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Five UC Cooperative Extension advisors retired on July 1, 2018

At the end of June, the distinguished careers of five UC Cooperative Extension advisors concluded when they retired. The new retirees are

  • Mark Gaskell, UCCE small farms advisor for San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties
  • Gene Miyao, UCCE vegetable crops advisor for Yolo, Solano and Sacramento counties
  • Kim Rodrigues, director of the Hopland Research & Extension Center and UCCE forest advisor
  • Blake Sanden, UCCE irrigation, soils and agronomy advisor in Kern County
  • Steve Tjosvold, UCCE horticulture advisor for Santa Cruz and Monterey counties

Below are brief vignettes about each of the retirees.

UCCE small farms advisor Mark Gaskell retires

Mark Gaskell at Jason Mraz's coffee-avocado farm.
Mark Gaskell is best known these days for cultivating the idea of California-grown coffee that launched the emerging industry. But coffee isn't the first crop that Gaskell convinced California farmers could be locally grown. For more than 23 years, the UC Cooperative Extension advisor has been researching new specialty crops, such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, kiwi berries, Pakistani mulberries, sweet onions, lychees and longans, for small farms to grow for a profit.

Gaskell, who began his career with the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources as an advisor for small farms and specialty crops in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties in 1995, retired July 1.

“If it wasn't for Mark Gaskell, I wouldn't have lasted three years,” said Tony Chavez, who grows 40 acres of blueberries, blackberries and some raspberries in Nipomo. 

Blueberries weren't grown in California until Gaskell planted test plots of southern highbush blueberries in 1996 to give small-scale growers a new crop option. What was once a niche crop is now planted on over 7,000 acres in the state and California currently leads U.S. production of fresh blueberries.

Recently Gaskell's knowledge of coffee production has been in demand.

“Personally, I would not be where I am today professionally without Mark's guidance, support and friendship,” said Jay Ruskey, CEO and co-founder of Good Land Organics. “He brought me my first coffee plants in 2002.”

With Gaskell's research-based advice, the Goleta grower has produced premium coffee. His Caturra coffee made Coffee Review's Top 30 coffees in 2014 and in 2017 Daily Coffee News reported that Blue Bottle was selling the California-grown coffee for $18 per ounce.

“Industry-wide, there are many farmers who have benefited directly from working with Mark, but there are far more farmers who are currently benefiting today from the specific crops and farming systems he has introduced through his service as a University of California farm advisor,” Ruskey said. (Author: Pam Kan-Rice)


Gene Miyao, UC Cooperative Extension vegetable crops advisor, retiring after 38 years

Gene Miyao.
Gene Miyao was named the UCCE vegetable crops farm advisor for Yolo County in 1980. In 1990, Solano County was added to his territory and about 10 years later, he also took on responsibility for Sacramento County.

Miyao had been exposed to UCCE farm advisors from a young age.

“My parents were small-scale farmers in Yolo County. We knew of the value of UCCE and the UC system,” Miyao said.

During his 38-year-career, Miyao has witnessed dramatic changes in production systems of processing tomatoes, a crop on which he focused much of his efforts. Growers went from using open-pollinated seed to hybrids and they changed from direct seeding to transplants. Tomato production has seen a major reduction in Phytophthora root rot, and a rapid spread of Fusarium wilt race 2.

Over the years, Miyao has conducted significant research, including work to better understand the benefits of cover crops, supplemental applications of potassium and phosphorous, and applying composted chicken manure in tomato production. He cooperated with a team of advisors to demonstrate the value of sulfur dust for powdery mildew control and the risk of spreading the disease fusarium wilt from infested stem pieces. Miyao was an author of the recent cost production study titled Cost of producing processing tomatoes in the Sacramento Valley and Northern Delta with sub-surface and surface drip irrigation.

In all Miyao wrote 69 peer reviewed articles. However, he said, the local newsletters, field meetings and field calls were always his priority in order to stay well connected to his local clientele. 

In retirement, Miyao said he will complete some of his 2018 field projects. He's also planning to travel with his wife Donna to national parks and other destinations. And he is looking forward to fishing in the local waters. (Author: Jeannette Warnert)


Kim Rodrigues, Hopland Research and Extension Center Director, retires after 27-year career with UC ANR

Kim Rodrigues.
Kim Rodrigues, Hopland Research & Extension Center (HREC) director, retires at the end of June, after a 27-year career with UC ANR. Initially hired as the forest advisor in 1991 in Humboldt and Del Norte counties, she became county director a few years later and has had an administrative assignment attached to her academic career ever since.

When she became regional director for the 23 counties in the North Coast and Mountain Region in 1999 and relocated her family to Davis from Eureka, she recounted that “it was July, and they went from cool, coastal fog to the Valley heat and wondered about my sanity!”

She later became the executive director of Academic Personnel for ANR when the regions were restructured and ANR was centralized.

She returned to county-based academic work at HREC in the summer of 2014. Initially there as an interim assignment, Rodrigues fell in love with the place and the people and accepted the formal assignment at HREC in 2015. She notes that working at HREC has been “an excellent culmination to my career. Working with colleagues on relevant research, such as living with wildlife, integrates the many professional roles I have had throughout my career.”

Noted as a competent and trusted forester, she has served on the State Board of Forestry and Fire Protection (BOF) briefly and on the BOF Professional Forester's Examining Committee for several years.

Rodrigues is also known for her collaborative leadership and facilitation skills and led the public participation team, together with Drs. Maggi Kelly and Lynn Huntsinger, for the long-term research titled the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project. She is recognized as an excellent facilitator for large-scale and smaller scale public meetings designed to share science with diverse public interest groups, agencies and decision-makers, in order to seek new solutions for resolving ongoing conflicts over public trust resources, such as water, wildlife and more.

Her passion is working with diverse groups to address complex environmental conflicts to seek shared understanding and new agreements. “It is amazing how diverse input can help frame innovative solutions that individuals or small groups may not readily identify,” she said.

She plans to remain engaged in research and extension related to living with wildlife, cumulative watershed effects and managing conflicts of all types. She is also looking forward to spending more time with her husband, four children and grandchild.

Although sad to leave many aspects of her work at UC ANR, she said, “I remain deeply grateful to UC ANR for such a wonderful career, and I remain committed to support UC ANR to succeed in any way I can going forward. I have been fortunate to work with amazing colleagues and truly respect the work we do for the land grant mission.” (Author: Liz Sizensky)


Blake Sanden, UCCE irrigation, soils and agronomy advisor in Kern County

Blake Sanden.
Blake Sanden.
Blake Sanden of UCCE Kern County retired on June 28. For 26 years, he has been the Irrigation, Soils and Agronomy farm advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. 

He helped growers with on-farm soil and water problems, organized and spoke at workshops across California and conducted applied field research projects focusing on irrigation, salinity/fertility management for all crops, and agronomic field crop production of alfalfa, dry beans and oil crops.

Blake has a bachelor's degree in International agricultural development and agronomy and master's degree in irrigation and drainage from UC Davis and 35 years of experience in California production ag, international ag development and extension. 

Significant projects of his include: development of salt tolerance thresholds for high production California pistachios in the San Joaquin Valley, soil moisture monitoring techniques and irrigation efficiency assessment on 12,000 acres in Kern County and deficit irrigation in early citrus navel oranges. 

Over the last eight years, Sanden has fulfilled a vision that started nearly 30 years ago. Through collaboration with nearly 50 University of California researchers, farm advisors, extension specialists, the Wonderful Farming Company and almond industry representatives, he played a crucial role in documenting the increased level of water and fertilizer use necessary for optimal almond yield – increasing the statewide average yield by more than 50 percent.

But some of his greatest joys and heart-felt satisfaction lay in development work in Africa – 3 years of missionary service in the 1980s developing vegetable gardens in Zambia and month-long training/consulting trips working with farmers and extension agents in Uganda, Ethiopia and central Asia.

When asked what he'll miss the most about his career, he said the interaction with the growers, most notably “seeing the ‘ah-ha' light up in a grower's eyes when he finally grasps the solution.”

He remembered a particular time in May of 2004 when a sugarbeet grower called him seeking his advice on whether or not to irrigate his 380 acres of beets one last time before harvesting. That was the way he had always done it. So Sanden went out and spent a couple of hours using his hand probe to check the moisture of the fields down to a three-foot depth.

“I ask, ‘Ken, when did you last probe this field?'” Sanden recalled.

‘“Oh, I really didn't check it this year?' he says.”   

“Do you really need to irrigate or is this enough water to get through harvest?” noting that he already had enough moisture.

“I guess it's enough, but that's why I asked you out here. It wouldn't hurt to put on the irrigation would it? I'd feel better. Of course we did get the digger stuck a couple times last year because the field was too wet.”  

“Too much water does hurt beets because you will reduce sugar percentage and can get rot and lose tonnage,” Sanden replied.

“OK, it makes me a bit nervous but you say I have at least four inches of water stored in the soil that the beets can get at.”   

That year Ken was the top sugar producer in Kern County and got the Silver Beet Knife for highest percentage of sugar, Blake recalled.

“With that two hours worth of field scouting he probably made an extra $300,000 in the saved irrigation and increased sugar,” Blake said. (Author: Tyler Ash)



Steve Tjosvold, UC Cooperative Extension environmental horticulture advisor, 38 years

Steven Tjosvold.
Steve Tjosvold joined UC Cooperative Extension as a farm advisor intern from 1980 to 1983, working in Alameda, Orange and San Bernardino counties. The internship allowed recent college graduates the opportunity to get experience working with a UCCE advisor in their field of interest. 

“I interned for two advisors and then separately filled in for the programs of two advisors that went on sabbatical leave,” Tjosvold said. “I use that experience, knowledge, contacts and friendships to this day.”

Tjosvold was named the environmental horticulture advisor in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties in 1983.

Tjosvold's early career focused on the management of nursery and landscape plant diseases and insect problems, as well as methods to improve water use and postharvest handling in nursery crops. In addition, Tjosvold helped establish the use of scouting in ornamental production by working with other farm advisors to document effectiveness statewide. Later, his research and outreach on sudden oak death and light brown apple moth helped growers understand the pests and take action to reduce their impact on production systems and the environment.

Tjosvold wrote or contributed to 94 peer-reviewed publications and 234 industry publications. He served as editor/co-editor of UCNFA (UC Nursery and Floriculture Alliance) News.

During his career, Tjosvold received three distinguished service awards for outstanding teamwork (1997, 2004, and 2006) and one for outstanding extension (2004). He received the 2008 Western Extension Directors' Award of Excellence for a farm water quality planning project. In 2012 he received the outstanding research award from the California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers, and in 2015 he was honored with the Award of Excellence from the Western Extension Directors Association for a team effort that addresses Sudden Oak Death.

In retirement, Tjosvold plans to start a UCNFA blog to help replace the loss of the UCNFA newsletter due to retirements. He will also be available locally for focused educational projects and consultation. Tjosvold, an avid fly fisherman, said he will spend the first month of his retirement camping and fly fishing in Montana. (Author: Jeannette Warnert)

UC Cooperative Extension advisors retiring in 2018.
UC Cooperative Extension advisors retiring in 2018.

Posted on Tuesday, July 3, 2018 at 3:00 PM
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture

Internet start-up gleans trust from association with UCCE

Ceres Imaging, an Oakland-based start-up, is working closely with UC Cooperative Extension on its aerial imaging of farm fields, a fact that is helping the company gain trust by association, reported Emma Foehringer Merchant on Grist.org.

Ceres puts equipment on low-flying airplanes to take pictures that will help farmers optimize water and fertilizer application. According to field tests, the imagery works. Since 2014, Ceres has teamed up with UC Cooperative Extension to conduct field trials, including one for the Almond Board that measured the response of nuts to different rates of watering. 

UCCE advisor Blake Sanden conducted trials in an almond orchard like this one to confirm data produced by Ceres Imaging.

In that study, data from Ceres' imaging matched well with the UCCE ground "truthing," said Blake Sanden, UC Cooperative Extension water and soils farm advisor. 

According to the article, "Ceres' relationship with the extension program has helped the company gain trust with sometimes-skeptical farmers." Sanden called UCCE trials the "gold standard of efficacy" for new products in the ag market. 

There is also increased interest in precise water management after years of drought and cutbacks on federal water allocation.

"The attitude (among farmers) used to be, 'I can find water,'" Sanden said. "I would say that 30, 40 years ago, there was an attitude of hope ... that some of the restrictions on pumping water (would) go away." He said growers expected decision-makers "to come back to reality and understand that we've got to make money in California and grow food."

But the restrictions didn't go away. Instead, they became stricter. The uncertainty about water deliveries has made farmers friendlier to new technologies, like the one offered by Ceres.

UCCE advisor Blake Sanden, shown here making a presentation, says UCCE confirmation is "the gold standard of efficacy" for new products in the ag market.
Posted on Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 3:12 PM
Tags: almonds (68), Blake Sanden (7), Ceres Imaging (1)

UC ANR expert provides ag angle on student talk show

Blake Sanden, far left, makes a point during a Cal State Northridge talk show.
The myriad concerns related to California's fourth year of drought were raised during a California State University, Northridge, student talk show that featured a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) farming expert.

UC ANR Cooperative Extension advisor Blake Sanden was joined on the show, titled On Point, by CSUN sustainability professor Helen Cox and geography professor Amalie Orme. Sanden spoke to the issues related to the agriculture industry. He noted that well-known San Joaquin Valley farmer and rancher John Harris, who manages 7,000 acres of land, is fallowing more than half of it this year and using all the water he has available to irrigate tree crops planted on 2,800 acres.

Asked whether he felt agriculture played a role contributing to the drought, Sanden explained that farmers consider a complete water budget when planning crops and are cognizant of the drought situation in low-precipitation years. He acknowledged that there are human-caused issues related to the drought, noting that the state has placed a priority on environmental preservation, which also requires a great deal of water.

Sanden commented on the now commonly shared fact that it takes a gallon of water to produce a single almond. Indeed, he said, it takes 50 gallons to grow one orange and as much as 100 gallons to produce a glass of milk from cows fed irrigated alfalfa.

"I hear these things going on and sometimes I just have to shake my head," he said. "Somebody is looking for a story with the gallon-per-nut catch phrase and they're not looking at the larger picture."

Posted on Monday, May 11, 2015 at 1:57 PM
Tags: Blake Sanden (7), drought (202)

Recycled irrigation water raises food safety questions

UC ANR expert Blake Sanden says farmers smell the petrochemicals in recycled water and assume the soil removes toxins or impurities.
Chevron recycles 21 million gallons of water every day and sells it to farmers to irrigate 45,000 acres of crops in Kern County, reported Julie Cart in the Los Angeles Times. The program is praised for helping farmers cope with the drought, however, the food being produced hasn't been tested for the presence of toxic oil production chemicals.

"Everyone smells the petrochemicals in the irrigation water," said Blake Sanden, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension advisor in Kern County. "When I talk to growers, and they smell the oil field crap in that water, they assume the soil is taking care of this."

The farmers trust that organisms in the soil remove toxins or impurities in the water. However, the trust may be misplaced.

Microoganisms in soils can consume and process some impurities, Sanden said, but it's not clear whether oil field waste is making its way into the roots or leaves of irrigated plants, and then into the food chain.

It's unlikely that petrochemicals will show up in an almond, for example, he said, "But can they make it into the flesh of an orange or grape? It's possible. A lot of this stuff has not been studied in a field setting or for commercial food uptake."

The reporter also spoke to Carl Winter, a UC ANR Cooperative Extension specialist based at UC Davis. He said some plants can absorb toxins without transferring them to the leaves or the flesh of their fruit.

Still, he said, "it's difficult to say anything for sure because we don't know what chemicals are in the water."

A visiting scholar at UC Berkeley who is a researcher analyzing hydraulic fracturing for the California legislature said the issue is "one of the things that keeps me up at night."

"You can't find what you don't look for," he said.


Posted on Monday, May 4, 2015 at 1:24 PM
Tags: Blake Sanden (7), Carl Winter (5), drought (202), fracking (1), irrigation (27)

Pistachio growers gather to hear latest research in Visalia Jan. 21

More than 500 pistachio growers and other industry members are registered to attend the 2015 Statewide Pistachio Day in Visalia on Wednesday, Jan. 21. Pollination, pest control, “bushy top” and water quality are among the subjects that researchers will be discussing.

“Given California's drought and the need to use all available water supplies, even those of marginal quality, there will be great interest in Ken Schmidt's and UC Cooperative Extension advisor Blake Sanden's talks about Valley water supplies and quality,” said Louise Ferguson, a UCCE specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis and organizer of the event.

Sanden, who is based in Kern County, will give a presentation on his research on the effects of using saline water for pistachio irrigation on crop yield and soil quality.

“In 2014, there were problems of fruit set and pollination,” Ferguson said. She expects there will be strong interest in the talk about the effects of climate and other factors on pollination requirements and fruit set by Gurreet Brar, UCCE advisor in Fresno County.   

An emerging problem that growers have been seeing in California and Arizona in the past three years is what scientists are calling Pistachio Bushy Top Syndrome in clonal UCB1 rootstocks. Affected trees are short and stunted, have closely spaced internodes, exhibit bushy growth and twisted roots. The cause is unknown, but scientists have found it to be associated with the bacterium Rhodococcus.

Jennifer Randall, a professor in the Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Weed Science at New Mexico State University, will deliver the first public presentation of research results on the "bushy top" syndrome.  

A full day of research presentations are scheduled.

Themis Michailides, a researcher in the Department of Plant Pathology at UC Davis, will give an update on pistachio diseases.

David Haviland, UCCE advisor in Kern County, Kris Tollerup, UC IPM advisor, and Bob Beede, emeritus UC Cooperative Extension advisor will discuss management of navel orangeworm, Phytocoris, leaf-footed bug and stink bugs.

Brad Higbee, director of entomology research for Paramount Farming Company, will discuss how winter sanitation of orchards can decrease pest pressure and, in turn, reduce the need for pesticides. 

Joel Siegel, USDA-ARS research entomologist, will explain how to how to anticipate pest pressure based on past infestation levels.

Patrick Brown, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, will discuss nutrient management in pistachios.

The 2015 Statewide Pistachio Day will be held from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the
Visalia Convention Center. For more information, visit http://ucanr.edu/sites/pistachioday.

For more than 100 years, the University of California Cooperative Extension researchers and educators have been drawing on local expertise to conduct agricultural, environmental, economic, youth development and nutrition research that helps California thrive. UC Cooperative Extension is part of the University of California's systemwide Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Learn more at ucanr.edu.

Posted on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at 9:00 AM

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