Food & Farm News

Volume 22, No. 16Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Farmers work to evaluate effect of wildfires
With firefighters working to contain the severe wildfires in Northern California, farmers and ranchers are beginning to assess the impact on their crops, livestock, land and buildings. Most say it will take some time to gauge the complete impact. Grape growers say that although some vineyards have burned, others have come through the fires with little or no damage. One farmer says vines singed by fire should recover, once they’re pruned this winter.

Survey reveals ongoing farm employee shortages
Chronic problems in finding and hiring qualified people continue on California farms and ranches, according to a survey released Tuesday by the California Farm Bureau Federation. The informal survey showed more than half of responding farmers have experienced employee shortages this year. The figure was higher among farmers who employ people on a seasonal basis: Nearly 70 percent have seen shortages, despite higher wages and other actions.

New law will encourage purchase of California-grown food
State agencies and institutions that buy food would be encouraged to buy California-grown products, under legislation signed by Governor Brown. The measure by Assembly Member Anna Caballero of Salinas will require state agencies buying agricultural products to purchase from California, as long as the quality is equal and the price is within 5 percent of the lowest bid. School districts will have to buy California-grown if the price is equal.

Pumpkin growers say weather has delayed harvest
It’s a race to the finish for California pumpkin growers, whose crops have been slow to mature due to spring rains and summer heat. Virtually all of the state’s pumpkins are marketed fresh for Halloween, and farmers say they have seen crop delays as a result of the weather. Although it’s been a “tough year” because of that, growers say they’re confident there will be plenty of California-grown jack-o’-lanterns on the market.

Volume 22, No. 15Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Wildfires damage farms, ranches
Because wildfires continue to burn in Northern California and communication in rural areas remains spotty, it will take some time for farmers and officials to assess the full extent of agricultural damage. In Mendocino County, for example, the county Farm Bureau says some vineyards have burned, some have been singed and some are undamaged. Winegrape harvest had nearly ended in part of the fire-damaged area, but was continuing in other parts of the region.

Farm groups focus on trade talks
With negotiations on reworking the North American Free Trade Agreement due to resume in Washington Wednesday, the American Farm Bureau joined in a grassroots campaign to underscore the importance of trade for the rural economy. Farm Bureau announced it is joining a coalition called Farmers for Free Trade, which aims to mobilize rural residents in favor of trade agreements. Farm Bureau says 20 percent of U.S. farm income stems from agricultural exports.

Trends point to lower turkey prices
Early indications point to the potential for lower turkey prices for the holiday season. American Farm Bureau analysts say farmers across the nation have been building turkey flocks, and that wholesale prices for whole birds have been well below average for most of the year. California ranks eighth in the nation in turkey production. Most California-grown whole turkeys will be sold fresh, rather than frozen.

Sweet potato harvest hits full stride
If you've ordered sweet potato fries recently, farmers in California's main sweet potato-growing region say you've contributed to an uptick in demand. Harvest is well underway in Merced County, which accounts for about 90 percent of the state's sweet potato production. Farmers there say they hope their crop will ultimately come close to matching last year's in volume. North Carolina leads the nation in sweet potato production, with California ranking second.

Volume 22, No. 14Wednesday, October 4, 2017

State moves to improve weather forecasts
As a new “water year” begins, state officials say they want to be better able to predict when atmospheric-river systems will drench California with heavy precipitation. The state Department of Water Resources said Tuesday it will work with government and academic researchers to improve long-range weather forecasts. DWR said current seven-day forecasts are 70 percent accurate, but 14-day forecasts have only 7 percent accuracy.

Farmers respond to Medfly quarantine
For any fruit or vegetable farmer, the nearby discovery of Mediterranean fruit flies threatens severe disruptions. Quarantines meant to keep the pest from spreading can prevent farmers from selling their crops. A Medfly quarantine has been imposed in Solano County in recent days. But one Fairfield-area farmer says he’ll be able to sell his persimmons outside the zone, because he treated them pre-emptively on the assumption a quarantine would be enacted.

Baby lima beans fulfill Japanese markets
While they finish their harvest of baby lima beans, California farmers will be keeping their eyes on Japan. That’s because most of the beans they produce will ultimately be sold there. Japanese manufacturers use California-grown baby lima beans to make a sweet bean paste that’s a key ingredient in traditional confections. In any given year, half to three-quarters of California baby lima beans will be exported to Japan.

Study shows how wine benefits economy
Growing grapes and making and marketing wine add nearly $220 billion to the U.S. economy, according to a study from a vintners association. The group WineAmerica says the wine business supports 1.7 million jobs around the nation. As the leading grape-growing and wine-making state, California sees the highest economic benefit from wine. But the study says there are winery facilities in all 50 states.

Volume 22, No. 13Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Tomato harvest may fall short of estimates
Spring rains and summer heat have combined to reduce the California tomato harvest. Farmers say the wet spring delayed planting, and hot summer temperatures brought stress to tomato plants. As a result, a growers group expects the harvest of processing tomatoes will be 1 million tons smaller than estimated by a government survey. California farms grow most of the nation’s processing tomatoes, which are used for sauce, ketchup and other products.

California leads in organic agriculture
More than 1 million acres of California farmland have now been certified for organic production, according to an annual government report. It says California continues to lead the nation in the number of certified-organic farms, acreage and value of organic sales. The state saw increases in the amount of organic cropland and grazing land during 2016, and sales of organic products from California represented nearly 40 percent of the national total.

Research aims at heat-tolerant broccoli
Most of the broccoli grown in the U.S. comes from coastal areas of California, because broccoli thrives in cool weather. Plant researchers want to expand the areas where broccoli can grow, by breeding plants that tolerate higher temperatures. U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists in South Carolina say they have identified genetic markers that help broccoli resist heat. They’re growing trial plantings of heat-tolerant broccoli in Southeastern states.

Survey shows small rise in food prices
A seasonal survey of retail food prices shows a slight increase compared to a year ago. The American Farm Bureau Federation says its fall marketbasket survey of 16 retail food items showed prices up about 3 percent. Bacon, chicken breasts, orange juice and flour were among the items showing higher average prices. The survey found lower prices for bagged salad, ground chuck, eggs and potatoes.

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.


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