Strawberries are California’s sixth most valuable crop which makes strawberry research a valuable tool for California farmers. Mercy Olmsted is senior manager of production research and education at the California Strawberry Commission. Growers in the California Strawberry Commission have invested over $28 million into research. These include areas such as diseases, insects, and weeds—all in an effort to help solve production challenges and boost economic gains.
“We are a commission that’s funded by the growers, and so we do research that meets their research priorities,” Olmsted said.
So far, $13 million has been invested in research to explore alternatives to methyl bromide. The commission says that strawberry farmers continue to invest in researching fumigant alternatives.
“We also work with researchers. We have a robust grant program, and we work with those researchers in order to assist them in their field trials,” Olmsted explained.
Some of their researchers are in house, and others are from the USDA and university researchers.
“We develop training programs for our growers because we work for the growers. We can contact them as often as we need to, and we are able to see how things and research priorities might change in the industry,” Olmsted said. “There are a number of facilities and a board that helps direct research priorities and any necessary changes.”
For more information on strawberry research being done by the California Strawberry Commission visit calstrawberry.com.
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California Table Grape Industry Continues Record-Breaking Shipping Season
California table grape growers shipped more than 27.7 million boxes into the worldwide marketplace from October 13 to November 30, the highest amount ever for the time period, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The previous seven-week shipment record during the same time period was set in 2013. Earlier this season, the five-week shipping record for the time period between September 8 through October 12 was broken.
The three-month period of September 1 to November 30 set another record with over 55 million boxes of grapes shipped—an all-time high, according to USDA, beating the previous record set in 2013 for this time period.
According to Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission, an aggressive fall and winter promotion program continues, with shipments expected to continue through the end of January.
Food Banks, Other Food Programs to Get Grapes as Part of Tariff Mitigation Program
New Release Edited By Patrick Cavanaugh
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently completed a purchase of more than 450,000 boxes of California table grapes as part of its tariff mitigation program.
California table grapes were included in the USDA Food Purchasing Program for the first time as part of the mitigation program because of the 53 percent tariff imposed on U.S. grapes by China.
According to the most recent USDA data, shipments of California grapes to China are down 42.2 percent in volume and 41.2 percent in value in 2018 compared to 2017.
“The 2018 season has been a tough one for table grape growers,” said Kathleen Nave, president of the California Table Grape Commission. “The tariffs on table grapes have been painful, but the real harm has been caused by the fact that tariffs on multiple competing commodities, such as cherries, stone fruits, and apples, caused more fruit of all kinds to be sold in the domestic market. The USDA purchasing program comes at a good time for table grape growers and is appreciated.”
Table grape suppliers interested in participating in the food purchasing program had to go through a rigorous process to become a USDA vendor and then if approved, submit bids in a competitive process. Multiple Valley companies were awarded the opportunity to supply California grapes to customers across the country.
The grapes will be distributed to food banks and other food programs around the country, starting in December.
A portion of Los Angeles County, including the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, has been placed under quarantine for the Mexican fruit fly following the detection of three flies, including two mated females, within the City of Long Beach. Mated females are significant because they indicate a breeding population that increases the risk of spread of this pest. CDFA is working collaboratively on this project with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office.
The quarantine area measures 79 square miles, bordered on the north by CA-91; on the south by the Pacific Ocean; on the west by I-110; and on the east by Palo Verde Avenue. A link to the quarantine map may be found here: www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/mexfly/regulation.html.
Sterile male Mexican fruit flies will be released in the area as part of the eradication effort. The release rate will be approximately 325,000 sterile males per square mile per week in an area up to 50 square miles around the infestation. Sterile male flies mate with fertile female flies in the natural environment but produce no offspring. The Mexican fruit fly population decreases as the wild flies reach the end of their natural life span with no offspring to replace them, ultimately resulting in the eradication of the pest. In addition, properties within 200 meters of detection sites are being treated with an organic formulation of Spinosad, which originates from naturally-occurring bacteria, in order to remove any mated female fruit flies and reduce the density of the population. Finally, fruit removal will occur within 100 meters of properties with larval detections and/or mated female detections.
The quarantine affects any growers, wholesalers, and retailers of susceptible fruit in the area as well as nurseries that grow and sell Mexican fruit fly host plants. Those businesses are all required to take steps to protect against the spread of the pest. At the Long Beach/Los Angeles ports, exports as well as imports may be impacted depending on specific circumstances. The quarantine will also affect local residents growing host commodities on their property. Movement of those commodities is not permitted. Residents are urged to consume homegrown produce on site. These actions protect against the spread of the infestation to nearby regions, where it could affect California’s food supply as well as backyard gardens and landscapes.
The Mexican fruit fly can infest more than 50 types of fruits and vegetables. For more information on this pest, please see a pest profile at: www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/go/MexFly. Residents who believe their fruits and vegetables may be infested with fruit fly larvae are encouraged to call the state’s toll-free Pest Hotline at 1-800-491-1899.
While fruit flies and other invasive species that threaten California’s crops and natural environment are sometimes detected in agricultural areas, the vast majority are found in urban and suburban communities. The most common pathway for these invasive species to enter our state is by “hitchhiking” in fruits and vegetables brought back illegally by travelers as they return from infested regions of the world. To help protect California’s agriculture and natural resources, CDFA urges travelers to follow the Don’t Pack a Pest program guidelines (www.dontpackapest.com).
Diversification is a strength, Richard Waycott, president of the Almond Board of California, told California Ag Today recently. The Almond Board of California is a nonprofit organization that administers a grower enacted federal marketing order under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. When it comes to any losses due to a tariff war in China, the almonds can be redirected to other countries.
“It’s fortunate to be as diversified as we are. Always a strength of this industry is the diversification of our overseas markets,” Waycott said. “I think whatever volume we ultimately do lose—if we do lose volume to China—can be redirected and absorbed by other markets.”
The USDA has opened up a direct payment program to the almond industry if growers were to lose any money in a tariff war.
As those programs were announced, by far the largest piece of the pie, $6 billion, initially was directed to the soybean and corn growers and livestock, while the specialty crops were completely left out of it.
“We got together with the Almond Alliance of California and some of our industry members made a very concerted effort while there was still time to do so before the rules around these programs and those that got to participate were set in stone and were able to convince the powers that be … to open up to the direct payment program to almonds, and the sweet cherry industry did the same,” Waycott explained
Waycott also commented on the epic frost that hit almonds this past spring. And he is not sure of the impact on the crop.
“We realized that we don’t understand the impact of frost on almonds all that well because we saw one side of the street there was quite a bit of damage, while on the other side there was no damage. So I think there’s mother nature at work here that, you know, we don’t necessarily completely understand,” Waycott said.
USDA Funding Program to Help Support Local Projects
News Release Edited By Patrick Cavanaugh
Specialty crop growers in California may be able to use part of the $102.7 million available to support local projects and to help expand markets for specialty crops.
“Every state has agricultural priorities that contribute to the well-being of farm families, consumers and the economic health of rural America,” said Under Secretary Greg Ibach in a recent press release. “These programs target resources to the state, local and regional level where the people who understand the issues best can find solutions that help everyone.”
Resources to be apportioned include:
$72.15 million is directed to state departments of agriculture in 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to support farmers growing specialty crops, including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and nursery crops. States use the grant to fund research, agricultural extension activities and programs to increase demand for agricultural goods of value to farmers in the state or territory.
$13.35 million is directed to 49 projects supporting direct producer-to-consumer marketing projects such as farmers markets, community-supported agriculture programs, roadside stands, and agri-tourism through the Farmers Market Promotion Program.
$13.45 million is directed to 44 projects to support the development and expansion of local and regional food businesses to increase domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produced agricultural products, and to develop new market opportunities for farm and ranch operations serving local markets through the Local Food Promotion Program.
$1.1 million is awarded for nine projects through the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program to assist in exploring new market opportunities for U.S. food and agricultural products and to encourage research and innovation aimed at improving the efficiency and performance of the marketing system.
Citrus Health Response Program Discussed at UC Riverside
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor
California Ag Today recently interviewed Joel Nelsen, president and CEO of the California Citrus Mutual. He spoke on his recent trip to UC Riverside about the Citrus Health Response Program. While speaking with USDA, they discussed the game plans that will be used to battle Huanglongbing (HLB) disease, which is vectored by an invasive insect called Asian Citrus Psyllid.
“We got into it, which I thought was an interesting discussion. What would growers do if in fact HLB was discovered in a grower’s orchard and what would the be obligated to do,” Nelsen said.
“And what came out of that discussion is that we are going to work with the USDA. We’re going to develop a war game scenario. We’re going to bring people into a room and start talking about it, just to see what the reactions were, and we’re going to challenge these individuals to do what needs to be done,” Nelsen explained. “We’re just going to have to figure out how best to address the industry and areas like this.”
Nelsen said that they discussed whether or not there was enough being done in that partnership with the homeowner. “We came to the conclusion that no, quite frankly the industry has been carrying that ball and that USDA and CDFA can do a little bit more in their role as government”
Tree removal and beneficial insects were also discussed.
“We talked about the continued trees being removed, and everybody was satisfied about that. We talked about whether or not beneficial insects can help in this situation. Surprisingly, the answer was pretty much no,” Nelsen explained. “Beneficial releases may help in an urban environment to a small extent, but from a commercial standpoint, it doesn’t help. So there were a lot of discussions, some debate, and most of all, some camaraderie that was developed as far as going forward.”
Nearly 400 trees in front and back yards of homes have been destroyed due to testing positive to HLB disease.
“They’re all in a clearly defined geographical area in Southern California,” Nelsen said. “So what we have is a lot of backyard adventures that bring in rootstock that unfortunately was diseased, and as a result of that, those individuals are the ones that are seeing problems associated with their own trees.”
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California Ag Today recently spoke with Scot Rumburg, the Nevada State Statistician for the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. He stressed the importance of the 2017 Ag Census, which has recently been mailed out to anyone who makes a $1,000 or more from any agricultural enterprise.
“USDA has mailed four million copies of the census that will cover what we suspect is about three million farms. We have an over coverage of about one million trying to find everybody, trying to turn over every rock,” Rumburg said.
The Ag Census is conducted once every five years. The census is based off of any ag commodity, from bees and honey to crops, fruit and nuts to livestock of any type. If you produce or have the potential to produce $1,000, the statistic service wants to hear from you. There are people out there planting permanent plantings that are not up and running yet, but they are still considered.
The census is one of the only ways that the USDA can collect data.
“We have to try and get agriculture across the entire U.S. We do a lot of surveys between the five-year census,” Rumburg explained. “This is the only census where we go out and find every agricultural operator in the U.S., and it provides numbers and data that we cannot get on a regular survey.”
“There are people that want many different kinds of data to provide a near complete picture of what is going on in agriculture at nearly every level. The census is all- encompassing,” he said.
Many of the paper censuses arriving to farmers will direct them to an online digital census, by using a code that is given with the census. Operators are encouraged to use the online version.
The 2017 Ag Census is a reflection on 2017; it is not a future forecast. The census asks age, ethnicity, veteran status and many other items that give more information on American farms and farmers.
All farmers and those related to farms, including beekeeping operations, are encouraged to complete the census.
“Money for conservation programs and many other areas to be distributed at the national level is based on this data. It’s important for every operation to get the funding at, a minimum, the state level. All information is private and will not be disclosed to anyone,” Rumburg said.
Last year was a bad year for navel orangeworm (NOW) mainly in pistachios, but also in almonds. If left in the trees, infested nuts become a great reservoir for more NOW to inhabit them.
Joel Siegel, a research entomologist for the USDA Agricultural Research Service based in Parlier, stresses the importance of having a good sanitation plan in place to remove those NOW mummy nuts. “When we talk about sanitation, it should be the foundation for everyone’s nut program. That’s something that you control.”
“In almonds, it’s absolutely essential. Where we’ve taken a look at it in the south, every infected mummy per tree is good for 1 percent damage. So going from one mummy to two mummies, your damage on average increases another 1 percent.”
“It’s also important to destroy the mummies on the ground. You figure, for every eight or nine mummies on the ground, that’s good for about a half a percent increase in damage. Get them off the tree and shred the almonds.”
Siegel noted that while pistachio growers can clear mummy nuts off the tree, the industry has not been able to shred the fallen pistachios effectively. The hard, rounded pistachio shells just bounce around in the shredder machine.
“What you can do is shake them off the tree as soon as possible so they’re on the ground where they can start rotting. You get those weeds growing around them. It has been shown that they break down faster in the weeds,” said Siegel.
“Growers disc them in. But if you’re going to disc them in, you have to disc them twice. Again, you’re not destroying the nuts, you are burying them so that NOW cannot lay eggs in the spring,” he said.
The risk of poor sanitation is high. Considerable NOW damage can prevent pistachio and almond growers from earning the premium paid for nuts that are pest-free.
New Aerial Survey Identifies More Than 100 Million Dead Trees in California
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced the U.S. Forest Service has identified an additional 36 million dead trees across California since its last aerial survey in May 2016. This brings the total number of dead trees since 2010 to over 102 million on 7.7 million acres of California’s drought-stricken forests. In 2016 alone, 62 million trees have died, representing more than a 100 percent increase in dead trees across the state from 2015. Millions of additional trees are weakened and expected to die in the coming months and years.
With public safety as its most pressing concern, the U.S. Forest Service has committed significant resources to help impacted forests, including reprioritizing $43 million in California in fiscal year 2016 to conduct safety-focused restoration along roads, trails and recreation sites. However, limited resources and a changing climate hamper the Forest Service’s ability to address tree mortality in California. USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Forest Service officials are seriously hampered not only by short-term budgets passed by Congress, but also a broken budget for the Forest Service that sees an increasing amount of resources going to firefighting while less is invested in restoration and forest health, Vilsack said.
“These dead and dying trees continue to elevate the risk of wildfire, complicate our efforts to respond safely and effectively to fires when they do occur, and pose a host of threats to life and property across California,” Vilsack said. “USDA has made restoration work and the removal of excess fuels a top priority, but until Congress passes a permanent fix to the fire budget, we can’t break this cycle of diverting funds away from restoration work to fight the immediate threat of the large unpredictable fires caused by the fuel buildups themselves.”
The majority of the 102 million dead trees are located in ten counties in the southern and central Sierra Nevada region. The Forest Service also identified increasing mortality in the northern part of the state, including Siskiyou, Modoc, Plumas and Lassen counties.
Five consecutive years of severe drought in California, a dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation and warmer temperatures are leading to these historic levels of tree die-off. As a result, in October 2015, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on the unprecedented tree die-off and formed a Tree Mortality Task Force to help mobilize additional resources for the safe removal of dead and dying trees.
This year, California had a record-setting wildfire season, with the Blue Cut fire alone scorching over 30,000 acres and triggering the evacuation of 80,000 people. In the southeastern United States, wildfires have burned more than 120,000 acres this fall. The southeast region of the Forest Service is operating at the highest preparedness level, PL 5, reflecting the high level of physical resources and funding devoted to the region. Extreme drought conditions persist, and many areas have not seen rain for as many as 95 days.
Longer, hotter fire seasons where extreme fire behavior has become the new norm,] – as well as increased development in forested areas – is dramatically driving up the cost of fighting fires and squeezing funding for the very efforts that would protect watersheds and restore forests to make them more resilient to fire. Last year, fire management alone consumed 56 percent of the Forest Service’s budget and is expected to rise to 67 percent in by 2025.
As the situation in the southeast demonstrates, the problem of shrinking budget capacity is felt across the U.S., not only in the western states. The health of our forests and landscapes are at risk across the nation, and the tree mortality crisis could be better addressed if not for the increasing percentage of the Forest Service budget going to fight wildfire. “We must fund wildfire suppression like other natural disasters in the country,” Vilsack said.
Forest Service scientists expect elevated levels of tree mortality to continue during 2017 in dense forest stands; stands impacted by root diseases or other stress agents; and in areas with higher levels of bark beetle activity. Photos and video of the surveys are available on the Forest Service multimedia webpage.
Learn more about tree mortality and the work to restore our forests in California at the Forest Service’s web page by clicking here.