Appeal-Democrat Archive Writing

UC chief visits Yuba County

September 22, 2007

University of California President Robert Dynes got a local first-hand look Friday at what agricultural research partnerships have done for the UC system and the state.

Dynes’ tour stops in Yuba County included the Sierra Foothill Research and Extension Center in Browns Valley and a Marysville-area rice field. Both reflected ongoing research at UC Davis’ Agriculture Department.

Dynes, a professor of physics, opts to see the work first-hand during visits he makes to sites across the state.

“If you sit in an office, nobody tells you the whole story,” he said. “It’s extremely important to understand the impact of our research.”

His tour began with a demonstration of how different types of lumber that could be used for decks at homes in the foothills could fuel a fire. While a simulated redwood deck barely burned, a plastic-lumber composite deck turned into an inferno within 15 minutes.

“People aren’t usually around when the fire comes, and firefighters may not be able to save a home with that kind of spread,” said Stephen Quarles, wood durability adviser at UC Davis.

That research also resulted in the changing of state regulations on wood.

The next stop showed how a few feet of grass could drastically improve water quality for cattle. Leaving a section of grass near a creek ungrazed worked like a filter, preventing 99 percent of livestock-leavings bacteria from running into the creek, said Rob Atwill, a UC Davis professor. The recent E-coli outbreak in spinach was traced to water tainted by bacteria from animal feces.

Since even 3 feet of grazing land can make a big difference in the filtering of the bacteria, it should be a little easier to get ranchers to try this idea, Atwill said.

“Telling ranchers to give up 300 feet of prime grass isn’t easy,” he laughed. “A couple of feet of buffer will be much easier.”

Dynes’ other stop was at a rice farm, where he discussed the importance of the relationship between farmers and UC Davis. The combination of the school’s research program and the farmer’s efforts make it easier for rice farmers to find funding and stay ahead of the curve in developing new rice farming techniques.

Dynes announced last month that he is resigning, capping an often tumultuous four-year tenure as head of the nation’s top public university system.

He said he wanted to spend more time with his new wife. He plans to leave by June 2008 or earlier if the governing Board of Regents appoints his successor, then return to teaching physics.

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