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The food vs. fuel debate: Growing biofuel in the U.S.

Studies suggest biofuel can be grown on 'marginal land,' but no standard definition of 'marginal land' exists.
In order to slow global climate change and achieve greater energy independence, Americans are showing an increasing interest in switching over to clean, renewable fuels made from home-grown crops. In fact, Congress has mandated that at least 16 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol be added to the U.S. fuel supply by 2022.

However, estimates suggest that growing crops to produce that much biofuel would require 40 to 50 million acres of land, an area roughly equivalent in size to the entire state of Nebraska.

“If we convert cropland that now produces food into fuel production, what will that do to our food supply?” asks Maggi Kelly, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and the director of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Statewide IGIS Program. “If we begin growing fuel crops on land that isn't currently in agriculture, will that come at the expense of wildlife habitat and open space, clean water and scenic views?”

Kelly and UC Berkeley graduate student Sarah Lewis are conducting research to better understand land-use options for growing biofuel feed stock. They used a literature search, in which the results of multiple projects conducted around the world are reviewed, aggregated and compared. 

“When food vs. fuel land questions are raised in the literature, authors often suggest fuel crops be planted on ‘marginal land,'” Kelly said. “But what does that actually mean? Delving into the literature, we found there was no standard definition of ‘marginal land.'”

Kelly and Lewis' literature review focused on projects that used geospatial technology to explicitly map marginal, abandoned or degraded lands specifically for the purpose of planting bioenergy crops. They narrowed their search to 21 papers from 2008 to 2013, and among them they found no common working definition of marginal land.

“We have to be careful when we talk about what is marginal. We have to be explicit about our definitions, mapping and modeling,” Kelly said. “In our lab, we are trying to understand the landscape under multiple lenses and prioritize different uses and determine how management regimes impact the land.”

The research report, titled Mapping the Potential for Biofuel Production on Marginal Lands: Differences in Definitions, Data and Models across Scales, was published in the International Journal for Geo-Information.

Click here for this story in Spanish.

An initiative to improve energy security and green technologies is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Naturalist Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

 

Posted on Friday, November 21, 2014 at 7:45 AM
Tags: biofuel (6), climate change (20), Maggi Kelly (4)

UC scientists help clarify use of insecticide

Argentine ants tending brown soft scale on a citrus twig. Chlorpyrifos is sometimes necessary to control ants in citrus.
The insecticide chlorpyrifos is a critically important tool for California producers of alfalfa, almonds, citrus and cotton, according to a comprehensive report coordinated by the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program. As part of an action plan, the report identifies specific research, extension and policy gaps that should be addressed to ensure safe, effective use of the insecticide.

The report, Identifying and Managing Critical Uses of Chlorpyrifos in Alfalfa, Almonds, Citrus and Cotton, was commissioned by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR) earlier this year and submitted by UC IPM in October 2014.

“We feel the department entrusted UC IPM with this task because of its reputation for developing effective IPM systems and its track record in bringing groups together to address challenging issues,” said Pete Goodell, UC Cooperative Extension advisor for integrated pest management and report principal investigator. Lori Berger, also of the statewide IPM program, was the project coordinator.

To gather input for the report, Goodell and Berger formed four “crop teams” with leaders from the alfalfa, almond, citrus and cotton industries. While chlorpyrifos is used in many of California's more than 300 crops, these four crops were selected due to the amount of acreage treated and insecticide use patterns. Combined, these commodities are grown on about 2.5 million acres and valued at more than $10 billion per year in California.

Chlorpyrifos is a common insecticide used under the trade names Lorsban, Lock-on and generic formulations to control ants, stink bugs, aphids, whiteflies and other pests. The report details the insecticide's use patterns as compared to other pest control tactics, such as resistant varieties, mating disruption, field sanitation and other insecticides.

“Our industry teams told us that chlorpyrifos is an essential component of their IPM programs,” Goodell said. “The teams believe decision support tools would be useful to help pest control advisers and growers recognize the critical use scenarios that require its application.”

As a part of the discussions, the teams asked that CDPR develop comprehensive, science-based information about the specific risk pathways posed by chlorpyrifos and work with the industry to develop any new application safety measures. The representatives of the agricultural community also asked that new human health data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency be considered in future CDPR regulatory decision-making to ensure that the most current data available informs their decisions.

For the second phase of the project, UC IPM will hold outreach meetings in 2015 and 2016 for pest control advisers, UCCE farm advisors, commodity group representatives and farmers who grow alfalfa, almonds, citrus and cotton.

“There is a new generation of professionals coming into the field,” Goodell said. “UC's IPM Program is well-prepared to equip them with decision-making tools that include a wide variety of insect management options.”

The full report can be found on the CDPR website: http://cdpr.ca.gov/docs/pestmgt/crit_uses.htm

An initiative to manage endemic and invasive pests and diseases is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Posted on Monday, November 17, 2014 at 11:07 AM
Tags: chlorpyrifos (1), IPM (8), Lori Berger (1), Pete Goodell (1)

Drought-focused soil nutrient management series offered for farmers online

Nutrient management in almond orchards will be discussed in November.
Beginning in November, a free, drought-focused soil nutrient management series for farmers will be hosted online by the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program (UC SAREP), FarmsReach and Sustainable Conservation.

“Farmers and ranchers have to continually adapt their management of soil nutrients to changing conditions,” said Aubrey White, UC SAREP's communication coordinator. “Adaptation during this extreme drought presents a new challenge for growers and researchers alike. This forum dedicated to the issues farmers will face next season is an opportunity to share resources, research and ideas for success.”  

Kicking off on Nov. 17, the Nutrient Management Solutions series will offer the agriculture community:

  • Online presentations, videos or Q&A with farmers and UC Cooperative Extension advisors on nutrient management and soil fertility, with special focus on tree crops, grapes and dairy farms.
  • Facilitated online discussions in the active FarmsReach Conversations, moderated by Series presenters.  (Join the Nutrient Management Solutions Group in FarmsReach to participate.)
  • A new “Soil Nutrient Management Toolkit” in FarmsReach, with selected practical resources and info sheets for farmers of all crop and product types.

The online series is part of the Solution Center for Nutrient Management—a growing resource for nutrient management research and information, online and in-person created by UC SAREP. 

The presentations, videos and facilitated online Q&A will be hosted in three sections:

  1. Nov. 17-30 – Nutrient Management in Times of Drought: Tree Crops
  2. December (dates to be announced) – Nutrient Management in Times of Drought: Wine Grapes
  3. January (dates to be announced) – Nutrient Management in Times of Drought: Dairy Forage Crops

To get updates and announcements, or to share your ideas for the drought-focused Nutrient Management Solutions series, sign up for free at www.farmsreach.com. You can also go directly to the online group within FarmsReach, http://www.farmsreach.com/nutrient-mgmt-series, and follow news on Twitter at #AgSolutionCenter. 

About UC SAREP
The University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program (UC SAREP) a program in UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, provides leadership and support for scientific research and education in agricultural and food systems that are economically viable, conserve natural resources and biodiversity, and enhance the quality of life in the state's communities. SAREP serves farmers, farmworkers, ranchers, researchers, educators, regulators, policy makers, industry professionals, consumers and community organizations across the state.

About FarmsReach

Founded in 2007, FarmsReach is a network that connects small- and medium-scale farms to the products, support and services they need to be successful.  By partnering with farmer members and agriculture organizations, FarmsReach offers a growing suite of services that empower farmers to make better business decisions, access new markets, preserve the environment and strengthen rural communities.  

About Sustainable Conservation

Sustainable Conservation partners with business, agriculture and government to find practical ways that the private sector can protect clean air, clean water and healthy ecosystems. The independent nonprofit organization leads powerful collaborations that produce lasting solutions and sustain the vitality of both the economy and the environment. 

Posted on Friday, November 7, 2014 at 8:18 AM
Tags: Almonds (2), fertilizer (1), nutrient management (1), SAREP (2)

The California Naturalist program hits its stride

California Naturalist Scott Van Tyle takes a close look at a sea kelp rootball on the beach at Asilomar.
Under sunny skies, a cool breeze blowing off the ocean at Asilomar State Beach, California Naturalist Scott Van Tyle pulls out a knife and begins dissecting a seaweed root ball that had washed up on the sand. A group of fellow naturalists quickly gather around to see what tiny sea creatures call the massive tangle home.

Similar scenes were repeated frequently during the three-day California Naturalist conference in October. The legless lizards and gopher snake brought in by a Fort Ord Dunes State Park ranger, a family of raccoons under the dining hall deck, deer browsing among the cottages and a beautiful sunset drew quick attention from participants. It is this enthusiasm that defines California Naturalists, a community with more than a love of nature, but a strong inclination toward gaining new knowledge, conserving the natural world and sharing their passion with others.

“We are in a room full of early adopters,” said Adina Merenlender to certified California Naturalists, instructors and aspiring naturalists at the conference. “It's amazing to see the seeds we planted growing into a real community. Everyone here has helped start this new community of practice.”

Naturalists Justine Faust, left, and Chris Lay with legless lizards at the California Naturalist statewide conference.
“Community of practice” is a relatively new concept that has been embraced by the California Naturalist program. Coined by Etienne Wenger, communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.

“This is exactly what we are doing,” said Merenlender, co-director of the California Naturalist statewide program and UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley.

At the conference, California Naturalists learned from world-class experts about engaging with nature and interpretation, coupling science and art, taking part in citizen science, preparing for global change, and protecting the state from invasive species. But perhaps the most important outcome was the opportunity for kindred spirits to share the weekend, forge lasting relationships and set future collaborations in motion.

“We're building a movement here,” said one of the conference speakers, nature writer and artist John Muir Laws. “We want to be strengthening ourselves. Our strength comes from the strands of the web between us.”

California Naturalists from around the state will reconvene in 2016. In the meantime, plans are being formulated to further develop the program, both in numbers and form, by reaching out to new audiences that will enhance the community of practice.

Naturalist Margaret Otto draped a gopher snake around her shoulders.
Since the program's inception, the majority of new California Naturalists have been volunteers who serve as stewards, data collectors, or as labor for restoration projects at land management, informal education, and conservation organizations in conservation organizations. The program aims to widen the scope in order to bring in naturalists with a range of skills, backgrounds and experiences.

Sabrina Drill, co-director of the California Naturalist program and UC Cooperative Extension advisor in LA County, is reaching out to the Los Angeles Conservation Corps to see if the California Naturalist curriculum can be used to enrich the training now offered to young people enrolled in the program.

“The LACC participants learn important practical skills, like how to fell a tree and how to use a chain saw,” Drill said. “They have told me they would like to provide environmental background to participants so they learn why they are thinning forests and why they are removing invasive plants. We would provide them with the environmental science context.”

Another area where the California Naturalist program is poised to grow is with organizations that connect with regional, state and national parks.

“We can work with these groups to increase capacity in resource management at parks,” Merenlender said. “Government agencies can accomplish the nuts and bolts of local operations, but they can rarely provide the scientific and environmental literacy training for staff and volunteers.”

A third initiative aims to reach out to teachers. Drill and Merenlender are exploring a host of potential partnerships that can connect the California Naturalist community of practice to children, including UC's Project Learning Tree, the long-running Forestry Institute for Teachers, the San Jose Children's Discovery Museum, and the UCCE 4-H Youth Development program.

“If teachers take part in the California Naturalist program, they will bring what they learned back to the classroom,” Merenlender said. “As a community of practice, we are committed to helping our teachers ensure youth the environmental literacy intended by the increasingly popular slogan, ‘No child left inside.'”

For more information, see the California Naturalist website.

Posted on Thursday, October 30, 2014 at 9:56 AM

Is that a light brown apple moth?

It's easy to confuse light brown apple moth caterpillars (above) with look-alikes, including orange tortrix, omnivorous leafroller, avocado leafroller and apple pandemic moth.
Nursery workers are the first line of defense in detecting light brown apple moth when growing ornamental plants in commercial nurseries. A new brochure and video can help those in the field distinguish light brown apple moth from several look-alike caterpillars.

Light brown apple moth is currently under a California Department of Food and Agriculture quarantine that regulates the interstate shipment of plants to keep the moth from spreading to new areas. It has been quarantined in various counties throughout coastal California ranging from Mendocino to San Diego.

An exotic and invasive pest from Australia, light brown apple moth has a host range of more than 2,000 plants. It is a pest to a wide range of ornamental and agricultural crops, including caneberries, strawberries, citrus, stone fruit, apples, and grapes. The caterpillars eat leaves and buds, leading to weak or disfigured plants. They also can feed directly on fruit, causing the fruit to be unmarketable.

Correct field identification of the light brown apple moth is the first step in containing the spread of this moth. Unfortunately several other leafroller caterpillars, including the orange tortrix, omnivorous leafroller, avocado leafroller, and apple pandemic moth, look similar to light brown apple moth caterpillars. This makes photo identification tools that can go into the field with workers, like the Field Identification Guide for Light Brown Apple Moth in California Nurseries, a useful resource for nursery workers.

The field guide was created by Steven Tjosvold, Neal Murray, University of California Cooperative Extension; Marc Epstein, Obediah Sage, California Department of Food and Agriculture; and Todd Gilligan, Colorado State University with the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM).

For more information on light brown apple moth and other leafrollers found in nurseries, see the UC Pest Management Guidelines for Floriculture and Nurseries.

Posted on Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 10:03 AM

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