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California almonds have small carbon footprint compared to other protein foods

These almonds are still in the hull on the tree. Using the orchard biomass, hulls and shells for renewable power generation, soil amendment and dairy feed reduces the carbon footprint.
California produces more than 80 percent of the world's commercial almonds. Popularity of the nuts has spurred almond acreage in the state to expand from 510,000 acres in 2000 to roughly 890,000 acres in 2015, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. California's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which requires statewide reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the growing interest among consumers and food companies in the carbon footprint of food products, prompted some University of California scientists to examine how almond production affects the environment.

Research by UC Davis and UC Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists found that almonds have a relatively small carbon footprint, which could be further reduced with advanced management practices.

Two related articles published in the current issue of Journal of Industrial Ecology examine the environmental impact of this agricultural industry. Co-author Alissa Kendall, an associate professor in the UC Davis Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and her colleagues noted that certain practices substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, including the strategic use of co-products, and the choice of water source and irrigation technology.

"Our research shows that 1 kilogram of California almonds typically produces less than 1 kilogram of CO2-equivalent emissions, which is a lower carbon footprint than many other nutrient- and energy-dense foods," said Kendall.

“These results include the use of almond co-products — orchard biomass, hulls and shells — for renewable power generation and dairy feed,” said Kendall. “Under ideal circumstances, which are feasible but not in place today, California almonds could become carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative, largely through the improved utilization of orchard biomass."

David Doll, UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor in Merced County, agrees.

“As California farmers improve their nitrogen and water use efficiencies, they will reduce the carbon footprint,” Doll said. “This will happen as we continue to transition into a nitrogen budgeting system, which will reduce over-applications of nitrogen. Furthermore, on the other end, research conducted by Cooperative Extension has shown that the entire biomass of an orchard can be incorporated back into the soil, which increases the amount of total carbon sequestered.”

“Only a full life cycle-based model like the one we developed for this research will allow us to accurately assess whether incorporating the biomass into the soil or using it for power generation instead results in a lower net carbon footprint,” said Sonja Brodt, academic coordinator in the UC ANR Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, noting that there will be some trade-off.

The first article, "Life Cycle-based Assessment of Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Almond Production, Part I: Analytical Framework and Baseline Results," is authored by Kendall, Elias Marvinney, a graduate student in the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences; Brodt and Weiyuan Zhu, a UC Davis graduate student in horticulture and agronomy.

Marvinney is lead author of the second article, "Life Cycle-based Assessment of Energy Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Almond Production, Part II: Uncertainty Analysis through Sensitivity Analysis and Scenario Testing," in collaboration with Kendall and Brodt.

This research was supported by grants from the Almond Board of California and the CDFA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

Brodt and Marvinney will host a webinar to discuss their life cycle assessment analyzing the environmental impacts associated with walnuts, prunes, peaches, almonds and pistachios. The researchers are quantifying energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in orchard crop production both within and beyond the farm. To join the webinar, visit https://uc-d.adobeconnect.com/orchard-lca at noon on Wednesday, July 29.

The University of California Global Food Initiative aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.

Posted on Thursday, July 23, 2015 at 10:02 AM

Drought is impacting California’s wildflowers

Harrison PNAS
Native wildflowers in California are losing species diversity after multiple years of drier winters, according to a study from the University of California, Davis, which provides the first direct evidence of climate change impacts in the state's grassland communities.

The study, covered in TIME, LA Times, and elsewhere, was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It's based on 15 years of monitoring about 80 sampling plots at McLaughlin Reserve, part of UC Davis' Natural Reserve System.

"Our study shows that 15 years of warmer and drier winters are creating a direct loss of native wildflowers in some of California's grasslands,” said lead author Susan Harrison, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy and a member of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Conservation Biology workgroup. “Such diversity losses may foreshadow larger-scale extinctions, especially in regions that are becoming increasingly dry.”

The researchers confirmed that drought-intolerant species suffered the worst declines.

Global trend

Similar trends have been found in other Mediterranean environments, such as those of southern Europe, bolstering the case for increased climate change awareness in the world's semi-arid regions.

Taken together with climate change predictions, the future grassland communities of California are expected to be less productive, provide less nutrition to herbivores, and become more vulnerable to invasion by exotic species, the study said.

The researchers expect these negative to cascade up through the food web—affecting insects, seed-eating rodents, birds, deer and domesticated species like cattle, all of which rely on grasslands for food.

Rescue effect may be too late

Grasses and wildflowers may be able to withstand the current drying period through their extensive seed banks, which can lie dormant for decades waiting for the right conditions to germinate. 

However, California's drought is expected to intensify in the coming decades, so this rescue effect may end up being too late for some species.

Author: Kat Kerlin

Posted on Wednesday, July 15, 2015 at 4:00 PM
Tags: California (7), climate (2), drought (24), Susan Harrison (1), UC Davis (22), wildflowers (1)

The drought needs not be a death sentence for lawns

Letting lawn die does more harm than good.
While a golden brown lawn is seen as a badge of honor to some residents of drought-stricken California, in fact, they are doing more harm to the environment than good, says UC Agriculture and Natural Resources turf expert Jim Baird.

“People have gone from one extreme to another,” said Baird, UC ANR Cooperative Extension turf specialist based at UC Riverside. “When we weren't in a water crisis, people were watering seven days a week, 365 days a year. Now, people feel like they're doing the right thing by putting no water on their lawn at all.”

Baird developed a keen appreciation for turf as a teenager playing golf and later working at a municipal golf course in Pueblo, Colo. “I found my passion,” he said. “The rest is history.” He earned a bachelor's degree in horticulture, a master's degree in agronomy, and a doctorate in botany, all the while focused on turf.

Baird's research and the lawn in front of his own Riverside home show that turf can be kept alive, and even attractive, with a minimal amount of water. And maintaining lawns rather than letting them die or replacing the grass with synthetic turf, concrete or so-called drought-tolerant plants offers important ecological services.

As anyone who has enjoyed a picnic in the park can attest, grass is cool. In contrast, the surface of artificial turf has been found to reach 180 degrees on a hot day. It often must be cooled with water before it can be used for sports. Bare soil, concrete and asphalt get significantly warmer and hold heat longer than a grassy lawn, which functions like a natural evaporative cooler.

“The more we let our grass lawns die or go away, the hotter it's going to get,” Baird said.

Grass, like all plants, absorbs carbon from the atmosphere and sequesters it in the soil, a vitally important quality as the country searches for ways to slow global warming. The production of plastics to make artificial turf has the opposite impact. And after a decade or so, artificial turf will wind up in the landfill, where it could take hundreds of years to decompose.

Living turfgrass provides many ecological benefits. (Photo: eXtension.org)
Grass provides food and habitat for birds and small mammals, with the abundant insects, spiders and worms living among the blades and below the surface. Unlike concrete, asphalt and hard-packed earth, properly maintained turfgrass is porous, allowing water to infiltrate when it does rain, rather than sheeting off the surface and into storm drains. Soil erosion and dust are also reduced or eliminated with grass lawns.

With all these benefits, Baird is dismayed to see the abundance of unnecessarily dead and dying lawns in California. The loss of green growing grass is an ecological loss in the short term, and difficult and expensive to revive once the drought ends.

“A dead lawn could come back as nothing but weeds,” Baird said.

He and his UC ANR colleagues wrote an eight-page publication on managing turfgrass under drought conditions that will help homeowners and lawn managers keep their lawns alive with minimal water.

The publication outlines the concept of deficit irrigation, a system in which the grass has just enough water to maintain an adequate appearance, but with less growth. Irrigation can be cut back to two times per week. If the blades spring back after being walked on, the lawn doesn't need more water.

“The grass may not be as lush and green as usual, but you can still have a lawn where kids and pets can play and families can enjoy outdoor barbecues,” Baird said.

Additional water savings can be achieved by carefully managing the sprinkler system. Areas shaded by trees or a house need less water than grass with day-long sun exposure. Irrigating before dawn reduces evaporation, leaving more water for the plant roots to absorb. Using sprinklers when there is less wind will help prevent overspray onto sidewalks and the street.

Empty tuna or cat food cans can be used to check sprinkler uniformity. (Photo: SFWMD)
“We suggest homeowners test their sprinklers by placing cans around the lawn and running the sprinklers to see if water is being applied uniformly,” Baird said. “This also provides the opportunity for them to see if there are any broken sprinklers or leaks that need to be repaired.”

Mowing practices also impact the lawn's water use. The grass should be maintained at the tallest height recommended for the species being grown to encourage development of deep roots. Leaving the grass clippings on the lawn with a mulching mower will reduce evaporation from the soil surface.

If new lawns are being considered, water use can be cut by selecting a turfgrass species that uses less water. For example, Baird is studying kikuyugrass in plots at UC Riverside Turfgrass Research Facility. A native of East Africa, kikuyugrass is well adapted to warm, temperate climates in coastal areas and inland valleys of Southern and Central California. Other drought-tolerant grasses being studied at the facility are Bermudagrass and seashore paspalum.

A pdf version of Managing turfgrasses during drought, which includes grass species recommendations, is available for free download from the UC ANR online publication catalog.

For professional landscapers and home gardeners interested in detailed turfgrass research information, UC ANR is hosting a Turfgrass and Landscape Research Field Day Sept. 17. Registration is $90 before Aug. 28, $100 on or after Aug. 28 and $120 onsite. The complete agenda, registration form and previous research reports can be found on the field day website.

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, July 13, 2015 at 9:10 AM
Tags: drought (24), Jim Baird (1), turfgrass (3)

What do you know about ants?

Entomologist Phil Ward will give a program on native ants on Friday, July 17 at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, UC Davis.
What do you know about ants?

If you think they're just uninvited guests at your picnic or something to spray or stomp, think again. 

They're marvelous creatures, as any ant specialist will tell you. 

You can learn about them from noted ant specialist Phil Ward, professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, when he presents a program Friday, July 17, on the native ants found in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, UC Davis campus.

The event, free and open to the public, is set from noon to 1:30 p.m. in the half-acre bee garden, located on Bee Biology Road, next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, west of the central campus.

Among the native ants at the haven are:

  • Dorymyrmex insanus (workers small, ~3 mm long, black; conspicuous crater-shaped nests in bare soil)
  • Dorymyrmex bicolor (workers small, ~3 mm long, bicolored, dull orange and black; conspicuous crater-shaped nests in bare soil)
  • Prenolepis imparis (also known as the “winter ant” or “winter honey ant”; workers small (3-4 mm long), brown, with shiny gaster; inconspicuous nests in soil)
  • Formica moki (sometimes called “field ants”; workers medium-sized (6 mm long), with a dark head, orange-brown mesosoma (thorax) and silvery-gray gaster; nest in soil)

Images of these species can be found on the AntWeb, a website hosted and supported by the California Academy of Sciences that provides specimen-level data, images, and natural history of ants.

Approximately six other species of native ants reside in the vicinity of the garden, including Formica aerata, Pogonomyrmex subdentatus, and Solenopsis xyloni. The introduced Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) occurs around the Bee Biology building, but it appears not to have colonized the bee garden.

Attendees will learn how to observe and identify California native ants, and learn about the differences between bees and ants, said Christine Casey, director of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, which is owned and operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. It was planted in the fall of 2009.

The program is part of a brown bag lunch series. For more information on the ant program, see the flier and/or access the haven web site.

Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about ants, be sure to download (free!) Dr. Eleanor's Book of Common Ants, an entry-level book by entomologist/science writer Eleanor Rice; entomologist/ant specialist/photographer Alex Wild (he received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, studying with Phil Ward, and is now a curator at the University of Texas, Austin); and designer Neil McCoy.

"Of the nearly 1,000 ant species living in North America, fewer than 30 are true pests, and fewer still actually can hurt us," Rice points out in her book. "We might not notice them, but they're there, and they shape, literally shape, our world," she writes. "Look at the colossal trees in your forest, the plants around your lawn. Ants, like winnow ants, plant the forest understory, ultimately contouring plant distribution that becomes those giants of trees, animal homes, abounding green life. Other ants help turn soil (more than earthworms in some places!), break up decomposing wood and animals, and keep the canopy healthy."

Ants are also crawling in the international spotlight now. Did you know the North American release of the superhero movie, Ant-Man, is Friday, July 17?

That makes Friday, July 17, a good day for ants.

Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey

 

Formica moki (Photo by Phil Ward, www.entweb.org)
Formica moki (Photo by Phil Ward, www.entweb.org)

Formica moki (Photo by Phil Ward, www.entweb.org)

A honey bee and its cousin, an ant, a velvety tree ant, Liometopum occidentale.  (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee and its cousin, an ant, a velvety tree ant, Liometopum occidentale. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee and its cousin, an ant, a velvety tree ant, Liometopum occidentale. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An ant crater, the work of a species in the genus Dorymyrmex. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An ant crater, the work of a species in the genus Dorymyrmex. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An ant crater, the work of a species in the genus Dorymyrmex. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, July 7, 2015 at 8:23 AM

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)

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