Do you know that the Sacramento Valley produces about 25 percent of the world’s hybrid planting sunflower seeds? We grow some 47,000 acres of this crop, valued at about $70 million (2012 County Crop Reports).
Even better news is that the hybrid sunflower seed production industry is growing, sparked by the demand for our high quality seed and the increased interest in sunflower oil worldwide. In 2007, for example, the value of California’s sunflower seed crop totaled $22 million on 27,000 acres. Fast forward to today and we see a 70 percent increase in acreage and more than a three-fold increase in value. Additionally, the industry reports millions of dollars in seed sales to markets around the world including the Midwestern states as well as the four largest producers of sunflower oil: Ukraine, Russia, European Union, and Argentina.
The sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is native to North America; the Native American Indians prized it as an important, high-energy food source. Indeed, sunflower oil is a healthy choice; it is light in taste, supplies more vitamin E than any other vegetable oil, and delivers low levels of saturated fat. Sunflower oil is also stable at high cooking temperatures, rendering it favorable to the food processing industry.
Production of hybrid sunflower seeds involves planting male and female (male sterile) lines in the same fields, usually alternating with six rows of females and two rows of males. Males generally possess multiple flowers on a stock, compared to the single composite female flower. Honey bees, usually two colonies per acre, move the pollen from the male to female lines. Native solitary bees (especially sunflower bees) are also important in sunflower seed production, not only because of their pollination but because their presence increases honey bee activity, causing greater dispersement between male and female lines.
After pollination, when the seeds are set, growers remove the male rows to prevent contamination with female rows. After the sunflower stocks naturally dry down, the hybrid planting seed is harvested with yields averaging 1,400 pounds per acre and 40-45 percent percent oil content, depending on the variety.
Compared to open pollinated varieties, hybrid planting seed from controlled crosses of male and female lines result in higher yields and oil content. The plants also display better disease resistance, a high degree of self-compatibility (reducing the need for bee cross-pollination), and more uniformity in height and moisture content at maturity, which facilitates harvest.
It’s crucial to maintain field isolation between different hybrid sunflower varieties so that the seed produced remains pure to the desired cross. As a result, growers plant different sunflower seed varieties at least 1-1/4 miles apart or they separate fields in time so that they bloom at different times in the season, thus preventing pollen drift. volunteer sunflowers from the previous year, wild sunflowers, and sunflower varieties blooming in backyard gardens pose risks to hybrid sunflower seed production. Roguing prior to bloom is important when nearby production fields are blooming.
Do you know that sunflower seed production has few pest or disease problems? Sunflower head moth, a native caterpillar pest, can attack the seed heads as well as occasional flocks of birds (starlings, blackbirds, and finches) triggering yield and quality losses.
As the result of industry and research efforts, along with our near perfect weather for seed production with hot, dry summers and cool nights, the Sacramento Valley is known throughout the world as a premier location for sunflower breeding, variety development, and seed production.
In the summertime, the brilliant golden colors turn fields in the Sacramento Valley into Vincent Van Gogh-like paintings. Sunflowers are also fun to watch because in the bud stage they track the movement of the sun across the horizon. Once the flower opens it faces east toward the morning sun, which may help prevent the sun-scalding of seeds.
So, whether you like to cook with sunflower oil, snack on sunflower seeds, use them as a salad garnish, or watch your favorite baseball players crack them between innings, sunflowers pack a major economic agricultural wallop that begins right here in the Sacramento Valley. Who knew? Now you do.
Wild Campus organization two years ago to conserve wildlife in the greater UC Davis area.
Working with campus experts (such as faculty and staff in the Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology) and local environmental and conservation organizations, the volunteer students are improving the habitats for local wildlife and engaging the public in hands-on activities.
This is an extraordinary program that gives the students real-world environmental management skills, along with leadership opportunities and communications experience. Professor John Eadie, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology at UC Davis, said of the Wild Campus program, “Hands-on activity is a huge part of the educational experience.”
Putah Creek Riparian Reserve, the students are establishing wildlife habitat areas and monitoring populations of amphibians, birds, fish, insects, mammals, and reptiles. They will record the changes over the course of time. Recent work in the riparian reserve (aka “the living classroom”) has included planting native oak seedlings, and installing tule plants to provide protection for the Western Pond Turtle, a species of concern.
A past project — Build a Wild Home Day — involved working with the UC Davis Arboretum on a successful public outreach program to build bird and bat boxes for installation on campus. (Great photos of this program are on the group’s Facebook page.)
The Wild Campus organization has a large cadre of eager and dedicated students who are improvising and making the most of limited resources. However, they are in need of donated field equipment (used equipment is fine) and financial contributions.
Visit the Wild Campus website and Facebook page for a feel-good look at what these ambitious students are doing to improve the environment, along with ways you can help them succeed.
Frank Mitloehner once called this village home. Now a professor and air quality UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis, Mitloehner thinks that if this village can do it, so can California.
It is easy to see how Mitloehner was inspired to study ways that California can take advantage of its plentiful supplies of animal methane. In eight bovine bio-bubbles that function as airtight barns, he captures and measures every emission from his resident livestock in order to understand how methane emissions vary with feed and herd management.
At Davis, a commercialized version of a similar methane bio-reactor has been patented and licensed by Ruihong Zhang, professor in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at UC Davis. It has been constructed at the local landfill and will be used to demonstrate a sustainable village on the UC Davis campus.
Mitloehner recently hosted a seminar for the Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety at Davis. Since the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) committee released their 2006 report entitled, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” he has challenged two key misleading sentences in their report. The phrase compared the contribution of livestock emissions to that of transportation. By saying the contributions to climate change were similar, the report led many environmental advocates to the conclusion that eating less meat was the equivalent of taking cars off the road, setting up a meat vs. miles tradeoff that exaggerated the methane contributions of livestock everywhere.
Mitloehner’s response was the publication Clearing the Air, Livestock’s Contribution to Climate Change. After his paper was released, BBC, CNN and other media published his science-based estimate that the livestock contribution in the U.S. is 3.4 percent of U.S. emissions. Globally, 18 percent of warming was estimated to be livestock related. This estimate included livestock in the broadest sense - changes in land use, deforestation and desertification in developing countries.
Nonetheless, Mitloehner showed that U.S. methane emissions remain flat, while developing countries are increasing animal production to meet the demand for eggs, meat and dairy, especially Asia. But why is the U.S. so low?
Mitloehner shared a few facts that help explain the phenomena:
- The U.S. has fewer dairy cows. Today’s 9 million dairy cows supply 60 percent more milk than the 16 million cows in production in 1950. That means there is increased efficiency per cow for the same methane produced.
- Thirty percent of the methane in dairy production is from manure in ponds. There is the potential for recovery on the approximately 1,500 California farms, where the average herd size is 1,100 head.
- Methane has 20 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide, but when burned to heat water or to generate power, its warming potential is reduced by a factor of 20.
- The more fiber in the feed, the more methane is released by the rumen of the animal. One dairy cow in the U.S. produces an average of 20,000 lbs of milk per cow annually, the same amount of milk as five cows in Mexico, or up to 100 cows in India for the same, or less methane per cow. Reasons: low fiber diet, less parasites and less disease result in large differences in production per cow.
Mitloehner occupies that middle space between the economically driven farmers who survived years of falling milk prices and the sustainable advocates that want dairy to either disappear entirely or retreat into historical practices. When he is not serving on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) or the National Academies Institute of Medicine, he keeps company with local farmers and students and answers to science.
Dairy addicts like myself, whose ancestors have evolved on milk for over 10,000 years, are likely to continue to frequent the organic dairy cases, hopeful that there are mutual benefits to paying higher prices for local labels in returnable glass bottles as a way to sustain the farms.
In reality, California has been exporting surplus dairy products to growing populations since the 1890s and that won’t change soon. Those markets do more to keep dairies profitable than my weekly milk and yogurt purchase. Lactose for pharmaceuticals and whey proteins for infant formulas are shipped internationally from several of California’s mammoth cheese factories, sometimes worth more the cheese itself.
Mitloehner believes that “sustainable intensification” is the solution to keeping local dairies viable. He believes that science will provide the path to better regulation. The dairy nations that seem determined to get at the truth - New Zealand, France, Ireland and the Netherlands - have formed an international partnership at FAO entitled LEAP to address the issues. Mitloehner's leadership a chair of the partnership will keep methane bioreactors on the agenda.
Mitloehner tells the story of how he neutralized errors in the FAO report “Livestock’s Long Shadow” (YOUtube).
LEAP site at the FAO. NGOs include World Wildlife Federation and Greenpeace. Mitloehner said that Greenpeace is also a partner although not listed on the site. Workshop materials available for download.
July 2012 opinion post by Robert Goodland at New York Times food blog. This is an example of criticism of Mitloehner’s role as head of the FAO partnership LEAP (Livestock Environmental Assessment and Performance).
Grape pests and diseases cause significant economic losses to California’s wine, raisin and table grape vineyards annually. Grape growers rely on University of California researchers and others for information that allows them to make sound management decisions.
In the much anticipated 3rd edition of Grape Pest Management, more than 70 research scientists, cooperative extension advisors and specialists, growers, and pest control advisers have consolidated the latest scientific studies and research into one handy reference. The result is a comprehensive, easy-to-read pest management tool.
What’s new? Well, for starters, more information on destructive vineyard pests. The new edition, the first in over a decade, includes several new invasive species that are now major pests. It also reflects an improved understanding among researchers, farmers, and growers about the biology of pests. With nine expansive chapters, helpful, colorful photos throughout, here’s more of what you’ll find:
- Diagnostic techniques for identifying vineyard problems
- Detailed descriptions of more than a dozen diseases
- Comprehensive, illustrated listings of insect and mite pests,including the recently emerging glassy winged sharpshooter and Virginia creeper leaf-hopper
- Regional calendars of events for viticultural management
- Up-to-date strategies for vegetation management
ORDER YOURS TODAY: http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/Details.aspx?itemNo=3343/span>
From the 13,400 monarch butterflies currently overwintering in Pacific Grove’s Monterey pine trees, to the salmon migrating upstream from the ocean to their natal river in our watersheds, to the western fence lizard doing pushups on your concrete curb, we are always surrounded by nature in this state. California is one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth, providing a home for over 30,000 species of insects, 63 freshwater fish, 46 amphibians, 96 reptiles, 563 birds, 190 mammals and more than 8,000 plants!
E.O. Wilson, conservation biologist, sociobiologist, and the world’s leading authority on ants says that “Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.” My hope for Green Blog readers this Thanksgiving week is that you can find some time to spend a few uninhibited, unstructured minutes in nature. Let your gratitude brim for whatever curiosities and satisfactions its discoveries may fulfill in you!