Food & Farm News

Volume 23, No. 7Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Agriculture secretary holds town-hall meeting
Trade, water policy, employee shortages and environmental regulations were among the topics, as U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue held a town-hall meeting in Modesto Tuesday. Perdue told farmers the Trump administration is working to resolve trade issues that have led to retaliatory tariffs on American farm exports. The secretary is scheduled to discuss wildfire-related topics at a meeting in Santa Clarita Wednesday.

Report charts tariff impacts on fruits, tree nuts
Retaliatory tariffs on exports of U.S.-grown fruits and tree nuts could cause economic impacts of more than $3 billion annually, according to University of California specialists. Their report looked at 10 crops—including almonds, apples, pistachios and walnuts—that have been subject to tariffs from China, India, Mexico and Turkey. The impact would come directly from lost sales and indirectly through lower prices for the crops.

Advisors describe livestock safety during fires
If confronted with the need to evacuate from a wildfire, livestock owners must determine how much time they have and act accordingly. University of California farm advisors say if time permits, ranchers can move livestock to a green space or open gates and cut fences to allow them to move freely ahead of the fire. Providing access to water is also important. Advisors say moving truckloads of livestock may or may not be feasible as a fire approaches.

Farmers report larger crop of processing tomatoes
Tomato trucks head to California canneries this summer with a larger crop. Food processors have contracted for more tomatoes this year to create ketchup, salsa and other products. Farmers say they expect their yields to be greater this year, thanks to mostly favorable weather prior to harvest. Farms in the Central Valley of California produce about 95 percent of the processing tomatoes grown in the United States.

Volume 23, No. 6Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Wildfires damage crops, rangeland
In areas of Northern California burned by wildfires, farmers and ranchers continue to assess the impact of flames and smoke on crops and rangeland. In the area of the Mendocino Complex fires, farmers say they’re aware of some damage to vineyards and pear orchards in Lake County, and aren’t certain whether smoke might affect ripening winegrapes. Mendocino County ranchers say fires have scorched timber and rangeland, and some livestock remains unaccounted-for.

Salvaged trees help fund restoration projects
Trees that burned in a fire a year ago are being salvaged in an operation in Northeast California—with proceeds from timber sales used to help pay for ecological-restoration work. The Modoc National Forest says dead-standing trees that burned during the Parker 2 Fire are being milled, providing more than 3 million board-feet of timber. Forest officials say the project will improve safety for road travel and recreation, while helping the local economy.

Peach production accelerates in California, nation
Peach harvest across the country is in full swing, and California farmers say they’re seeing more competition in the market this year. That’s because peach orchards in Georgia and South Carolina have recovered after frost reduced their harvests a year ago. Cold weather this year in the Central Valley took a toll on some early peach varieties, but growers say harvests of midseason peaches have returned to typical levels. California leads the nation in peach production.

UC researchers learn how plants attract helpful microbes
Recruiting is important for businesses, for college sports teams—and also for plants. Recruiting the right microbes can help plants grow, and researchers at the University of California, Riverside, said Tuesday they have learned more about that process. Looking at pea plants, the scientists determined that genetic variations among plants help them attract beneficial microbes. That information could help plant breeders develop plant varieties that naturally grow faster.

Volume 23, No. 5Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Wildfires cause agricultural losses
As firefighters work to control massive Northern California wildfires, farmers and ranchers assess the agricultural impact. In Shasta County, the Carr Fire has burned rangeland, and local officials say it’s too early to know the full extent of losses. Evacuations due to the Mendocino Complex fires closed a pear packinghouse in Lake County, delaying harvest. The University of California says rangeland at its Hopland research center was “hit hard” by fire.

Plum growers reach height of season
It’s the peak of plum season in the San Joaquin Valley. Farmers report a normal-sized crop, despite some weather concerns earlier in the season. But the ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China could affect markets. China has been the top export market for California plums, but the nation placed retaliatory tariffs on the fruit and a number of other U.S. farm products. California produces 100 percent of U.S.-grown plums.

Solar heat protects crops from pests
Hot weather in California’s desert farming regions gives farmers a good opportunity to kill pests and weeds, by heating the soil. Farmers use soil solarization: spreading clear plastic tarps over fields that will be planted with crops later in the year. The tarps heat the ground and kill soil-borne pathogens, insects and many weed seeds. Farm advisors say placing the plastic sheets on the soil for four to six weeks appears effective.

Research looks at natural habitat near farms
Having natural habitat near farms can benefit growers by attracting natural enemies of crop pests. But a new study indicates there can be negative effects on crop yields, as well. The study, headed by California researchers, looked at evidence from 31 countries, and found highly variable results. The lead researcher says natural habitat may not always help with pest control, but can help farmers with pollination and other benefits.

Volume 23, No. 4Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Farm Bureau seeks long-term resolution to trade disputes
After the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a tariff-assistance package for farmers Tuesday, the president of the California Farm Bureau said the long-term solution remains to resolve ongoing trade disputes. Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson says farmers and ranchers want “to trade on a fair basis with customers around the world.” Farm Bureau says the USDA package could provide some short-term relief but that it will continue to advocate for a long-term solution.

U.S. clarifies country-of-origin labels for honey
Beekeepers say they’re satisfied with rules requiring imported honey to bear clear labels showing its country of origin. The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a final rule earlier this month, clarifying how imported honey should be labeled. Federal officials say the action seeks to address a practice known as “honey laundering,” in which products labeled as pure honey from one country may actually be blended honey from China.

Avocados withstand heat wave
A severe Southern California heat wave earlier in July damaged avocados near the end of their season, and growers say they’re evaluating whether the heat might affect next year’s crop, too. Young avocados for next season’s harvest had reached the size of olives or walnuts when the heat wave hit. University of California farm advisors say farmers will watch heat-stressed trees carefully in hopes that new growth regenerates.

Study examines purchases of convenience foods
Americans’ food choices often boil down to availability of time and resources, and that extends to “convenience foods” such as restaurant meals and ready-to-eat foods. For example, a federal study says households with children purchase more fast food and less food from full-service restaurants. As household income rises, people tend to eat out more, and households where all adults are employed purchased much more food from full-service restaurants.

Volume 23, No. 3Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Stream-flow plan draws opposition
Farm groups, water agencies and other organizations say they will oppose a state board’s plan for stream flows in the San Joaquin River watershed. The State Water Resources Control Board proposes significant cuts in water diversions from three rivers, on behalf of native fish. California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson says the plan would impose a high cost on rural communities but provide the fish with little or no benefit.

Recycled water helps farms supplement supplies
To help secure a more certain water supply, a group of farmers in the western San Joaquin Valley has partnered with nearby cities to purchase tertiary-treated, recycled water. The Del Puerto Water District of Patterson has seen its federal water supplies reduced, so agreed with the cities of Modesto and Turlock to create a regional recycled-water program. The recycled water provides farmers with a reliable supply to complement its variable supplies from the federal project.

Drones help farmers care for crops
Having an eye in the sky, in the form of a drone, helps farmers check crops for pests, weeds or water stress. University researchers and individual farmers say they’re continuing to refine the role unmanned aerial vehicles can play on the farm. They say they’re using drones to collect images of fields and orchards, but also to collect data from ground sensors to help farmers monitor crop conditions.

Machine proves accurate in thinning lettuce
Thinning lettuce fields to produce a high-quality crop has traditionally involved crews of 15 to 25 people, but automated thinners operated by one person appear to be catching on in California fields. A report in a University of California publication said the machines proved as accurate in thinning the crop and produced comparable crop yields. Farmers see such automated processes as one way to overcome chronic employee shortages.

Volume 23, No. 2Wednesday, July 11, 2018

U.S. acts against subsidized olive imports
Subsidized olive imports from Spain have harmed California olive producers, according to a vote Tuesday by the U.S. International Trade Commission. The commission decided the olives have been sold in the U.S. at unfairly low prices that made it difficult for California olives to compete. The U.S. may impose import duties on Spanish olives. The imported olives are often used as pizza toppings, in salad bars and for other purposes.

Dwarfed citrus trees show potential benefits
The threat of a fatal plant disease has renewed interest in efforts to develop dwarfed citrus trees. University of California specialists have been studying the smaller trees at a research station in the Central Valley. If successful, the dwarfed citrus trees could be grown under protective screening, which would keep out insects that can carry the plant disease known as HLB. Researchers started new studies this spring on the dwarfed trees’ water efficiency.

Food prices have become less volatile
Food price volatility in the United States has stabilized in recent decades, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The study says prices for both food and housing have “enjoyed relative stability” since the 1990s, increasing between 2 percent and 5 percent most years. Food price inflation was lower than average the past two years, due to decreased commodity prices and other factors.

Project aids marketing of moringa products
It’s a green that grows on trees, and University of California researchers say they hope moringa shoots can become a successful crop for small-scale farmers in the Central Valley. UC specialists say moringa shoots can be added to salads, soups and other foods, and that other parts of the tree—such as its flowers and pods—are also edible. A UC Cooperative Extension project supports farmers in marketing moringa products to new buyers.

Volume 23, No. 1Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Wildfire burns rangeland
The ongoing County Fire in Napa and Yolo counties has burned thousands of acres of rangeland used for grazing animals. Reports of damage are still being collected, but farmers of irrigated crops in the region say those crops should be safe from fire. Firefighting helicopters have used irrigation reservoirs on farms as sources of water to pour on the flames.

Nutria threaten crops, water systems
Farmers along the San Joaquin River remain on the lookout for nutria—an invasive rodent that damages crops, wetlands and water systems. State wildlife officials have confirmed nutria in six counties and are working to determine the extent of the problem. The rodents burrow into levees and canal banks, causing flooding and other damage. They eat vegetation—about a quarter of their body weight daily.

Malting barley makes a comeback
The popularity of microbreweries has revived production of malting barley in California. Farmers in the Sacramento Valley are harvesting the grain for sale to a malthouse in Alameda, which in turn sells the malt to breweries and distilleries around the state. A variety of barley developed by the University of California suits growing conditions here and has become the preferred strain for farmers growing the crop.

Grants aim to reduce food waste
Three “food rescue” projects in Northern California will benefit from grants announced Tuesday by the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. Waste-management agencies in Alameda, Contra Costa and Napa counties will partner with food banks to recover edible food that would otherwise go to waste. The department says diverting food and other green waste from landfills reduces methane emissions.

Volume 22, No. 50Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Farmers protect equipment from thieves
Thefts of tractors, farm implements, trailers and other farm equipment create headaches for California farmers and ranchers. One Central Valley county, Tulare, has reported thefts of nearly half a million dollars’ worth of heavy equipment so far this year—although more than half of that has been recovered. Deputies encourage farmers to mark their equipment, lock it away and take other steps to deter thefts.

Klamath farmers face water shortages
In the Klamath Basin along the California-Oregon border, farmers say water shortages could cause serious financial problems. The federal agency that operates the Klamath Project delayed announcing water-delivery plans until late last week, due to dry weather and court rulings involving water supplies for protected fish. The water-delivery plans could leave some farmers without water for the coming season.

Bell pepper harvest picks up speed
Harvest of bell peppers is moving from the California desert into the Central Valley, with farmers reporting that prices have come down as harvest accelerates. Green bell pepper harvest began in the Bakersfield area a couple of weeks ago, and red bell peppers will start soon. Bell pepper harvest in Northern California typically starts in mid-July. California leads the nation in production of bell peppers and chili peppers, as well.

Survey shows lower costs for cookout foods
Foods for a traditional Independence Day cookout have shown stable to slightly lower prices, according to a survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation. The Farm Bureau says record meat and dairy production has influenced retail prices for cookout favorites such as hot dogs, cheeseburgers and milk. Prices for the items featured in the survey averaged $5.51 per person—down less than 1 percent from last year’s survey.

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.


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