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Now here's some real California culture

The UC ANR publication 'Farmstead and Artisan Cheeses' helps new cheesemakers start up their businesses.
Thanks to the happy cows of the California Milk Advisory Board, many know that California leads the nation in milk production. While you may think of Vermont or Wisconsin when you think of cheese, specialty cheeses make up about 11 percent of California's cheese production, creating a growing niche market.

Today artisan cheesemaking is a $119-million dollar industry in Marin and Sonoma, and the two counties are home to the second-largest concentration of artisan and farmstead cheesemakers in the country. The trend in farmstead and artisan cheesemaking shows no sign of slowing — membership in the California Artisan Cheesemakers' Guild increased 15 percent in 2014.

Navigating the start-up of any business is hard work, but cheesemaking has its own special challenges. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources has published a bestselling manual designed for the beginning cheesemaker. Farmstead and Artisan Cheeses: A Guide to Building a Business walks readers through the steps necessary to establishing a cheesemaking business.

California has a rich history of cheesemaking, this year the Marin French Cheese Company celebrates its 150th anniversary, making it the longest continually operating cheese company in the United States.

Starting in the mid-1990s, California cheesemaking began a renaissance with a handful of dedicated small producers. UC Cooperative Extension advisors nurtured the emerging farmstead and artisan cheesemaking culture. Working with local producers, they developed the cheesemaking certificate program offered at the College of Marin and published what is now the leading book on building an artisan and farmstead cheese business; industry surveys lent credibility to the emerging market and enabled the growing ranks of cheesemakers to secure start-up funds.

Marking artisan cheese is a value-added option for California dairies. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Last July, Sacramento played host to the annual meeting and competition of the American Cheese Society, and California cheesemakers received top honors. In a field of 1,685 cheeses and cultured dairy products, Oakdale Cheese & Specialties of Oakdale took home the top prize for Aged Gouda, American made, Dutch style, and also garnered Third Place "Best in Show." Another venerable California cheesemaker, Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese, won Second Place "Best in Show" for it's Bay Blue.

So where do you start if you'd like to try your hand at cheesemaking?

The California Cheese Trail website offers a wealth of information about cheesemaking classes for everyone from the novice making their first ricotta at home to professional certificate programs. Likewise, Grown in Marin, a resource of UC Cooperative Extension in Marin County, posts an exhaustive list of resources for the North Bay, epicenter of the California's artisan cheese movement.

The 9th annual California Artisan Cheese Festival takes place March 20 - 22, 2015 in Petaluma. This celebration of real California culture brings together artisan cheesemakers, chefs, and the public for three days of seminars, tastings, and farm tours.

Posted on Tuesday, March 3, 2015 at 9:40 AM
Tags: cheese (1), cheesemaking (1)

California black rail likes leaks

The California black rail is heard but rarely seen.
World Wildlife Day is today, March 3.

While Californians are tightening their pipes to conserve water during this fourth year of drought, the California black rail might say, “Let it leak,” if it could speak.

The rare bird species makes its home in marshes created in large part by leaky pipes, stock ponds, irrigation tailwater and unlined canals. Even the springs that support some habitat may rely on water flowing from leaky canals. In 1994, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists found the small, red-eyed bird with the black breast and speckled black feathers at UC ANR's Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center. Since its discovery, a group of scientists have been exploring the effects of water management and climate change on the bird in Sutter, Butte and Yuba counties.

California black rails, which can be heard more often than seen, largely depend on humans and irrigated agriculture to provide the shallow flowing water they use for habitat.

Accidental wetlands created by leaky pipes and ponds are habitat for the black rail habitat.
Because most of the rangeland in the area is privately held, and includes irrigated pasture for livestock, Lynn Huntsinger, professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, wondered if property owners would be willing to maintain wetlands to support wildlife.

With the help of UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisors Glenn Nader and Roger Ingram, Huntsinger conducted a survey of 1,000 landowners in the three counties.

Property owners responding to the survey said the primary reason for maintaining ponds and wetlands is to reduce wildfire risk, but they also like the birds and wildlife that are attracted by wet areas. However, Huntsinger worries that the “accidental wetlands” may dry up as the drought increases the pressure on people to conserve water by fixing leaks and replacing canals built during the 19th century Gold Rush with pipes.

Most of the farmers and ranchers buy water from a water district so Huntsinger sees working with water districts as a key to the sustainability of wetlands for wildlife.

Property owners favor ponds to protect against wildfire and to support wildlife.
“Water is going to be more expensive and harder to access given the trends in weather and population demand,” she said. To predict how long landowners will continue to maintain wetlands if water prices rise, Huntsinger is working with Jose Oviedo, an environmental economist in Spain.

More and more, she says, it seems that we are facing tradeoffs between “goods”— saving water is good and preserving wildlife habitat is good. “We need flexibility and adaptation rather than all or nothing choices. After all, we are creating the future landscape of California,” Huntsinger said.

Huntsinger's study is just one facet of a California black rail study that involves scientists with different kinds of expertise.

Steve Beissinger, professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, has been studying black rail behavior for years and continues to monitor how many sites in the Sierra foothills the small birds use as habitat.

Canals at the UC ANR Sierra Foothill Research & Extension date back to the Gold Rush days.
Norman Miller, a Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory hydrologist, is developing models to understand the water dynamics and sustainability of the wetlands habitat.

Marm Kilpatrick, assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UC Santa Cruz, studies how concern about mosquito-borne West Nile virus may affect landowners' decisions to maintain wetlands.

“It is a novel ecosystem, offering habitat engineered by people and their livestock that happens to offer the black rail what it needs,” Huntsinger said. “We just don't know enough about conservation in this kind of situation. Managing traditional landscapes is common in Europe, but rare in the United States.”

For more information about the California black rail, see the California Agriculture article “California black rails depend on irrigation-fed wetlands in the Sierra Nevada foothills.”

Below, UC Berkeley graduate student Nathan Van Schmidt describes research at UC Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center on how the rails cope with drought, seasonal hydrology regimes, and the rescue effect.

Posted on Tuesday, March 3, 2015 at 9:17 AM

Organic farmers are counting on UC to control exotic Virginia creeper leafhoppers

Organic farmers are struggling with invasion of exotic Virginia creeper leafhoppers in Lake and Mendocino counties.
When Virginia creeper leafhopper made its way into Mendocino and Lake county wine country a few years ago, some certified organic winegrape producers threw in the towel.

“They lost too much income,” said Glenn McGourty, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension advisor in Lake and Mendocino counties. “They decided they were not going to risk their crop until there is a workable biological control solution to this new pest.”

Meanwhile, other organic grape producers are hanging on to their organic certification and counting on UC ANR researchers to come through with a biological control option soon.

“Organic farmers are spending a couple hundred dollars per acre for organic pesticides,” McGourty said. “They don't want to use them. It takes out beneficial insects and it doesn't even control Virginia creeper leafhopper very well.”

Three leafhopper species are pests of California grapes. Western grape leafhopper is a native insect that's present throughout California north of the Tehachapi Mountains. Several natural enemies keep the pest in check most years. Variegated leafhopper migrated north from the Imperial Valley to Central California in the 1980s, and is established in Napa Valley and other valleys of Napa County. Virginia creeper leafhopper, a native of the northern Midwest, made its way to Northern California in the early 1980s. It migrated southward to the northern Sacramento Valley and Sierra foothills, and most recently was detected in Lake and Mendocino counties, where the population boomed.

“The farmers were devastated, especially financially,” McGourty said. “Conventional growers had to begin spraying pesticides. Some organic vineyards were completely defoliated.”

The leafhoppers' key natural enemies are fairyflies (Genus: Anagrus), among the tiniest flying insects in the world. Certain species of fairyflies attack certain species of leafhoppers. What has scientists perplexed at the moment is the fact that Virginia creeper leafhoppers' natural enemies are present in Mendocino and Lake counties, but they are failing to do their job.

Generally, fairyflies lay their eggs in leafhopper eggs, killing them. The fairyflies known to attack Virginia creeper leafhopper are successfully parasitizing the pest's eggs in Yolo County. However, the very same species of fairyfly is not recognizing Virginia creeper leafhopper eggs as a host in Mendocino and Lake counties.

Virginia creeper leafhopper adults have a reddish-brown zigzag marking on each front wing.
“Virginia creeper leafhopper only recently moved into the Mendocino area,” said post-doctoral researcher Houston Wilson. Wilson works in the lab of Kent Daane, UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier. “Although these Anagrus parasitoids can attack both Western grape leafhopper and Virginia creeper leafhopper, the Anagrus population in Mendocino County has been reproducing on Western grape leafhopper for so long, they seem to have lost their preference for Virginia creeper.”

The scientists believe that, in time, fairyflies in Lake and Mendocino counties will begin to parasitize Virginia creeper leafhopper eggs on their own. But, because of the severity of the situation to organic winegrape growers, they've hatched a plan to help out the natural enemies. This summer, they will be rounding up fairyflies in the Davis area – where they know how to attack Virginia creeper – and bring them to Lake and Mendocino county vineyards.

Beginning in April, Wilson will allow Mendocino area Virginia creeper leafhoppers to lay eggs on potted grapevines. The vines will be transported to Davis, where local fairyflies can parasitize the eggs. The plants will go back to the laboratory in Berkeley so scientists can rear populations of the parasitoids and later release them in Mendocino and Lake county vineyards.

“I just planted the grapevines this month,” Wilson said. “When leafhoppers become active in the summer, we'll start monthly releases. We hope our efforts will take some of the pressure off winegrape farmers soon.”

In addition to the work releasing natural enemies of Virginia creeper leafhopper, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources scientists are implementing an area-wide integrated pest management program in Mendocino and Lake counties. The program – a combination of biological, cultural and chemical controls for this pest – employs:

  1. Improved monitoring and mapping of Virginia creeper populations
  2. Cultural practices to reduce egg deposition in vineyards
  3. Earlier and coordinated pesticide applications (if a spray is necessary)

The Virginia creeper leafhopper pest control program is funded in part by the American Vineyard Foundation.

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

Posted on Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at 9:01 AM

Insecticide use threatens onion seed production

A honeybee collects nectar on an onion blossom. (Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Insecticides farmers use in Northern California onion seed production appear to repel honeybees, which can result in reduced seed yields, according to a recent study by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) researchers.

Visitation by honeybees is the single most important factor for onion seed set in commercial fields, said Rachael Long, UC ANR Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Yolo County.

“The more honeybees that visited the onion flowers, the higher the seed yield,” Long said.

If insecticides are applied repeatedly prior to onion bloom, honeybees were less likely to visit once the flowers opened up.

“If you spray three times in the spring before onion bloom, there was less honeybee activity during early bloom,” Long said. “We weren't sure why. We didn't see any dead bees. Honeybees might be repelled by the insecticide because, if a spray took place close to bloom, their visitation was significantly reduced, but increased later during bloom, as if the insecticide affects wore off.”

Yolo and Colusa county farmers play an important role in worldwide onion seed production. Many different varieties of onions are grown in the region to produce seed ideal for use on onion farms from Siberia to the equator and every latitude in between.

“Growing high quality onions in different areas around the world requires varieties specially adapted to a wide range of conditions, such as day length,” Long said. “In our region, you'll see a tremendous diversity of onions being grown for seed – some short, some tall, some bloom early, others later. There's also all the red, yellow and white bulb variations.”

George Weiss had been farming in Yolo County for more than 50 years when he noticed a mysterious decline in onion seed production in 2009. He paid a visit to the local UC ANR Cooperative Extension office.

“We grow onions for seed, and we weren't getting the seed yields we thought we should have,” said Weiss, 80.

He spoke with Long, who immediately began collecting information on insecticide use on the Weiss and neighboring farms.

A researcher counts honeybees in a blooming onion field.
“I saw a trend,” Long said. “The more insecticides that were sprayed, the lower the onion seed yield.”

Onion seed companies and officials at the California Garlic and Onion Research Advisory Board also observed lower yields.

“We all noticed a decline in seed production over the years, but we couldn't put a finger on what was happening,” said Bob Ehn, CEO of the California Garlic and Onion Research Advisory Board.

Long, Ehn and UC Davis entomology professor Neal Williams worked together to secure a $250,000 grant from the California Department of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crops Block Grant program to solve the onion seed mystery. Ehn's board also provided funding for research.

The sharp decline in onion seed yields began when growers were dealing with a new disease, iris yellow spot virus. The virus is spread by tiny insects called onion thrips, so growers began applying insecticides in early spring to keep the pests from moving the damaging disease around the field.

Over three years, scientists collected extensive data on insecticide use, honeybee activity, soil moisture, pollen germination, and nectar production on 29 onion seed farms of 25 acres of more. They learned that three applications of insecticide in the spring resulted in less honey bee visitation, which can reduce yield given the importance of honeybees in crop pollination.

The data analysis also concluded that:

  • If farmers sprayed insecticides too close to bloom, there was less pollen germination. Typically, when a bee transfers pollen from the male to female flower, the pollen germinates right away and begins to grow, but less so after insecticide use. “There might be some chemical interaction that prevents pollen from germinating. It's not a huge effect, but there's an impact,” Long said.
  • If the soil was too dry or too wet, nectar production in the onion flowers dropped way off, reducing honeybee activity and seed yields. “Honeybees need rewards,” Long said. “Their visitation to flowers is based on the ability to collect nectar. If there is little to no nectar, they will just bypass the flowers and find another source of nectar.”
  • Fungicide use in onion fields did not impact honeybee activity.
  • Pronounced effects of insecticides on pollinator behavior and seed set are more likely at rates of three sprays per year or more, however, even at reduced insecticide use, the researchers still saw the potential for subtle effects on both the pattern of honeybee visitation over time and the pollen-stigma interactions.

An onion field in full bloom was the site of UC ANR research.
“These results highlight the importance of field management practices on the pollination process. In hybrid onion seed production, we recommend moderation in insecticide use and careful management of water during bloom for maximum nectar production,” Long said.

Ehn said the research furnished valuable information for California onion seed growers.

“We now know we have to be very careful about insecticide management prior to bloom time,” Ehn said. “We have to be more strategic about insecticide planning and avoid it as much as possible.”

Ehn said field research by Long, Williams and other UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisors and specialists is of critical importance to the California Garlic and Onion Research and Advisory Board.

“We are totally dependent on Cooperative Extension,” Ehn said. “Our research with Cooperative Extension stretches from Imperial County up to Tule Lake (on the Oregon border). They are our strength and anchor to get research work done that we set as a priority.”

Weiss said he highly values the research assistance from UC ANR Cooperative Extension.

“I can't pin it down in dollars and cents, but it all goes together with experience,” Weiss said.

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

Posted on Tuesday, February 24, 2015 at 9:32 AM
Tags: honeybees (2), onion (1), Rachael Long (3)

Future looks bright at UC Ag Field Day

More than 3,500 FFA and 4-H high school students from California and surrounding states will gather on March 6 and 7 at UC Davis for the annual Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Field Day. The smart, passionate youth will compete in two dozen agriculture contests, from livestock judging, to agricultural mechanics, to floriculture, to computer applications, and more.

FFA (formerly known as Future Farmers of America) and 4-H are youth development programs that help prepare young people for careers in the rapidly changing world of agriculture. 4-H, which is offered in California by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension, allows members to choose from projects in science, engineering, technology, animal science education, nutrition, healthy living and many other experiential learning activities.

Each year the young competitors spend countless hours preparing for the field day, the largest of its kind in the state.

Meat judging is among the competitions at Ag Field Day.

“Competing in Ag Field Day instilled in me the importance of a strong work ethic, the value of research, and the benefits of scientific methods for solving real-world problems in agriculture,” said Yousef Buzayan, a 2011 Ag Field Day participant now double-majoring in Managerial Economics and International Agricultural Development at UC Davis.

Ag Field Day is run and managed completely by UC Davis students who gain valuable experience in leadership, communication, and teamwork.

“Of all my experiences at UC Davis, managing Ag Field Day was definitely the biggest challenge, and with it came the biggest rewards,” said Mary Kimball, executive director of the Center for Land-Based Learning in Winters, California, who helped organize Ag Field Day as a student in 1992. “I learned how to manage many moving parts, and I learned that the best way to get things done well is to do it as a team.”

So if you're in Davis and see thousands of high school students on campus, you'll know who they are: tomorrow's leaders striving and thriving in Ag Field Day competitions. The future of agriculture is in good hands.‚Äč

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