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Posts Tagged: California

Change on the range

A new breed of ranchers is bringing diverse demographics and unique needs to rangeland management in California. These first-generation ranchers are often young, female and less likely to, in fact, own a ranch. But like more traditional rangeland managers, this new generation holds a deep love for the lifestyle and landscapes that provide a wealth of public benefit to California and the world.
California rancher Ariel Greenwood. (Brittany App/Brittany App Photography)

“When first-generation ranchers succeed, we all succeed,” says Kate Munden-Dixon, a Ph.D. student working with Leslie Roche, Cooperative Extension rangeland specialist with the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.

Munden-Dixon and Roche recently discovered that many new livestock managers aren't plugged into information networks such as UC Cooperative Extension and rancher coalitions that provide science and strategies for making sustainable rangeland management decisions. This lack of connection can make first-generation ranchers more vulnerable when dealing with challenges like drought and climate variability, according to their study, which was recently published in Rangeland Journal.

To help bridge the gap, Munden-Dixon landed a $25,000 Graduate Student Grant from Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, a USDA program, to reach out to new ranchers and rangeland managers. 

Why rangelands matter

More than one half of California — 38 million acres — is rangeland that provides open space, healthy watersheds, carbon storage, food, fiber and habitat for diverse plants and wildlife. UC Davis research indicates grasslands and rangeland have become more resilient at sequestering or consuming carbon dioxide pollution than forests in California, making them especially important in a warming world.

But rangeland and livestock production are at risk because more rangeland is being converted to housing and crop production. The average age of ranchers in California is 62, and fewer children are taking over the family ranch.   

Enter a new wave of rangeland managers. Many of these young ranchers don't yet have access to the capital required to purchase land and large head of cattle and other livestock. Instead, they often contract with public and private landowners to graze goats, sheep and cattle to restore landscapes and reduce fire vegetation.

“What we really need is support in connecting land and contract opportunities,” says Brittany Cole Bush, an “urban shepherdess” and former contract sheep and goat grazer. She now consults with land owners and public agencies from her home base in Southern California. “We need market research that shows the value that grazing brings to fire abatement, soil conservation and so much more. Market research would increase our value and help us become viable players.”

Kate Munden-Dixon
Expanding Extension

Munden-Dixon is interviewing 40 new rangeland managers from across California to explore how decision-making by different demographics influences adaptation to climate change and quality of life. Munden-Dixon and her team are also hosting workshops to make sure Cooperative Extension specialists understand and can respond to all ranchers' needs.

“There is both a need and opportunity for a new generation of livestock managers that is able to adapt to California's changing climate,” Munden-Dixon says. “This next generation may not look like your typical rancher, so we want to ensure organizations are helping all ranchers succeed, regardless of their demographics or land tenure.”

The power of connection

Munden-Dixon would like to become a Cooperative Extension specialist herself one day. Working with first-generation ranchers reminds her that collaboration and public engagement are critical to addressing issues in sustainable agriculture.

“There is no one answer or single expert when it comes to building healthy food systems,” Munden-Dixon says. “We find solutions when we work together.”

See this story in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of Outlook, a magazine from the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and at the UC Davis Science & Climate website.

Posted on Tuesday, October 30, 2018 at 4:58 PM
Focus Area Tags: Environment

Drought is impacting California’s wildflowers

Harrison PNAS
Native wildflowers in California are losing species diversity after multiple years of drier winters, according to a study from the University of California, Davis, which provides the first direct evidence of climate change impacts in the state's grassland communities.

The study, covered in TIME, LA Times, and elsewhere, was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It's based on 15 years of monitoring about 80 sampling plots at McLaughlin Reserve, part of UC Davis' Natural Reserve System.

"Our study shows that 15 years of warmer and drier winters are creating a direct loss of native wildflowers in some of California's grasslands,” said lead author Susan Harrison, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy and a member of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Conservation Biology workgroup. “Such diversity losses may foreshadow larger-scale extinctions, especially in regions that are becoming increasingly dry.”

The researchers confirmed that drought-intolerant species suffered the worst declines.

Global trend

Similar trends have been found in other Mediterranean environments, such as those of southern Europe, bolstering the case for increased climate change awareness in the world's semi-arid regions.

Taken together with climate change predictions, the future grassland communities of California are expected to be less productive, provide less nutrition to herbivores, and become more vulnerable to invasion by exotic species, the study said.

The researchers expect these negative to cascade up through the food web—affecting insects, seed-eating rodents, birds, deer and domesticated species like cattle, all of which rely on grasslands for food.

Rescue effect may be too late

Grasses and wildflowers may be able to withstand the current drying period through their extensive seed banks, which can lie dormant for decades waiting for the right conditions to germinate. 

However, California's drought is expected to intensify in the coming decades, so this rescue effect may end up being too late for some species.

Author: Kat Kerlin

Posted on Wednesday, July 15, 2015 at 4:00 PM
Tags: California (7), climate (3), drought (163), Susan Harrison (1), UC Davis (206), wildflowers (6)

Tips for cattle health and safety during dry times

Cattle need special care in times of drought.
Long before Governor Brown declared an official drought for the state, many of California's ranchers knew this would be a tough year. Drought can increase the risks of animal poisonings and nutritional imbalances, and necessitate additional vigilance to assure cattle health and productivity. Veterinary toxicologists Robert H. Poppenga and Birgit Puschner, with the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, provide this critical information to dairy and beef producers to keep their livestock healthy during the drought. Key threats to cattle include:

Water quality — Water is the most critical factor in the diet of food animals. When cattle don't drink enough clean and safe water every day, feed intake and productivity declines. Drought conditions can potentially affect all sources of water, including groundwater, but surface waters are especially vulnerable. It is important to frequently monitor water quality, especially as quantity becomes more limited, and test for basic water quality parameters such as total dissolved solids, sodium, sulfates, and nitrates/nitrites. Blooms of blue-green algae in water are also an issue. These cyanobacteria can produce toxins that can affect the liver and nervous system. Depending on the specific toxin and amount ingested, animals may die suddenly, or suffer from weakness, staggering, or photosensitization. 

Feed quality and nutritional deficiencies — Drought conditions frequently result in the need to feed poor quality forages or to switch to alternative feed sources. Both can affect animal nutrition and increase the risk for intoxications. Use of poor quality forages can cause or exacerbate deficiencies of important minerals such as selenium, copper, and phosphorus and vitamins such as vitamins A and E. In addition, drought affected forages are often deficient in energy and protein. Even in non-drought years, deficiencies in selenium and copper are common in California cattle, particularly beef cattle. Copper deficiency causes reduced production, diarrhea, decreased resistance to infectious agents and parasites, poor vaccine response, loss of bone strength in calves, weakness and wobbling in neonates, reproductive failure, and sudden death of adult animals. Selenium deficiency also results in less resistance to infectious agents and parasites, and causes white muscle disease of skeletal and heart muscle resulting in stiff gaits, slow movement, heart damage and weak neonates. Primary vitamin A deficiency occurs in beef cattle on dry range pasture during periods of drought. Clinical signs include night blindness, dry eye, retarded growth rate, reproductive failures, and increased mortality. Maternal deficiency of vitamin A can cause abortions, stillbirths, or calves born alive but blind and weak that die within 1 to 3 days. Cows should be given an injection of vitamin A (and D) about 30 days prior to calving and calves should be given a vitamin A injection at birth.

Increased incidence of plant poisonings — Cattle will seek out and consume plants that they would not otherwise find palatable during drought conditions. Nitrate poisoning is one of the most common plant associated intoxications diagnosed by the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory. The potential for nitrate poisoning to occur is increased when livestock water sources also contain elevated concentrations. The first sign of nitrate poisoning is often the sudden and unexplained deaths of one or more animals. Other clinical signs include drowsiness, weakness, muscle tremors, increased heart and respiratory rates, staggering, and recumbency. Signs can develop with several hours of ingesting a toxic amount. Nitrate concentrations can be easily and cheaply determined from samples submitted to a veterinary diagnostic laboratory for testing. 

During periods of drought, cattle producers should be especially careful about the quality of feed and water available for their animals. Sick animals should be tested for various nutritional deficiencies and dead animals can undergo necropsies to determine cause of death so that other animals in the herd can be treated appropriately. Additional information and testing is available at the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System. For laboratory location and contact info, visit A longer, more detailed version of these tips may be found here.

Robert H. Poppenga and Birgit Puschner, veterinary toxicologists with the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, contributed to this article. 


Posted on Tuesday, August 26, 2014 at 7:34 AM

15 simple ways to participate in California Invasive Species Action Week, Aug. 2 - 10

Help the California Department of Fish and Wildlife celebrate their first annual California Invasive Species Action Week, Aug. 2 – 10, and protect California's diverse landscapes. Hundreds of invasive plants and animals have already established themselves in California's landscapes and populations are quickly expanding each year.

Yellow Flag Iris, Iris Pseudocaris, is a fast-growing and spreading invasive plant found in wetlands, streams and riverbanks. It is known to outcompete native plants and reduces habitats for waterfowl and fish. Photo credit: Joe DiTomaso
Invasive species are organisms that are not native to an environment. Once they are introduced, they establish themselves quickly and spread - causing harm to the environment. Invasive species threaten our waters, native plants, animals, agriculture, economy and popular recreational sites.

Prevention is the most effective strategy to manage invasive species in California. Action Week is dedicated to increasing public awareness and inspiring action by residents of California.

How can you help? Here are 15 simple ways to participate in California Invasive Species Action Week from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:

  1. Find out which species are threats to California from the Invasive Species Council of California.
  2. Learn about California's invasive plants from the California Invasive Plants Council
  3. Remove invasive plants from your property.
  4. Select native or non-invasive plants for your home's landscape.
  5. Make sure to Clean, Drain, and Dry (PDF) your boat after each outing.
  6. Use only certified “weed-free” forage, hay, seed, mulch, soil, and gravel.
  7. Avoid spreading forest pests: buy your firewood where you burn it.
  8. Learn alternatives to releasing unwanted fish, aquatic plants, and other pets.
  9. Get to know your local invaders.
  10. Eat them. Yes, really. Check out these interesting websites to find out who is edible and how to prepare them,,, and
  11. Monitor plants and trees for symptoms of infestations and disease.
  12. Share your knowledge.
  13. Visit your favorite local, state, or national park, ecological reserve, recreational area, or nature center and ask about their volunteer programs.
  14. Have you spotted an invasive species? Tell us where by reporting your sighting.
  15. Volunteer for invasive species removal/habitat restoration projects.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife are hosting events across the state to spread the word about invasive species for Action Week. Visit their schedule of events to find an event and location near you!


Posted on Friday, August 1, 2014 at 2:14 PM

UC Field Day showcases California’s dry-bean research advancements

Dry bean varieties.
California consumers may not “know beans about beans,” but they should.

Dry beans are a big business in California. In 2011, growers harvested 45,000 acres of dry beans valued at $58 million. Lima beans accounted for about 40 percent of this total acreage, with California producing nearly 99 percent of the U.S. domestic supply of dry lima beans.

Why should we be so interested in beans? From a nutritional standpoint, dry beans are a healthy food choice - an excellent source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, plus they’re very low in fat. Organizations such as the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association and the USDA’s My Plate all recommend including beans in one’s diet to reduce cholesterol, maintain normal blood sugar and to maintain a healthy weight. The California Dry Bean Advisory Board posts many bean recipes on their website at

From a production standpoint, beans are a crucial crop for farmers. California growers produce four main classes of dry beans, including limas (large and baby), common beans (such as kidneys, pinks, whites, cranberries and blacks), garbanzos (chickpeas), and cowpeas (blackeye beans). Garbanzo beans are grown as a winter crop, while the others are produced in the summer. California’s dry beans are marketed throughout the world, including Japan, Mexico, Canada, and the United Kingdom. California also grows dry bean seed stock for export to other states and international markets.

In rotation with other crops beans help control weeds, add biomass to the soil via plant matter disked into the ground after harvest, and require relatively few pesticides. In addition, beans, as legumes, fix nitrogen from the air via nitrogen-fixing bacteria that colonize the roots, forming nodules. Cowpeas, for example, fix about 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre, providing most of the nitrogen needs for this crop. Likewise, garbanzo beans require minimal nitrogen inputs for crop production. Economically, beans can enhance the annual farm profitability because common beans and cowpeas can be double-cropped with grains or forage crops, producing two crops in one year.

Dry bean field day at UC Davis. (Photo: Bradley Hooker)
University of California scientists showcased their dry bean research advancements at the annual UC Dry Bean Field Day, held Sept. 5 at the UC Davis agronomy farm. The event drew more than 50 growers, industry representatives, students, faculty members and UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors.

The participants learned about UC research trials, led by Paul Gepts, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis, focus on dry bean breeding programs for pest and disease resistance, drought tolerance, organic production, and yield and quality increases. “Dry” refers to allowing the beans to fully mature and dry on the plants, as opposed to picking the beans green as a fresh market vegetable.

Many of today’s commercially grown dry beans come from University of California varieties, such as those shown at the UC Field Day. Seed germplasm for different genetic traits are selected from all over the world. The lima bean trial at UC Davis included 56 seed selection entries, the heirloom beans included 25 entries, and cranberries and pink beans had 134 entries. Earlier this year eight advanced line garbanzo entries were tested. UC Davis researchers work with hybrids produced by hand crosses to increase seed yield, quality, pest and disease resistance and plant vigor. They receive funding from a variety of sources including the California Dry Bean Advisory Board and USDA. 

As shown from this field day, UC research is leading the way to ensuring that the future of California’s dry bean industry remains strong. These efforts will continue to enhance sustainable farming practices in our state and provide nutritional benefits to consumers.

Three-bean salad. (Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The bottom line is that beans are good for you. A special treat at the UC Davis Field Day luncheon, served at picnic tables shaded by olive trees on Bee Biology Road, was a locally produced three-bean salad. It vanished within minutes. “Excellent!” the attendees raved.

So, the next time you’re in the produce section of your favorite grocery store, enjoy some California-grown beans. From the field to fork, these beans are the best of the best.

Additional resources:

Blackeye bean production in California, UC ANR publication number 21518.

Common bean production in California, UC ANR publication 8402.

Dry bean field day luncheon at UC Davis. (Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Dry bean field day luncheon at UC Davis. (Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bean plant. (Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Bean plant. (Photo: Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, September 16, 2013 at 8:28 AM

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