Food & Farm News

Volume 23, No. 12Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Rice farmers expect good demand for new crop
Prospects for the new California rice crop look good, according to farmers as they see their harvests accelerate. Growers in the Sacramento Valley say they expect harvest to reach peak levels in the next two or three weeks. Rice marketers say they anticipate strong demand for the crop, noting that carryover stocks of California rice have been mostly depleted. California farmers will harvest rice from about 500,000 acres of land this year.

Projects aim to benefit ‘specialty’ crops
Dozens of California-based projects to promote the production and marketing of “specialty crops” will benefit from government grants announced Tuesday. The projects aim to benefit growers and consumers of specialty crops such as fruits, vegetables and nuts. The 83 new projects include programs to promote consumption and encourage access to specialty crops, to protect crops from pests and diseases, and to train new and current farmers.

Coalition seeks new federal urban-agriculture program
Pointing out the unique needs of farmers in urban and suburban regions, a coalition of agricultural and urban groups has urged Congress to include new urban-agriculture initiatives in the 2018 Farm Bill. A conference committee has been working to finalize the new farm-policy bill. Supporters of a proposed federal Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production say it could help foster food production in ways that would benefit cities and rural areas alike.

Central Valley farms provides fruit for Jewish holiday
Citrus fruit called the etrog citron fills an important part in commemorating the Jewish holiday of Sukkot—and a Central Valley farm has become the nation’s only known commercial producer of the fruit. Lindcove Ranch in Tulare County produces etrogs from a grove certified by rabbis and carefully monitored to assure the fruit remains kosher. Etrogs used during Sukkot—which begins at sundown Sunday—must be free of blemishes and have their stems intact.

Volume 23, No. 11Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Farm bill holds importance for California
As a September 30 deadline nears, House and Senate negotiators continue efforts to finalize a new five-year farm bill, which lays out federal agricultural and food policy. A California Farm Bureau analyst says many parts of the bill will be important for California, such as reauthorization of conservation, trade-promotion and rural-development programs. Both the House and Senate versions of the bill include language prioritizing research into agricultural mechanization.

Central Valley farms harvest cantaloupes, honeydews
Melon harvest has hit full stride in the Central Valley. Farmers say harvest of cantaloupes, honeydews and other melons began early this year. They say warm weather at the start of the season stimulated high sugar content in the melons and strong yields. California leads the nation in cantaloupe production, but farmers say development of new varieties in Southeastern states has brought new competition for California melons.

Grapevine research pursues disease resistance
If a grapevine comes down with the malady known as Pierce’s disease, a farmer’s only remedy is to remove the vine. But University of California researchers want to change that. Plant scientists at UC Davis say they are learning more about why certain grapevine varieties may be more or less susceptible to the bacterium that causes the plant disease. The ultimate goal is to breed grape varieties that will resist Pierce’s disease.

Specialists seek recognition for hay and forage crops
People don’t often think about the importance of hay and forage crops—and that’s a problem, according to specialists who study those crops. They say alfalfa, grassy hay and pasture crops “contribute greatly” to soil health, water quality, wildlife habitat and other ecosystem benefits. University specialists from California and New York say they worry the lack of recognition for forage could erode the crops’ environmental and economic contributions.

Volume 23, No. 10Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Tariff-assistance programs open
Applications opened Tuesday for federal programs aimed at easing the impact of retaliatory trade actions on American farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture developed the programs after other nations imposed tariffs on U.S. farm products as part of ongoing trade disputes. The USDA will make direct payments to certain affected farmers. For California, the main impact could come through government purchases of fruit and nut crops for food-aid programs.

Walnut marketers prepare for possible record crop
Tariffs affect the sales outlook for a potential record walnut crop, but the California Walnut Commission says it’s “cautiously optimistic” negotiations will resolve the issues. Crop forecasters estimate California farmers will harvest 10 percent more walnuts this year than last. The commission says retaliatory tariffs affect three top international walnut markets: China, India and Turkey. Ads encouraging walnut consumption in the U.S. will begin this month.

Foresters seek streamlined harvest reviews
Foresters hope to salvage some of the timber scorched by California wildfires, and say a streamlined review process for timber harvests would help. Bills sent to the governor would increase the pace of forest management. Foresters and their representatives say it’s important both to simplify the removal of burned trees and to manage forests to help prevent future fires—noting proper management would be less costly than constantly fighting wildfires.

Oversupply hits organic-milk markets
Faced with lower prices for organic milk, dairy farmers and processors are looking for ways to manage an oversupply. Organic-milk sales have cooled at the same time as higher supplies reach market. Some farmers have lost contracts to sell their organic milk and have left the business. Others say they plan to reduce their dairy herds and diversify into other crops or products.

Volume 23, No. 9Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Bank reports on impacts of employee shortages
Ongoing scarcity of farm employees threatens the rural economy and puts additional stress on the agricultural sector, according to a new report. The agricultural lender CoBank says the employee shortages have forced farm employers to raise wages at a faster rate, even though the prices they earn for their crops may not support the increases. Without a clear solution to the shortages in sight, the bank says, the problems will likely persist in coming years.

UC center to offer post-fire research
Hoping to salvage some good from significant wildfire damage, a University of California research center says it plans to offer its facility as a location for fire-related studies. About 3,000 acres of land in the Hopland Research and Extension Center in Mendocino County suffered damage in late July from the River Fire. The center says it plans a meeting next week into potential post-fire research on plants, soil, grazing practices and other topics. (reading time :24)

Strawberry production remains stable
Despite planting fewer acres, California strawberry growers should produce nearly as much fruit as a year ago. A new estimate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture says California strawberry production will be down 1 percent this year. California accounts for more than 90 percent of the nation’s strawberry harvest, with Florida ranking No. 2. The state’s leading strawberry-growing counties include Monterey, Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Santa Cruz.

Organic farmers earn national recognition
California farmers will be honored for national leadership in organic agriculture, during an event next month in Baltimore. Stephanie and Blake Alexandre of Crescent City will receive the Organic Farmer of the Year Award from the Organic Trade Association. They operate Alexandre Ecodairy Farm and bottle their own organic milk, plus raise poultry, eggs, pork and beef. Santa Cruz County farmer Javier Zamora will receive the Rising Star Award.

Volume 23, No. 8Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Water board holds hearing on river proposal
Farmers, elected officials and environmental representatives overflowed a Sacramento hearing room Tuesday to comment on plans to redirect water in Central California rivers. The State Water Resources Control Board proposes to dedicate more water to fishery restoration. Farmers and other Central Valley residents say the board proposal would not help fish but would punish people—a point they made at a rally at the state Capitol Monday.

Controversial “waters” rule returns in California
A disputed federal rule governing “waters of the United States” has come back to life in California and 25 other states. The rule would expand federal agencies’ jurisdiction over both water and land. A judge in South Carolina sided with environmental groups in partially reinstating the rule. On Tuesday, groups led by the American Farm Bureau asked the court to stay its ruling, pending appeal.

Study shows how agriculture boosts regional economy
One of every five jobs in Northeastern California can be linked to agriculture, according to a new study by California State University, Chico. The university’s Agricultural Research Institute says farm and ranch production adds more than $4.7 billion in economic activity in the 13-county region. The top crops grown in the northeastern region include almonds, walnuts and rice.

Almond snacking helps offset lack of breakfast
If you’re someone who regularly skips breakfast, a University of California study says a midmorning snack can help offset that—especially if the snack consists of almonds. UC Merced says many college freshmen miss breakfast, which can affect both health and academic performance. But a study showed that a group who snacked on almonds showed a variety of health benefits, even more so than a group who snacked on graham crackers.

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.

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

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