Food & Farm News

Volume 24, No. 8Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Farms rely on data—and data management
Soil probes, weather stations, well monitors and other sources generate information farmers can use to help produce their crops—and that makes data management a higher priority. In some cases, farms create their own programs to digitize information that was once collected on paper. In other cases, they use apps produced by agricultural technology firms. Farmers say the information helps them avoid problems, or solve them more quickly.

Lab works to identify potential HLB treatments
Saying they wanted to make a difference in the fight against a fatal plant disease, bacteria researchers at Stanford University have identified possible treatments for the malady known as citrus greening or HLB. The research team says it has isolated 130 compounds that could show promise against HLB. The citrus disease has no cure now, and the scientists say they hope their work will give other researchers clues about avenues to explore.

Pest experts look for ways to fight invasive stinkbug
A parasitic wasp from eastern Asia could become a new tool for pest experts trying to stem infestations of an invasive stinkbug. The brown marmorated stinkbug first hit several California cities, but has now moved into farm fields and orchards, causing crop damage. A state official says he hopes to obtain a permit to release a parasitic wasp that feeds on stinkbug eggs, once he can assure that can be done safely.

Survey shows few students consider agricultural careers
When asked in a recent survey to identify agricultural careers, most students pointed to farming—but not to other careers in science, technology, veterinary medicine or other fields. The sponsors of the survey, Bayer Crop Science and the National 4-H Council, say there’s a limited pool of skilled applicants for many agricultural-science jobs. They created a project called Science Matters to try to address that gap.

Volume 24, No. 7Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Effects of Chinese trade action remain uncertain
After China announced it had suspended purchases of U.S. farm products, California agricultural exporters say they continue to assess how the action may affect them. China directed its state-owned enterprises to stop buying American farm goods as part of ongoing trade disputes. But exporters say it’s still unclear how or whether that will affect private Chinese firms that buy California-grown nuts, wine and other products.

Farmers describe progress of coastal vegetable harvest
California’s long, intense winter continues to affect vegetable production on and near the Central Coast. The wet winter delayed vegetable planting and harvest, but Salinas Valley farmers are rotating into their third crops, planting new fields of lettuce, spinach and other vegetables. Farmers report good demand for their crops, though that often dips in the summer due to local and homegrown production in other parts of the country.

Forecasters expect increased fruit production
More California-grown peaches, pears, apples and olives should be reaching shelves this summer and fall. Crop estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show California peach production up 6 percent, pears up 15 percent and apples up 20 percent. The same report estimates the total grape crop to be nearly the same size as last year. In a separate report, forecasters predicted the canning-olive crop would be much larger than a year ago.

Estimates show mixed outlook for field, grain crops
Production will be down for California’s most widely planted field and grain crops, according to federal forecasters. Estimates released this week show alfalfa and rice production off slightly, and the California cotton crop down by one-third. Bean production will also decrease. The report forecast higher production for other California field and grain crops, including oats, barley, wheat and corn.

Volume 24, No. 6Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Livestock owners look for backup water sources
The potential for power outages intended to prevent wildfires has livestock owners working to be sure they can provide water for their animals. Farmers and ranchers who use electric pumps for livestock water say they’re looking for generators and other backup systems. A University of California farm advisor says power outages could be especially troublesome for small-scale livestock owners. Utilities provide information about backup generation resources and vendors.

Many rural roads remain inadequate
Trucks carry 70% of farm and food products, making rural roads crucial to the agricultural economy. Analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation indicates many rural roads and bridges lack the capacity to accommodate growing freight travel. Congress is working on a new transportation bill. A study released this spring by a national research group rated nearly one-third of California’s rural roads as in poor condition.

USDA tracks fruit, vegetable affordability
For less than $3 a day, Americans can purchase enough fruits and vegetables to meet current dietary guidelines. The U.S. Department of Agriculture calculated costs based on retail prices and a number of fruit and vegetable combinations. Guidelines encourage Americans to eat two cups of fruit and two-and-a-half cups of vegetables each day—but USDA surveys indicate most people fall short of those recommendations.

Research on cilantro may improve treatment for seizures
Cilantro has been used in traditional medicine to treat against seizures, and University of California research has found the underlying action that allows the herb to have that effect. Scientists at UC Irvine say this new understanding may lead to improvement in treatments for seizures. The study identified a particular component of cilantro that reduced what the lead researcher called “cellular excitability.”

Volume 24, No. 5Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Senate hearing focuses on USMCA trade pact
Saying a new agreement would “lift the cloud of uncertainty hanging over North American trade,” farming organizations urged the U.S. Senate to ratify the U.S.-Canada-Mexico Agreement. Farm groups and agricultural businesses testified before the Senate Finance Committee, as did automotive, trucking, small-business and labor groups. The American Farm Bureau Federation said Congress and the administration should “double down” on talks to approve the agreement.

Tariff reductions help pistachio exports
Reducing tariffs on American-grown pistachios helped sell an extra 2.3 billion pounds of the nuts to foreign customers, according to a new study. The increase came during a nine-year period as a result of lower tariffs from Israel, Mexico, China and the European Union--and before some of those nations imposed retaliatory tariffs on pistachios and other crops. Virtually all U.S.-grown pistachios come from California.

Worldwide citrus production to increase
There will be more citrus fruit on the market around the world this year. The U.S. Agriculture Department says worldwide orange production will rebound to the highest level in eight years, accompanied by record global crops of tangerines, mandarins, lemons and limes. The U.S. is among the nations producing more citrus. California leads the U.S. in fresh oranges, tangerines, mandarins and lemons, with larger crops expected for all except lemons.

Farmers report benefits from soil-health activities
Case studies released Tuesday indicate actions to improve soil health can help farm profitability as well as the environment. American Farmland Trust worked with farmers in California and three other states, reviewing practices such as composting, use of cover crops and other soil-health techniques. Researchers say the examples show farmers being able to reduce their costs and improve crop yields, while also enhancing water and air quality.

Volume 24, No. 4Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Farmers visit Capitol Hill on behalf of USMCA
Seeking action on a pending trade deal, California farmers and ranchers conduct a “fly-in” to Washington, D.C., Wednesday, to urge congressional ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Farmers will visit the California congressional delegation, asking members to support the USMCA. Supporters say the agreement would strengthen relations with two key markets for California agricultural exports.

New methods, law aim to reduce rural crime
Crimes of theft, vandalism and trespassing plague rural California. Farmers and sheriffs deputies use a number of techniques to combat rural crime, combining new technology with tried-and-true information sharing. Recently signed state legislation creates a new crime category—grand theft of agricultural property—and invests fines collected from those crimes into rural crime-prevention programs.

Winegrape harvest may be delayed
As winegrapes ripen in California vineyards, farmers wait to see how cool, rainy spring weather affected the crop. Farmers expect their harvests to come 10 days to two weeks later than usual, because of the cooler temperatures. Individual farmers say the crop looks smaller, but the leader of a Fresno-based growers cooperative says he believes the winegrape harvest will ultimately be as large or larger than last year’s record crop.

Controlling weeds would lessen chance of wildfire
Invasive weeds worsen California’s wildfire threat, and a University of California specialist says one particular group of weeds—from the genus Bromus—has become a pervasive concern. Cheatgrass and other Bromus species can be found in wide swaths of the state. The grasses can be controlled through livestock grazing, mowing, herbicides and other methods, but have to be tackled at just the right time, before their seeds mature.

Volume 24, No. 3Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Farm groups evaluate changes to agricultural visa program
A proposal from the U.S. Department of Labor to modify the existing agricultural visa program has been met with initial support from farm leaders. California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson says he’s encouraged by the administration’s efforts to improve the system, known as H-2A. Johansson says farmers also need congressional action on wider improvement to immigration laws, to help address chronic employee shortages.

Irrigation districts recharge groundwater aquifers
Wet winters such as the one California just had help replenish underground water supplies, and a number of irrigation districts help the process along through a technique called “conjunctive use.” The method coordinates use of surface water and groundwater supplies within a region. One Fresno County water district says it has been using the technique for 100 years, moving water into recharge basins to percolate into underground water tables.

Rural areas suffer from lack of broadband service
Many urban residents now take broadband internet service for granted, but it remains scarce in some rural areas. An estimated one-quarter of rural Americans lack sufficient broadband service, including many in California. Farmers say more-reliable service would allow them to adopt technology to improve precision of water and fertilizer use and animal care. Fitful internet availability also hampers delivery of public services in rural regions.

Longtime farms, ranches to be honored
Eighteen farms, ranches and agricultural organizations that have been in continuous operation for at least 100 years will join the California Agricultural Heritage Club Wednesday. The California State Fair inducts new members into the club each year. Two farms or ranches will be honored for 150 years of operation. The Grohl Family Ranch in Stanislaus County and Wilbur Ranch in Sutter County each started in 1869.

Volume 24, No. 2Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Pence to hold trade discussion in Central Valley
The topic will be trade when Vice President Pence visits the Central Valley Wednesday. Pence is scheduled to speak at a farm in Lemoore, during an event promoting the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. Supporters say the agreement will improve agricultural trade among the three countries. The agreement awaits ratification in the U.S. Congress and Canadian Parliament; Mexico has ratified it.

Black-eyed peas could lend drought tolerance to other crops
Breeding more drought-tolerant crops could be one result of the genetic decoding of black-eyed peas. Scientists at the University of California, Riverside, announced Tuesday they had unraveled the crop’s genetic code. Also known as cowpeas, black-eyed peas provide a staple source of protein in much of the world, and tolerate drought and hot temperatures. Researchers say their work could ultimately help other crops acquire those traits.

Data can help grape growers forecast crop performance
Decisions that grape growers make could have a 25-year impact on their vines, and computer engineers want to give farmers better information to guide their choices. Professors from Purdue University in Indiana have been working with California winegrape growers to help them adopt new technology. The project includes harnessing data growers can use to forecast how their decisions might affect the long-term performance of their vineyards.

Advisors seek new market for California-grown moringa
Grown for its leaves and fresh pods, the tropical tree moringa has been cultivated on a small scale in the San Joaquin Valley. Now, University of California farm advisors hope to create a new market for the crop: selling dried, powdered moringa leaves as a dietary supplement. Most moringa powder sold in the U.S. is imported. The UC advisors have been working with small-scale Fresno County farmers to process local moringa powder.

Volume 24, No. 1Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Agencies report progress on voluntary river agreements
Voluntary agreements to improve fish habitat in Central Valley rivers have made “substantial progress,” according to state agencies. The agreements have been offered as an alternative to a state plan to redirect river flows. Leaders of the state environmental and natural-resources agencies say final evaluation of the agreements could come by October. The agreements would include targeted river flows, plus other projects to enhance fish habitat.

Analysis may help predict Sierra tree die-offs
From what they learned studying the impact of the recent, multiyear drought, researchers say they can now predict where future droughts will hit Sierra Nevada forests the hardest. Two professors at the University of California, Merced, say parts of the Sierra reached a tipping point in 2015, when a combination of drought and dry soil caused trees to die in large numbers. They say their analysis of the past drought will help diagnose and forecast future forest die-offs.

Sensors could help ranchers locate cattle
Using a high-tech tracking system, students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo hope one day to help cattle ranchers keep track of their herds. The students designed sensors that could allow ranchers to find cattle that separate from the herd. The sensors would be worn on a collar to monitor an animal’s location and temperature. The students plan to begin testing the system with cattle, and want to use similar technology to benefit other aspects of ranching.

Survey shows little price change for cookout foods
Retail prices remain virtually unchanged for traditional Independence Day cookout foods, according to an annual survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation. The survey showed prices for a summer cookout to serve 10 people averaged $52.80, up less than 1 percent from a year ago. Volunteer shoppers across the country checked prices on foods including hot dogs, cheeseburgers, potato salad, lemonade and watermelon.

Volume 23, No. 50Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Hearing focuses on soil health
Programs to benefit soil health should be “locally focused and producer-led,” according to a California Farm Bureau Federation officer who testified before Congress Tuesday. CFBF First Vice President Shannon Douglass told a House subcommittee about soil-health practices she uses on her Glenn County farm. She said programs to encourage similar practices should be flexible, incentive-based and backed by up-to-date research.

Nutria eradication efforts may get boost
Additional resources may be on the way, to help control and eradicate an invasive rodent. More than 500 nutria have been trapped in Central California. The creatures threaten crops, levees and other water systems. The new state budget passed by the Legislature includes nearly $2 million to boost nutria eradication work, and members of Congress have introduced a bill to revive a federal eradication program.

Cherry losses reach disaster status
Losses to cherry crops caused by springtime rains have led at least three California counties to file or consider crop-disaster declarations. San Joaquin County says more than half its cherries were lost to the storms, and has filed a disaster request. Madera and Stanislaus counties will likely do so, too. Ultimately, a disaster decree from the U.S. Agriculture Department could qualify affected farmers for low-interest loans and other aid.

Walnut promotions emphasize heart health
Encouraged by results of a retail marketing campaign focused on heart health, the California Walnut Board says it plans to expand the program nationally. Advertisements and in-store displays promoted walnuts as a heart-healthy food during American Heart Month in February. The Walnut Board says improved sales in test markets this year will lead to nationwide expansion of the program next year.

Volume 23, No. 49Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Motorcade for Trade rolls out support for USMCA
Promoting their Motorcade for Trade, an organization favoring enhanced agricultural trade visited Sacramento Tuesday as part of a swing through California. The Farmers for Free Trade group has been traveling across country in support of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The group says the agreement would stabilize agricultural trade among the three nations. Canada is the No. 2 market for California agricultural exports, and Mexico ranks fifth.

Wildfire preparation gains higher priority
With summer starting and wildfires already punishing California, authorities encourage people to be prepared. They say the advice may be familiar, but the urgency has intensified. Observers say rural residents should be ready year-round with an emergency evacuation kit and other preparations. State and federal agencies are working on fire-prevention projects that include vegetation clearing, creation of fuel breaks and other measures.

Peak apricot season arrives
Harvest ramps up this week for California’s main apricot variety, the Patterson. Farmers say they expect the state’s apricot production to double this year—and they’re looking for buyers for all that fruit. Most apricots are sold for canning, drying, jams or other uses, but demand from processors has declined. Some fruit that had been destined for processing may be sold fresh, but sometimes isn’t suitable.

California-grown flowers compete with imports
To compete with imported flowers, California growers emphasize freshness and grow specialty or heritage varieties. The California Cut Flower Commission estimates three-quarters of domestically grown flowers come from California—but the vast majority of the flowers sold in the U.S. are imported from other countries. The commission held a Field to Vase dinner on the grounds of the state Capitol to highlight California-grown flowers.

Volume 23, No. 48Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Rural regions prepare for power shutoffs
As utilities begin shutting off power in an effort to prevent wildfires, California farmers, ranchers and rural residents plan for ways to manage the power loss. Some say they may invest in generators to maintain water pumps for livestock and crops, plus produce-cooling equipment and other facilities. Farmers say they understand the rationale for the shutoffs and hope they succeed, and that power interruptions will be as short as possible.

Late-spring storms leave damage in their wake
Onions, tomatoes, cherries and cotton are among the crops damaged by late-spring storms in the Central Valley. Farmers, pest control advisers and agricultural commissioners say the crops suffered damage from hail or from plant diseases linked to the wet weather. Observers say the crop losses may be significant for individual farmers but not widespread enough to lead to disaster declarations in most cases.

Farm, food groups seek approval of trade agreement
Urging Congress to pass a pending trade agreement, a coalition of more than 900 farm and food organizations said the agreement would help U.S. agriculture while providing high-quality, safe food at affordable prices. In a letter to House and Senate leaders, the groups requested “swift ratification” of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The letter’s signers included the California Farm Bureau Federation and more than three-dozen other California groups.

Nurseries track plant trends to plan greenhouse space
Tracking trends in houseplants allows Southern California nurseries to fulfill customer demand. Nursery owners say social media can help drive demand for houseplants, and note that some plants that became trendy in the 1970s are now enjoying a comeback. Keeping up with the trends requires foresight, because in some cases plants need close to a year in the greenhouse before they’re ready for sale.

Volume 23, No. 47Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Weather brings fewer but larger avocados
An intense heat wave 11 months ago has reduced the California avocado crop. Farmers who typically would harvest fruit into early July report they’ve already finished their harvest. Southern California heat last July damaged the developing fruit. But ample winter rains allowed the remaining avocados to grow to larger sizes. Forecasters estimate the avocado crop at 175 million pounds, about half the volume of a year ago.

Ranchers welcome benefits of grass growth
Plentiful grasses stimulated by abundant rainfall have improved the outlook for California cattle ranchers. The rangeland grasses will allow cattle to grow to higher weights before being marketed, helping ranchers offset part of the impact of weaker prices. Trade uncertainties have also put a damper on the market as beef production heads toward a potential record this year, but ranchers say the improved range conditions will help them save costs.

Tomato harvest may run late
Rainy, cool weather slowed California tomato planting, but crop estimators say they still expect the state’s farmers to harvest more than 12 million tons of processing tomatoes this summer. An updated estimate says the later planting might delay harvest by about a week, but that the crop could catch up during warm summer days. Processing tomatoes are used for salsa, ketchup and other products. Fresno County leads the state in processing-tomato production.

Invasive species damage environment, economy
From the burrowing nutria threatening waterways to the small insect carrying disease to citrus trees, invasive species cause ecological damage and economic losses. As agencies commemorate California Invasive Species Action Week, they urge Californians to take care not to transport new species into the state. The University of California estimates a new invertebrate species establishes itself in California every six weeks, on average.


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