Food & Farm News

Volume 23, No. 44Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Honey supply looking up
California beekeepers may bring more honey to market this year, though exactly how much won’t be known for a while. One keeper in Imperial County credits the winter rain with giving his bees plenty of forage and looks forward to a significant production boost. In Tulare County, beekeepers report a hit-and-miss citrus bloom, leading to uncertainties about honey supply. California is among the nation’s top 10 honey-producing states.

Predicted almond acreage in California for 2019 breaks record
Almonds continue to be a popular crop in California, with acreage forecasted to reach a new record this year of 1.17 million bearing acres. Production is predicted to reach 2.5 billion pounds in 2019, a 9.6% increase over the previous year. An extended bloom period this spring helped compensate for disruptions from significant rainfall. The crop appears to be sizing well, leaving farmers optimistic.

Growers making hay of uncertain alfalfa market
With dairies still struggling financially, California alfalfa-hay growers say their biggest customers can’t afford their product, leaving future prospects of the forage unclear. Harvest is ramping up, but acreage has been trending down. Farmers harvested 620,000 acres last year, the lowest on record. Growth in exports has helped, but an ongoing trade dispute with China and its retaliatory tariffs since last summer have reduced shipments to one of California’s key offshore markets for alfalfa hay.

Scientists aim for tastier tomato
Your supermarket tomato might soon get a flavor boost. Scientists have constructed the pan-genome for the cultivated tomato and its wild ancestors, which includes genes from 725 different varieties and nearly 5,000 previously undocumented genes. The information can help breeders quickly develop new varieties for commercial production that retain both richer flavor profiles and traits important to growers such as yield, shelf life, disease resistance and stress tolerance.

Volume 23, No. 43Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Rice planting accelerates after late start
It’ll be a short and intense planting season for California rice farmers. Late spring rains kept farmers out of their fields, and they say some rice ground will be left unplanted because of lingering floodwaters. But farmers say planting weather has improved, water availability will be good, and they expect decent markets for their rice. The California Rice Commission predicts about 500,000 acres of the crop will be planted.

Water supplies remain constrained in some areas
In the western San Joaquin Valley, farmers who buy water from the federal Central Valley Project hope to see supplies improve, and water districts seek to supplement supplies. CVP farm customers in the region stand to receive only 65 percent allocations, despite the above-average snowpack. At least one water district says it plans to buy water from a neighboring district with full supplies. The CVP may revise allocations later this month.

Carrot supplies maintain momentum
Shipments of fresh carrots set their fastest pace in 20 years during the first quarter of 2019. The U.S. Agriculture Department says carrot shipments also rose in 2018, during which production surged 18 percent compared to the previous year. In terms of per-person availability, carrots saw the largest increase last year among all fresh vegetables. California accounts for almost 80 percent of the nation’s fresh-carrot production.

Grant aims to head off an invasive pest
Hoping to reduce the impact of an invasive pest before it arrives in California, the state Department of Food and Agriculture has awarded a grant to researchers to study biological controls for the insect. The spotted lantern fly arrived in North America five years ago and has spread in the eastern U.S. University of California scientists will test whether a tiny wasp can be used to combat the lantern fly, should it reach the state.

Volume 23, No. 42Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Survey outlines on-farm employee shortages
A new survey shows California farmers and ranchers continue to have trouble hiring enough people for on-farm jobs, despite taking steps to address the problem. Farmers said they have raised wages, changed farming and cropping patterns, used automation and other tactics, but 56% of farmers reported being unable to fill all their jobs. The California Farm Bureau Federation conducted the survey in collaboration with the University of California, Davis.

Early cherry crop appears promising
After suffering through a small harvest a year ago, California cherry farmers say they expect a comeback crop this year. Cherry harvest is just beginning in the southern San Joaquin Valley and, as with many other crops this year, it’s running a little later than usual due to winter and early-spring weather. But the California Cherry Board says the new crop could match the harvest of two years ago, which was the largest in the previous 10 years.

Miniature tomato plants could grow in outer space
Developing plants that produce more fruit and less plant shows promise here on Earth, and could also feed future astronauts. Scientists at the University of California, Riverside, say they’re working with NASA on miniature tomato plants and other crops for the International Space Station. Researchers say they want to produce more tomato per plant—a concept that also applies to food grown in small plots or vertical, urban farms.

State regulation governs industrial hemp
Production of industrial hemp in California has moved closer, with approval of state regulations for farmer registration. The state Department of Food and Agriculture announced approval of the regulations Tuesday. Farmers who want to grow industrial hemp must register with a county agricultural commissioner. About two-dozen counties have placed moratoriums on hemp production until state rules have been finalized. Regulations for sampling and testing remain to be completed.

Volume 23, No. 41Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Illegal dumping scars farmland
Old mattresses, tires, sofas, appliances, household trash—all that and more gets dumped illegally on California farms. Some farmers say they have trash discarded on their property as often as weekly. Prosecutions for illegal dumping are rare. One Sutter County farmer has taken action by founding a grassroots citizens group to clear illegal dump sites. The group removed 72,000 pounds of trash in its first two cleanup days.

Blueberry season builds to annual peak
California-grown blueberries will soon begin reaching market in larger volumes, and farmers say they expect their crop to recover from the frost-damaged production of a year ago. As with many other crops, blueberry harvest has been delayed by cool, rainy weather earlier in the year. Peak season for California blueberries typically arrives in mid-May, and farmers say they expect to have plenty of fruit available.

Rising fuel prices affect farmers
As retail diesel fuel prices have climbed back to $4 a gallon, California farmers look for ways to adjust. Fuel prices tend to rise seasonally, but average diesel prices in the state stand about 18 cents a gallon higher than a year ago. That means farmers face higher costs to run equipment, and could also see prices rise for hauling crops or livestock to market. Some farmers say they may operate equipment less frequently in response to fuel costs.

USDA seeks student ideas to cut food waste
With a contest called “Ace the Waste,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture solicits ideas from students on how to reduce food waste. The USDA announced the first-ever contest Tuesday for students aged 11 to 18. The contest will offer prizes for ideas to prevent food waste, recover excess food to feed people, recycle food scraps to keep them out of landfills, and to raise awareness of the issue.

Volume 23, No. 40Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Bill would aid tracking of rural crime
Aiming to slow rural crime and collect more data about the problem, a bill in the state Legislature would create a new category in the Penal Code: agricultural grand theft. Fines collected from persons convicted of agricultural grand theft would support rural crime-prevention programs. A California Farm Bureau policy advocate says the new category would also allow better tracking of crimes affecting farms and ranches.

Factors combine to reduce onion supplies
Rainy winter and spring weather has slowed onion season along the California-Oregon border, and a national group predicts short supplies this spring. Farmers in the Klamath Basin say they would typically start planting onions this week, but fields have remained too muddy. The National Onion Association says it expects tight supplies for the next few months, due to factors including weather problems in the U.S., reduced imports and increased demand.

Census provides data on California farms, ranches
Use of solar panels and other renewable-energy systems on California farms and ranches more than doubled in five years, according to the new U.S. Census of Agriculture. California leads the nation in on-farm renewable energy. Among other data, the census shows about 37 percent of the state’s farmers and ranchers are female; about 10 percent are military veterans; and the great majority of farms and ranches are owned by individuals, families or partnerships.

Satellite imagery could be harnessed for fire warnings
It wasn’t feasible a few months ago, but a University of California professor now believes it’s possible to create an early-warning system for wildfires, using existing satellite imagery. The UC Berkeley professor says data from a weather satellite and other systems can now be synthesized into a single application that could alert public-safety agencies and residents to wildfire movement.

Volume 23, No. 39Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Spring planting for vegetables underway despite rain
Vegetable growers around California are planting their spring crops, even though some are running late because of late-season rain. One grower in Sacramento County said he’s about a month behind; a Fresno County-based farmer said the biggest obstacle has been getting fields prepared, and with summer heat not far off, time—and timing—will be of the essence.

New food and nutrient data system provides deeper look
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released a new food and nutrient data system that integrates five types of data in one place. FoodData Central, intended for researchers, health care providers, policy makers and consumers, builds upon existing USDA data to help users understand the variability in nutrient values of foods, and how factors such as climate and agricultural practices can affect nutritional profiles.

Analysis suggests farmers need disaster assistance to continue contributions to economy
An analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation found that farming provides economic benefits throughout areas of the nation affected by recent natural disasters. In California counties impacted by wildfires in 2018, agriculture represented $5 billion in economic contributions and 31,000 jobs. AFBF’s chief economist found current levels of assistance inadequate to help farmers rebuild, advocating for Congress to approve additional federal disaster aid.

Avocados could have potential in Sacramento Valley
The Sacramento Valley holds promise for growing the ever-popular avocado, according to a University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor. In a recent talk in Winters for interested farmers, she noted the flat land, water supply and interest in local foods as benefits, and highlighted the GEM avocado variety as one with potential. Pollination is the primary problem for regional growers to overcome, requiring a pollinator variety and honeybees.

Volume 23, No. 38Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Will big snowpack boost farm water supplies?
With the key April survey showing the Sierra Nevada snowpack far above average, farmers wait to see how water supplies will be affected. The state Department of Water Resources said Tuesday the snowpack stands at 162 percent of average, and most reservoirs hold above-average water levels. Despite that, many agricultural customers of federal and state water projects still face reduced water supplies.

Early spring weather slows crop development
Wet, cool weather continues to delay California crops—but farmers say it remains too early to forecast how that might affect their eventual harvests. For example, Sacramento Valley peach growers say fruit hasn’t yet started to develop on their trees. In the San Joaquin Valley, farmers say the rains have slowed planting of crops including cotton and tomatoes. Development of many crops has been running up to two weeks later than usual.

Midwest flooding affects California dairies
Heavy snows in Canada and flooding in the Midwest have California dairy farmers scrambling to find substitutes for a number of feed commodities. A combination of weather damage and shipping delays has reduced availability of canola meal, soybean meal and other products used to feed cows. Dairy farmers have been able to find alternative feeds, but often at much higher prices—and changing feed formulations can also affect cows’ milk production.

Farm Bureau urges Senate to act on disaster relief
With a disaster-relief bill stalled in the U.S. Senate, the American Farm Bureau Federation urged senators Tuesday to set aside political concerns and prioritize concern for the nation’s food producers. In a statement, AFBF President Zippy Duvall said farms and ranches across the country have endured losses from floods, wildfires and other natural disasters, with many farmers facing “near-complete losses” of crops, livestock, buildings and equipment.

Volume 23, No. 37Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Farm, water groups urge investment in water projects
If Congress works on a package of infrastructure legislation this year, Western farm and water organizations say the bill should include investments in water projects. More than 100 groups from California and 12 other states wrote Congress this week, urging investments in water storage, conservation, recycling and other projects. The organizations say Western states need “every tool available” to prepare for future dry years.

Olive growers contemplate harvest mechanization
Many olive growers could face a difficult choice in a year or so: modify their groves for mechanization or face an uncertain future. After one of the state’s two olive processors canceled contracts with some farmers, the other offered to accept the fruit—but would only promise long-term contracts if farmers commit to mechanization. Most olives grown for oil are already harvested mechanically, but olives for canning have been hand-harvested.

Genome research aims to benefit walnuts
Walnut trees could better withstand soil-borne diseases, as a result of research announced this week. Scientists with the University of California, Davis, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture say they sequenced the genome of a walnut hybrid, thereby unlocking the genomes of both parent trees. Researchers say the genome sequences of the two walnut species could allow them to identify traits that help trees resist diseases and pests.

Extract from avocado seeds may have helpful properties
An extract derived from avocado seeds shows promise as a treatment against inflammation, according to scientists at Penn State University. The researchers say laboratory tests indicate the extract may slow inflammation. If that holds true, the extract could be developed as a functional food ingredient or pharmaceutical. Because most avocado seeds are thrown away, creating uses for them could generate a new market for growers and processors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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