Cooperative Extension San Joaquin County
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Posts Tagged: Rachael Long

Radiant daisy-like sunflowers produce a valuable crop with little water

Sweeping acres of striking golden flowers may soon grace California's desert southwest. UC Cooperative Extension irrigation specialist Khaled Bali believes sunflowers may be an ideal crop for the state's most punishing agricultural region.

California produces more than 90 percent of the country's hybrid sunflower planting seed, which is shipped around the nation and world. The seed is used to grow sunflower seeds for a healthy snack or salad topper, and for seeds that are expressed into sunflower oil, valued for its clean taste and polyunsaturated fat.

Sunflowers are a potential drought-resistant rotation crop in the Southern California desert.
 

Most California seed is produced on about 50,000 acres in the Sacramento Valley. But the plant's low water use and early maturity hold promise for production in Southern California's low desert.

Bali's research began two years ago with 1,800 plots of sunflowers, nearly 300 different genotypes, at the UC Desert Research and Extension Center in Holtville. All plants were well-watered for four weeks before drought treatment started. In 2016, the trial plots were irrigated at 60 percent of the area's ETo (the full amount of water used by well-irrigated, mowed grass in that environment), and at 100 percent.

“Sunflower is a California native species grown as a hybrid seed crop,” Bali said. “With limited water, we wanted to look at varieties that tolerate drought and stress.”

That year, Bali found significant variation in yield across the varieties, but no difference between plots that received 60 percent of ETo and 100 percent

“I've been doing deficit irrigation for a long time,” Bali said. “I never expected that.”

For the 2017 season, the 60 percent ETo plots were dropped to 10 percent to better understand the implications of severe drought on the sunflower cultivars.

“The emphasis in 2017 was to intensify our drought treatment, giving less water earlier and to quantify the genotypes' drought avoidance strategy by digging up roots and using computer image analysis to determine root traits,” Bali said.

Bali attributes the sunflower crop's low water needs to its deep tap root and crop production timing. Sunflower in the low desert may be planted from January to February, and harvested in May and June.

“Sunflower water needs are relatively low since they are harvested before the hottest part of the summer,” Bali said.

His research is continuing in 2018.

Currently, the majority of California hybrid seed sunflower is grown in the Sacramento Valley.

A new UC publication, Sunflower Hybrid Seed Production in California, is now under review and is expected to be available to producers in fall 2018. Written by UC Cooperative Extension advisor Rachael Long and colleagues, including Bali, the publication outlines crop production standards, land preparation, fertilization, pest management, harvesting and more.

Long said sunflowers are favored for crop rotations because they help in long-term management of weeds and diseases, the plants add biomass to the soil after harvest, and they are a profitable specialty field crop.

Read more about California sunflowers in a Green Blog post by Rachael Long, Sunflower seeds are boosting California's ag economy.

Posted on Friday, June 1, 2018 at 8:41 AM
Tags: desert (1), Khaled Bali (1), Rachael Long (9), sunflowers (1)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

Good news for hedgerows: No effects on food safety in the field

The native California shrub toyon, or Christmas berry, blooms with white flowers in a hedgerow planted behind Rachael Long and a tomato grower.

Hedgerows enhance wildlife abundance and diversity around farmland without contributing to food safety problems in field crops, according to a new study published by a team of University of California researchers. The UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and UC Davis study documented that field edge plantings around farms are generally too narrow relative to the surrounding landscape to be a source of rodents and foodborne pathogens.

“This study is particularly pertinent right now when FDA's Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is calling for farmers to co-manage wildlife and agriculture, instead of clear cutting wild habitat around their crops,” said co-author Rachael Long, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in the Sacramento Valley. “Our paper provides support for this ruling, showing that the presence of hedgerows does increase wildlife diversity, but does not increase wildlife intrusion into the fields and, more importantly, does not increase the prevalence of animals carrying foodborne pathogens.”

This is good news for hedgerows, rows of shrubs, trees, grasses and flowers that are planted on field edges. The plants bordering crop fields provide habitat and floral resources for beneficial insects, such as bees and natural enemies, that help with pollination and biocontrol of pests in adjacent crops. Hedgerows also help enhance biodiversity – especially for insect-eating birds – help reduce wind and soil erosion, and protect water quality.

The two-year study in Sacramento Valley walnut orchards and processing tomato fields was led by Long and Roger Baldwin, UC Cooperative Extension vertebrate pest control specialist at UC Davis, former graduate student Laurel Sellers, the Western Center for Food Safety at UC Davis's Michele Jay-Russell, Xunde Lib and Edward R. Atwill, and Richard M. Engeman of USDA National Wildlife Research Center.

The study, titled “Impact of field-edge habitat on mammalian wildlife abundance, distribution, and vectored foodborne pathogens in adjacent crops,” was published in the February 2018 Crop Protection (Sellers et al. 2018).

Elsevier is providing 50 days of free access to this article. Anyone clicking on the following link before March 31, 2018, will be taken directly to the article on ScienceDirect. No signup or registration or fees are required. Simply click and read at https://authors.elsevier.com/c/1WXU~xPFYej~4.

Winter migratory birds like to eat the lovely red berries of toyon.

This journal article supports a growing body of literature suggesting that plantings along the edge of fields do not substantially attract wildlife species that intrude on fields and transfer foodborne pathogens. For example, in a 2015 study, UC Davis researchers found more food pathogens when wildlife habitat was reduced on farms. This may be attributed to the vegetation filtering pathogens, a better breakdown of pathogens in diverse environments, and that removing vegetation may not deter wildlife from entering farm fields.

Relative to the larger crop acreage, hedgerows and similar field-edge habitats are generally too linear and small to serve as a significant source of rodents to damage nearby crops. However, cottontail rabbits favor hedgerows, and can sometimes cause damage to adjacent seedling crops. 

“Overall, we found risk of crop loss or contamination of foodborne pathogens in crops bordered by hedgerows wasn't significant in our study in the Sacramento Valley, although potential damage could vary by the stage and type of crop and wildlife species present,” Long said. She will be presenting this work at the 28th Vertebrate Pest Control Conference, which will be held in Rohnert Park Feb. 26 to March 1.

In its Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says, "We continue to encourage the co-management of food safety, conservation, and environmental protection.

Hedgerows, the plants bordering this field of processing tomatoes, provide habitat and floral resources for beneficial insects that help pollinate crops and provide natural control of pests.

Further reading:

Hedgerow benefits align with food production and sustainability goals. http://calag.ucanr.edu/archive/?article=ca.2017a0020

Comanaging fresh produce for nature conservation and food safety. http://www.pnas.org/content/112/35/11126

 

 

 

 

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Posted on Thursday, February 15, 2018 at 10:47 AM
Tags: Food Safety (1), Hedgerows (2), Rachael Long (9)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture Environment

Migrating bats may be resting, not sick, says UC bat expert

Addition to catching insects in flight, pallid bats also hunt on the ground for prey, such as crickets, grasshoppers and scorpions.

California is in the middle of the Pacific Flyway, a major north-south flyway for migratory birds, and also bats, that extends from Alaska to South America.

“Every autumn, migratory bats, such as the Mexican free-tailed bats, travel to their overwintering grounds in Southern California and Mexico, where there's plenty of bugs to eat; they come back each spring to raise their families,” said Rachael Long, a UC Cooperative Extension advisor who studies bats.

Bats are beneficial because they feed on insects, including mosquitoes and pests such as codling moths that damage fruit and nut crops. The economic value of bats for pest control on farms has been estimated by some studies to exceed $23 billion per year. Long, who serves Sacramento, Solano and Yolo counties, is studying the value of bats for pest control in walnut orchards.

In the city of Davis, officials recently warned people to stay away from bats after bats found on the UC Davis campus tested positive for rabies. Long agrees with the warning, but worries that it might also result in healthy bats being killed.

“This is most unfortunate for people and bats, but not a surprise at this time of year. Right now, thousands of bats are flying through our great Central Valley, migrating south for the winter, just like ducks and geese, so there's a higher chance of contact,” she said “We just don't see bats as much because they are flying at night, using the stars, earth's magnetic field, and landscapes to navigate.”

Rachael Long views bats at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife area, under the causeway that connects Davis with Sacramento where thousands roost in the expansion joints during the summer.

Their journey south is lengthy, from as far north as Washington state to Mexico, and exhausting, so bats need to rest along the way.

“Sometimes you'll see one or more tucked up in the corner of your house, such as under an eave,” Long said. “If so, use this as an opportunity to share with others the amazing life of a bat that can fly over a thousand miles to their overwintering grounds and back again in the spring. Leave them alone, let them rest, and they will fly away after they've rested and recovered.”

If you have to move a bat, she notes you should wear gloves and not handle a bat with bare hands because they will bite in self-defense.

“If you find a bat on the ground, place a box over the bat and using a piece of card, slip it under, then gently and carefully slide the bat into the box,” Long said. “Place the box at 4 to 5 feet off the ground and open it (bats usually can't take off from the ground). The bat can then crawl out of the box in its own time and fly away.”

“If the bat does not fly away within 30 minutes, it is probably sick or injured. In this case, contact a wildlife rescue unit in your area.”

Long noted that animal control officers have to euthanize bats to test for rabies.

“The bat may be perfectly healthy, just tired,” she said. “If no people or pets have obviously touched the bat, you can call a wildlife rescue organization. If in doubt, call animal control.”

If a bat does have rabies, Long said, “Rabies dies within five to 10 minutes after the bat dies.”

For more information on the benefits of bats, see Long's post in UC ANR's Green Blog, “Bats in the Belfry? No, Bats in Walnut Orchards” at http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=17395.

Posted on Thursday, November 10, 2016 at 3:36 PM
Tags: bats (3), Rachael Long (9)

UCCE advisor publishes third exciting children’s book

Nursing back to health a calf mauled by wolves in River of No Return, 11-year-old Jack learned essential skills that would serve him well as the third and final book of the Black Rock Desert Trilogy children's series unfolds. The novel opens with a touch of danger and distress, but ends with fast moving high adventure as it reaches its exciting conclusion.

River of No Return, written by UC Cooperative Extension advisor Rachael Freeman Long, chronicles the third summer at the family cabin for Jack, where he meets up with his animal pals from the previous books: Pinta the bat and Sonny the coyote. The trio were introduced in Gold Fever, and reunited in Valley of Fire. In River of No Return, Jack, Pinta and Sonny team up with other animal friends and foes – including Lux and Lacy the wolves and Midas the raven – to defeat and bring to justice the last of a band of poachers tormenting wildlife in the Black Rock Desert.

The loss of Sonny's loving parents, Lux's near fatal injuries, and the dark rage of Sarge, a greedy Air Force veteran who is willing to poach endangered species to become “the richest man in the world,” sets a somber stage. But Jack's commitment to his animal friends, his courage and ingenuity take the sting out of the story, even as he braves pitch dark tunnels, a raging underground river, and dreadful villains. Riveted as the novel unfolds, children may not realize that they are learning about wildlife and natural history.

All three books in the Black Rock Desert Trilogy are peppered with facts about animals, but Long gives bats, a focus of her agricultural research for UC Cooperative Extension, the spotlight. For example, readers learn that Pinta the pallid bat has big, pink ears that twitch constantly as they echolocate, when using sound waves to see in the dark. Later, Pinta tells Jack, “Remember, we migrate to the desert southwest during wintertime where it's warmer and there's plenty to eat.” Readers also learn that bats pollinate flowers, when Pinta turns yellow with pollen.

Long originally created the characters in the Black Rock Desert Trilogy to entertain her then two-year-old son during long commutes. He is now in college.

“The characters have been in my head for 20 years,” Long said. “It's sad to let them go.”

She may be hanging up the tale of Jack, Pinta and Sonny, but Long plans to keep writing children's books. Her new series, called Animal Adventures, will begin with A is for Alligator, in which two 8-year-old boys visit a city zoo.

“They wonder what it's like in the animals' natural habitat, and a portal takes them to the Everglades, where they learn everything they need to know about alligators,” Long said.

The series will continue, next is B is for Bear, for 26 volumes, one for each letter of the alphabet.

“I'm hoping to do something fun and teach kids about our natural world,” Long said. “There are a lot of books that are negative about school and authority. My series will focus on courage, resilience and goodness.”

All of Long's books are available on Amazon.com.

Posted on Thursday, September 15, 2016 at 9:20 AM
Tags: Rachael Long (9)

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:

Posted on Tuesday, August 18, 2015 at 8:11 AM
Tags: Hedgerows (2), Rachael Long (9)

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