UC Agriculture & Natural Resources News
Jim Farrar, director of the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program
"On Wednesday, May 8, 2019, the State of California announced it would ban the use of chlorpyrifos by canceling registration of the pesticide by the Department of Pesticide Registration. Chlorpyrifos use in agriculture has been under federal and state regulatory review for the last several years. Chlorpyrifos for use in structural pest control and for sale in consumer products ended in 2000 due to a voluntary agreement between the manufacturers and EPA.
"University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) carries out the Land-Grant mission of University of California to seek scientific solutions to address society's needs and problems. As a part of UC ANR, the Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM) provides research-based information to manage pests while protecting human-health and the environment. UC scientists have spent many years researching alternatives to chlorpyrifos and educating state-licensed pest control advisers on effective use of the alternatives. For example, improved integrated pest management of insects in almonds eliminated the need for winter application of chlorpyrifos on the 1,390,000 acres of almonds in California. Overall, this work contributed to the greater than 50% decrease in chlorpyrifos use in all of California agriculture from 2006 to 2016.
"In 2014, UC IPM started a two-year project, funded by California Department of Pesticide Regulation, to identify the pest-crop situations where there were no or few alternatives to chlorpyrifos. That project identified specific needs for additional research on alternatives to manage weevils and aphids in alfalfa, leaf-footed bug and stink bugs in almond, ants in citrus, and aphids and whiteflies in cotton. UC research and extension continues to seek solutions to these difficult pest management problems. Previous research in many other pest-crop situations had already identified and supported implementation of alternatives to chlorpyrifos.
"UC ANR will continue to work closely with the State of California and agriculture to protect the health of Californians and our environment while providing effective pest management solutions to farmers."
Jim Farrar is traveling in Guam and Micronesia to present IPM training as part of a Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. He returns to the U.S. on May 23. In his absence, acting IPM director Cheryl Wilen and associate director for agricultural IPM Emily Symmes can answer questions about the program's role in researching chlorpyrifos alternatives for the agriculture industry.
Cheryl Wilen, Ph.D.
Acting director, UC Statewide IPM program; Area IPM advisor, San Diego County
Emily Symmes, Ph.D.
Associate director for agricultural IPM, UC Statewide IPM program; Area IPM advisor, Butte County
Bugs from the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, grabbed the interest of fairgoers at the 144th annual Dixon May Fair, held May 9 through May 12. Entomologists Jeff Smith and Alexander "Alex" Dedmon kept busy answering questions on Saturday in the "Oh My" insect display area of the...
Entomologist Jeff Smith (left) shows insect displays from the Bohart Museum of Entomology to fairgoers last Saturday at the Dixon May Fair. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Entomologists Alex Dedon (left) and Jeff Smith of UC Davis engage with Carolyn Jones of Dixon, who served as chair of the 2019 Sacramento Orchid Show. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Forensic entomologist Alex Dedmon, a doctoral student at UC Davis, responds to a question from a fairgoer Saturday at the Dixon May Fair. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This fairgoer checked out the specimens of carpenter bees, honey bees, leafcutting bees and sweat bees from the Bohart Museum of Entomology at the Dixon May Fair. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An insect display on Hymenotpera (bees and wasps) drew the interest of this fairgoer at the Dixon May Fair. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Specimens from the order Coleoptera (beetles) fascinated many fairgoers at the Dixon May Fair. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Camouflaged insects include stick insects that look like leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Butterfly specimens from the order Lepitoptera (butterflies and moths) brightened the Bohart Museum of Entomology display at the Dixon May Fair. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The Floriculture Building at the Dixon May Fair was more than flowers--it included specimens of pollinators and other insects from the Bohart Museum of Entomology. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
For the first time, the University of California has hired a Cooperative Extension specialist dedicated to organic agriculture.
Joji Muramoto, a longtime research associate with the University of California Santa Cruz, will coordinate a statewide program focused on the organic production of strawberries and vegetables. His first day in the new position will be May 29.
Muramoto is highly regarded for the depth of his knowledge of soil science and for his pioneering contributions to the organic production of strawberries—a high-value crop that is notoriously vulnerable to pests and soil-borne disease. He will have a joint affiliation with UC's Cooperative Extension (CE) and the Environmental Studies Department and the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) at UCSC.
CE specialists serve as liaisons between the university and the agricultural sector, building research programs that align with the needs of farmers and conducting collaborative on-farm studies that address problems growers are facing.
"I'm honored and humbled to have this position," said Muramoto, who plans to focus on soil fertility and the organic management of soil-borne diseases. In his position as assistant specialist, he looks forward to expanding his reach statewide and to coordinating short courses on organic pest management and organic soil fertility management.
CASFS Director Daniel Press said the establishment of an organic specialist is long overdue — and that Muramoto was an excellent choice.
"This is highly visible, public recognition of the significance of agroecology and organic agriculture," said Press. "It signals to the community of organic growers that we are a partner with them. They know this is for them, and they really love it."
UC Santa Cruz has played a vital role in the flourishing of organic farming on the Central Coast and beyond, through undergraduate education, training provided by the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture, CASFS, and faculty research projects, many of which Muramoto supported in his capacity as a research associate. Thirty percent of agriculture in Santa Cruz County is certified organic, said Press, who called the figure "astonishing."
"Joji is an exceptionally accomplished, skilled, talented, and respected scientist," said Press. "His list of publications is as long as many of my colleagues.' Now it's his show. He's the organic production specialist in the state."
It is also a sign of the times that UC Santa Cruz was selected to partner with UC's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR) to create this CE position, said Press. Despite its strength in agroecology, Santa Cruz is not one of UC's traditional "ag schools." But times are changing, and the Berkeley, Davis, and Riverside campuses are no longer the only hosts of these valued positions.
"We have a long record of important ag research coming out of UC Santa Cruz, but it hasn't been part of a permanent program or a formal network," said Press, citing pathbreaking work by his colleagues in Environmental Studies, including Professor Emeritus Steve Gliessman, Professor Carol Shennan, former CASFS Director Patricia Allen, and former CASFS Associate Director Sean Swezey, all of whom Muramoto collaborated with. Most recently, in collaboration with Shennan, he helped pioneer the development of anaerobic soil disinfestation, a biological alternative to fumigants that has become a key strategy in conventional and organic strawberry production in coastal California.
"I can't overstate the different ways Joji has been engaged with campus research and undergraduate and graduate students," said Press. "He has played a key role in CASFS research for more than 20 years."
Tragedy inspires a commitment to organic agriculture
Muramoto's commitment to organic agriculture is almost as old as he is. When he was a boy growing up in Tokyo, Muramoto lost his 6-year-old sister to leukemia. His parents were shocked and devastated. Their loss took place when many people in Japan were concerned about pesticide residues in produce, spurred in part by Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring and the emergence of the organic movement in Japan.
"My mother wanted to do something," recalled Muramoto. "There was no direct evidence between pesticide residue and cancer, but she didn't want her daughter's death to have been in vain, so she joined the early organic movement. She started buying organic produce via the 'Teikei' system, which is similar to Community Supported Agriculture."
During middle school, Muramoto spent school breaks on organic farms in suburban Tokyo. "Organic farmers there told me repeatedly, 'Soil is the foundation of farming,'" he said. "That's when I got interested in soil science."
Today there is much more evidence showing an association between pesticide use and cancer, and Muramoto said, "It is important to increase our efforts to develop agroecological practices to manage pests without using pesticides."
Uphill battle to study organic processes
As a young assistant professor studying soil science at the Tokyo University of Agriculture, a private ag school, Muramoto found it difficult to get support for the work he wanted to do on organic production—while others in his department were well-supported for their work on conventional farming practices, including studies on chemical pesticides. The stress took a toll on Muramoto's health, and he left the university.
He reached out to Steve Gliessman after reading an academic article about Gliessman's early work on organic strawberries. Muramoto visited Gliessman in 1995 and joined Gliessman's agroeology lab at UCSC as a visiting scholar the following year. "I am so thankful, because he gave me the second chance I needed," said Muramoto. "I ended up working on organic strawberries ever since."
The Central Coast is well known around the world for the high concentration of organic production, and UC Santa Cruz is internationally recognized as a hub of organic activity and expertise.
Muramoto looks forward to building his research program; he hopes to develop ways to measure indicators of soil health, including levels of readily decomposable organic carbon and nitrogen. "Soil health has become a mainstream research topic among soil scientists worldwide, but there's no regional data for the Central Coast," he said.
Intuition + scientific expertise = a winning formula
Jim Cochran, founder of Swanton Berry Farm in Davenport, met Muramoto shortly after he arrived in Santa Cruz. Cochran was the first farmer who managed to grow organic strawberries commercially, a success he credits to his collaboration with CASFS researchers, including Gliessman, Swezey, and Muramoto.
"I'm more of an intuitive farmer, but intuition isn't everything," said Cochran, who values the curiosity and scientific discipline Muramoto brought to their collaboration. "Science is super important. You don't want to live by one or the other."
Soil biology encompasses physics, chemistry, geology, and biology, making it extraordinarily complex, said Cochran. "There's no magic bullet, but Joji was ready to put a close scientific eye on the complexity of it," he said. "Joji embraced that complexity. Chemical farming was reductionist."
Unlike other academics who specialize in a particular segment of a complex problem, Muramoto takes a "holistic approach" to soil science and has kept his eyes on the larger picture, said Cochran. "He's been able to make some serious progress understanding soil biology, but there's a long way to go—which is good news for graduate students," he said. "It's wonderful to be able to call Joji and ask him what he thinks."
Benefits for conventional growers, too
Rod Koda of Shinta Kawahara Family Farms has grown strawberries in Watsonville since 1984. He has worked with Muramoto for nearly a decade and attended the "candidate talks" by the three finalists vying for the new organic specialist position. Still, he was "blown away" to learn how long Muramoto has been active in organic research, and the number of researchers across the country with whom he collaborates.
"For me, that was the game changer," said Koda. "Joji is this quiet, humble guy, but he's been working all over the place with so many people."
Koda farms 10 acres conventionally and seven acres organically, and he said "it's time" for organic to get the support it deserves. But all growers can benefit from paying close attention to soil health, he said.
"Conventional growers, we don't have fumigants like methyl bromide anymore, so we've got to get smarter about how we farm," said Koda. "Joji is going to be a part of that."
Koda first started growing berries organically in 2006, steadily adding acreage over the years. "I eased into it, drawn by the sustainability of organic," he said, adding that organic alternatives to managing pests and controlling soil-borne disease were key to his willingness to make the leap. Muramoto and his colleagues' focus on maximizing soil health and using the functions of soil bacteria and organisms to suppress soil fungal diseases was eye-opening.
"I've learned a lot from Joji over the years," said Koda. "He's going to be the conduit that's going to bring that knowledge to other people—not just strawberry growers, and not just organic growers. Anyone who pays attention will glean some information from his work and his collaborations with other researchers."
"You can learn a lot from these displays," a fairgoer at the 144th annual Dixon May Fair commented. She was looking at an educational display with the catchy title, "None of Your Beeswax," the work of Ryan Anenson of the Tremont 4-H Club, Dixon, whose projects include beekeeping. The display is...
Dixon 4-H'er Ryan Anenson of the Tremont 4-H Club created this award-winning educational display, "None of Your Beeswax" for the Dixon May Fair. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Dixon 4-H'er Madeline Giron sketched this color pencil drawing of a bee, on display in the Youth Building (Denverton Hall) at the Dixon May Fair. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This photo by Markus Taliaferro of the Suisun Valley 4-H Club shows a honey bee sipping nectar.
Just add pollinators! Katelyn Nipper of Fairfield created this innovative illustration of brightly color flowers and crayons.
What's a fair without insects? Entomologists at the University of California, Davis, will share their love of insects with fairgoers at the 144th annual Dixon May Fair, which opened today (Thursday, May 9) and continues through Sunday, May 12. Have a question about insects? Entomologist Jeff...
You can hold Madagascar hissing cockroaches from the Bohart Museum of Entomology's petting zoo, on Saturday, May 11 in the Floriculture Building, Dixon May Fair. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Walking sticks or stick insects will be at the Dixon May Fair on Saturday, May 11. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Entomologist Jeff Smith will show butterfly specimens from the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, at the Dixon May Fair. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)