Wildfires damage crops, pastures, buildings


Nearly 200 acres of avocados and lemons have been damaged or destroyed in Ventura County, after wildfires that broke out last week. The county agricultural commissioner's office says it hasn't yet had a chance to assess all the farming areas affected by the fires. In Sonoma County, farmers and ranchers say the Kincade Fire destroyed pastures, barns and winery facilities. The fire also hit grapevines, which often acted as firebreaks.


Power shutoffs lead to agricultural losses


The frequency and duration of public safety power shutoffs led to hardships for farmers and ranchers, especially small-scale operations that lost products during the blackouts. One Mendocino County farmer who runs a goat dairy said she had to milk her goats by hand and discard the milk, because she couldn't use her milking equipment or cold storage. Other farmers said the shutoffs interrupted irrigation schedules and in some cases forced them to abandon crops.


USDA releases new red spinach


In a development a plant breeder says will "bring excitement to the spinach market," the U.S. Department of Agriculture has released what it calls the world's first true red spinach. Known as USDA Red, the new spinach variety was developed at the department's facility in Salinas. Other types of spinach have had red veins, but the new variety has red leaves--and also boasts higher antioxidant levels than other spinach varieties.


Revenues from agricultural tourism increase


Agricultural tourism continues to grow, according to the latest U.S. Census of Agriculture. Figures show agritourism revenues more than tripled between 2002 and 2017. A government study says commodities such as grapes, fruit and nut trees, and specialty livestock had a positive impact on tourism revenues. The report says agritourism could offer a strategy that helps small and mid-sized farms in particular to bring in additional revenue.

 Kincade Fire sweeps through farming region


Assessing agricultural damage from the Kincade Fire will take some time, once the fire has been contained. Flames have destroyed or damaged wineries, barns and other structures in Sonoma County. A 107-year-old cattle ranch lost nearly all of its buildings. Reports indicate between 10 and 20% of the region's winegrapes remain on the vines. The county Farm Bureau has helped relocate evacuated farm animals and organized a hay drive. (on-air reading time :23)


California almond, walnut crops to be smaller


Rainy spring weather that reduced California almond and walnut crops will lead to ripple effects on world markets. A government report says world almond production will be down 3% this year, mainly due to a smaller California crop though production will also be down in Europe. However, world walnut production will rise 6%, despite a reduced California harvest, because better weather in China allowed its production to rise sharply. (reading time :24)


Drought-tolerant plants could result from research


In work that could help plants resist drought, a research team at the University of California, Riverside, says it has developed a chemical to help plants retain water. Known as O.P., the chemical mimics a natural hormone plants produce in reaction to drought. Researchers say the O.P. chemical could ultimately allow farmers to treat plants that would otherwise wilt from lack of water. The treatment slows a plant's growth, so it won't consume more water than available. (reading time :24)


Pumpkin crop looks healthy


It may be obvious from looking at jack-o'-lanterns on front porches around the state, but California has produced a "healthy" pumpkin crop this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. California ranks third in the nation in tonnage of pumpkin production, behind Illinois and Texas, but ranks No. 1 in crop value, because nearly all the state's crop is sold in the ornamental market. San Joaquin County leads the state in pumpkin production. (reading time :23)  

Farms provide more agritourism opportunities


Pumpkin patches are popular destinations this time of year, but there are other ways for people to get a taste of the countryside and experience agriculture. Farms that open their doors to the public are increasingly offering overnight lodging, farm-to-table dinners and events, and workshops to attract visitors and generate more tourism revenue. These offerings often showcase the farm's property and what it produces.  


High-severity wildfires may indefinitely alter California's forests


A new study says California's increasingly intense fires may erase some of the state's forests indefinitely. Scientists found that five to 10 years after a high-severity burn, many forest stands had converted to shrub fields with low diversity of plant species. Authors said current fire trends could prevent forest recovery in large portions of the Sierra Nevada landscape, and suggested the expansion of forest thinning and prescribed burning as management tools.


Underserved and veteran farmers to benefit from $16.2 million in USDA grants


The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it will issue $16.2 million in grants to provide farmers, ranchers and foresters who are socially disadvantaged or veterans with training, outreach and technical assistance. Grants are awarded to higher education institutions, nonprofits and community-based organizations to reach historically underserved communities. The program has awarded 484 grants totaling $119.5 million since 2010.


New robotic arm aids workflow, safety in university lab


There's a new worker in Fresno State's citrus processing laboratory: It's a robotic arm designed to move and arrange boxes of produce. The automated arm has a nearly 7-foot reach and a 150-pound payload capacity, and can also be tasked with inspection, packaging and machine tending. The lab and equipment are used for an industrial technology course that emphasizes citrus processing line operation, safety and maintenance.

Solving food waste will be complex, study says

New attention to reducing food waste represents an encouraging sign, but a new study says tackling the issue will involve complex solutions. A researcher from the University of California, Davis, who led the study says large, systemic factors on farms, at grocery stores and restaurants, and in home kitchens all contribute. The study indicates a need to focus on cultural and social factors rather than only on actions by individuals.

USDA profiles beginning farms, ranches

Beginning farms and ranches account for 17% of all farms in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA study says beginning farms generally operate at a smaller scale that more-established farms, and their operators rely more on off-farm income. Meanwhile, two Californians are among 20 people appointed to serve on a USDA Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers.


Fruit orchards provide larger crops

Tree fruit from California and the rest of the U.S. has been more plentiful. Government estimates show apple production up 4%, peach crops up 13% and the cherry harvest up 5% compared to a year ago. The overall U.S. pear crop will be similar to last year, but California production will be up 15%. Grape production will also be close to last year's, with the California table-grape crop expected to match last year's record.


UC looks into elderberries' potential

Native California elderberry bushes attract pollinators and other beneficial insects to farms. University of California specialists say hedgerow elderberry plantings can bring additional benefits through production of elderberry products. UC advisors are researching production practices, costs and varieties. Several farms around the state already harvest elderflowers and elderberries for creating syrups, jams and other products.

 Farmers, restaurants, chefs urge passage of USMCA

More than a dozen chefs and restaurants joined California food and agricultural organizations this week in urging Congress to pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. In a letter to the California congressional delegation, the coalition said the USMCA would include improvements that would help California agriculture to trade fairly, which benefits farmers, restaurants and their customers by assuring availability of high-quality ingredients and affordable dining experiences. 


Water year 2019 leaves reservoirs with good storage

As the water year comes to a close on Sept. 30, a California Department of Water Resources storage summary showed all but three reservoirs listed running at or above their historical average. However, the wet year did not provide full water supplies for all. Customers of the State Water Project and south-of-delta agricultural water contractors of the federal Central Valley Project had 75% supplies, a fact some agriculture advocates say points to the need for additional storage.


Big pistachio crops find growing markets

California farmers are producing more pistachios to meet rising global demand. This year's harvest, currently underway, is expected to produce the third-largest crop in state history, and growers expect to produce the state's first billion-pound crop next year. Rising affluence in China and India, coupled with increasing health consciousness globally, are buoying demand for the nut, which has enjoyed brisk exports to China despite tariffs resulting from the ongoing trade war.


UC Riverside and citrus sector unveil state-of-the-art lab

In a ribbon-cutting ceremony and press conference on Thursday, project sponsors will unveil a new state-of-the-art lab in Riverside aimed at protecting California's $3.3 billion citrus sector from the fatal citrus plant disease huanglongbing, or HLB. The result of a partnership between the state's citrus growers and University of California, Riverside, The Biosafety Level-3 Lab will enable scientists to conduct research with plant pathogens that previously couldn't be done in Southern California.

Farmers, ranchers watch outcome of legislation


Governor Newsom has until October 13 to sign or veto bills sent to him at the end of the state legislative session. Farm organizations welcomed his plan to veto a bill that would preserve California environmental and labor standards from changes initiated by the Trump administration. Other bills sent to the governor's desk include one sponsored by the California Farm Bureau, to create a rural economic advisor in the state Department of Food and Agriculture.  


Rural roads remain in poor shape

Nearly one-third of California rural roads rate in poor condition--the second-highest percentage in the nation--according to an annual report from a transportation group. For farmers and ranchers, that can mean delays and danger in moving crops and livestock to market. Californians began paying higher gas taxes last year to fund transportation projects, but observers say it's too early to see what impact that will have on rural road conditions.


Biological control may slow watershed weed

A tiny wasp shows promise in controlling a giant weed along California riverbanks. Biologists say the wasp can help reduce stands of the Arundo reed that has invaded watersheds. The wasp is native to the Mediterranean region and lays its eggs on the reed, ultimately reducing its growth. Researchers introduced the wasps near Orland and Madera, and say they have had some effect on the reeds. The wasps do not harm humans, crops or native plants.


Orange crop to be a bit smaller

The coming season's navel orange harvest will be slightly smaller, according to a preseason crop forecast. Estimators say California farmers will harvest enough navel oranges to fill 76 million 40-pound cartons, down 7 percent from the previous season. The vast majority of the oranges will come from the San Joaquin Valley. California leads the nation in orange production.    

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.

 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.   


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.

 ence 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.

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.



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.




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.





Rain, hail fall on Central Valley crops

Storms during the Memorial Day weekend threaten damage to a number of California crops. In the San Joaquin Valley, storms dropped large hail that could affect crops including tomato and cotton plants, plus peach, nectarine and cherry trees. Agricultural commissioners say it may be several days before the impact becomes more clear. In the Sierra Nevada, the snowpack now stands at nearly twice-average for the date.

New project evaluates changing range conditions

To see how range and pastureland respond to changing rainfall and temperature patterns, researchers will simulate a variety of conditions at a University of California facility in Yuba County. UC specialists have earned a grant to create shelters that will allow them to control the precipitation and temperature on a research plot. The project will help the researchers learn how rangeland plants and weeds perform under predicted weather scenarios.  


California leads floriculture production

If you buy flowers or garden plants grown in the United States, chances remain strong that those plants come from California. A new government report shows California continues to lead the nation in production of floriculture crops. The Golden State accounts for more than three-quarters of U.S.-grown cut flowers, and also leads in categories including bedding and garden plants, and flowering potted plants.


Prune marketers rebrand their crop

Once marketed as dried plums, California prunes will now be called just that--California prunes--in a new marketing campaign. The California Prune Board says the rebranding emphasizes the "premium reputation" of the state's crop, which is sold in the United States and dozens of countries around the world. The board's executive director says the idea is to change prunes from an occasional choice to a "daily pleasure" that brings a number of health benefits.  




May storms threaten California crops

In much of California the next few days, farmers will work to assess the impact of mid-May rains, and they'll watch the skies for the threat of additional storms. Cherry growers in the northern San Joaquin Valley say rain split some of the ripening fruit on their trees. The storms interrupted berry harvest in Central California and brought concern for growers of grapes, tree nuts and other crops. Rain further delayed planting of crops including rice.

Farmers, exporters monitor trade talks

As one trade dispute affecting California farmers intensifies, another has lessened. In an ongoing trade disagreement, China plans to increase tariffs effective June 1 on a number of agricultural products, including some affected by earlier retaliatory tariffs. But announcement of the end of a separate dispute with Mexico and Canada promises to boost exports of a number of California farm products.


Postponing harvest benefits protected birds

By delaying their wheat harvest, a Merced County dairy family has helped protected birds lay their eggs. The dairy farmers grew the wheat to feed cows, but an estimated 25,000 tricolored blackbirds chose to nest in the field. The farmers agreed not to harvest the wheat until the birds leave, even though that may reduce the value of the crop. A cooperative program provides technical and financial aid to farmers who help the birds.


Expect more meat, milk and eggs on the market

Forecasts for positive economic conditions in the U.S. contribute to a likely increase in the nation's production of meat, milk and eggs. The U.S. Agriculture Department says it expects production of most animal proteins to rise slightly in 2020. The forecast includes additional production of beef, pork, turkey, chicken, eggs and milk. USDA says it expects lamb production to decline slightly next year.     





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.





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.




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.




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.





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.