Food & Farm News

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.

Volume 23, No. 15Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Energy mandates may lead to ‘hard decisions’
Updated renewable-energy mandates from the state of California will likely raise costs for farms and agricultural businesses. A California Farm Bureau energy specialist says she expects rates to rise as a result of the mandates, and a spokesman for food processors say they face “hard decisions” because of their dependence on natural gas. The mandates also add impetus to studies by California universities into further renewable-energy use in agriculture.

Expiration of farm bill affects federal programs
More than three-dozen federal agriculture programs have seen their funding lapse, because five-year farm legislation expired at the end of September. A California Farm Bureau policy specialist says most impacts on farmers and ranchers would be avoided if Congress finalizes a new farm bill before the end of the year. A conservation program popular with California farmers was not affected, because its funding was authorized through next year.

UC looks at impact of wildfires on grapes
The Wine Country wildfires of a year ago may help University of California researchers learn how to offset the impact of smoke on winegrapes. Vineyards at a UC research station in Napa County were exposed to smoke from the fires. Now, a UC Davis specialist has made wine from grapes picked at the station just before and just after the fires. She hopes to learn more about winemaking techniques that would prevent smoky flavors from hurting the wine.

Farm advisors put technology to the test
Startups and established companies alike have been investing in agricultural technology—and University of California farm advisors say they’re testing some of the new products to see if they’re practical for on-farm use. UC and other colleges held a field day in Fresno County to report on technological services in areas including water management, crop testing and plant-disease detection. A university program aims to connect farmers with technology developers.

Volume 23, No. 14Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Farm Bureau releases ballot recommendations
With the general election approaching, the California Farm Bureau Federation has released its recommendations on statewide ballot measures. CFBF directors encourage voters to approve a water-bond measure on the November ballot but to reject an initiative that would impose new restrictions on how farm animals are raised. The organization also took positions on five other measures that will be before voters next month.

Impact of trade disputes echoes through farm economy
Even farmers who sell all their crops domestically feel the impacts when trade disputes affect agricultural exports, according to California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson. Speaking to the State Board of Food and Agriculture Tuesday, Johansson said when crops can’t be exported as usual, they’re sold in the domestic market, affecting prices there. He said Farm Bureau is encouraged by the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement finalized this week.

California apple crop to be larger
More apples but fewer pears will come from California farms this season. The U.S. Agriculture Department estimates California apple production will increase 16 percent compared to a year ago. Production will be down in the nation’s top-producing state, Washington, leaving the overall apple crop stable. The USDA projects California pear production to be down about 18 percent, due in part to what it called “inconsistent weather” in the growing season.

Study shows adoption of lower-fat foods
When compared with patterns of 35 years ago, Americans are choosing lower-fat foods more often, according to a new study. The U.S. Agriculture Department says both the fat content of food consumed at home and away from home has dropped, with the fat content of at-home foods declining more than that of away-from-home foods. The study says fat content can drop due to choices made by shoppers, changes in food products, or both.

Volume 23, No. 13Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Agricultural exports to China encounter new tariffs
As the trade dispute between China and the U.S. ratcheted up this week, more California agricultural products face new retaliatory tariffs. China implemented a new round of tariffs Monday on U.S. goods, including a wide range of foods and agricultural products. Marketers of California products such as wine, cotton, flowers and timber say they expect the tariffs to further complicate their sales efforts, and hope the dispute will end as soon as possible.

Table-grape market reacts to trade challenges
Grape growers say tariffs from China have rattled their markets. Exports of California table grapes to China dropped 40 percent once it began imposing extra tariffs this spring. Shippers have been seeking new markets for the grapes. Typically, more than one-third of the state's production is exported. The California table-grape harvest has reached midseason, with marketers expecting a slightly larger crop than last year's.

Almond harvest overcomes frost concerns
A cold snap during bloom time worried almond growers--but as their harvest gathers speed, farmers say the crop will be better than they once feared. Overall almond production has been estimated to be up about 8 percent from last year. As part of their harvest procedure, farmers have been using updated techniques and updated equipment to reduce the dust that occurs when machines gather almonds from Central Valley orchards.

Workshops teach techniques for prescribed burns
At two workshops in the Sierra foothills next week, University of California advisors will describe how to use controlled fires to prevent wildfires. In addition to reducing wildfire fuels, UC experts say prescribed burns can control invasive plants and help with ecological restoration. The workshops, to be held in Colfax and Arnold, will provide landowners with resources for conducting prescribed burns safely.

Volume 23, No. 12Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Rice farmers expect good demand for new crop
Prospects for the new California rice crop look good, according to farmers as they see their harvests accelerate. Growers in the Sacramento Valley say they expect harvest to reach peak levels in the next two or three weeks. Rice marketers say they anticipate strong demand for the crop, noting that carryover stocks of California rice have been mostly depleted. California farmers will harvest rice from about 500,000 acres of land this year.

Projects aim to benefit ‘specialty’ crops
Dozens of California-based projects to promote the production and marketing of “specialty crops” will benefit from government grants announced Tuesday. The projects aim to benefit growers and consumers of specialty crops such as fruits, vegetables and nuts. The 83 new projects include programs to promote consumption and encourage access to specialty crops, to protect crops from pests and diseases, and to train new and current farmers.

Coalition seeks new federal urban-agriculture program
Pointing out the unique needs of farmers in urban and suburban regions, a coalition of agricultural and urban groups has urged Congress to include new urban-agriculture initiatives in the 2018 Farm Bill. A conference committee has been working to finalize the new farm-policy bill. Supporters of a proposed federal Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production say it could help foster food production in ways that would benefit cities and rural areas alike.

Central Valley farms provides fruit for Jewish holiday
Citrus fruit called the etrog citron fills an important part in commemorating the Jewish holiday of Sukkot—and a Central Valley farm has become the nation’s only known commercial producer of the fruit. Lindcove Ranch in Tulare County produces etrogs from a grove certified by rabbis and carefully monitored to assure the fruit remains kosher. Etrogs used during Sukkot—which begins at sundown Sunday—must be free of blemishes and have their stems intact.

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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