Food & Farm News

Volume 23, No. 36Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Safe harbor agreement would help fish, landowners
In what’s described as “a pretty unprecedented process,” a group of agricultural landowners wants to enter into a federal agreement to help salmon. The “safe harbor” agreement would assure the landowners their work to help fish would allow them to continue operating their ranching businesses. Most agreements have been between regulatory agencies and one landowner. The new agreement would involve a group of 10 landowners near the Shasta River in Siskiyou County.

Processor offers home for unsold olives
Olive growers who found their crops marooned may have another buyer. Tracy-based Musco Olive Company said Tuesday it would offer contracts to farmers whose contracts were canceled by the other main olive processor, Bell-Carter Foods. Bell-Carter said this month it needed to cancel an undisclosed number of grower contracts to remain competitive. Musco says it wants to transition farmers to harvesting ripe olives mechanically.

“Plant parents” boost houseplant sales
Are you a “plant parent”? If so, you’re contributing to growing demand for indoor foliage plants. A San Diego County nursery owner says young adults appear to be driving the “plant parent” trend through social media. That’s increased sales of plants such as Chinese money plants and “retro” houseplants such as philodendrons. Nursery operators say cooler-than-average temperatures have delayed growth of many of their plants by one to four weeks.

State Capitol to host annual Ag Day
The annual Ag Day event at the state Capitol Wednesday will also feature a centennial celebration for the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Although the agency can trace its roots back to as early as 1878, the modern version of the department was created in 1919. The Ag Day at the Capitol celebration will feature food booths, farm animals and other attractions.

Volume 23, No. 35Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Winter weather slows desert vegetable harvests
A cooler-than-usual winter in the California desert has altered vegetable-production schedules in the region. Farmers say their harvests have been running more slowly than usual, in part because chilly morning temperatures have forced crews to wait to start picking lettuce and other crops. Wholesale markets for vegetables have reflected the colder weather, and farmers say the weather will also extend the desert harvest season.

Farmers work to protect tree crops after rains
An expected stretch of dry weather the next few days will give Central Valley farmers a chance to protect their crops from fungal diseases that can result from rain. The diseases pose a particular threat to almonds and other tree crops. Agricultural aviation companies say they’ve seen a surge in business from farmers who need to try to head off the crop diseases, but whose tractors can’t navigate muddy orchards.

Trends point to lower lumber prices
Timber operators say they expect lumber prices to decline at least slightly this year. Analysts say lumber prices often follow trends in the construction market, and housing starts dropped last fall and early this winter. Housing starts have rebounded slightly since then, and timber operators say they hope that will help moderate any downturn in their markets. An influx of salvage logs from wildfire areas could also affect lumber prices.

Farmers, ranchers to receive leadership training
Ten farmers and ranchers from around California have begun intensive training on agricultural issues and governmental policy as part of the Leadership Farm Bureau program. The program’s 2019 class was formally introduced Tuesday during a California Farm Bureau conference in Sacramento. Class members were among more than 250 Farm Bureau members who participated in legislative visits at the state Capitol during the conference.

Volume 23, No. 34Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Floods hamper North Coast farms
The impact of late-February floods will likely disrupt North Coast dairy farms for some time to come. One Humboldt County dairy farmer says floodwater from the Eel River affected a number of dairies in the region. Sediment will need to be removed from pastures before cows can graze there. Dairies will also need to repair fences, wiring and water systems, a process the farmer says could take weeks.

Winter storms benefit underground aquifers
Along with swelling the Sierra snowpack, winter storms have aided efforts to replenish groundwater basins. An increasing number of regions have created places to pond water, to filter down to underground aquifers—a process known as active recharge. Groundwater experts say the rains also benefit natural recharge, but that determining just how much aquifers have risen can be difficult to measure.

Two genes control sweetness of citrus
New, sweeter varieties of citrus fruit could result from research conducted in the Netherlands and California. By analyzing citrus raised at the University of California, Riverside, scientists in Amsterdam isolated two genes that appear to control whether citrus fruit will be sweet or sour. The discovery could help future plant breeders produce sweet-tasting fruit with just the right balance of tang.

Farmers welcome decision to end electric-line project
In a decision that relieved farmers in part of the Sacramento Valley, a utility has cancelled plans to build an electrical transmission line in Colusa and Sutter counties. Farmers who attended public meetings about the proposal said the line would have harmed farmland and wildlife that uses the farmland as habitat. One of the project’s sponsors, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, cited cost in deciding to cancel the project.

Volume 23, No. 33Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Almond farmers monitor pollination
Wet February weather comes as almond orchards throughout the Central Valley move toward full bloom. In a blog post, the Blue Diamond Growers cooperative describes the bloom as in different stages, depending on the region. Almond trees depend on bees for pollination, and bees don’t fly in rainy weather. But a University of California farm advisor says bees take advantage of breaks in the weather and can accomplish a lot in a short time.

Water supplies buoy hopes for annual crops
The prospect of improved water supplies as a result of above-average precipitation could give farmers more flexibility in their choice of annual crops. Farmers say the potential for more water should give them options to plant more land and choose among suitable vegetable, grain and field crops. For example, analysts expect California farmers to plant more cotton this year, in part because of improved water availability and in part due to market forces.

Honey sweetens food and economy, study says
People in the United States consume nearly 600 million pounds of honey a year, according to a University of California study released Tuesday by the National Honey Board. About half that consumption comes from food in which honey is an ingredient. The study estimates U.S. honey production generates 22,000 jobs and about $4.7 billion in economic activity. California ranks third in the nation in honey production.

Strawberry research may lead to crop improvements
Knowing more about strawberry genetics promises to help plant breeders enhance crop quality and protect berries from disease. Scientists at the University of California, Davis, announced this week they had worked with an international team to sequence the strawberry genome. Strawberry specialists say that will allow them to identify genes that protect the plant against diseases, and those that affect aroma, shelf life and other key factors.

Volume 23, No. 32Wednesday, February 20, 2019

CVP to issue its first water forecast
With the Sierra snowpack swollen to far above average, three members of Congress have urged the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to factor in this month’s storms and maximize its projected water deliveries for irrigation in the San Joaquin Valley. In a letter to the bureau, the legislators say the snowfall should help the Central Valley Project provide more certainty on water supplies. The first forecast of CVP supplies is expected this week.

Scale categorizes strength of atmospheric rivers
A new scale to rank “atmospheric river” storms could help water managers plan for the rain and snow the storms bring. The state Department of Water Resources says it has partnered with researchers to develop the scale. It ranks storms on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being mostly beneficial and category-5 storms primarily hazardous. DWR says atmospheric-river storms provide most of the state’s water supply—but also cause most of its floods.

Beekeepers report theft of colonies
With almond bloom progressing in the Central Valley, beekeepers have placed colonies in orchards to pollinate the crop. But demand for bees may be close to outstripping supply—and that has contributed to thefts of bee colonies. Beekeepers in both the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys have reported losing hives. A sheriff’s deputy who investigates bee thefts says beekeepers and farmers must work closely together to prevent bees from being stolen.

Pistachio consumption poised to set record
People around the world will eat more pistachios than ever before, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Record production in both the United States and Turkey will offset a crop failure in Iran, leading to higher available supplies. Those three nations produce the bulk of the world pistachio crop, with smaller production coming from Syria and the European Union. California farms produce virtually all U.S.-grown pistachios.

Volume 23, No. 31Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Storms affect strawberry supplies
Winter storms have slowed strawberry production in Southern California, tightening supplies during the key marketing period before Valentine’s Day. Most California strawberries come from Ventura County at this time of year, where farmers report their pre-Valentine’s Day production declined because of rain. Despite the harvest interruptions, farmers describe the rain as a long-term benefit for future irrigation supplies.

NASA leader describes technology for agriculture
Data from space helps farmers make on-the-ground decisions daily, and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine says the agency plans to expand its agricultural services. Speaking Tuesday at the opening of World Ag Expo in Tulare, Bridenstine said NASA is working with California researchers to provide more precise, accurate information about plant water use. He said NASA resources also help with crop monitoring, snowpack measurement and other activities.

Equipment expo opens for 52nd year
Planners expect more than 100,000 people to attend the three-day World Ag Expo in Tulare, which continues through Thursday. Considered the largest event of its kind, the expo features nearly 1,500 exhibitors who display farm equipment, supplies and technology. Attendees also participate in farm tours and go to seminars on irrigation, dairy production, marketing and other topics.

Study shows scope of world crop losses
Pests and plant diseases cut yields for five top food crops by 10 to 40 percent worldwide, according to a new report. A University of California scientist who helped prepare the study says it shows the world continues to lose a large amount of food to pests and diseases at a time when food production needs to increase. The report looked at wheat, rice, maize, potatoes and soybeans grown in 67 countries.

Volume 23, No. 30Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Groups ask Congress to tackle rural infrastructure
Congress should move quickly to enact bipartisan infrastructure legislation, which should address the specific needs of rural communities, according to a coalition of 200-plus organizations. In a letter to congressional leaders, the coalition said rural communities have unique needs for drinking water, transportation, power, broadband and other facilities. The California Farm Bureau Federation and other California organizations are part of the coalition.

Rose growers concentrate on year-round sales
With Valentine’s Day approaching, California rose growers say the holiday has become only a minor part of their business. Imported red roses dominate the market so, to stay in business, California farmers have diversified. Most now grow roses in whites, pinks and other less traditional colors, and depend on sales for use at weddings and other special events during the year.

Tomato growers assess 2019 plans
Plantings of processing tomatoes apparently will remain stable in California. The partial government shutdown delayed an official estimate of planting intentions, but the California Tomato Growers Association estimates farmers will produce 12 million tons of tomatoes for use in salsa, ketchup and other products. In addition, groups that promote tomato products and avocados plan a joint marketing campaign to underline the combined benefits of the crops.

Cheese makers look for ways to boost sales
Americans have been eating more cheese, and dairy processors have been making more—but the supply has been outpacing the demand. Cheese stocks have risen to record levels nationwide. Lower prices have helped improve export demand for U.S. cheese, but retaliatory tariffs and other trade disputes have blunted the growth. The U.S. Dairy Export Council says an improved treaty with Japan could be a significant benefit to the cheese business.

Volume 23, No. 28Wednesday, January 30, 2019

More snow could help projects deliver more water
When state surveyors return to the Sierra Nevada Thursday, they’ll find much more snow—a situation that encourages farmers. The Sierra snowpack now stands at about 105 percent of average, up from 70 percent at the start of the month. Farmers say they hope winter storms continue, and that improved rain and snow will lead to better water supplies. State and federal water projects delivered supplies of 35 and 50 percent last year.

Grape growers respond to losses from wildfire smoke
Smoke from wildfires caused millions of dollars in losses for winegrape growers last year, and they’re taking steps in response. Research represents one step, as specialists seek more information on how wildfire smoke affects grapes and wine. About three-quarters of the state’s vineyards are covered by crop insurance, and a grape growers organization encourages more farmers to enroll. And a disaster bill in Congress could include relief for farmers with smoke-damaged grapes.

Tree nurseries report continued demand for nuts
Nurseries that supply young trees to plant in new or replacement orchards say nuts remain popular among growers. Consumption of almonds and other nuts has continued to improve, and nuts offer farmers the added advantage of not needing as many employees to tend and harvest the trees once they mature. Nursery operators say they’re selling more trees in containers, meaning they can be planted at different times of year other than the dormant winter season.

Study offers new insights into honeybee pest
New information about how a tiny pest attacks honeybees may offer clues for how to protect the pollinators. U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers say microscopic images of the varroa mite show that the mite appears to feed on a different part of bees than originally thought. The mites have been isolated as one cause of bee population declines. USDA says the study should help in developing new treatments to help honeybees fend off mite attacks.

Volume 23, No. 28Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Local USDA offices to reopen this week
Despite the partial government shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says it will reopen local offices to help farmers process loan, tax and other documents. The action affects 32 Farm Service Agency offices in California. A dozen California offices had reopened last week for limited services. The rest will reopen Thursday. The USDA also extended a deadline for farmers affected by retaliatory tariffs to apply for aid.

Cling-peach farmers diversify to compete
Subsidized imports from China continue to encroach on markets for California canned peaches, leading to what a grower group called the state’s smallest cling-peach crop in modern history. The U.S. imposed higher tariffs on Chinese canned peaches last year, but the California Canning Peach Association says that led to a spike in import volume, as buyers rushed to beat the tariff increase. Peach growers have been removing trees and diversifying crops to stay in business.

Studies show grazing, other tools can slow fire threat
Livestock grazing, prescribed burns and other land-management tools could reduce wildfire risks and bring other benefits, according to presentations at a “rangeland summit” meeting. Experts gathered in Stockton to discuss the role of livestock grazing in preventing wildfire. A University of California land-management specialist said her studies find that regular grazing, combined with other treatments, proved effective in managing potential wildfire fuels.

Wildlife authorities battle nutria infestation
Close to 400 nutria have been trapped in California since the invasive rodent entered the state last year. Most have been found in Merced County, with multiple nutria also trapped in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties. Nutria can destroy crops and other vegetation, and can cause flooding by burrowing into levees. State wildlife officials say they’re optimistic about chances for eradicating the pests, and say they’ve had good cooperation from affected landowners.

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.

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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