Ag at Large: State’s farm crops grow from research

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Riding a tractor or guiding a pickup across a dusty field might not be inspiring environments for a farmer to consider agricultural research, but it is an important base of his success.

Even less likely to consider the part research plays in agricultural production are the millions who enjoy the taste, freshness and availability of farm production, especially from the development of California’s nearly 400 commercial farm products.

But one source that never loses sight of the value of agricultural research is California Agriculture, the University of California’s quarterly, peer reviewed journal on the subject. The most recent issue is a colorful case in point.

One of the articles in the current (July-September) issue presents work that is leading to a strategic control means of the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), the microscopic insect pest that carries a disease which kills citrus trees. The article points out that the pest has been resistant to chemical means, placing greater emphasis on controlling it biologically, namely through predatory insects.

So far, the exhaustive research has led to two (or three) parasitic insects found in Pakistan that provide significant control, especially in urban areas. The Punjab area of Pakistan features a climate remarkably similar to Southern California and the Central Valley.

Work by researchers has been intensive in Riverside County, where backyard citrus trees have become a cozy dwelling place for the destructive psyllid. Efforts have been focused to contain it there and prevent its spread to commercial orange, lemon and grapefruits trees elsewhere in the state.

Of the 13 insects imported from Pakistan and placed in quarantine in Southern California from 2011 to 2013, the most promising are T. radiata and D. aligarhensis, both parasites of ACP eggs.

Easier to say are the names of most of the researchers involved in the collection and evaluation of the parasitic wasps. The five listed as authors of the research article in the current California Agriculture are Ivan Milosavljevic, Kelsey Schall, Christina Hoddle, David Morgan and Mark Hoddle. All are specialists associated with the University of California, Riverside.

In 2011, T. radiata became the first natural enemy specie of the ACP to be released in California. The beneficial parasitic wasps are being reared by the millions in pristine conditions, for them, at one or more insectaries in Southern California. Their metered release will be a matter of news and progress as time goes on.

But the basis of research for this somewhat dramatic project is only one of 10 strategic research highlights and details covered in the current issue of California Agriculture. Other articles cover exhaustive research projects dealing with the benefits of planting hedgerows, the long term effects of climate on soil characteristics, a review of the state’s climate scoping plan and more.

University of California President Janet Napolitano’s introduction to this issue emphasizes the importance of recorded research as it was utilized by an Italian immigrant to begin growing wine grapes, a venture that has led to the vast E. & J. Gallo wine empire headquartered in Modesto.

Whether the research originates with the University of California, the other state universities, in a lab or on a tiny plot at the edge of an established farm, it can provide information and answers that current farmers and subsequent generations can apply to maintain and expand the vast agricultural empire that every Californian, on or off the farm, can and should be proud of.

They may not be aware of it, but all Californians can have access to the enormous body of agricultural research information through the university’s Cooperative Extension Service. Its nearest office might be just around the corner.