Posts Tagged: Roger Duncan
, UC Cooperative Extension director and advisor in Merced and Mariposa counties, plans to retire on July 1. Norton, who specializes in tree fruit, grapes and farmland preservation, has served Merced County growers for UC Agriculture and Natural Resources for 36 years.
Norton is “probably the kind of person everyone would like to know – a kind and gentle soul who exudes knowledge and wisdom,” said Bill Martin, executive director of Central Valley Farmland Trust.
For the past 10 years, Martin has worked on conserving farmland with Norton, who was a founding member of the Merced County Farmland and Open Space Trust, which merged with two other land trusts to become Central Valley Farmland Trust.
“He has an understanding of the landscape that is greatly appreciated,” Martin said of Norton. “He's very low-key, observant and provides timely input on provocative issues that come up at board meetings.”
Raised on a farm near Salida, north of Modesto, Norton studied pomology at Fresno State University, earning a B.S. and an M.S. in plant science before joining UC Cooperative Extension.
During his career, the UC Cooperative Extension advisor has helped Merced County growers solve problems in kiwifruit, Asian pears, prunes, peaches, strawberries, figs and pomegranates.
“When I started in 1979, there was rapid growth of two new industries – kiwifruit and Asian pears,” Norton said. “I conducted some early research trials on kiwifruit and authored a chapter of the new UC Cooperative Extension production manual for kiwifruit. I also spent a lot of time diagnosing Asian pear problems.”
Early in Norton's career, UC scientists introduced a device for measuring soil moisture called a neutron probe. The young advisor tested the device in peach orchards on clay-loam soils, attempting to correlate the probe, gypsum blocks, tensiometers and pressure chamber data.
“All of these tools were relatively new then,” said Norton. “Mid-day values had not been established yet so data collection entailed going out at 3 a.m. to pick leaves and measure the leaf water potential while crouching in the back seat of my government-issued Plymouth Fury.”
Collaborating with his UC Cooperative Extension colleague Roger Duncan in Stanislaus County, Norton conducted several research projects aimed at reducing labor costs in peaches. Projects included mechanical fruit thinning, chemical blossom thinning and various types of mechanical blossom thinning.
Research by Norton and his fellow Cooperative Extension advisors showed that mature prune trees could be pruned every other year and still produce desirable fruit size and maintain yields. Growers widely adopted the practice of alternate year pruning. Later, Cooperative Extension set out to demonstrate the new integrated prune farming practices where IPM tools were integral parts of the system.
In the early 1980s, when many grape growers were spraying pesticides three to four times a year, leafhoppers developed resistance to some insecticides. Norton and other UC experts saw the potential for biological control by the Anagris parasitic wasp. UC Cooperative Extension advisors persuaded growers to not spray the first or second generations of leafhoppers and let the beneficial insects control the pests. Now grape growers rarely have to spray for leafhoppers.
Over Norton's career, agriculture in Merced County has diversified. He began having strawberry meetings translated into Hmong or Lao for immigrant growers and studying pomegranates and figs.
Off the farm, Norton has been active in community development, organizing workshops for farmers on how to export their products, chairing the Merced County Economic Development Task Force twice and serving twice as president of the county's Chamber of Commerce.
“My favorite part of the job has always been doing farm calls, where I went out and visited growers and diagnosed problems, explaining the nature of the problem, and most importantly, suggest things to try,” Norton said.
In retirement, Norton plans on playing his tenor and bari sax in jazz bands, training UC Master Gardeners and volunteering with the local historical society and other organizations.
He has also been granted emeritus status by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources.
The story was based on a survey released Sept. 4 by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. CDFA sent questionnaires to 688 almond growers; in all 458 responded.
Among the growers who farm 600 or more acres of almonds, 87 percent said they used groundwater for crop irrigation. Groundwater has higher salinity than surface water.
"Almonds are not salt tolerant,” said Roger Duncan, UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Stanislaus County. Since many almond growers have substituted groundwater for surface water during this third year of drought, “we're seeing more salt damage in trees.”
Sbranti spoke to Merced County almond farmer Bob Weimer. He said farms dependent solely on groundwater are suffering the most. Nevertheless, the farmer said he drilled two new wells this year and plans to drill another one in the fall. One of his older wells went dry because the water table dropped.
"We can't continue this process," Weimer said. "It's not sustainable."
The CDFA survey also reported that 9 percent of almond growers have removed trees due to insufficient water availability. Ten percent of growers have decided to delay replanting of trees and 21 percent decided to delay orchard expansion, statistics that surprised Duncan because of the continuing high demand for new trees from nurseries.
"The nurseries are going full bore," Duncan said. "They can't grow enough trees."
Timm Herdt, a Ventura County Star columnist, wrote that farmers' close attention to the weather has given them keen awareness about climate change.
"Anybody who's paying attention knows the climate has already changed," said Daniel Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center at UC Davis.
In his story about last week's conference on climate change in Sacramento, Herdt wrote if there is any group that doesn't have to be sold on the idea that government must address the effects of climate change, it's farmers. However, he called climate change a tough political issue.
"Conservatives unwilling to acknowledge the overwhelming science on global warming will continue to fight efforts to slow climate change by reducing carbon emissions. Liberals will likely resist steps that might be needed to adapt to irreversible changes that have already taken place - steps such as increased reliance on genetic engineering to help agriculture adapt and a greater emphasis on water storage," Herdt wrote.
Other recent drought coverage includes:
Alfalfa is more resilient than many crops because it can go into a drought-induced dormancy during the summer, at least for one year, according to UC Cooperative Extension advisors Rachael Long and Steve Orloff. The tradeoff is that without water there will be little yield, but research has shown the stand will persist on most soil types and yield will recover the next year, once water is applied to the field again.
California drought will hit cost of rice hardest
Debbie Arrington, The Sacramento Bee
Price increases won't be huge, but one crop will see a noticeable price spike: California rice.
“It's the exception,” said Dan Sumner, noting the international demand for the state's short-grained “sushi rice.” “It's a unique product and a major export crop. You can't have a 20 or 25 percent reduction and not see an increase in price.”
MID, TID farmers can get water-wise tips
The Modesto Bee
UC Cooperative Extension takes part in a drought workshop for farmers in the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts 6 to 8 p.m. May 29 at the Harvest Hall, Stanislaus County Ag Center, 2800 Cornucopia Way. UCCE advisor Roger Duncan will present water-saving practices.
Fitchette opened his story with the plight of ag research at the UC West Side Research and Extension Center near Five Points. Many of the farmers in the area will receive no surface water allocation this year; neither will the research center.
The facility can pull water from a deep well, but it is not enough nor is the water quality adequate for all the farming operations, said Bob Hutmacher, UC Cooperative Extension specialist and center director. He said scientists at the station must cut back their water use this year by 25 percent.
“I can speak for myself: I have about a half dozen cotton projects and a sorghum project, along with a sesame project and a couple of other things I'm working on,” he said. “I'm downsizing most of them to the greatest degree I can and I'm going to cancel one of them.”
One trial that will not go forward at West Side is an almond variety trial. However, UC Cooperative Extension advisors in other areas are working with the Almond Board to keep the research underway. UCCE advisors Joe Connell will oversee the Chico State almond variety trial, Roger Duncan the Salida trial, and Gurreet Brar the Madera County trial.
The Western Farm Press Story included drought-related ag research news from myriad UCCE academics:
- Duncan said his work with fruit and nut crops has not been negatively impacted by the drought.
- David Doll, UCCE advisor in Merced County, said the increased reliance on groundwater has ruined several orchard nitrogen trials because the groundwater in northern Merced has high rates of nitrate nitrogen, which acts as a nitrogen fertilizer.
- Dan Munk, UCCE advisor in Fresno County, said he will continue putting off alfalfa trials at the WSREC “indefinitely until a more secure water supply is available.”
- Scott Stoddard, UCCE advisor in Merced County, reports positive and negative impacts from the drought. He won't do tomato research at West Side REC, but will continue work in sweet potatoes to determine how little water they need to produce a reasonable crop.
- Chris Greer, UCCE advisor in Sutter, Yuba, Colusa and Glenn counties, said some rangeland trials were impacted by the lack of rain.
- Bruce Lampinen, UCCE specialist in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, has seen his orchard trials in Arbuckle severely impacted by the drought.
A story in the Los Angeles Times this week opened with the concerns of cattle ranchers. Without winter rain rangeland grass doesn't grow. Ranchers must decide whether to buy expensive feed or cull their herds to weather the drought.
"Their struggle is a bellwether for California's $45 billion agriculture sector," wrote reporter David Pierson. The repercussions will be felt beyond the state's borders. "The Golden State produces nearly half of all U.S.-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables and is the nation's leading dairy and wine producer."
Pierson quoted Doug Parker, director of the UC California Institute for Water Resources, in his article.
"The agriculture industry is definitely hit the hardest by drought," Parker said. "In California, agriculture uses 80 percent of water in the state. It's a major input for their business and hits their finances and employment directly."
The San Luis Obispo Tribune reported on drought hardships for SLO County fruit and vegetable farmers. Growers are facing increasing irrigation costs and taking steps to reduce salt buildup in the soil.
"The drought forces growers to prioritize crop cycles,” said Mary Bianchi, UC Cooperative Extension adviser. “What do you plant, and what do you leave fallow?”
In Stanislaus County, ranchers are expressing concerns about a trend among farmers toward planting almonds, reported the The Modesto Bee. Ranchers are worried the spread of almonds, walnuts an other high-value crops could strain their limited groundwater, drive up land prices and intrude on their way of life.
“It's not hard to understand why (farmers are planting more almonds),” said Roger Duncan, UCCE advisor. “It's very profitable.”
It was Duncan who provided the rough figures on almond profitability during the first day of the ninth annual summit of the California rangeland Conservation Coalition recently, wrote Bee reporter John Holland. Duncan said the net is even better for walnuts, which are not as extensive but still have had major growth in acreage. He also said the nut boom could be limited by a shortage of water and land.
The Drovers Cattle Network reported that cattle ranchers are seeking strategies for surviving the drought.
According to the article, rancher Billy McDonald's wife, Aileen, said she learned from UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Glenn Nader that "you need to set a date, like if it doesn't rain by a certain date, to start culling. That's really important."
Also as part of the story, Roger Ingram, UCCE advisor in Placer and Nevada counties, advised ranchers to develop a drought plan.
Ingram warned against overgrazing and emphasized the importance of leaving enough residual dry matter in the ground to enhance seed germination and minimize soil erosion. With more bare ground, water would run off instead of soaking in, he said, and there would be less organic matter to feed soil microbes, resulting in fields being overrun by undesirable plants such as medusahead and yellow starthistle.
"Your grazing strategy should be take half, leave half," he said.
For those who are on irrigated pasture with limited water supply, UCCE advisor Larry Forero said fields are the driest in the summer but can get by with less water in the fall, so irrigate as close to evapotranspiration as possible and then stop irrigating. He also advised leaving four to five inches of stubble to facilitate pasture growth in the fall, should it rain or irrigation water become available.