Monday, 04 March 2024

AgVenture class learns from experts, educators

Jessica and Jordan Mihaelenko and Colleen Seely Rentsch, hosts of AgVenture's tour of their family's walnut orchard at harvest time. Courtesy photo.

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. — On Oct. 27 Lake County’s AgVenture class experienced a day of learning and discovery highlighted by a visit to a walnut orchard during harvest, expert presentations on the walnut industry, food safety, modern pest control, regulatory and legislative affairs, and ag education in Lake County.

Shannon Douglas, vice president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, opened the day with an overview of current issues facing farmers today and the Farm Bureau’s role in educating and advocating for its members.

Fidel Perez, Lake County native and environmental program manager of the Enforcement Branch, Northern Region, of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, or DPR, gave an in-depth presentation of how the DPR monitors, tests and enforces safety standards in the food chain, from farm to retail outlet.

A pest control advisor, or PCA, panel followed. PCAs Steve Thomas, Nick Sysock and Lake County Agricultural Biologist Janice Luke joined forces to explain federal and state pesticide and fertilizer regulations for both conventional and organic crops.

They covered product development and field testing, inspecting, monitoring and advising growers on product use according to their science-based observations, and enforcement of all regulations pertaining to pest control and fertilizer applications. A robust question and answer period followed.

Robert Verloop, executive director and CEO of the California Walnut Commission brought attention to the walnut industry, including marketing challenges in today’s economy and insights on new ideas for marketing the California crop in the domestic and global markets.

Walnuts are particularly vulnerable to tariffs, since about 65% of the crop is exported.

The class took a break and enjoyed a lovely buffet lunch in the courtyard of the Blue Wing Saloon and Café, courtesy of Bernie and Lynn Butcher.

Colleen Rentsch and her daughter and son-in-law Jessica and Jordan Mihaelenko led a fascinating walk through their walnut orchard in the midst of harvest operations.

The class witnessed machines shaking the trees, sweeping the nuts into wind rows between the trees, and picking up the nuts and blowing the leaves away. The nuts are then conveyed into a bin which is pulled out of the field by a tractor.

They talked about cultivation methods, pest control and irrigation efficiency. Soil moisture readers are placed throughout the orchard, and Jessica demonstrated the use of a pressure chamber which extracts moisture from a leaf and indicates the amount of water being used by the tree. These tools save water while providing for optimal tree health.

Erica Boomer, head of the Upper lake High School Agriculture Department, and Chris Decker, ag mechanics instructor, both Future Farmers of America advisors, led a tour of Upper Lake High School’s ag and vocational education campus, highlighting the tremendous opportunities available to ULHS students to learn practical job skills.

The community passed a bond in 2018 that enabled the school to fund an impressive large modern building, and grants subsequently funded state of the art instructional equipment, including a blueprint design program accessible to every student, massive workbenches built by the students themselves, and numerous welding stations where students can become efficient in both MIG and TIG welding.

The campus also boasts a garden, soon to be enhanced with raised beds donated by Bernie and Lynn Butcher, and space for members to raise their FFA project animals.

Two-thirds of the ULHS students are enrolled in Ag related classes, and 80% are involved in the Future Farmers of America program.

The AgVenture Program in presented by the Lake County Chapter of California Women for Agriculture, or CWA, and is guided by a steering committee of seven CWA members, including Rebecca Harper, Colleen Rentsch, Toni Scully, Bonnie Sears, Debra Sommerfield, Katherine VanDerWall and Sharron Zoller.

CWA is the most active all-volunteer agricultural organization in the state, with 20 chapters and more than 1,300 members. Sharron Zoller is the current state president.

To become a member, please visit

Erica Boomer, Upper Lake High School Agriculture Department head, and Chris Decker, ag mechanics instructor, show off Upper Lake HIgh School’s impressive ag mechanics shop. Courtesy photo.

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