California suffered severe droughts in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s, but the current drought is the worst in history, according to Daniel Summer, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center. He outlined the reasons in a story published on Food, Nutrition and Science.
For one thing, the state's population is larger than ever before, requiring more water resources. Increased planting of trees and vines in the state has given farmers less flexibility. In addition, recent increases in crop and livestock prices increase losses from lower production, Sumner said. He suggests the drought can be a lesson for the future.
"This current drought has highlighted some weaknesses in drought preparation that could be improved for future drought scenarios," the story said.
In dry years, California relies heavily on groundwater. Sumner said the aggregate measures of groundwater depth over time and space are good, but their estimates of regional groundwater use are poor and need improvement. Improved management of groundwater basins will be key to securing California's agriculture in the future, Sumner said.
The story also quoted Leslie Roche, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. Roche said the drought will have lasting impacts on how ranchers plan and prepare for future droughts.
"There is a deep undercurrent of concern within the ranching community that this drought will persist, and that practical options to maintain productivity in that event are very limited. This is true throughout all quarters of California's agricultural community,” Roche said.
The story focused on Tom Chandler, a fourth-generation Sanger farmer who uses a pressure chamber to measure the amount of water is in the leaves of his almond trees.
"Using the pressure chambers is like having a fuel gauge for your plants," Chandler said.
For the story, Shoen talked to Allan Fulton, the UC Cooperative Extension irrigation and water resources advisor in Glenn, Colusa and Shasta counties. Fulton has experience with pressure chambers stretching back more than a decade.
"Understanding what the chamber is trying to tell you helps farmers concentrate water in areas that need it the most," Fulton said. "This means more production while using the same amount of water."
The pressure chamber results show farmers whether the crops need water, or if they can get by without water at the moment.
Ken Shackel, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, learned by conducting research that dry soil doesn't mean the plant is suffering.
"You can save tons of water thanks to the chambers," Shackel said.
"I'm a very proud 4-H member, from 4th grade to early college, in beef, rocketry and sugar beet (projects)," Jacobsen said. "When we think of 4-H, it's just so much more than those projects. There are so many leadership opportunities for these kids."
Jacobsen interviewed John Borba, the 4-H youth development advisor for UCCE in Kern county.
"4-H has an emphasis on citizenship, leadership and learning life skills," Borba said. "We encourage youth to take on leadership responsibilities, where the older youth mentor the younger youth."
Borba said 4-H program in California, which has 120,000 youth participants and 14,000 adult volunteers, isn't just for rural kids.
"In the San Joaquin Valley, 4-H is offered in the traditional mode, 4-H clubs, where volunteer leaders assist the youth in different programs. But we also have programs on military bases, active duty and national guard, and we have after-school programs where we teach the staff ... to provide 4-H programs after school."
Jacobsen interviewed Shanon Mueller, the director of UCCE in Fresno County, at the Garden of the Sun, a one-acre demonstration garden created and maintained by the UCCE Master Gardener program.
She explained the role of UCCE's farm advisors and nutrition educators.
"Farm advisors bring the research-based information to the county," Mueller said. "A lot of times we can't directly import that. We will adapt that research so it's locally relevant. We do research trials, demonstration trials. We have field days, workshops, meetings."
Mueller continued, "Our goal is to bring the most up-to-date information to growers on varieties, production practices, irrigation, pest management. Any component that relates to agriculture to make sure we keep our ag economy strong."
Mueller said Fresno County UCCE maintains one of the premiere nutrition programs in the state. Much of the nutrition education takes place in Fresno County schools.
"They talk about good nutrition, physical activity and health issues in classrooms," Mueller said. "One of the fun activities they do is monthly tasting time. They will bring some product for the kids to taste in a comfortable environment. All the kids are tasting jicama, apricots or something they haven't tried before in hopes that they'll try it and like it and that their parents will buy it at the grocery store."
Valley's Gold is produced by the Fresno County Farm Bureau and appears on the local PBS affiliate, KVPT.
The ag education episode can also be viewed below. Borba's interview begins at 12:25 and Mueller's at 15:08.
Brian Marsh, the director of UC Cooperative Extension in Kern County, talked about the upcoming UCCE centennial celebration with host Scott Cox on First Look, a web video and radio program that provides Kern County resident with an overview of the day's news. The program is broadcast on the Bakersfield Californian webpage and on KERN radio.
At a dinner Aug. 21 marking the 100th anniversary of UC Cooperative Extension, the organization will honor 14 Kern County families with a farming legacy that stretches back 100 years or more. Cox was impressed.
"For a family farm to be in business for 100 years, it's a tough way to make a living," Cox said. "There's a lot of temptation for kids to go off to school and learn how to do something else and sell the farm off. These are people who have stuck it out."
Marsh said the farming underway today is different than 100 years ago.
"The children are coming back to the farm with advanced degrees," Marsh said. "Farming isn't the simple life. .. There is a lot of technology, there's a lot of regulations to deal with. A lot of our products are exported, so you're dealing with international trade and residue concentrations in other countries."
Cox agreed. "From agribusiness, to science, there's a lot going on out there."
Marsh emphasized the importance of the California farming industry. "I like to eat everyday," he said.
The annual field day at the UC Intermountain Research and Extension Center held last week provided an opportunity to mark the 100th anniversary of UC Cooperative Extension with leaders of the organization, reported Todd Fitchette in Western Farm Press.
The research activities at the Intermountain center, situated near the California-Oregon border in Tulelake, focus on peppermint, horseradish, small grains, wheat, potatoes, alfalfa and onions. At the field day, UCCE researchers discussed the progress of alfalfa production in the Klamath Basin, suppressing white rot disease in processing onions, maximizing profitability of wheat, pest management in peppermint and other topics.
The Intermountain Research and Extension Center is one of nine centers under the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR). The 140-acre facility provides UCCE advisors and specialists the space and support needed to conduct agricultural research in a high mountain interior valley climate zone.