Diana Barrett of UC Davis, left, watches as Noel Makete of Kenya and Pendo Bigambo of Tanzania slide amaranth leaves into a solar dryer for a demonstration of postharvest practices. (Photo: Amanda Crump | UC Davis)
A new $18.75 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development will boost international fruit and vegetable research led by the University of California, Davis.
The award extends for five more years a research program established at UC Davis in 2009 as the Horticulture Collaborative Research Support Program. Recently, the program was renamed the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Horticulture.
“We believe this new, larger investment validates the work we’ve done with the Horticulture Innovation Lab and recognizes the pivotal role that fruits and vegetables play in people’s lives, both in improving health and increasing rural incomes,” said Elizabeth Mitcham, program director and a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences.
New tools for farmers around the world
In its first four years, the Horticulture Innovation Lab trained nearly 32,000 individuals in more than 30 countries, including more than 9,800 farmers who have improved their farming practices. The program also established regional centers in Thailand, Honduras and Kenya as hubs to circulate the program’s research findings.
Through collaborative research, the program has successfully adapted more than 500 new tools, management practices and seed varieties to aid farmers who grow fruits and vegetables in different countries.
One such tool is called the CoolBot, a temperature control system developed by an American farmer as an inexpensive way to cool his farm’s produce. The system was later marketed to other small-scale farmers in the United States to reduce losses of fruits and vegetables after harvest.
The Horticulture Innovation Lab has tested the CoolBot with farmers in Honduras, Uganda, Kenya, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and elsewhere — including at the UC Davis Student Farm.
Similarly, the program has successfully adapted:
- zeolite-based drying beads made by a private company to dry and store high-quality seeds for better germination in tropical climates;
- agricultural nets that keep pests away from crops with products made by a local mosquito bed net company in Tanzania; and
- an inexpensive solar dryer design with a chimney, designed by UC Davis scientists to more efficiently dry and preserve fresh fruits and vegetables even on cloudy days.
The Horticulture Innovation Lab tests and adapts these innovations through grant-funded research projects led by U.S. universities with international partners including entrepreneurs, foreign scientists, farm extension agents, government representatives and other.
“This award underscores our university’s renewed emphasis on international agriculture. It also emphasizes our partnerships with other land-grant universities to solve global problems by pooling our expertise,” said Jim Hill, associate dean of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
“These kinds of programs foster not only solutions to agricultural problems, but also leadership skills and long-term relationships that turn our partners into unofficial U.S. ambassadors in the long run,” he said.
Global food security on behalf of the American people
The Horticulture Innovation Lab is one of 24 innovation labs that leverage U.S. university research to advance agricultural science and reduce poverty in developing countries. The labs are part of Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative. UC Davis leads five of the Feed the Future Innovation Labs with USAID funding, more than any other university.
Currently, the program is selecting new research projects that focus on ways to reduce postharvest losses in fruits and vegetables, ways to improve nutritional deficiencies through horticulture, and address gender equity in agriculture.
About Feed the Future
Feed the Future is the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative. With an emphasis on smallholder farmers — particularly women — Feed the Future supports a country-led approach to reduce hunger, poverty and undernutrition by promoting growth in the agriculture sector.
About the U.S. Agency for International Development
The U.S. Agency for International Development administers the U.S. foreign assistance program providing economic and humanitarian assistance in more than 80 countries worldwide. The agency leads the U.S. government's efforts to end extreme poverty and promote resilient, democratic societies.
Cooperative Extension specialist Matthew Fidelibus (right) talks with grower Ron Brase about his grapes in Fresno, California. Brase has 40 acres of Selma Pete grapes that will become raisins. (Photo: UC Davis)
Matthew Fidelibus, Extension Specialist - UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology
Impact: Conducting research and connecting San Joaquin Valley grape growers to information that will help improve grape growing and wine making.
Follow Matthew on Twitter and Facebook
When you realize you don’t have all the answers, who do you turn to?
Cooperative Extension specialist Matthew Fidelibus faced this question soon after joining the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology in 2002.
“I had recently completed my Ph.D. and felt prepared to conduct an applied research program,” says Fidelibus. “I discovered that I had a lot to learn about grape growing and how to effectively share information with growers.”
In Fidelibus’ case, he didn’t have to look far for help.
“Between my department and our long-standing relationship with UC Cooperative Extension, I had access to a host of international experts in grape growing and farm advisers, which helped tremendously,” explains Fidelibus.
Stationed at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Fresno County, Fidelibus specializes in raisin, table and wine grapes. Research from his lab has helped growers improve the color of red- and black-fruited table grapes, and refine growing practices to optimize raisin quality and yield. His lab is also active in identifying wine grape varieties and clones for warm climate regions.
His predecessor, the late L. Peter “Pete” Christensen, served as mentor and friend to Fidelibus as he grew into his position. “Pete had a knack for unobtrusively guiding me in the right direction,” says Fidelibus. “Over time I’ve developed my own research and extension style, but I continue to look to his work as a standard for relevance and quality.”
Now Fidelibus is the one that stakeholders in California’s wine industry turn to for knowledge and advice. He aims to make his work, and that of his UC colleagues, visible, accessible and responsive to growers’ needs.
“When someone tells me they’ve learned something from me that will help them solve a problem in their vineyard, it makes my day.”
Long Valley Dam on the Owens River is one of 181 California dams UC Davis researchers identified as candidates for increased water flows to protect native fish downstream. (Image: Stephen Volpin)
A new screening tool developed by the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California, Davis, to select "high-priority" dams may be particularly useful during drought years amid competing demands for water. Scientists have identified 181 California dams that may need to increase water flows to protect native fish downstream.
"It is unpopular in many circles to talk about providing more water for fish during this drought, but to the extent we care about not driving native fish to extinction, we need a strategy to keep our rivers flowing below dams," said lead author Ted Grantham, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis during the study and currently a research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "The drought will have a major impact on the aquatic environment."
The study, published Oct. 15 in the journal BioScience, evaluated 753 large dams in California and screened them for evidence of altered water flows and damage to fish. About 25 percent, or 181, were identified as having flows that may be too low to sustain healthy fish populations.
The "high-priority" list includes:
- Some of the state's biggest dams: Trinity Dam on the Trinity River, New Melones Dam on the Stanislaus River, Pine Flat on Kings River, and Folsom Dam on the American River.
- Dams on rivers with the greatest richness of native species: Woodbridge Diversion Dam on the Mokelumne River, Nash Dam in Shasta County, and three rubber dams on lower Alameda Creek.
- Dams affecting the greatest number of native species with sensitive population status: Keswick and Anderson-Cottonwood dams on the Sacramento River, and Woodbridge and Nash dams.
A 2011 study found that 80 percent of California's native fish are at risk of extinction if present trends continue. According to the authors, the way we manage dams will determine the fate of many of these species.
A state law, California Fish and Game Code 5937, requires dam operators to release "sufficient water" to keep fish downstream "in good condition." But, with thousands of dams in the state and limited resources to assess each one, the law is rarely enforced without a lawsuit behind it. For example, a series of lawsuits in the 1980s led to higher flow releases for native fish in Putah Creek in Yolo and Solano counties. Section 5937 was also invoked in the 2006 San Joaquin River settlement agreement to restore flows to that river below Friant Dam.
Such lawsuits do not always indicate which dams are in most need of attention to protect native fish. The new study provides a scientific basis for dam operators, natural resource managers and policymakers to perform water "triage" — setting management priorities for dams requiring the most urgent attention.
Inclusion on the list does not necessarily mean the dams are out of compliance with the state law. For example, Peters Dam was included for its potential to affect sensitive species in the Lagunitas Creek watershed, but it is being managed in a way that helps protect fish, Grantham said. The framework is meant to be a starting point for further on-site study and potential enforcement of the state law.
Grantham said it also can be used to assess dams worldwide.
"This is really a global problem," Grantham said. "We have hundreds of thousands of dams throughout the world. Few of them are managed in a way that considers the downstream animal and plant life. Environmental flows will be important for preserving aquatic ecosystems worldwide, but given the scope of the problem, we need a strategic framework to prioritize the rivers on which we work and invest resources."
The study's co-authors include Professor Peter Moyle at UC Davis and Josh Viers, associate professor at UC Merced.
The study received funding from the Natural Resources Defense Council, California Trout, Trout Unlimited, the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, and the California Energy Commission Public Interest Energy Research Program.
- Read the study
- More details at California Water blog
- Related report: Case studies of high-priority dams
- Download dam photo
- Related: Not Quite Water Rights: California has given away rights to far more water than it has (Aug. 2014)
- Related: Climate change threatens extinction for 82 percent of California native fish (May 2013)
Students and affiliates of the International Agricultural Development program at UC Davis, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the program. (Photo: Brad Hooker | UC Davis)
The International Agricultural Development (IAD) program at UC Davis celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, with the announcement of a new fellowship program for graduate students. In a forum on October 10 at UC Davis, IAD students, faculty, staff, alumni from near and far, and distinguished guests, including Congressman John Garamendi, addressed the successes and promising future of the International Agricultural Development program.
During the 1960s’ era of agricultural enlightenment, UC Davis pulled together the groups — primarily in agricultural, social, and environmental science disciplines — that were necessary to meet students’ growing interest in international agricultural work. An undergraduate and a master’s degree program in IAD were established. Today, the programs are still of great interest to students, and there are more than 800 IAD alumni working in the U.S. and throughout the world.
Helene Dillard, Dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, welcomed the group and noted that international agricultural work is very rewarding and is one of the areas for which UC Davis is recognized globally.
A quick survey of IAD students in the audience showed a broad array of interests, such as revitalizing agriculture in Haiti, developing sustainable coffee distribution systems in Colombia, establishing tropical crop production, developing sustainable crop production in China, working on supply chains and economic development, creating wildlife habitats in walnut orchards, working in extension programs, and joining the Peace Corps.
Current IAD master’s degree student Jason Tsichlis is focusing his research on agricultural education in West Africa, following two years of Peace Corps service in Burkina Faso. He especially likes the self-direction focus of the IAD program in combination with a strong sense of group cooperation among the different disciplines.
Jim Hill, Associate Dean for International Programs in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences noted that, “It’s hard to travel anywhere in the world without finding one or more of our UC Davis grads in most countries, sometimes in extremely remote areas.” Speaking to the students, Hill said, “You are the face of UC Davis out there in the world.”
IAD alumnus Dan Berman, who graduated in 1976, returned to UC Davis from Mexico City for the 50th anniversary event. He knew from the start of his undergraduate days that he wanted to work overseas in agriculture, and he has done it through the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. Berman, a Minister-Counselor for Agriculture at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, has spent 22 years overseas, working on four continents, learning three languages, and working on policy, capacity building, and promoting U.S. agricultural trade.
“This IAD program is what set me on that journey,” said Berman. His advice to IAD students: “First, figure out what you want to do, then figure out how to get there. Develop different options, and find different doors to knock on. The door that opens may not have been your original choice, but it will lead to unexpected opportunities.”
Kicking off a new Research and Innovation Fellowship for Agriculture (RIFA) program was UC Davis program administrator Elana Peach-Fine. The program offers 12 to 16 IAD graduate students two- to six-month fellowships to work overseas on local agricultural development projects in seven countries — Brazil, Colombia, South Africa, Senegal, India, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The fellowship program is part of a network with other universities, and is funded by the US AID Global Development Lab in partnership with the National Science Foundation.
The launch of an endowment to support the International Agricultural Development program at UC Davis was also announced during the celebration event. “Core support for student travel, lectureships, and curriculum development will help galvanize the forward-looking IAD program,” said Pam Pacelli, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. The endowment will be a stable source of support for IAD program priorities and will ultimately help with food security and livelihood improvement around the world.
Congressman John Garamendi, a strong supporter of the University of California, and a farmer in Walnut Grove, recounted the value of his Peace Corps experience in Ethiopia several decades ago. He noted that international work not only helps other countries, but returns value to the U.S. Addressing the current students in the IAD program, Garamendi told them, “Agriculture is the foundation in the developing world. You are interested in the most fundamental activities — sustainability, economic development, extension building, educational systems, and growing crops. Increasing the incomes in small communities helps educate their children.”
With great encouragement, Garamendi told the students, “There’s so much need in the world, and you have the desire to make things better and solve problems. Don’t ever lose that. You can show people that they can succeed. Apply your knowledge, and apply your heart, and you can help save the world.”
No-till farming, such as used in this Illinois soybean field, shows promise in dry regions but causes lower yields in cold, moist areas like Northern Europe, a new study finds. (Photo: Paige Buck |USDA NRCS Illinois)
No-till farming, a key conservation agriculture strategy that avoids conventional plowing and otherwise disturbing the soil, may not bring a hoped-for boost in crop yields in much of the world, according to an extensive new meta-analysis by an international team led by the University of California, Davis.
As the core principle of conservation agriculture, no-till has been promoted worldwide in an effort to sustainably meet global food demand. But after examining results from 610 peer-reviewed studies, the researchers found that no-till often leads to yield declines compared to conventional tillage systems. It still shows promise for yield gains in dryland areas, however.
The landmark findings from their review are published online Oct. 22 in the journal Nature.
“The big challenge for agriculture is that we need to further increase yields but greatly reduce our environmental impacts,” said Cameron Pittelkow, who co-authored the study as a postdoctoral scholar at UC Davis and is now on the faculty of the University of Illinois. “The common assumption that no-till is going to play a large role in the sustainable intensification of agriculture doesn’t necessarily hold true, according to our research findings.”
About conservation agriculture
Conservation agriculture is currently practiced on 125 million hectares of land globally, an area nearly as big as the total U.S. cropland. Three key principles guide the concept: minimizing soil disturbance (also called no-till farming), protecting the soil with cover crops or leftover crop residue, and rotating the crops.
The goals of conservation agriculture are to improve long-term productivity, profits and food security, particularly under the threat of climate change. Because conservation agriculture avoids tillage, it is less time-consuming and can be more cost-effective than conventional farming methods.
In recent years, however, there has been some disagreement about the impact of no-till farming practices on yield.
New findings about yield
“This review was a tremendous undertaking and is probably the largest meta-analysis done in agriculture,” said co-author Bruce Linquist, a Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Davis.
After assessing more than 5,000 side-by-side observations, the researchers concluded that on average no-till negatively impacts yields at the global scale, yet several opportunities exist for more closely matching or even exceeding conventional tillage yields.
For example, yield reductions were minimized when the principles of crop rotation and residue retention were also practiced, highlighting the importance of implementing all three conservation agriculture principles as part of an integrated management system rather than no-till alone.
Moreover, when adopted in dry climates in combination with the other two principles of conservation agriculture, no-till farming performed significantly better than conventional tillage, likely due to the higher retention of soil moisture.
Dryland ecosystems are home to 38 percent of the world’s population, and millions of acres of land in arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia have been identified as suitable for sustainable intensification. Yet, the authors also caution that practicing no-till in dryland areas without the implementation of the other two principles of conservation agriculture decreases yields.
In regions with moist climates and sufficient precipitation, no-till farming actually resulted in yields that were on average 6 to 9 percent lower than with conventional tillage methods.
“No one has ever stated that there would be a significant decline like this,” said Chris van Kessel, a professor of plant sciences at UC Davis and co-author of the study. “Our findings suggest that broad implementation of conservation agriculture may not be warranted in all areas, particularly where residue retention and crop rotation practices are hard to implement.”
Other co-authors are Xinqiang Liang of Zhejiang University, China; Mark E. Lundy of the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences; Kees Jan van Groenigen and Natasja van Gestel, both of Northern Arizona University; Johan Six and Juhwan Lee, both of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Switzerland; and Rodney T. Venterea of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service.
- Related: New grant aims to build global food security through produce research
- Related: For fish and rice to thrive in Yolo Bypass, just add water
- Related: Ladderless peach and nectarine orchards explored
- Related: UC Davis experts on climate change and sustainability
With no way to know how long the current drought will continue, knowing when and where to water a tree can be the difference between its life and death. (Chris J. Nicolini | UC Davis)
California’s drought is having a visible impact on lawns throughout the state as homeowners reduce their outdoor watering. Lawns can be brought back to life relatively quickly, but once a tree dies, its loss is irreversible.
As the amount of sunlight falling on trees is reduced with the change in the seasons, trees go into dormancy and require less water than during the hot summer months. But in exceptionally dry conditions, a tree may not have enough stored moisture to survive until drought conditions improve. Tree advocates and water officials today urged homeowners to educate themselves on effective tree care to ensure their trees’ survival in the months ahead – especially if California’s extended dry period continues this winter.
Representatives of the Sacramento Tree Foundation, California Center for Urban Horticulture (CCUH) at UC Davis, UC Cooperative Extension and the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) told the media a return of normal rainfall this winter might be enough to sustain trees without special care and watering. However, with no way to know how long the current drought will continue, the advocates said knowing when and where to water a tree can be the difference between its life and death.
“We are seeing locations in California where trees are dying because they haven’t been watered adequately,” said CCUH Director Dave Fujino. “While homeowners are trying to save water by letting lawns die, they need to continue watering their nearby trees.”
Chuck Ingels, U.C. Cooperative Extension Horticulture Advisor, urged homeowners to follow these steps:
- Dig into the soil 6 to 8 inches at a tree’s drip line – the area immediately below the widest part of the leaf canopy; if the soil feels dry and crumbly, it needs water.
- Apply water slowly and uniformly using low-volume application equipment, such as a soaker hose that circles the tree at the drip line. Allow water to saturate the soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches.
- Allow the soil to dry between waterings; for most mature trees, one or two deep waterings per month is adequate. Fewer waterings – and perhaps none – are needed during the cooler and potentially wet winter months.
- Add mulch (leaves or wood chips) between the trunk and drip line to retain the soil’s moisture.
- Reduce competition for water by removing weeds and grass within 4 feet of a tree’s trunk.
Anne Fenkner, Greenprint Regional Coordinator at the Sacramento Tree Foundation, said trees are essential to the health and beauty of residences and entire communities throughout the state. “Trees provide food for people and animals and shade that helps make hot climates livable,” she said. “We owe it to ourselves, our children, their children and the trees themselves to help them get through this extraordinarily dry period. When water supplies are limited, priority should be given to trees, then shrubs and perennials and lastly to lawn and annuals.”
Julie Saare-Edmonds, DWR’s Landscape Program Manager, said Californians are responding to the call in January by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. to reduce their water usage by 20 percent.
But if a homeowner has allowed a lawn to dry up during the drought, trees growing in that lawn may not be getting enough water and may need more to help them transition into winter dormancy.
Fenkner said that trees have varying water needs depending on their species, age, size, slope of the ground beneath them and other factors. Homeowners can nurture their trees and improve their health by understanding tree care principles:
- Older established trees may be starved for water as well as younger trees. The low rainfall last winter did not replenish the soil moisture adequately and they may need a moisture boost before winter.
- Avoid fertilizing trees now; it will stimulate new growth at the wrong time of year.
- When planting new trees, choose species wisely. Consult a local urban forestry group such as the Sacramento Tree Foundation or check the Arboretum All-Stars list at UC Davis. We don’t know how long the drought will last, so consider selecting drought-resistant varieties and delaying planting until drought conditions improve. If the drought worsens in 2015, investments in new trees may be lost.
- Improve the quality of the soil in which the trees grow. Aerate lawns so the roots of mature trees have good access to water and oxygen.
- Consult the Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners or a certified arborist if you have questions about the health of a mature tree.
Additional advice on caring for trees can be found at these websites: