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

Kearney News Updates

It's show time for California blueberries

Manuel Jimenez speaks at a previous Kearney Ag Research and Extension Center blueberry field day.
The California blueberry industry is growing at a healthy pace, and with 6,000 acres producing about 30 million pounds of the antioxidant-rich fruit, the industry’s volume has now surpassed Florida, said UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Manuel Jimenez.

The milestone is significant, since the southern highbush blueberry cultivars grown in California originated in the Sunshine State. Southern highbush cultivars are well adapted to the California climate because they require fewer “chill hours” to produce fruit.

A leader in the development of the California industry, Jimenez has conducted blueberry observational trials – looking at yield and flavor characteristics – for more than a decade at the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Parlier. In addition, the Kearney blueberry plantings have been the scene of ongoing studies on plant spacing, mulches and pruning, research that has helped farmers successfully establish the crop in the semi-arid San Joaquin Valley.

Jimenez will invite blueberry farmers and those considering entering the industry to Kearney this week to taste and compare 35 varieties of berries. Looking over the plots, Jimenez said it wouldn’t be difficult for a farmer to use information from the Kearney trials to select good-tasting berries that ripen sequentially for months, extending one farm's blueberry season from spring until mid-way through the summer.

“You could plant Snow Chaser, a very sweet, early variety, in hoop houses and start harvesting in the second or third week of April,” Jimenez said. “Next, Reveille could come into production. Southmoon is really late and then Centurion, a rabbit eye blueberry that’s small and sweet, would be ready in late July.”

On Wednesday, May 18, Jimenez will lead a tour to small and large commercial berry farms and packing facilities. Discussion topics include blackberry sunburn prevention, blackberry trellising systems, blueberry field design and layout, soil and water acidification, irrigation scheduling, harvest practices and blueberry packing and cooling.

A blueberry meeting on Thursday, May 19, features presentations on world production systems, blueberry nutrition, frost protection and blueberry market outlook. Following lunch, participants adjourn to visit the research plantings and industry exhibits.

For more information about the blueberry meetings this week at Kearney, see the flyer.

Posted on Monday, May 16, 2011 at 8:43 PM

Reedley students experience ag science

A group of eighth-graders from Riverview Elementary School in Reedley toured the UC Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center today for an introduction to agricultural science.

In Kearney's greenhouse facility, UC staff showed the students some of the pests farmers must manage - including leaf footed bug, navel orange worm and olive fruit fly - and explained research underway to help farmers control pests in ways that are effective and environmentally sound.

 

Students were encouraged to touch the insects.
Students peer into a tent filled with leaf footed bugs.
Staff research associate Andy Molinar informs students about May and June beetles.
Posted on Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 11:19 AM

Meeting food safety requirements frees KARE from extensive reporting obligation

Field assistants Walter Martinez-Casarez and Chiengseng Cha help maintain blueberry trials at Kearney.
Using and documenting good agricultural practices in the blueberry plot at KARE in recent years will save the research station’s environmental health and safety staff a significant amount of time. Driscoll, the berry marketing company that ships Kearney’s blueberry crop to national markets, audits KARE and all of its producers to document their agricultural practices to ensure the crop’s wholesomeness.

The audit, performed by the independent third party Primus, requires extensive documentation – including such details as inspection of field worker sanitation facilities and hygiene training, pre-harvest fruit sampling and laboratory testing for pesticide residues, records of worker safety training, employing expert pest control advisers using IPM practices performed by certified applicators, even the number of tractor hours involved in production, when the tractor oil was last changed and how the old oil was disposed. The report also documents details about crop inputs, such as pesticides used, the calibration of spray rigs, etc.

“This year because of a three-year history of more than 97 percent assurance in Global Food Safety requirements, we are not required to spend the many hours required in a full audit, submitting documentation and lengthy inspections to meet the standards,” said Alan Cary, the KARE safety coordinator.

Cary estimates this year’s exemption from documentation will save 40 hours of labor.

“I want to thank KARE’s farm operation staff for their support in continuously exceeding food safety requirements for products that are harvested and shipped from KARE to consumers around the globe,” Cary said.

The 3.61-acre blueberry plot at KARE is a research planting for UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor Manuel Jimenez. The plot provides not only valuable science-based information for California’s blueberry farmers and industry, but also some crop income to help offset the research costs.

Posted on Wednesday, April 27, 2011 at 11:41 AM

Brown widow spider could be a concern for farmers

Brown widow egg sacs look something like giant pollen balls.
A UC Riverside scientist is asking for the public’s help to track the distribution of brown widow spiders in California. Brown widows’ range, he said, expanded rapidly in Southern California since their introduction in 2003; they may move northward this summer into Central California.

“The brown widow is spreading like wildfire,” said UC Riverside urban entomologist Rick Vetter. "It’s a very prolific pest. People find them by the hundreds in places where they haven’t seen spiders before.”'

The brown widow poses less of a health threat than black widows, but Vetter said there are several reasons why the agricultural community should be concerned about their potential northward migration. Currently little is known about brown widow spider biological control. While black widows prefer low hangouts, it is not yet known whether brown widows will adjust to higher posts in California. If the spiders take up residence in fruit orchards, for example, they could pose a problem for farmworkers.

“Pickers and harvesters won’t want to have these spiders falling down on them,” Vetter said.

Brown widows could also potentially congregate in agricultural shipping containers or packaging.

Brown widow spiders are native to Africa and are established in tropical environments throughout the world. They have been found in Florida for many decades, but only recently expanded their range from Texas through South Carolina, and into Southern California.  As of 2009, the spider was established in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties, and in 2010 it made its way to Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. There have been a few finds in areas further north.

“I’ve gotten three females from Sacramento and three females from Washington (state),” Vetter said. “I’ve gotten no other spiders from those areas, so I don’t know if they will be another infestation area or not.”

Vetter is asking the public to assist in his brown widow spider research by carefully following instructions for collecting and sending brown widow spider specimens to the university. Potential spider collectors should study the photos on his website to learn the characteristics of brown widows. Because the spider is already established in Southern California, Vetter does not need specimens from San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles and the Riverside and San Bernardino-Redlands area. More specimens are welcome from Ventura, Santa Barbara, from Riverside and San Bernardino counties outside of the urban cities in the western part of the counties and from all the rest of California.

For spider shipping instructions, see Vetter’s brown widow spider research page.

Watch an 80-second video for tips on identifying brown widow spiders:

Posted on Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 3:07 PM

An experimental fruit thinner studied at Kearney

Mechanical fruit thinner may prove to be a money-saving device for farmers.

UC researchers are experimenting with a variety of methods that will help farmers reduce the cost of fruit thinning. Peach, nectarine, plum and apple trees typically set a tremendous amount of fruit. The fruit must be thinned considerably to ensure adequate fruit size.

Since employing farmworkers for hand thinning is a major expense for farmers, researchers have been looking for a mechanical alternative.

One such machine being tested this spring is a “drum shaker,” which was recently shipped to the Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center from the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Appalachian Fruit Research Station in West Virginia.

“We took the drum shaker out to several orchards,” said UC staff research associate Becky Phene, who works in collaboration with UC pomology specialist Scott Johnson. “In four locations, we tagged and labeled shoots, then ran the drum shaker through those rows.”

The researchers counted the fruit on the shoots before and after the drum shaker treatment.

“Our findings show a modest removal of fruit at 350 to 400 rpm,” Phene said.

The experiments have shown that a number of factors come into play when using the mechanical thinning device, such as tree structure, age and fruit size.

“The larger, sturdier scaffolds are harder to shake and suffer more shoot damage or shoot removal,” she said. “The younger, more flexible scaffolds appear more capable of reverberating the energy out to more shoots and shake off more fruit. Also, larger fruit tend to have a better removal rate.”

Posted on Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 1:57 PM

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