Posts Tagged: UC Davis
Can shorter peach and nectarine trees reduce labor costs?
The answer may be developing soon at a 4-acre test orchard south of Fresno, where University of California researchers are planting semi-dwarfing rootstocks as part of a large, integrated experiment on virtually every aspect of peach and nectarine production.
“We're designing ‘ladderless' orchards, which have the potential to cut labor costs by 50 percent or more and improve worker safety,” said UC Cooperative Extension specialist Ted DeJong, a plant physiology professor at UC Davis. DeJong and Kevin Day, a Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Tulare County, are leading the extraordinary experiment.
Conventional peach and nectarine trees grow about 13 feet tall. Setting up, climbing and moving ladders to prune the trees and harvest fruit consumes about half the workday. Ladders are dangerous, too, which is why peach and nectarine growers pay about 40 percent more for workers' compensation insurance than growers who work with more low-lying commodities, like grapes.
Developed by breeders at UC Davis, the new rootstocks will produce trees that grow about 7 or 8 feet tall and can be pruned and harvested from the ground. With the right orchard management — which Day and DeJong will test at their plots at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, near Fresno — the shorter trees could produce just as much high-quality fruit as their lofty kin.
“Ladderless orchards would be huge for our industry,” said Bill Chandler, who grows several varieties of peaches and nectarines on his 250-acre Chandler Farms in Selma, California. “There are so many costs associated with ladders that many growers are switching over to almonds just to stay in business. It costs me $1,400 an acre to thin our trees.”
“Even with conventional rootstocks, I prune my trees so workers can take two fewer steps on the ladder come harvest time,” he said. “And the savings are huge, even with that. It's important to keep farm work safe. And it's important to keep farming viable, or else we'll be getting all our produce from overseas.”
Shorter trees are just one of the elements of DeJong's and Day's experiment, which explores best practices for keeping peach and nectarine production economically and environmentally sustainable. Funded by the UC division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, their model orchard will integrate virtually every UC pomology advancement in the past 30 years.
You can read more at: http://www.caes.ucdavis.edu/news/articles/2014/08/ladderless-peach-and-nectarine-orchards-explored
At the same time, chefs and food buyers at universities, particularly the University of California, are selecting for high-quality fruits and vegetables, produced locally and sustainably. Universities with strong food sustainability programs are rightfully proud of what they're doing to educate students about food production, health, and nutrition. UC Davis Dining Services prioritizes the purchase of locally grown food (ideally within a 50-mile radius of campus). Most University of California campuses have similar programs.
At UC Davis, fresh roma tomatoes are picked each August from the 300-acre Russell Ranch, part of the campus's Agricultural Sustainability Institute, then processed within hours by campus Dining Services to provide year-round tomato sauce for pizza, pasta, and ratatouille. All told, 10,000 pounds of tomatoes are processed during a two-week period in August. About 29 percent of the total food served in the campus's residential dining halls is from local, organic or sustainable sources.
Emma Torbert, an academic coordinator at the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute, noted, “Connecting the food system to the research is really interesting. A lot of times there is confusion about where our food is coming from. The more people are educated, the more educated decisions they can make.”
Many UC Davis faculty and staff are so impressed with the food choices at the dorms that they purchase individual meal tickets and enjoy lunches made with the campus-grown tomatoes, herbs, and other vegetables, all of which are part of the daily food array. Public dinners are also offered periodically at the dorms so that community members can sit amongst students to taste and learn about the sustainability programs in the dorms.
- Video: Farm to Table, UC Davis Tomatoes; 2010
- Slide show of this year's UC Davis tomato harvesting and processing system; 2014
- Sustainable Foodservice Progress Report 2014, UC Davis Dining Services
- Two videos of UC Davis students who work at the Student Farm to produce food, including one on tomato sauce production
- “Tomatoes: Safe methods to store, preserve, and enjoy.” UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, free publication
As you're ladling up country-style pinto beans for your weekend barbecue or fixing a cold three-bean salad from kidney, string and navy beans for a summer picnic, pause to remember what a long and storied history these “common bean” varieties share and the new scientific advances that promise to boost their productivity worldwide.
This week, a new genome sequencing is being reported for the common bean, which ranks as the world's 10th most widely grown food crop and includes the culinary favorites above, whose varieties together comprise a $1.2 billion crop in the United States.
“The availability of this new whole-genome sequence for beans is already paying off,” said Paul Gepts, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis and co-author of the new sequencing study.
Gepts, who leads the bean-breeding program at UC Davis, notes that the new sequence is being used to confirm many of the findings made earlier by his UC Davis research group, including identification of the common bean's two points of origin and domestication.
Sequencing and bean ancestry
The common bean is thought to have originated in Mexico more than 100,000 years ago, but -- as the Gepts group earlier discovered – was domesticated separately at two different geographic locations in Mesoamerica and the southern Andes.
“This finding makes the common bean an unusually interesting experimental system because the domestication process has been replicated in this crop,” Gepts said.
The sequencing team compared gene sequences from pooled populations of plants representing these two regions and found that only a small fraction of the genes are shared between common bean species from the two locations. This supports the earlier finding that the common bean was domesticated in two separate events -- one at each location -- but distinct genes were involved in each event.
The new whole-genome sequencing is also helping to identify genetic “markers” that can be used to speed up breeding of new and more productive bean varieties in the United States, East Africa and elsewhere, Gepts said.
The nitrogen connection
All of bean varieties that belong to the “common bean” group share with the closely related soybean the highly valued ability to form symbiotic relationships with “nitrogen-fixing” bacteria in the soil.
The plants and the bacteria work together to convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into ammonia – which includes nitrogen in a form that enriches the soil and feeds crops. Nitrogen-fixing crop plants can actually reduce or eliminate the need for farmers to apply expensive fertilizers.
One goal of the new sequencing project was to better understand the genetic basis for how such symbiotic relationships between nitrogen-fixing plants and bacteria are formed and sustained, with an eye toward increasing fuel- and food-crop productivity.
The research team successfully identified a handful of genes involved with moving nitrogen around, which could be helpful to farmers who intercrop beans with other crops that don't fix nitrogen.
Findings from this study are reported this week online in the journal Nature Genetics. The sequencing project was led by researchers at the University of Georgia, U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology and North Dakota State University.
Doctors say we'll live longer if we exercise and eat right. Okay, but what does that mean, exactly? You hear so much about super foods and super diets that knowing how to “eat right” can be super confusing.
“This isn't about starving yourself or biting off more than you can chew at the gym,” Applegate says. “It's about making good-for-your-body decisions, rather than punishing you with cutting calories and tough-to-do workouts.”
Applegate teaches nutrition at UC Davis, including a wildly popular online and in-person nutrition course that attracts several thousand students each year. She's a triathlete, a sports nutrition columnist for Runner's World, an author of several sports nutrition books, director of sports nutrition for Intercollegiate Athletics at UC Davis, and a consultant for Olympic athletes.
In short, she knows her stuff. And when it comes to healthy eating, she says, don't over-think it.
“Eating well isn't about being perfect, but about finding out what food has to offer, and striking a balance between your needs, personal preferences, culture and family experience,” she says.
That philosophy is central to her healthy eating and exercise challenge, which you can pick up at any Nugget Market or download from its website here. Applegate's shopping list includes a wide variety of tasty foods — a bounty of fresh vegetables, various meats and poultry, fish, eggs, grains, dairy, chocolate and much more. What's not to like?
- Eat breakfast. A solid morning meal sets the stage for a good day of healthy eating.
- Eat some protein at every meal to manage weight and support your exercise.
- Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa and whole wheat are your friends (unless you cannot tolerate gluten. If so, stick with brown rice and other non-wheat products).
- Aim for at least 2½ cups of veggies and 2 to 3 pieces of fruit each day.
- Include healthy fats from fish, nuts and seeds. Use olive, canola or avocado oils.
- Aim for 2 to 3 servings of calcium-rich foods like dairy or soymilk. Each day, eat a probiotic such as yogurt or kefir for digestive and immune support.
As for fitness, the plan provides a do-at-home circuit of strength training exercises, such as planks, push-ups, squats and leg lifts. Her general rules are:
- Switch things up. You'll build stronger muscles when you try different types of exercises.
- Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity five to seven days a week. Anything that boosts your heart rate counts — fast walking, jogging, bike riding, swimming, dancing, basketball, you name it. If you can't find time for 30 minutes straight, 10 minutes here and there will do the trick.
- Include three to five do-at-home strength-building sessions that help shape and tone major muscle groups while building core strength.
Adjusting to healthy eating and routine exercise takes time, Applegate says, so don't be too hard on yourself.
The joy is in the journey.
Not until students turn 21 can they taste the wine and beer they make and learn to assess its sensory quality. Learning the characteristics of a wide assortment of good (and not-so-good) wines and beers is an important component of winemaking and brewing. Having to wait until their junior or senior year to learn these skills is a disadvantage for these students.
Legislation (AB 1989) has been proposed by California Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro (D-North Coast) that will allow students, ages 18 to 21, enrolled in winemaking and brewery science programs to taste alcoholic beverages in qualified academic institutions. The students can taste, but not consume — which means they must learn the professional practice of spitting during the tasting process.
“Winemakers taste wine daily during harvest to quickly make critical decisions as the winemaking is underway,” Waterhouse said. “Our students need to start learning this skill here, with our guidance. And, they also have to get over the embarrassment of spitting — after every taste.”
Chik Brenneman, the UC Davis winemaker, said that the bill, if passed, “will allow students to move on to the sensory program a lot sooner, before they've finished most of their winemaking classes. Earlier sensory training will help them when they go to work in the industry.”
If the legislation passes, it will benefit enology and brewing students at UC Davis, which is the only University of California campus to offer undergraduate degrees in viticulture and enology and in brewing science (an option within the food science major).
While parents of college students may worry that the bill will open the door to widespread drinking, Waterhouse and Brenneman both noted that the focus of the bill is so narrow that its impact will benefit a limited number of students, and that it's unlikely to lead to excessive drinking. They say that the over-21 students routinely spit what they're tasting in a standard industry manner, and that “drinking” in class is not a problem.
With passage of this bill, which is backed by the University of California, the state will join 12 other states that have allowed this educational exemption for students.
- California legislative information on AB 1989
- NBC Bay Area: Reality check: Bill calls for underage tasting on college campuses, Feb. 27, 2014
- Bill by Wes Chesbro would allow underage beverage students to sip; PressDemocrat.com, Feb. 28, 2014