Video series on vegetable production of the future

A 26-episode weekly video series has debuted on YouTube to help train the next generation of vegetable crop workers and increase their use of effective stewardship practices in vegetable production.

Projections for near-future retirements of people working in California’s agricultural production, marketing and post-harvest handling sectors indicate severe re-staffing needs in the coming years. Technological advances have reduced manual labor in agriculture, but increased the need for skilled labor to maintain the sustainability of the vegetable industry.

The video series is offered on the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) YouTube page on a playlist titled “Expanding the Capacity and Training of a New Generation of California Vegetable Producers.” UC ANR is the outreach arm of the University of California which, among other services, provides agricultural research, teaching and advising in all California counties.

The project received financial support from the CDFA’s Specialty Crops Block Grant Program.

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Diverse bee forage could lead to good honey crop – from Ag Alert

By Christine Souza

It’s a “mixed box” when it comes to beekeeper expectations regarding this season’s honey crop. Some beekeepers report that winter weather brought plenty of forage for honeybees to feast on this year, and others say uneven citrus bloom in some areas may affect honey production.

Although no formal statewide honey production figures are expected to be released for a few months, individual beekeepers report that the amount of honey they will extract from bee colonies could be up this year.

“We’re expecting that the honey crop should be significantly better than the last five to seven years at least because of all of the rain,” said Imperial County apiarist Brent Ashurst of Westmoreland, president of the California State Beekeepers Association. “For everyone, the weather has been beneficial because of all of the additional food sources for the bees, and it really makes our job easier because the bees can do what they are supposed to do.”

Beekeepers point out that in recent years, factors such as the ongoing drought and lack of forage, Varroa mites and exposure to crop-protection materials, have taken a toll on the bees, resulting in bee losses for many beekeepers. But the moisture and precipitation this season has led to diverse forage for honeybees, including an abundant mix of plants and wildflowers that bees depend on for quality nutrition.

Ashurst said he does not rely on honey as an income “because it’s feast or famine; there are some years we make a decent amount of honey, and some years we don’t.”

“Where we are located (in Southern California), a good year is 12 pounds of honey per colony. Whereas at a honey-producing area like Montana, they might be getting 120 pounds per colony, so 12 pounds is pretty insignificant,” Ashurst said.

This season, due to the favorable weather, Ashurst has honeybees placed in sage locations in Temecula and Escondido.

“What we’re hoping to get is a sage (honey) crop because finally we got some rain. We don’t know what that crop is going to look like until we take it off in June,” said Ashurst, who added that many beekeepers can sell honey for the wholesale price of $2 a pound, or filter and bottle the honey for farmers market sales and make about $10 a pound.

Stanislaus County beekeeper Orin Johnson of Hughson said “honey production in California has over the years decreased, but this year, we’re looking for a little bump up in honey production for the state.”

For the past few days, Johnson has extracted sage honey, calling the variety “one of the premium honeys in the world.”

“The bees are still in the sage and will probably make another box by the time they come out by June,” Johnson said. “We only make a good sage crop in extremely wet years. This year we had a lot of moisture. It wasn’t as much as 2017, but it came at the right time and the plants are producing.”

With his honeybees placed in sage locations near Hollister and Pinnacles, Johnson recalls beekeepers had large sage honey crops in 2017 and 2010. Johnson sells honey direct to local customers from his warehouse.

“A lot of my customers, other than the family that wants a jar or two, are those interested in selling honey at farmers markets, so they will come with their 5-gallon buckets and purchase direct from me,” Johnson said. “l might have one person come and get a quart jar and another person come get about 30 gallons.”

Many beekeepers have recently moved bees out of the state’s citrus groves near Tulare County and are busy pollinating other crops.

Tulare County beekeeper and citrus grower Roger Everett of Terra Bella Honey Co. said, “We just got done pulling hives from the citrus groves and now we’re trying to get to the next pollination job.”

Transporting honeybee colonies to pollinate watermelons in Kern County, Everett said he likely won’t open a hive to extract citrus honey until late May or early June.

“I don’t know if the hives are all heavy or sort of heavy. I just know there’s a stack of pallets with hives that just came out of the citrus that need to be ran through a machine and we’ll see what we get,” Everett said.

The citrus bloom was hit and miss, Everett said, adding, “Bloom was really weird on the citrus; some fields had heavy bloom and some hardly bloomed at all. That’s how much variation there’s been, at least in Tulare County.”

Related to the orange honey crop, Everett said, “I think it’s going to be a little off again compared to previous years or the expectation over the past few years with the rain we’ve been getting.”

Honey production has been declining in California in recent years, Johnson said, although he said the state is among the top 10 honey-producing states.

“At one time, California was the second- or third-leading honey-producing state in the nation. Production is now about 40-pounds per hive, where before it was closer to 60 pounds a hive,” said Johnson, who noted that changing diversity among irrigated crops has affected honey production.

Beekeepers say that for much of their income, they rely on revenue from pollination, such as from pollinating almonds and other crops.

“Definitely, we’ve got to have the almond pollination income,” Johnson said.

A report on U.S. honey released in February, by the University of California Agricultural Issues Center, found that American appetite for honey is growing. In 2017, Americans consumed 596 million pounds of honey or about 1.82 pounds of honey per person, a 65% increase in consumption since 2009. In addition, the report noted that the U.S. honey sector in 2017 was responsible for more than 22,000 jobs and had total economic output of $4.75 billion.

The state apiary sector will know more about this season’s honey crop in a few months, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service is expected to release its annual honey report for 2018 this week. The report includes information about honey producing colonies, honey-production and price by color class.

Link to story

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#CDFACentennial – Centennial Reflections video series with George Deese

The California Department of Food and Agriculture is celebrating its 100th anniversary as a state agency in 2019. Throughout the year this blog will feature a number of items to commemorate this milestone. Today we continue with the Centennial Reflections video series, featuring CDFA employees remembering their histories, and the agency’s.

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Secretary Ross at groundbreaking for new facility for Center for Land Based Learning


Mary Kimball, executive director of the Center for Land Based Learning, speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony.

By CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

What a fabulous and inspiring event in Woodland recently to celebrate the groundbreaking of the new home for the Center for Land Based Learning! Hoorah to founders Craig and Julie McNamara for the vision to create a place with programs to introduce young people to agriculture and stewardship of our natural resources. Twenty-five year’s later the Center is leading the way with cutting-edge programs for new beginning farmers and ag apprenticeship programs.

The Clark family’s no-cost long-term lease on a beautiful site that includes 30 acres of farm land, and the generous lead-gift of $1.5 million from the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation illustrate the faith and optimism in the Center’s ability to touch lives and make communities stronger for the good of all.

My heart is full of gratitude for this organization and its fabulous people.

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Is Vertical Farming an option for feeding our cities? Analysis from the UC Davis Aggie

By Daniel Oropeza

With the world’s population estimated to reach 9.8 billion people by 2050, is vertical farming a viable option for feeding our rapidly growing cities while keeping us from committing climate suicide?  

City life is in demand. According to the United Nations, 3 million people all over the world are moving to cities every week, and this number is expected to keep increasing. The UN predicts that, in 15 to 30 years, two-thirds of the world will be living in cities.

The U.S. is no different — we love our cities too. Today, 82% of Americans live in medium or large-sized cities, and this percentage is expected to spike in the future as well. Where we get our food to feed these growing cities will play a major role in whether we achieve our climate goals under the Paris Agreement or not.

According to experts, up to 23% of our global greenhouse gases can be traced back to agriculture and land use. That’s almost a fourth of our total greenhouse gas emissions. But that only accounts for production: food then needs to be transported to the big cities, and in many cases, that means taking big diesel-emitting 18-wheelers across the country, or exporting food out of the country altogether.

California’s agriculture industry is huge. We have 77,500 farms producing more than 400 different commodities, and we produce two-thirds of the nation’s fruits and nuts. We export one-fourth of our total food production to other countries. And all this comes at a carbon price we might not be able to afford as the food demand for our hungry cities increases.

A simple solution to reduce our food mileage — the distance food travels from production to consumption — is to grow food near our cities. But an even better solution could be to grow food right inside our cities.

Vertical farming is the act of growing food in vertically-stacked layers indoors year-round by controlling light, temperature and water, often without the use of soil. Two of vertical farming’s biggest perks are its climate control mechanisms and potential to make production more efficient.  

As climate change gets worse, many places where we’ve been able to grow food for years will start experiencing unprecedented problems. Rain seasons, drought years, flash floods and irregular weather patterns can become less predictable. Habitable areas for insects will change as well, which could introduce pests and disease to new areas. The ability to grow food indoors, and without soil, gets rid of these future uncertainties.      

Growing food indoors without concerns about climate or soil means extreme-weather Chicago, congested New York and even dry Las Vegas can become independently sustainable food producers, grow food year-round and feed themselves locally.

Soil-free agriculture will eliminate any use of pesticides and herbicides, which would make consuming food much healthier. It also alleviates the problem of dealing with the declining health of our soil. According to the UN, half of the soil usable for agriculture has been lost in the past 150 years, leaving us with only 60 more years of viable soil.  

Vertical farming also brings potential for solving our current and projected water issues in California. By using hydroponic system technology, water is constantly recycled and uses 98% less water per item than traditional farming. Adopting this technology would be greatly beneficial for our future, considering that California’s agricultural sector uses 40% of our water.

Vertical farming also means potential economic profit for farmers. With 3.5 million workers maintaining the fields in the U.S., labor comes at a price. But vertical farming can automate most of its production, meaning that more businesses can afford to jump into the market and bring the cost of food down.

Ecologically, vertical farming can  help the land harmed by deforestation and desertification to regenerate and return to its natural state. This would allow many species to retake their natural habitats and help slow the alarming rates of extinction.

While vertical farming has the potential to solve a lot of our current and future problems, it’s still very early in its development, and there are many questions we don’t know the answers to. Will the food grown under LED lights be as nutritious as the food grown under the sun? Is the carbon footprint of substituting the sun’s energy with LED lights sustainable? Where will the energy to run these vertical farms come from?

Vertical farming is not the answer to all of our problems and is not a technology meant to replace conventional farming altogether. But it can allow for our growing cities to take some load off farms and become more self-sufficient.

Link to article

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CalRecycle awards $11 million in grants for food recovery

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery has awarded $11 million in grants to 36 local projects that prevent waste, reduce pollution, and combat climate change by getting good food to Californians who need it. 

CalRecycle’s Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Grant Program aims to reduce methane emissions by keeping edible food out of California landfills through food waste prevention, donation, and redistribution to the 1 in 8 Californians (including 1 in 5 children) who lack the resources to guarantee their next meal. 

The estimated 93 million pounds of food diverted from landfills by these projects equates to about 78 million meals, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

“Edible food disposal is a humanitarian tragedy and a tremendous waste of California’s resources,” CalRecycle Director Scott Smithline said. “These local food waste prevention and rescue projects make our communities healthier and help California combat climate change by getting us closer to the revolutionary methane reduction targets required under California’s new Organics Recycling and Food Waste Prevention law.”

Food waste makes up nearly 20 percent of California’s disposal stream. 

  • When sent to landfills, food and other organic waste decomposes and generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change.
  • Besides the opportunity to feed Californians in need, what’s also lost with food waste is money spent along the food production chain, including the cost of energy, water, fertilizer, harvesting, production, storage, and transportation.

CalRecycle’s Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Grant Program is part of California Climate Investments, a statewide initiative that puts billions of Cap-and-Trade dollars to work reducing greenhouse gas emissions, strengthening the economy, and improving public health and the environment—particularly in disadvantaged communities. 

Projects eligible for the grant program must be located in California; result in permanent, annual, and measurable greenhouse gas emissions reductions; and increase the quantity of California-generated food materials prevented, reduced, or rescued from disposal. Many of the following grant recipients serve multiple counties.

Link to grant awardees here

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CDFA @ State Scientist Day

Scientists from CDFA’s Center for Analytical Chemistry (CAC) and its Plant Pest Diagnostics Center participate in State Scientist Day at Capitol Park yesterday, May 8th.

Booth demonstrations included how dry ice vibrates a hammer when its warm face causes the ice to sublimate directly to gas, and how a chemical reaction creates fake snow (see photo gallery, below) in addition to interesting insects from the state lab’s collection.

Busloads of schoolchildren from across Northern California visited the event to learn about how scientists are impacting Californians’ lives every day, as well as perhaps be encouraged to work in agriculture or for CDFA as a scientist themselves one day.

“I like to advocate for scientists working in state government,” CAC Branch Chief Barzin Moradi said. “And today, the public gets to meet the scientists making sure fruits and vegetables are safe to eat without harmful chemicals.”

Visit www.cdfa.ca.gov/is/cac to learn more about how the Center for Analytical Chemistry helps CDFA ensure a safe, abundant, quality food supply for all Californians.

Coverage of the event by local TV station KOVR 13 (CBS) here.

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Secretary Ross visits inspiring school farming project in Orange County

Secretary Ross with FFA members last month at Westminster High School in Orange County

By CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

In addition to speaking at the awesome and amazing 91st annual meeting of the FFA leadership conference in Anaheim late last month, I also toured The Giving Farm at Westminster High School.

Wow! What an inspiring model partnership between the Orange County Food Bank and the Huntington Beach Union High School District! An 8-acre farm (that’s a lot of farm in this very urban area) for the Ag program; fresh produce to the Food Bank; and an annual harvest day for the whole school to inspire students about community service!

Students at work on The Giving Farm

I could go on and on. But something as good as this doesn’t happen without visionaries like my friends, Mark Lowry of the Food Bank, my predecessor–Orange County farmer A.G. Kawamura–and his farming buddies. It has strong support from the school district’s board of trustees, the superintendent, and the Westminster High School principal.

The Giving Farm has a passionate and committed Ag teacher and students who are discovering the wonder of growing food and sharing it with community members in need. Oh, and the program has helped the school increase the numbers enrolled in the Ag program and FFA!

Is that win-win-win or what?!

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Public Service Recognition Week – video with Secretary Ross

NOTE -May 5-11 is Public Service Recognition Week.

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We’re treating our soil like dirt – from the New York Times

Wendy McNaughton is a New York Times writer/illustrator who creates the column “Meanwhile” in the paper’s Sunday Business Section. She recently spoke with CDFA Secretary Karen Ross about healthy soils, their essential place in food production, and their vital role in adapting to climate change. The story is told in the images above and below. A quote from Secretary Ross is featured in two separate slides: “It’s easy to take the soil beneath our feet for granted because it’s always been there. We need to pay attention to what’s feeding our soil so it can continue to feed us.”

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