Food & Farm News

Volume 21, No. 49Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Farmers monitor effects of heat wave
Record high temperatures will have implications for California farms, but the full impact won’t be known until after the heat wave breaks. Farmers implement heat-safety protocols to protect themselves and their employees on hot days. Growers of grapes, walnuts, tomatoes and other crops say they’re monitoring their crops carefully for signs of sunburn or stress. Farmers provide crops with additional irrigation to help them withstand the heat.

Livestock, poultry owners protect their animals
To keep livestock and poultry as comfortable as possible during heat waves, farmers and ranchers provide shade, cooling mist, well-ventilated barns and plenty of fresh water. Dairy farmers say cows tend to produce less milk during hot days, even when under shade and misters. Poultry producers say they adjust their birds’ diet during the summer but the birds still eat less, meaning they take longer to reach market weight.

Walnuts, other foods may help in appetite control
Eating foods such as walnuts, salmon and canola oil may help people control their appetites, according to new research. Walnuts, salmon, tuna and other foods feature polyunsaturated fats. The study indicated that eating foods rich in polyunsaturated fats may change appetite hormones, so people feel fuller for longer. The California Walnut Commission helped pay for the study.

Program certifies farms that help pollinators
A new nationwide program will certify farmers whose growing methods benefit bees. Known as “Bee Better Certified,” the program judges the amount and quality of bee habitat farms create, and their use of pollinator-friendly pest-management strategies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided a grant for a pilot program in Oregon, and used the occasion of National Pollinator Week to announce the program’s nationwide availability.

Volume 21, No. 48Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Spring weather affects blueberry harvest
The cool, rainy spring complicated the California blueberry harvest. Farmers say spring weather delayed harvest by up to 10 days, causing California blueberries to be short on the market at a time of high demand. But reduced crops in other states helped California farmers win markets. Blueberry production in the state has grown the past decade, and marketers say demand for the California-grown crop continues to expand.

Cherry harvest increases
Volumes of California-grown cherries on the market have shown a sharp increase this year, according to a government estimate. The report says California cherry farmers expected “the best crop in recent years” after several seasons of drought and low yields. The estimate pegged the California crop at 99,000 tons, up 65 percent from last year. Washington leads the nation in cherry production, and also expects a larger crop.

Grants benefit farm-to-school programs
Ten California-based farm-to-school programs will benefit from grants awarded this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Oakland Unified School District says it will use its grant to “dramatically increase” the amount of local food served in school meals. Other districts will start “farm to school action plans.” A Fresno-based project will hold fruit-and-vegetable taste-testing events for schoolchildren.

Report notes ‘supply gap’ in organic produce
Demand for organic produce has been expanding faster than production, leading to a “supply gap” analysts believe could continue for several years. A report from the agricultural lender CoBank says it takes three to five years for farmers to transition crops to organic status. That can lead to a lag in fulfilling new demand for organic crops. The report says food companies and retailers have increased imports of organic produce to meet demand.

Volume 21, No. 47Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Researchers hone drone use on farms
As they learn more about how unmanned aircraft can be used on farms, researchers also work to make drones more practical for gathering and analyzing agricultural data. A University of California farm advisor says, for example, drones can help farmers tell if trees suffer from water stress, but software needs to be perfected to make data easier to interpret. Several California universities are working on agricultural drone projects.

Flood damage in California orchards still being tallied
The extent of flood damage to Northern California orchards may not be known for months—perhaps years. Farm advisors are still finding signs of waterlogging in orchards affected by levee seepage and a collapsed riverbank. One orchard near Elk Grove, flooded in February, didn’t drain until early May; the farmer lost a third of his walnut trees.

Wet winter contributes to larger bean crop
More garbanzos, limas and other beans should be coming from California fields this year. Farmers have increased their bean acreage by 10 percent, compared to a year ago. The state’s wet winter receives part of the credit. Beans can be planted later in the spring than other crops, so farmers whose ground was too muddy to plant corn or other crops have substituted beans instead.

Prune crop rallies after lackluster year
Fans of prunes—also known as dried plums—can anticipate plentiful supplies. California farmers grow nearly all the nation’s crop, and a government forecast of 105,000 tons for this year’s harvest is more than double the 51,000 tons produced last year. Farmers report favorable growing conditions, resulting in more, and bigger, fruit.

Volume 21, No. 46Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Olive growers say crop could be large
An official estimate remains a couple months away, but Northern California farmers and canners say they’re optimistic about the table-olive crop. Olive trees bloomed during May, and growers report the potential for a large crop. The California Olive Committee estimates table olives will be produced on 27,000 acres in the state. Olives grown for oil now cover about 38,000 acres, according to the California Olive Oil Council.

Farmers play catch-up on crop planting
Lingering effects of California’s wet winter can be seen in a government crop report issued Tuesday. Wet fields delayed crop planting. The report says less than three-quarters of the California cotton crop has been planted, whereas planting would be nearly finished by now in a typical year. California rice farmers have nearly caught up on their planting, according to the report, but emergence of the planted rice remains slower than average.

Projects aim to enhance plant health
California-based projects to improve crop production have received a boost through grants announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Projects at California universities include enhancing the vitamin A content of wheat; developing lettuce varieties that resist plant diseases; and studying how soil health helps plants cope with drought and heat waves. In all, seven California projects qualified for the grant funding.

Funds benefit biomass energy plans
With a goal of reducing hazardous fuels from national and private forests, the U.S. Forest Service says it will provide matching funds to aid use of wood as an energy source and building material. Among seven California projects to benefit from the funds is one to develop a biomass heating system for schools in Quincy. Another project would create a plant to turn wood into electricity at a former sawmill site in Yuba County.

Volume 21, No. 45Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Budget proposal reduces farm and food spending
Discussions of federal spending on food and agricultural initiatives has opened, with the release of the Trump administration budget proposal. The plan proposes a $228 billion reduction in federal farm and nutrition spending over 10 years. The American Farm Bureau Federation expressed concern about the proposal, and said it will ask Congress to maintain programs that are vital to farmers and rural communities.

Pest increases following wet winter
The wet winter in California has helped a pest establish a greater foothold in coastal berry fields. A University of California farm advisor says he’s seen an “uptick” in light brown apple moth damage. Rainy weather prevented farmers from entering their fields to treat against the moth, and the pest took advantage. Discoveries of the light brown apple moth make it more difficult for berry farmers to ship their crops to other states and nations.

Seaweed-based gel may improve ant control
Using a biodegradable gel based on seaweed, researchers say they may have found a new way to control ants. Experts at the University of California, Riverside, say the ant bait appears effective at controlling invasive Argentine ants. The researchers have tested the ant bait for home use, and say it may have advantages compared to current ant-control methods. The bait will be tested at commercial citrus farms this summer.

Cotton crop will be larger
A brighter outlook for both crop prices and water supply leads California farmers to plant more cotton. In some cases, farmers have planted cotton on land where they had grown tomatoes, because prices for tomatoes have declined. A survey by a cotton growers’ organization estimates farmers will plant more than 250,000 acres of cotton in California this year, up about 15 percent from a year ago.

Volume 21, No. 44Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Local groundwater agencies form
With an important deadline coming in a few weeks, counties, irrigation districts, farmers and other entities are finalizing agreements to form locally controlled groundwater sustainability agencies. The agencies will guide groundwater management in basins classified by the state as medium to high priority, under terms of a 2014 California law. Local agencies have until June 30 to notify the state of their formation.

Meat supplies should increase this year
Just in time for the traditional start of the outdoor grilling season, government forecasters said they expect larger supplies of most meats this year. A U.S. Department of Agriculture report predicted beef and pork supplies would rise nearly 3 percent, with production of chicken and turkey up nearly 2 percent. Veal and lamb prove the exceptions to the trend, with supplies of each expected to be down slightly.

Dairy groups launch new promotion
To promote the full range of dairy foods available to Americans, dairy associations have launched a campaign called “Undeniably Dairy.” The multimedia campaign will include both online and broadcast videos, digital marketing and on-farm events. The campaign will discuss nutritional and environmental topics. For instance, it says dairy farmers have reduced the amount of water used for milk production by nearly two-thirds.

More new snacks contain nuts
Trends in snack products bode well for almond growers, according to marketing analysis tracked by the Almond Board of California. The analysis shows that nuts account for a rising share of new snack products. More than 30 percent of the snack products that debuted last year contained nuts. The report credits the increase to greater availability of nuts, new research on their health attributes, and better ability to add flavorings to nuts.

Volume 21, No. 43Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Flower sales peak for Mother’s Day
With Mother’s Day coming Sunday, California flower growers and shippers are hopping. For many, Mother’s Day marks the busiest floral holiday of the year. Growers say they’re shipping lilies, tulips, ranunculus, irises and foliage for spring bouquets. California produces more than three-quarters of domestically grown flowers. But imports have taken a large share of the U.S. market, so California growers urge buyers to seek out domestic blooms.

Cherry harvest accelerates
A good start to their fast-moving harvest encourages California cherry growers. Cherries appear to have avoided serious problems from rainy spring weather, and farmers report a good-sized, high-quality crop. Harvest has been accelerating in the southern and central San Joaquin Valley and will soon move into northern districts. The California Cherry Board says it expects the state’s overall crop to be larger. California cherry harvest will continue until mid-June.

Shelters in river provide salmon habitat
Work has ended in what’s considered a first-of-its-kind project to benefit chinook salmon in the Sacramento River. A Northern California farm partnered with state and federal agencies to place 25 salmon shelters in the river near Redding. Made of tree trunks and root wads bolted to boulders, the shelters allow juvenile salmon to avoid predators and fast-moving water. Experts will evaluate the shelters’ effectiveness in helping salmon in the river.

Report tracks trade in organic foods
International competition for organic food markets is “likely to increase considerably,” according to an updated assessment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report says demand for organic foods continues to grow in both the United States and other nations. Canada and Mexico accepted most exports of U.S.-grown organic foods last year, and apples, grapes and lettuce were the nation’s top organic exports.

Volume 21, No. 42Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Rice farmers try to make up for lost time
Warmer, drier weather in the Sacramento Valley will help rice farmers work to catch up on planting their crops. Throughout April, soggy fields slowed preparations for rice planting. That will make May a busy month, as farmers say they want to have rice planted by June 1. More than a half-million acres of rice will be planted in California, according to government estimates. Despite the early struggles, rice farmers say they remain optimistic their season will turn out fine.

Citrus farmers protest import decision
A decision on lemon imports from Argentina worries California citrus farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture finalized rules this week allowing lemons from northwestern Argentina to enter the United States. Groups representing California citrus farmers say the decision “will open the floodgates to pests and diseases.” The groups say the bacterium that causes a fatal citrus disease has been present in Argentina since 2012.

Vegetable availability increases
Have you been eating your vegetables? The amount of fresh vegetables available to the average American rose slightly in 2016, according to new figures from the federal government. Fresh-vegetable availability increased 1 percent to about 188 pounds per person, with potatoes, lettuce and tomatoes the top three types. About three-quarters of the vegetables consumed in the U.S. were grown domestically.

Wine shipments set records
Shipments of California wine have increased for a fourth straight year. The Wine Institute says shipments set records last year, in both domestic and export markets. The institute’s report says population trends helped propel domestic wine sales, as more members of the millennial generation reached drinking age. In export sales, the European Union represented the top foreign market for California wine.

Volume 21, No. 41Wednesday, April 26, 2017

President pledges action on rural concerns
Farmers who met with President Trump in the White House Tuesday say they came away encouraged. The 14 farmers and ranchers in the meeting included former California food and agriculture secretary A.G. Kawamura and the president of the American Farm Bureau, Zippy Duvall. Duvall says the president pledged action to work on challenges facing agriculture. A government task force will report on regulatory and policy changes that would help rural America.

Rain brings extra weeds to forests, rangelands
They look green and lush now, but California forests and wildlands contain both desirable plants and invasive weeds that will dry out and create fuel for wildfires. University of California specialists say they expect more invasive weeds this year as a result of the state’s record rainfall. Ranchers who provide goats and sheep to graze on weedy land say they’re seeing increased business, as agencies work to reduce the future fire threat.

Almond growers stay hopeful about 2017 crop
Even though it rained frequently when their trees were in bloom, California almond farmers say they’re optimistic about the upcoming crop. Farmers and farm advisors say almond trees would have benefited from more calm weather during the bloom, to allow bees to pollinate the crop. But they say the crop looks good. Government estimators will issue an early forecast of almond production next month.

Spring marks peak time for artichoke harvest
It’s a peak season for California-grown artichokes. As with other vegetables grown near the Central Coast, artichoke farmers say their crop is off to a slow but solid start this season. Wholesale prices remain higher than a year earlier. A Castroville-area farmer says harvest is shifting from heirloom, perennial artichokes to ones that are replanted annually. Nearly all artichokes grown in the United States come from California.

Volume 21, No. 40Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Drought still influences plant sales
Despite the demise of the California drought, plant nurseries say their customers remain interested in drought-tolerant landscaping. Nursery operators say Californians want to remain water conscious while livening up their yards by planting fresh annuals. Demand for what nurseries call “edibles”—such as fruit trees, blueberry bushes and vegetable gardens—has also increased.

Flowering plants benefit farmers
There’s a second “superbloom” underway in California this spring. Along with the wildflower blooms brightening the landscape, plants are flowering in habitat strips planted by farmers along orchards and crop fields. University of California farm advisors say the plantings benefit bees and other pollinators, as well as beneficial insects that attack crop pests. UC publishes a list of plants that can attract beneficial insects to farms and gardens.

Cattle ranchers plan to rebuild herds cautiously
Record rainfall has brought abundant grasses to California pastures, but cattle ranchers say they’re still cautious about expanding their herds. Many ranchers had to reduce their herds during the drought, as pastures went dry and hay prices rose. Now, with greener pastures, ranchers say they’ll rebuild their herds slowly, waiting for a recovery of beef prices and improved beef exports.

California avocado crop will be smaller
In California avocado groves, farmers say it’ll be next year before the benefits of the wet winter show themselves. Avocado production has declined this year, as a result of lingering drought impacts and the cyclical nature of the crop. As a result, wholesale prices for California avocados have risen sharply, compared to a year ago. But farmers say they see a strong bloom on their trees, which bodes well for the 2018 avocado crop.

Volume 21, No. 39Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Water project announces delivery increase
Farmers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta who buy water from the federal Central Valley Project will now receive full supplies. Project operators announced Tuesday they will increase deliveries from the 65 percent forecast last month. That will benefit the region’s groundwater aquifer but comes too late to encourage farmers to plant additional crops. Farmers in the Klamath Project on the Oregon border also will receive full water supplies.

Reservoir operators prepare for melting snow
With the spring snowmelt season about to begin, reservoir operators work to make sure their facilities will be ready to capture the runoff. The Sierra Nevada snowpack stands at more than 170 percent of average. Operators of facilities such as the Don Pedro Reservoir on the Tuolumne River say their goals are to prevent flooding while providing farmers with the irrigation water they need, and carrying over as much water as possible for the future.

Study links export demand to job growth
Increased demand for U.S. agricultural exports would lead to new jobs, according to a federal report. The study says a 10 percent boost in foreign demand would create more than 41,000 new jobs in the U.S. California would add the most jobs, with more than 17,000 being added to payrolls under the study’s model. The great majority of the new jobs would be in metropolitan counties.

Food-price survey shows decline in costs
A springtime marketbasket survey shows lower prices for a number of foods. The American Farm Bureau Federation checked the cost of 16 food items—and said prices for 11 of the 16 had decreased from a year ago. Overall prices for the food items declined 6 percent, led by lower costs for eggs, beef, chicken, pork and cheese. Farm Bureau says the reductions reflect lower on-farm prices for many products.

Volume 21, No. 38Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Delayed water forecast dampens planting increases
There’s a sense of “what might have been” in part of the San Joaquin Valley, where farmland will remain idle because of a 65 percent water allocation that was delayed several weeks. Farmers who buy water delivered by the federal Central Valley Project say they’re planting more land than in previous years, when the project provided little or no water. But farmers say they might have planted more crops if they had known their water situation at the usual mid-February date.

Tomato farmers face tight schedule due to wet fields
As the calendar turns to April, many tomato farmers find themselves behind schedule. Wet fields in some parts of the Central Valley have prevented farmers from planting tomato transplants as early as they’d prefer. That could affect the timing of harvest later this summer, when the tomatoes will be ready to be processed into salsa, ketchup and other products. Additional rain forecast for this week could further disrupt tomato planting schedules.

Fresh strawberry consumption sets record
If you’ve been eating more fresh strawberries, you’re in good company: Americans consumed fresh strawberries in record amounts last year, according to new estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. On average, each American ate just more than 8 pounds’ worth of fresh strawberries, plus another 2 pounds of frozen berries. More than 90 percent of U.S.-grown strawberries come from California farms, and the USDA says it expects acreage to stay steady this year.

Analysts check health benefits of microgreens
Looking closely at microgreens, food technologists have found they’re as nutritious as they are popular. Microgreens—the young seedlings of vegetables and herbs—have caught on with chefs and home cooks. They also provide important vitamins and minerals. Analysts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture checked 30 types of microgreens, and found them to contain high levels of potassium, phosphorus, calcium and other minerals important for human health.


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