New coronavirus may affect demand for farm products


As public health officials grapple with the impacts of the new coronavirus, farmers and agricultural marketers assess the impact on their businesses. Analysts say slower economic growth, reductions in travel and trade slowdowns caused by reactions to the virus could contribute to declining demand for certain farm products. In addition, some agricultural trade missions and conferences have been canceled or postponed. 


California-grown cabbage fills St. Patrick's Day market


Cabbage has been heading to market for St. Patrick's Day in plentiful supply. California farmers say warm, dry weather during the growing season has caused cabbage to mature rapidly. Wholesale prices have been much lower than at the same time a year ago. Farmers along the Central Coast and in the desert have been harvesting cabbage prior to the holiday. California leads the nation in cabbage production.  


California grape crush declined in 2019


Fewer grapes were crushed for wine in California last year. A report issued Tuesday says wineries crushed about 4.1 million tons of grapes in 2019, down nearly 9% from a year earlier. The average price earned by grape growers also declined, about two and a half percent. Some grapes went unharvested last year because of an oversupply. Chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon remained the most popular winegrape varieties.


Study says wild plants could help their domesticated cousins


Wild relatives of crop plants could help crops grow successfully with less fertilizer, according to new research. A professor at the University of California, Riverside, says wild plants can interact more successfully with soil microbes than their domesticated relatives that were bred for high yields. The study indicates that breeding some of those traits back into domesticated crop plants could improve plant growth.

Study predicts significant impact from water shortages


Water shortages could cause 1 million acres of San Joaquin Valley farmland to be idled and cost as many as 85,000 jobs, according to an analysis by University of California economists. The report considered the impact of potential groundwater and surface water restrictions resulting from laws and regulations. The group Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley commissioned the study and said a second report will discuss ways to reduce the impacts.  


Vineyard removal addresses grape surplus


More vineyards will be removed in California this year, as farmers and wineries work to correct an imbalance in supply and demand. Wine-business analysts say some grapes went unharvested last year, as wineries sought to reduce their inventories. The 2020 grape crop has just begun to develop, with vines pushing out buds. That means farmers will be monitoring for frost that might damage the emerging crop.  


Federal funds help fight plant pests, diseases


To protect California-grown crops, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has allocated $12.7 million to plant-health and pest-fighting projects. More than a third of the money will go toward surveys for exotic fruit flies that could damage crops. Other grants will support "detector dog" teams that search for harmful pests in packages at mail and parcel delivery facilities, plus additional projects to fight pests and plant diseases.


Research focuses on pistachios' healthy properties


Two recent studies point to health benefits derived from pistachios. The American Pistachio Growers organization announced new studies showing roasted pistachios meet the definition of a "complete protein" that provides all essential amino acids. That makes roasted pistachios one of the few plant-based sources of complete protein. A separate study indicated pistachio extract could be used to fight a variety of bacterial or viral infections.

CVP announces initial water allocations


A reduced snowpack leads to cautious water allocations for San Joaquin Valley farmers. The federal Central Valley Project said Tuesday it expects to provide agricultural water contractors south of the delta with 15% supplies. The CVP says the allocation would have been less had it not been for new operations plans signed last week. Farm water contractors north of the delta received a 50% allocation.


February weather affects pastures, orchards


Warm, dry February weather has ranchers providing supplemental feed to their animals, and farmers checking their orchards. Pastures around the state have dried due to lack of rainfall, though a farm advisor says forage plants could recover if rains return in March. Fruit and nut trees need a certain amount of chilling to set a crop each year. So far, experts say, trees appear to have gotten enough chilly weather to go fully dormant.


Lower lemon prices result from increased supplies


Lemon prices have been lower than a year ago. Farmers say larger crops and overlapping harvests from other growing areas have put more fruit on the market. More farmers are harvesting a new, seedless variety they hope could boost lemon sales. Most demand for lemons comes from food service buyers, because the most frequent use for the fruit is as a condiment. California farms produce about three-quarters of the lemons grown in the U.S.


USDA reports on crop-automation investments


With farmers reporting ongoing trouble in hiring enough people to harvest fruits and vegetables, the U.S. Agriculture Department says it has invested nearly $300 million in research into automation and mechanization of specialty-crop production. In a report to Congress, USDA said it has funded more than 200 automation projects during the past decade. The agency says it has also worked to improve digital connectivity in rural areas.   


Legislation would enhance pest inspections


Efforts to keep agricultural pests and diseases out of California and the U.S. would receive a boost from legislation passed by Congress. The bill provides funding to add more agricultural inspectors and "sniffer dogs" at airports and seaports, to check for produce and animal products that might carry exotic pests. Supporters of the bill say invasive pests and diseases cost the economy and environment alike. President Trump is expected to sign the bill.


UC to document impact of grazing for fire prevention


More frequent and damaging wildfires have heightened the need for updated research on how livestock grazing helps reduce fire hazard, and the University of California Cooperative Extension says it will begin such a study. A UC livestock advisor says grazing is the most widespread practice to lessen grasses and reduce the speed and intensity of fire--but notes that some public land management agencies don't allow grazing.


Mushroom farmers battle rising production costs


Rising business costs have put the squeeze on California mushroom farmers. Growers say higher wages and other costs contribute to a decline in mushroom production. California remains the No. 2 mushroom-producing state, behind Pennsylvania. Farmers grow mushrooms inside, under strict climate control, with a growing cycle that usually takes 11 or 12 week.


Berry powder can delay ice cream from melting


To help keep ice cream from melting too fast, researchers have come up with a new, natural solution: freeze-dried strawberry powder. A scientist at a U.S. Agriculture Department lab in Albany tried powder from several different berries to act as a stabilizer in making ice cream, and determined strawberry powder worked best. The powder could be used to complement other products now being used, though ice cream makers would need to account for the added berry flavor.

Coronavirus outbreak disrupts trade missions


Concerns about the coronavirus outbreak in China have led some farm groups to postpone trade missions to the country. Heeding the advice of market representatives in China, the California Prune Board, for example, will not take a delegation of growers to China and Hong Kong this spring to promote the product. China's efforts to contain the public health crisis also call into question whether it will be able to meet its obligations under the U.S.-China Phase 1 trade agreement, which takes effect Friday.


Environmental footprint of California dairy farms shrinks


New research in the Journal of Dairy Science finds that the climate footprint of milk production in California shrank dramatically between 1964 and 2014. This is attributed to improved nutrition and more efficient use of water, among other factors. One San Joaquin Valley dairy farmer said that although there's still work to do, the numbers show dairies have come a long way.


Technology on the rise in the field--and the farm office


A recent agricultural-technology summit in Modesto focused not just on the flashy, but also the mundane. One farm-tech officer spoke of the need to use technology to track finances in real time, as a way to help farmers make more informed decisions about money. Getting the next generation interested in the business is the focus of one educator who helps teens find internships with equipment makers.


Farm Bureau leader helps kick off World Ag Expo


Billed as the world's largest agricultural equipment show, the World Ag Expo opened a three-day run in Tulare Tuesday. More than 100,000 visitors from 65 countries will explore displays of equipment, technology and services for farms and ranches. Opening the show, American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall described agriculture as the most exciting and important business in the world.

Valentine's Day plants trending upward


Live plants are gaining in popularity for Valentine's Day, with social media trends leading the way. Orchids are a top seller at one Sacramento-area nursery, with blooming succulents, tropical plants and African violets not far behind. One San Diego County grower said she's selling a lot of plants with pink blooms or leaves, as well as Anthuriums with heart-shaped flowers.


Tomato tonnage about steady this year


California tomato processors expect to handle about 12 million tons of fruit this year, a figure essentially unchanged from 2019. That's good news for the state's processing tomato growers, whose 2019 crop fell short due to late-season rain and hail. As export challenges linger, growers expect more of their harvest to be used domestically in products ranging from soup to salsa.


Natural and working lands offer potential for carbon reduction


California's working lands can help the state achieve negative carbon emissions by 2045, according to a study by Lawrence Livermore National Lab. Scientists found that increasing the uptake of carbon in natural and working lands, as well as converting waste biomass to fuels and storing the CO2, could together reduce annual carbon emissions by 109 million metric tons of the 125 million needed to reach the goal.


Oak trees may hold answer to devastating citrus disease


Scientists have found that applying oak leaf extracts inhibits the bacterium that causes the devastating citrus crop disease huanglongbing, or HLB. The disease has reduced Florida's citrus crop by 90% and led to plant quarantines in Southern California after being found in residential citrus trees. Scientists from the University of Florida and the U.S. Department of Agriculture investigated oaks after farmers observed citrus trees planted near oaks survived HLB.

Desert vegetable harvest picks up momentum


Winter vegetable harvest in the California desert has picked up the pace after something of a slow start. Farmers say rains in late December and early January delayed planting and harvest in the Imperial Valley. Occasional cold weather has meant farmers had to wait until midmorning to begin their daily harvests. The desert valleys of California and Arizona produce most of the nation's lettuce, spinach and other vegetables during the winter.  


Ranchers hope for rains to sustain pastures


Rainfall the next few weeks will make a big difference in how California cattle ranchers manage their herds through the spring. Ranchers say rainfall so far this winter has been adequate to keep pastures green, meaning enough grass for their cattle. But cool weather has meant the grass hasn't grown as fast as ranchers would prefer. In some cases, ranchers say they're buying hay just in case they need to provide supplemental feed for their herds.


Lack of employees slows orchard, vineyard work


In the orchards and vineyards of California, winter means it's time to prune fruit trees and grapevines. Farmers in many parts of the state say they're having trouble hiring enough people to do the work. One Central Valley peach farmer who used to hire 40 people to prune his trees says he could only hire eight this year. Mechanical pruners have become available for vineyards. Peach farmers say their crops generally need to be pruned and harvested by hand.


USDA predicts worldwide citrus production


Worldwide production of most citrus crops will likely decline in the current harvest year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A USDA report projected reduced global crops of oranges, tangerines and mandarins, and lemons and limes. But the report said worldwide grapefruit production could set a record high. USDA said orange harvests in the U.S. and China should increase, but a smaller crop in Brazil will bring global supplies down.

USMCA to be signed soon


President Trump says he plans to sign the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement soon. Speaking to farmers and ranchers at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Austin, Texas, Trump said he would sign the agreement when he returns from a trip to Europe. The Senate gave final congressional approval to the deal last week. California farmers say it will solidify two of the top foreign markets for the state's farm products.


Celery prices settle after 2019 surge


Celery prices have largely returned to Earth after skyrocketing last year in the wake of an Internet-fueled celery-juice craze, with Ventura County growers reporting normal supplies and pricing. Organic celery, once going for upward of $70 per carton in the spring, is back to about $18. Ventura growers report no weather-related challenges this season, other than late-fall rain that interrupted planting.


Almond orchards buzzing as bloom time nears


As more almond orchards come into production, beekeepers are racing to keep pace. More than 2.5 million beehives will be moved into California orchards over the next few weeks in preparation for bloom season. With 300,000-plus acres of almonds expected to begin producing nuts over the next few years, beekeepers say an additional 600,000 new hives will be needed to ensure the young trees are pollinated.


New strawberry variety lasts longer


A new strawberry variety released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been shown to have a significantly longer shelf life than several other popular varieties. The spring-bearing 'Keepsake' strawberry is also reported to have excellent flavor and sweetness, a juicy texture and reliable yields. The variety was increased for distribution at a Northern California nursery.

Almond farmers expand bee health actions

In advance of the annual pollination season, almond farmers and processors have announced a Pollinator Protection Plan to protect honeybees. The Almond Board of California said Tuesday it will enhance its ongoing work to benefit bees. Plans include expanding the number of farmers who provide pollinator habitat, funding five new studies by bee experts, and holding on-farm workshops on best management practices for bee health.


Field-crop production decreases

Production of most California-grown field and grain crops declined during 2019, according to an annual report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Farmers sold less rice, cotton, wheat, corn and most other field crops last year. Production of hay rose slightly, and marketing of California potatoes and barley also bucked the general trend by increasing.


Protein appears to control plant growth

Discovery of a protein that controls plant growth could ultimately help crops withstand challenging conditions. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, found the protein while studying plant cells. They say the protein, called IRK, sends a signal to root cells on when not to divide. Knowing how to control the protein might allow plants to grow under conditions they might not otherwise.  


County Farm Bureaus earn national recognition

Three county Farm Bureaus from California have been chosen to highlight outstanding activities during the American Farm Bureau Federation convention next week in Austin, Texas. The Humboldt County Farm Bureau created a program to encourage high school students to pursue agricultural careers. The Sacramento County Farm Bureau created its own mobile app. The San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation showed adults how to prepare healthy meals with local products.

Farm groups analyze state water portfolio


The new year began with the Sierra snowpack and California reservoirs at near-average levels, and with release of a California Water Resilience Portfolio by state agencies. The agencies outlined a number of actions intended to improve California water quantity and quality. A California Farm Bureau analyst said the organization appreciated the document's substance and its urgency. Comments on the draft plan will be accepted through early February.  


Senate committee approves trade agreement


A new agreement smoothing trade among the United States, Mexico and Canada moved a step closer to ratification Tuesday, with approval by the Senate Finance Committee. Farm groups welcomed the action, which sends the agreement to the full Senate. The House approved the deal last month. It must also be approved by legislatures in Canada and Mexico. Canada ranks No. 2 in foreign purchases of California farm exports; Mexico ranks fifth.  


Strawberry supplies could set record


Record supplies of California-grown strawberries could reach market between Easter and Independence Day, according to a survey from the California Strawberry Commission. The survey indicates strawberry farmers will plant nearly 4% more acreage this year. That, combined with planting of higher-yielding varieties, should increase strawberry supplies compared to last year, if typical weather patterns hold.


Avocado crop should be much larger


Expect to see more California-grown avocados on the market. The California Avocado Commission projects a crop of 369 million pounds, up from about 215 million in 2019. Hot temperatures during crop development reduced California avocado supplies last year, but the commission says it expects a "great" 2020 crop. California farmers harvest avocados all year, with peak volumes anticipated in May, June and July.

Committee action sets up House vote on trade pact

With the House of Representatives set to vote this week on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, farm groups say they welcome progress on the pact. The House Ways and Means Committee voted Tuesday to send the agreement to the full House. The Senate will likely act on it next year. Farm organizations say the agreement will improve the flow of agricultural trade in North America, which supports jobs in rural and urban areas alike. (on-air reading time :22)


Almond sales remain strong to export customers

New advertising and marketing programs in different countries have helped almond marketers expand exports despite retaliatory tariffs in China and other countries. At an annual conference, people in the almond business said overall export sales have risen even though sales to China fell by about one quarter. In all, California almonds are sold in more than 100 countries, with exports to other nations compensating for the drop in Chinese purchases. (reading time :23)


U.S. will import less meat next year

Drought in Australia and New Zealand will contribute to reduced meat imports in the U.S. next year. Most beef and lamb imports come from the two nations, and the U.S. Agriculture Department predicts a second straight year of declines in 2020. Pork imports will decrease due to record U.S. production and strong demand in Asian nations suffering outbreaks of swine flu. Imports represent about 8% of U.S. red meat consumption. (reading time :23)


Families dominate nation's farm ownership

Farming remains overwhelmingly a family business, according to an annual government report. The report says 98% of farms are family farms of varying sizes, accounting for 88% of farm production. Many operators of small and mid-sized family farms rely on off-farm work to supplement their agricultural income. The report says more than 70% of farms receive no farm-related government payments. (reading time :23)

Vote nears on agricultural immigration bill


With Congress poised to vote on immigration legislation affecting agricultural employees, the president of the California Farm Bureau Federation says the bill would benefit farmers, their employees and rural communities. CFBF President Jamie Johansson urges approval of the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which he says would improve agricultural visa programs and accommodate immigrant agricultural employees already in the United States.


Christmas tree farmers report strong sales


Their season got off to a soggy start, but farmers who operate choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms say sales remain brisk. Farmers say their customers have taken advantage of breaks in the rain or braved soggy weather to maintain the tradition of a fresh-cut Christmas tree. Reports of a nationwide tree shortage may also have prompted shoppers, but that relates more to farms that produce trees for wholesale rather than choose-and-cut operations.


Three earn honors for Farm Bureau service


A farmer who has served on the San Benito County Farm Bureau board for more than 70 years has been honored for distinguished service by the California Farm Bureau Federation. Ninety-four-year-old Al Bonturi of Hollister received the award at the CFBF Annual Meeting. The organization also presented service awards to retired CFBF Administrator Rich Matteis and retired San Diego County Farm Bureau executive Eric Larson.

 Storms bring relief to farms, ranches

After two dry months to begin the California rainy season, farmers and ranchers generally welcome December storms that deliver rain to lower elevations and snow to the Sierra. State water officials point out that precipitation last year didn't pick up until after Thanksgiving, but eventually brought a wet winter. Reservoir levels remain generally above average as a result, though the State Water Project issued its initial allocation at only 10% supplies.


Reclamation bureau seeks to repair Central Valley canal

A federal agency has officially kicked off the process to repair a key Central Valley waterway. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Tuesday it will begin accepting public comment on plans to repair the Friant-Kern Canal. The canal has lost much of its capacity due to land subsidence. It delivers water to farms in Tulare and Kern counties, and also serves a quarter-million residential users.


Sorghum study pinpoints drought tolerance

Knowing more about how sorghum plants survive during drought could help other cereal plants during water shortages, and University of California researchers say they've gained important information. A study of sorghum grown at a Fresno County research center shows how the plants turn certain genes on and off during and after times of water scarcity. UC specialists say the study gives them real-world examples of how to help plants tolerate drought.


Americans pick up the pace of meat consumption

Meat consumption among Americans has increased, according to analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA says total consumption of red meat, poultry, fish and shellfish rose nearly 8 percent in the most recent four-year period. Beef consumption rebounded, the report says, due to an improving economy and stable retail prices. Chicken remains the most-consumed meat, at about 52 pounds per person per year.  


Portable pens help with emergency livestock housing

To help house farm animals displaced during disasters, portable livestock pens have been deployed to fairgrounds around California. The pens were formally dedicated Tuesday during a ceremony in Yuba City, and were purchased jointly by the California Farm Bureau Federation's charitable foundation and the state Department of Food and Agriculture. They can be distributed to fairgrounds to help animals evacuated due to wildfires, floods or other emergencies.


Bill in Congress could reduce farms' estate tax burden

Farm organizations welcome introduction of legislation that would ease the potential federal estate tax burden for family farmers and ranchers. Cosponsored by Salinas-area Rep. Jimmy Panetta, the bill would assure property would be appraised as farmland rather than at its development value when determining estate taxes. Supporters say the bill would make it less likely a family farm would need to be broken up to pay estate tax.


Annual turkey consumption remains stable

With the big turkey-eating holiday coming, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates Americans will consume an average of more than 16 pounds of turkey per person this year. That's similar to levels of the past decade. California ranks eighth in the nation in turkey production. USDA reports wholesale turkey prices up slightly from a year ago. But an annual American Farm Bureau retail-price survey shows turkey prices to be down.


Americans spend more time on food prep, less on eating

How much time do you devote each day to eating? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans spend an average of 64 minutes a day on eating or drinking as a primary activity. That's down slightly from a decade earlier, but the time Americans spend on preparing food has gone up. So has time devoted to cleanup, grocery shopping and buying non-grocery food, such as from a fast-food restaurant.


House committee to discuss agricultural immigration bill


On Capitol Hill Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider an agricultural immigration bill. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2019 would improve agricultural visa programs and accommodate immigrant agricultural employees already in the United States. The California Farm Bureau Federation  announced support for the bill last month, and more than 300 groups and companies wrote to House leaders this week, urging a vote on the measure.


Agreement boosts rice sales to South Korea


Rice farmers and marketers welcomed announcement of improved access to the South Korean market. Trump administration officials announced Tuesday an agreement they said would give the U.S. a record volume of guaranteed rice sales in Korea. The California Rice Commission described South Korea as one of the state's top overseas customers, and said the agreement will provide greater access to Korean consumers.  


Songbirds provide natural pest control on farms


Planting native trees, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers near farmland can attract songbirds, which in turn can help farmers control insect pests. A University of California study says songbirds can reduce insect pests by up to 46%. The researchers say planting habitat along the borders of fields benefits songbirds and provides natural pest control, because those bird species eat insects and don't damage crops.  


Grant aids nutrition incentives at farmers markets


Access to fresh produce for food-assistance recipients will benefit from a grant provided to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The $7 million federal grant will help the state offer nutrition incentives to shoppers who use CalFresh benefits at farmers markets and small retail outlets. For every benefit dollar spent, the program provides an additional dollar to spend on California-grown fruits and vegetables.

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.