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Nitrate contamination blamed on Morro Bay farmers

A story made the rounds the past week or two about efforts by Morro Bay city officials to stop excessive use of nitrogen-based fertilizers suspected of tainting a key source of drinking water.

According to the brief AP version of the story that appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, city officials are now asking farmers to voluntarily stop using nitrogen-based fertilizers.

Reporter Sonya Patel sought comment from UCCE farm advisor Hugh Smith, who said asking farmers not to use nitrogen-based fertilizers is like asking them not to use water, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

“Plants need nitrogen,” Smith is quoted in the article. “It’s basic to life forms including plant growth.”

Asking farmers to reduce how much they use is a separate issue that could be accomplished by working with growers, Smith added, according to the story.

Today, the Morro Bay City Council will discuss the Morro Valley nitrate analysis at its meeting today at 6 p.m. at the Veterans Memorial Building, 209 Surf St., in Morro Bay.

Posted on Monday, March 24, 2008 at 9:49 AM

UC collaborates with rancher to plant 1,000 oaks

The effort to plant 1,000 oaks on a private ranch in San Luis Obispo County has been well covered in the media. The coverage now also includes a comprehensive feature story with seven color photos in the March 2008 edition of Farmer and Rancher Magazine, a publication of the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau.

The story says 60 volunteers from the San Luis Obispo Native Tree committee, Cal Poly, local 4-H and agricultural and community groups joined rancher Jack Varian and UCCE natural resources specialists Bill Tietje and Doug McCreary to plant the oak trees on Varian's ranch.

The project was funded in part from a grant by the Wildlife Conservation Board's Oak Woodland Conservation Act of 2001 and from the Natural Resource Conservation Service cost-share Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The Varian Ranch, which is permanently protected from development by a conservation easement, funded the remainder of the project, including the many hours that Varian and his ranch hands will put in to sustain the trees.

Volunteers plant trees.
Volunteers plant trees.

Posted on Friday, March 14, 2008 at 12:06 PM

UCCE's Eric Mussen on Good Morning America

UC Davis Cooperative Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen appeared on ABC's Good Morning America today in an interesting nearly four-minute-long segment on bees. The story opened with scenes from a 1978 horror movie "The Swarm," and then dispelled myths about Africanized honey bees, aka "Killer Bees."

Mussen said contrary to bees' portrayal in movies, "Bees are not out to get you. You probably can't get further from the truth."

The story then turned to colony collaspe disorder and its threat to the American food supply.

"Approximately one-third of the daily diet here in the United States is dependent upon honeybee pollination," Mussen said.

He added that scientists are looking at diseases, parasites and chemicals as possible culprits.

"Unfortunately, there is no one particular thing we can point to and say, aha, there it is," Mussen said.

The segment ended with a dour message from beekeeper David Hackenberg.

"If we don't fix this problem," he said, "there ain't going to be no blueberries and cucumbers and apples in your grocery store."

Eric Mussen on GMA.
Eric Mussen on GMA.

Posted on Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 12:14 PM

UCCE expert adds perspective to wildfire debate

The Sacramento Bee today ran a story about research by a retired Texas A&M professor that points to wood decay following a wildfire as a major source of carbon in the atmosphere. The professor, Thomas Bonnicksen, is quoted in the story as saying the effects of wildfire negates any efforts to reduce California's carbon footprint.

"No matter what anybody does in California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as long as these forests are burning, they are wasting their time," Bonnicksen is quoted.

Bonnicksen's report said removing dead trees and storing the carbon they contain in solid wood products consumers need can reduce total CO 2 emissions by as much as 15 percent, according to the Bee article. The story noted Bonnicksen's research is not peer-reviewed and several sources questioned his conclusions. The work was supported by a foundation funded in part by lumber companies, the article said.

UC Cooperative Extension specialist Bill Stewart told reporter Tom Knudson that climate is not the only issue for scientists to consider when making decisions about forestland management following a wildfire.

"We have endangered species out there, concerns over water quality and fish habitat that also have to be taken into account. It isn't just climate," he is quoted.

Posted on Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 10:15 AM

UC called for beef expertise

Hidden camera footage of animal treatment at a Chino slaughterhouse has raised public interest in meat production. A few days ago, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune (Los Angeles County) ran a piece to shed light on the types of cattle that enter the food chain.

Jim Oltjen, livestock specialist with the department of animal sciences at UC Davis, told reporter Mark Petix, "They're all edible," including Hereford, Angus, Waygu and dairy cattle.

In addition, "If you did a blind taste test, not many would be able to tell the difference," Oltjen is quoted. 

John Maas of the veterinary medicine extension at UC Davis was also quoted in the story. He said dairy cattle account for 35 percent of the nation's beef supply.

"But whether it's filet mignon, chuck roast or chopped beef, the one thing Maas said customers expect is safety," the reporter wrote.

Which is what makes the investigation into the Chino beef recall so important to the reputation - and future - of the industry, the article concluded.


Posted on Tuesday, March 11, 2008 at 10:07 AM

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