Posts Tagged: Roger Duncan
Reporters sought UC Cooperative Extension expertise for recent articles about unusual farming efforts in two parts of California.
Fresno Bee reporter Robert Rodriguez covered the story of sisters in their early 20s who have settled on their dad's Laton alfalfa farm after he suffered complications from a black widow bite. The young women purchased chickens on a whim and began producing specialty eggs under the brand name "Just Got Laid."
Rodriguez spoke to Shermain Hardesty, UCCE specialist in the Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics at UC Davis, about trends in cottage farming.
"The timing is right for operators who can make a connection with consumers," Hardesty said. "People will support that."
Sacramento Bee reporter Edward Ortiz wrote about a return to dry-land farming in the Central Valley, with examples of farmers opting out of irrigation in producing particularly tasty apricots, wine grapes and tomatoes.
UC experts, however, commented on the difficulties associated with dry-land production in the valley.
"Dry farming would be a hard life because you're at the whim of the rains," said Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis. "It would have to be a fairly small-scale farm, and in some cases, it would be a good road to poverty."
Duncan said wine grape growers might withhold irrigation early in the growing season to control leaf growth and improve fruit quality, but water is still needed later on. He noted that the valley in the 19th century was widely planted with wheat that relied on rainfall. The boom ended when irrigation allowed diverse fruits, vegetables and other crops to be grown.
"We'll take any and all cold that we can at this time of year to fulfill the chilling requirements of the trees," Grant said.
Paul Verdegaal, UCCE advisor in San Joaquin County, a viticulture expert, agreed.
"The good side of the story is we're catching up on the chilling hours, which will produce a good strong bud bread and bloom for all the perennial crops," Verdegaal said. "(Subfreezing temperatures, however,) may be hurting some younger trees and vines, but generally, things are in dormancy, so it's not too much of a problem."
"For us out here, the cold nights are good," Norton said. "We fare quite well because we don't grow subtropical crops like citrus and avocados."
Scott Stoddard, UCCE advisor in Merced County, said crop storage facilities need to pay attention to temperature control when the weather gets very cold.
"We have a lot of sweet potatoes in storage," he said. "They guys need to make sure their storage rooms are working properly and don't get too cold."
"Actually, this is beautiful," Duncan said. "Tree crops need cold in order to break their rest."
Among the first farming operations to be affected by lack of rain is livestock grazing, which is largely dependent on rainfall to grow forage for cattle and sheep, and to fill stock ponds the animals need for drinking water.
Josh Davy, livestock and range farm advisor with the University of California Cooperative Extension in Tehama, Colusa and Glenn counties, said many livestock owners are in a waiting game. They're hoping for rain but are also making plans to buy supplemental feed in case it doesn't.
Another option for some, he said, is to begin selling off animals early to reduce herd size, thereby ensuring grazing lands can sustain the animals they keep.
"People are right on the teetering edge," Davy said. "We're going to have a lot of grass start dying here if we don't start getting some kind rains."
Some stone fruit and nut crops are also at risk. With these crops, such as almonds and peaches, root growth precedes bud growth. Without soil moisture, the roots don't grow, and then the trees don't bud out. That means less fruit production, said Roger Duncan, a fruit tree advisor at the Cooperative Extension office in Stanislaus County.
"They're starting to get concerned," said Duncan. "There is no such thing as normal. But I don't remember it being quite like this. We really could use the rain."
Farmers in the northern San Joaquin Valley saw a demonstration of new stonefruit thinning technology at a UC Cooperative Extension field day in Stanislaus County last week. Reporter John Holland and photographer Bart Ah You filed a story, photos and video about the event for publication in today's Modesto Bee.
The German-made "string thinner" has been researched for two years by farm advisors Roger Duncan and Maxwell Norton and pomology specialist Scott Johnson. It involves running a column of spinning plastic strings around and above the trees during bloom to knock off some of the blossoms.
The result is less fruit set and therefore reduced thinning expenses later in the season. In addition, the fruit that remain have less competition on the tree during their early development, which boosts fruit size at harvest.
"For one variety that was tested, the grower's gross income rose $997 per acre and the thinning cost dropped $386, resulting in a $1,383 (per acre) gain," Duncan explained at the field day.
The machine costs about $16,000, but it quickly pays for itself, said Modesto farmer Paul Van Konynenburg, Holland reported.
Farm advisors introduce peach producers to new thinning technology.
California cling-peach growers' market dominance is beginning to erode in the face of cheap cling-peach imports from China, according to an article in today's Fresno Bee.
Imports of lower-priced Chinese canned cling-peaches grew from 43,000 cases 10 years ago to more than 2.2 million last year, the article said. Chinese peaches now represent 12 percent of the 16 million cases consumed in the U.S.
To defend their turf, California growers are looking for ways to reduce their production costs. Bee reporter Robert Rodriguez spoke to UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Roger Duncan about his research with German-made equipment that would cut the cost of spring hand-thinning, a practice that ensures ripe fruit reaches the proper size.
"I am optimistic that growers will take a look at this," Duncan was quoted. "Because it is going to be difficult to compete against a country that can produce a product cheaper than we can.
Mechanical pre-thinning will not replace the hand thinning, but it can reduce the cost -- estimated at about $1,000 an acre -- by 25 to 30 percent.
"We've done lots of studies in California on mechanical and chemical fruit thinning or blossom thinning," Duncan said. "Generally what we see is the earlier you remove those fruit, the larger the remaining fruit are at harvest because there is less competition for nutrients from the mother tree."
In addition to finding efficiencies in their production practices, the cling-peach industry is asking Americans to buy the home-grown product.
"We need to educate consumers that they should be looking for peaches from the U.S.," Reedley farmer Harry Berberian told Rodriguez. "There are a lot of us who have been growing cling peaches for a long time. It's in our blood. And we are going to keep going as long as we can, but it is not going to be easy."
The online version of the Bee story generated many outraged comments from readers, including:
"We used to produce the best peaches in the world, how can we compete with these fellas from China? The folks from this country will work for a few cents a day, they don't complain about the job, and if they do, there's a heck of a lot of Chinese folks that will take their place."
"Who let that happen? We the people want our jobs back that the American government gave to China. It should be economic treason what Wall Street and the government have done!"
UC farm advisor Roger Duncan, center, with a group of California farmers.