Food & Farm News

Volume 22, No. 12Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Rice harvest gains momentum
It’s a race against time and weather in California rice fields, as farmers work to harvest their crops before the onset of autumn rains. That prospect is more urgent than usual this year, because spring storms delayed rice planting. Hot summer weather helped the crop catch up a bit, but may also reduce yields from rice fields. The rice harvest will build momentum to a peak in early to mid-October.

Prune harvest shows significant recovery
In California prune orchards, farmers report a much-improved crop. The California Dried Plum Board says the harvest is winding down, with volumes recovering from weather-related challenges that cut production in recent years. The 2017 prune crop, at 105,000 tons, would be roughly twice what farmers harvested last year. California farms produce virtually all U.S.-grown prunes and about 40 percent of the world supply.

Experts study how wild bees affect pollination
Wild bees can help managed honeybees be more efficient at crop pollination, according to a University of California researcher. A UC Davis professor and team compared orchards that had wild bees with orchards that didn’t. They found the presence of wild bees helped honeybees to pollinate more flowers, leading to an improved crop set. They say that’s because native bees encourage honeybees to move more among rows of trees.

Kern becomes nation’s top agricultural county
The United States has a new No. 1 agricultural county, in terms of value of crops and commodities. Kern County reported its crop production for 2016 at more than $7.1 billion. It surpassed the previous top farm county, Tulare County, which reported its crop values Tuesday at nearly $6.4 billion. Top commodities in Kern County include grapes, almonds, citrus fruit, pistachios and milk.

Volume 22, No. 11Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Showers dampen raisin crops
Late-summer thunderstorms that passed through California have farmers checking their crops for potential impact. In Fresno County, farmers say raisins laid in vineyards to dry got caught in the rain. Farmers hope for breezes and warmer temperatures to help the raisins avoid damage and finish drying. It will take farmers a couple of weeks to assess the full effects of the storm.

Plant nurseries adjust to new trends
Changing trends affect California plant nurseries, which are working to adapt. Nursery operators say people appear to be devoting more of their leisure time to technology and less to gardening, and a number of independent retail nurseries have closed. The drought brought more attention to water-efficient and native plants. Nurseries say customers have shown more interest in raising homegrown produce, and in smaller plants for container or balcony gardens.

UC tests new methods to assure cow comfort
Keeping cows cool while saving energy and water: Those are the twin goals of a University of California research project. Specialists at UC Davis have been testing two ways to help dairy cows during hot weather. One involves use of cooling mats; the other uses fabric ducting to blow cool air. Researchers say each method could be more efficient than current techniques, but they plan more tests next summer.

Estimate shows a slightly smaller walnut crop
The California walnut crop could be the second-largest ever, according to a government estimate. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts California farmers will harvest 650,000 tons of walnuts this year, down about 5 percent from last year’s record crop. The report says record rains this past winter left some walnut orchards saturated for weeks, and summertime heat had forced growers to protect walnuts from sunburn.

Volume 22, No. 10Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Winegrape harvest accelerates
Quantity may be a bit lower but quality remains high for the California winegrape crop. Winegrapes are reaching maturity in vineyards across California. The consensus among farmers and wine executives is that yields will be slightly below average, but quality has been excellent. Farmers say cool, wet days during bloom appear to have reduced grape production. Growers have also been checking the impact of late-summer heat on their crops.

Pear growers report improved crops
Reports have been positive from California pear orchards, where farmers are wrapping up harvest. Pear growers describe both the size and the quality of their crops as much improved from last year. Hot weather brought smaller-sized fruit and sunburn in a few cases, but for the most part pears have done well this season. About two-thirds of California-grown pears will be canned, with most of the rest sold as fresh fruit.

Estimate shows impact of citrus tree disease
As citrus growers in Florida struggle with a devastating tree disease, California has for the first time in decades passed Florida in total citrus production. A government report shows California farmers sold nearly 4 million tons of citrus in the latest marketing year, compared to 3.5 million tons from Florida. The tree disease HLB has cut Florida citrus production. In California, the disease has been limited to backyard trees, so far.

Farmers explore the possibilities of pitahaya
A fruiting cactus known as pitahaya grows well in the mild climate of Southern California, and more farmers appear to be taking interest in growing the fruit. University of California specialists say the pitahaya fruit—sometimes marketed as “dragon fruit”—has become popular in Asia and the Middle East. They say the cacti can also make excellent landscape plants, and that pitahaya thrives in regions that produce avocados.

Volume 22, No. 9Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Storms hit Texas crops
The many impacts of Tropical Storm Harvey include damage to crops in southeastern Texas—including the cotton crop. American Farm Bureau market analysts say crop conditions “are likely to deteriorate” as a result of the storm. Texas leads the nation in cotton production, representing more than 40 percent of the U.S. crop. California ranks fifth, at about 5 percent, with most of its crop rated in excellent condition at last report.

Report indicates smaller tomato harvest
A new estimate shows the California tomato harvest coming in a little smaller than originally expected, and a little later than last year. The government report tracks processing tomatoes—those used for ketchup, salsa and other products. The report says the tomato crop will be about two and a half percent smaller than first estimated. Spring rains, and summer heat, have affected the crop, with shipments running 22 percent slower than last year.

Research focuses on strawberry improvements
They need to deliver high-quality fruit year-round, and strawberry farmers also need to protect their crops from disease in the soil. New research projects aim to improve strawberry plants and the soil in which they grow. The University of California, Davis, will concentrate on disease-resistant plants, while UC Santa Cruz focuses on how to combat soil-borne pathogens. California produces 91 percent of U.S.-grown strawberries, according to a new crop report.

Study links avocado consumption, improved cognition
Older adults who ate avocados showed increased memory, attention levels and processing speed, according to a new study. Scientists at Tufts University in Massachusetts say the improved cognition among study participants appears to be linked to a pigment within avocados called lutein. People in the study who ate avocados as part of a controlled diet had more lutein in their systems, and performed better in cognition tests.

Volume 22, No. 8Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Seasonal trends benefit dairy sales
If historic trends prevail, sales of milk and other dairy products will enjoy a seasonal boost this fall, as students return to school and holiday-related consumption accelerates. Market analysts say consumption of fluid milk often slumps in the summer but rebounds beginning in August. Products such as butter, cream and cheese will see increased sales in coming months, as buyers build inventory for the holidays.

Walnut study points to appetite control
If you feel less hungry after eating a few walnuts, there’s a reason: Scientists at a Boston hospital say walnuts activate a region of the brain involved in appetite control. People report feeling fuller after eating walnuts, and the new study helps to pinpoint the brain activity that triggers the response. Researchers say the findings could help them learn how other foods affect people’s ability to control their appetites.

Farmers assess NAFTA
When talks resume next month about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, farmers and ranchers will continue to press for policies that retain gains in agricultural trade among the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The California Farm Bureau says NAFTA has, on balance, been positive for California agriculture, although Mexican competition has hurt some crops. Canada is the No. 2 market for California farm exports, and Mexico ranks fifth.

Research aims to breed drought-resistant plants
The amount of wax on a plant’s leaves may offer a clue about how well the plant can withstand drought. A project by scientists from California and Texas examined wheat, and found that plants that survive in dry climates have higher concentrations of wax on their leaves. A professor from the University of Southern California says the findings will help plant specialists breed drought-resistant crops.

Volume 22, No. 7Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Landowner settles wetlands case
A landowner who had been accused of federal wetlands violations after plowing a Northern California wheat field settled with the government Tuesday, just before the penalty phase of his trial was to begin. The landowner, John Duarte, admitted no liability and agreed to pay a fine and to purchase environmental mitigation credits. Duarte’s attorneys said the charges against him illustrated a “significant ongoing threat” to farmers across the country.

Farmers gather state’s almond crop
Almond harvest has shifted into high gear in the Central Valley. Crop forecasters expect farmers to harvest more than 2 billion pounds of almonds during the next few weeks. Some farmers say their harvests have been running a week to 10 days behind schedule—likely related to weather earlier this year. Farmers use machines to shake the almonds off the trees, then sweep them up before the nuts are hulled and shelled.

Researchers propose new way to dry walnuts
Before walnuts reach market, they’re dried in processing plants around California. Researchers for the U.S. Department of Agriculture say they’ve found a way to dry walnuts more quickly and efficiently. The new process uses infrared light rather than hot air. USDA researchers say the technique could reduce energy costs for drying walnuts by 25 percent, and shorten drying time by 35 percent.

Estimate shows increased olive production
Improved conditions from favorable weather have led to an expected increase in California production of table olives. Government estimators say they expect the crop to increase 9 percent, compared to last year. Table olives are those sold for eating out of hand, rather than being made into oil. Most California-grown olives come from production areas in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys.

Volume 22, No. 6Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Researchers work to slow citrus disease
Hundreds of scientists are looking at every possible way to prevent a deadly plant disease from reaching California groves. A University of California researcher says one focus is to be able to detect the HLB disease earlier, which would help to slow its spread. HLB has hit citrus production in Florida but has been kept out of commercial California citrus, so far. It’s carried by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid.

California-grown apples reach market
The nation’s first fresh apples to reach market come from California, and farmers in the Central Valley say their crop has returned to a typical harvest schedule after two years in which it started unusually early. Gala-variety apples are the first to arrive, and farmers in the southern San Joaquin Valley started harvesting them last month. The other main commercial apple varieties grown in California include Granny Smith, Fuji and Pink Lady.

Grants support fruit and vegetable consumption
With the goal of encouraging fruit and vegetable consumption among recipients of food assistance, five California projects will share in federal grant money announced this week. The state Department of Food and Agriculture earned a grant for a statewide program to expand incentives for aid recipients to buy fresh produce at farmers markets. Other grants support similar incentive programs based in Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento and Woodland.

Food-price trends diverge
The cost of eating out has been rising faster than the cost of eating at home, according to a federal study. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the average cost for eating at home actually dropped slightly last year, due to lower crop prices and energy costs. But the average cost of eating away from home continued to rise, mainly due to increased wages and benefits earned by food-service employees.

Volume 22, No. 5Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Farm bill session to be held in Modesto
As part of its work to shape new federal farm legislation, the House Agriculture Committee will hold a listening session in Modesto this week. The Saturday session will gather comments from farmers, ranchers and other interested people. Congress plans to write a new farm bill next year, authorizing programs on conservation, research, nutrition and other aspects of agricultural and food policy.

Proponents write new water bond measures
Drought remains on Californians’ minds despite this season’s wet winter, and as many as four new bond proposals address continuing efforts to improve the state’s water system. Two of the proposals have been created in the state Legislature. The other two would need to qualify via signature drives. Each aims for the 2018 statewide ballot, and could build on the Proposition 1 water bond voters passed in 2014.

Tomato harvest picks up speed
They’ve faced challenges this season, and farmers who grow processing tomatoes say their harvest has gotten off to a slow but good start. Spring rains delayed tomato planting, then heat waves during the growing season further affected the crop. Farmers say their harvests have been starting later than they did last year. California leads the nation in production of processing tomatoes, which go into salsa, ketchup and other products.

Rice agreement opens new markets
The promise of new markets in China encourages California rice farmers. A trade agreement allows American rice to enter China, and California farmers say they may be uniquely suited to fit the market. For one thing, California is much closer to China than other rice-growing regions of the U.S. In addition, California farms specialize in growing high-quality, medium-grain rice that could fill a market niche in China.

Volume 22, No. 4Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Farmers offer aid to fire victims
As fire crews work to contain the Detwiler Fire in Mariposa County, farmers and ranchers in nearby counties offer aid to people in burned-out areas. County Farm Bureaus in Madera, Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties have issued calls to action to their members to help haul or house livestock displaced by the fire. The county Farm Bureaus are also accepting donations of feed for livestock and household items for people.

Citrus disease-fighting program to continue
A cooperative effort to fight a fatal disease of citrus trees has earned extension. California agricultural authorities decided to continue the program after hearing from citrus growers and packers. The program coordinates response to the plant disease HLB, which can be carried by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid. HLB has ravaged Florida citrus trees but has so far been confined to backyard trees in California.

Research points to natural pest control
In research they say could lead to new natural management of crop and garden pests, scientists at the University of California, Riverside, have learned more about how microscopic worms called nematodes attack insects. Some nematodes feed on insects, and the UC research showed how they find new insect hosts. The scientists say the findings could eventually lead to biological insecticides to protect plants including oranges, tomatoes and peaches.

Drone helps specialist create ‘virtual orchards’
“Virtual orchards” created through use of a drone are helping researchers learn how best to care for trees—and could ultimately help farmers improve their management efforts. A University of California Cooperative Extension expert uses the drone to take specialized photos of orchards that show information invisible to the human eye. Analyzing the photos can help farm advisors judge an orchard’s health, and better manage water and fertilizer use.

Volume 22, No. 3Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wildfires scorch rural land
Rural landscapes around California continue to suffer, as wildfires affect many parts of the state. Cattle ranchers in the area of the Detwiler fire in Mariposa County moved quickly to protect livestock, and said they had lost feed and fencing to the flames. Winegrape growers near the Alamo fire on the Central Coast say their grapes appear to have come through that fire without suffering from smoke damage.

Farmers list NAFTA goals
As the Trump administration outlines its objectives in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, farmers and ranchers say they want to be sure NAFTA continues to expand agricultural trade with Canada and Mexico. The American Farm Bureau says the agreement has benefited U.S. farmers. Among its priorities for a modernized NAFTA, Farm Bureau seeks improvements on exports of fruits, vegetables, wine, dairy products and other farm goods.

Study predicts increased U.S. meat consumption
More production of red meat and poultry will likely lead to greater consumption, according to projections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA predicts increased consumption of pork, beef, chicken and turkey in the coming year. The forecast says U.S. production of each of those meats will rise in 2018, and that imports will add to the available supply. The report predicts lamb supplies will decline slightly.

Agricultural Heritage Club to expand
Longevity in agricultural production and representation will be recognized during an event at the California State Fair Wednesday. The fair will induct 21 farms, ranches and agricultural businesses into the California Agricultural Heritage Club, which recognizes 100 or more years of continuous operation. The new Heritage Club members will include eight county Farm Bureaus from around the state.

Volume 22, No. 2Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Fresh peaches see rising demand
Demand for California-grown fresh peaches has increased this year. Farmers say that’s in part because they have a better crop than peach growers in other parts of the country, where weather problems hurt yields. A preseason crop forecast projected California production of fresh, freestone peaches would grow about 13 percent this season. Production of canning-variety peaches is also expected to rise.

UC tests avocado production in San Joaquin Valley
Nearly all California avocados come from regions near the Southern California coast, but University of California specialists are testing varieties that could thrive in the San Joaquin Valley. Test plantings are underway in three places. Finding avocados that produce well in interior locations would allow avocado marketers to extend the season for California-grown fruit.

Farmers express concern on electric-rate proposals
Proposed changes in time-of-use electric rates could pose challenges for California farmers. Utilities have asked to revise their peak and off-peak times, when electricity prices rise or fall. Farmers and their representatives say changes could disrupt irrigation schedules and other agricultural operations. Three hearings will be held in July and August on a Pacific Gas & Electric Company rate proposal.

Heat wave could affect butter production
Butter production could eventually be affected by the June California heat wave: That’s the conclusion of an American Farm Bureau market analysis. Cows typically produce less milk—and less milkfat—during hot weather. The analysis says that could ultimately affect the amount of butter produced in California, which accounts for about 30 percent of the nation’s production. But it’s unknown whether any impact would be noticeable at the grocery store.

Volume 22, No. 1Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Sierra snowmelt appears to have peaked
Even though there’s plenty of snow in the Sierra and plenty of warm weather ahead, state officials say they believe the annual snowmelt has peaked, and should now decline. Central Valley farmers and other landowners have coped with flooding that resulted from the record-setting June heat wave. A state flood-operations specialist says the June heat caused snowmelt runoff to peak, and that any future peaks should be smaller.

Vegetable harvest recovers
After a slow start caused by late-season rain that delayed planting, Salinas Valley vegetable farmers say the 2017 growing season has recovered. Prices rose this spring for lettuce, broccoli, spinach and other vegetables, but have now settled back to levels similar to a year ago. To improve efficiency and maintain their production for the long term, Salinas Valley farmers say they’re employing automated planting machines and other new technology.

Fruit, vegetable consumption improves
Americans continue to eat more fruits and vegetables, though consumption remains below what the government recommends in its dietary guidelines. A U.S. Agriculture Department report compared food trends from 1970 and 2014. It found that fruit and vegetable consumption has increased during that period. But Americans eat only about two-thirds of the recommended amount of vegetables, and less than half the recommended fruit.

State’s field-crop acreage increases
Slightly more field-crop acreage has been planted in California this year, according to government estimates. A new report shows field-crop acreage up about 2 percent in California, though acreage declined slightly nationwide. The report estimates California farmers have planted more corn, cotton, barley, sunflowers and potatoes this year, but they decreased acreage of rice, wheat and oats.


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