Food & Farm News

Volume 23, No. 40Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Bill would aid tracking of rural crime
Aiming to slow rural crime and collect more data about the problem, a bill in the state Legislature would create a new category in the Penal Code: agricultural grand theft. Fines collected from persons convicted of agricultural grand theft would support rural crime-prevention programs. A California Farm Bureau policy advocate says the new category would also allow better tracking of crimes affecting farms and ranches.

Factors combine to reduce onion supplies
Rainy winter and spring weather has slowed onion season along the California-Oregon border, and a national group predicts short supplies this spring. Farmers in the Klamath Basin say they would typically start planting onions this week, but fields have remained too muddy. The National Onion Association says it expects tight supplies for the next few months, due to factors including weather problems in the U.S., reduced imports and increased demand.

Census provides data on California farms, ranches
Use of solar panels and other renewable-energy systems on California farms and ranches more than doubled in five years, according to the new U.S. Census of Agriculture. California leads the nation in on-farm renewable energy. Among other data, the census shows about 37 percent of the state’s farmers and ranchers are female; about 10 percent are military veterans; and the great majority of farms and ranches are owned by individuals, families or partnerships.

Satellite imagery could be harnessed for fire warnings
It wasn’t feasible a few months ago, but a University of California professor now believes it’s possible to create an early-warning system for wildfires, using existing satellite imagery. The UC Berkeley professor says data from a weather satellite and other systems can now be synthesized into a single application that could alert public-safety agencies and residents to wildfire movement.

Volume 23, No. 39Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Spring planting for vegetables underway despite rain
Vegetable growers around California are planting their spring crops, even though some are running late because of late-season rain. One grower in Sacramento County said he’s about a month behind; a Fresno County-based farmer said the biggest obstacle has been getting fields prepared, and with summer heat not far off, time—and timing—will be of the essence.

New food and nutrient data system provides deeper look
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released a new food and nutrient data system that integrates five types of data in one place. FoodData Central, intended for researchers, health care providers, policy makers and consumers, builds upon existing USDA data to help users understand the variability in nutrient values of foods, and how factors such as climate and agricultural practices can affect nutritional profiles.

Analysis suggests farmers need disaster assistance to continue contributions to economy
An analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation found that farming provides economic benefits throughout areas of the nation affected by recent natural disasters. In California counties impacted by wildfires in 2018, agriculture represented $5 billion in economic contributions and 31,000 jobs. AFBF’s chief economist found current levels of assistance inadequate to help farmers rebuild, advocating for Congress to approve additional federal disaster aid.

Avocados could have potential in Sacramento Valley
The Sacramento Valley holds promise for growing the ever-popular avocado, according to a University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor. In a recent talk in Winters for interested farmers, she noted the flat land, water supply and interest in local foods as benefits, and highlighted the GEM avocado variety as one with potential. Pollination is the primary problem for regional growers to overcome, requiring a pollinator variety and honeybees.

Volume 23, No. 38Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Will big snowpack boost farm water supplies?
With the key April survey showing the Sierra Nevada snowpack far above average, farmers wait to see how water supplies will be affected. The state Department of Water Resources said Tuesday the snowpack stands at 162 percent of average, and most reservoirs hold above-average water levels. Despite that, many agricultural customers of federal and state water projects still face reduced water supplies.

Early spring weather slows crop development
Wet, cool weather continues to delay California crops—but farmers say it remains too early to forecast how that might affect their eventual harvests. For example, Sacramento Valley peach growers say fruit hasn’t yet started to develop on their trees. In the San Joaquin Valley, farmers say the rains have slowed planting of crops including cotton and tomatoes. Development of many crops has been running up to two weeks later than usual.

Midwest flooding affects California dairies
Heavy snows in Canada and flooding in the Midwest have California dairy farmers scrambling to find substitutes for a number of feed commodities. A combination of weather damage and shipping delays has reduced availability of canola meal, soybean meal and other products used to feed cows. Dairy farmers have been able to find alternative feeds, but often at much higher prices—and changing feed formulations can also affect cows’ milk production.

Farm Bureau urges Senate to act on disaster relief
With a disaster-relief bill stalled in the U.S. Senate, the American Farm Bureau Federation urged senators Tuesday to set aside political concerns and prioritize concern for the nation’s food producers. In a statement, AFBF President Zippy Duvall said farms and ranches across the country have endured losses from floods, wildfires and other natural disasters, with many farmers facing “near-complete losses” of crops, livestock, buildings and equipment.

Volume 23, No. 37Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Farm, water groups urge investment in water projects
If Congress works on a package of infrastructure legislation this year, Western farm and water organizations say the bill should include investments in water projects. More than 100 groups from California and 12 other states wrote Congress this week, urging investments in water storage, conservation, recycling and other projects. The organizations say Western states need “every tool available” to prepare for future dry years.

Olive growers contemplate harvest mechanization
Many olive growers could face a difficult choice in a year or so: modify their groves for mechanization or face an uncertain future. After one of the state’s two olive processors canceled contracts with some farmers, the other offered to accept the fruit—but would only promise long-term contracts if farmers commit to mechanization. Most olives grown for oil are already harvested mechanically, but olives for canning have been hand-harvested.

Genome research aims to benefit walnuts
Walnut trees could better withstand soil-borne diseases, as a result of research announced this week. Scientists with the University of California, Davis, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture say they sequenced the genome of a walnut hybrid, thereby unlocking the genomes of both parent trees. Researchers say the genome sequences of the two walnut species could allow them to identify traits that help trees resist diseases and pests.

Extract from avocado seeds may have helpful properties
An extract derived from avocado seeds shows promise as a treatment against inflammation, according to scientists at Penn State University. The researchers say laboratory tests indicate the extract may slow inflammation. If that holds true, the extract could be developed as a functional food ingredient or pharmaceutical. Because most avocado seeds are thrown away, creating uses for them could generate a new market for growers and processors.

Volume 23, No. 36Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Safe harbor agreement would help fish, landowners
In what’s described as “a pretty unprecedented process,” a group of agricultural landowners wants to enter into a federal agreement to help salmon. The “safe harbor” agreement would assure the landowners their work to help fish would allow them to continue operating their ranching businesses. Most agreements have been between regulatory agencies and one landowner. The new agreement would involve a group of 10 landowners near the Shasta River in Siskiyou County.

Processor offers home for unsold olives
Olive growers who found their crops marooned may have another buyer. Tracy-based Musco Olive Company said Tuesday it would offer contracts to farmers whose contracts were canceled by the other main olive processor, Bell-Carter Foods. Bell-Carter said this month it needed to cancel an undisclosed number of grower contracts to remain competitive. Musco says it wants to transition farmers to harvesting ripe olives mechanically.

“Plant parents” boost houseplant sales
Are you a “plant parent”? If so, you’re contributing to growing demand for indoor foliage plants. A San Diego County nursery owner says young adults appear to be driving the “plant parent” trend through social media. That’s increased sales of plants such as Chinese money plants and “retro” houseplants such as philodendrons. Nursery operators say cooler-than-average temperatures have delayed growth of many of their plants by one to four weeks.

State Capitol to host annual Ag Day
The annual Ag Day event at the state Capitol Wednesday will also feature a centennial celebration for the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Although the agency can trace its roots back to as early as 1878, the modern version of the department was created in 1919. The Ag Day at the Capitol celebration will feature food booths, farm animals and other attractions.

Volume 23, No. 35Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Winter weather slows desert vegetable harvests
A cooler-than-usual winter in the California desert has altered vegetable-production schedules in the region. Farmers say their harvests have been running more slowly than usual, in part because chilly morning temperatures have forced crews to wait to start picking lettuce and other crops. Wholesale markets for vegetables have reflected the colder weather, and farmers say the weather will also extend the desert harvest season.

Farmers work to protect tree crops after rains
An expected stretch of dry weather the next few days will give Central Valley farmers a chance to protect their crops from fungal diseases that can result from rain. The diseases pose a particular threat to almonds and other tree crops. Agricultural aviation companies say they’ve seen a surge in business from farmers who need to try to head off the crop diseases, but whose tractors can’t navigate muddy orchards.

Trends point to lower lumber prices
Timber operators say they expect lumber prices to decline at least slightly this year. Analysts say lumber prices often follow trends in the construction market, and housing starts dropped last fall and early this winter. Housing starts have rebounded slightly since then, and timber operators say they hope that will help moderate any downturn in their markets. An influx of salvage logs from wildfire areas could also affect lumber prices.

Farmers, ranchers to receive leadership training
Ten farmers and ranchers from around California have begun intensive training on agricultural issues and governmental policy as part of the Leadership Farm Bureau program. The program’s 2019 class was formally introduced Tuesday during a California Farm Bureau conference in Sacramento. Class members were among more than 250 Farm Bureau members who participated in legislative visits at the state Capitol during the conference.

Volume 23, No. 34Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Floods hamper North Coast farms
The impact of late-February floods will likely disrupt North Coast dairy farms for some time to come. One Humboldt County dairy farmer says floodwater from the Eel River affected a number of dairies in the region. Sediment will need to be removed from pastures before cows can graze there. Dairies will also need to repair fences, wiring and water systems, a process the farmer says could take weeks.

Winter storms benefit underground aquifers
Along with swelling the Sierra snowpack, winter storms have aided efforts to replenish groundwater basins. An increasing number of regions have created places to pond water, to filter down to underground aquifers—a process known as active recharge. Groundwater experts say the rains also benefit natural recharge, but that determining just how much aquifers have risen can be difficult to measure.

Two genes control sweetness of citrus
New, sweeter varieties of citrus fruit could result from research conducted in the Netherlands and California. By analyzing citrus raised at the University of California, Riverside, scientists in Amsterdam isolated two genes that appear to control whether citrus fruit will be sweet or sour. The discovery could help future plant breeders produce sweet-tasting fruit with just the right balance of tang.

Farmers welcome decision to end electric-line project
In a decision that relieved farmers in part of the Sacramento Valley, a utility has cancelled plans to build an electrical transmission line in Colusa and Sutter counties. Farmers who attended public meetings about the proposal said the line would have harmed farmland and wildlife that uses the farmland as habitat. One of the project’s sponsors, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, cited cost in deciding to cancel the project.

Volume 23, No. 33Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Almond farmers monitor pollination
Wet February weather comes as almond orchards throughout the Central Valley move toward full bloom. In a blog post, the Blue Diamond Growers cooperative describes the bloom as in different stages, depending on the region. Almond trees depend on bees for pollination, and bees don’t fly in rainy weather. But a University of California farm advisor says bees take advantage of breaks in the weather and can accomplish a lot in a short time.

Water supplies buoy hopes for annual crops
The prospect of improved water supplies as a result of above-average precipitation could give farmers more flexibility in their choice of annual crops. Farmers say the potential for more water should give them options to plant more land and choose among suitable vegetable, grain and field crops. For example, analysts expect California farmers to plant more cotton this year, in part because of improved water availability and in part due to market forces.

Honey sweetens food and economy, study says
People in the United States consume nearly 600 million pounds of honey a year, according to a University of California study released Tuesday by the National Honey Board. About half that consumption comes from food in which honey is an ingredient. The study estimates U.S. honey production generates 22,000 jobs and about $4.7 billion in economic activity. California ranks third in the nation in honey production.

Strawberry research may lead to crop improvements
Knowing more about strawberry genetics promises to help plant breeders enhance crop quality and protect berries from disease. Scientists at the University of California, Davis, announced this week they had worked with an international team to sequence the strawberry genome. Strawberry specialists say that will allow them to identify genes that protect the plant against diseases, and those that affect aroma, shelf life and other key factors.

Volume 23, No. 32Wednesday, February 20, 2019

CVP to issue its first water forecast
With the Sierra snowpack swollen to far above average, three members of Congress have urged the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to factor in this month’s storms and maximize its projected water deliveries for irrigation in the San Joaquin Valley. In a letter to the bureau, the legislators say the snowfall should help the Central Valley Project provide more certainty on water supplies. The first forecast of CVP supplies is expected this week.

Scale categorizes strength of atmospheric rivers
A new scale to rank “atmospheric river” storms could help water managers plan for the rain and snow the storms bring. The state Department of Water Resources says it has partnered with researchers to develop the scale. It ranks storms on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being mostly beneficial and category-5 storms primarily hazardous. DWR says atmospheric-river storms provide most of the state’s water supply—but also cause most of its floods.

Beekeepers report theft of colonies
With almond bloom progressing in the Central Valley, beekeepers have placed colonies in orchards to pollinate the crop. But demand for bees may be close to outstripping supply—and that has contributed to thefts of bee colonies. Beekeepers in both the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys have reported losing hives. A sheriff’s deputy who investigates bee thefts says beekeepers and farmers must work closely together to prevent bees from being stolen.

Pistachio consumption poised to set record
People around the world will eat more pistachios than ever before, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Record production in both the United States and Turkey will offset a crop failure in Iran, leading to higher available supplies. Those three nations produce the bulk of the world pistachio crop, with smaller production coming from Syria and the European Union. California farms produce virtually all U.S.-grown pistachios.

Volume 23, No. 31Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Storms affect strawberry supplies
Winter storms have slowed strawberry production in Southern California, tightening supplies during the key marketing period before Valentine’s Day. Most California strawberries come from Ventura County at this time of year, where farmers report their pre-Valentine’s Day production declined because of rain. Despite the harvest interruptions, farmers describe the rain as a long-term benefit for future irrigation supplies.

NASA leader describes technology for agriculture
Data from space helps farmers make on-the-ground decisions daily, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine says the agency plans to expand its agricultural services. Speaking Tuesday at the opening of World Ag Expo in Tulare, Bridenstine said NASA is working with California researchers to provide more precise, accurate information about plant water use. He said NASA resources also help with crop monitoring, snowpack measurement and other activities.

Equipment expo opens for 52nd year
Planners expect more than 100,000 people to attend the three-day World Ag Expo in Tulare, which continues through Thursday. Considered the largest event of its kind, the expo features nearly 1,500 exhibitors who display farm equipment, supplies and technology. Attendees also participate in farm tours and go to seminars on irrigation, dairy production, marketing and other topics.

Study shows scope of world crop losses
Pests and plant diseases cut yields for five top food crops by 10 to 40 percent worldwide, according to a new report. A University of California scientist who helped prepare the study says it shows the world continues to lose a large amount of food to pests and diseases at a time when food production needs to increase. The report looked at wheat, rice, maize, potatoes and soybeans grown in 67 countries.

Volume 23, No. 30Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Groups ask Congress to tackle rural infrastructure
Congress should move quickly to enact bipartisan infrastructure legislation, which should address the specific needs of rural communities, according to a coalition of 200-plus organizations. In a letter to congressional leaders, the coalition said rural communities have unique needs for drinking water, transportation, power, broadband and other facilities. The California Farm Bureau Federation and other California organizations are part of the coalition.

Rose growers concentrate on year-round sales
With Valentine’s Day approaching, California rose growers say the holiday has become only a minor part of their business. Imported red roses dominate the market so, to stay in business, California farmers have diversified. Most now grow roses in whites, pinks and other less traditional colors, and depend on sales for use at weddings and other special events during the year.

Tomato growers assess 2019 plans
Plantings of processing tomatoes apparently will remain stable in California. The partial government shutdown delayed an official estimate of planting intentions, but the California Tomato Growers Association estimates farmers will produce 12 million tons of tomatoes for use in salsa, ketchup and other products. In addition, groups that promote tomato products and avocados plan a joint marketing campaign to underline the combined benefits of the crops.

Cheese makers look for ways to boost sales
Americans have been eating more cheese, and dairy processors have been making more—but the supply has been outpacing the demand. Cheese stocks have risen to record levels nationwide. Lower prices have helped improve export demand for U.S. cheese, but retaliatory tariffs and other trade disputes have blunted the growth. The U.S. Dairy Export Council says an improved treaty with Japan could be a significant benefit to the cheese business.

Volume 23, No. 28Wednesday, January 30, 2019

More snow could help projects deliver more water
When state surveyors return to the Sierra Nevada Thursday, they’ll find much more snow—a situation that encourages farmers. The Sierra snowpack now stands at about 105 percent of average, up from 70 percent at the start of the month. Farmers say they hope winter storms continue, and that improved rain and snow will lead to better water supplies. State and federal water projects delivered supplies of 35 and 50 percent last year.

Grape growers respond to losses from wildfire smoke
Smoke from wildfires caused millions of dollars in losses for winegrape growers last year, and they’re taking steps in response. Research represents one step, as specialists seek more information on how wildfire smoke affects grapes and wine. About three-quarters of the state’s vineyards are covered by crop insurance, and a grape growers organization encourages more farmers to enroll. And a disaster bill in Congress could include relief for farmers with smoke-damaged grapes.

Tree nurseries report continued demand for nuts
Nurseries that supply young trees to plant in new or replacement orchards say nuts remain popular among growers. Consumption of almonds and other nuts has continued to improve, and nuts offer farmers the added advantage of not needing as many employees to tend and harvest the trees once they mature. Nursery operators say they’re selling more trees in containers, meaning they can be planted at different times of year other than the dormant winter season.

Study offers new insights into honeybee pest
New information about how a tiny pest attacks honeybees may offer clues for how to protect the pollinators. U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers say microscopic images of the varroa mite show that the mite appears to feed on a different part of bees than originally thought. The mites have been isolated as one cause of bee population declines. USDA says the study should help in developing new treatments to help honeybees fend off mite attacks.


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