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Biofuels need feedstock.

The recent rise in gas prices has many folks thinking about biofuels. In fact, in the last week, the Associated Press reported that the push from Congress and the White House for hugh increases in biofuels is prompting the oil industry to scale back it plans for refinery expansions -- which could keep gas prices high for years to come. (AP stories appear in many media outlets and Web sites. Use the seven-day free search with the keyword "biofuel" to find this story.) The article, by H. Josef Hebert, says oil industry executives no longer believe there will be the demand for gasoline over the next decade to warrant billions of dollars in refinery expansions.

As politicians and oil executives debate the issues, and Americans continue paying mightily at the pumps, UC ANR is bringing together experts in Woodland tomorrow to discuss the potential for biofuel feedstock production in California using crops or crop residues. The event involves representatives from biofuel businesses in California, farmers and UC academics.

I'll be attending and taking extensive notes in order to share with the media any conclusions about UC research and outreach projects focused on biofuel feedstock development that the group is ready to share. For that reason, I won't be here to blog about UC ANR in the media, but will bring the blog up to date on Wednesday.

Posted on Monday, June 25, 2007 at 12:53 PM

Adolescent aggravations alleviated.

Just today I learned of an extremely helpful article that ran in the Sacramento Bee a week ago which includes "nagging points" for parents who are dealing with teenagers this summer. As the mother of two adolescents, I feel empowered by the story and can now more comfortably justify my parenting actions.

For the first section of the article, reporter Alison apRoberts (yes, that's the spelling given for her last name), went to Katherine Heck, specialist at the 4-H Center for Youth Development at UC Davis. (apRoberts identified Heck as a "survey researcher.")

Heck told the newspaper that the vast majority of teens in one recent survey of more than 2,000 high school seniors reported driving other kids around, even if they hadn't been licensed long enough for it to be legal.

"It doesn't seem like parents (are) too concerned, but they should be," Heck is quoted.

Other frightening survey results reported in apRoberts' story:

  • 39 percent of the students reported having ridden in a car with a driver who had been drinking alcohol
  • 27 percent said they had ridden in a car with a driver who had been using drugs.
  • 59 percent of the teens reported having been a passenger while another teen was driving dangerously

The article goes on go give tips and information on a variety of parental concerns regarding teenagers, including curfews, communication, impulsive behavior, drinking, sex and drug usage. It is well worth reading, printing and saving to use as "exhibit A" next time your teenager says you are unreasonably strict.

4-H Youth Development
4-H Youth Development

Posted on Friday, June 22, 2007 at 9:43 AM

More water wisdom.

The Orange County Register ran a 1,200-word story this week on a demonstration project at the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine. The project was created to show homeowners how they can control urban runoff, which can wash pesticides, fertilizer and other contaminants into coastal waters and cause unwanted algae blooms.

The article, by reporter Pat Brennan, describes three small buildings made to look like homes centered on three different landscapes -- one that is "typical," which shows the problems with many residential landscapes, one that is "retrofitted," which shows how the typical landscape can be improved with a little effort, and one that is "low-impact," which shows how current technologies can reduce or eliminate contaminated water runoff.

"They're designed so people could see what they could implement to improve water quality," the article quotes Darren Haver, a water quality adviser with the UC Cooperative Extension. "'What are a few things I could do around my home?'"

Posted on Thursday, June 21, 2007 at 11:48 AM

Media turns to UC for water wisdom.

After California’s dry 2006-07 “rainy season,” ways to soothe water worries are turning up in the media. On the Web site insidebayarea.com, reporter Joan Morris reported that the East Bay Municipal Utility District expects a 15,000 acre-feet water shortfall this summer. The district asked its residential customers to limit irrigation to three non-consecutive days a week. (insidebayarea.com is the Web page for the Oakland Tribune and other local papers in the in the Bay Area.)

Morris went to UC Cooperative Extension horticulturist Bethallyn Black to get advice for Bay Area residents on how to cope with water restrictions. Although making changes in the garden to favor drought-resistant plants may be an excellent long-term goal, Black suggested putting off new planting until the fall.

“Spend this summer planning and prepping,” Black is quoted in the article, “and plant in October, when the winter rains will keep them happy.”

Black suggested gardeners get plants established before next summer’s water restrictions are put in place.

“Although low-water plants don’t require much water once they are rooted in place, newly set plants do,” the article said.

Bethallyn Black
Bethallyn Black

Posted on Thursday, June 21, 2007 at 10:49 AM

UC Cooperative Extension works to clean air.

The news media has used quite a bit of ink in recent weeks covering the actions of regulatory agencies charged with cleaning the state's air. The California Air Resources Board voted 20-23 last week to delay cleaning up San Joaquin Valley air 11 years past the current deadline of 2012, according to news reports such as this one on the CBS news affiliate in Fresno. Many newspapers have editorialized against the decision. The Sacramento Bee called it "pitiful." The San Francisco Chronicle joked that valley smog "can also blind state regulators to their duty."

There will be more press to come. On Thursday and Friday, CARB will meet in Los Angeles to discuss a wide variety of measures, including Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed "early action measures" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to the agency's agenda posted online.

Meanwhile, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors continue to help farmers do their part to clean California's air. One in particular is Brent Holtz of Madera County, who has advocated chipping or shredding of orchard prunings as an alternative to burning for 10 years. Here is a 2002 article about his research. Freelance writer Marni Katz went to Holtz for comment on an article she wrote about burning alternatives for the June 2007 issue of Pacific Nut Producer. (The article is not available on the Web.)

Holtz noted in the article that about 2,000 pounds of green almond prunings are removed per acre with each almond pruning -- which could add up to more than 1 billion pounds of green material burned in California.

One challenge with chipping and shredding is the chance that small pieces of wood could be collected with the nuts at harvest. The key is getting chippings or shreddings to stick to the soil rather than be picked up at harvest, Holtz says.

". . . We have advised growers to lightly till or scratch the soil surface in order to enhance wood debris contact with the soil," Holtz is quoted. "We believe soil contact is more critical to holding wood debris in the orchard than the actual size of the wood debris or its decomposition rate." 

Ag burning contributes to air pollution.
Ag burning contributes to air pollution.

Posted on Wednesday, June 20, 2007 at 10:28 AM

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