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Texas artichokes? Good luck with that

The Associated Press ran an article about research led by the Texas A&M extension service to cultivate artichokes in the Lone Star State. Manager of the California Artichoke Advisory Board in Castroville, Pat Hopper, seemed to express doubt in the article about the Texas effort to produce what has come to be a California crop.

"These guys in Texas don't know what they're in for" with the sensitive plant, Hopper was quoted. "I would wish them luck in finding a market in Texas. Texas is not one of our best buyers of artichokes."

Texas A&M professor Daniel Leskovar said the goal is to provide another product for the Winter Garden area, about 80 miles west of San Antonio, to enhance the local economy. According to the article, the Winter Garden region already produces cabbage, onions, carrots and broccoli.

AP reporter Elizabeth White went to UC Cooperative Extension advisor in Monterey County Richard Smith for information. He explained that in coastal California, artichokes enjoy a year-round cool climate, so they can be grown perennially. In Texas, the plants are grown first for six to eight weeks in a greenhouse, then planted in the ground. In the Winter Garden area, the temperature is about 65 degrees from September to May.

According to Smith, California's perennial artichokes stay in the ground for up to 10 years and generally produce a higher quality artichoke head, though they are more expensive to maintain. 

Yet Smith had encouraging words for Texas' potential artichoke farmers: "If they have a market and they're closer to that market, it could really work out."

The article ran in the Dallas Morning News, the San Angelo Standard-Times, the Fresno Bee and other newspapers.


Posted on Wednesday, November 28, 2007 at 10:16 AM

Media uses UC sudden oak death expertise

When the Contra Costa Times set out to write a story about the plight of landowners in Canyon where oak trees are dying from Sudden Oak Death, the reporter sought information from the California Oak Mortality Task Force, a program established at UC Berkeley that focuses on Phytophthora ramorum, the plant pathogen which causes Sudden Oak Death.

Reporter Elizabeth Nardi interviewed task force public information officer Katie Palmieri for information about removing diseased trees from private and public property. Palmieri said the task force does not have a recommendation on when trees should be removed.

According to the article, Palmieri said taking down oaks depends on how that will affect the rest of the habitat, but fire danger is also a concern, which is why tree removal has to be done on a case-by-case basis.

"Once you have the pathogen on your property, it's there and can spread," Palmieri is quoted. "If not structurally sound, the trees (fall) at a higher rate. It is hazardous to have a bunch of dead, standing trees."

The article also includes the task force's easy-to-remember Web site address,, and includes the phone number for the UC Cooperative Extension county office in Contra Costa County.

Posted on Tuesday, November 27, 2007 at 12:05 PM

Vulnerability in food and water distribution revealed

A publication called Government Technology went to former director of the Western Center for Food Safety at UC Davis Jerry Gillespie for a story about the ease with which community food and water supplies can be contaminated, accidentally or intentionally.

Gillespie noted that contamination at one processing plant can have widespread implications because food from a single source tends to be distributed widely.

"We've learned that, for example, with the spinach outbreak in Salinas County, it affected more than 18 states," he said. "So in a very quick order, we can have widespread contaminated product."

Agriculture in the United States is particularly vulnerable to terrorist activities because of openness at the farm level and in most processing plants, Gillespie said.

"They vary in their security certainly, but it would not be difficult to find access to a processing plant," Gillespie is quoted in the article. "There's a huge turnover in a labor force - it's quite easy for someone who wanted to do this to find a way into a processing plant or any segment of a food system. On the retail end, clearly our open markets, farmers' markets and the retail outlets are wide open."

Posted on Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 2:37 PM

Food stamp education program audit in the news

Yesterday, UC Davis news service distributed a news release about an audit that found some funds intended for the Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program were misspent. While FSNEP is administered at the UC Davis campus, ANR advisors and program representatives in 40 counties deliver the program to the clientele.

The news was widely reported in the media. The Sacramento Bee mentioned in its story the information was released in response to a public records request made by the newspaper. The reporter, Carrie Peyton Dahlberg, spoke to UC Davis news service director Mitchell Benson. He told the paper the current audits focused on 2005-06 and that financial records from another three years will be examined in detail by an outside accounting firm.

The reporter wrote that Benson told her the campus now is investigating what happened to roughly $1 million in funds the university was supposed to add to the program in 2005-06, and another $1.3 million of the federal money it spent that year. It has already identified $600,000 from that year and previous years that it plans to return, he said, according to the newspaper.

The Associated Press moved a brief about the story yesterday afternoon, which was picked up by a variety of newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle and the Fresno Bee.

Posted on Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 11:25 AM

Les Stromberg obit in Fresno Bee

The Fresno Bee ran a by-lined obituary about legendary UCCE farm advisor Leslie (Les) Stromberg on Saturday. Mr. Stromberg, who was hired as the Fresno County advisor for "soils and truck crops" in 1951, passed away Nov. 12 at the age of 89. According to the article, Mr. Stromberg sounded early warnings about the danger of San Joaquin Valley soil contamination, and helped growers fight plant disease, increase yield and establish Fresno County as the leading agricultural region in the nation.

The reporter who wrote the obituary, Jim Steinberg, sought comments from Mr. Stromberg's successor in the post of soils and water farm advisor, Dan Munk, and from one of Mr. Stromberg's colleagues in the Fresno County office, Bob Sheesley.

"It was a tremendous loss when he retired (in 1986)... He's remembered by growers. A thorough individual and kind man," Munk was quoted.

"He was the most knowledgeable soils and cotton adviser California ever had. He was my mentor, very practical, an original applied researcher," Sheesley was quoted.

Posted on Monday, November 19, 2007 at 9:10 AM

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