Food & Farm News

Volume 23, No. 49Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Motorcade for Trade rolls out support for USMCA
Promoting their Motorcade for Trade, an organization favoring enhanced agricultural trade visited Sacramento Tuesday as part of a swing through California. The Farmers for Free Trade group has been traveling across country in support of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The group says the agreement would stabilize agricultural trade among the three nations. Canada is the No. 2 market for California agricultural exports, and Mexico ranks fifth.

Wildfire preparation gains higher priority
With summer starting and wildfires already punishing California, authorities encourage people to be prepared. They say the advice may be familiar, but the urgency has intensified. Observers say rural residents should be ready year-round with an emergency evacuation kit and other preparations. State and federal agencies are working on fire-prevention projects that include vegetation clearing, creation of fuel breaks and other measures.

Peak apricot season arrives
Harvest ramps up this week for California’s main apricot variety, the Patterson. Farmers say they expect the state’s apricot production to double this year—and they’re looking for buyers for all that fruit. Most apricots are sold for canning, drying, jams or other uses, but demand from processors has declined. Some fruit that had been destined for processing may be sold fresh, but sometimes isn’t suitable.

California-grown flowers compete with imports
To compete with imported flowers, California growers emphasize freshness and grow specialty or heritage varieties. The California Cut Flower Commission estimates three-quarters of domestically grown flowers come from California—but the vast majority of the flowers sold in the U.S. are imported from other countries. The commission held a Field to Vase dinner on the grounds of the state Capitol to highlight California-grown flowers.

Volume 23, No. 48Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Rural regions prepare for power shutoffs
As utilities begin shutting off power in an effort to prevent wildfires, California farmers, ranchers and rural residents plan for ways to manage the power loss. Some say they may invest in generators to maintain water pumps for livestock and crops, plus produce-cooling equipment and other facilities. Farmers say they understand the rationale for the shutoffs and hope they succeed, and that power interruptions will be as short as possible.

Late-spring storms leave damage in their wake
Onions, tomatoes, cherries and cotton are among the crops damaged by late-spring storms in the Central Valley. Farmers, pest control advisers and agricultural commissioners say the crops suffered damage from hail or from plant diseases linked to the wet weather. Observers say the crop losses may be significant for individual farmers but not widespread enough to lead to disaster declarations in most cases.

Farm, food groups seek approval of trade agreement
Urging Congress to pass a pending trade agreement, a coalition of more than 900 farm and food organizations said the agreement would help U.S. agriculture while providing high-quality, safe food at affordable prices. In a letter to House and Senate leaders, the groups requested “swift ratification” of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The letter’s signers included the California Farm Bureau Federation and more than three-dozen other California groups.

Nurseries track plant trends to plan greenhouse space
Tracking trends in houseplants allows Southern California nurseries to fulfill customer demand. Nursery owners say social media can help drive demand for houseplants, and note that some plants that became trendy in the 1970s are now enjoying a comeback. Keeping up with the trends requires foresight, because in some cases plants need close to a year in the greenhouse before they’re ready for sale.

Volume 23, No. 47Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Weather brings fewer but larger avocados
An intense heat wave 11 months ago has reduced the California avocado crop. Farmers who typically would harvest fruit into early July report they’ve already finished their harvest. Southern California heat last July damaged the developing fruit. But ample winter rains allowed the remaining avocados to grow to larger sizes. Forecasters estimate the avocado crop at 175 million pounds, about half the volume of a year ago.

Ranchers welcome benefits of grass growth
Plentiful grasses stimulated by abundant rainfall have improved the outlook for California cattle ranchers. The rangeland grasses will allow cattle to grow to higher weights before being marketed, helping ranchers offset part of the impact of weaker prices. Trade uncertainties have also put a damper on the market as beef production heads toward a potential record this year, but ranchers say the improved range conditions will help them save costs.

Tomato harvest may run late
Rainy, cool weather slowed California tomato planting, but crop estimators say they still expect the state’s farmers to harvest more than 12 million tons of processing tomatoes this summer. An updated estimate says the later planting might delay harvest by about a week, but that the crop could catch up during warm summer days. Processing tomatoes are used for salsa, ketchup and other products. Fresno County leads the state in processing-tomato production.

Invasive species damage environment, economy
From the burrowing nutria threatening waterways to the small insect carrying disease to citrus trees, invasive species cause ecological damage and economic losses. As agencies commemorate California Invasive Species Action Week, they urge Californians to take care not to transport new species into the state. The University of California estimates a new invertebrate species establishes itself in California every six weeks, on average.

Volume 23, No. 46Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Rain, hail fall on Central Valley crops
Storms during the Memorial Day weekend threaten damage to a number of California crops. In the San Joaquin Valley, storms dropped large hail that could affect crops including tomato and cotton plants, plus peach, nectarine and cherry trees. Agricultural commissioners say it may be several days before the impact becomes more clear. In the Sierra Nevada, the snowpack now stands at nearly twice-average for the date.

New project evaluates changing range conditions
To see how range and pastureland respond to changing rainfall and temperature patterns, researchers will simulate a variety of conditions at a University of California facility in Yuba County. UC specialists have earned a grant to create shelters that will allow them to control the precipitation and temperature on a research plot. The project will help the researchers learn how rangeland plants and weeds perform under predicted weather scenarios.

California leads floriculture production
If you buy flowers or garden plants grown in the United States, chances remain strong that those plants come from California. A new government report shows California continues to lead the nation in production of floriculture crops. The Golden State accounts for more than three-quarters of U.S.-grown cut flowers, and also leads in categories including bedding and garden plants, and flowering potted plants.

Prune marketers rebrand their crop
Once marketed as dried plums, California prunes will now be called just that—California prunes—in a new marketing campaign. The California Prune Board says the rebranding emphasizes the “premium reputation” of the state’s crop, which is sold in the United States and dozens of countries around the world. The board’s executive director says the idea is to change prunes from an occasional choice to a “daily pleasure” that brings a number of health benefits.

Volume 23, No. 45Wednesday, May 22, 2019

May storms threaten California crops
In much of California the next few days, farmers will work to assess the impact of mid-May rains, and they’ll watch the skies for the threat of additional storms. Cherry growers in the northern San Joaquin Valley say rain split some of the ripening fruit on their trees. The storms interrupted berry harvest in Central California and brought concern for growers of grapes, tree nuts and other crops. Rain further delayed planting of crops including rice.

Farmers, exporters monitor trade talks
As one trade dispute affecting California farmers intensifies, another has lessened. In an ongoing trade disagreement, China plans to increase tariffs effective June 1 on a number of agricultural products, including some affected by earlier retaliatory tariffs. But announcement of the end of a separate dispute with Mexico and Canada promises to boost exports of a number of California farm products.

Postponing harvest benefits protected birds
By delaying their wheat harvest, a Merced County dairy family has helped protected birds lay their eggs. The dairy farmers grew the wheat to feed cows, but an estimated 25,000 tricolored blackbirds chose to nest in the field. The farmers agreed not to harvest the wheat until the birds leave, even though that may reduce the value of the crop. A cooperative program provides technical and financial aid to farmers who help the birds.

Expect more meat, milk and eggs on the market
Forecasts for positive economic conditions in the U.S. contribute to a likely increase in the nation’s production of meat, milk and eggs. The U.S. Agriculture Department says it expects production of most animal proteins to rise slightly in 2020. The forecast includes additional production of beef, pork, turkey, chicken, eggs and milk. USDA says it expects lamb production to decline slightly next year.

Volume 23, No. 44Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Honey supply looking up
California beekeepers may bring more honey to market this year, though exactly how much won’t be known for a while. One keeper in Imperial County credits the winter rain with giving his bees plenty of forage and looks forward to a significant production boost. In Tulare County, beekeepers report a hit-and-miss citrus bloom, leading to uncertainties about honey supply. California is among the nation’s top 10 honey-producing states.

Predicted almond acreage in California for 2019 breaks record
Almonds continue to be a popular crop in California, with acreage forecasted to reach a new record this year of 1.17 million bearing acres. Production is predicted to reach 2.5 billion pounds in 2019, a 9.6% increase over the previous year. An extended bloom period this spring helped compensate for disruptions from significant rainfall. The crop appears to be sizing well, leaving farmers optimistic.

Growers making hay of uncertain alfalfa market
With dairies still struggling financially, California alfalfa-hay growers say their biggest customers can’t afford their product, leaving future prospects of the forage unclear. Harvest is ramping up, but acreage has been trending down. Farmers harvested 620,000 acres last year, the lowest on record. Growth in exports has helped, but an ongoing trade dispute with China and its retaliatory tariffs since last summer have reduced shipments to one of California’s key offshore markets for alfalfa hay.

Scientists aim for tastier tomato
Your supermarket tomato might soon get a flavor boost. Scientists have constructed the pan-genome for the cultivated tomato and its wild ancestors, which includes genes from 725 different varieties and nearly 5,000 previously undocumented genes. The information can help breeders quickly develop new varieties for commercial production that retain both richer flavor profiles and traits important to growers such as yield, shelf life, disease resistance and stress tolerance.

Volume 23, No. 43Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Rice planting accelerates after late start
It’ll be a short and intense planting season for California rice farmers. Late spring rains kept farmers out of their fields, and they say some rice ground will be left unplanted because of lingering floodwaters. But farmers say planting weather has improved, water availability will be good, and they expect decent markets for their rice. The California Rice Commission predicts about 500,000 acres of the crop will be planted.

Water supplies remain constrained in some areas
In the western San Joaquin Valley, farmers who buy water from the federal Central Valley Project hope to see supplies improve, and water districts seek to supplement supplies. CVP farm customers in the region stand to receive only 65 percent allocations, despite the above-average snowpack. At least one water district says it plans to buy water from a neighboring district with full supplies. The CVP may revise allocations later this month.

Carrot supplies maintain momentum
Shipments of fresh carrots set their fastest pace in 20 years during the first quarter of 2019. The U.S. Agriculture Department says carrot shipments also rose in 2018, during which production surged 18 percent compared to the previous year. In terms of per-person availability, carrots saw the largest increase last year among all fresh vegetables. California accounts for almost 80 percent of the nation’s fresh-carrot production.

Grant aims to head off an invasive pest
Hoping to reduce the impact of an invasive pest before it arrives in California, the state Department of Food and Agriculture has awarded a grant to researchers to study biological controls for the insect. The spotted lantern fly arrived in North America five years ago and has spread in the eastern U.S. University of California scientists will test whether a tiny wasp can be used to combat the lantern fly, should it reach the state.

Volume 23, No. 42Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Survey outlines on-farm employee shortages
A new survey shows California farmers and ranchers continue to have trouble hiring enough people for on-farm jobs, despite taking steps to address the problem. Farmers said they have raised wages, changed farming and cropping patterns, used automation and other tactics, but 56% of farmers reported being unable to fill all their jobs. The California Farm Bureau Federation conducted the survey in collaboration with the University of California, Davis.

Early cherry crop appears promising
After suffering through a small harvest a year ago, California cherry farmers say they expect a comeback crop this year. Cherry harvest is just beginning in the southern San Joaquin Valley and, as with many other crops this year, it’s running a little later than usual due to winter and early-spring weather. But the California Cherry Board says the new crop could match the harvest of two years ago, which was the largest in the previous 10 years.

Miniature tomato plants could grow in outer space
Developing plants that produce more fruit and less plant shows promise here on Earth, and could also feed future astronauts. Scientists at the University of California, Riverside, say they’re working with NASA on miniature tomato plants and other crops for the International Space Station. Researchers say they want to produce more tomato per plant—a concept that also applies to food grown in small plots or vertical, urban farms.

State regulation governs industrial hemp
Production of industrial hemp in California has moved closer, with approval of state regulations for farmer registration. The state Department of Food and Agriculture announced approval of the regulations Tuesday. Farmers who want to grow industrial hemp must register with a county agricultural commissioner. About two-dozen counties have placed moratoriums on hemp production until state rules have been finalized. Regulations for sampling and testing remain to be completed.

Volume 23, No. 41Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Illegal dumping scars farmland
Old mattresses, tires, sofas, appliances, household trash—all that and more gets dumped illegally on California farms. Some farmers say they have trash discarded on their property as often as weekly. Prosecutions for illegal dumping are rare. One Sutter County farmer has taken action by founding a grassroots citizens group to clear illegal dump sites. The group removed 72,000 pounds of trash in its first two cleanup days.

Blueberry season builds to annual peak
California-grown blueberries will soon begin reaching market in larger volumes, and farmers say they expect their crop to recover from the frost-damaged production of a year ago. As with many other crops, blueberry harvest has been delayed by cool, rainy weather earlier in the year. Peak season for California blueberries typically arrives in mid-May, and farmers say they expect to have plenty of fruit available.

Rising fuel prices affect farmers
As retail diesel fuel prices have climbed back to $4 a gallon, California farmers look for ways to adjust. Fuel prices tend to rise seasonally, but average diesel prices in the state stand about 18 cents a gallon higher than a year ago. That means farmers face higher costs to run equipment, and could also see prices rise for hauling crops or livestock to market. Some farmers say they may operate equipment less frequently in response to fuel costs.

USDA seeks student ideas to cut food waste
With a contest called “Ace the Waste,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture solicits ideas from students on how to reduce food waste. The USDA announced the first-ever contest Tuesday for students aged 11 to 18. The contest will offer prizes for ideas to prevent food waste, recover excess food to feed people, recycle food scraps to keep them out of landfills, and to raise awareness of the issue.

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.


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