Food & Farm News

Volume 24, No. 3Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Farm groups evaluate changes to agricultural visa program
A proposal from the U.S. Department of Labor to modify the existing agricultural visa program has been met with initial support from farm leaders. California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson says he’s encouraged by the administration’s efforts to improve the system, known as H-2A. Johansson says farmers also need congressional action on wider improvement to immigration laws, to help address chronic employee shortages.

Irrigation districts recharge groundwater aquifers
Wet winters such as the one California just had help replenish underground water supplies, and a number of irrigation districts help the process along through a technique called “conjunctive use.” The method coordinates use of surface water and groundwater supplies within a region. One Fresno County water district says it has been using the technique for 100 years, moving water into recharge basins to percolate into underground water tables.

Rural areas suffer from lack of broadband service
Many urban residents now take broadband internet service for granted, but it remains scarce in some rural areas. An estimated one-quarter of rural Americans lack sufficient broadband service, including many in California. Farmers say more-reliable service would allow them to adopt technology to improve precision of water and fertilizer use and animal care. Fitful internet availability also hampers delivery of public services in rural regions.

Longtime farms, ranches to be honored
Eighteen farms, ranches and agricultural organizations that have been in continuous operation for at least 100 years will join the California Agricultural Heritage Club Wednesday. The California State Fair inducts new members into the club each year. Two farms or ranches will be honored for 150 years of operation. The Grohl Family Ranch in Stanislaus County and Wilbur Ranch in Sutter County each started in 1869.

Volume 24, No. 2Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Pence to hold trade discussion in Central Valley
The topic will be trade when Vice President Pence visits the Central Valley Wednesday. Pence is scheduled to speak at a farm in Lemoore, during an event promoting the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. Supporters say the agreement will improve agricultural trade among the three countries. The agreement awaits ratification in the U.S. Congress and Canadian Parliament; Mexico has ratified it.

Black-eyed peas could lend drought tolerance to other crops
Breeding more drought-tolerant crops could be one result of the genetic decoding of black-eyed peas. Scientists at the University of California, Riverside, announced Tuesday they had unraveled the crop’s genetic code. Also known as cowpeas, black-eyed peas provide a staple source of protein in much of the world, and tolerate drought and hot temperatures. Researchers say their work could ultimately help other crops acquire those traits.

Data can help grape growers forecast crop performance
Decisions that grape growers make could have a 25-year impact on their vines, and computer engineers want to give farmers better information to guide their choices. Professors from Purdue University in Indiana have been working with California winegrape growers to help them adopt new technology. The project includes harnessing data growers can use to forecast how their decisions might affect the long-term performance of their vineyards.

Advisors seek new market for California-grown moringa
Grown for its leaves and fresh pods, the tropical tree moringa has been cultivated on a small scale in the San Joaquin Valley. Now, University of California farm advisors hope to create a new market for the crop: selling dried, powdered moringa leaves as a dietary supplement. Most moringa powder sold in the U.S. is imported. The UC advisors have been working with small-scale Fresno County farmers to process local moringa powder.

Volume 24, No. 1Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Agencies report progress on voluntary river agreements
Voluntary agreements to improve fish habitat in Central Valley rivers have made “substantial progress,” according to state agencies. The agreements have been offered as an alternative to a state plan to redirect river flows. Leaders of the state environmental and natural-resources agencies say final evaluation of the agreements could come by October. The agreements would include targeted river flows, plus other projects to enhance fish habitat.

Analysis may help predict Sierra tree die-offs
From what they learned studying the impact of the recent, multiyear drought, researchers say they can now predict where future droughts will hit Sierra Nevada forests the hardest. Two professors at the University of California, Merced, say parts of the Sierra reached a tipping point in 2015, when a combination of drought and dry soil caused trees to die in large numbers. They say their analysis of the past drought will help diagnose and forecast future forest die-offs.

Sensors could help ranchers locate cattle
Using a high-tech tracking system, students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo hope one day to help cattle ranchers keep track of their herds. The students designed sensors that could allow ranchers to find cattle that separate from the herd. The sensors would be worn on a collar to monitor an animal’s location and temperature. The students plan to begin testing the system with cattle, and want to use similar technology to benefit other aspects of ranching.

Survey shows little price change for cookout foods
Retail prices remain virtually unchanged for traditional Independence Day cookout foods, according to an annual survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation. The survey showed prices for a summer cookout to serve 10 people averaged $52.80, up less than 1 percent from a year ago. Volunteer shoppers across the country checked prices on foods including hot dogs, cheeseburgers, potato salad, lemonade and watermelon.

Volume 23, No. 50Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Hearing focuses on soil health
Programs to benefit soil health should be “locally focused and producer-led,” according to a California Farm Bureau Federation officer who testified before Congress Tuesday. CFBF First Vice President Shannon Douglass told a House subcommittee about soil-health practices she uses on her Glenn County farm. She said programs to encourage similar practices should be flexible, incentive-based and backed by up-to-date research.

Nutria eradication efforts may get boost
Additional resources may be on the way, to help control and eradicate an invasive rodent. More than 500 nutria have been trapped in Central California. The creatures threaten crops, levees and other water systems. The new state budget passed by the Legislature includes nearly $2 million to boost nutria eradication work, and members of Congress have introduced a bill to revive a federal eradication program.

Cherry losses reach disaster status
Losses to cherry crops caused by springtime rains have led at least three California counties to file or consider crop-disaster declarations. San Joaquin County says more than half its cherries were lost to the storms, and has filed a disaster request. Madera and Stanislaus counties will likely do so, too. Ultimately, a disaster decree from the U.S. Agriculture Department could qualify affected farmers for low-interest loans and other aid.

Walnut promotions emphasize heart health
Encouraged by results of a retail marketing campaign focused on heart health, the California Walnut Board says it plans to expand the program nationally. Advertisements and in-store displays promoted walnuts as a heart-healthy food during American Heart Month in February. The Walnut Board says improved sales in test markets this year will lead to nationwide expansion of the program next year.

Volume 23, No. 49Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Motorcade for Trade rolls out support for USMCA
Promoting their Motorcade for Trade, an organization favoring enhanced agricultural trade visited Sacramento Tuesday as part of a swing through California. The Farmers for Free Trade group has been traveling across country in support of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The group says the agreement would stabilize agricultural trade among the three nations. Canada is the No. 2 market for California agricultural exports, and Mexico ranks fifth.

Wildfire preparation gains higher priority
With summer starting and wildfires already punishing California, authorities encourage people to be prepared. They say the advice may be familiar, but the urgency has intensified. Observers say rural residents should be ready year-round with an emergency evacuation kit and other preparations. State and federal agencies are working on fire-prevention projects that include vegetation clearing, creation of fuel breaks and other measures.

Peak apricot season arrives
Harvest ramps up this week for California’s main apricot variety, the Patterson. Farmers say they expect the state’s apricot production to double this year—and they’re looking for buyers for all that fruit. Most apricots are sold for canning, drying, jams or other uses, but demand from processors has declined. Some fruit that had been destined for processing may be sold fresh, but sometimes isn’t suitable.

California-grown flowers compete with imports
To compete with imported flowers, California growers emphasize freshness and grow specialty or heritage varieties. The California Cut Flower Commission estimates three-quarters of domestically grown flowers come from California—but the vast majority of the flowers sold in the U.S. are imported from other countries. The commission held a Field to Vase dinner on the grounds of the state Capitol to highlight California-grown flowers.

Volume 23, No. 48Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Rural regions prepare for power shutoffs
As utilities begin shutting off power in an effort to prevent wildfires, California farmers, ranchers and rural residents plan for ways to manage the power loss. Some say they may invest in generators to maintain water pumps for livestock and crops, plus produce-cooling equipment and other facilities. Farmers say they understand the rationale for the shutoffs and hope they succeed, and that power interruptions will be as short as possible.

Late-spring storms leave damage in their wake
Onions, tomatoes, cherries and cotton are among the crops damaged by late-spring storms in the Central Valley. Farmers, pest control advisers and agricultural commissioners say the crops suffered damage from hail or from plant diseases linked to the wet weather. Observers say the crop losses may be significant for individual farmers but not widespread enough to lead to disaster declarations in most cases.

Farm, food groups seek approval of trade agreement
Urging Congress to pass a pending trade agreement, a coalition of more than 900 farm and food organizations said the agreement would help U.S. agriculture while providing high-quality, safe food at affordable prices. In a letter to House and Senate leaders, the groups requested “swift ratification” of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The letter’s signers included the California Farm Bureau Federation and more than three-dozen other California groups.

Nurseries track plant trends to plan greenhouse space
Tracking trends in houseplants allows Southern California nurseries to fulfill customer demand. Nursery owners say social media can help drive demand for houseplants, and note that some plants that became trendy in the 1970s are now enjoying a comeback. Keeping up with the trends requires foresight, because in some cases plants need close to a year in the greenhouse before they’re ready for sale.

Volume 23, No. 47Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Weather brings fewer but larger avocados
An intense heat wave 11 months ago has reduced the California avocado crop. Farmers who typically would harvest fruit into early July report they’ve already finished their harvest. Southern California heat last July damaged the developing fruit. But ample winter rains allowed the remaining avocados to grow to larger sizes. Forecasters estimate the avocado crop at 175 million pounds, about half the volume of a year ago.

Ranchers welcome benefits of grass growth
Plentiful grasses stimulated by abundant rainfall have improved the outlook for California cattle ranchers. The rangeland grasses will allow cattle to grow to higher weights before being marketed, helping ranchers offset part of the impact of weaker prices. Trade uncertainties have also put a damper on the market as beef production heads toward a potential record this year, but ranchers say the improved range conditions will help them save costs.

Tomato harvest may run late
Rainy, cool weather slowed California tomato planting, but crop estimators say they still expect the state’s farmers to harvest more than 12 million tons of processing tomatoes this summer. An updated estimate says the later planting might delay harvest by about a week, but that the crop could catch up during warm summer days. Processing tomatoes are used for salsa, ketchup and other products. Fresno County leads the state in processing-tomato production.

Invasive species damage environment, economy
From the burrowing nutria threatening waterways to the small insect carrying disease to citrus trees, invasive species cause ecological damage and economic losses. As agencies commemorate California Invasive Species Action Week, they urge Californians to take care not to transport new species into the state. The University of California estimates a new invertebrate species establishes itself in California every six weeks, on average.

Volume 23, No. 46Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Rain, hail fall on Central Valley crops
Storms during the Memorial Day weekend threaten damage to a number of California crops. In the San Joaquin Valley, storms dropped large hail that could affect crops including tomato and cotton plants, plus peach, nectarine and cherry trees. Agricultural commissioners say it may be several days before the impact becomes more clear. In the Sierra Nevada, the snowpack now stands at nearly twice-average for the date.

New project evaluates changing range conditions
To see how range and pastureland respond to changing rainfall and temperature patterns, researchers will simulate a variety of conditions at a University of California facility in Yuba County. UC specialists have earned a grant to create shelters that will allow them to control the precipitation and temperature on a research plot. The project will help the researchers learn how rangeland plants and weeds perform under predicted weather scenarios.

California leads floriculture production
If you buy flowers or garden plants grown in the United States, chances remain strong that those plants come from California. A new government report shows California continues to lead the nation in production of floriculture crops. The Golden State accounts for more than three-quarters of U.S.-grown cut flowers, and also leads in categories including bedding and garden plants, and flowering potted plants.

Prune marketers rebrand their crop
Once marketed as dried plums, California prunes will now be called just that—California prunes—in a new marketing campaign. The California Prune Board says the rebranding emphasizes the “premium reputation” of the state’s crop, which is sold in the United States and dozens of countries around the world. The board’s executive director says the idea is to change prunes from an occasional choice to a “daily pleasure” that brings a number of health benefits.

Volume 23, No. 45Wednesday, May 22, 2019

May storms threaten California crops
In much of California the next few days, farmers will work to assess the impact of mid-May rains, and they’ll watch the skies for the threat of additional storms. Cherry growers in the northern San Joaquin Valley say rain split some of the ripening fruit on their trees. The storms interrupted berry harvest in Central California and brought concern for growers of grapes, tree nuts and other crops. Rain further delayed planting of crops including rice.

Farmers, exporters monitor trade talks
As one trade dispute affecting California farmers intensifies, another has lessened. In an ongoing trade disagreement, China plans to increase tariffs effective June 1 on a number of agricultural products, including some affected by earlier retaliatory tariffs. But announcement of the end of a separate dispute with Mexico and Canada promises to boost exports of a number of California farm products.

Postponing harvest benefits protected birds
By delaying their wheat harvest, a Merced County dairy family has helped protected birds lay their eggs. The dairy farmers grew the wheat to feed cows, but an estimated 25,000 tricolored blackbirds chose to nest in the field. The farmers agreed not to harvest the wheat until the birds leave, even though that may reduce the value of the crop. A cooperative program provides technical and financial aid to farmers who help the birds.

Expect more meat, milk and eggs on the market
Forecasts for positive economic conditions in the U.S. contribute to a likely increase in the nation’s production of meat, milk and eggs. The U.S. Agriculture Department says it expects production of most animal proteins to rise slightly in 2020. The forecast includes additional production of beef, pork, turkey, chicken, eggs and milk. USDA says it expects lamb production to decline slightly next year.

Volume 23, No. 44Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Honey supply looking up
California beekeepers may bring more honey to market this year, though exactly how much won’t be known for a while. One keeper in Imperial County credits the winter rain with giving his bees plenty of forage and looks forward to a significant production boost. In Tulare County, beekeepers report a hit-and-miss citrus bloom, leading to uncertainties about honey supply. California is among the nation’s top 10 honey-producing states.

Predicted almond acreage in California for 2019 breaks record
Almonds continue to be a popular crop in California, with acreage forecasted to reach a new record this year of 1.17 million bearing acres. Production is predicted to reach 2.5 billion pounds in 2019, a 9.6% increase over the previous year. An extended bloom period this spring helped compensate for disruptions from significant rainfall. The crop appears to be sizing well, leaving farmers optimistic.

Growers making hay of uncertain alfalfa market
With dairies still struggling financially, California alfalfa-hay growers say their biggest customers can’t afford their product, leaving future prospects of the forage unclear. Harvest is ramping up, but acreage has been trending down. Farmers harvested 620,000 acres last year, the lowest on record. Growth in exports has helped, but an ongoing trade dispute with China and its retaliatory tariffs since last summer have reduced shipments to one of California’s key offshore markets for alfalfa hay.

Scientists aim for tastier tomato
Your supermarket tomato might soon get a flavor boost. Scientists have constructed the pan-genome for the cultivated tomato and its wild ancestors, which includes genes from 725 different varieties and nearly 5,000 previously undocumented genes. The information can help breeders quickly develop new varieties for commercial production that retain both richer flavor profiles and traits important to growers such as yield, shelf life, disease resistance and stress tolerance.

Volume 23, No. 43Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Rice planting accelerates after late start
It’ll be a short and intense planting season for California rice farmers. Late spring rains kept farmers out of their fields, and they say some rice ground will be left unplanted because of lingering floodwaters. But farmers say planting weather has improved, water availability will be good, and they expect decent markets for their rice. The California Rice Commission predicts about 500,000 acres of the crop will be planted.

Water supplies remain constrained in some areas
In the western San Joaquin Valley, farmers who buy water from the federal Central Valley Project hope to see supplies improve, and water districts seek to supplement supplies. CVP farm customers in the region stand to receive only 65 percent allocations, despite the above-average snowpack. At least one water district says it plans to buy water from a neighboring district with full supplies. The CVP may revise allocations later this month.

Carrot supplies maintain momentum
Shipments of fresh carrots set their fastest pace in 20 years during the first quarter of 2019. The U.S. Agriculture Department says carrot shipments also rose in 2018, during which production surged 18 percent compared to the previous year. In terms of per-person availability, carrots saw the largest increase last year among all fresh vegetables. California accounts for almost 80 percent of the nation’s fresh-carrot production.

Grant aims to head off an invasive pest
Hoping to reduce the impact of an invasive pest before it arrives in California, the state Department of Food and Agriculture has awarded a grant to researchers to study biological controls for the insect. The spotted lantern fly arrived in North America five years ago and has spread in the eastern U.S. University of California scientists will test whether a tiny wasp can be used to combat the lantern fly, should it reach the state.

Volume 23, No. 42Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Survey outlines on-farm employee shortages
A new survey shows California farmers and ranchers continue to have trouble hiring enough people for on-farm jobs, despite taking steps to address the problem. Farmers said they have raised wages, changed farming and cropping patterns, used automation and other tactics, but 56% of farmers reported being unable to fill all their jobs. The California Farm Bureau Federation conducted the survey in collaboration with the University of California, Davis.

Early cherry crop appears promising
After suffering through a small harvest a year ago, California cherry farmers say they expect a comeback crop this year. Cherry harvest is just beginning in the southern San Joaquin Valley and, as with many other crops this year, it’s running a little later than usual due to winter and early-spring weather. But the California Cherry Board says the new crop could match the harvest of two years ago, which was the largest in the previous 10 years.

Miniature tomato plants could grow in outer space
Developing plants that produce more fruit and less plant shows promise here on Earth, and could also feed future astronauts. Scientists at the University of California, Riverside, say they’re working with NASA on miniature tomato plants and other crops for the International Space Station. Researchers say they want to produce more tomato per plant—a concept that also applies to food grown in small plots or vertical, urban farms.

State regulation governs industrial hemp
Production of industrial hemp in California has moved closer, with approval of state regulations for farmer registration. The state Department of Food and Agriculture announced approval of the regulations Tuesday. Farmers who want to grow industrial hemp must register with a county agricultural commissioner. About two-dozen counties have placed moratoriums on hemp production until state rules have been finalized. Regulations for sampling and testing remain to be completed.

The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 36,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 5.5 million Farm Bureau members.

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