Food & Farm News

Volume 24, No. 12Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Farmers, ranchers watch outcome of legislation
Governor Newsom has until October 13 to sign or veto bills sent to him at the end of the state legislative session. Farm organizations welcomed his plan to veto a bill that would preserve California environmental and labor standards from changes initiated by the Trump administration. Other bills sent to the governor’s desk include one sponsored by the California Farm Bureau, to create a rural economic advisor in the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

Rural roads remain in poor shape
Nearly one-third of California rural roads rate in poor condition—the second-highest percentage in the nation—according to an annual report from a transportation group. For farmers and ranchers, that can mean delays and danger in moving crops and livestock to market. Californians began paying higher gas taxes last year to fund transportation projects, but observers say it’s too early to see what impact that will have on rural road conditions.

Biological control may slow watershed weed
A tiny wasp shows promise in controlling a giant weed along California riverbanks. Biologists say the wasp can help reduce stands of the Arundo reed that has invaded watersheds. The wasp is native to the Mediterranean region and lays its eggs on the reed, ultimately reducing its growth. Researchers introduced the wasps near Orland and Madera, and say they have had some effect on the reeds. The wasps do not harm humans, crops or native plants.

Orange crop to be a bit smaller
The coming season’s navel orange harvest will be slightly smaller, according to a preseason crop forecast. Estimators say California farmers will harvest enough navel oranges to fill 76 million 40-pound cartons, down 7 percent from the previous season. The vast majority of the oranges will come from the San Joaquin Valley. California leads the nation in orange production.

Volume 24, No. 11Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Associations use prescribed fires to manage land
The use of controlled fires to prevent wildfires and meet other land management goals has dwindled in California—but there’s new interest among landowners and public agencies in reviving the practice. The first “prescribed burn association” in the West formed in Humboldt County last year, and new associations are being created in other Northern California regions. The associations allow landowners to pool resources to manage controlled burns.

Dogs detect plant-disease bacteria in citrus groves
Dogs trained to detect bacteria that cause a fatal plant disease found signs of the bacteria in Ventura County citrus groves, and farmers have begun removing trees as a result. The detector dogs check citrus trees for the bacterium that causes HLB, which has killed trees at Southern California residences but has not been found in a commercial grove. After the dogs alerted to more than 200 trees, farmers agreed to remove the trees as a precaution.

UC helps residents combat citrus threat
To prevent the citrus disease HLB from spreading, University of California specialists recommend Southern California homeowners remove citrus trees within two miles of known HLB infections. UC created a web app so residents can enter an address and see how close they are to confirmed HLB outbreaks. At the same time, UC master gardeners recommend alternative fruit trees to replace citrus trees in the affected areas.

Project intends to aid salmon, sturgeon
A fish habitat project north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will proceed, according to an announcement Tuesday from a federal agency. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says it will work with the state Department of Water Resources on a project to improve fish passage in the Yolo Bypass. The project is intended to allow salmon and sturgeon to move more easily to the Sacramento River during the winter season.

Volume 24, No. 10Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Grazing animals help with wildfire prevention
Demand has risen steadily for livestock to provide grazing services to attack weeds as a wildfire-prevention measure. The California Wool Growers Association says it has more requests from private landowners and public agencies than its members can fulfill. University of California Cooperative Extension says it plans to create a statewide database to match landowners with ranchers whose sheep, goats or cattle could provide grazing services.

Fish-habitat restoration projects continue
More projects are planned this fall to enhance habitat for juvenile salmon in the Sacramento River. The projects, to add side channels, will complement other habitat work. For example, crews added 12,000 tons of gravel to the river earlier this year, to develop new spawning habitat for chinook salmon and steelhead trout. Water rates paid by Sacramento Valley farmers include a restoration fund to help pay for the habitat work.

Marketers report rising demand for organic avocados
As demand for avocados has risen, so has demand for avocados grown organically. The California Avocado Commission reports organic fruit represents about 10% of the current year’s avocado harvest, and that the proportion has been increasing. Most organic avocados have been transitioned from conventional production—a process that takes about three years before the fruit can be sold as organic.

Forecast expects smaller walnut crop
Weather during the growing season has contributed to an expected smaller California walnut crop, according to government estimates. The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast walnut production down about 7% compared to a year ago. The USDA says rainy winter and spring weather delayed the walnut bloom, and that local weather conditions resulted in “variable crop development” around the state. California farms produce the entire U.S. walnut crop.

Volume 24, No. 9Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Marketers report good demand for California almonds
As farmers harvest the 2019 almond crop, marketers say they expect to find plenty of demand for the nuts, despite the ongoing U.S.-China trade dispute. Stormy weather during pollination reduced the size of the almond crop, and farmers say the harvest has been running behind a typical schedule. China included almonds on its list of retaliatory tariffs, but marketers report strong demand for the crop elsewhere.

Processing-tomato crop may not reach preseason estimate
Springtime hail appears to have reduced the processing-tomato crop. California dominates production of the tomatoes used in sauces, ketchup and other products. The California Tomato Growers Association says Central Valley hailstorms in May could reduce the crop by as much as 5%. Farmers say they hope to be able to finish the tomato harvest before autumn rains could cause additional problems.

Study tracks beneficial bat activity in vineyards
Oak trees in vineyards provide homes for bats, which in turn eat insects that might bother the vineyards: That’s the conclusion of researchers who monitored bat activity in 14 Central Coast vineyards. The study found 11 different species of insect-eating bats in the vineyards, and greater foraging activity in areas near oak trees. A co-author of the study says bats don’t hurt grapes, and could help vineyards by eating insect pests.

Organization helps ag-tech startup firms
More-accurate measurement of crop water needs, natural pest control and improved food-safety data are among the technological solutions for agriculture being nurtured in a Northern California business incubator. Called AgStart, the Woodland-based organization works to help people turn ideas into viable businesses. That can take time, the incubator’s director says, because agricultural projects may take longer to show a definitive impact.

Volume 24, No. 8Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Farms rely on data—and data management
Soil probes, weather stations, well monitors and other sources generate information farmers can use to help produce their crops—and that makes data management a higher priority. In some cases, farms create their own programs to digitize information that was once collected on paper. In other cases, they use apps produced by agricultural technology firms. Farmers say the information helps them avoid problems, or solve them more quickly.

Lab works to identify potential HLB treatments
Saying they wanted to make a difference in the fight against a fatal plant disease, bacteria researchers at Stanford University have identified possible treatments for the malady known as citrus greening or HLB. The research team says it has isolated 130 compounds that could show promise against HLB. The citrus disease has no cure now, and the scientists say they hope their work will give other researchers clues about avenues to explore.

Pest experts look for ways to fight invasive stinkbug
A parasitic wasp from eastern Asia could become a new tool for pest experts trying to stem infestations of an invasive stinkbug. The brown marmorated stinkbug first hit several California cities, but has now moved into farm fields and orchards, causing crop damage. A state official says he hopes to obtain a permit to release a parasitic wasp that feeds on stinkbug eggs, once he can assure that can be done safely.

Survey shows few students consider agricultural careers
When asked in a recent survey to identify agricultural careers, most students pointed to farming—but not to other careers in science, technology, veterinary medicine or other fields. The sponsors of the survey, Bayer Crop Science and the National 4-H Council, say there’s a limited pool of skilled applicants for many agricultural-science jobs. They created a project called Science Matters to try to address that gap.

Volume 24, No. 7Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Effects of Chinese trade action remain uncertain
After China announced it had suspended purchases of U.S. farm products, California agricultural exporters say they continue to assess how the action may affect them. China directed its state-owned enterprises to stop buying American farm goods as part of ongoing trade disputes. But exporters say it’s still unclear how or whether that will affect private Chinese firms that buy California-grown nuts, wine and other products.

Farmers describe progress of coastal vegetable harvest
California’s long, intense winter continues to affect vegetable production on and near the Central Coast. The wet winter delayed vegetable planting and harvest, but Salinas Valley farmers are rotating into their third crops, planting new fields of lettuce, spinach and other vegetables. Farmers report good demand for their crops, though that often dips in the summer due to local and homegrown production in other parts of the country.

Forecasters expect increased fruit production
More California-grown peaches, pears, apples and olives should be reaching shelves this summer and fall. Crop estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show California peach production up 6 percent, pears up 15 percent and apples up 20 percent. The same report estimates the total grape crop to be nearly the same size as last year. In a separate report, forecasters predicted the canning-olive crop would be much larger than a year ago.

Estimates show mixed outlook for field, grain crops
Production will be down for California’s most widely planted field and grain crops, according to federal forecasters. Estimates released this week show alfalfa and rice production off slightly, and the California cotton crop down by one-third. Bean production will also decrease. The report forecast higher production for other California field and grain crops, including oats, barley, wheat and corn.

Volume 24, No. 6Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Livestock owners look for backup water sources
The potential for power outages intended to prevent wildfires has livestock owners working to be sure they can provide water for their animals. Farmers and ranchers who use electric pumps for livestock water say they’re looking for generators and other backup systems. A University of California farm advisor says power outages could be especially troublesome for small-scale livestock owners. Utilities provide information about backup generation resources and vendors.

Many rural roads remain inadequate
Trucks carry 70% of farm and food products, making rural roads crucial to the agricultural economy. Analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation indicates many rural roads and bridges lack the capacity to accommodate growing freight travel. Congress is working on a new transportation bill. A study released this spring by a national research group rated nearly one-third of California’s rural roads as in poor condition.

USDA tracks fruit, vegetable affordability
For less than $3 a day, Americans can purchase enough fruits and vegetables to meet current dietary guidelines. The U.S. Department of Agriculture calculated costs based on retail prices and a number of fruit and vegetable combinations. Guidelines encourage Americans to eat two cups of fruit and two-and-a-half cups of vegetables each day—but USDA surveys indicate most people fall short of those recommendations.

Research on cilantro may improve treatment for seizures
Cilantro has been used in traditional medicine to treat against seizures, and University of California research has found the underlying action that allows the herb to have that effect. Scientists at UC Irvine say this new understanding may lead to improvement in treatments for seizures. The study identified a particular component of cilantro that reduced what the lead researcher called “cellular excitability.”

Volume 24, No. 5Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Senate hearing focuses on USMCA trade pact
Saying a new agreement would “lift the cloud of uncertainty hanging over North American trade,” farming organizations urged the U.S. Senate to ratify the U.S.-Canada-Mexico Agreement. Farm groups and agricultural businesses testified before the Senate Finance Committee, as did automotive, trucking, small-business and labor groups. The American Farm Bureau Federation said Congress and the administration should “double down” on talks to approve the agreement.

Tariff reductions help pistachio exports
Reducing tariffs on American-grown pistachios helped sell an extra 2.3 billion pounds of the nuts to foreign customers, according to a new study. The increase came during a nine-year period as a result of lower tariffs from Israel, Mexico, China and the European Union--and before some of those nations imposed retaliatory tariffs on pistachios and other crops. Virtually all U.S.-grown pistachios come from California.

Worldwide citrus production to increase
There will be more citrus fruit on the market around the world this year. The U.S. Agriculture Department says worldwide orange production will rebound to the highest level in eight years, accompanied by record global crops of tangerines, mandarins, lemons and limes. The U.S. is among the nations producing more citrus. California leads the U.S. in fresh oranges, tangerines, mandarins and lemons, with larger crops expected for all except lemons.

Farmers report benefits from soil-health activities
Case studies released Tuesday indicate actions to improve soil health can help farm profitability as well as the environment. American Farmland Trust worked with farmers in California and three other states, reviewing practices such as composting, use of cover crops and other soil-health techniques. Researchers say the examples show farmers being able to reduce their costs and improve crop yields, while also enhancing water and air quality.

Volume 24, No. 4Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Farmers visit Capitol Hill on behalf of USMCA
Seeking action on a pending trade deal, California farmers and ranchers conduct a “fly-in” to Washington, D.C., Wednesday, to urge congressional ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Farmers will visit the California congressional delegation, asking members to support the USMCA. Supporters say the agreement would strengthen relations with two key markets for California agricultural exports.

New methods, law aim to reduce rural crime
Crimes of theft, vandalism and trespassing plague rural California. Farmers and sheriffs deputies use a number of techniques to combat rural crime, combining new technology with tried-and-true information sharing. Recently signed state legislation creates a new crime category—grand theft of agricultural property—and invests fines collected from those crimes into rural crime-prevention programs.

Winegrape harvest may be delayed
As winegrapes ripen in California vineyards, farmers wait to see how cool, rainy spring weather affected the crop. Farmers expect their harvests to come 10 days to two weeks later than usual, because of the cooler temperatures. Individual farmers say the crop looks smaller, but the leader of a Fresno-based growers cooperative says he believes the winegrape harvest will ultimately be as large or larger than last year’s record crop.

Controlling weeds would lessen chance of wildfire
Invasive weeds worsen California’s wildfire threat, and a University of California specialist says one particular group of weeds—from the genus Bromus—has become a pervasive concern. Cheatgrass and other Bromus species can be found in wide swaths of the state. The grasses can be controlled through livestock grazing, mowing, herbicides and other methods, but have to be tackled at just the right time, before their seeds mature.

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.

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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