Food & Farm News

Volume 22, No. 8Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Seasonal trends benefit dairy sales
If historic trends prevail, sales of milk and other dairy projects will enjoy a seasonal boost this fall, as students return to school and holiday-related consumption accelerates. Market analysts say consumption of fluid milk often slumps in the summer but rebounds beginning in August. Products such as butter, cream and cheese will see increased sales in coming months, as buyers build inventory for the holidays.

Walnut study points to appetite control
If you feel less hungry after eating a few walnuts, there’s a reason: Scientists at a Boston hospital say walnuts activate a region of the brain involved in appetite control. People report feeling fuller after eating walnuts, and the new study helps to pinpoint the brain activity that triggers the response. Researchers say the findings could help them learn how other foods affect people’s ability to control their appetites.

Farmers assess NAFTA
When talks resume next month about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, farmers and ranchers will continue to press for policies that retain gains in agricultural trade among the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The California Farm Bureau says NAFTA has, on balance, been positive for California agriculture, although Mexican competition has hurt some crops. Canada is the No. 2 market for California farm exports, and Mexico ranks fifth.

Research aims to breed drought-resistant plants
The amount of wax on a plant’s leaves may offer a clue about how well the plant can withstand drought. A project by scientists from California and Texas examined wheat, and found that plants that survive in dry climates have higher concentrations of wax on their leaves. A professor from the University of Southern California says the findings will help plant specialists breed drought-resistant crops.

Volume 22, No. 7Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Landowner settles wetlands case
A landowner who had been accused of federal wetlands violations after plowing a Northern California wheat field settled with the government Tuesday, just before the penalty phase of his trial was to begin. The landowner, John Duarte, admitted no liability and agreed to pay a fine and to purchase environmental mitigation credits. Duarte’s attorneys said the charges against him illustrated a “significant ongoing threat” to farmers across the country.

Farmers gather state’s almond crop
Almond harvest has shifted into high gear in the Central Valley. Crop forecasters expect farmers to harvest more than 2 billion pounds of almonds during the next few weeks. Some farmers say their harvests have been running a week to 10 days behind schedule—likely related to weather earlier this year. Farmers use machines to shake the almonds off the trees, then sweep them up before the nuts are hulled and shelled.

Researchers propose new way to dry walnuts
Before walnuts reach market, they’re dried in processing plants around California. Researchers for the U.S. Department of Agriculture say they’ve found a way to dry walnuts more quickly and efficiently. The new process uses infrared light rather than hot air. USDA researchers say the technique could reduce energy costs for drying walnuts by 25 percent, and shorten drying time by 35 percent.

Estimate shows increased olive production
Improved conditions from favorable weather have led to an expected increase in California production of table olives. Government estimators say they expect the crop to increase 9 percent, compared to last year. Table olives are those sold for eating out of hand, rather than being made into oil. Most California-grown olives come from production areas in the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys.

Volume 22, No. 6Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Researchers work to slow citrus disease
Hundreds of scientists are looking at every possible way to prevent a deadly plant disease from reaching California groves. A University of California researcher says one focus is to be able to detect the HLB disease earlier, which would help to slow its spread. HLB has hit citrus production in Florida but has been kept out of commercial California citrus, so far. It’s carried by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid.

California-grown apples reach market
The nation’s first fresh apples to reach market come from California, and farmers in the Central Valley say their crop has returned to a typical harvest schedule after two years in which it started unusually early. Gala-variety apples are the first to arrive, and farmers in the southern San Joaquin Valley started harvesting them last month. The other main commercial apple varieties grown in California include Granny Smith, Fuji and Pink Lady.

Grants support fruit and vegetable consumption
With the goal of encouraging fruit and vegetable consumption among recipients of food assistance, five California projects will share in federal grant money announced this week. The state Department of Food and Agriculture earned a grant for a statewide program to expand incentives for aid recipients to buy fresh produce at farmers markets. Other grants support similar incentive programs based in Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento and Woodland.

Food-price trends diverge
The cost of eating out has been rising faster than the cost of eating at home, according to a federal study. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the average cost for eating at home actually dropped slightly last year, due to lower crop prices and energy costs. But the average cost of eating away from home continued to rise, mainly due to increased wages and benefits earned by food-service employees.

Volume 22, No. 5Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Farm bill session to be held in Modesto
As part of its work to shape new federal farm legislation, the House Agriculture Committee will hold a listening session in Modesto this week. The Saturday session will gather comments from farmers, ranchers and other interested people. Congress plans to write a new farm bill next year, authorizing programs on conservation, research, nutrition and other aspects of agricultural and food policy.

Proponents write new water bond measures
Drought remains on Californians’ minds despite this season’s wet winter, and as many as four new bond proposals address continuing efforts to improve the state’s water system. Two of the proposals have been created in the state Legislature. The other two would need to qualify via signature drives. Each aims for the 2018 statewide ballot, and could build on the Proposition 1 water bond voters passed in 2014.

Tomato harvest picks up speed
They’ve faced challenges this season, and farmers who grow processing tomatoes say their harvest has gotten off to a slow but good start. Spring rains delayed tomato planting, then heat waves during the growing season further affected the crop. Farmers say their harvests have been starting later than they did last year. California leads the nation in production of processing tomatoes, which go into salsa, ketchup and other products.

Rice agreement opens new markets
The promise of new markets in China encourages California rice farmers. A trade agreement allows American rice to enter China, and California farmers say they may be uniquely suited to fit the market. For one thing, California is much closer to China than other rice-growing regions of the U.S. In addition, California farms specialize in growing high-quality, medium-grain rice that could fill a market niche in China.

Volume 22, No. 4Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Farmers offer aid to fire victims
As fire crews work to contain the Detwiler Fire in Mariposa County, farmers and ranchers in nearby counties offer aid to people in burned-out areas. County Farm Bureaus in Madera, Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne counties have issued calls to action to their members to help haul or house livestock displaced by the fire. The county Farm Bureaus are also accepting donations of feed for livestock and household items for people.

Citrus disease-fighting program to continue
A cooperative effort to fight a fatal disease of citrus trees has earned extension. California agricultural authorities decided to continue the program after hearing from citrus growers and packers. The program coordinates response to the plant disease HLB, which can be carried by an insect called the Asian citrus psyllid. HLB has ravaged Florida citrus trees but has so far been confined to backyard trees in California.

Research points to natural pest control
In research they say could lead to new natural management of crop and garden pests, scientists at the University of California, Riverside, have learned more about how microscopic worms called nematodes attack insects. Some nematodes feed on insects, and the UC research showed how they find new insect hosts. The scientists say the findings could eventually lead to biological insecticides to protect plants including oranges, tomatoes and peaches.

Drone helps specialist create ‘virtual orchards’
“Virtual orchards” created through use of a drone are helping researchers learn how best to care for trees—and could ultimately help farmers improve their management efforts. A University of California Cooperative Extension expert uses the drone to take specialized photos of orchards that show information invisible to the human eye. Analyzing the photos can help farm advisors judge an orchard’s health, and better manage water and fertilizer use.

Volume 22, No. 3Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wildfires scorch rural land
Rural landscapes around California continue to suffer, as wildfires affect many parts of the state. Cattle ranchers in the area of the Detwiler fire in Mariposa County moved quickly to protect livestock, and said they had lost feed and fencing to the flames. Winegrape growers near the Alamo fire on the Central Coast say their grapes appear to have come through that fire without suffering from smoke damage.

Farmers list NAFTA goals
As the Trump administration outlines its objectives in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, farmers and ranchers say they want to be sure NAFTA continues to expand agricultural trade with Canada and Mexico. The American Farm Bureau says the agreement has benefited U.S. farmers. Among its priorities for a modernized NAFTA, Farm Bureau seeks improvements on exports of fruits, vegetables, wine, dairy products and other farm goods.

Study predicts increased U.S. meat consumption
More production of red meat and poultry will likely lead to greater consumption, according to projections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA predicts increased consumption of pork, beef, chicken and turkey in the coming year. The forecast says U.S. production of each of those meats will rise in 2018, and that imports will add to the available supply. The report predicts lamb supplies will decline slightly.

Agricultural Heritage Club to expand
Longevity in agricultural production and representation will be recognized during an event at the California State Fair Wednesday. The fair will induct 21 farms, ranches and agricultural businesses into the California Agricultural Heritage Club, which recognizes 100 or more years of continuous operation. The new Heritage Club members will include eight county Farm Bureaus from around the state.

Volume 22, No. 2Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Fresh peaches see rising demand
Demand for California-grown fresh peaches has increased this year. Farmers say that’s in part because they have a better crop than peach growers in other parts of the country, where weather problems hurt yields. A preseason crop forecast projected California production of fresh, freestone peaches would grow about 13 percent this season. Production of canning-variety peaches is also expected to rise.

UC tests avocado production in San Joaquin Valley
Nearly all California avocados come from regions near the Southern California coast, but University of California specialists are testing varieties that could thrive in the San Joaquin Valley. Test plantings are underway in three places. Finding avocados that produce well in interior locations would allow avocado marketers to extend the season for California-grown fruit.

Farmers express concern on electric-rate proposals
Proposed changes in time-of-use electric rates could pose challenges for California farmers. Utilities have asked to revise their peak and off-peak times, when electricity prices rise or fall. Farmers and their representatives say changes could disrupt irrigation schedules and other agricultural operations. Three hearings will be held in July and August on a Pacific Gas & Electric Company rate proposal.

Heat wave could affect butter production
Butter production could eventually be affected by the June California heat wave: That’s the conclusion of an American Farm Bureau market analysis. Cows typically produce less milk—and less milkfat—during hot weather. The analysis says that could ultimately affect the amount of butter produced in California, which accounts for about 30 percent of the nation’s production. But it’s unknown whether any impact would be noticeable at the grocery store.

Volume 22, No. 1Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Sierra snowmelt appears to have peaked
Even though there’s plenty of snow in the Sierra and plenty of warm weather ahead, state officials say they believe the annual snowmelt has peaked, and should now decline. Central Valley farmers and other landowners have coped with flooding that resulted from the record-setting June heat wave. A state flood-operations specialist says the June heat caused snowmelt runoff to peak, and that any future peaks should be smaller.

Vegetable harvest recovers
After a slow start caused by late-season rain that delayed planting, Salinas Valley vegetable farmers say the 2017 growing season has recovered. Prices rose this spring for lettuce, broccoli, spinach and other vegetables, but have now settled back to levels similar to a year ago. To improve efficiency and maintain their production for the long term, Salinas Valley farmers say they’re employing automated planting machines and other new technology.

Fruit, vegetable consumption improves
Americans continue to eat more fruits and vegetables, though consumption remains below what the government recommends in its dietary guidelines. A U.S. Agriculture Department report compared food trends from 1970 and 2014. It found that fruit and vegetable consumption has increased during that period. But Americans eat only about two-thirds of the recommended amount of vegetables, and less than half the recommended fruit.

State’s field-crop acreage increases
Slightly more field-crop acreage has been planted in California this year, according to government estimates. A new report shows field-crop acreage up about 2 percent in California, though acreage declined slightly nationwide. The report estimates California farmers have planted more corn, cotton, barley, sunflowers and potatoes this year, but they decreased acreage of rice, wheat and oats.

Volume 21, No. 50Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Heat wave impacts will take time to assess
It will be weeks, if not months, before California farmers can fully assess the impacts of the recent heat wave that hit many parts of the state. Harvest time will tell the story for most crops. Growers of processing tomatoes, for example, anticipate possible reduced yields. One farm advisor noted a positive outcome of the extreme temperatures: It could help tomato-plant breeders refine their efforts to develop heat-tolerant varieties.

Sweet-corn harvest accelerates to meet holiday demand
If you plan on enjoying corn on the cob this Fourth of July, California farmers have you covered. Sweet-corn harvest is going full speed, as retailers promote it ahead of the holiday. Some growers see sales volume quadruple during this time. Sweet corn is mostly harvested by hand and often at night when temperatures are lower. Once out of the field, the ears are kept cool so the kernels stay sweet and tender.

Food-price survey shows cookout cost drops slightly
Your Fourth of July cookout will cost less this year, according to an informal survey. The American Farm Bureau Federation checked the cost of hot dogs, cheeseburgers, pork spare ribs, potato salad, chocolate milk, watermelon and other cookout favorites, and found prices overall had dropped slightly from a year ago. Farm Bureau attributes the reduction mostly to lower on-farm prices for meat and dairy products.

Report labels California’s rural roads as deficient, dangerous
California’s rural roads rank among the worst in the U.S., according to a national report. The report finds California the third-worst in the nation for the condition of rural roads—and that the rate of traffic fatalities on rural roads is the nation’s second-highest. California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger called for making transportation-system upgrades a priority, saying “the whole nation depends on rural California for food and farm products.”

Volume 21, No. 49Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Farmers monitor effects of heat wave
Record high temperatures will have implications for California farms, but the full impact won’t be known until after the heat wave breaks. Farmers implement heat-safety protocols to protect themselves and their employees on hot days. Growers of grapes, walnuts, tomatoes and other crops say they’re monitoring their crops carefully for signs of sunburn or stress. Farmers provide crops with additional irrigation to help them withstand the heat.

Livestock, poultry owners protect their animals
To keep livestock and poultry as comfortable as possible during heat waves, farmers and ranchers provide shade, cooling mist, well-ventilated barns and plenty of fresh water. Dairy farmers say cows tend to produce less milk during hot days, even when under shade and misters. Poultry producers say they adjust their birds’ diet during the summer but the birds still eat less, meaning they take longer to reach market weight.

Walnuts, other foods may help in appetite control
Eating foods such as walnuts, salmon and canola oil may help people control their appetites, according to new research. Walnuts, salmon, tuna and other foods feature polyunsaturated fats. The study indicated that eating foods rich in polyunsaturated fats may change appetite hormones, so people feel fuller for longer. The California Walnut Commission helped pay for the study.

Program certifies farms that help pollinators
A new nationwide program will certify farmers whose growing methods benefit bees. Known as “Bee Better Certified,” the program judges the amount and quality of bee habitat farms create, and their use of pollinator-friendly pest-management strategies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided a grant for a pilot program in Oregon, and used the occasion of National Pollinator Week to announce the program’s nationwide availability.

Volume 21, No. 48Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Spring weather affects blueberry harvest
The cool, rainy spring complicated the California blueberry harvest. Farmers say spring weather delayed harvest by up to 10 days, causing California blueberries to be short on the market at a time of high demand. But reduced crops in other states helped California farmers win markets. Blueberry production in the state has grown the past decade, and marketers say demand for the California-grown crop continues to expand.

Cherry harvest increases
Volumes of California-grown cherries on the market have shown a sharp increase this year, according to a government estimate. The report says California cherry farmers expected “the best crop in recent years” after several seasons of drought and low yields. The estimate pegged the California crop at 99,000 tons, up 65 percent from last year. Washington leads the nation in cherry production, and also expects a larger crop.

Grants benefit farm-to-school programs
Ten California-based farm-to-school programs will benefit from grants awarded this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Oakland Unified School District says it will use its grant to “dramatically increase” the amount of local food served in school meals. Other districts will start “farm to school action plans.” A Fresno-based project will hold fruit-and-vegetable taste-testing events for schoolchildren.

Report notes ‘supply gap’ in organic produce
Demand for organic produce has been expanding faster than production, leading to a “supply gap” analysts believe could continue for several years. A report from the agricultural lender CoBank says it takes three to five years for farmers to transition crops to organic status. That can lead to a lag in fulfilling new demand for organic crops. The report says food companies and retailers have increased imports of organic produce to meet demand.

Volume 21, No. 47Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Researchers hone drone use on farms
As they learn more about how unmanned aircraft can be used on farms, researchers also work to make drones more practical for gathering and analyzing agricultural data. A University of California farm advisor says, for example, drones can help farmers tell if trees suffer from water stress, but software needs to be perfected to make data easier to interpret. Several California universities are working on agricultural drone projects.

Flood damage in California orchards still being tallied
The extent of flood damage to Northern California orchards may not be known for months—perhaps years. Farm advisors are still finding signs of waterlogging in orchards affected by levee seepage and a collapsed riverbank. One orchard near Elk Grove, flooded in February, didn’t drain until early May; the farmer lost a third of his walnut trees.

Wet winter contributes to larger bean crop
More garbanzos, limas and other beans should be coming from California fields this year. Farmers have increased their bean acreage by 10 percent, compared to a year ago. The state’s wet winter receives part of the credit. Beans can be planted later in the spring than other crops, so farmers whose ground was too muddy to plant corn or other crops have substituted beans instead.

Prune crop rallies after lackluster year
Fans of prunes—also known as dried plums—can anticipate plentiful supplies. California farmers grow nearly all the nation’s crop, and a government forecast of 105,000 tons for this year’s harvest is more than double the 51,000 tons produced last year. Farmers report favorable growing conditions, resulting in more, and bigger, fruit.


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