Strawberries, Drones, Fumigation & the Ag Commissioner

FARMS Leadership | Monterey and Santa Cruz | February 7, 2019

Participating Schools:

  • Gonzales High School
  • North Salinas High School
  • Soledad High School

Location:

Ag Commissioner’s Office, 1428 Abbott St. Salinas, ca

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:

  • Barbara LaVake – TiCal Field Day planner and support.
  • Dennis Lane – TriCal
  • Abbie Asche – TriCal
  • Carolyn O’Donnell –  California Strawberry Commission
  • Henry Gonzales – Monterey County Ag Commissioner
  • Kevin Hill – ParaBug
  • Chandler Bennett – ParaBug

Summary of the Day:

Pests and disease are agricultures biggest adversary. Producers of all kind are always battling or protecting crops from bugs and killer diseases. FARMS Leadership Students met with Carolyn O’Donnell to learn how the Strawberry commission plays a key role in promoting strawberry consumption and sharing the amazing benefits of eating strawberries as a part of a healthy diet.

“Today I learned that 88% of straberries are grown in California.” – Annabel Uribe

First up, TriCal Inc. a family owned business that provides soil fumigation services to sterilize the soil before strawberry plants are placed in their beds. Students learned about TriCal and their commitment to their employee’s safety and well being by paying applicators a living wage with benefits and full-time year-round work. Students spoke with employees and learned about the different jobs TriCal offers. We were able to see the applicator machines and personal safety gear. Abbie Asche talked about her job as a Pest Control Advisor (PCA) with TriCal. Abbie explained the leading diseases that need soil fumigation, like nematodes, bacteria, fungi, and insects. TriCal’s motto is Healthy Fields, Healthy Yields. TriCal is a leader in regulatory requirements that help ensure the health of the consumers and growers.

“Today I learned about TriCal and what it takes to be a PCA or a CAA.” – Brenda Vasquez

Who regulates and permits TriCal to do what they do? The Ag Commissioner. Henry Gonzales is the Ag Commissioner for Monterey County and presented to students about what he does and the career pathway that brought him to the position of Ag Commissioner. Students were extremely engaged and interested in hearing about how Henry Gonzales grew up in Salinas at a local high school.

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Integrated Pest Management at Cassin Ranch

FARMS Advanced | Monterey and Santa Cruz | October 28, 2019

School(s) Participating: Soledad High School

Location(s) of Field Day:

Cassin Ranch, 151 Silliman Rd. Watsonville, Ca. 95076

Field Day Host(s) and Mentors:

Driscoll’s

  • Cristal Verduzco – Sr. Forecasting Manager Berries & FARMS Alumni
  • John Siletto – Main Speaker
  • Diego Nieto – Staff Scientist in Entomology
  • Micheal Moore – Director of Quality Operations
  • Fred Cook – Plant Pathology Research and Development
  • Gavin Sills – Breeding
  • Jenny Broome – Sr. Research Manager Global Plant Health
  • Ahna Miller – GIS Planning Analyst
  • Miranda Ganci – Plant Pathology Research Associate
  • Kelly Ivors – Plant Pathology
  • Kyle Rak – Plant Breeding

ParaBug

  • Chandler Bennett – Owner and Founder
  • Kevin Hill – ParaBug Pilot

Summary of the Day

The day begins with a waffle breakfast with lots of beautiful Driscoll’s berries at Cassin Ranch. Students participate in a quick icebreaker and I introduce our host and FARMS Alumni Cristal Verduzco who is the Senior Raspberry Forecaster for Driscoll’s. We do an activity with students to gauge what their understanding of Integrated Pest Management is. Student’s ideas were surprisingly really close.

“I believe that Integrated Pest Management is when you create an artificial ecosystem to eliminate any unwanted item in the plant without the use of pesticides.” – Aaron Arriago

Dr. Kelly Ivors who is very knowledgeable in IPM helped us learn more. Aaron was surprised to discover that integrated pest management still uses pesticides but does so as a last resort. Dr. Ivors also introduced the term P.C.A. or pest control advisor which plays a huge role in pest management because they offer growers advice on the pests they find and recommend the best ways to eliminate the pests. The discussion led to a talk about student’s plans after high school. Both Cristal and Dr. Ivors share their stories and offered some sound advice to students. It was a very casual and informative discussion.

John Silleto came by and talked to students about Driscoll’s as a company and touch on the values and the history of Driscoll’s. John was very open about some of the challenges they face as an international organization and encouraged students to go to college so they can help with some of those challenges. FARMS Advanced students asked questions and were very professional during the presentation.

From there we went into the labs with Diego Nieto to see pests and dissect bugs to see if they had parasites in them. It was very shocking to see a bug ripped apart on a magnified screen. It was a first for all of us.  After mutilating bugs we stepped outside with Kyle Rak to learn about his work in the raspberry test fields. In the background, Kevin Hill and Chandler Bennet prepped their ParaBug Drone for a demonstration.

In integrated pest management, one step to fighting pests is biological control and Chandler created a business that focusses on biological control by spreading predatory insects to fight crop-damaging pests. Students helped load the chamber with bugs and Kevin marked out a flight path and sent the drone to work. Meanwhile, students learned about how ParaBug started and asked many questions about what he does as a business owner and operator. It is hard to believe but we still had time to squeeze in one more activity before lunch.

We headed back to the lab, this time the plant pathology lab with Dr. Ivors and Miranda Ganci. Students put on their lab coats and helped investigate and diagnose a sick raspberry plant. The smashed pieces of the plant to a pulp so they could test for a specific phytophthora enzyme. The hands-on experience and support from professionals in the lab made students consider plant pathology as a potential career path.

Back at the conference room, Cristal Verduzco had lunch and a panel of Driscoll’s employees waiting to share their career pathways and open up about life challenges and successes. Students shared their plans for the future and panelist were very impressed by their public speaking skills, confidence, and professionalism to slow things down we took a trip to the lawn to take some group photos with employees and students. Then it was back inside for a discussion on GIS or geographic information systems with Ahna Miller. Ahna’s career pathway was interesting to hear and her sense of humor and fun energy captured students attention.

“ My favorite activity was the labs. I am really interested in Dr. Ivor’s career. I [also] learned more about how drones are used in Ag.” – Diana Mendoza