Tuff Times in California–But It Stands Strong

Through Wildfires and Pandemic, California Agriculture Persists

By Tim Hammerich with the Ag Information Network

Mother nature has not been kind to California this year. And nobody is more acutely aware of this fact than farmers. Here are a few ways in which agriculture is coping under these challenging conditions courtesy of the California Farm Bureau.

As winegrape harvest accelerates around California, farmers navigate forces that include high temperatures, wildfire smoke and the marketing impacts of the pandemic–on top of large supplies that left some grapes unharvested a year ago. Analysts expect this year’s harvest to be about the same size as last year’s. Marketers say the pandemic has shifted wine demand to retail outlets, with less being sold at restaurants or tasting rooms.

Agricultural and forestry research and teaching projects have suffered damage from California wildfires. A representative for Cal Poly San Luis Obispo says it could take months for a full assessment of damage to its Swanton Pacific Ranch in Santa Cruz County, where structures including classrooms burned. Fires also hit six reserves managed by the University of California, with researchers still working to determine the impact on their projects.

Impacts of the pandemic continue to reverberate through the meat business. An American Farm Bureau Federation analysis shows the gap between the retail price and farm price of beef is the largest in 50 years of recordkeeping. A similar gap exists in pork prices. While pandemic-related demand boosted retail prices, slowdowns at meat processing plants led to a backup of animals in the marketing chain that drove farmers’ prices down.

Dairy Farmers Need More Help

Resources from SBA Not enough to Meet Dairy Demand

By Rich Worthington, with the AgInformation Network of the West

Current federal aid programs available to dairy farmers are considered good first steps in helping them navigate the ongoing pandemic and related demand issues, but more will be needed, according to the National Milk Producers Federation.

Chris Galen with the National Milk Producers Federation says the resources provided to the Small Business Administration are not enough to meet demand.

“It looks like that there’s been so much demand on lenders and the SBA that either the websites have crashed, or banks don’t have access to the money because it’s already gone. So, that’s certainly very frustration for a lot of groups like ours that worked very hard to get the money initially a few weeks ago, and then to get this second supplement of money here this past week. But, what I think it illustrates is that there’s a lot of government programs out there to help various entities in the business community, including agriculture, and right now the demands for that, whether it’s the PPP or USDA assistance, are much greater than what the supply of money is.”

“We’re looking at disastrously low prices here this spring for dairy farmers. And unfortunately, the payment formula that USDA has is more weighted towards the first few months of this year, not towards the spring and summer, when we know that farm level milk prices will be at their worst.”

Resources for dairy farmers to learn more about aid programs are available online at www.nmpf.org.

Snacking On Walnuts US vs. Asia

Walnuts Everywhere in Many Asian Areas

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Pam Graviet is the senior marketing director of the California Walnut Commission. She said snacking, all walnuts in the United States is quite different than other countries.

“When you think of here and you walk in the grocery store, where do you find walnuts? It’s usually in the baking section and it’s raw walnuts where you’re going to do something with them,” said Graviet.

But in Asia you’ll find walnuts everywhere. “You will find them in mixed nuts, single serve packs. You will find them flavored from honey butter to wasabi to maple brown sugar—every flavor, sweet and savory that you can dream of,” she said

The Asian culture is all about snacking on walnuts. “You can buy them at the grocery store, you can buy them in the convenience store. You can buy them at the train station or the bus station. It’s kind of crazy, she said.

“Walnuts have been part of their culture for centuries, but maybe not across the entire country. It may have been in regional pockets, but they have known about the benefits of walnuts for a long time and they naturally have become an easy go-to snack. And again, it fits that healthy eating,” noted Graviet.

And Graviet said walnuts fit in a secondary trend, which is growing globally. “People choosing to eat more plant based foods rather than animal products is good for the walnut industry,” she said.

Thankful for the California Farmer

We are Grateful for the California Farmer

 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

 It’s morning, and as the sun rises over the Sierra Mountains, the California farmer rouses early to plan the day and greet his or her employees alongside their pickup trucks.

Side-by-side, they

  • Walk the orchards of almonds, walnuts or pistachios;
  • Peruse the groves of citrus, peaches, plums, and nectarines;
  • Inspect the vineyards of table, raisin or wine grapes;
  • Survey the fields of lettuce, spinach, broccoli, celery or strawberries;
  • Raise forage to feed their healthy dairy cows.

We are grateful for the dedication of the California farmer:

Who may also be a rancher or dairyman.

Who takes NO days off from caring for their livestock and poultry.

Who follows the legacy of prior generations on the family farm.

Who contributes to our nation’s security by providing abundant, nutritious and safe homegrown food to eat.

 

We are grateful for the lawful vigilance of the California farmer:

Who checks their email for newly registered crop protection materials to prevent pests and diseases from destroying her crops.

Who adapts to ever-changing, complicated and costly regulations.

 

We are grateful for the responsible “buck-stops-here” accountability of the California farmer:

Who appreciates the dedication and experience of his employees.

Who follows preventive safety measures, such as providing work breaks, ample water, and shade from the heat.

Who pays her employees well and provides training for them.

Who ensures all equipment is well maintained and furnished with all safety features.

Who follows all best management practices whether industry-recommended or regulator-mandated.

Who adheres to all food safety laws and regulations to prevent food-borne illnesses.

Who tracks her produce every step in the process from seed to farm to fork.

 

We are grateful for the versatility of the California farmer:

Who farms more than 450 different crops—from artichokes, asparagus, and avocados, to

zucchini—which we all need to eat for great nutrition and vibrant health.

Who raises the wholesome foods that ought to dominate our plates to prevent obesity and other chronic diseases.

Who produces most, if not all, of the nation’s almonds, walnuts, pistachios, processing tomatoes, dates, table grapes, raisins, olives, prunes, figs, kiwi fruit, and nectarines.

Who leads the country’s production of avocados, grapes, lemons, melons, peaches, plums, and strawberries.

Who tends to his fields of stunning and delicate flowers that make so many people happy.

 

We are grateful for the ambitiousness of the California farmer:

Who produces award-winning, world-renown wine grapes, and vintages.

Who meets consumer demand for organic, gluten-free, low-fat, locally sourced, family-owned and farmed food.

Who increases the contributive value of California agriculture to the economy by stimulating secondary industries and jobs.

Who increases her yields to feed a hungry and growing world population.

Who contributes towards California’s 15% share of all U.S. agricultural exports (2015).

 

We are grateful for the conservation-minded California farmer:

Who uses drip or micro-sprinklers to conserve every drop of California’s water resources.

Who spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to invest in turnouts and valves to move floodwater onto their land, to build checks around open fields to capture runoff—all in an effort to recharge groundwater basins.

Who uses integrated pest management practices by following regulations and approved crop product directions, with an understanding of residues and the risk of pest and disease resistance.

Who uses fertilizers judiciously at the right time, for the right crop, in the right place, in the right amount, using the right methods.

Who installs solar panels to harness the abundant sunshine to power her operation.

Who floods her rice fields to conserve flyways for migrating birds and water for fish to thrive.

 

We are grateful for the savvy and social-minded California farmer:

Who advocates for his business and understands financing, accounting, insurance, and business and risk management planning.

Who reaches out to consumers (in her spare time) through social media to reassure excellent quality and safety control of their crops and to share their family’s farming legacy.

Who relays her challenges and achievements—the transparent, complex information that consumers want to know.

 

We are grateful for the accessible California farmer:

Who answers his phone to give directions on crop pruning, thinning and spraying.

Who responds to employee concerns with mutually beneficial solutions.

 

We are grateful for the generous California farmer:

Who contributes funding for local school gardens, agricultural curricula, harvest festivals, sports teams, Farm Bureaus, political action committees, and AgSafe.

Who donates to local food banks and homeless shelters.

 

We are grateful for the intelligent, knowledge-seeking California farmer:

Who regularly attends continuing education training on best practices, pest and disease management, and improved food safety practices.

Who stays current on scientific research and recommendations, and who chooses to fund such endeavors, plus industry associations and trade.

 

We are grateful for the deeply invested California farmer:

Who sends a text to her PCA to schedule a lunch meeting, then gets out of the truck and grabs a shovel to check soil moisture.

Who knows his field and weather conditions, trade and market variables, and employee concerns on a regular basis.

Who sustains the “California” brand known for exceptional quality, nutrition and safety.

 

We are grateful for the determination, stamina and perseverance of the California farmer:

Who stubbornly, painstakingly pushes for a good harvest despite growing challenges to his livelihood and way of life.

Who knows when to fallow a field, change a crop, or sell her business.

Who stewards her crop as best she can despite stormy weather, droughts, and floods.

Who relies on one paycheck per year, generally, which may or may not cover the cost of his operations.

 

We are grateful for the integrity of the California farmer:

Who checks his watch to make sure he arrives on time to his children’s parent-teacher meetings and extra-curricular activities.

Who is dedicated to her family, friends, and community.

 

We are grateful for the Optimistic California farmer:

Who realizes that hard times don’t last forever.

Who anticipates that next year could be better.

Who never gives up.

Who makes every effort to preserve his soil’s health, so it can produce the crop … for next year.

 

California Rice Growers are Model of Environmental Stewardship

Understanding Water Usage For California Rice Growers

By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

The amount of rain California received in March has put a hold on rice planting.  In a normal year, California rice growers would be finishing up their fertilizer regimen, getting ready for their April planting.  Luis Espino, a UC Cooperative Extension Farm advisor in Colusa County, explained that the wet weather has caused many farmers to push back their planting schedule.  “We had a lot of rainfall, so the ground is pretty soaked. There are some areas that are still flooded; they still have water in the field. It’ll be a while before tractors can get in there, but I’m guessing that as things dry out, things should start moving soon,” Espino said.

Photos Courtesy of Matthew Sligar of Rice Farming TV

After five years of drought conditions, California finally had a considerable amount of rainfall over the winter months.  Available water supplies are at a much better level than they were in recent years, but there is another aspect that could hurt rice planting this season.  “There’s been a good winter, so they’re going to have enough water to plant acreage as they would on a normal year. What’s not helping is the price of rice. It’s a little too low, and so that might hinder some of the plantings,” Espino said.

The California rice industry is a model of environmental stewardship, working closely with regulatory agencies and conservation groups to ensure that rice production improves wildlife habitats while promoting sound management of water resources.  The rice industry has faced quite a bit of scrutiny over the past few years because of misconceptions regarding flooded rice fields.  It is important to understand that the water used to flood rice fields has more than one use and eventually goes back into the water cycle.  “There is a constant flow of water coming into the field and then leaving so that water is going back to the canal, going back eventually to the river and so it does get recycled,” Espino said.

Rice production in the state has changed remarkably over the past 50 years, with improved varieties, increased yields and improved marketability.  With water on the minds of many Californians, Espino explained some of the reasons why rice fields are flooded for planting.  “It can produce biomass and grain when the field is flooded. Maybe more important than that is the fact that water functions as a herbicide. By having water on the field, you have a way to suppress weeds from growing,” Espino said.

Aside from a small percentage of water being lost to evaporation, most of the standing water in rice fields stays in the overall water cycle.  “The water used in rice fields – before it gets back to the river – is used four times, so in four different fields,” Espino said.

Fine Tuning Almond Irrigation

New technology helps farmers use water to maximum effectiveness

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

At the recent big Almond Conference in Sacramento, there were a lot of discussions on water use in almonds. And while growers are doing a great job in conserving, there’s always ways to improve, according to Larry Schwankl, UC Cooperative Extension Irrigation Specialist Emeritus. He shared with California Ag Today the take-home points of his talk in front of several hundred growers.

larry_schwankl
Irrigation Specialist Larry Schwankl

“We have been researching, ‘How much do growers need to irrigate?’ We want to make sure that their irrigation system are effective and that they know how long to operate it and then ways of checking to make sure that they’re doing a good job and utilizing soil moisture sensors and devices,” Schwankl said.

Schwankl also suggested that growers use pressure bomb to accurately measure the pressure of water inside a leaf. When used, it’s possible to measure the approximate water status of plant tissues.

In using a pressure bomb, the stem of a leaf is placed in a sealed chamber, and pressurized gas is added to the chamber slowly. The device has been calibrated to indicate whether or not that leaf is stressed for water.

“We can predict how much water the tree’s going to need, and we can predict how much an irrigation system is going to put on, but there’s errors in all predictions,” Schwankl said.   “We need to go back and check and make sure that we’re staying on target. That’s where knowing the soil moisture and the plant water status really helps.”

Past CFBF President Pauli Reflects Back

Former head of California Farm Bureau Federation played instrumental part in many ag issues

 

California Ag Today enjoyed a recent conversation with Bill Pauli who farms wine grapes and Bartlett pears in Mendocino County on the North Coast.

Past California Farm Bureau Federation President Bill Pauli
Past California Farm Bureau Federation President Bill Pauli

Pauli was one of many that interviewed at the California Farm Bureau Federation’s 98th annual Conference in Monterey earlier this month.

Pauli served as President of the California Farm Bureau Federation during some very challenging times.  “I started clear back in 1981 as a vice-president of the California Farm Bureau, and culminated with president in 2005.

“During that period, I was heavily involved with CALFED and the Delta issues, which are so important to us and for which we’re seeing the issues today with the Delta and water supply and water management and availability,” Pauli said.

CALFED was created because of the importance of the Delta to California. The majority of the state’s water runs through the Delta and into aqueducts and pipelines that distribute it to 25 million Californians throughout the state, making it the single largest and most important source of water for drinking, irrigation and industry.

“I was also involved in a lot of the worker compensation issues, because when Governor Schwarzenegger came in, that was the big issue, or rates and what we were paying. That was always the important issue for me. We had all the other issues related to labor over that period of time, along with the environmental issues that continue to expand.

It’s not news that California Farm Bureau carries the water for almost all the other farming organizations in many ways noted Pauli.

“The thing that’s so unique about the California Farm Bureau, and our county farm bureaus in every county of the state, is that we represent all of agriculture.

CFBF represents 450 different commodities for the individual grower all the way down to the local ag level in California.

We have the big, broad-picture issues, but there’s also the local issues that are so important to the individual producer,” Pauli said.

Better Year for Western Cotton Growers

Western Cotton Growers See Market Improvement

 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

Cotton growers throughout California and the West fared better this year compared to last year in terms of prices and exports, as reported at the Calcot, Ltd. 89th Annual Meeting last week in Tempe, Arizona. Jarral Neeper president and CEO of the Bakersfield-based Calcot, Ltd., the cotton marketing cooperative representing growers in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, announced, “Last year we produced about 13M bales. We should be a hair over 16M this year.”

California Cotton, Merced County, Sept 2016
California Cotton, Merced County

Neeper estimated, “We’re going to go from about 10.2 million bales in exports to 11.5 million based on a review of our historical shares of the marketplace and the world, the foreign production/consumption gap, our historical shares of filling that gap, and how much we should export.”

“One year ago at this time, cotton prices were at a very low $0.61 per pound,” said Neeper. “The market eventually fell. Prices rallied a little bit, and then fell down to $0.55. Then, the last month of the crop year, we had calcot-logothis unforeseen $0.10 rally—almost $0.12 rally.

In cotton marketing where there are highs and lows, Neeper acknowledged, you can’t always sell high; you have to sell when you can. “As a cooperative, in order to make progress payments to your membership, you do have to sell cotton and turn it into cash.”

“The cotton futures look good,” Neeper said, “even better for the coming year. We’re sitting at roughly $0.70 a pound, about ten cents higher than a year ago. And, generally, California cotton growers tend to get a $0.05 to $0.10 premium per pound because of our growing additions and high quality lint.”

Neeper believes the future of Calcot, Ltd. is “terrific.” He added, “89 years and still going strong; we’re looking for another 89 years.”

 

Calcot Could Market 70 Millionth Bale this Year

Calcot Ltd. Chairman Talks California Cotton at 89th Annual Meeting

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

Calcot Ltd., a democratically-run cotton marketing cooperative owned by 1,200 select cotton growers in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, held its 89th Annual Meeting in Tempe, Arizona, this week. 

Gregory Wuertz, chairman of Calcot and an Arizona cotton grower, said, “The cooperative started in 1927, and it is just amazing to me that we will reach 70 million bales sometime this year.”

“That’s a lot of cotton if you think about it,” Wuertz said. “And it has a great effect on all the growers. A lot of money has been run through the organization, and we are still doing it.”

Wuertz said Calcot directors are in the field across the western cotton belt, interacting with the industry.

“We have Calcot personnel in each cotton region who are also out in the fields talking to people and bringing up questions. They just don’t stay in their office. We try to get great members, and we work really closely with gin managers and their staff. We want to be on a first-name basis,” he said.

Wuertz noted, “You have to love the lifestyle of cotton production. You get attached to the crop. You plant it in March and harvest it in November. It’s a long-term thing.”

Yet, Wuertz acknowledged, “There are ups and downs. There always are. There is always a new catastrophe because you deal with the weather and the water issues. I think you just build up a little bit of a strength and have tougher skin than maybe some growers have with other commodities.”

Many Calcot growers outside of California are in awe of California producers. 

“California has a lot more regulations,” Wuertz said. “They’re blessed with a really nice climate—just a perfect area. Our climate is a little harsher, but California people work with air quality, labor laws, and their water issues. They have to have a real sharp pencil to make all that work.”

However, Wertz says, California growers always enjoy a better per-pound price for their cotton.

“I think over the years they have developed markets, and because of their climate, they do grow a real [high] quality crop that just demands a higher price. Everybody says there’s no difference, but there is some kind of difference that is just a little better,” he said.

Wuertz explained that the Calcot cooperative is good for growers when it comes to the prices they receive.

“It is the classic cooperative idea,” he said. “It is too risky to try and peak these cotton markets. It is risky to just hold all your cotton and try to peak it at one time.”

“You have to be conservative,” he continued. “Like cotton growers are — very conservative. So you sell some and hold some and seek financing from banks for the short term. We have good tight covenants with the bank, and that’s part of our risk-management policy. We don’t want to speculate, so that is why we sell throughout the year, and we try and watch all those things.”

“We have a very strong relationship with mills and we can sell directly to them, which I think demands more of a premium for Calcot growers,” Wuertz said. “And while most cotton-spinning mills are offshore, we still have a good chunk of cotton going to some very good domestic mills, where they turn out top of the line sheets and higher-count shirts.”

Breaking News: Cal Poly Opens New Greenhouse and Insect Rearing Facility

New Greenhouse Facility Opens to Save Citrus from Psyllids that Vector HLB

Facility to Rear Tamarixia Radiata, Natural ACP Predator

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

Scores of citrus industry leaders, citrus growers, scientists and CDFA officials attended the ribbon cutting event TODAY at the opening of a new greenhouse on the Cal Poly Pomona campus to rear Tamarixia radiata, a tiny parasitic wasp imported from Pakistan because it is an Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP) nymph predator. ACP, in turn, is a serious nonnative citrus pest that can vector Huanglongbing (HLB)—a deadly citrus disease also known as Citrus Greening—that has devastated the powerhouse citrus Screenshot 2016-07-25 12.24.41.png

industry in Florida, threatens to ruin additional citrus economies, and is the biggest threat the California citrus industry has ever faced.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS), infected citrus trees “produce fruits that are green, misshapen and bitter, unsuitable for sale as fresh fruit or for juice. Most infected trees die within a few years.” ACPs have been detected in Alabama, American Samoa, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Of those locations, the HLB disease has been detected in California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

ENTER:  Tamarixia radiata

Use of the ACP predator, Tamarixia radiata as a biological control for ACP was discovered by Mark Hoddle, biological control specialist and principal investigator, UC Riverside ( UCR), Department of Entomology. The first release of Tamarixia was in December 2011 after USDA-APHIS cleared the natural enemy for release from the Quarantine Facility at UCR.

Mark Hoddle UC Riverside Department of Entomology
Mark Hoddle UC Riverside Department of Entomology

“Tamarixia can kill ACP nymphs in two different ways,” explained Nick Hill, a Tulare County citrus producer and Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program (CPDPC) chair.  “The first is parasitism. In this instance, a female parasitoid lays an egg underneath a fourth or fifth instar—the larger and final developmental stage of the ACP nymph before becoming an adult—nymphs that are most preferred by Tamarixia for parasitism. When the egg hatches, the Tamarixia larva begins to feed on the under-surface of the ACP nymph. Eventually the larva completely excavates the body cavity of the ACP nymph and pupates inside the empty shell of its host.”

Hill explained the first releases of the tiny and harmless wasp will occur this fall in urban areas, “to help control ACP so that we do not have to do mitigations such as spraying in those areas. We hope to get to a point where we no longer need to go into people’s yards and ask if we can treat the trees.”

“The issue,” commented Valerie Melano, professor and chair, Cal Poly Pomona Plant Sciences and interim chair, Cal Poly Agribusiness & Food Industry Management/Agricultural Science, “is that we need to come up with the best possible ways to raise enough wasps for big releases to prey on ACP. We will have CDFA employees working in this green house, as well as student workers who have participated in our research program all along,” noted Melano.

Nick Hill, CPDPC chair
Nick Hill, a Tulare County citrus producer and Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program (CPDPC) chair.

Hill added, “The idea is to get enough Tamarixia out there so they start reproducing themselves and they become self sufficient. This is tough to accomplish, but researchers think if they can get big numbers of the wasp into the urban areas, they can put a big dent in lowering the populations of ACP.”

Cal Poly Pomona Greenhouse

The new Cal Poly 5,040-square-foot research greenhouse, built in collaboration with Citrus Research Board and constructed through a $400,000 grant from the Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program, will house the second Tamarixia production program in California. CDFA’s Mount Roubideaux facility in Riverside houses current production. Both facilities will support the CPDPC biological control program that oversees releases in urban areas with high ACP populations.

The new greenhouse should produce a 1-ACP Research Greenhouse1.5 million wasps. “It’s a very nice facility,” said Hill. “We are trying to boost the biological control program to produce four million Tamarixia a year.”

California Quarantine

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) operates an extensive monitoring program to track the distribution of the insect and disease in both residential areas and commercial citrus groves. Results have determined quarantine zones, guided releases of biological control agents, and prioritized areas for a residential chemical control program. Nearly all of southern California is under quarantine for ACP, due to the fact that more than 15 residential trees have been discovered to be in infected with HLB.

The ACP quarantine in California includes parts of the following counties:  Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Monterey, San Benito, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Stanislaus; and the following entire counties: Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Tulare County, and Ventura.

Asian Citrus Psyllid Cooperative Program California, Arizona, Baja California, and Sonora (USDA-APHIS)
Asian Citrus Psyllid Cooperative Program
California, Arizona, Baja California, and Sonora (USDA-APHIS). Visit our Citrus Diseases page to identify a plant infected by citrus greening, citrus canker, citrus black spot and sweet orange scab. If you detect an infected plant, report it  immediately.