IVAN network helps communities fight environmental hazards

A partnership that helps residents of underserved communities in California report environmental hazards to enforcement agencies should be enhanced and expanded, a University of California, Davis, report says.

The UC Davis Center for Regional Change released the report on the Identifying Violations Affecting Neighborhoods (IVAN) program July 13 in Sacramento. The “neighborhood watch” for environmental hazards has been used in the Wilmington area of Los Angeles, the Imperial Valley, Coachella Valley, Kern County, Fresno County and Kings County.

Video from UC Davis/Mars symposium on innovation in food and health

Video streams from the Jan. 14 symposium on innovation in food, agriculture and health are now available online. The morning session can be found here and the afternoon, here.

The complete program is available here.

The morning session included a keynote address by Prof. Elizabeth Blackburn of UCSF and a panel discussion on “Scientific discovery and innovation: What can the future look like at the nexus of food, agriculture and health?”

The afternoon included a presentation on the African Orphan Crops Consortium by Howard Yana Shapiro and Allen Van Deynze, and panel discussions on solving agriculture’s greatest challenges and the role of venture capital in innovation.

Could Western China repeat California’s success in agriculture?

By Colin Carter

Recently I joined a large delegation from UC Davis, led by Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, at the 80th anniversary celebration of China’s Northwest Agricultural and Forestry University in Shaanxi province, including an international forum on the development of western China cosponsored by UC Davis. For all of us, the forum was a powerful reminder that western China is key to the future prosperity of that nation — much like California, which rose from obscurity to become the richest and most agriculturally productive state in the U.S.

Do you mind if I plug in my car? The etiquette of going electric

As children, we learn to wait in line, take our turn and share. As adults, we usually try to live by these basic rules. For today’s plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) drivers, however, the rules and norms for mundane chores such as recharging the car are not yet clear.

Plugging in a car is a new behavior that occurs in a new social setting. Forget the gas station: PEV owners depend on home chargers and away-from-home charging stations to fuel their cars. At home, who plugs in the car and when are easily decided. But away from home, UC Davis researchers say, PEV drivers are unsure of the rules and want charging guidelines that everyone understands and uses in order to feel confident and comfortable.

Higher wages for farm workers would cost you next to nothing

It’s been argued that American farms need cheap imported labor to keep food prices low. But in an online debate at the New York Times, UC Davis agricultural economist Philip Martin makes the case that increasing farmworkers’ wages by 40 percent would have an almost negligible effect on your grocery bill.

If farm wages rose 40 percent, and this wage increase were passed on to consumers, average spending on fresh fruits and vegetables would rise about $15 a year, the cost of two movie tickets. However, for a typical seasonal farm worker, a 40 percent wage increase could raise earnings from $10,000 for 1,000 hours of work to $14,000 — lifting the wage above the federal poverty line.

Higher ed cuts will hurt farming, too

Following a visit to the editorial board of the Bakersfield Californian by UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi and Neal Van Alfen, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the Californian’s editorial page editor Robert Price points out that cuts to higher education do not just higher tuition for students. They also threaten the competitiveness of one of the state’s key industries, agriculture.

Though many jobs in agriculture are low-paying, many others pay quite well, and that earned wealth is a significant economic driver. That wealth, derived from global competitiveness, rides on the back of research — research carried out by institutions like UC Davis. From harvesting automation to advances in processing, research has helped the Central Valley stay ahead of the global competitive curve, albeit barely.

The New Delta is coming, like it or not: leadership needed

A new Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta is coming, one way or another, write UC Davis water experts Jay Lund, Peter Moyle, Jeff Mount and  Richard Howitt, with Ellen Hanak from the Public Policy Institute of California in an opinion article in last weekend’s Sacramento Bee. (Scroll down the page for the article; it’s prefaced by a column by Daniel Weintraub).

The new Delta will have more open and sometimes saltier water in its central and western portions, with diverse, wildlife-friendly farmland nearby. The estuarine ecosystem will likely be healthier. And regions relying on Delta exports may receive somewhat reduced, but cleaner and more stable water supplies. This transition will cause disruptions, but in the long term it can create a healthier and more stable economy for the Delta region, with more recreation and an attractive, productive agricultural landscape.

Health care reform debate rages on

Contributed by Clifton Parker

For the next month, Congress will undertake the daunting feat of trying to solve the nation’s health care woes.

Given the complexity, real change, if any, is likely to be more incremental than substantive, say UC Davis faculty members. The crux of the issue is who gets health care coverage and who has to pay for it.

Economic historian Peter Lindert says the “angel and devil are both in the details.” A unified and competitive health care plan can work extremely well, he believes, but only if policymakers get the details right. With skyrocketing cost, one might think the urgency is clear — but this actually makes a deal more difficult.

The Great H1 Visa Debate

Are visas for foreign technology workers vital to America’s economy, or a way of undermining the salaries of US-born engineers? Five immigration experts, including UC Davis computer science professor Norman Matloff, have been debating the issue on the New York Times immigration blog.

Saturday’s NY Times carried the story of Google engineer Sanjay Mavinkurve, who is currently living in Canada and commuting to Google because under U.S. immigration law, his wife would not be allowed to work if they moved to the U.S..

Matloff is unimpressed: he says that the H-1B visa category is actually a way to bring cheap labor to the tech industry.

Low-wage jobs in a bad economy

UC Davis ag economist Phillip Martin contributes to a NY Times editorial group blog on how low-wage workers — many of them immigrants — are being affected by the economy. (Surprise! No-one’s getting a bonus.)

Martin predicts that immigrants who have begun to climb the employment ladder into higher-paying jobs will be pushed back to farm work. In the long run, as the economy improves, workers will leave the farms again — and farmers will adapt to a smaller, more productive workforce.