Food & Farm News

Volume 21, No. 36Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Local groundwater agencies take shape
With a June 30 deadline approaching, agencies around California are working to finalize formation of local groundwater sustainability agencies. Under state law, the local agencies will develop groundwater sustainability plans for basins classified as high or medium priority for management. County Farm Bureau leaders monitoring the process say they’re striving to keep diverse groups working together as the process moves forward.

Flood damage in orchards to be assessed
The full impact of winter flooding on Central Valley orchards may not be known for months, according to University of California farm advisors. If trees have suffered damage from disease caused by waterlogged roots, the stress might not become apparent until the hot summer months. Orchard specialists advise farmers with flooded orchards to document the flooding and the condition of their trees, and file reports of losses with county agricultural commissioners.

Spinach demand increases
The popularity of packaged salads has fueled demand for organic spinach, with at least 40 percent of California acreage now grown organically. As they plant more, spinach farmers look to crop breeders to develop varieties that resist a plant disease. The fungus reduces yields, and there’s no organic product to attack it. That means farmers must vary their growing methods to avoid the fungus while breeders produce new, resistant spinach varieties.

California celebrates Ag Day
It’ll be California Ag Day at the Capitol in Sacramento Wednesday, as farmers, ranchers, public officials and other people gather for an annual celebration of the state’s bounty. Visitors will be able to sample California-grown food and farm products, see farm animals and learn about the variety of commodities grown in the state. California has been the nation’s top farm state for generations, producing more than 400 different crops and commodities.

Volume 21, No. 35Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Weather affects vegetable harvests
Warm weather in the desert and rainy weather on the coast could conspire to disrupt supplies of fresh vegetables this spring. Farmers along the Central California coast say their vegetable planting has been slowed by winter storms. At the same time, warm temperatures in desert growing regions has meant an early end to harvests there. Vegetable marketers say supplies and prices could be affected for a while, until coastal harvests hit full stride.

Forest problems continue
The wet winter hasn’t solved problems facing California forests. Experts told a California Farm Bureau conference that tree mortality, bark beetle infestations and overgrown landscapes continue to threaten the Sierra Nevada. The U.S. Forest Service estimates more than 100 million trees have died since 2010. The service’s regional forester said it has cleared about 280,000 trees, mainly in areas where people could be harmed.

Projects may apply for water bond money
Applications opened Tuesday for bond money to help build new water storage projects in California. The California Water Commission will decide what projects qualify for money from the Proposition 1 water bond voters approved in 2014. The bond will invest in the public benefits of water projects, including ecosystem improvements, water quality, flood control and recreation. Backers of individual projects will pay the remaining costs.

Recycled rice husks create sturdy boards
Using rice husks to make particleboard renders the board termite-resistant—and students at the University of California, Riverside, say that, in turn, will benefit people in the Philippines. Working under the title Husk-to-Home, engineering students have figured out how to create the particle board, and have earned a federal grant to build relief shelters from it. The shelters will benefit people in a Philippine region recovering from an earthquake and a typhoon.

Volume 21, No. 34Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Central Valley farmers face water uncertainty
While they wait for word on how much water they could have this year, farmers within the Central Valley Project service area say they’re uncertain how much of their land to plant or leave idle. The CVP said last week it couldn’t yet issue its usual first water-supply report for many customers, despite a wet winter. Farmers say they should already have crops in the ground but can’t commit because they don’t know if they’ll have the water needed to bring the crops to maturity.

Volunteers patrol levee system
With rivers running high, and likely to do so for weeks, California’s levee system comes under more scrutiny—including from volunteers who patrol levees looking for any signs of weakness. A number of reclamation and levee districts use volunteer patrols, often made up of farmers, to monitor the system. Farmers and farm employees patrol on eight- and 12-hour shifts during times of high water, reporting any concerns to district and state authorities.

Leaders Conference features policy briefings, legislative visits
Farmers and ranchers from throughout California gathered in Sacramento Tuesday for the annual California Farm Bureau Federation Leaders Conference. Elected officials and policy specialists briefed the attendees on issues ranging from water to transportation to forest management. The Farm Bureau members also held policy discussions and visited the state Capitol to meet with legislators.

Communities plan Valentine’s Day “do-over”
They’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day a month later than usual in Yuba City, Oroville and other communities that had to evacuate during the Oroville Dam incident last month. People had to leave their homes and businesses on February 12, which disrupted Valentine’s Day activities two days later. A Sacramento-based flower wholesaler said the Valentine’s Day “do-over” on March 14 could help businesses that were affected by the evacuation.

Volume 21, No. 33Wednesday, March 1, 2017

CVP supplies remain unknown for some farmers
A big snowpack and rapidly filling reservoirs allowed the federal Central Valley Project to announce full water supplies for some farm customers Tuesday, but those south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will wait another few weeks to learn their allocation. CVP representatives did say supplies for those customers would improve, perhaps to 50 percent. Farm groups say full supplies should be achievable in a plentiful rainfall year such as this.

Farm groups support action on “waters” rule
An executive order from President Trump to review a disputed Clean Water Act rule has won support from agricultural leaders. The president ordered review of a “waters of the U.S.” rule that would have widened federal agencies’ jurisdiction over land. The California Farm Bureau said it hopes the action leads to a more cooperative approach to environmental regulation. The American Farm Bureau said the existing rule had created widespread confusion for farmers and ranchers.

Farmers assess flooded orchards, vineyards
With a few days of rain-free weather expected, farmers with flooded land will work to patch and reinforce levees, and hope water can recede with minimal crop damage. But some farmers say they expect to suffer losses, including a San Joaquin County farmer whose young almond orchard has flooded three times in a month. Trees and grapevines that have been flooded can recover if the water drains quickly enough. If not, they could become vulnerable to root disease.

Congressional hearing focuses on exports
Describing exports as vital to preserving, protecting and promoting California agriculture, a farm leader told a House subcommittee Tuesday that federal farm programs play an important part in enhancing exports. California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger testified before a subcommittee hearing in Washington, D.C. He said cost-sharing programs contained in federal farm legislation have helped California farmers find new foreign customers.

Volume 21, No. 32Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Storms bring impacts to farms, ranches

Farmers and ranchers continue to assess the impact of storms that surged through California during the Presidents' Day weekend. A number of orchards and vineyards in Northern and Central California remain flooded as a result of this and earlier storms. Trees and vines could be vulnerable to root disease if floodwaters don't drain soon enough. The storms arrived during almond pollination season, but farmers say they remain hopeful weather in coming days will reduce any problems.

Farmers move dairy cows in advance of rising water

Several dairy farmers along the Tuolumne and San Joaquin rivers had to relocate their cows, because of rising water in the rivers. Dairy organizations had gathered farmers earlier, preparing them for the possibility of flooding. On beef cattle ranches, heavy rains washed out some privately maintained roads, making it hard for ranchers to reach their animals, and muddy pastures have limited ranchers’ ability to reach herds on horseback. 

Water, markets influence planting plans

Grain and hay fields that have flooded could ultimately suffer reduced yields. Farmers of other field crops will find their planting delayed. Thousands of acres were left unplanted in previous years during the multi-year drought. With more water likely to be available now, farmers say market prices will be a bigger determining factor in what they choose to grow. Prices have been weak for many field crops, forcing farmers to calculate what crops might turn at least a small profit. 

Young Farmers and Ranchers schedule conference 

 More than 200 farmers, ranchers and people in agricultural careers will gather in Modesto this weekend for the annual California Young Farmers and Ranchers Conference. The Young Farmers and Ranchers program involves people between the ages of 18 and 35 who have an active role or an interest in agriculture. The conference will include farm tours and workshops on topics varying from social-media awareness to pest management using drones.           

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

Farmers welcome lifting of evacuation order

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

Change in Shasta operations could cut supplies

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

Wine exports post record value

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

World Ag Expo opens 50th show

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

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

Valentine’s Day means brisk business for California floral sector

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

Study suggests grapes may help protect against Alzheimer’s disease

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

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

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

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

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

Wolf protections prompt lawsuit

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

Strong storms test reservoir operators 

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

Rains help Southern California farms

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

Court reviews Klamath water cutoff

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

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

CVP holds off on water-supply estimate

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

Drying trend allows return to farm work

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

Key season begins for beekeepers, farmers

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

Bill seeks greater enforcement of ‘buy American’ rule

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

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

Southern California farmers hope for more rain

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

Flooded fields may not show damage for months

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

Biologists study ways to help salmon

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

UCSB focuses efforts against avocado pest

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

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

Rains bring farmland flooding

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

Storms help snowpack recover

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

Strawberry acreage to stay stable

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

Meeting will focus on soil health

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

Volume 21, No. 25Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Precipitation up, snowpack down 

Jan. 3 readings by the Department of Water Resources measured the water equivalent in the statewide snowpack at 70 percent of historic average. Total precipitation since Oct. 1 has been above average, but warmer temperatures caused more rain and less snow. Total water storage in state reservoirs is estimated at 98 percent of historic average. Acting Director Bill Croyle is “cautiously optimistic” about the state’s water conditions, though it’s still too early to determine the impact on the drought. 

Board holds final hearing on river-flow plan

People again expressed concern Tuesday about a state board proposal to redirect more water to fish in three San Joaquin Valley rivers. The State Water Resources Control Board held a final public hearing in Sacramento on its plan for the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers. Irrigation-district and community leaders urged the board to look at alternative remedies for fish that would minimize the impact on people who depend on the rivers. 

Marketers assess benefits of holiday demand

With the baking, feasting and toasting of the year-end holidays now concluded, people who sell holiday-related farm products say they saw demand swell for the season. Marketers say the holidays typically boost sales of products such as eggs, butter, nuts, raisins, whole-body turkeys and sparkling wine. Some of those same products and others will also see demand rise in anticipation of lunar New Year celebrations at the end of the month. 

Mushrooms gain popularity

 Propelled by increased demand from home cooks and food-service operators, many California mushroom farmers have increased production of the versatile fungus. Farmers say customers are interested in the crop’s health benefits, particularly its vitamin D content. Another popular attribute is its “blendability,” in which mushrooms are mixed with ground meat to create burgers and meatballs.


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