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Fire devoured chaparral plots at UC facility to set up a research project

Fire consumes a dense chaparral research plot at UC Hopland Research and Extension Center. (Photo: Evett Kilmartin)
Firefighters set two hillsides ablaze at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center (HREC) in April, sending flames 50 feet into the air while dense, chest-high chaparral was reduced to a moonscape – all in the name of science.

The prescribed burn was carefully orchestrated by CalFire. Wide swaths of vegetation had been cleared around the 7-acre and 9-acre study areas and the weather carefully monitored before a truck-mounted “terra torch” sent streams of flammable gel into the brush, igniting a raging fire.

The fires at Hopland set up a study for a UC Berkeley doctoral student researching post-fire nitrogen cycling, provided a training ground for new CalFire recruits who will be battling blazes in the summer, and launched a new partnership between HREC and CalFire.

Chaparral shrublands, which cover about 7 percent of California natural lands, are vital California ecosystems. Chaparral contains 25 percent of the state's endemic plant and animal diversity. Nature and Native Americans burned chaparral at regular intervals for millennia, providing fresh new growth for foraging animals.

“After a chaparral fire, you typically get a flush of ephemeral wildflowers, some of which are very rare, which you haven't seen for 30 years or since the last fire,” said Lindsey Hendricks-Franco, a doctoral student at UC Berkeley who is conducting research at Hopland. “The amazing thing about these plants is their seeds can survive in the seedbank for decades. Then heat or smoke or an open canopy can stimulate them to germinate. It can be beautiful.”

The most abundant plant in Hopland chaparral, chamise, is barely fazed by fire. The plant's underground burl will soon sprout after a fire, and chamise seeds readily germinate in ash-enriched soil.

CalFire battalion chief Mike Maynard, left, discusses the controlled burn with researcher Lindsey Hendricks-Franco. (Photo: Evett Kilmartin)
“What I expect to see in the coming months is resprouting adults and thousands of tiny little seedlings,” Hendricks-Franco said.

To understand the role of nitrogen cycling in the post-fire chaparral ecosystem, Hendricks-Franco and her research staff clambered over dense brush before the fire to collect soil samples and place ingenious heat sensors that document the burn temperature. After the fire, she returned to each site to collect post-treatment soil samples and heat sensors.

“It's a challenge to put sensors in a fire this hot. Most heat sensors are destroyed by the intense heat,” Hendricks-Franco said. “I painted four- by four-inch tiles with a variety of heat-sensitive paints. The paints change color at different temperatures. When I collect the tiles, they will give me an idea about the temperatures reached in the fire.”

The controlled burn at Hopland was the first step in rebuilding a partnership with CalFire, said Kim Rodrigues, who has served as the facility's director since 2014. The areas burned in April were previously burned by CalFire for fire research in the 1990s.

“We've been here since 1951 offering applied and relevant research,” Rodrigues said. “It's primarily research on ecosystem management in oak woodlands, grassland and chaparral. Fire on the landscape is a management tool.”

The 5,800-acre research facility is one of nine such centers managed by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources in a variety of California ecosystems, from high desert near the Oregon border, low desert in the Imperial Valley, Sierra Nevada forests and San Joaquin Valley farmland. Hopland is also home to 500 sheep.

Hopland CalFire battalion chief Michael Maynard was the incident commander at the April controlled burns, which he said also fulfilled CalFire objectives.

“It's good to be back here to join up with the University of California,” Maynard said. “The fire falls into our realm of training and expertise and we're helping their realm of expertise, which is research. There are 10 plots on this specific research project, so we'll be back soon.”

Maynard brought in newly hired firefighters for training on setting and controlling a prescribed burn.

“It's important that we brush up on our skills. We have seasonal employees that have hired on early and are participating. So the all-around training value is incredible and pays off later in the summer,” Maynard said.

CalFire will be back at Hopland in the fall to implement another chaparral burn so Hendricks-Franco can compare the fate of nitrogen in areas that burn before the hot, dry summer season to areas that burn in the fall and are followed by rain.

View scenes from the controlled burn in the video below:

Posted on Thursday, May 5, 2016 at 9:00 AM

IPM and pesticide safety a desperate need in Myanmar

Myanmar (formerly Burma) is located in Southeast Asia, bordered by Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand. I was asked by the United States Agency for International Development (U.S. AID) to travel to Myanmar to use my training and experience as an academic advisor affiliated with the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program and UC Cooperative Extension in Riverside County to share information about basic IPM and pesticide safety.

Myanmar temple grounds.
Myanmar is 261,227 square miles in size, a little smaller than the state of Nevada. About 15 percent of the land is under cultivation. Agriculture makes up 60 to 80 percent of Myanmar's gross domestic product, with the vast majority of agricultural production devoted to rice. Most of the farms are under 20 acres.

With the use of small tractors and other mechanized farm equipment, agricultural development is slightly more advanced in Myanmar than Bangladesh, which I visited in September 2015. Chemical pesticide use in Myanmar is intensive with little regulation or guidance. Chemical contamination of agricultural crops is widespread and mass poisoning does occur.

U.S. AID works to end global poverty and help societies become more independent. One way they do that is by helping countries like Myanmar improve their agricultural development. U.S. AID and Winrock International's Value Chain Project sent me to Myanmar as part of an ongoing effort in Asia to instruct growers in basic IPM and the safe and effective use of pesticides.

An unprotected agricultural worker spraying pesticide.
One of my goals was to try to help growers make a connection between health and the safe use of pesticides. When I first arrived in Myanmar, I found that growers had virtually no pest management information available to them and were unaware of how IPM could be used on their farms. The use of an IPM program focuses on the long-term management of pests by integrating various methods to manage problems. Pesticides are a tool in the IPM “toolbox” and used only when needed and sometimes in combination with other methods.

The growers lack of information on using pesticides safely and effectively seemed to be a recurring theme in Southeast Asia. The growers were not given access to pesticide labels or safety data sheets. In fact, the growers are given virtually no information at all on how to use the chemicals they were applying on their farms. The chemical manufacturers are responsible for this.

Farmers would often apply materials multiple times a week (sometimes more frequently), not knowing about the recommended application rate, re-entry or harvest interval. There's a real need for education in Southeast Asia. Ultimately, the growers and the consumers of contaminated agricultural products are the ones suffering.

Pesticide safety training to media group.

Over two weeks, I held four all-day workshops, mostly for growers, with a final workshop with representatives of local media agencies to teach them basic pest management principles and pesticide safety. When I asked workshop participants if any of them knew someone who had gotten sick or had died from pesticide exposure, virtually everyone raised their hands.

Some growers acknowledged that their practices were making them sick, but that they felt they had few options available to them. As a result, the US-based NGO Internews created a public service announcement (PSA) illustrating the use of personal protective equipment when applying pesticides in Myanmar. The PSA is currently being broadcast on Myanmar television and can be seen below.

This opportunity to educate the public on safe pesticide use is not enough. I recommend monthly pesticide tours be set up across the country to emphasize the need for safe and effective use of pesticides. The use of extension outreach is invaluable in situations like this.

Interviewing a tomato farmer on Inle Lake.
Some of the most remarkable farming I have ever witnessed is on Inle Lake, the second largest of Myanmar's lakes. The agricultural population of the lake, which is part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, live in stilted homes primarily made of wood and bamboo. The tomato farmers build up dry ground to farm by raking up soil from the lake bottom and amending the lake soil with aquatic plants that they also rake up from the lake bottom. The farmers do all of their work from boats, including spraying pesticides.

The facilitation of the University of California's Global Food Initiative by U.S. AID and Winrock International is extremely useful. The world as we know it is shrinking with globalization of people and products. We need to reach out to others and give them the benefit of our experience. UC IPM is doing that.

Posted on Thursday, May 5, 2016 at 8:30 AM
Tags: IPM (16), Myanmar (1), Vonny Barlow (2)

May 11 Alfalfa/Small Grains Field Day to feature Pest Management, New Varieties, and Irrigation Issues

Field Day

All are welcome to attend the 2016 Small Grain/Alfalfa Field Day to be held May 11, 2016 at UC Davis.  We will visit field trials, listen to researchers discuss their research, and enjoy a barbeque lunch. We sincerely hope you can attend Dan...

Posted on Tuesday, May 3, 2016 at 5:36 PM

Fighting drought with soil

Soil is an often overlooked tool to fight drought.
A team of University of California scientists recently received a $1.69 million grant to use several UC agricultural research stations to study an often overlooked tool to fight the drought: soil.

The team, led by Samantha Ying, an assistant professor of environmental sciences at UC Riverside, received the grant from the University of California Office of the President.

The funding will allow for the establishment of the University of California Consortium for Drought and Carbon Management (UC DroCaM), which will design management strategies based on understanding soil carbon, the soil microbiome and their impact on water dynamics in soil.

The researchers will conduct field and lab research on microbiological, biophysical, and geochemical mechanisms controlling soil formation and stability under different row crops (tomatoes, alfalfa, wheat), farming practices (carbon inputs and rotations) and irrigation methods (furrow and flood, microirrigation).

Samantha Ying, an assistant professor of environmental sciences at UC Riverside.
Information on mechanisms will be integrated into a regionally-scalable predictive model to describe soil carbon dynamics and estimate the response of agricultural systems to drought.

Field research will initially be conducted at three UC Research and Extension Centers (Kearney, West Side and Desert) the Russell Ranch Sustainable Agriculture Facility near UC Davis.

Recommendations will then be made for broader monitoring and field experiments throughout the state based on input gained from local growers and citizens at workshops at the agricultural research stations. Ultimately, the hope is to expand and involve all nine research and extension centers from the Oregon border to the Mexican border.

“Having agricultural research stations throughout the state is a huge part of this project,” Ying said. “It is going to help us create one of the best research centers in the country focused on soil and drought.”

There is also a public engagement component. Citizens will be recruited to participate in workshops to learn how to monitor and sample their local soils. Information will then be imputed into an online soils database that will help create a map of the biodiversity of agricultural soils in California.

Ying's collaborators are: Kate Scow and Sanjai Parihk (UC Davis); Eoin Brodie and Margaret Torn (UC Berkeley); Asmeret Berhe and Teamrat Ghezzehei (UC Merced); and Peter Nico and William Riley (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory).

The grant is one of four awards totaling more than $4.8 million from University of California President Janet Napolitano's President's Research Catalyst Awards.

Posted on Monday, May 2, 2016 at 12:25 PM

Can you serve up a safe barbecue?

Check foods with a thermometer to be sure they are fully cooked.
April showers bring May flowers, along with barbecue season! The season's warmer weather makes it a great time to be outdoors, but it also means there are increased food safety risks with the higher temperatures. Follow these tips to prepare, cook, and serve up a healthy barbecue:

  1. At the store, buy raw meat, poultry, and fish last. Refrigerate or freeze within 2 hours (within 1 hour when it is 90°F or warmer outside).

  2. Follow the thaw law. Always thaw frozen foods, especially meat, in the refrigerator. 

  3. Marinate foods in the refrigerator. Reserve some of the marinade before adding meat for later use. Do not taste or reuse the marinade after raw meat has been added. 

  4. Don't cross-contaminate. Use specific plates and utensils for raw foods, and use separate, clean plates and utensils for cooked foods. Do not place cooked meat or vegetables on the same plate as uncooked foods. 

  5. Cook foods to a safe minimum internal temperature. Check with a food thermometer to ensure foods are fully cooked to the temperatures in the table below.

  6. Refrigerate leftovers in shallow containers within 2 hours. If it has been longer than 2 hours (1 hour when it is 90°F or warmer outside), throw it out!

 

  Poultry 165°F
Ground beef 160°F
Steak/roasts 145°F
Fish 145°F
Pork 145°F

 

Need a side dish to accompany your spring barbecue? Try this low-cost, healthy potato salad.

Potato Salad

Makes 6 servings
Total cost: $2.42
Cost per serving: $0.40

 

 

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound potatoes (4 medium potatoes)
  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise, low-fat
  • 1/4 cup sweet pickle relish
  • Veggie up your potato salad with 1/2 cup crunchy bell peppers and/or 1/2 cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes.

Directions:

  1. Scrub the potatoes, and peel them. 
  2. Cut the potatoes unto 1-inch cubes. 
  3. Put the potatoes into a saucepan. Cover with water.
  4. Bring the potatoes to a boil in on medium heat. 
  5. Let the potatoes simmer for 15 minutes until they're soft. 
  6. Drain the hot water, and let the potatoes cool.
  7. While the potatoes are cooling, peel and chop some onions until you have 1 cup of chopped onions. 
  8. Chop the celery until you have 1/2 cup chopped celery.
  9. Put the chopped onion and celery in a medium mixing bowl. 
  10. Add the mayonnaise and pickle relish. Stir together. 
  11. Add the cooled potatoes. Stir again. 
  12. Add you favorite veggies (optional). Stir again. 
  13. Cover the bowl. Put in the fridge for at least 2 hours before serving. 

Sources:

USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service
Recipe adapted from What's Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl

Posted on Friday, April 29, 2016 at 10:51 AM
Tags: barbecue (1), food safety (36)

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