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UC sheep shearing school eases sheep shearer shortage

Aspiring sheep shearers flocked to the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center in May for a week of training on the proper techniques for harvesting wool from sheep, reported Tiffany Camhi on KQED Radio News.

“We try to get the students shearing the first day because they make a lot of mistakes,” said UC Cooperative Extension advisor John Harper, who heads up the annual training session.

The school teaches the New Zealand style of shearing, which causes the least amount of stress for the sheep and the shearer. It involves some fancy footwork, which Harper likens to a dance.

“We're dancing instructors,” Harper said. “It's like 'Dancing With The Stars' on steroids, but with sheep.”

Expert sheep shearers can expect to find work that pays well. 

UCCE advisor Dan Macon said the growing popularity of backyard flocks in California is adding to the demand for shearers.

“Infrastructure of the sheep industry is a key component,” Macon said. “Having people with that kind of skill and willingness to work hard is desperately needed.”

Read more about the UCCE Sheep Shearing school here: UC sheep shearing school prepares students for gainful employment

Shearers can earn $50 to $100 per hour, UCCE's John Harper said, and can start a business with a $3,000 investment in equipment. (Photo: Evett Kilmartin)
Posted on Thursday, May 24, 2018 at 1:46 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

Invasive pest takes up residence in the Northeast

Spotted lanternfly. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The spotted lanternfly, native to Asia, first came to America in 2014 when it was found in Pennsylvania. Despite a quarantine, populations have been discovered in New York, Delaware and Virginia, reported Zach Montague in the New York Times.

“They've been appearing in grapes, and we have reports from growers last year of a 90 percent loss,” said Julie Urban, a senior research associate at Penn State.

The reporter also contacted UC Cooperative Extension advisor Surendra Dara, who published an article in 2014 about spotted lanternfly in Pest News, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources eJournal about endemic and invasive pests in California.

Surendra Dara.
"The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture recently reported the first detection of yet another invasive hemipteran pest in the U.S.," Dara wrote in his article. "While efforts to have a good grip over other invasive hemipterans like the Asian citrus psyllid, the Bagrada bug, and the brown marmorated stink bug are still underway, there is a new pest that could potentially impact industries ranging from lumber to wine."

Dara told Times' reporter that lanternfly has the unusual ability to lay eggs on almost any surface — plants and soil as well as wheel wells, train cars and shipping containers.

“Most pests deposit their eggs on their host plant, or very close, so they already have food available,” Dara said. “Those that have the advantage of being able to lay eggs on non-plant material obviously have a better chance of surviving and spreading."

Posted on Monday, May 21, 2018 at 1:21 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

Bay Area program provides urban ag jobs to ex-offenders

The East Oakland non-profit organization Planting Justice hires former inmates, many from San Quentin, and pays them a family sustaining wage to work on urban farms, orchards and nurseries, and offer environmental education, reported Patti Brown in the New York Times.

Of the 35 formerly incarcerated workers hired by Planting Justice since 2009, only one is known to have returned to prison. Employees must commit to staying sober and drug free.

Jennifer Sowerwine.
Jennifer Sowerwine, UC Cooperative Extension specialist at UC Berkeley, said that the organization's founders, Haleh Zandi and Gavin Raders, have “shifted the conversation around food justice.”

“It's not just about food security, but the security of providing living wages,” she said. 

Sowerwine said she learned about Planting Justice a few years ago in an urban farming focus group and worked with the program on many projects. She suggested the New York Times reporter do a feature story on Planting Justice, set up the interview and attended the site visit to support the introduction. 

Planting Justice, in partnership with the Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture, were recipients of a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program Grant from USDA at the same time as Sowerwine.

"We collaborate and support each other's programs through providing mutual guidance, co-sponsoring events, and offering opportunities for shared learning for our participants," Sowerwine said. "We are exploring deeper partnerships with a MESA/PJ training program at the Gill Tract as well in an effort to raise the profile of urban farming, and amplify successful and innovative urban agriculture approaches."

Posted on Friday, May 18, 2018 at 2:03 PM
Focus Area Tags: Economic Development

Mechanical winegrape management produces superior grapes

UC Cooperative Extension specialist Kaan Kurtural is managing a vineyard at the 40-acre UC Oakville Field Station in Napa County with virtually no manual labor, reported Tim Hearden in Capital Press

“We set this up to be a no-touch vineyard,” Kurtural said. “All the cultural practices are done by machine.”

Kurtural's original intent was to help farmers deal with labor shortages, but the trial also produced superior winegrapes.

“When I took the job at the University of California, the labor situation started to get worse,” Kurtural said. “If we didn't have people to prune grapes, we weren't able to finish pruning. So we said, ‘We are a research station, let's develop a solution.'”

In the research vinyard:

  • A machine equipped with telemetry and GPS sensors prunes the vines
  • Soil and canopy data are collected manually
  • Spurs and suckers are thinned with a specially designed pruner
  • Clusters are thinned mechanically
  • The grapes are harvested mechanically

“We can do all the practices mechanically now,” he said. “There was no economic need to do this previously, but now there is.”

Kurtural attributes the winegrape quality improvements to the tall canopy, which protects grapes from sun damage. The system also uses less water.

For complete details, watch a 40-minute lecture by Kaan Kutural online

Interest in winegrape mechanization is skyrocketing because the practices produce grapes of superior quality.
 
Posted on Tuesday, May 15, 2018 at 10:22 AM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

Avocados go from Meso-American backyards to 'world domination'

Avocados, now riding a tide of popularity appearing on toast in cookbooks and trendy restaurant menus, came late to commercial agriculture, reported Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley in Gastropod, a podcast that looks at food through the lens of science and history.

The 48-minute story features Mary Lu Arpaia, UC Cooperative Extension specialist based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier. Arpaia runs the UC avocado breeding program and is now studying varieties that will do well in the San Joaquin Valley climate.

Millions of photos of avocado toast are posted to Instagram every day. (Photo: Pixabay)

On Gastropod, Arpaia outlined avocados' humble beginnings in their native Mexico and Central America.

"It was grown as a dooryard crop tree and valued for thousands of years," Arpaia said. "There was no intensive production of avocado until the industries in California and Florida started about 100 years ago."

The most popular variety is the Hass, which is derived from a seed planted in La Habra Heights by a hobby horticulturist, Rudolph Hass, a U.S. Postal Service worker.

"The thing against it (the Hass variety) was it turned black when ripe. It's a great tree with great fruit, but it's black," Arpaia said. "So it just shows how things have changed."

Consumers now embrace Hass' black, bumpy coat.

Graber and Twilley spent time on the show describing the "avocado toast" sensation around the globe. The duo quoted an article in Vogue that says 3 million new pictures of avocado toast are uploaded to Instagram every day.

The future for avocados looks bright. Already China imports 32,000 tons of avocados annually, but the market potential is much greater.

"I can't even imagine how big avocado will get in China," said one of the Gastropod hosts.

Posted on Thursday, May 10, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Tags: avocado (8), Mary Lu Arpaia (3)
Focus Area Tags: Food

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