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Posts Tagged: Michael Yang

Rainy winter is good news for Central Valley strawberries

Abundant rainfall in January and February 2019 bodes well for the forthcoming Central Valley strawberry season, reported Reuben Contreras on ABC Channel 30 Action News in Fresno.

Contreras interviewed Michael Yang, small farms and specialty crops Hmong agricultural assistant with UC Cooperative Extension. 

"We need the water as much as we can right now," Yang said. He said the rain will add to the groundwater supply most farmers use to grow their crops, plus it will make the strawberries sweeter.

Cool weather is also welcome.

"Strawberries need cool weather but in the summer, the hot weather with the variety strawberries will not survive the heat," he said.

In the San Joaquin Valley, strawberries are picked from late March to early June. If the wet weather pattern established in January and February continues through the spring, that could spell trouble for strawberry farmers. Wet strawberries can rot in the field.

The rainy winter means sweet strawberries are on the way, says UC Cooperative Extension small farms and specialty crops Hmong ag assistant Michael Yang. The photo shows Yang with an Asian melon in summer 2018.
Posted on Friday, March 1, 2019 at 2:57 PM
Tags: Michael Yang (12), strawberries (45)
Focus Area Tags: Agriculture Food

February 2019 news clips

Above average rainfall in February benefits strawberry crops in the Central Valley

(ABC 30) Reuben Contreras, Feb. 28

…Above average rainfall in February will help this year's harvest last through October. 
"It looks like it is in full bloom right now and it looks like it is going to rain. So we need the water as much as we can right now," said Michael Yang, University of California Cooperative Extension. 
He works with small farms and specialty crops in the Hmong community, including a strawberry field in Northeast Fresno near Willow and Behymer. 
Yang said the rain will add to the groundwater supply most farmers use to grow their crops plus it will help make the strawberries sweeter. 

https://abc30.com/society/above-average-rainfall-in-february-benefits-strawberry-crops-in-the-central-valley/5161437/

Ventura County Helps Keep Farming Alive in Southern California

(KCET) Teresa O'Connor, Feb. 27

…Connecting the community to the food system is vitally important for the health of individuals and the survival of local farms, according to Rose Hayden-Smith, Ph.D., who is the editor of the UCFoodObserver.com, an online publication for the University of California (UC). A long-term county resident, Hayden-Smith was previously sustainable food systems initiative leader for UC's Ag and Natural Resources division.

“Everyone eats: everyone is a stakeholder,” says Hayden-Smith. “I would like people to be engaged with the food system, and to advocate for positive change. Think about where your food comes from and ask critical questions about the supply chain. Meet people who are involved in producing, processing, distributing and preparing the food you eat. Honor them with questions about and interest in their work.”

https://www.kcet.org/shows/la-foodways/ventura-county-helps-keep-farming-alive-in-southern-california

Gene-edited animal creators look beyond US market

(Nature) Heidi Ledford, Feb. 20

…It isn't always easy to pick up a research project and move it to a different country. About ten years ago, difficulties finding funding for his research drove animal geneticist James Murray to move his transgenic goat project from the University of California in Davis to Brazil. The goats were engineered to produce milk that contained lysozyme, an enzyme with antibiotic properties. Murray hoped that the milk could help to protect children from diarrhoea.

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00600-4

Newly discovered nematode threatens key crops

Peach root-knot nematode-infected almond tree in a two-year-old orchard. Photo by Andreas Westphal

(Farm Press) Logan Hawkes, Feb. 20

“The arrival of this nematode (Meloidogyne floridensis) in California is a little surprising — it has the potential to infect many of California's economically important crops,” says UCCE Kern County Advisor Mohammad Yaghmour. “Root samples had been collected from an almond orchard in Merced County last year, and confirmed at the California Department of Food and Agriculture's (CDFA) Nematology Lab as M. floridensis.”

Yaghmour facilitated the second discovery of the nematode in a Kern County orchard a month after the first was uncovered in an almond orchard in Merced County.

https://www.farmprogress.com/tree-nuts/newly-discovered-nematode-threatens-key-crops

Ag Innovations Conference and Trade Show returning to Santa Maria for third event

(Santa Ynez Valley News) Mike Hodgson, Feb. 19

The Ag Innovations Conference and Trade Show will return to Santa Maria for its third event, this time focusing on biologicals, on March 5. The deadline for discounted early registration is next week.

… Considering the growing interest in biologicals and the demand for sustainably produced food, organizers selected topics on biocontrol agents, biostimulants and botanical and microbial pesticides and fungicides for the third conference, said organizer Surendra Dara, UC Cooperative Extension adviser for entomology and biologicals.

“The use of biocontrol agents, biopesticides, biostimulants and other such tools is gradually increasing in our efforts to produce with sustainable practices,” Dara said.

https://syvnews.com/business/agriculture/ag-innovations-conference-and-trade-show-returning-to-santa-maria/article_a8b9804e-46de-5938-a664-f646d51fa0c1.html

Almond Update: Orchard Recycling Research Showing Strong Results

(AgNet West) Taylor Hillman, Feb. 14

Orchard recycling research has been going on for over 10 years. UC Cooperative Extension Advisor Brent Holtz has been leading the project and said they continue to see positive results. There is an expense that comes with the practice but Holtz said their longest trial is making that cost back in added production.

http://agnetwest.com/almond-update-orchard-recycling-research

NASA tech helps agriculture

(Hanford Sentinel) Julissa Zavala, Feb 13,

…In keeping with the expo's theme, “Harvesting Technology,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine visited the International Agri-Center in Tulare and spoke about how technology originally developed for space exploration is now being repurposed and used to improve numerous aspects of agriculture around the world.

…The measurement, also taken with LIDAR, can be used to calculate precise irrigation needs of plants and crops. Bridenstine said this pilot program, in partnership with the University of California Cooperative Extension and other agencies, is only being used in California.

https://hanfordsentinel.com/news/local/nasa-tech-helps-agriculture/article_def7a974-938d-55cb-966f-f3e603dc942a.html

UC Davis, wine industry cultivate relationship

(Fruit Growers News) Robin Derieux, Feb. 13

Under the hot summer sun of the San Joaquin Valley, just south of Merced, Miguel Guerrero of The Wine Group is trying a new high-wire act. In collaboration with University of California-Davis Cooperative Extension, Roduner Ranch vineyard manager Guerrero is experimenting with Cabernet Sauvignon vines and other varieties elevated by a single wire at 66 inches – plantings that are 2-3 feet higher than the traditional winegrape canopy.

…“The beauty of the high-wire system is that the fruit zone is really defined – a solid wall of grape clusters – and the pruning machine can just zip right alongside the vines,” said Kaan Kurtural, a UC Davis Cooperative Extension viticulture specialist. “We can carry more crop, and with mechanical leaf removal, we get that sun-dappled exposure that feeds the fruit. Less leaf cover means the vines require less water, and the grape quality is much better.”

https://fruitgrowersnews.com/article/uc-davis-wine-industry-cultivate-relationship

There's Still So Much We Need To Learn About Weed—And Fast

(Wired) Matt Simon, Feb. 11

… But late last month, UC Berkeley opened the Cannabis Research Center to start tackling some of these social and environmental unknowns. With its proximity to the legendary growing regions of Northern California, the center can start to quantify this historically secretive industry, measuring its toll on the environment and looking at how existing rules affect the growers themselves. The goal is to create a body of data to inform future policies, making cannabis safer for all.

… So for the past few years Van Butsic, codirector of the Cannabis Research Center, and his colleagues have been sifting through satellite images to pinpoint those unaccounted-for farms. “We have an army of undergraduates who look at high-resolution imagery and digitize how big the farms are, how many plants we can see,” Butsic says. Because cannabis plants love light, growers usually keep them out in the open. The researchers still miss many trespass growers, however, who tend to hide their plants in the brush to avoid detection.

https://www.wired.com/story/theres-still-so-much-we-need-to-learn-about-weed

Cultured meat: Good or bad, promise or peril?

 (Agweek) By Jonathan Knutson, Feb. 11

…To Alison Van Eenennaam, University of California-Davis Extension specialist in animal biotechnology and genomics, proponents of cell-based meat are "overhyping the environmental benefits" and providing an incomplete, misleading case for it.

https://www.agweek.com/business/agriculture/4568613-cultured-meat-good-or-bad-promise-or-peril

Broomrape Weed Spreads Quickly

(AgNet West) Taylor Hillman, Feb. 8

By the time you see broomrape weed in your fields, it may be too late. There has been a resurgence of broomrape reports over the last decade in California. Retired UC Cooperative Extension Farm Advisor Gene Miyao said although the parasitic weed is far from widespread, it could become so quickly. “The seeds are very small, the growth is primarily underground until it starts sending up shoots and then it very quickly starts setting seed,” he said. “A single seed attached to a tomato plant may send up half-a-dozen shoots, and each shoot might have 1,000 seeds or more.”

http://agnetwest.com/broomrape-weed-spreads-quickly/

New CA Bill Aims to Help Prepare Farmers for Extreme Weather, Changing Climate

(YubaNet) CalCAN, Feb. 7

The state and University of California have made significant investments in research to better understand agriculture's unique vulnerabilities and adaptation strategies to a changing climate, including in the state's recently released Fourth Climate Change Assessment. But not enough has been done to translate climate risks to the farm level and assist farmers in adapting to climate change.

…The bill would also fund trainings for technical assistance providers and agricultural organizations. According to a 2017 survey of 144 University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources staff, 88% of respondents believe it is important to incorporate climate change information into farm extension programs, but only 43% actually do. Respondents cited a lack of access to climate information relevant to farmers and expressed interest in education on technical tools and information resources.

https://yubanet.com/california/new-ca-bill-aims-to-help-prepare-farmers-for-extreme-weather-changing-climate/

Top administrators from UC ANR visit Imperial Valley

Imperial Valley Press

They were also briefed about UCCE and DREC projects, accomplishments and barriers by the directors, county advisors and CES representatives.

https://www.ivpressonline.com/news/local/agriculture/top-administrators-from-uc-anr-visit-imperial-valley/article_27a72db4-2a80-11e9-ac25-03956b66b2b4.html

Drought concerns loom for California farmers, ranchers despite recent rain

(KSBY) Dustin Klemann, Feb. 6

Even with the onslaught of rainy weather, the U.S. Drought Monitor states San Luis Obispo County and Santa Barbara County remain in a moderate drought.

On Wednesday, the UC Cooperative Extension held a workshop in Solvang titled “Weather, Grass, and Drought: Planning for Uncertainty.”

“Leave it to a drought workshop to bring the rain,” Matthew Shapero joked. He is a livestock and range advisor for UCCE.

Shapero pointed out a call he received questioning the monitor's accuracy on a local level.

“He said ‘I really don't think the drought monitor accurately reflects what I am seeing on the ground.'”

… “We Californians are constantly accused of not having seasons. We do,” said Dr. Royce Larsen, an advisor of the UCCE. “We have fire, flood, mud, and drought. That's what we live with. And it's getting more and more so every year.”

https://ksby.com/news/local-news/2019/02/06/drought-concerns-loom-for-california-farmers-ranchers-despite-recent-rain

California legislators honor Summit's Steward Leader Award Winners

(California Economic Summit, Feb. 5

Monday, February 4 was a red-letter day for stewardship in California. Not only was the California Legislature celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year and “National Wear Red Day” as a symbol of support for women's heart health, but members of both houses also paused to recognize Glenda Humiston and Paul Granillo as recipients of the California Economic Summit's 2018 Steward Leader Awards.

http://caeconomy.org/reporting/entry/california-legislators-honor-summits-steward-leader-award-winners

Revealed: how big dairy pushed fattier milks into US schools

(Guardian) Jessica Glenza, Feb. 4

…A nutritionist for the University of California called the idea that chocolate milk could help athletes “preposterous”.

“Milk is a very healthy beverage, it's got protein, calcium, vitamin D – there's a reason we are mammals and grow up drinking milk,” said Lorrene Ritchie, the director of the Nutrition Policy Institute at the University of California. “There's nothing about adding chocolate to it that's going to help an athlete.”

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/feb/03/revealed-dairy-lobby-fat-milk-trump-sonny-perdue

California's water paradox

(Morning Ag Clips/The Conversation) Faith Kearns and Doug Parker, Feb. 4

These days, it seems everyone is looking for a silver bullet solution to California's drought. Some advocate increasing supply through more storage, desalination or water reuse. Others propose controlling demand through conservation or restriction of water use by urban and agricultural users.

https://www.morningagclips.com/californias-water-paradox

Camp Fire: When survival means shelter

(Mercury News) Lisa Krieger, Feb. 2

“We have to talk about it, as a community, to reduce vulnerability – especially for citizens who don't drive,” said Scott Stephens, co-director of UC-Berkeley's Center for Fire Research and Outreach. “In the Camp Fire, people didn't die because they wanted to stay. They had to stay. All of a sudden, the fire was at their front door step.”

For Australia's policy to work in California, residents must be physically and mental trained, said wildfire specialist Max A. Moritz with UC's Division of Agriculture & Natural Resources. In Australia, which conducts formal training,  “there is active participation from homeowners … so both homes and people are better prepared.”
https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/02/02/wildfires-when-survival-means-shelter/

 

Posted on Thursday, February 28, 2019 at 6:25 PM

Fresno’s Southeast Asian farmers are on trend with new ‘superfood’

Farmer Vang Thao has been managing a successful farm south of Fresno for nearly 30 years, producing a spectacular array of vegetables – heirloom tomatoes, purple bell peppers, water spinach, bitter melon, Thai eggplant and dozens of others.

Every weekend the family traverses the Grape Vine to set up a visual feast at farmers markets in Santa Monica, Hollywood, Palos Verdes, Torrance and Hollywood. Acclaimed Los Angeles chefs rave about his produce, according to a Los Angeles Times feature story on the Thao family.

Produce like sweet potato leaves, amaranth and black nightshade are essential for families hailing from Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, the Philippines and India who seek ingredients for their traditional cuisine, but the market is limited. Now, small-scale farmers like the Thaos are on the cusp of something with much wider appeal.

One of their crops is moringa, a tropical tree that produces an abundance of fresh shoots to sell at the farmers market booth for $1 a bundle. Moringa is a delicate green that can be added to salads, soups and nearly any other dish. It has a pleasant nutty, earthy and slightly pungent green flavor. While it tastes good, it's the plant's nutrient profile that is commanding attention.

Fresno farmer Vang Thao in his moringa plantation.

On the internet, moringas are called miracle trees. All parts of the plant are edible – the tender leaves can be cooked or eaten fresh, moringa flowers are considered a delicacy, the tree's young pods can be used like green beans, roasted seeds are said to have antibiotic and antifungal properties. The roots and bark have medicinal potential, but need more study to determine the right dose. A 100 gram serving of moringa greens has more protein than a cup of milk, more iron than a cup of spinach, and is high in calcium, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin A.

Moringa is the Superfood of 2018, according to the trend watchers at SPINS.com. UC Davis nutrition researcher Carrie Waterman is studying moringa's use, production and processing worldwide. She is pursuing moringa for therapeutic applications in treating cancer, HIV and inflammatory bowel disease.

Vang sells small bundles of moringa shoots at farmers markets for $1 each.

Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, the UC Cooperative Extension advisor to small-scale farmers in Fresno and Tulare counties, recognized moringa's potential to supplement income for Southeast Asian farming families who are marketing specialty Asian vegetables and herbs to immigrant communities.

“Moringa is a drought tolerant tree known for its excellent nutritional content,” Dahlquist-Willard said. “We believe it could improve the economic viability of small-scale farms in our community. We are helping small-scale farmers with moringa product development and marketing.”

Supporting farmers growing moringa in marketing the product to new buyers is an objective of the UCCE moringa project, a partnership with the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, which was funded by a California Department of Food and Agriculture specialty crop block grant. Lorena Ramos, the project lead, is working on developing marketing materials, outreach opportunities, and value-added options.

UCCE moringa project leader Lorena Ramos and Vang Thao with purple bell peppers.

While using moringa is second nature for many immigrant groups, expanding the market includes demonstrating how easily the green can be used in the kitchen. Dahlquist-Willard and Ramos called on another sector of UC Cooperative Extension – the UC CalFresh Nutrition Education Program – for assistance. UCCE offers nutrition education in schools and community settings to children and families eligible for the USDA's nutrition assistance programs. Each year, Fresno State dietetic students serve two-week internships at UCCE. In 2018, one of their tasks was developing creative, healthful recipes incorporating moringa. Among the recipes were overnight oatmeal, pesto, smoothies, guacamole and energy bites – all with moringa.

“We are publishing the best recipes to share with the public to help them add this nutritional green into their diets,” Ramos said.

Recipe cards and moringa samples will be available July 26 at the Fresno Food Expo, where UCCE is hosting a booth to raise awareness about moringa by introducing farmers to Fresno area chefs, buyers and consumers and sharing information about the vegetable's health benefits, culinary versatility and its ability support small-scale farmers in Fresno and Tulare counties.

Fresh moringa can be easily added to many recipes.

Following is a USDA recipe ideal for incorporating moringa:

Grilled quesadilla with vegetables

Ingredients

Nonstick cooking spray
1 medium zucchini, diced
½ broccoli head, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 medium onion, minced
1 carrot, peeled and grated
16 (6 inch) flour tortillas
12 ounces cheese, shredded
½ cup moringa leaves

Directions

  1. Wash all vegetables.
  2. Collect, dice, shred and measure all ingredients before starting to prepare the recipe.
  3. Spray a large skillet with cooking spray. Add zucchini, broccoli, green pepper, onion and carrot. Cook vegetables on medium heat for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove vegetables from skillet, and put on a clean plate.
  4. Spray skillet with cooking spray again and place 1 tortilla in the skillet. Top with ½ cup vegetables and 1/3 cup cheese. Sprinkle on fresh moringa leaves.
  5. Place a second tortilla on top. Cook on medium low heat for 2 to 3 minutes or until the cheese starts to melt and the bottom tortilla starts to brown.
  6. Flip over the quesadilla. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes until tortilla brons.
  7. Repeat steps 4 through 6 to make additional quesadillas
  8. Cut each quesadilla in half or quarters, serve hot with your favorite salsa or other toppings.
  9. Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours. Eat within 3 to 5 days.

 

UCCE agricultural assistant Michael Yang, left, and Vang Thao snack on a freshly picked melon during a field visit.
 
UCCE nutrition projects coordinator Evelyn Morales demonstrates moringa recipes.
Posted on Monday, July 9, 2018 at 9:03 AM

Farmers can increase income by expanding small operations with creative new businesses

Farms that sell only fresh produce are dependent on buyers for markets and pricing. The UC Cooperative Extension small farms team in Fresno and Tulare counties believes farmers can earn more money by taking production a step further, by adding extra value to their products with processing, preserving and packaging the produce.

UC Cooperative Extension small farms advisor Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, and Fresno State's Office of Community and Economic Development brought a group of small farmers together for a workshop in January to learn about resources available to help them develop value-added businesses.

“Value-added products can improve the bottom line of a small family farm by bringing in additional income and diversifying production,” Dahlquist-Willard said. “We wanted to connect beginning farmers and Southeast Asian farmers to programs that could help them develop and market value-added products from their farms.”

The value-added workshop included presentations from a farmer with a successful value-added business, government agencies and non-profit organizations. Alternative lenders such as Fresno Madera Farm Credit, who provided funding for the workshop, also presented on loans available for small-scale farms. UCCE agricultural assistant Michael Yang translated the presentations into Hmong.

Small-scale farmers gather at the UCCE Fresno County office to learn about value-added business opportunities.

Kingsburg organic farmer Paul Buxman opened the workshop with his personal journey into value-added production. Buxman's story begins in 1994 when a spring hail storm swept through his farm.

“The hail marked all my fruit. I had 100,000 pounds of plums, peaches and nectarines I could not sell. What could I do?” Buxman said. “An idea came to my head like a lightbulb. Take the fruit, cut off the scar, cook it and make jam.”

The new venture wasn't an instant success. Buxman found himself delivering unsold jam that first year to a Bay Area homeless mission, pulling up right behind a bread truck.

“Man does not live by bread alone,” he said with a laugh.

But each year he and his wife improved their product, and the market grew.

“This jam is so addictive, it's barely legal,” Buxman said. His “Sweet Home Ranch Homemade Preserves” costs $2 per jar to make, and sells for $5 each.

Farmer Paul Buxman says his Sweet Home Ranch jam (right) is so addictive, it's 'barely legal.'

Buxman suggested the farmers at the UCCE workshop to try making a value-added product. The new products could be spices, food, cleaning products, handicrafts, and even experiences, such a teaching a skill.

“You have so much more to offer people than you realize,” Buxman said.

Patti Chang (right) of Feed the Hunger Foundation speaks to the group. UCCE ag assistant Michael Yang translates into Hmong.

During the subsequent panel discussion, Kiel Schmidt outlined the support that Food Commons Fresno can provide. An important element is the opportunity to rent the organization's commercial kitchen to create value-added merchandise to health department specifications. Patti Chang of Feed the Hunger Foundation said her organization provides technical assistance and loans to new ventures that can carry out their mission of reducing hunger and helping people out of poverty.

“We worked with two Oaxacan women in Madera who didn't want to be field workers anymore,” Chang said. “They wanted to make a product from their culture: mole. They became a certified business, opened a bank account at Wells Fargo and opened a small restaurant in a grocery story. We helped them negotiate the lease.”

Eduardo Gonzalez of Fresno State's San Joaquin Valley Rural Development Center said his facility can help small businesses with marketing, website design and getting value-added products to market.

Dawn Goliik of the U.S. Small Business Administration said the organization can help small farmers start, grow and run businesses with training, mentoring and counseling.

“It's all free to you,” Golik said.

The UCCE small farms team also has a marketing associate, Lorena Ramos, who is available for farmers to contact regarding value-added product development.

Two Oaxacan women in Madera are marketing their traditional mole in addition to running a small restaurant inside a grocery store.

Presentations and one-on-one consultations were offered by a variety of organizations that can loan funds, including Fresno Madera Farm Credit, Access + Capital, Northern California Community Loan Fund, California FarmLink, USDA Farm Service Agency and Valley Small Business Development Corporation.

The workshop ended with a presentation on California's Cottage Food Law, which allows residents to process and prepare foods in their own home kitchens to sell to the public. Some of the home-prepared products the law permits are jams, jellies, cookies, cakes and fudge, dried fruit, vegetables and spices. A complete list of approved foods is on the state website.

The Cottage Food Law is for businesses with a gross annual income below $50,000, which have no more than one employee (not including household members).

“There is no charge, just paperwork to fill out,” said Matthew Gore with Fresno County Environmental Health. “This isn't difficult, and we're here to help you with the forms.”

Dahlquist-Willard said an important part of her UC Cooperative Extension program is the connections she and Yang can help farmers make with the myriad services available to them.

“We encourage small farmers to contact us in our Fresno office,” she said.

Contact information:

Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, (559) 241-7515, rdahlquistwillard@ucanr.edu
Michael Yang, (559) 241-7523, myang@ucanr.edu
Lorena Ramos, (559) 241-7524, mlramose@ucanr.edu

 

Posted on Friday, February 9, 2018 at 8:38 AM

Hmong farmers getting help from UC Cooperative Extension to weather the drought

UCCE advisor Ruth Dahlquist-Willard (right) demonstrates how to evaluate soil moisture with a soil sampler. In the center is UCCE Hmong ag assistant Michael Yang. Ka Xiong
After the Central Valley Hmong Agriculture radio show last week, the phones at the UC Cooperative Extension office in Fresno County were buzzing non-stop with farmers anxious to apply for state grants to improve irrigation systems and energy efficiency. Michael Yang, UCCE Hmong agricultural assistant, has hosted the one-hour show each Tuesday afternoon on KBIF 900 AM for 19 years.

“Sometimes we don't see the farmers that often. They are busy on the farm,” Yang said. “But when they hear something (important) like this on the radio, they show up.”

UC Cooperative Extension office staff - including UCCE advisor Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, Yang, part time staffer Xia Chang, Fresno State student volunteer Sunny Yang, and research assistant Janet Robles from Fresno State's Center for Irrigation Technology – are working with small-scale and socially disadvantaged farmers one-on-one to line up the necessary paperwork and information to submit successful grant applications. (Read more about UC staffer Xia Chang, millennial Hmong farmer.)

“We helped eight farmers submit applications in the last two rounds, and seven received grants,” Yang said. “The money is significant.”

The grants allowed the farmers to make improvements in energy efficiency and water savings, Dahlquist-Willard said.

“This can make a huge difference for the profitability of a small farm,” she said.

The application requires energy bills from the previous growing season, a pump test and a plan for redesigning the irrigation system to result in reduced water use and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

“There are a lot of calculations to do,” Yang said. “It's very complicated, and no one is available to help underserved farmers.”

While assisting farmers with applications for other programs is not usually part of UCCE's extension efforts, the small farms program in Fresno County has identified this form of assistance as crucial to the success of small-scale and minority-operated farms.

Help with the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) grants is one in a series of outreach efforts for Hmong farmers spearheaded by Dahlquist-Willard since she was hired in 2014 to work with small-scale farmers in Fresno and Tulare counties. After just two weeks on the job, she was invited to an emergency meeting with the National Hmong American Farmers and USDA's Farm Service Agency to address the challenges faced by Hmong farmers as groundwater levels continued to drop during the drought.

“Wells were starting to dry up. Some Hmong farmers were reportedly calling suicide hotlines,” Dahlquist-Willard said. “We knew we had to take action.”

Dahlquist-Willard and her staff began researching programs that could offer the farmers financial assistance. They identified a free PG&E rate analysis, which could help the farmers choose the best electric rate for their irrigation practices to minimize charges. They searched for financing to deepen wells for farmers who had difficulty qualifying for existing USDA loans. And in 2015, they began helping farmers with applications for the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program.

The dire circumstances also prompted Dahlquist-Willard to commission a survey of Hmong farmers to see how they were impacted by the drought. Documenting their plight would be useful in seeking support. The survey was conducted in conjunction with outreach efforts with Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board and Jennifer Sowerwine, UCCE Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. The survey was funded with a grant from the USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach and with support from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources via Sowerwine.

Sixty-eight farmers were interviewed by phone or in-person. Twenty-two percent said their wells had dried up, and 51 percent reported a decreased water flow.

“For the ones with dry wells, it could be $20,000 to $50,000 to drill a new well,” Dahlquist-Willard said. “A lot of them cannot get access to loans.”

To deal with irrigation water limitations, some farmers told interviewers they reduced acreage or changed the time of day they irrigate. Some stopped farming all together.

“One farmer told us he was irrigating his crops with his domestic well,” Dahlquist-Willard said.

Energy efficiency programs turned out to be very important for this population of farmers. Eighty-seven percent said their utility bills increased during the drought. As a result, UCCE has been promoting PG&E programs for energy efficiency as well as the SWEEP program.

The survey also showed the power of radio in reaching the Hmong farming community. Eighty percent of the survey respondents said they were regular listeners to Michael Yang's Central Valley Hmong Agriculture radio show.


 Xia Chang: Millennial Hmong farmer

Xia Chang works with a Hmong farmer on making changes to energy billing.
Xia (pronounced “sigh”) Chang, 26, was hired in 2015 to use his Hmong language skills in collecting survey responses for UCCE. Chang was born in Thailand, and immigrated with his family to the U.S. four years later. His father cultivates Southeast Asian vegetables along with a second job at Red Lobster. Many of the nine children in the family help out on the farm.

Chang attended college, but his financial aid was depleted before he earned a degree. In addition to part time work with UCCE, Chang is now farming.

“Last year we expanded our farm from 4 acres to 14 acres, with a new three-year lease,” Chang said.

The family's many technical agricultural questions led to Chang's frequent visits to the Cooperative Extension office, and ultimately to his being hired to help conduct the Hmong farmer survey.

“I spend a lot of time speaking Hmong on this job,” Chang said. “I've had to learn a lot of new vocabulary.”

He said he's also learning a lot about new farming techniques that he wants to apply on the family farm. However, there are obstacles.

“My dad is not open to new ways because he is afraid it would not be as successful,” Chang said. “But, in everything you do, you learn.”

Chang is now looking into a career in plant sciences. He is working with Dahlquist-Willard and Kent Daane, UC Cooperative Extension biological control specialist based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, testing integrated pest management techniques in Southeast Asian vegetable crop production. In time, Chang plans to return to Fresno State to complete a degree in agriculture.

Posted on Monday, July 25, 2016 at 10:44 AM
Tags: drought (202), Hmong (6), Michael Yang (12), Ruth Dahlquist-Willard (8)

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University of California Cooperative Extension, Sonoma County
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