment's website.

For more information about the stakeholder review process and to access the chapters currently available for review, visit the California Nitrogen Assessment's website.

Posted on Wednesday, June 10, 2015 at 5:00 PM

Forest and tree health in a time of drought

The fourth winter in a row of disappointing precipitation has triggered a die off of trees in the Sierra Nevada, most of which is now in ‘exceptional drought' status. The US Forest Service conducted aerial monitoring surveys by airplane in April 2015 and observed a large increase in tree mortality in the Southern Sierra (from Sonora south). Surveyors flew over 4.1 million acres of public and private forest land and found that about 20 percent had tree mortality on it, totaling over 10 million dead trees.

The Forest Service found severe mortality in many pine species especially ponderosa pine. On private lands along the foothills of the Sierras, surveyors found extensive areas of dead pines. Large areas of blue and live oak mortality were also suspected though it was too early in the season to be sure.

Trees killed by bark beetles on the Stanislaus National Forest in 1992. (Photo: Jack Kelly Clark)
On the Stanislaus National Forest, areas with dead trees doubled since last year. Pine mortality, mostly caused by western pine beetle, was common at lower elevations. Over 5 million trees were killed on the Sierra and Sequoia National Forests up from the 300,000 trees killed last year in the same area. Conifer mortality was scattered at higher elevation, though surveyors note that the survey was conducted too early in the year to detect the full extent of mortality levels.

The insects killing trees in the Sierra are all native insects that are multiplying because of drought conditions. Native insects are a necessary part of the forest ecosystem that speed decay of wood back into nutrients, prey on other insects, and provide food for wildlife. They are normally present at low levels and cause tree mortality only in localized areas.

However, drought weakens trees and reduces their ability to withstand insect attacks. Normally trees use pitch to expel beetles that attempt to burrow into the tree through the bark. Weakened trees cannot produce the pitch needed to repel these beetles which are able to enter under the bark and lay eggs. Larvae feed on a tree's inner bark cutting off the tree's ability to transport nutrients and eventually kill it. Attacking beetles release chemicals called pheromones that attract other beetles until a mass attack overcomes the tree.  Many beetles also carry fungi that weaken the tree's defenses. 

Western pine beetle is one of the main culprits killing pines in the Sierra during this drought. It is a bark beetle, one of a genus of beetles named Dendroctonus which literally means ‘tree-killer'. Adult beetles are dark brown and about a quarter-inch long. Adults bore into ponderosa pines, lay eggs which develop into larvae in the inner bark then complete development in the outer bark. When beetle populations are high, such as during drought periods, even healthy trees may not be able to produce enough pitch to ward off hundreds of beetle attacks.

Western pine beetle often attacks in conjunction with other insects. Other beetles causing tree mortality in Sierra forests include mountain pine beetle, red turpentine beetle, Jeffrey pine beetle, engraver beetles (Ips) and fir engravers. Forests with a higher diversity of tree species are typically less affected because beetles often have a preference for specific tree species. Some species may attack only one tree type. For example Jeffrey pine beetles attack only Jeffrey pine.

Boring by adult bark beetles often results in pitch tubes; this one was caused by red turpentine beetle attacking Monterey pine. (Photo:Jack Kelly Clark)
Signs that bark beetles are affecting a tree include pitch tubes (streams or tubes of pitch visible on the trunk), small holes through the bark, or boring dust. If the tree is extremely water-stressed and cannot produce pitch, boring dust may be the only visible sign. Trees with needles that have turned from green to red are dead. Most beetles have emerged by the time trees turn red.

The best defense against bark beetles is to keep trees healthy so they are able fight off insects themselves. Widely spaced trees are typically less susceptible to successful attack by bark beetles since they face less competition for moisture, light, and nutrients compared to densely growing and overcrowded trees. Forest health can be promoted by thinning to reduce overcrowding (so each tree has access to more resources) and removing high risk trees during thinning (such as those that are suppressed or unhealthy).

For landscape trees of high value close to a home, watering may be one option to increase tree vigor against bark beetle attacks. Apply about 10 gallons of water for each inch of tree diameter (measured at chest height) around the dripline of the tree once or several times a month during dry weather.

There are some insecticides registered for bark beetle control, but all are preventative only. Carbaryl may prevent attack for up to two years, while pyrethroids can deter attack for up to a year. Spraying can be tricky because the chemical must be applied up to 50 feet up the trunk of the tree usually while standing on the ground. Since misapplication may have toxic consequences, any insecticide must be administered by a licensed pesticide applicator. All applications must follow the label. Though some systemic treatments applied to the soil or inserted into the tree may work in some cases, there is not a lot of documented evidence that they are effective against western pine beetle. No insecticide can prevent tree death once a tree has been successfully attacked.

Author: Susie Kocher, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension advisor

Posted on Monday, June 8, 2015 at 1:51 PM

Here are your clues: A helmet, a feather duster and a tape measure…

A pale swallowtail nectars at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center in Mendocino County. (Photo: Robert Keiffer)
It's hard to keep up with all the changes in K-12 education standards. We hear about the evolution of Common Core and Next Generation Science standards as well as curriculum offered through the Environmental Education Initiative. All programs stress the need for hands-on, outside learning, but how can UC Agriculture and Natural Resources activities help to raise the next generation of scientists and land managers at its Research and Extension Centers?

As a newly employed community educator at the Hopland Research and Extension Center, I believe the time is ripe to consider how our facility can provide the hands-on experience that all these programs require.

Many of these initiatives aim to represent the real world of scientific investigation and environmental issues relevant to their state. I am lucky enough to interact on a daily basis with researchers working at the sharp end of scientific discovery, in an environment chosen to represent one of California's key ecosystems. What better blend could there be to allow our local school and college students the chance to witness agriculture and natural resource management in it's complex and dynamic true state?

Of course collaboration and creating programs always takes time and effort! Projects like 4H, California Regional Environmental Education Community and Project Learning Tree make the process much more efficient. They have put together activities that can be easily taken off the shelf and used to appropriately represent the diversity of systems which can be seen through the Research and Extension Centers.

Recently, I hosted my first field trip at Hopland Research and Extension Center, which covers 5,300 acres of oak woodland and chaparral habitat. A busy group of third-graders tumbled from their vehicles clutching their tablets, phones and cameras ready to document their fieldtrip digitally at every stage. The first step to connect with nature, is of course to disconnect! Having packed away their media devices, it was time to figure out some mysteries… third grade provides a great opportunity to look at adaptation and luckily we could easily observe a species well equipped for its environment right on our doorstep!

The author, Hannah Bird, and a third-grader unroll a tape measure to show how long woodpeckers' tongues are in relation to their beaks.
This mystery bird was represented by clues including a bicycle helmet, tape measure, hammer and feather duster … the students puzzled over their clues individually but when pooled together a theme started to emerge. “Something with a hard head” commented one student, “something that likes banging” cries another, squeezing a small hammer! And so we revealed the mystery of the acorn woodpecker: it's skull so well adapted that modern technology uses it to construct black boxes for planes and sports helmets. It's tongue perfectly suited to exploring nooks and crannies in trees to find insects or extract acorns! Student's eyes grew wide as we unrolled a tape measure to three times the length of the makeshift beak and wondered where this bird could possibly store such a long tongue!

As well as observing this particularly well-represented species, we worked on our own scientific questioning and asked, “In which habitat at HREC will we see the most species of birds?” Our volunteer bird expert Chuck Vaughn helped students identify and even showed them a great use for those stowed-away digital devices by identifying and playing bird calls from his phone as we observed and learned.

Creating the perfect program and meeting the needs of educators, students, standards, and curriculum resources might be a balancing act, but working with UC ANR at one of the REC's allows full immersion in a habitat where science can come to light. I hope to see one of those students return to the Hopland REC as a fully-fledged researcher in future years … and look forward to seeing the outcome!

Author: Hannah Bird

Posted on Wednesday, June 3, 2015 at 8:19 AM

Science will allow dairies to pick from a smorgasbord of genes for cow breeding

Dairy cattle breeding can be improved with genomics.
Conventional breeding of cattle over decades has resulted in significant positive impacts for dairies and the environment. With genomics, the future looks still brighter.

For the most part, dairy operators select cattle for breeding that have the highest genetic potential for milk production, health, structural soundness and fertility. The introduction in the 1940s of artificial insemination from bulls that were proven to father productive daughters resulted in dramatic changes to the industry, according to geneticist Alison Van Eenennaam, UC Cooperative Extension specialist with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“In the U.S., we used to milk 26 million cattle, now there are 9 million, and despite that reduction we produce one and a half times more milk for American consumers,” said Van Eenennaam, who is based in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis. “The carbon footprint of a glass of milk today is about one-third of what it was in the 1950s.”

Genomics does not involve genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It involves the sequencing and analysis of the cow genome. Mapping of the cow genome, completed in 2009, has provided scientists with information on the 3 billion base pairs on cattle DNA from which they can conduct research trials to tease out which pairs are responsible for which traits. The process is so complex that research will continue for decades, but progress is already reaping rewards for the dairy industry.

Alison Van Eenennaam, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist.
One of the current goals in dairy genomics is improving cattle fertility, or improving the number of cows that get pregnant on the first try. Research has found that there is an inverse relationship between milk production and fertility. Selection for increased milk production has resulted in cows with declining fertility.

“There's almost always an inverse correlation between production and reproduction,” said Van Eenennaam. “If you don't include fertility in your breeding program, it will decline as you select for more productive cows. Genomics allows us to make selection more balanced and include all of the traits that are of importance to dairy production.”

Scientists are looking for bulls with the genetic markers for fertility combined with the markers for high milk yield. The combination of markers are genotypes.

Identifying bulls with the optimal genotypes is the first step. Next, the producers must decide how to use the information, according to Joe Dalton, a geneticist at the Center for Reproduction Biology at the University of Idaho. Dalton is a member of a team that received a grant from USDA to spread the word about dairy genomics to producers around the U.S.

Dalton suggested four potential ways dairy operators can use information about dairy cattle genotypes to optimally manage the genetics of their herds:

  1. To sell the animals
  2. To make breeding decisions
  3. To identify an animal's parentage
  4. To make informed purchasing decisions

Van Eenennaam is working with cattle genomics to address the animals' susceptibility to respiratory disease. When cows catch cold, the viruses can weaken the immune system. Opportunistic bacterial infections can settle in the lungs and result in pneumonia, which requires expensive treatment with antibiotics and can even cause premature death.

“We will need to prevent these diseases in the future,” Van Eenennaam said. “Cattle that are sick with pneumonia are frequently treated with antibiotics. Breeding in resistance to respiratory disease will reduce that.”

Van Eenennaam and her collaborators took DNA samples from 1,000 California dairy calves suffering from respiratory disease and their immediate neighbors who remained healthy. They compared the DNA profiles of sick calves with healthy calves to identify regions in the genome that differed between the groups.

Her research has shown that 21 percent of susceptibility to respiratory illness can be attributed to the genetics of the calves.

“More than 100 genomic regions were significantly associated with respiratory disease,” Van Eenennaam said. “That supports the idea that many genes are associated with susceptibility to the disease.”

In time, respiratory disease susceptibility can be included in the index that producers consider when selecting the genetics of the cows they milk on their farms.

This research project is being funded by the USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

An initiative to enhance competitive and sustainable food systems is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Monday, June 1, 2015 at 1:39 PM

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