UC Agriculture & Natural Resources News
An article in yesterday's Sacramento Bee proves the jokes on chia haven't yet been exhausted. Sam McManis wrote about health claims for chia seeds, the Aztec food made popular by the "as seen on TV" chia pot. The San Jose Mercury News ran a similar story on the health fad last February, as noted in this blog entry.
In both cases, the reporters sought UC Davis Cooperative Extension specialist Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr's measured commentary.
"The redeeming qualities of (chia) is omega-3s, specifically the lenlinic (acid) that's in there," Zidenberg-Cherr was quoted. "Because of that tie-in with heart disease and diabetes, I see potential for it as something that could be added to someone's diet if they're already following a healthy eating plan with the proper recommendations."
She said chia seeds have a nice nutrition profile, but they are not a dietary cure-all.
"The (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) considers it safe, as for now," Zidenberg-Cherr says. "So it doesn't look like there's any danger. You're just now starting to see a lot more research going on with it."
California dairies are being squeezed between increasing costs for feeds and decreasing return for milk, according to a story in the Marin Independent Journal over the weekend. The story reports that 55 percent of Marin's agricultural income - more than $27 million in 2006 - comes from the county's 28 dairies.
Reporter Rob Rogers spoke to UC Davis CE specialist Bees Butler about dairy economic trends.
"The dairy industries in China and India will start to expand because of the incredible growth in those areas," Butler is quoted. "The high price on the world market is going away. It's not going to go up again."
The newspaper article also reported that organic milk production is not the "guaranteed moneymaker it once was."
"Two years ago, the premiums for organic milk were almost twice what they were for conventional production," the paper quoted Ellen Rilla, director of Marin County UCCE. "That's really dropped. And there's also a cost in terms of production."
Butler said organic farmers are really finding it difficult to find decent organic feed and make organic dairying work.
"Over the last 20 years, the price of milk has averaged between $12 and $13" per hundred pounds, Butler was quoted. "Last year, that price started to increase up to $20. For many dairy producers, that has been a lifesaver, allowing them to catch up and expand after prices were in the dumps for 2005-06."
Yet the conditions that led to those high prices - surging demand for milk in China and India, drought in Australia and New Zealand and a weak U.S. dollar - couldn't last for long, Butler told the paper.
UC Davis plant pathologist Pamela Ronald has an idea that might make collaborators out of Californians who have commonly been at cross purposes. Ronald suggested that combining genetic engineering with organic farming may be the best way to grow food for a growing world population facing climate change and environmental degradation.
In a story with a Hong Kong dateline, Ronald told Reuters the world needed to use every technology available to secure food supplies for the 9.2 billion people expected by 2050, up from the current 6.7 billion.
"Genetic engineering is a way to make seeds ... Farmers rely on seeds for good yields, but seeds cannot solve everything," she was quoted. "You need some way to add fertiliser and control the pests. That's where organic farming has a lot to contribute."
Ronald helped develop genetically modified disease-resistant rice that China may begin to grow on a large scale; her husband is an organic farmer, according to the article, written by Nao Nakanishi.
Currently, organic farming certification agencies do not permit the use of GMO seed to produce organic products.
A new episode of the periodic PBS series "Strange Days on Planet Earth" tonight focuses on the global implications of overfishing. It features the work of UC Berkeley assistant professor of ecosystem sciences Justin Brashares.
Says host Edward Norton in the program's online preview, "Follow a fish, and you can end up in unexpected places." Check your local listings for the show's broadcast time in your area. In the Bay Area, it will air at 9 p.m. on KQED; in the Central Valley, it will air at 9 p.m. on KVPT.
Speaking of strange days on planet earth . . . many newspapers covered the strange late frost in the San Joaquin Valley this week that put some farmers' crops at risk.
According to the Fresno Bee, temperatures that dipped as low as 27 degrees early Monday caused damage in some vineyards, mostly on the valley floor near the Sierra foothills. Bee reporter Dennis Pollock talked to UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Bill Peacock.
"Industrywide, this was not a huge event," Peacock was quoted, "but for individual growers, the losses could be pretty severe. Some vineyards were marginally and mildly hit; others were absolutely clobbered."
The Tulare Advance-Register also quoted Peacock:
"We got hit Monday morning just before daybreak. Most growers escaped having any damage, but those that got hit hard are pretty much gone."
Reid Fujii of the Stockton Record spoke to Paul Verdegaal, a viticulture farm advisor in San Joaquin County. He said that he had received a few reports of frost damage in southern San Joaquin County, generally around Manteca and Ripon.
Overall damage to Valley vineyards in terms of affected acreage was minor, he said, "But if it hit where you were, it wasn't so minor."
Appeal-Democrat reporter Howard Yune spoke to UCCE farm advisor for Yuba and Sutter counties Janine Hasey. According to the story, Hasey was tallying the damage the unnaturally late frost did to Yuba-Sutter orchards and fields.
"Normally we'd produce 10,000 tons, but now I'll be a lucky son of a gun if I get 2,000," a farmer told Hasey, the story said.
In honor of Earth Day, a UC Davis Cooperative Extension veterinary specialist, John Maas, sent a letter to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle asking the public to remember the "original environmentalists," cattle ranchers.
"California's ranchers manage more than 20 million acres of private land. They pay taxes, raise cattle, and protect wildlife in a sustainable manner. These are the green hills and mountain meadows you drive by on your travels," Maas wrote.
Maas notes that cattle are net re-cyclers of carbon dioxide and, according to research, are a negligible source of greenhouse gases.
To see Maas' letter, scroll down on the letters page, linked above.