Food & Farm News

Volume 23, No. 27Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Program intends to protect beehives
As part of an effort to safeguard honeybees, a California program will require beekeepers to register hive locations. Known as BeeWhere, the program intends to protect bees by improving communication among beekeepers, pest control advisors and county agricultural commissioners. By knowing better where bees are, farmers can schedule crop treatments to avoid affecting bee colonies. The program may also help prevent beehive theft and other problems.

January weather may help orange growers
Recent rains and chilly temperatures give orange growers hope of being able to send more large-sized fruit to market. Hot summer weather last year put trees under stress and helped reduce the size of individual navel oranges. That, in turn, has cut orange prices, because buyers generally prefer larger fruit. Growers say the oranges remain of high quality, and that January weather has helped the fruit gain size, color and sweetness.

Study looks at how drought affects forests
Forest health during dry summers depends on water stored underground—and calculations by University of California researchers could help land managers evaluate tree health and where to thin overstocked forests. UC Merced specialists say California forests appear especially dependent on water stored in the root zone to carry them through dry summers. Drought depletes that water, causing stress for trees.

Food marketers explore e-commerce options
As commerce moves online, farmers and food marketers try to harness the technology to sell more fresh and perishable items. Marketers say perishable foods have been slower to adapt to e-commerce, because people often want to choose their produce themselves. That’s changing, for example, as a number of retailers now offer “click and collect” services that allow shoppers to order foods online and pick up their purchases at the store.

Volume 23, No. 26Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Government shutdown causes mixed impact
Essential federal services and programs affecting agriculture remain in operation during the partial government shutdown, while others have gone on hiatus. Because U.S. Agriculture Department offices have closed during the shutdown, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Tuesday the agency will allow farmers extra time to apply for relief from retaliatory trade tariffs. Programs such as food inspection and grading continue to operate.

Storms bolster Sierra snowpack
A few days made a big difference in the Sierra Nevada snowpack. When surveyors conducted the year’s first manual measurement last week, the snowpack stood at only about two-thirds of average for the date. But after strong weekend storms, the snowpack has improved to more than 80 percent of average levels. Water managers monitor the readings to help anticipate future water supplies.

New technique aims to fight soil pests
Saying they’re encouraged by early results, University of California researchers plan further tests on a new way to attack soil-borne pests. Known as “biosolarization,” the process taps the sun’s heat and microorganisms contained in crop byproducts such as tomato skins and nut hulls. Researchers say adding the byproducts to soil, then covering it with tarps to collect solar heat, attacks soil pests while activating beneficial microbes.

American Farm Bureau meeting to begin
The nation’s largest farm organization kicks off its centennial year later this week, as the American Farm Bureau Federation holds its 100th Annual Convention in New Orleans. Delegates from California will join more than 6,000 Farm Bureau members from around the nation for the event, which will feature a wide range of speakers and educational programs. On the convention’s final day, delegates from state Farm Bureaus will establish AFBF policy for the coming year.

Volume 23, No. 25Wednesday, December 19, 2018

July heat wave affects avocado production
A spike in Southern California temperatures last July will likely reduce the state’s 2019 avocado crop. The California Avocado Commission estimates the new crop at 167 million pounds, which would be half the volume produced this year. The July heat wave stressed avocado trees in particular in parts of Ventura, Riverside and San Diego counties. But some growers say they already see signs of recovery for the 2020 avocado crop.

Sierra snow levels stand below average
After achieving above-average levels earlier this month, snow depths in the Sierra Nevada have slipped to about 80 percent of average for the date. Water managers watch the Sierra snow levels carefully, in order to plan for water supplies in the coming year. Even at current levels, the Sierra snowpack is much healthier than it was a year ago, when the snowpack statewide stood at only about one-third of average.

Study finds native plants that attract pollinators
Following two years of study, University of California experts have identified wildflowers that appear best for attracting honeybees and other pollinators to farms and gardens. The study showed species of phacelia and clarkia to be among the spring-blooming plants most attractive to both wild bees and honeybees. The researchers studied drought-tolerant, California native plants that blossom during a range of periods throughout the year.

Trend watchers look toward 2019
’Tis the season to predict food trends for the coming year. A blog aimed at operators of fast-casual restaurants says customers will continue to look for “approachable, familiar” foods and predicts increased interest in regional barbecue and foods from the upper Midwest, such as Detroit pizza or Chicago-style Italian food. Meanwhile, a global hospitality group anticipates trends including fermented foods, insect-based proteins and new cuts of steak.

Volume 23, No. 24Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Farm groups urge final farm bill passage
Now that a new federal farm bill has passed the U.S. Senate, agricultural organizations urge the House to follow suit. The California Farm Bureau says the farm bill is important both on the farm and in the city, because it contains federal nutrition programs. The bill also includes conservation, research, trade and other programs favored by California farmers. But the Farm Bureau says the bill falls short on provisions to improve wildfire prevention.

Revised water-quality rule draws praise from farmers
Farm groups welcome a new rule aimed at clarifying how the Clean Water Act applies to farms, ranches and other affected areas. Known as the Clean Water Rule, the proposal announced Tuesday replaces a “waters of the United States” rule that farm groups said would have allowed federal agencies to regulate routine farming activities. The California Farm Bureau said it hoped the new rule would restore balance to Clean Water Act enforcement.

Almond Orchard 2025 initiative boosts efficiency
With the understanding that people want to know more about how almonds are grown, the Almond Board of California has announced an initiative to demonstrate continuous improvement in production. Known as Almond Orchard 2025, the initiative includes goals for enhancing water efficiency, reducing dust at harvest time, boosting environmentally friendly pest management and working for zero waste in orchards. The board says new technology can help achieve each goal.

Technology project aims to slow citrus disease
So far, the fatal plant disease known as HLB has stayed out of California citrus groves, but it has caused severe damage in Florida. California scientists are collaborating with colleagues in Florida and Texas on a project to treat citrus trees that have been exposed to HLB. They’re developing automated technology to deliver bactericides through tiny punctures in tree trunks and branches. The treatments aim to slow HLB but would not cure it.

Volume 23, No. 23Wednesday, December 5, 2018

California Farm Bureau Annual Meeting opens
Volunteer leaders from around California gather in San Diego this week for the 100th Annual Meeting of the California Farm Bureau Federation. About 650 farmers, ranchers and others involved in agriculture will attend seminars, hear speeches, present awards and discuss issues affecting California agriculture. At the end of the meeting, delegates will adopt policies Farm Bureau will pursue in the coming year.

Farm bill discussions near the finish line
Services for the late President George H.W. Bush will likely delay work by Congress to update federal farm policy. Congress has postponed a number of votes as it pauses to honor the late president. Leaders of House and Senate agriculture committees announced last week they had reached agreement on the new farm bill. The legislation updates policies affecting nutrition, conservation, trade, research and other federal agricultural programs.

Poinsettias remain top plant for holidays
A growing variety of holiday plants greets shoppers at California nurseries, though the traditional red poinsettia remains the No. 1 seller. Poinsettia growers say they’ve been offering more of the plants in nontraditional colors, such as white, pink, orange and variegated hues. Nursery owners say they’ve also seen growing demand for additional holiday plants such as Christmas cacti and other succulents.

UC researchers study how plants sense temperature
By identifying how plants respond to daylight and sense temperature, researchers hope ultimately to learn how to breed crops to handle changes in climate. A team of scientists at the University of California, Riverside, report they have learned more about how plants react to temperature changes. The lead researcher says the team found “the master control for temperature sensing in plants,” and now plans further studies on the topic.

Volume 23, No. 22Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Loan aids water project
Water management in the Sacramento Valley will benefit from a $449 million federal loan. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the loan during a visit to the future Sites Reservoir Tuesday. The loan would aid a project to connect two existing canals in order to enhance the flexibility of water management in the region. Perdue and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke also met with farmers and ranchers for a roundtable discussion.

Rangeland suffers from Camp Fire
Early estimates indicate the Camp Fire burned 30,000 to 40,000 acres of rangeland in Butte County. Ranchers say most cattle remained on higher ground during the fire, and were not affected. But the ranchers will need to find other sources of feed to replace the scorched rangeland. The Butte County agricultural commissioner says he has also heard of fire damage to orchards and nurseries, but that specific loss estimates can't yet be made.

Resources help bird owners protect poultry
Keeping birds safe from infectious poultry diseases requires care, whether the birds live on farms or in backyard chicken coops, and government agencies have enhanced online resources to help bird owners. A U.S. Agriculture Department program called Defend the Flock provides videos, fact sheets and other materials. In Southern California, officials are tracking outbreaks of virulent Newcastle disease in backyard poultry.

Restaurant preferences undergo changes
The restaurant landscape continues to shift with the emergence of "fast casual" restaurants. A government study says fast-casual restaurants have increased their share of the quick-service restaurant market. Quick-service establishments--where customers order food at a counter--have grown in number by 20 percent since 2000, and now account for more than half of the restaurants in operation nationwide.

Volume 23, No. 21Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Ranchers assess impact of Camp Fire
The extent of agricultural damage from the Camp Fire in Butte County will take some time to assess. Cattle ranchers report losses to grazing land, winter feed and fences, but say cattle and other livestock remained on higher-elevation rangeland untouched by the fire. Beekeepers and orchards may also have suffered fire-related losses. Farm organizations have created relief efforts to benefit rural disaster victims.

Federal agencies seek to enhance forest management
As crews work to contain wildfires in California and elsewhere, two federal cabinet secretaries say they want expanded authority to engage in forest management. In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said they would seek the authority from Congress. Perdue said he wants to expand Good Neighbor Authority, which allows local governments to cooperate in management of federal forestland.

U.S. turkey production remains stable
This is the time when many people think about turkey, and the U.S. Agriculture Department says Americans consume about 16 pounds of turkey per person each year. That figure has stayed stable—and so has turkey meat production. California ranks eighth in the nation in turkey production, with about 11.5 million birds marketed last year. USDA says wholesale turkey prices have been trending lower in 2018 compared to a year ago.

Christmas tree farms prepare for season
Christmas tree prices should hold steady this year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Many choose-and-cut tree farms open the day after Thanksgiving. The association says sales of natural, locally grown trees have enjoyed a renaissance, thanks to buyers from the millennial generation. Data from the credit card-processing firm Square indicate tree prices fluctuate during the holiday season, reaching their low point—not surprisingly—on Christmas Eve.

Volume 23, No. 20Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Congress to renew farm bill discussions
Farmers and their advocates hope the current lame-duck session of Congress will lead to a final agreement on new federal farm legislation. A House-Senate conference committee has been unable so far to settle on a compromise bill, and the previous bill expired at the end of September. The farm bill establishes policies on conservation, research, nutrition and a variety of other agricultural and food programs.

Fresh California turkeys to be in high demand
People in the poultry business say shoppers who want to have fresh, California-grown turkey for the holidays should reserve them ahead of time. Whole-body turkeys from California typically become scarce by the end of the holiday season. The California Poultry Federation says the state’s turkey production may be slightly larger than last year. But California farmers produce only about a third of the turkeys on the market for the holidays.

Purple sweet potatoes gain popularity
It’s still a specialty crop, but you’re more likely to see purple sweet potatoes on the market this year. A company that grows the purple potatoes says it has increased production steadily the past few years. The sweet potatoes gain their purple color because they’re rich in plant pigments that serve as antioxidants with disease-preventing properties. University researchers are working on additional purple varieties that could grow well in California.

Rural population decline reverses
More people are moving to rural counties, reversing a trend of population decline that began in 2010, according to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The increase in net migration to rural areas coincides with decreased unemployment, rising income levels and declining poverty. However, the trend toward “graying” in rural counties continues, as they attract retirees but lose new labor force entrants.

Volume 23, No. 19Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Water board to vote on flows proposal
At a meeting in Sacramento Wednesday, the State Water Resources Control Board is expected to vote on a contested proposal to redirect flows in three Central California rivers. The proposal would require more water to be left in the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers for fishery purposes. The plan has met with local opposition from people who have urged a more balanced, collaborative approach, and prompted hundreds of opponents to rally outside the state Capitol this summer.

Farmers work to finish walnut harvest
As the California walnut harvest nears its end, farmers say their crop may not be as large as originally thought. Orchards in Northern California appear not to have produced as many walnuts as predicted, although the crop will still be a large one. Farmers say retaliatory tariffs imposed by three of the largest foreign customers for California walnuts could affect sales. Marketers will strive to boost walnut consumption in the United States.

Fruit fly infestation leads to quarantine
A 79-square-mile portion of Los Angeles County has been placed under quarantine due to an infestation of the Mexican fruit fly. Discovery of several flies in Long Beach led to the quarantine, which encompasses the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. State agricultural officials say quarantine restrictions could affect some shipments at the ports, as well as movement of fruit from other sites. Authorities will release sterile male fruit flies to combat the infestation.

Proper firewood handling cuts pest problems
Free firewood can be expensive, when it carries invasive pests with it. Untreated wood can harbor insects or disease that spreads to healthy trees. University of California specialists say proper management of cut wood can reduce the risk of spreading such pests. They say people should not move untreated firewood out of the area where it was cut. UC says people buying firewood should ask whether it’s from a local source and if it has been treated for pests.

Volume 23, No. 18Wednesday, October 31, 2018

New water year begins on a dry note
The first month of California’s new water year has been dry, but forecasters say there’s “no clear indicator” about whether the year will turn out to be wet or dry. A representative of the state Department of Water Resources notes the main rain and snow months of December, January and February remain ahead. Water storage in many reservoirs has stayed near or above average, although some have been drawn down in part to provide cold water for fish.

Tiny wasps fight against big problem for citrus
New recruits in the fight against a deadly citrus disease entered the battle at Cal Poly Pomona Tuesday, as officials released beneficial wasps into citrus trees. The wasps act as natural predators of the Asian citrus psyllid, an insect that can spread the fatal plant disease HLB. More than 3 million of the tiny wasps have been released in Southern California this year, as officials work to keep HLB out of commercial citrus groves.

Californian elected to lead National FFA
For a second consecutive year, a Californian has been elected president of the National FFA Organization. Luke O’Leary of San Luis Obispo won the post during the FFA convention in Indianapolis last weekend. O’Leary is studying agricultural leadership and development at Texas A&M University. He succeeds Breanna Holbert of Lodi, who served as national FFA president for the previous year.

Study tracks time devoted to eating
A little more than an hour a day: That’s the average time American adults spend in eating and drinking as a primary activity. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says adults devote about 65 minutes a day to meals and another 17 minutes to eating as a secondary activity. The amount of time Americans spend eating has declined. Researchers say more work will be needed to determine if eating faster can be connected to obesity rates.

Volume 23, No. 17Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Active farmland helps replenish groundwater
In orchards, vineyards and fields around California, farmers are spreading water on their land in projects aimed at replenishing underground aquifers. Researchers monitoring the projects want to be sure they benefit groundwater without harming crops. The projects aim to take advantage of water when it’s available by storing it underground. On-farm recharge projects are underway in crops including grapes, nuts and alfalfa.

Moderate water stress may help walnut trees
University researchers say a tool called a pressure bomb can help walnut growers determine the best time to irrigate their trees. The pressure bomb measures a tree’s water needs. University of California specialists used them in an orchard near Red Bluff, and say they found that walnut trees may benefit from postponing initial irrigation. The UC Davis researchers say walnut trees perform best when under moderate water stress.

Cotton harvest begins with high quality
Signs appear positive for the quality of the California cotton crop as the harvest enters its early stages. Initial reports show higher yields and fewer insect problems than farmers experienced a year ago. California farmers planted fewer acres of cotton this year, in part due to water availability. Farmers remain concerned about how the ongoing trade dispute with China might affect markets for their cotton crop.

Pumpkin crop looks plentiful
With Halloween coming next week, the U.S. Agriculture Department reports that California has had a healthy pumpkin crop this year. California ranks second in the nation in pumpkin production, behind Illinois—where most of the pumpkins are grown for pie filling. Nearly all the pumpkins grown and harvested in California are sold fresh. So far this season, USDA says, pumpkin prices have been slightly higher than last year.

Volume 23, No. 16Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Growers praise 2018 pistachio crop
As pistachio growers finish their harvest, farmers report what one calls “one of the best crops in years.” Production could set a record, and crop quality has been high. Pistachio growers saw their largest export market affected when China imposed retaliatory tariffs earlier this year. But they expect strong demand in the U.S. and throughout the world, in part because of production problems in the world’s No. 2 producer, Iran.

Foothill grape growers expect high-quality vintage
In the foothills east of Sacramento, winegrape growers say they expect a high-quality harvest after what a farm advisor called “a bit of a tumultuous season.” Wet weather at bloom, frost in April and hot weather in July all threatened the crop, but cooler weather in August and September helped the grapes ripen slowly, as desired. The cooler temperatures allowed the grapes to hang on the vines longer and develop their flavors.

Trends lead people to spend more on dining out
As people’s incomes rise, they tend to eat out more often and, since 2010, Americans have spent more on food away from home than food bought to be cooked at home. Government figures show people spent about $869 billion on food away from home last year, up 3 percent from the previous year. An American Farm Bureau Federation analyst says the trend means a smaller proportion of overall food spending goes back to farmers and ranchers.

Technology aids livestock and land management
More ranchers have embraced technology to improve their efficiency and manage information. The innovations range from electronic identification systems for livestock to pasture mapping applications to using drones to manage grazing. Later this month, University of California Cooperative Extension will host a Grazing Technology Field Day to showcase technology that helps ranchers oversee land and livestock effectively.

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.

Phone: 916-561-5550

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