Food & Farm News

Volume 22, No. 32Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Farmers work to protect crops from freeze damage
Cold overnight temperatures across much of California come at a time when some crops will be vulnerable to freeze damage. For example, Central Valley almond trees are in bloom, so farmers have been irrigating orchards in hopes of raising temperatures enough to stave off damage. It’s a similar story in citrus groves, where concern focuses on the blossoms for next year’s crop. On the Central Coast, new growth on strawberry plants could be affected.

CVP announces initial water allocation
Below-average rain and snow this winter mean reduced water supplies for the federal Central Valley Project. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the CVP, said Tuesday it expects to deliver 20 percent of contract supplies to its farm customers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and 30 percent to customers of its Friant unit. The bureau said the current situation underscores the need for more storage to capture water in wet winters.

California Farm Bureau seeks immigration solution
As Congress discusses immigration reform, the California Farm Bureau Federation says any solution must recognize the current immigrant employees on whom farms and ranches depend. California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson says legislation currently before Congress “just wouldn’t work” for the state’s farms and ranches. He says CFBF and other organizations will press for a more practical and flexible agricultural-visa program.

Californian wins national Collegiate Discussion Meet
A Fresno State University student has won a national contest aimed at simulating discussion of agricultural issues at a committee meeting. Tim Truax, an agricultural education major from Turlock, won the national Collegiate Discussion Meet sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation. In the final round of the competition, Truax and other college students discussed trade policy. He competed in a field of 59 contestants from around the country.

Volume 22, No. 31Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Agriculture secretary visits California
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue visits farms in the Central Valley Wednesday during the second day of a three-day visit to California. Perdue has scheduled visits to two fruit packinghouses, a dairy, an almond processing plant and other facilities. On Tuesday, the secretary conducted a town hall meeting at the World Ag Expo in Tulare, during which he answered questions about farm policy, research priorities and other topics.

Unusual winter weather affects crops
Warm, dry winter weather affects operations on California farms and ranches. Farmers say warmer-than-average temperatures in recent weeks have pushed crops ahead of a typical schedule—and may leave some crops vulnerable to frost when colder weather resumes. The lack of rain in the Central Valley has encouraged some farmers to irrigate trees and vines earlier than they typically would.

State continues to lead in vegetable production
Heavy rains in California last spring contributed to reduced vegetable production in California, according to an annual report issued Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report showed total vegetable production in the state down 11 percent, compared to the previous year—though harvests of crops such as cauliflower, sweet corn and romaine lettuce increased. California accounted for 57 percent of the nation’s vegetable production last year.

Bottling in glass helps dairy farms compete
Milk in glass bottles has become a niche market for several California dairy farms. The farms say bottling in glass gives them an opportunity to sell their own milk and help it stand out in the marketplace. In some cases, the farms distinguish themselves with flavored milks as well. One Stanislaus County dairy bottles milk in flavors including orange cream, root beer and cotton candy.

Volume 22, No. 30Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Flowers plentiful for Valentine’s Day, despite challenges
Flower farmers in the Carpinteria Valley largely dodged two disasters this winter: the Thomas Fire and subsequent mudslides. As Valentine’s Day nears, the region called the “flower basket of the world” is returning to normal and ready to fill customers’ vases. Roses are often the holiday’s go-to flower. One farmer says his hydroponic roses have carved a niche for themselves in a market dominated by imports. (on-air reading time :23)

Wildfire lessons spread statewide
Lessons learned from the North Bay wildfires could help other regions prepare for and respond to disasters, according to farmers and officials who met last week in Sonoma County. One agricultural commissioner spoke of arranging escorted access to farms and ranches in evacuation zones during the October fires, and of being contacted by a Southern California counterpart for advice on how to accomplish that during the Thomas Fire in December. (reading time :23)

New tree-mortality tool helps in fight against wildfire
Drought and bark beetle infestation killed 100 million trees in California from 2006 to 2016, increasing the risk of wildfire. The U.S. Forest Service has created a new tool that analyzes historical data to help predict the location and extent of tree mortality one to two years in the future, allowing land managers to better plan for pest suppression and wildfire prevention. (reading time :20)

Global demand for ice cream grows
The global ice cream market is estimated to reach $78.8 billion by 2025, according to a new report. Demand for premium products, innovative flavors, lactose-free options and impulse purchases, as well as increased consumption in Asia Pacific, is expected to drive growth at 4.1 percent annually. California is the top dairy- and ice cream-producing state in the U.S. (reading time :22)

Volume 22, No. 29Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Sierra snowpack remains low
The Sierra Nevada snowpack has improved ever-so slightly in January, according to automatic sensors, but manual surveyors who visit the Sierra Thursday will still find far-below-average levels. Sensor readings show the statewide snowpack at about 30 percent of average, up from about one-quarter of average at the start of the month. But most aboveground reservoirs remain at or above average storage levels, due to the wet winter a year ago.

Dairy digesters to be dedicated
Celebrations scheduled for Friday will mark the opening of three dairy digester projects in Kern County. Digesters capture methane and other gas created from dairy waste, and convert the gas into electricity and vehicle fuel. The California Department of Food and Agriculture, which provides grants to encourage digester development, says the systems help to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Processing tomato acreage to increase
More tomatoes may be produced on California farms this year, according to a preliminary government estimate. The report says processors plan to contract with farmers to grow 12 million tons of tomatoes for use in sauce, ketchup and other products. That would be up 4 percent from last year’s contract volumes. Processing-tomato acreage had dropped to low levels a year ago, as processors sought to balance supply and demand.

Direct purchasing may affect produce buying patterns
People who shop directly with farmers at roadside stands or farmers markets tend to spend more money on fruits and vegetables: That’s the finding of a U.S. Department of Agriculture study. Analyzing data from shopper surveys, USDA concluded that Americans shop at direct-to-customer outlets relatively infrequently, and that encouraging people to shop at farmers markets and other direct outlets could increase overall fruit and vegetable purchases.

Volume 22, No. 28Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Wildfires affect stormwater-testing requirements
In the aftermath of California’s severe wildfire season, rainstorms have added ash and debris to storm runoff. That could affect the regular stormwater samples required for wineries and breweries—and state water regulators have offered partial relief as a result. At the request of farm and trade groups, wineries and breweries in wildfire zones will be allowed to show that constituents in stormwater have been caused by debris, not their activities.

Meat supplies could set record this year
More meat will be available to Americans than ever before, according to projections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Analysts say total supplies of beef, pork, lamb, chicken and turkey will reach nearly 223 pounds per person, the highest figure on record. The forecast does not predict meat prices. It expects beef production to rise 6 percent, pork 5 percent and chicken 2 percent.

Alfalfa fields show promise for groundwater recharge
A two-year study demonstrates that flooding alfalfa fields shows strong potential for refilling groundwater supplies. University of California specialists who conducted the study flooded fields near Davis and in the Scott Valley of Siskiyou County. In each case, most of the water percolated into the water table, and the practice had only minimal impact on the crop. The university has studied similar projects in California orchards and vineyards.

UC assesses potential for elderberry production
In California, they’re grown mainly to act as a windbreak or attract beneficial insects, but elderberry plants also produce fruit—and the University of California wants to learn if elderberries could succeed as a crop. UC researchers have planted elderberries at four farms in the Central Valley, to assess farming practices and market potential. Elderberries are now used in jams, syrups, wines and liqueurs, but most commercial production occurs in the Midwest.

Volume 22, No. 27Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Mudslides add to Southern California farm losses
In the wake of the deadly mudslides that hit Santa Barbara County last week, officials have begun to gauge the impact to agricultural operations. The California Cut Flower Commission says a number of flower farms in the Carpinteria Valley have been affected—either directly from the slide or indirectly through loss of power to greenhouses and through road damage. Groups representing growers of other crops say they are still trying to assess any losses.

Walnut business prepares for increased production
Anticipating larger crops in coming years, people in the walnut business have been adding facilities and marketing plans to handle and sell the crops. The California Walnut Commission says it plans to focus on enhancing demand in domestic markets, in part by stressing the nutritional benefits of walnuts. The commission will also work to develop new products featuring walnuts, including in confections, spreads and sauces.

Dairy marketers follow dietary trends
Do you drink your milk, or eat it? Americans have been eating a higher proportion of their milk intake by consuming dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and butter. In response to the trend, California-based dairy processors say they’re working to create new products and different blends of existing products. The California Milk Advisory Board says it sees potential in incorporating dairy foods more frequently into snacks and at breakfast.

USDA reports on crop condition
With more rain and snow due in Northern California during the next week, farmers may be able to ease back on wintertime irrigation of developing crops. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that farmers have been irrigating a variety of crops this month, due to dry conditions so far this winter. Rain that fell last week benefited lettuce, pasture and other crops, but USDA says additional rain will be needed.

Volume 22, No. 26Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Dry December means early irrigating
With hardly any December rain to speak of, farmers throughout the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys resorted to early-winter irrigation. They said it would be nearly impossible to catch up if the soil is too dry when spring comes. One ranch manager said, under normal conditions, he doesn’t usually need to start irrigating until mid-May. At least two irrigation districts may release water early for those needing it.

Strawberry farmers may produce another record crop
There should be plenty of California strawberries for shoppers this year, if weather and growing conditions cooperate. The California Strawberry Commission says farmers may produce another record crop, just as they did the last two years. This is in spite of fewer acres being planted. Farmers say higher-yielding strawberry varieties have allowed them to produce more fruit on less land.

Leafy greens may slow cognitive decline
Aging lovers of leafy greens may benefit from brains that behave as much as 11 years younger, according to a study recently published in the journal Neurology. Researchers found consumption of at least one serving daily of green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach and lettuce was associated with slower cognitive decline in participants, ages 58 to 99.

Families still own most U.S. farms
Farming is still overwhelmingly comprised of family businesses, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which offers a snapshot of America’s diverse family farms in a new report. It says 99 percent of U.S. farms are family farms, and they accounted for 90 percent of farm production in 2016.

Volume 22, No. 25Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Agricultural losses mount from Thomas Fire
The first estimate of agricultural losses from the huge Southern California wildfire totals more than $171 million. The Ventura County agricultural commissioner reports the Thomas Fire damaged more than 70,000 acres of cropland and rangeland. Damage to buildings and equipment accounted for two-thirds of the initial monetary losses. Among crops, avocados and lemons absorbed the worst damage.

Surveyors to look for Sierra snow
When state snow surveyors conduct their first physical survey of the year Wednesday, there likely won’t be a lot to see. After a dry December, electronic readings of the Sierra snowpack show it standing at one-quarter of average for the date. Water managers use the snowpack data to plan for summertime supplies. Due to the heavy precipitation of a year ago, most large reservoirs in the state remain at or above their average levels for early January.

Solar plants needn’t displace farmland, study learns
Plenty of places exist to locate new solar energy facilities without putting them on prime farmland, according to a University of California study. Researchers identified opportunities for locating solar plants on Central Valley land not suitable for farming, on rooftops of agricultural facilities and other places. A co-author of the study says it’s important to explore such alternative sites for solar development, in order to conserve farmland.

USDA looks at millennials’ food-buying habits
The millennial generation will likely be an important driver in the economy for years to come, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which reports on the generation’s food-buying habits in a new study. It says millennials—born between 1981 and 1996—demand healthier, fresher food than earlier generations, spend less on food intended to be eaten at home and spend more on prepared foods.

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.

The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 40,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 5.5 million Farm Bureau members.

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