Food & Farm News

Volume 21, No. 45Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Budget proposal reduces farm and food spending
Discussions of federal spending on food and agricultural initiatives has opened, with the release of the Trump administration budget proposal. The plan proposes a $228 billion reduction in federal farm and nutrition spending over 10 years. The American Farm Bureau Federation expressed concern about the proposal, and said it will ask Congress to maintain programs that are vital to farmers and rural communities.

Pest increases following wet winter
The wet winter in California has helped a pest establish a greater foothold in coastal berry fields. A University of California farm advisor says he’s seen an “uptick” in light brown apple moth damage. Rainy weather prevented farmers from entering their fields to treat against the moth, and the pest took advantage. Discoveries of the light brown apple moth make it more difficult for berry farmers to ship their crops to other states and nations.

Seaweed-based gel may improve ant control
Using a biodegradable gel based on seaweed, researchers say they may have found a new way to control ants. Experts at the University of California, Riverside, say the ant bait appears effective at controlling invasive Argentine ants. The researchers have tested the ant bait for home use, and say it may have advantages compared to current ant-control methods. The bait will be tested at commercial citrus farms this summer.

Cotton crop will be larger
A brighter outlook for both crop prices and water supply leads California farmers to plant more cotton. In some cases, farmers have planted cotton on land where they had grown tomatoes, because prices for tomatoes have declined. A survey by a cotton growers’ organization estimates farmers will plant more than 250,000 acres of cotton in California this year, up about 15 percent from a year ago.

Volume 21, No. 44Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Local groundwater agencies form
With an important deadline coming in a few weeks, counties, irrigation districts, farmers and other entities are finalizing agreements to form locally controlled groundwater sustainability agencies. The agencies will guide groundwater management in basins classified by the state as medium to high priority, under terms of a 2014 California law. Local agencies have until June 30 to notify the state of their formation.

Meat supplies should increase this year
Just in time for the traditional start of the outdoor grilling season, government forecasters said they expect larger supplies of most meats this year. A U.S. Department of Agriculture report predicted beef and pork supplies would rise nearly 3 percent, with production of chicken and turkey up nearly 2 percent. Veal and lamb prove the exceptions to the trend, with supplies of each expected to be down slightly.

Dairy groups launch new promotion
To promote the full range of dairy foods available to Americans, dairy associations have launched a campaign called “Undeniably Dairy.” The multimedia campaign will include both online and broadcast videos, digital marketing and on-farm events. The campaign will discuss nutritional and environmental topics. For instance, it says dairy farmers have reduced the amount of water used for milk production by nearly two-thirds.

More new snacks contain nuts
Trends in snack products bode well for almond growers, according to marketing analysis tracked by the Almond Board of California. The analysis shows that nuts account for a rising share of new snack products. More than 30 percent of the snack products that debuted last year contained nuts. The report credits the increase to greater availability of nuts, new research on their health attributes, and better ability to add flavorings to nuts.

Volume 21, No. 43Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Flower sales peak for Mother’s Day
With Mother’s Day coming Sunday, California flower growers and shippers are hopping. For many, Mother’s Day marks the busiest floral holiday of the year. Growers say they’re shipping lilies, tulips, ranunculus, irises and foliage for spring bouquets. California produces more than three-quarters of domestically grown flowers. But imports have taken a large share of the U.S. market, so California growers urge buyers to seek out domestic blooms.

Cherry harvest accelerates
A good start to their fast-moving harvest encourages California cherry growers. Cherries appear to have avoided serious problems from rainy spring weather, and farmers report a good-sized, high-quality crop. Harvest has been accelerating in the southern and central San Joaquin Valley and will soon move into northern districts. The California Cherry Board says it expects the state’s overall crop to be larger. California cherry harvest will continue until mid-June.

Shelters in river provide salmon habitat
Work has ended in what’s considered a first-of-its-kind project to benefit chinook salmon in the Sacramento River. A Northern California farm partnered with state and federal agencies to place 25 salmon shelters in the river near Redding. Made of tree trunks and root wads bolted to boulders, the shelters allow juvenile salmon to avoid predators and fast-moving water. Experts will evaluate the shelters’ effectiveness in helping salmon in the river.

Report tracks trade in organic foods
International competition for organic food markets is “likely to increase considerably,” according to an updated assessment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report says demand for organic foods continues to grow in both the United States and other nations. Canada and Mexico accepted most exports of U.S.-grown organic foods last year, and apples, grapes and lettuce were the nation’s top organic exports.

Volume 21, No. 42Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Rice farmers try to make up for lost time
Warmer, drier weather in the Sacramento Valley will help rice farmers work to catch up on planting their crops. Throughout April, soggy fields slowed preparations for rice planting. That will make May a busy month, as farmers say they want to have rice planted by June 1. More than a half-million acres of rice will be planted in California, according to government estimates. Despite the early struggles, rice farmers say they remain optimistic their season will turn out fine.

Citrus farmers protest import decision
A decision on lemon imports from Argentina worries California citrus farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture finalized rules this week allowing lemons from northwestern Argentina to enter the United States. Groups representing California citrus farmers say the decision “will open the floodgates to pests and diseases.” The groups say the bacterium that causes a fatal citrus disease has been present in Argentina since 2012.

Vegetable availability increases
Have you been eating your vegetables? The amount of fresh vegetables available to the average American rose slightly in 2016, according to new figures from the federal government. Fresh-vegetable availability increased 1 percent to about 188 pounds per person, with potatoes, lettuce and tomatoes the top three types. About three-quarters of the vegetables consumed in the U.S. were grown domestically.

Wine shipments set records
Shipments of California wine have increased for a fourth straight year. The Wine Institute says shipments set records last year, in both domestic and export markets. The institute’s report says population trends helped propel domestic wine sales, as more members of the millennial generation reached drinking age. In export sales, the European Union represented the top foreign market for California wine.

Volume 21, No. 41Wednesday, April 26, 2017

President pledges action on rural concerns
Farmers who met with President Trump in the White House Tuesday say they came away encouraged. The 14 farmers and ranchers in the meeting included former California food and agriculture secretary A.G. Kawamura and the president of the American Farm Bureau, Zippy Duvall. Duvall says the president pledged action to work on challenges facing agriculture. A government task force will report on regulatory and policy changes that would help rural America.

Rain brings extra weeds to forests, rangelands
They look green and lush now, but California forests and wildlands contain both desirable plants and invasive weeds that will dry out and create fuel for wildfires. University of California specialists say they expect more invasive weeds this year as a result of the state’s record rainfall. Ranchers who provide goats and sheep to graze on weedy land say they’re seeing increased business, as agencies work to reduce the future fire threat.

Almond growers stay hopeful about 2017 crop
Even though it rained frequently when their trees were in bloom, California almond farmers say they’re optimistic about the upcoming crop. Farmers and farm advisors say almond trees would have benefited from more calm weather during the bloom, to allow bees to pollinate the crop. But they say the crop looks good. Government estimators will issue an early forecast of almond production next month.

Spring marks peak time for artichoke harvest
It’s a peak season for California-grown artichokes. As with other vegetables grown near the Central Coast, artichoke farmers say their crop is off to a slow but solid start this season. Wholesale prices remain higher than a year earlier. A Castroville-area farmer says harvest is shifting from heirloom, perennial artichokes to ones that are replanted annually. Nearly all artichokes grown in the United States come from California.

Volume 21, No. 40Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Drought still influences plant sales
Despite the demise of the California drought, plant nurseries say their customers remain interested in drought-tolerant landscaping. Nursery operators say Californians want to remain water conscious while livening up their yards by planting fresh annuals. Demand for what nurseries call “edibles”—such as fruit trees, blueberry bushes and vegetable gardens—has also increased.

Flowering plants benefit farmers
There’s a second “superbloom” underway in California this spring. Along with the wildflower blooms brightening the landscape, plants are flowering in habitat strips planted by farmers along orchards and crop fields. University of California farm advisors say the plantings benefit bees and other pollinators, as well as beneficial insects that attack crop pests. UC publishes a list of plants that can attract beneficial insects to farms and gardens.

Cattle ranchers plan to rebuild herds cautiously
Record rainfall has brought abundant grasses to California pastures, but cattle ranchers say they’re still cautious about expanding their herds. Many ranchers had to reduce their herds during the drought, as pastures went dry and hay prices rose. Now, with greener pastures, ranchers say they’ll rebuild their herds slowly, waiting for a recovery of beef prices and improved beef exports.

California avocado crop will be smaller
In California avocado groves, farmers say it’ll be next year before the benefits of the wet winter show themselves. Avocado production has declined this year, as a result of lingering drought impacts and the cyclical nature of the crop. As a result, wholesale prices for California avocados have risen sharply, compared to a year ago. But farmers say they see a strong bloom on their trees, which bodes well for the 2018 avocado crop.

Volume 21, No. 39Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Water project announces delivery increase
Farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta who buy water from the federal Central Valley Project will now receive full supplies. Project operators announced Tuesday they will increase deliveries from the 65 percent forecast last month. That will benefit the region’s groundwater aquifer but comes too late to encourage farmers to plant additional crops. Farmers in the Klamath Project on the Oregon border also will receive full water supplies.

Reservoir operators prepare for melting snow
With the spring snowmelt season about to begin, reservoir operators work to make sure their facilities will be ready to capture the runoff. The Sierra Nevada snowpack stands at more than 170 percent of average. Operators of facilities such as the Don Pedro Reservoir on the Tuolumne River say their goals are to prevent flooding while providing farmers with the irrigation water they need, and carrying over as much water as possible for the future.

Study links export demand to job growth
Increased demand for U.S. agricultural exports would lead to new jobs, according to a federal report. The study says a 10 percent boost in foreign demand would create more than 41,000 new jobs in the U.S. California would add the most jobs, with more than 17,000 being added to payrolls under the study’s model. The great majority of the new jobs would be in metropolitan counties.

Food-price survey shows decline in costs
A springtime marketbasket survey shows lower prices for a number of foods. The American Farm Bureau Federation checked the cost of 16 food items—and said prices for 11 of the 16 had decreased from a year ago. Overall prices for the food items declined 6 percent, led by lower costs for eggs, beef, chicken, pork and cheese. Farm Bureau says the reductions reflect lower on-farm prices for many products.

Volume 21, No. 38Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Delayed water forecast dampens planting increases
There’s a sense of “what might have been” in part of the San Joaquin Valley, where farmland will remain idle because of a 65 percent water allocation that was delayed several weeks. Farmers who buy water delivered by the federal Central Valley Project say they’re planting more land than in previous years, when the project provided little or no water. But farmers say they might have planted more crops if they had known their water situation at the usual mid-February date.

Tomato farmers face tight schedule due to wet fields
As the calendar turns to April, many tomato farmers find themselves behind schedule. Wet fields in some parts of the Central Valley have prevented farmers from planting tomato transplants as early as they’d prefer. That could affect the timing of harvest later this summer, when the tomatoes will be ready to be processed into salsa, ketchup and other products. Additional rain forecast for this week could further disrupt tomato planting schedules.

Fresh strawberry consumption sets record
If you’ve been eating more fresh strawberries, you’re in good company: Americans consumed fresh strawberries in record amounts last year, according to new estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On average, each American ate just more than 8 pounds’ worth of fresh strawberries, plus another 2 pounds of frozen berries. More than 90 percent of U.S.-grown strawberries come from California farms, and the USDA says it expects acreage to stay steady this year.

Analysts check health benefits of microgreens
Looking closely at microgreens, food technologists have found they’re as nutritious as they are popular. Microgreens—the young seedlings of vegetables and herbs—have caught on with chefs and home cooks. They also provide important vitamins and minerals. Analysts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture checked 30 types of microgreens, and found them to contain high levels of potassium, phosphorus, calcium and other minerals important for human health.

Volume 21, No. 37Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Season’s key snow survey to be held
What’s considered the year’s key snow survey will be conducted Thursday by the state Department of Water Resources. The start of April is traditionally considered the peak for the Sierra snowpack, before it begins to melt and run off into rivers and reservoirs. Electronic readings posted Tuesday showed the snowpack at more than 160 percent of average, statewide. In addition, the state says rainfall has been nearly twice average at key sites this season.

Cotton plantings to increase
Improved water supplies in the San Joaquin Valley will encourage farmers to plant more cotton. The California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association says its preliminary survey shows cotton acreage could increase about 17 percent this year, compared to what farmers harvested last year. But the association says farmers’ enthusiasm for planting more cotton has been “tempered” by a less-than-full water allocation from the federal Central Valley Project.

California honey production improves
Honey production recovered in California last year, according to a new report. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says California beekeepers collected more than 11 million pounds of honey in 2016, up 35 percent from the previous year. The state had more than 310,000 honey-producing bee colonies. California ranked fourth in the nation in honey production, behind North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.

Grocery shopping pattern changes
Where do you buy groceries? Most of the money Americans spend on food to be consumed at home still goes to traditional supermarkets. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that proportion has been declining during the past 20 years. A growing proportion of food dollars goes to what USDA calls “nontraditional store formats,” including supercenters, dollar stores and club stores. Supermarkets’ share has declined from 80 percent to 62 percent.

Volume 21, No. 36Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Local groundwater agencies take shape
With a June 30 deadline approaching, agencies around California are working to finalize formation of local groundwater sustainability agencies. Under state law, the local agencies will develop groundwater sustainability plans for basins classified as high or medium priority for management. County Farm Bureau leaders monitoring the process say they’re striving to keep diverse groups working together as the process moves forward.

Flood damage in orchards to be assessed
The full impact of winter flooding on Central Valley orchards may not be known for months, according to University of California farm advisors. If trees have suffered damage from disease caused by waterlogged roots, the stress might not become apparent until the hot summer months. Orchard specialists advise farmers with flooded orchards to document the flooding and the condition of their trees, and file reports of losses with county agricultural commissioners.

Spinach demand increases
The popularity of packaged salads has fueled demand for organic spinach, with at least 40 percent of California acreage now grown organically. As they plant more, spinach farmers look to crop breeders to develop varieties that resist a plant disease. The fungus reduces yields, and there’s no organic product to attack it. That means farmers must vary their growing methods to avoid the fungus while breeders produce new, resistant spinach varieties.

California celebrates Ag Day
It’ll be California Ag Day at the Capitol in Sacramento Wednesday, as farmers, ranchers, public officials and other people gather for an annual celebration of the state’s bounty. Visitors will be able to sample California-grown food and farm products, see farm animals and learn about the variety of commodities grown in the state. California has been the nation’s top farm state for generations, producing more than 400 different crops and commodities.

Volume 21, No. 35Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Weather affects vegetable harvests
Warm weather in the desert and rainy weather on the coast could conspire to disrupt supplies of fresh vegetables this spring. Farmers along the Central California coast say their vegetable planting has been slowed by winter storms. At the same time, warm temperatures in desert growing regions has meant an early end to harvests there. Vegetable marketers say supplies and prices could be affected for a while, until coastal harvests hit full stride.

Forest problems continue
The wet winter hasn’t solved problems facing California forests. Experts told a California Farm Bureau conference that tree mortality, bark beetle infestations and overgrown landscapes continue to threaten the Sierra Nevada. The U.S. Forest Service estimates more than 100 million trees have died since 2010. The service’s regional forester said it has cleared about 280,000 trees, mainly in areas where people could be harmed.

Projects may apply for water bond money
Applications opened Tuesday for bond money to help build new water storage projects in California. The California Water Commission will decide what projects qualify for money from the Proposition 1 water bond voters approved in 2014. The bond will invest in the public benefits of water projects, including ecosystem improvements, water quality, flood control and recreation. Backers of individual projects will pay the remaining costs.

Recycled rice husks create sturdy boards
Using rice husks to make particleboard renders the board termite-resistant—and students at the University of California, Riverside, say that, in turn, will benefit people in the Philippines. Working under the title Husk-to-Home, engineering students have figured out how to create the particle board, and have earned a federal grant to build relief shelters from it. The shelters will benefit people in a Philippine region recovering from an earthquake and a typhoon.

Volume 21, No. 34Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Central Valley farmers face water uncertainty
While they wait for word on how much water they could have this year, farmers within the Central Valley Project service area say they’re uncertain how much of their land to plant or leave idle. The CVP said last week it couldn’t yet issue its usual first water-supply report for many customers, despite a wet winter. Farmers say they should already have crops in the ground but can’t commit because they don’t know if they’ll have the water needed to bring the crops to maturity.

Volunteers patrol levee system
With rivers running high, and likely to do so for weeks, California’s levee system comes under more scrutiny—including from volunteers who patrol levees looking for any signs of weakness. A number of reclamation and levee districts use volunteer patrols, often made up of farmers, to monitor the system. Farmers and farm employees patrol on eight- and 12-hour shifts during times of high water, reporting any concerns to district and state authorities.

Leaders Conference features policy briefings, legislative visits
Farmers and ranchers from throughout California gathered in Sacramento Tuesday for the annual California Farm Bureau Federation Leaders Conference. Elected officials and policy specialists briefed the attendees on issues ranging from water to transportation to forest management. The Farm Bureau members also held policy discussions and visited the state Capitol to meet with legislators.

Communities plan Valentine’s Day “do-over”
They’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day a month later than usual in Yuba City, Oroville and other communities that had to evacuate during the Oroville Dam incident last month. People had to leave their homes and businesses on February 12, which disrupted Valentine’s Day activities two days later. A Sacramento-based flower wholesaler said the Valentine’s Day “do-over” on March 14 could help businesses that were affected by the evacuation.


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