Food & Farm News

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.

Volume 22, No. 45Wednesday, May 23, 2018

New vote to be held on farm bill
A second vote on federal farm legislation has been set for next month in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill failed passage last week amid disagreements on immigration policies and nutrition programs. Members of a California Farm Bureau delegation who visited Capitol Hill last week say they will continue to advocate for farm bill programs including those focused on research, conservation, rural development and promotion of agricultural trade.

Study computes economic impact of citrus production
Citrus-fruit production in California contributes more than $7 billion a year to the state’s economy, according to a study commissioned by the Citrus Research Board. The study computed the value of the fruit itself, the value of materials and services sold to citrus growers and packers, and the household spending of those employed in the citrus business. Citrus production also generates more than 21,000 full-time jobs.

Project looks at adding seaweed to cows’ feed
Under a theory being tested at the University of California, Davis, adding a hint of seaweed to cows’ feed could help reduce methane emissions from dairy farms. An animal-science professor at the university will demonstrate his project this week. The research tests how a small amount of seaweed in feed affects cows’ digestion, and also whether it has any impact on milk production and flavor. Early results from the study will be published next month.

Foothill farmers cultivate vegetable markets
In the foothills northeast of Sacramento, Nevada County farmers say they’re succeeding in finding pockets of land on which to grow vegetables. Farmers produce a variety of vegetable crops while coping with uneven terrain, thin soils and temperature extremes. But cooler summer temperatures allow growers to extend the season for lettuce and other greens. The farmers sell their crops at farmers markets and other direct-marketing outlets.

Volume 22, No. 44Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Mushroom growers face tough competition
A strong market for mushrooms in California is spawning an influx of imports from other states and Canada. Canadian producers in particular are benefiting from lower production costs and a favorable exchange rate. Some California growers, confronting this imbalance as well as a shortage of employees, are looking into mechanical harvesting of at least some of their crop.

More funds help farmers markets stay true
Farmers markets are buzzing this time of year with shoppers seeking locally grown, farm-fresh products. But how do you know what you’re buying is the real deal? Market regulators and operators say legislation passed in 2014 brought much-needed funds to boost market investigations and enforcement. California continues to lead the nation in the number of certified farmers markets, with 800 markets and 2,500 certified producers.

Indoor farming provides options for growers
Rising demand for local, high-quality food---and a year-round supply of it---is leading to an expansion of hydroponic greenhouses, urban vertical farms and other indoor crop-production systems. A new report on controlled-environment agriculture indicates it offers an important tool for meeting the world’s food needs. Farmers in all 50 states employ the technology.

On the dinner menu: Stress?
If the question, “What’s for dinner?” strikes terror in your heart, you’re not alone. A recent survey found that 62 percent of Americans say meal planning stresses them out, and 85 percent spend more than 30 minutes on dinner preparation daily. California ranks 20 out of the 25 most-stressed states.

Volume 22, No. 43Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Flower growers see sales blossom at Mother’s Day
If you’re in the flower business, this is your Super Bowl week. Mother’s Day leads to a surge in flower sales—and California flower growers and marketers say they’re ready. The California Flower Commission says it expects lilies, tulips, daisies and cut greens to be among the top sellers for the holiday. California leads the nation in flower production, most of which occurs in Southern California coastal regions.

Cherry harvest begins in San Joaquin Valley
Spring-like weather during winter, followed by wintry weather in the spring, conspired to reduce this year’s California cherry crop. Cherry harvest has begun in the southern San Joaquin Valley, with farmers reporting less fruit on their trees. Freezing temperatures at bloom appear to have had the biggest impact. Cherry growers say they expect a high-quality harvest, and that the season will continue through early June.

Study tracks walnuts’ health benefits
A new study shows how walnuts help improve people’s health. According to the University of Illinois, introducing walnuts into your diet improves health through the way walnuts affect microbes and bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. The study showed walnuts appeared to create higher abundance of three strains of beneficial bacteria. Researchers say they plan further study on the specific interactions involved.

USDA pledges to pursue solutions to food waste
Food waste and loss claims nearly 40 percent of the food supply, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture says it wants to bring new attention to the issue. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue convened a discussion in Washington Tuesday he said would be the first in a series of public events intended to coordinate response to food waste. Perdue suggested a “holistic approach” to unite a variety of individual initiatives aimed at reducing waste.

Volume 22, No. 42Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Commission considers water storage projects
In meetings this week, the California Water Commission will hear comments about the public benefits of water storage projects. The commission considers which projects will receive a share of storage funding from a water bond passed by California voters in 2014. Under the bond, projects receive scores according to the public benefits they would bring, and the water commission is scheduled to make decisions on those scores.

Weevil attacks Southern California palms
An invasive pest that attacks palm trees appears to be expanding its territory in Southern California. A University of California entomologist says the South American palm weevil can kill trees. The expert says the weevil appears “pretty widely established” in San Diego County and may have spread into southern Orange County. The pest has attacked landscape trees so far, and date growers say they want to prevent it from reaching their groves.

UC scientists refine knowledge of citrus disease
Researchers report learning more about how the fatal plant disease HLB affects citrus trees. Scientists at the University of California, Riverside, reported this week what they called an “important step” in learning how HLB infects plants. The lead researcher says she hopes the discovery will lead to “novel approaches” to combat HLB, which currently has no cure. In California, the disease has so far been confined to residential citrus trees.

USDA recaps nation’s vegetable production
On average, Americans had 388 pounds of vegetables available to them last year, according to an annual report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report says California accounted for 57 percent of the vegetables produced in the United States last year. Overall fresh-vegetable production declined slightly in the U.S. According to the report, unpredictable weather patterns hindered crop yields during 2017.

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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