Food & Farm News

Volume 21, No. 31Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Farmers welcome lifting of evacuation order

The Oroville Dam evacuation order brought logistical headaches to farmers and ranchers within the affected area—but little damage was reported. The evacuation order, which was lifted Tuesday, also disrupted operations at food-processing plants. Crops grown in the area include peaches, prunes, walnuts, almonds, olives, kiwifruit and rice. Cattle ranchers say their animals have been safe on high ground. 

Change in Shasta operations could cut supplies

Storage in California's largest reservoir, Shasta Lake, has swollen to 135 percent of average—but proposed constraints on water releases could reduce the amount available from the reservoir this summer. A federal agency recommends changing temperature-management guidelines for Shasta Lake to help salmon. Water agencies say the potential change could reduce supplies for food production, city use, wildlife refuges and other purposes. 

Wine exports post record value

The value of U.S. wine exports set a record last year, according to figures released Tuesday by the San Francisco-based Wine Institute. The group tallied wine exports valued at more than $1.6 billion, up slightly from the previous year. But the volume of wine exports declined about 10 percent, in part due to trade barriers imposed by other nations. About 90 percent of U.S. wine exports come from California. 

World Ag Expo opens 50th show

Tens of thousands of people converge on Tulare this week for an event billed as the largest of its kind. The World Ag Expo began its three-day run on Tuesday. Show organizers say the expo hosts 1,500 exhibitors who display new technology, equipment and services for farmers and ranchers. The event also features a variety of educational seminars, including a "listening session" on upcoming federal farm legislation. 

Volume 21, No. 30Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Valentine’s Day means brisk business for California floral sector

This year’s midweek Valentine’s Day, allowing for more at-work floral deliveries, will be a boon to the business, say California flower growers and wholesalers. Demand for all flower varieties is up, with a rising interest in locally and sustainably grown blooms buoying requests for California-grown alternatives to the traditional, but mostly foreign-grown, rose. Recent wet weather throughout California may put a squeeze on supplies, however. 

Study suggests grapes may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease

A recent University of California, Los Angeles, study suggests regular consumption of grapes may help protect against early decline in cognition associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Participants ate the equivalent of 2 1/4 cups of grapes each day for six months and demonstrated beneficial changes in brain metabolism, cognition and working memory performance. The study adds to the growing evidence of the beneficial role grapes may play in cardiovascular and neurologic health. 

U.S. production of pulses on track for record-breaking year

Strong exports and an increase in domestic demand have encouraged U.S. farmers to plant more pulses—dried beans, lentils and peas—with production of lentils and chickpeas set to reach a record high for the 2016-2017 marketing year. A growing interest in healthy snacks and gluten-free foods has increased American consumption of pulse products. Retail sales of chickpea-based hummus, for example, have exploded from less than $10 million in the 1990s to as much as $800 million in recent years. 

California cling peach growers seek to secure future of crop
California growers of cling peaches face a volatile future due to mounting challenges from increased employment costs and stiff price competition from China, Greece and Chile, according to the California Canning Peach Association. California grows nearly all the nation’s cling peaches, used mainly for canning and baby food. In a bid to secure the future of the crop, growers are turning increasingly to mechanized harvesting to lower employment costs, and are focusing on high quality and advocating for a “Buy American” provision for school-lunch program purchases to drive demand. 

Volume 21, No. 29Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Wolf protections prompt lawsuit

Saying the action was based on “flimsy evidence,” ranching groups have sued to overturn state protection for the gray wolf. The Pacific Legal Foundation filed the suit Tuesday on behalf of the California Cattlemen’s Association and California Farm Bureau Federation. The groups say the state Fish and Game Commission ignored healthy wolf populations elsewhere and undermined efforts to manage wolves entering California. 

Strong storms test reservoir operators 

As February begins following a month of above-average precipitation, reservoir managers review their response to the strong January storms. Many reservoirs had to release water before and during the storms, to make room for anticipated runoff, based on flood-control manuals for each facility. Groups representing water users say it’s crucial to capture as much water as possible during storms while maintaining flood protection. 

Rains help Southern California farms

In Southern California, January rains came as a relief to farmers whose crops have suffered from ongoing drought. Much of the region remains classified as drought-stricken, but farmers call the January storms “a godsend.” The rains did slow berry and citrus-fruit harvests, and delayed farmers from preparing fields for the season. Farmers who grow wheat without irrigation say the rains should provide enough soil moisture to justify planting. 

Court reviews Klamath water cutoff

A trial underway in Washington, D.C., will determine whether farmers along the California-Oregon border could be compensated for a water cutoff in 2001. Farmers in the Klamath Project saw their water supplies cut off by government agencies that reserved the water for protected fish. The farmers contend the shutoff represented a taking of their property, in the form of water rights—the question a federal court will consider in the current trial. 

Volume 21, No. 28Wednesday, January 25, 2017

CVP holds off on water-supply estimate

Even with a well above-average Sierra snowpack and rivers swollen by flood releases from reservoirs, federal water officials remain cautious about agricultural water supplies. Managers of the federal Central Valley Project say it’s too early to estimate whether farm customers in the San Joaquin Valley can expect more water than the 5 percent supply of last year. The CVP will make its first official projection of water supplies next month. 

Drying trend allows return to farm work

With much of California slated to dry out during the next few days, farmers will welcome the opportunity to return to work that has been delayed by the January storms. Orchard and vineyard farmers, for example, say offseason chores such as pruning have been postponed due to rain and mud. But most say they’ll gladly make the trade-off to replenish water supplies that have been lacking during recent dry years. 

Key season begins for beekeepers, farmers

About 1.8 million beehives are being moved into California orchards, in preparation for this season’s almond bloom. Bees will pollinate almond blossoms, which typically begin to appear in mid-February. Beekeepers from California and throughout the nation place hives in orchards in advance of the bloom. Almond farmers take steps to encourage bee health, such as planting bee-friendly crops in orchards to provide forage for the insects. 

Bill seeks greater enforcement of ‘buy American’ rule

Farm groups hope the Trump administration’s “buy American” ethic will pave the way for legislation to assure that school districts purchase American-grown food for the school lunch program. Rules require districts participating in the federal program to buy food from domestic sources, but provide options to bypass the requirement. The California Canning Peach Association and other groups back legislation to enhance enforcement of the buy-American rule. 

Volume 21, No. 27Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Southern California farmers hope for more rain

There’s rain forecast this week for many parts of Southern California, and that’s welcome news for farmers in the region. Whereas Northern California has seen powerful storms during January, rainfall totals to the south remain below average. Farmers in Santa Barbara County have had to prune some of their avocado trees down to stumps, due to lack of water. A farmer who grows wheat in northern Los Angeles County says he needs more rain to assure he can plant his crop. 

Flooded fields may not show damage for months

In areas of Northern California where rivers and streams have overflowed their banks, farmers assess the impact of flooding on their crops. In many cases, the possibility of damage will hinge on how long the crops remain under standing water. University of California farm advisors say flooded alfalfa fields may not show any damage for months. Advisors encourage farmers to inspect alfalfa fields carefully once they drain. 

Biologists study ways to help salmon

How best to use water to help protected fish remains a disputed topic, and a new study indicates one current method may have only limited benefit. The fishery consulting firm Fishbio says releasing water from reservoirs in prescribed “pulse flows” does not appear to stimulate salmon migration. The firm studied salmon in the Stanislaus River. It says other actions, such as installing a rock barrier in a specific location, appeared to do more good. 

UCSB focuses efforts against avocado pest

A tiny pest threatens big problems for avocado trees and for native trees alike. Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, say the “shot hole borer” has moved into the area around the campus. The pests bore into trees and carry a fungus that damages the trees. UC researchers say they want to learn if the pests are moving from native trees into avocado groves, and to learn more about how to control the pests.  

Volume 21, No. 26Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Rains bring farmland flooding

Heavy rains have flooded some Northern California vineyards, orchards and other farmland, but farmers say damage so far appears to be relatively small. Once the series of storms has ended, farmers say they’ll be better able to assess the full impact. Because deciduous trees and grapevines are dormant at this time of year, they can withstand short-term flooding. In fact, researchers continue to study intentional flooding of orchards to help replenish groundwater. 

Storms help snowpack recover

A week has made a big difference in the size of the Sierra Nevada snowpack. When the state Department of Water Resources conducted its manual survey last week, the statewide snowpack stood at 67 percent of average. Now, electronic readings put the snowpack well above average throughout the Sierra, and at 135 percent of average overall. Officials caution water supplies remain a concern despite the encouraging snowpack readings. 

Strawberry acreage to stay stable

Reversing a recent trend, California farmers are expected to plant slightly more strawberries this year. Strawberry acreage declined slightly in each of the previous three years, due to a variety of factors. The California Strawberry Commission says production has remained strong, due to favorable weather and the planting of new, higher-yielding strawberry varieties. California farms produce 90 percent of strawberries grown in the U.S. 

Meeting will focus on soil health

Healthy soil can help farms and ranches reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, and a “Soils Summit” in Sacramento Wednesday will focus on practical ways to incorporate soil-health practices. The summit, sponsored by state and federal agencies, will feature presentations from public and private-sector representatives. The state Department of Food and Agriculture says it plans to launch an initiative this year to help more farmers employ soil-health practices.         


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