Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center
University of California
Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center

Kearney News Updates

There's a new avocado in town

GEM avocados
The UC Riverside avocado breeding program has identified a promising new avocado variety, which scientists believe will soon take off commercially.

The GEM avocado is the great-granddaughter of Hass avocado, which is currently the industry standard in California. GEM has all the excellent characteristics of Hass avocados - creamy, nutty flesh; dark, pebbly skin when ripe - and it has additional benefits for the grower, according to Mary Lu Arpaia, a UC Cooperative Extension subtropical horticulturist based at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier, Calif.

"Hass avocados are alternate bearing - they will produce a big crop one year, and a small crop the next. GEM is more consistent, so growers can make money every year," Arpaia said. "The trees are also more compact, which means growers have less costs for harvesting and tree maintenance."

GEM was part of an extensive avocado variety breeding program led since the 1950s by UC Riverside plant breeder Bob Bergh. Arpaia took over the program in 1996.

In the early 1980s, Bergh released a variety he called the Gwen. However, Gwen didn't turn black when it ripened, a disadvantage because consumers are accustomed to Hass. In the mid 80s, Bergh planted more than 60,000 avocado variety seedlings on farms across Southern California. GEM, a granddaughter of Gwen, was one.

There are GEM trees growing at the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center in Irvine. Fruit samples are sent to the Kearney Sensory Laboratory, where volunteers judge the fruit's outward appearance and compare the flavor with Hass.

Recently, UC Riverside signed an exclusive license agreement with Westfalia Fruit Estates, a South African company, to market GEM around the world, the university announced. In the United States, the California–based Brokaw Nursery has non-exclusive rights to the GEM avocado.

For information on GEM avocado sensory testing, see the one-minute video below.

Read a transcript of the video.

Posted on Friday, July 22, 2011 at 9:01 AM

Kearney Grape Day 2011: Scientist to lead tour through the inside of grapevines

The broad maple-like leaves and bright green curly-cue tendrils of grapevines are a familiar sight during the University of California’s annual Kearney Grape Day. At this year’s event, Aug. 16, participants will also get a guided tour of the vines’ interior vascular system in a presentation about grapevine water transport physiology.

USDA plant biologist Andrew McElrone is using high resolution computed tomography – a type of cat scan similar to the medical imaging diagnostic system – to cruise through plant veins and vessels to better understand grapevines’ water transport system.

The research is conducted on live and dry grapevines at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Like in medicine, each cat scan produces numerous digital slices of grapevine, which are stacked on top of each other using special engineering software to reconstruct the system.

“We can then spin the images around into various orientations, moving through individual vessels,” McElrone said.

A previous grape day at Kearney.
At Grape Day 2011, McElrone will show images and video clips of grapevines’ inside anatomy, explain what he is finding there and why it is important to the industry.

Grape Day registration begins at 7:30 a.m. Aug. 16 at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center, 9240 S. Riverbend Ave., Parlier, Calif. Field tours are conducted from 8 to 9:30 a.m. and classroom presentations will be from 10 a.m. to 12 noon.

Registration is $10 per person. Advance registration is offered online.

Field tour topics are:

  • New wine grape varieties for the San Joaquin Valley by UC Cooperative Extension viticulture specialist James Wolpert, UC Davis
  • The development of new grape rootstocks for the San Joaquin Valley by geneticist Peter Cousins, USDA-ARS, Geneva, N.Y.
  • Using the ‘Paso Panel’ to aid in irrigation scheduling by viticulture farm advisor Mark Battany, UC Cooperative Extension, San Luis Obispo County

Classroom presentations:

  • Understanding water use of grapevines by plant biologist Andrew McElrone, USDA-ARS, Davis, Calif.
  • Trapping and baiting for gopher control in vineyards by vertebrate IPM advisor Roger Baldwin, Kearney, Parlier, Calif.
  • Critical weed free periods in vineyard development by vegetation management farm advisor Kurt Hembree, UC Cooperative Extension in Fresno County
  • Fruitfulness of DOV raisin cultivars by UC Cooperative Extension viticulture specialist Matthew Fidelibus, UC Davis and Kearney.

For more information, contact event coordinator Matt Fidelibus,, (559) 646-6500.

Posted on Tuesday, July 19, 2011 at 12:48 PM

Kearney supports Partners in Agricultural Leadership

Forty-two local high school students learned about agricultural career pathways and how to advocate for agriculture by participating in Partners in Agricultural Leadership, a Reedley College-administered USDA Hispanic Serving Institution grant-funded competitive agricultural leadership and education program.

Over the two-year program, Reedley College partnered with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, CSU Fresno, Fresno County Farm Bureau, Kingsburg Administrative Committee, Reedley College Ag Backers Council, Tulare County Workforce Investment Board, USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA-ARS (Parlier), UC Davis, and UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center.

Students worked with Reedley College mentors, attended seminars and delivered agriculture advocacy outreach to local students.

The 42 students received scholarships totaling over $73,000. Aaron Ramirez of Clovis East High School was the recipient of the $50,000 grant-funded scholarship. Aaron’s mother said that after attending the PAL seminar at UC KARE, Aaron became very enthusiastic about exploring a career in agriculture.

For his outreach project, Aaron worked with UC KARE to collect and sterilize owl pellets. He then delivered a training module that taught students in Aaron’s community about the importance of owls as well as determine what pests the owls were eating by identifying the bones in the owl pellets. Aaron plans to attend Reedley College prior to transferring to a four-year university and pursuing a career in agriculture.

Posted on Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 10:21 AM

The end of an era

The Kearney community marked the retirement of its long-time computer programmer John Rassmussen today. John came to Kearney shortly after graduating from college to manage a brand new integrated pest management outreach system located at the field station. In 1981, IPM was delving into computer communications by offering a weather database, news features and pest management guidelines that could be read on terminals at UC Cooperative Extension county offices.

The computer at Kearney - with its 96 megabyte hard drive and one-quarter megabyte internal memory - cost $125,000, John said. It was connected to terminals in Bakersfield, Visalia, Shafter and Fresno via dedicated phone lines.

Over the years, as technology advanced, John became the self-taught network administrator and computer support professional for the scientists and staff at the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center. An avid outdoorsman, John plans to spend more time hiking, caving, mountaineering and endurance running during retirement.

Posted on Friday, June 24, 2011 at 1:22 PM

Kearney staff and academics show they 'KARE'

Staff and academics at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center (KARE) hosted the Central California Blood Center's Blood Mobile today. In all, 22 people stepped up to donate a pint.

The Central California Blood Center says more than 75 percent of Americans who reach age 72 will need blood at some point in their lifetimes; 97 percent will have a loved one or friend who will need life-saving blood. Among the most common procedures that require blood are heart surgery, accidents, organ transplants and bone marrow transplants.

Since blood is a fragile, liquid living tissue, it has a limited shelf life. Red blood cells last 42 days, platelets last 5 days, and plasma can be frozen and stored for one year. CCBC is the sole provider of blood donations to hospitals in Fresno, Madera, Tulare, Kings and Mariposa counties. It strives to always maintain a five- to seven-day supply of blood.

The Kearney blood drive was organized by KARE safety coordinator Alan Cary.

Posted on Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 11:59 AM

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