Food & Farm News

Volume 22, No. 24Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Extent of agricultural losses from wildfire remains undermined
Avocados, forage and other crops and livestock have all suffered losses from the Thomas Fire in Southern California, but authorities say it will take weeks for the full extent of the damage to become apparent. The Farm Bureau of Ventura County says the fire raced through hills that feature many avocado groves and grazing areas for livestock. Fierce winds that propelled the fire added to the crop damage by blowing fruit off trees.

Coalition outlines steps to improve forest health
Calling it a “forest health crisis,” a coalition proposes steps to address tree mortality in California. The California Forest Watershed Alliance recommends increased forest thinning, improved funding for forest management and other steps. The U.S. Forest Service announced this week that another 27 million California trees died in the past year, bringing the total number of dead trees in the state up to 129 million.

Choose-and-cut farmers say they have plenty of trees
Shoppers have reported reduced supplies and higher prices at Christmas tree lots this season, but California choose-and-cut tree farms say they have plenty of trees available. The California Christmas Tree Association says steady plantings at choose-and-cut farms have allowed growers to maintain their inventories. Growers say prices for choose-and-cut trees may have gone up a bit, due to increased production costs.

Research aims to slow citrus tree disease
Checking the chemical fingerprint of citrus leaves shows promise in diagnosing a deadly tree disease. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, say early identification of the tree disease HLB would help slow its spread. HLB has devastated citrus groves in Florida, but has been found so far only in residential trees in California. Plant breeders want eventually to create citrus trees that would resist the HLB bacterium.

Volume 22, No. 23Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Farmers assess damage from Ventura County fire
The Thomas Fire in Ventura County is burning in an area known for its production of citrus fruit and avocados, but it’s too early yet for authorities to estimate agricultural damage from the fire. The grower group California Citrus Mutual and a local farm advisor say the fire appears to have affected Ventura County groves, but the extent of damage isn’t known. In the Central Valley, cold temperatures this week have not harmed citrus fruit so far.

Tax-reform measures show mixed impact
With federal tax reform headed to a House-Senate conference committee, California farmers and ranchers say they may not gain as much from the package as they had hoped. Although many parts of the bills would help farmers and ranchers, California Farm Bureau Federation analysts say other provisions could be problematic. For example, they say, elimination of a federal deduction for state and local taxes would put California farmers at a disadvantage.

Farm Bureau holds 99th Annual Meeting
The California Farm Bureau Federation will elect new officers when it finishes its 99th Annual Meeting in Garden Grove Wednesday. In his annual address, retiring Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger said consistent, long-term and unified advocacy will be needed to secure the future of California farms and ranches. Delegates to the meeting will set Farm Bureau policy. The meeting also features recognition for young farmers, long-time leaders and county Farm Bureaus.

UC reports progress in psyllid fight
In a discovery that could help citrus growers fight a dangerous pest, University of California scientists say they have identified the sex pheromone of the Asian citrus psyllid. The psyllid can spread a plant disease that kills citrus trees, and has been found in Southern and Central California. Pest experts say the development holds promise for both preventing the spread of the psyllid and aiding in its control.

Volume 22, No. 22Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Desert vegetable harvest gets early start
The official start of winter remains a few weeks away, but the winter vegetable harvest has gotten off to a quick start. Farmers in the Imperial Valley say their lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower have been ready for harvest up to 10 days earlier than usual. Warm Southern California weather played a role. One farmer says lettuce that typically takes 85 to 90 days to grow has been ready after 75 days this fall.

Variations in citrus trees can lead to new types
It’s called a “chimera”—a shoot from a citrus tree that produces fruit different from the other fruit on the tree. A University of California farm advisor says chimeras can lead to new fruit varieties, such as the multi-fingered Buddha’s Hand citron. But most chimeras turn out to be of inferior quality, the advisor says, adding that both commercial and backyard growers should be aware of unusual-looking citrus that could be a sign of tree disease.

New food products show nutritional patterns
The constant churn of food products entering and leaving the market can indicate trends in people’s preferences and in efforts by food makers to meet those demands. A new government study says more than 32,000 new food and beverage products debuted in the most recent year surveyed, while another 41,000 were discontinued. The new products demonstrated gradual reductions in sodium levels and other changes in nutrient content.

U.S. Census of Agriculture kicks off
To form the best possible picture of the nation’s farms and ranches, the U.S. Department of Agriculture begins its next Census of Agriculture this week. Conducted every five years, the agricultural census provides information on the number and types of farms across the U.S. For example, the previous census, conducted in 2012, showed that the great majority of California farms and ranches continue to be owned by individuals, families and partnerships.

Volume 22, No. 21Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Study evaluates produce consumption
California does better than the nation as a whole, when it comes to eating recommended daily amounts of fruits and vegetables. But only a small proportion of the state’s residents met the dietary guidelines, according to a new study. In California, 13.6 percent of respondents met the guidelines for fruit intake, compared to 12 percent nationally. For vegetables, about 11 percent of Californians met the goal, compared to 9 percent nationwide.

Farm advisor tests purple sweet potatoes
Purple sweet potatoes could have a bigger future in California. A University of California farm advisor is working with farmers in Merced County, testing sweet potato varieties that have both purple skin and flesh. The farm advisor says the purple potatoes carry even more nutrients that the traditional orange varieties. One purple sweet potato variety is already being grown in California. The farm advisor wants to learn if others might also do well.

Dried persimmons could expand fruit’s market
Experiments with dried persimmons aim to make the fruit more available to more people at more times of the year. Right now, persimmons are available mainly fresh and mostly in California during the autumn. Researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture say drying persimmons to make chips would provide more year-round demand for the fruit. Their studies identified six persimmon varieties that tested best for drying taste and texture.

Farmers reduce wheat acreage
With large supplies of wheat available on the worldwide market, California farmers say they won’t be planting as much this year. Russia has emerged as a large wheat producer, with those supplies added to the world market. That has driven wheat prices down, leading farmers to reduce acreage both in California and nationally. California farmers say they’re planting alternative crops such as lettuce, onions, garbanzo beans and barley.

Volume 22, No. 20Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Research solidifies health benefits of nuts
Eating nuts on a regular basis reduces risk of heart disease, according to a study published this week by the American College of Cardiology. The study found that people who ate five or more servings of nuts a week had a 14 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and a 20 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease, compared to people who didn’t eat nuts. The research tracked consumption of walnuts, tree nuts and peanuts.

UC Riverside reports progress on ethanol
A process that closes the gap between different types of ethanol production has been developed at the University of California, Riverside. Engineers say they’ve found a way to make ethanol more economically from non-food plants such as grasses, rice straw and wood chips. The UCR team found a fermentation process that releases sugars from such biomass products more readily, and ferments the sugars into ethanol.

Study charts history of prepackaged salad
It took almost 200 years to create the variety of prepackaged salads on the market today, according to University of California researchers. They traced the history of prepackaged salad to a French professor’s discovery in 1820 about how to maintain fruit freshness. Since prepackaged salads were introduced in the late 1980s, they have grown to dominate the market. Americans now buy twice as many prepackaged salads as whole heads of lettuce.

California leads nation in food processing
Tomato canneries, milk and ice cream plants, wineries and other facilities are all considered food-processing plants—and California has more of them than any other state. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says California has more than 5,500 food-processing plants. The report cites the state’s favorable climate for growing a variety of crops, its ports and its large metropolitan areas for attracting food-processing facilities.

Volume 22, No. 19Wednesday, November 8, 2017

November brings start of rainy season
With the Northern California rainy season beginning, the state finds itself in an improved water-supply position thanks to the heavy rains and snow of a year ago. Springtime rains delayed planting of many crops, and of eventual harvest, but mostly dry October weather helped farmers avoid crop damage. Water managers say they used summer and early autumn to prepare their facilities as best as possible for the onset of winter rains.

Workshop aims at improved weather forecasts
Water managers, farmers and other people could plan better for the coming year if they knew how much rain or snow to expect, but long-range weather forecasting remains unreliable. At a meeting in Sacramento Thursday, experts will describe steps being taken to enhance long-range forecasting. Organizers of the workshop say there’s been little progress in forecasting weather more than two weeks in advance, but efforts continue to improve accuracy.

Demand rises for California olive oil
With another year of record production on the way, California olive oil producers say they continue to see expanding demand. The California Olive Oil Council says it expects more than 4 million gallons of oil to be produced this year. Imported olive oil still dominates the market, but California producers say their oil’s high quality has made them competitive. Olives for oil are often harvested mechanically, which has helped the state’s production to increase.

Wholesale prices decline for turkeys
Retail turkey prices typically fall before Thanksgiving, as stores run specials to lure shoppers. Prices could be somewhat lower this year, if trends in wholesale markets carry through. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says wholesale turkey prices have remained below historical averages all year for frozen birds. California-grown turkeys generally are sold fresh. About 50 million turkeys will be sold for Thanksgiving feasts.

Volume 22, No. 18Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Ranchers assess wildfire toll on animals, land
Ranchers who had animals and pastureland in the Northern California wildfire zone continue to tally the impact of the fires. It’s not yet known how many animals died in the October fires. For animals that survived, feed will be a concern because of scorched pastures. Ranchers will have to provide hay for their livestock. In addition, ranchers will need to replace fences burned by the fires.

Cotton farmers expect high-quality crop
Improved water supplies have led to larger cotton plantings in the Central Valley this year. Acreage grew by more than one-third, compared to a year ago. Farmers say they hope for dry weather during cotton harvest, to ensure crop quality. California farms have a reputation for producing high-quality cotton. A government crop report shows the California cotton harvest about 30 percent complete, with nearly all of the crop rated in “excellent” condition.

Agritourism benefits from social media
Social media has become a bigger factor for agritourism operations. The University of California agritourism coordinator says travelers do everything on mobile devices, and expect to find farm sites on social media. For example, the Apple Hill Growers Association east of Sacramento created an app listing its members’ operations. Several Apple Hill patrons said they decided to visit after seeing friends post social media photos from the farms.

New national FFA president comes from California
A college student from Lodi has been elected president of the National FFA Organization. Breanna Holbert majors in agricultural education at Chico State University, and says she aspires to teach urban students about sustainable agriculture. She was elected national FFA leader at the organization’s convention in Indianapolis. Holbert is the first female African American to serve as national FFA president.

Volume 22, No. 17Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wildfire damage estimates will take time
It may be some time before local authorities can estimate agricultural damage from this month’s Northern California wildfires. The Napa County agricultural commissioner says his staff has been focused on helping farmers and ranchers with recovery efforts, and that full damage estimates will come later. One Napa-area grape grower says he expects it will be two years before he knows if his fire-damaged vines will recover.

Burned pastures may need years to recover
Thousands of farm animals had to be evacuated from the wildfires. As owners return their animals to the fire zone, they’ll find burned pastures that will need time to recover. A University of California Cooperative Extension specialist says it can take two to three years for burned pastures to return to normal. Authorities say efforts will be needed to heal the soil and prevent erosion during winter rains.

Programs offer aid in wildfire recovery
With the Northern California wildfires nearly contained, the focus has turned to recovery and relief efforts—with a number of local, state and federal programs underway. One local effort aims to help Sonoma County farm employees with housing. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it will make $4 million in catastrophic aid available to help rehabilitate farmland and aid in repairs and replanting.

Wolf kills cow on Lassen County ranch
In the first confirmed incident since the species returned to the state, a gray wolf has killed livestock on a California ranch. State officials confirmed that a cow killed in Lassen County this month had been attacked by a wolf. A California Farm Bureau spokeswoman says ranchers have limited options to protect their animals, because wolves have special status under state and federal law. Ranchers have sought more flexibility in deterring wolf attacks.

Volume 22, No. 16Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Farmers work to evaluate effect of wildfires
With firefighters working to contain the severe wildfires in Northern California, farmers and ranchers are beginning to assess the impact on their crops, livestock, land and buildings. Most say it will take some time to gauge the complete impact. Grape growers say that although some vineyards have burned, others have come through the fires with little or no damage. One farmer says vines singed by fire should recover, once they’re pruned this winter.

Survey reveals ongoing farm employee shortages
Chronic problems in finding and hiring qualified people continue on California farms and ranches, according to a survey released Tuesday by the California Farm Bureau Federation. The informal survey showed more than half of responding farmers have experienced employee shortages this year. The figure was higher among farmers who employ people on a seasonal basis: Nearly 70 percent have seen shortages, despite higher wages and other actions.

New law will encourage purchase of California-grown food
State agencies and institutions that buy food would be encouraged to buy California-grown products, under legislation signed by Governor Brown. The measure by Assembly Member Anna Caballero of Salinas will require state agencies buying agricultural products to purchase from California, as long as the quality is equal and the price is within 5 percent of the lowest bid. School districts will have to buy California-grown if the price is equal.

Pumpkin growers say weather has delayed harvest
It’s a race to the finish for California pumpkin growers, whose crops have been slow to mature due to spring rains and summer heat. Virtually all of the state’s pumpkins are marketed fresh for Halloween, and farmers say they have seen crop delays as a result of the weather. Although it’s been a “tough year” because of that, growers say they’re confident there will be plenty of California-grown jack-o’-lanterns on the market.

Volume 22, No. 15Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Wildfires damage farms, ranches
Because wildfires continue to burn in Northern California and communication in rural areas remains spotty, it will take some time for farmers and officials to assess the full extent of agricultural damage. In Mendocino County, for example, the county Farm Bureau says some vineyards have burned, some have been singed and some are undamaged. Winegrape harvest had nearly ended in part of the fire-damaged area, but was continuing in other parts of the region.

Farm groups focus on trade talks
With negotiations on reworking the North American Free Trade Agreement due to resume in Washington Wednesday, the American Farm Bureau joined in a grassroots campaign to underscore the importance of trade for the rural economy. Farm Bureau announced it is joining a coalition called Farmers for Free Trade, which aims to mobilize rural residents in favor of trade agreements. Farm Bureau says 20 percent of U.S. farm income stems from agricultural exports.

Trends point to lower turkey prices
Early indications point to the potential for lower turkey prices for the holiday season. American Farm Bureau analysts say farmers across the nation have been building turkey flocks, and that wholesale prices for whole birds have been well below average for most of the year. California ranks eighth in the nation in turkey production. Most California-grown whole turkeys will be sold fresh, rather than frozen.

Sweet potato harvest hits full stride
If you've ordered sweet potato fries recently, farmers in California's main sweet potato-growing region say you've contributed to an uptick in demand. Harvest is well underway in Merced County, which accounts for about 90 percent of the state's sweet potato production. Farmers there say they hope their crop will ultimately come close to matching last year's in volume. North Carolina leads the nation in sweet potato production, with California ranking second.

Volume 22, No. 14Wednesday, October 4, 2017

State moves to improve weather forecasts
As a new “water year” begins, state officials say they want to be better able to predict when atmospheric-river systems will drench California with heavy precipitation. The state Department of Water Resources said Tuesday it will work with government and academic researchers to improve long-range weather forecasts. DWR said current seven-day forecasts are 70 percent accurate, but 14-day forecasts have only 7 percent accuracy.

Farmers respond to Medfly quarantine
For any fruit or vegetable farmer, the nearby discovery of Mediterranean fruit flies threatens severe disruptions. Quarantines meant to keep the pest from spreading can prevent farmers from selling their crops. A Medfly quarantine has been imposed in Solano County in recent days. But one Fairfield-area farmer says he’ll be able to sell his persimmons outside the zone, because he treated them pre-emptively on the assumption a quarantine would be enacted.

Baby lima beans fulfill Japanese markets
While they finish their harvest of baby lima beans, California farmers will be keeping their eyes on Japan. That’s because most of the beans they produce will ultimately be sold there. Japanese manufacturers use California-grown baby lima beans to make a sweet bean paste that’s a key ingredient in traditional confections. In any given year, half to three-quarters of California baby lima beans will be exported to Japan.

Study shows how wine benefits economy
Growing grapes and making and marketing wine add nearly $220 billion to the U.S. economy, according to a study from a vintners association. The group WineAmerica says the wine business supports 1.7 million jobs around the nation. As the leading grape-growing and wine-making state, California sees the highest economic benefit from wine. But the study says there are winery facilities in all 50 states.

Volume 22, No. 13Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Tomato harvest may fall short of estimates
Spring rains and summer heat have combined to reduce the California tomato harvest. Farmers say the wet spring delayed planting, and hot summer temperatures brought stress to tomato plants. As a result, a growers group expects the harvest of processing tomatoes will be 1 million tons smaller than estimated by a government survey. California farms grow most of the nation’s processing tomatoes, which are used for sauce, ketchup and other products.

California leads in organic agriculture
More than 1 million acres of California farmland have now been certified for organic production, according to an annual government report. It says California continues to lead the nation in the number of certified-organic farms, acreage and value of organic sales. The state saw increases in the amount of organic cropland and grazing land during 2016, and sales of organic products from California represented nearly 40 percent of the national total.

Research aims at heat-tolerant broccoli
Most of the broccoli grown in the U.S. comes from coastal areas of California, because broccoli thrives in cool weather. Plant researchers want to expand the areas where broccoli can grow, by breeding plants that tolerate higher temperatures. U.S. Department of Agriculture scientists in South Carolina say they have identified genetic markers that help broccoli resist heat. They’re growing trial plantings of heat-tolerant broccoli in Southeastern states.

Survey shows small rise in food prices
A seasonal survey of retail food prices shows a slight increase compared to a year ago. The American Farm Bureau Federation says its fall marketbasket survey of 16 retail food items showed prices up about 3 percent. Bacon, chicken breasts, orange juice and flour were among the items showing higher average prices. The survey found lower prices for bagged salad, ground chuck, eggs and potatoes.


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