Food & Farm News

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.

Volume 22, No. 41Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Cattle ranchers report improved rangeland condition
Green grass on California pastures encourages cattle ranchers, who say late winter and spring rains will help them rebuild their herds. Many ranchers reduced their herds during the state’s multi-year drought, and feared they might have to make further reductions before late winter and spring rains revived grasses. Ranchers say they will also need to monitor availability of drinking water for cattle on mountain rangeland during the coming summer.

Water projects raise supply allocations
The late surge of precipitation in California has led to improved water supplies, though reservoir managers remain conservative. The State Water Project said Tuesday it has increased supplies to 30 percent of customers’ requests, up from the previous 20 percent. The federal Central Valley Project had earlier announced it would raise allocations to 40 percent for agricultural customers south of the delta, and provide full supplies for northern customers.

Farmers monitor once-flooded farmland
Farmers whose orchards and vineyards flooded during the heavy rains of 2017 report mixed results as they monitor their land a year later. One Sacramento County farmer who lost walnut trees due to riverbank seepage says he has planted safflower on the land to help it recover before planting new trees. A San Joaquin County farmer whose young almond trees drowned has replaced them with grapes, and says a mature vineyard that flooded appears to have recovered fine.

Report outlines impact of Chinese tariffs
California has been one of the main states affected by Chinese tariffs on agricultural products, according to a new report. China imposed the tariffs earlier this month in a dispute about U.S. tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. The organization Farmers for Fair Trade says California products such as tree nuts, wines, oranges and grapes will be affected. The report will be discussed at a news conference scheduled Thursday at a Lodi-area winery.

Volume 22, No. 40Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Congress begins work on new farm bill
With the House Agriculture Committee scheduled to begin work on a new farm bill Wednesday, California farmers and ranchers will monitor how the bill affects key conservation, research and other programs. Congress plans to update current federal farm and nutrition policy that expires at the end of September. The California Farm Bureau says the bill has widespread effects on food production, stewardship and on jobs in both rural and urban areas.

Nurseries report strong demand for plants
March rains kept many Californians out of their gardens, and that has meant a surge of business this month at plant nurseries. Nursery operators say development of some plants has been slowed by the inconsistent winter and spring weather, but that demand has been good—especially for plants that can thrive on less water. One nursery operator says he’s seen demand for succulents grow from 2 percent of his inventory to 30 percent.

Rice farmers report smoother planting season
This is the season when Sacramento Valley farmers prepare rice fields for planting, and they report a smoother season than they had a year ago—when a number of fields were still flooded from heavy rains. That forced farmers to leave some fields unplanted last year. This year, people in the rice business expect more rice acreage to be planted, although government estimates indicate the acreage will be about the same as a year ago.

UC tests organic bean varieties
Looking for high performance in organic production systems, graduate students at the University of California, Davis, have planted test varieties of a number of beans. The test plots feature pinto, black and kidney beans, plus heirloom varieties. In order to be successful in organic production, a project leader says, the beans have to grow fast enough to out-compete weeds. The students hope to have varieties available for commercial production in two years.

Volume 22, No. 39Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Farmers wait to see if water supplies improve
With reservoirs at or above average levels and the Sierra snowpack improved by storms in March, farmers await word on whether their water supplies might improve. Most farm customers of federal and state water projects have been told to expect 20 percent allocations. Operators of both projects say they’re trying to determine if late-season storms could allow them to provide more water. Farmers say that might let them increase crop plantings.

Exporters consider effects of Chinese tariffs
Long-term efforts to build sales of California farm goods in China may suffer from the ongoing trade dispute between China and the U.S. Exporters of nuts, wine and fruit crops that now face new tariffs in China say they have been renegotiating contracts with their buyers there. Some products originally destined for China may be redirected to other locations, and exporters say competing products from other countries may now secure a larger foothold in China.

Almond farmers watch for frost impact
One farmer says he has his “fingers crossed” as he monitors his Sacramento Valley almond orchards. The extent of damage from a February freeze remains uncertain. Farmers and agricultural commissioners say the effect appears to vary greatly, depending on location, tree variety and other variables. In some cases, farmers may not know the full impact until close to harvest time. The first government estimate of the almond crop will be released next month.

Grape growers gear up for new season
California-grown table grapes will begin reaching stores next month, and marketers say they’re preparing plans to promote the crop to customers in the U.S. and abroad. The California Table Grape Commission says about two-thirds of the state’s table grapes go to the domestic market, with the rest shipped to customers in 59 countries around the world. California farmers sold more than 109 million boxes of table grapes last year.

Volume 22, No. 38Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Water officials discuss impact of March storms
Despite rain and snow in March, water supplies for Central Valley farmers may not change much. Representatives of federal and state water systems spoke to the State Board of Food and Agriculture Tuesday. Most farmers on both systems have been told to expect 20 percent of contract water supplies. The State Water Project may increase its allocation slightly, but operators of the federal Central Valley Project said they’re analyzing data to see if it will follow suit. (on-air reading time :24)

Work in Riverside labs helps protect citrus trees
As California citrus farmers work to fend off a tree-killing disease, a key part of the effort takes place in laboratories in Riverside. There, experts check citrus plant material to assure that newly planted trees don’t spread the fatal tree disease HLB. The disease, carried by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid, has ravaged citrus groves in Florida and elsewhere, but has been kept out of California groves so far. (reading time :24)

Strawberry consumption sets record
Americans eat more strawberries than ever, according to new figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA reports that Americans ate about 10.3 pounds of strawberries per person last year—a record. About 80 percent of those were fresh strawberries, and the rest frozen. California farms produce more than three-quarters of U.S.-grown strawberries, and harvest will intensify through the spring and summer.

Online, published resources aim to cut food waste
A new effort to reduce food waste features online tips and a published “bookazine.” The American Farm Bureau and its partners announced Tuesday the launch of a “No Taste for Waste” campaign. A website and social media feeds provide resources and recipes intended to help reduce household food waste, and to describe how farmers and ranchers fight food loss. The “bookazine,” titled “Waste Less, Save Money,” will appear on newsstands this month.

Volume 22, No. 37Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Snowpack improves but remains low
March storms have more than doubled the water content of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, although levels remain far below average. Electronic sensor readings show the snowpack at 58 percent of average as of Tuesday, up from only 23 percent on March 1. During that same period, the water content of the snow has gone from an average of 6 inches to 16 inches. Most reservoirs remain at or near their average storage levels, thanks to rains from a year ago.

California avocado harvest accelerates
They’ve had an offseason marked by wildfires, mudslides and freezes in some areas, but California avocado growers still expect a larger crop this season. The California Avocado Commission estimates the crop at 375 million pounds, up from 215 million a year ago. Farmers say they have started their harvest by “size picking”: harvesting the larger avocados and leaving the smaller fruit on the tree to continue to grow.

Scientists study how citrus psyllid spreads tree disease
Researchers report another small step forward in finding a way to protect citrus trees from a fatal tree disease. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says scientists have learned more about how the bacterium that causes the disease enters the insect that carries it, the Asian citrus psyllid. The chairman of the California Citrus Research Board says learning more about how the disease moves could eventually help reduce its threat to citrus groves.

Farm Bureau surveys retail food prices
A springtime survey of retail food prices shows a slight increase from a year ago. The American Farm Bureau Federation says its informal survey finds average prices for a basket of 16 food items rose 2 percent. Heading into Easter, egg prices increased 37 percent compared to a year earlier, offsetting declines in the average prices for milk, bread, chicken breasts, apples and other foods.

Volume 22, No. 36Wednesday, March 21, 2018

California celebrates Agriculture Day
Hundreds of people braved a light rain to gather outside the state Capitol in Sacramento Tuesday for celebrations commemorating National Agriculture Day. The event focused on the environmental stewardship shown by the state’s farmers and ranchers. Coinciding with the first day of spring, Agriculture Day highlights the value of agriculture’s contributions to people’s daily lives. Agriculture Week celebrations will be held throughout the week in many parts of the state and nation.

Recovery from Thomas Fire could take years
More than three months after the Thomas Fire ripped through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, farmers and ranchers continue to assess the long-term impacts. Avocado farmers say some fire-blackened trees have started to put out new growth, leading to hope they may recover. Cattle ranchers within the fire zone say it will take years for their herds and grazing land to recover fully. A lemon grower says Santa Ana winds caused more problems than the fire did.

California-grown asparagus reaches market
The state’s remaining asparagus farmers hope shoppers will look for California-grown asparagus in markets before Easter. Asparagus acreage in the state has declined during the past 20 years, in large part due to lower-cost competition from Mexico. But California farmers still grow about 7,000 acres of asparagus, mainly along the Central Coast, in the San Joaquin Delta and the Central Valley. Harvest will continue through mid-May.

Report shows gaps in agricultural science teaching
A study issued Tuesday points to gaps in training students for careers in agricultural science. The National 4-H Council and Bayer surveyed teachers and parents. Most respondents said they consider agricultural science important. But many high school science teachers said they don’t feel qualified to teach agricultural science. An earlier federal study showed demand from agriculture-science employers greatly outweighs the number of qualified graduates available.

Volume 22, No. 35Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Sheep ranchers report strong lamb market
Easter remains the biggest time for American lamb consumption, but the holiday doesn’t have much influence into when California ranchers market their lambs. Most California-grown lambs are born in the fall and marketed after Easter, with many being sold directly to restaurants and other customers. Both ranchers and marketers report strong demand for California lamb this year.

Projects aim to benefit honeybees
Research to improve honeybee health includes a multi-year project at the University of California, San Diego. Scientists have been testing a way to immunize bees against a fungus known as Nosema. If successful, the researchers say, the tests could lead to a new way to treat honeybee fungal diseases. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced an international project to seek new controls for a honeybee parasite called varroa mite.

Rat problems emerge in orchards
It seems to be a good year for rats in California orchards and fields, according to a University of California specialist—and that means farmers have been taking extra control measures to protect crops. UC farm advisors say they’ve spotted roof rats in Central Valley orchards. In rural settings, the rats often burrow into the ground, then climb trees at night. Farmers have used bait stations tied to tree limbs as a control method.

Imports of apparel, textiles set record
The expanding U.S. economy boosted demand for clothing, which led to record apparel and textile imports. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports growth in athletic and leisure wear has increased demand for synthetic fibers, so synthetics accounted for half of the import total. Cotton products made up more than 40 percent of the imports. The report says overall cotton consumption in the U.S. remained virtually unchanged last year.

Volume 22, No. 34Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Agricultural exporters watch metal-import dispute
Farmers have a lot on the line in discussions about potential U.S. tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, according to an analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation. If the U.S. imposes the tariffs and steel-producing nations retaliate, farmers worry agricultural products could be affected. The analysis says about one-third of California farm exports go to aluminum-producing countries, and nearly 45 percent go to steel-producing countries.

Farmers and ranchers visit state legislators
More than 150 farmers and ranchers from around California gathered in Sacramento Tuesday to visit legislators and discuss pertinent issues during the annual California Farm Bureau Federation Leaders Conference. Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson told the group their voices are needed to reinforce issues important to rural California. The farmers and ranchers then conducted dozens of legislative visits at the state Capitol.

Collaborative salmon projects show promise
Cooperative projects to benefit salmon are proving helpful in recovering fish, according to participants in the projects. Farmers, researchers, agencies and organizations report positive results from ecosystem improvements that address challenges salmon face. The numerous projects include efforts to grow food for salmon in flooded rice fields and to create salmon refuges by lowering large tree trunks and root wads into the Sacramento River.

Research promises to boost water efficiency
Saying their work could lead to increases in agricultural water efficiency, scientists announced Tuesday they have been able to regulate a plant protein that controls photosynthesis. The team, including researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, says increasing the protein in plants allows them to grow more efficiently, and thrive on 25 percent less water. Researchers say the plants used less water without “significantly sacrificing” yield.

Volume 22, No. 33Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Extent of freeze losses remains to be determined
They know their crops have suffered damage from several days of freezing temperatures, but almond farmers say the extent of losses from the cold weather likely won’t be known for months. The freeze of the past week occurred throughout the Central Valley as almond trees bloomed. Farmers say that means some of the blossoms won’t create nuts. But the full impact may not be known until harvest time this summer, and observers say it may vary greatly from orchard to orchard.

Farmers, farm employees seek immigration reform
Pursuing the goal of a flexible, practical agricultural immigration program, California farmers and employees have traveled to Washington, D.C., this week to meet with members of Congress. The California Farm Bureau Federation, which sponsored the trip, says it aims to emphasize the importance of partnerships between farmers and employees. Farm organizations have been advocating with Congress for a workable solution for people who want to enter the U.S. to fill agricultural jobs.

Agriculture secretary visits Southern California
For the second time this month, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue visits California. Perdue is scheduled to speak to the Commodity Classic agricultural conference in Anaheim on both Wednesday and Thursday. His visit also includes a meeting with U.S. Forest Service rangers and employees, and a tour of parts of the Angeles National Forest damaged by the Creek Fire last December. Perdue visited Central California two weeks ago.

Organic berry sales trend upward
Americans show a growing demand for organic berries, according to an analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation. Citing data from both government and private sources, Farm Bureau economists say sales of organic produce generally have continued to increase—but sales for strawberries and blueberries in particular have trended upward. The analysis says sales of domestically grown and imported organic berries have shown sharp increases.


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