Food & Farm News

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.

Volume 21, No. 37Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Season’s key snow survey to be held
What’s considered the year’s key snow survey will be conducted Thursday by the state Department of Water Resources. The start of April is traditionally considered the peak for the Sierra snowpack, before it begins to melt and run off into rivers and reservoirs. Electronic readings posted Tuesday showed the snowpack at more than 160 percent of average, statewide. In addition, the state says rainfall has been nearly twice average at key sites this season.

Cotton plantings to increase
Improved water supplies in the San Joaquin Valley will encourage farmers to plant more cotton. The California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association says its preliminary survey shows cotton acreage could increase about 17 percent this year, compared to what farmers harvested last year. But the association says farmers’ enthusiasm for planting more cotton has been “tempered” by a less-than-full water allocation from the federal Central Valley Project.

California honey production improves
Honey production recovered in California last year, according to a new report. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says California beekeepers collected more than 11 million pounds of honey in 2016, up 35 percent from the previous year. The state had more than 310,000 honey-producing bee colonies. California ranked fourth in the nation in honey production, behind North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.

Grocery shopping pattern changes
Where do you buy groceries? Most of the money Americans spend on food to be consumed at home still goes to traditional supermarkets. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that proportion has been declining during the past 20 years. A growing proportion of food dollars goes to what USDA calls “nontraditional store formats,” including supercenters, dollar stores and club stores. Supermarkets’ share has declined from 80 percent to 62 percent.

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. 

The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of more than 48,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 6.2 million Farm Bureau members.

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