Food & Farm News

Volume 22, No. 49Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Farm bill votes could occur this week
With Congress poised to take more votes on federal farm legislation, policy analysts say the bill contains programs that would help California farmers and ranchers. The Senate version of the bill, for example, would prioritize mechanization research for fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops. The bill also addresses nutrition, trade, conservation and other topics. Both the House and Senate may vote on the farm bill this week.

Exporters see possible expansion of tariffs
Widening trade disputes between the U.S. and its trading partners could affect more California crops. China expanded the number of agricultural products that could face new tariffs in a dispute about intellectual property, and India has said it would add tariffs to certain farm goods in a dispute about steel and aluminum trade. Also in the steel and aluminum case, China, Canada, Mexico and the European Union have imposed or threatened tariffs on U.S. farm products.

Events promote American-grown flowers
The last time you bought cut flowers, did you check to see where they were grown? California flower growers hope you’ll do that—and they’ve organized Field to Vase dinners around the state to promote the idea. At a dinner outside the state Capitol last week, farmers said 80 percent of the flowers sold in the U.S. come from outside the country, but they believe people would prefer to buy American-grown flowers if given the choice.

Pollinator health garners research interest
Beekeepers say their business continues to suffer from annual colony losses, and researchers across the country have been devoting resources to solutions for the stresses affecting honeybees. The outcome matters not only to beekeepers but to farmers whose crops depend on bees for pollination. California-based projects focus both on managed and native bees. California and other states have recognized this as National Pollinator Week.

Volume 22, No. 48Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Market uncertainty follows trade tensions
Trade disputes between the United States and some of its partners have led to market uncertainty for California agricultural exporters. China placed new tariffs on farm products earlier this spring, in a disagreement about steel and aluminum trade. Exporters of California nuts, for example, say Chinese buyers have postponed purchasing decisions as a result. Canada, Mexico and the European Union say they also plan new tariffs on products including farm goods.

Farm exporters visit Japan
A dozen California-based companies are among those exploring agricultural export opportunities in Japan this week. The U.S. Department of Agriculture organized the trade mission, which also includes representatives of state agriculture departments. Japan represents the fourth-largest market for California farm exports. California companies participating in the trade mission sell rice, nuts, fruit drinks, dairy foods, prunes and other products.

Potential for larger timber harvest encourages foresters
With millions of dead trees remaining in California forests, people in the timber business say they’re encouraged by a plan to increase logging on national-forest land. The California Forestry Association says the timber target announced by the U.S. Forest Service could be the highest in 20 years. With continued dry weather and California wildfires becoming more destructive, forestry leaders say it’s crucial to reduce the fuel load in national forests.

Pest moves from city to country
It’s been a pest in urban areas of California for more than a decade, and the brown marmorated stinkbug has started to move into agricultural zones. University of California pest-management experts say the stinkbug began causing damage in orchards and vineyards last year, and more impact has been seen this year. The bugs feed on a variety of plants. The brown marmorated stinkbug has become established in 16 counties and has been trapped in 18 more.

Volume 22, No. 47Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Farm exporters monitor trade dispute
As Mexico, Canada and the European Union promise to retaliate for U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum, California farm exporters assess the potential impact on their businesses. Each trading partner has proposed new tariffs on U.S. agricultural products, such as rice, apples, kidney beans, cheese, ketchup and strawberry jam. But the tariffs would not take effect immediately, and farm groups continue to press for an easing of trade tensions.

Authorities warn of continued danger to citrus trees
They remain a serious threat to citrus trees, but the number of Asian citrus psyllids trapped in the San Joaquin Valley has been declining. Authorities say they’ve trapped fewer of the insects this year in the state’s main citrus-growing area. The psyllid can carry a fatal plant disease that has so far been kept out of the state’s commercial groves. But in Southern California, the number of residential citrus trees infected with the disease continues to rise.

Water remains tight in Klamath Basin
Farmers in the Klamath Basin worry about the prospect of a midseason shutoff, but say they hope to have enough water to grow their crops this summer. Water supplies in the basin have been tight due to drier weather and restrictions aimed at benefiting protected fish. A federal project will deliver partial supplies to Klamath farmers this month, but a lawsuit involving water for fish could prompt curtailment of supplies before crops are ready to harvest.

Parts of rural California lack broadband access
“There’s a lot of urgency” to expand broadband service in rural California, according to speakers at a Sacramento meeting Tuesday. The State Board of Food and Agriculture heard from agricultural and technology experts, who called high-speed Internet service a necessity for rural public-safety, health-care and on-farm business uses. The board cited a federal report indicating 1.4 million Californians lack access to broadband Internet at any speed.

Volume 22, No. 46Wednesday, May 30, 2018

CVP water supply inches upward
Water supplies have improved in the federal Central Valley Project, but some of its customers express disappointment with the amount. The agency that operates the CVP says it will now deliver 45 percent of contract supplies to farm customers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. But a group representing water agencies in the region points to above-average reservoir storage and says the restricted supply will bring “enormous hardships.”

Sales of California wines rise slightly
Even with what one analyst called “rapid and broad” changes among wine drinkers and retailers, sales of California wine in the U.S. increased last year. The Wine Institute reports California wine sales rose 1 percent in volume and 3 percent in value, as American shoppers bought more premium-priced wines. The number of locations that sell wine has risen 20 percent in the past decade, reflecting changes in the grocery and restaurant sectors.

U.S. protests wine restrictions
Restrictions on wine sales in British Columbia have led to a trade complaint from the United States against Canada. A rule in British Columbia allows only wine made in the province to be sold on grocery store shelves there. The U.S. Department of Agriculture calls the practice discriminatory. An organization representing California wineries, the Wine Institute, says it “greatly appreciates” the U.S. action.

‘Agtech’ investments reach $10 billion
Investments in food and agricultural technology have surged so far this decade, according to a University of California report. The study says venture-capital funding in “agtech” reached more than $10 billion last year—and that California leads the nation in such investments. The UC report says many of the investments focus on incorporating robotics, information technology and remote sensing technology in the food chain.

Volume 22, No. 45Wednesday, May 23, 2018

New vote to be held on farm bill
A second vote on federal farm legislation has been set for next month in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill failed passage last week amid disagreements on immigration policies and nutrition programs. Members of a California Farm Bureau delegation who visited Capitol Hill last week say they will continue to advocate for farm bill programs including those focused on research, conservation, rural development and promotion of agricultural trade.

Study computes economic impact of citrus production
Citrus-fruit production in California contributes more than $7 billion a year to the state’s economy, according to a study commissioned by the Citrus Research Board. The study computed the value of the fruit itself, the value of materials and services sold to citrus growers and packers, and the household spending of those employed in the citrus business. Citrus production also generates more than 21,000 full-time jobs.

Project looks at adding seaweed to cows’ feed
Under a theory being tested at the University of California, Davis, adding a hint of seaweed to cows’ feed could help reduce methane emissions from dairy farms. An animal-science professor at the university will demonstrate his project this week. The research tests how a small amount of seaweed in feed affects cows’ digestion, and also whether it has any impact on milk production and flavor. Early results from the study will be published next month.

Foothill farmers cultivate vegetable markets
In the foothills northeast of Sacramento, Nevada County farmers say they’re succeeding in finding pockets of land on which to grow vegetables. Farmers produce a variety of vegetable crops while coping with uneven terrain, thin soils and temperature extremes. But cooler summer temperatures allow growers to extend the season for lettuce and other greens. The farmers sell their crops at farmers markets and other direct-marketing outlets.

Volume 22, No. 44Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Mushroom growers face tough competition
A strong market for mushrooms in California is spawning an influx of imports from other states and Canada. Canadian producers in particular are benefiting from lower production costs and a favorable exchange rate. Some California growers, confronting this imbalance as well as a shortage of employees, are looking into mechanical harvesting of at least some of their crop.

More funds help farmers markets stay true
Farmers markets are buzzing this time of year with shoppers seeking locally grown, farm-fresh products. But how do you know what you’re buying is the real deal? Market regulators and operators say legislation passed in 2014 brought much-needed funds to boost market investigations and enforcement. California continues to lead the nation in the number of certified farmers markets, with 800 markets and 2,500 certified producers.

Indoor farming provides options for growers
Rising demand for local, high-quality food---and a year-round supply of it---is leading to an expansion of hydroponic greenhouses, urban vertical farms and other indoor crop-production systems. A new report on controlled-environment agriculture indicates it offers an important tool for meeting the world’s food needs. Farmers in all 50 states employ the technology.

On the dinner menu: Stress?
If the question, “What’s for dinner?” strikes terror in your heart, you’re not alone. A recent survey found that 62 percent of Americans say meal planning stresses them out, and 85 percent spend more than 30 minutes on dinner preparation daily. California ranks 20 out of the 25 most-stressed states.

Volume 22, No. 43Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Flower growers see sales blossom at Mother’s Day
If you’re in the flower business, this is your Super Bowl week. Mother’s Day leads to a surge in flower sales—and California flower growers and marketers say they’re ready. The California Flower Commission says it expects lilies, tulips, daisies and cut greens to be among the top sellers for the holiday. California leads the nation in flower production, most of which occurs in Southern California coastal regions.

Cherry harvest begins in San Joaquin Valley
Spring-like weather during winter, followed by wintry weather in the spring, conspired to reduce this year’s California cherry crop. Cherry harvest has begun in the southern San Joaquin Valley, with farmers reporting less fruit on their trees. Freezing temperatures at bloom appear to have had the biggest impact. Cherry growers say they expect a high-quality harvest, and that the season will continue through early June.

Study tracks walnuts’ health benefits
A new study shows how walnuts help improve people’s health. According to the University of Illinois, introducing walnuts into your diet improves health through the way walnuts affect microbes and bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. The study showed walnuts appeared to create higher abundance of three strains of beneficial bacteria. Researchers say they plan further study on the specific interactions involved.

USDA pledges to pursue solutions to food waste
Food waste and loss claims nearly 40 percent of the food supply, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture says it wants to bring new attention to the issue. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue convened a discussion in Washington Tuesday he said would be the first in a series of public events intended to coordinate response to food waste. Perdue suggested a “holistic approach” to unite a variety of individual initiatives aimed at reducing waste.

Volume 22, No. 42Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Commission considers water storage projects
In meetings this week, the California Water Commission will hear comments about the public benefits of water storage projects. The commission considers which projects will receive a share of storage funding from a water bond passed by California voters in 2014. Under the bond, projects receive scores according to the public benefits they would bring, and the water commission is scheduled to make decisions on those scores.

Weevil attacks Southern California palms
An invasive pest that attacks palm trees appears to be expanding its territory in Southern California. A University of California entomologist says the South American palm weevil can kill trees. The expert says the weevil appears “pretty widely established” in San Diego County and may have spread into southern Orange County. The pest has attacked landscape trees so far, and date growers say they want to prevent it from reaching their groves.

UC scientists refine knowledge of citrus disease
Researchers report learning more about how the fatal plant disease HLB affects citrus trees. Scientists at the University of California, Riverside, reported this week what they called an “important step” in learning how HLB infects plants. The lead researcher says she hopes the discovery will lead to “novel approaches” to combat HLB, which currently has no cure. In California, the disease has so far been confined to residential citrus trees.

USDA recaps nation’s vegetable production
On average, Americans had 388 pounds of vegetables available to them last year, according to an annual report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report says California accounted for 57 percent of the vegetables produced in the United States last year. Overall fresh-vegetable production declined slightly in the U.S. According to the report, unpredictable weather patterns hindered crop yields during 2017.

Volume 22, No. 41Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Cattle ranchers report improved rangeland condition
Green grass on California pastures encourages cattle ranchers, who say late winter and spring rains will help them rebuild their herds. Many ranchers reduced their herds during the state’s multi-year drought, and feared they might have to make further reductions before late winter and spring rains revived grasses. Ranchers say they will also need to monitor availability of drinking water for cattle on mountain rangeland during the coming summer.

Water projects raise supply allocations
The late surge of precipitation in California has led to improved water supplies, though reservoir managers remain conservative. The State Water Project said Tuesday it has increased supplies to 30 percent of customers’ requests, up from the previous 20 percent. The federal Central Valley Project had earlier announced it would raise allocations to 40 percent for agricultural customers south of the delta, and provide full supplies for northern customers.

Farmers monitor once-flooded farmland
Farmers whose orchards and vineyards flooded during the heavy rains of 2017 report mixed results as they monitor their land a year later. One Sacramento County farmer who lost walnut trees due to riverbank seepage says he has planted safflower on the land to help it recover before planting new trees. A San Joaquin County farmer whose young almond trees drowned has replaced them with grapes, and says a mature vineyard that flooded appears to have recovered fine.

Report outlines impact of Chinese tariffs
California has been one of the main states affected by Chinese tariffs on agricultural products, according to a new report. China imposed the tariffs earlier this month in a dispute about U.S. tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. The organization Farmers for Fair Trade says California products such as tree nuts, wines, oranges and grapes will be affected. The report will be discussed at a news conference scheduled Thursday at a Lodi-area winery.

Volume 22, No. 40Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Congress begins work on new farm bill
With the House Agriculture Committee scheduled to begin work on a new farm bill Wednesday, California farmers and ranchers will monitor how the bill affects key conservation, research and other programs. Congress plans to update current federal farm and nutrition policy that expires at the end of September. The California Farm Bureau says the bill has widespread effects on food production, stewardship and on jobs in both rural and urban areas.

Nurseries report strong demand for plants
March rains kept many Californians out of their gardens, and that has meant a surge of business this month at plant nurseries. Nursery operators say development of some plants has been slowed by the inconsistent winter and spring weather, but that demand has been good—especially for plants that can thrive on less water. One nursery operator says he’s seen demand for succulents grow from 2 percent of his inventory to 30 percent.

Rice farmers report smoother planting season
This is the season when Sacramento Valley farmers prepare rice fields for planting, and they report a smoother season than they had a year ago—when a number of fields were still flooded from heavy rains. That forced farmers to leave some fields unplanted last year. This year, people in the rice business expect more rice acreage to be planted, although government estimates indicate the acreage will be about the same as a year ago.

UC tests organic bean varieties
Looking for high performance in organic production systems, graduate students at the University of California, Davis, have planted test varieties of a number of beans. The test plots feature pinto, black and kidney beans, plus heirloom varieties. In order to be successful in organic production, a project leader says, the beans have to grow fast enough to out-compete weeds. The students hope to have varieties available for commercial production in two years.

Volume 22, No. 39Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Farmers wait to see if water supplies improve
With reservoirs at or above average levels and the Sierra snowpack improved by storms in March, farmers await word on whether their water supplies might improve. Most farm customers of federal and state water projects have been told to expect 20 percent allocations. Operators of both projects say they’re trying to determine if late-season storms could allow them to provide more water. Farmers say that might let them increase crop plantings.

Exporters consider effects of Chinese tariffs
Long-term efforts to build sales of California farm goods in China may suffer from the ongoing trade dispute between China and the U.S. Exporters of nuts, wine and fruit crops that now face new tariffs in China say they have been renegotiating contracts with their buyers there. Some products originally destined for China may be redirected to other locations, and exporters say competing products from other countries may now secure a larger foothold in China.

Almond farmers watch for frost impact
One farmer says he has his “fingers crossed” as he monitors his Sacramento Valley almond orchards. The extent of damage from a February freeze remains uncertain. Farmers and agricultural commissioners say the effect appears to vary greatly, depending on location, tree variety and other variables. In some cases, farmers may not know the full impact until close to harvest time. The first government estimate of the almond crop will be released next month.

Grape growers gear up for new season
California-grown table grapes will begin reaching stores next month, and marketers say they’re preparing plans to promote the crop to customers in the U.S. and abroad. The California Table Grape Commission says about two-thirds of the state’s table grapes go to the domestic market, with the rest shipped to customers in 59 countries around the world. California farmers sold more than 109 million boxes of table grapes last year.

Volume 22, No. 38Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Water officials discuss impact of March storms
Despite rain and snow in March, water supplies for Central Valley farmers may not change much. Representatives of federal and state water systems spoke to the State Board of Food and Agriculture Tuesday. Most farmers on both systems have been told to expect 20 percent of contract water supplies. The State Water Project may increase its allocation slightly, but operators of the federal Central Valley Project said they’re analyzing data to see if it will follow suit. (on-air reading time :24)

Work in Riverside labs helps protect citrus trees
As California citrus farmers work to fend off a tree-killing disease, a key part of the effort takes place in laboratories in Riverside. There, experts check citrus plant material to assure that newly planted trees don’t spread the fatal tree disease HLB. The disease, carried by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid, has ravaged citrus groves in Florida and elsewhere, but has been kept out of California groves so far. (reading time :24)

Strawberry consumption sets record
Americans eat more strawberries than ever, according to new figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA reports that Americans ate about 10.3 pounds of strawberries per person last year—a record. About 80 percent of those were fresh strawberries, and the rest frozen. California farms produce more than three-quarters of U.S.-grown strawberries, and harvest will intensify through the spring and summer.

Online, published resources aim to cut food waste
A new effort to reduce food waste features online tips and a published “bookazine.” The American Farm Bureau and its partners announced Tuesday the launch of a “No Taste for Waste” campaign. A website and social media feeds provide resources and recipes intended to help reduce household food waste, and to describe how farmers and ranchers fight food loss. The “bookazine,” titled “Waste Less, Save Money,” will appear on newsstands this month.

The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 40,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 5.5 million Farm Bureau members.

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