U.S. food waste is estimated to be 30-40 percent of the food supply and Californians throw away approximately 6 million tons of food waste annually. To help reduce food waste and increase food recovery, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is announcing a Food Recovery webpage.
“California’s agricultural industries already are doing so much for food recovery for animal feed, industrial uses, and composting.,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “This webpage highlights the significance of that work and offers tools to help consumers understand how they can join the effort.”
One section examines the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, which prioritizes actions to prevent and divert food waste.
The Food Date Labeling section outlines best practices the industry is advancing to reduce food waste due to confusion over date labeling, such as favoring a “best if used by” date over a “sell by” date.
The Resources section offers infographic fact sheets, food donation resources, helpful links to state and federal partners.
Farmers and ranchers still have time to respond to their 2020 Local Food Marketing Practices Survey, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). NASS will continue to accept responses through April to ensure an accurate picture of U.S. local and regional food systems.
“The Local Food Marketing Practices Survey is conducted in support of the growing demand for local and regional food systems,” said NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer. “The data are vital to understanding the many benefits of this sector. They will inform industry decisions and assist producers, researchers, policymakers, USDA officials, and more. NASS is committed to giving producers every opportunity to be counted in this special study.”
The 2020 Local Food Marketing Practices Survey is part of the Census of Agriculture program and as such is required by federal law. These federal laws require producers to respond and USDA to keep identities and answers confidential. Over the next several weeks, NASS will follow-up with additional mailings and phone calls to farmers and ranchers who have not yet responded. Producers are encouraged to complete their questionnaire online at www.agcounts.usda.gov, by mail, or phone as soon as possible. All information collected will be used for statistical purposes only and published on the NASS website in aggregate form this November.
The 33rd annual California Small Farm Conference will feature CDFA secretary Karen Ross and agency staff during its series of educational webinars, videos and online forums February 22-28.
Hosted by the Community Alliance for Family Farmers (CAFF), this year’s virtual conference features farmers, ranchers, industry professionals, students, and local food advocates digging into topics of soil health, appropriate-scaled technology, small farm marketing, and social issues..
Secretary Ross will join the “Meet the Ag Policymakers” panel the afternoon of February 25. CDFA Direct Marketing Program staff will discuss new regulations impacting certified farmers’ markets during the “Farmers’ Market Manager Training” session the morning of February 22.
A new book shows why California has led the nation in farm sales since 1948 and explores future challenges.
California Agriculture: Dimensions and Issues , by the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics, details the past, present, and future of many of California’s major agricultural commodities, including grapes, tree fruits and nuts, vegetable crops, dairy, livestock, nursery and floral production, and cannabis. The new 18-chapter book, written by agricultural economists at UC Davis, UC Berkeley, and UC Riverside, addresses issues such as labor, water, climate, and trade that affect all of California agriculture.
“California agriculture overcame many obstacles to become the nation’s number one farm state. Leading agricultural economists are generally optimistic that California agriculture will continue to thrive in the 21st century, despite continuing large challenges,” said Phil Martin, UC Davis Emeritus Professor of Agricultural and Resource economics, who is co-editor of the new publication.
For over 70 years, California has led the nation in farm sales due to its specialization in high-value commodities, such as fruits, nuts, vegetables, and other horticultural crops. The book uses the most recent Census of Agriculture data to show that, of the $64 billion of these crops produced in the U.S. in 2017, California produced nearly half by value ($31 billion).
More than 44 percent of California’s $50 billion in farm sales in 2017 were fruits and nuts, with 17 percent of sales from vegetables and melons, and 14 percent from nursery and other horticultural specialties crops. Many of these high-value specialty crops are also very labor-intensive and face challenges from increased cost and decreased availability of agricultural labor. The book discusses how California growers effectively responded to these labor challenges by adopting labor-saving mechanization. California remains competitive with producers elsewhere by relying on superior plant varieties, integrated pest management, and improved irrigation methods that increase both the quantity and quality of California agricultural commodities.
Water, climate, and trade pose challenges and opportunities for California agriculture. In the last decade, water scarcity and decreased water quality, along with regulations to address these issues like the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, have prompted farmers to use scarce water to irrigate more valuable crops, as with the switch from cotton to almonds. Increased regulations and the increasing scarcity of water affect high-value specialty crops as well as the dairy and livestock industries that accounted for 24% of California farm sales in 2017.
Climate variability, including drought and heat stress, affects farm worker welfare, crop yields, and dairy productivity. Retaliatory tariffs resulting from the 2018 trade war reduced U.S. agricultural exports to China by close to $14.4 billion per year, as exports of dairy, livestock, and specialty crops fell.
California agriculture has a rich history of overcoming challenges by pursuing innovative research, adopting new technologies, and adapting to changing conditions. Learning how California agriculture has succeeded in the past suggests that the state can maintain its dominant role as an agricultural producer in the future.
Prior to the pandemic, SunTerra Produce enjoyed an excellent reputation as a grower, packer, and shipper of fresh fruits and vegetables. The Newport Beach, CA-based operation partners with more than 14 farms in the U.S. and Mexico, adhering to food safety standards throughout the harvest, storage, and distribution of a diverse range of produce.
Their typical customers include a variety of retail, food service, processor, and wholesale customers in North America.
Today, SunTerra includes local food banks among its customers.
“Food banks weren’t out looking to buy produce,” says Steve Brazeel, founder and CEO of SunTerra. “So they were not a viable customer in our eyes.”
Although farms have crops left over after harvest, Brazeel admits he and his peers would throw it away if it didn’t live up to their customers’ standards.
“Farming is so competitive, and the margins are so tight, that donating a bunch of stuff doesn’t usually bode well for the bottom line,” he says.
So why did Brazeel, a smart businessman, add food banks to his customer list?
It Started With a Government Program
Prior to the pandemic, even in Orange County — one of the wealthier communities in the U.S. with the median house priced at $785,000 — food banks were already moving 500,000 pounds of food per month.
When the pandemic hit and more people were out of work, the need increased.
In late April 2020, USDA created the Farmers to Families Food Box (FFFB) Program. In the first round of funding, SunTerra bid for and was awarded $6.27 million to distribute family-sized boxes of fresh food to people who needed help.
Suddenly, SunTerra had a new set of (USDA-sponsored) customers — local food banks and food charity organizations. And significantly, the food banks had a new supplier — one that was uniquely qualified to provide truly fresh produce.
How Food Banks Work
Most growers contribute a modest amount of produce to local food banks. Those who never sold to food banks (rather than donated) may not realize they can be a viable customer.
Brazeel learned that dealing with food banks is very similar to dealing with large warehouse customers such as Costco.
SunTerra brings the produce to food bank warehouses that have the refrigeration capacity to properly store fresh produce.
“In our (food box) networks, 60% of the produce goes to traditional large food banks,” Brazeel says.
Those food banks then move the boxes into the community through smaller neighborhood organizations.
The other 40% of the food boxes are distributed in touchless, drive-through, truck-to-trunk events.
One community that has particularly benefited from the program is the Navajo Nation located in Utah, where SunTerra food boxes are distributed in partnership with the Utah Navajo COVID-19 Relief Program.
A Future Without Government Money?
In the 2020 USDA FFFB Program, the U.S. government paid SunTerra and other contractors to provide food boxes to local food banks and other food charities. And Brazeel believes there is still a future for food boxes in SunTerra’s business plan, even without support from the USDA. He notes two main takeaways from the FFFB Program that have potential in the future.
1. Fresh Produce Is Good for Food Banks
“One takeaway is that the food banks, for the first time, got a chance to see what ‘No. 1 produce’ looks like when it is delivered consistently, regularly, freshly, on time, every time.
“They were shocked by the efficiency of the supply chain,” Brazeel explains.
The food banks were even more delighted by the shelf life and quality of the produce.
“The food banks thought this stuff was going to be a ticking time bomb, because they’ve never had produce that was actually fresh from the field,” Brazeel says.
What food banks realize now is that, if properly handled, fresh produce is a great product for their clients.
“When I first started, I put strawberries and lettuce in some boxes, and the food bank said, ‘This is going to explode in a day.’ I said, ‘No, I packed that yesterday; that’ll be good for 10 days.’ And they said, ‘Ten days? It’ll be out of here in two days.’”
That’s faster than any Walmart distribution center, Brazeel notes.
“Literally, what’s harvested yesterday is in someone’s fridge today,” he says.
That means now that vulnerable families have had access to fresh produce, food banks are going to reevaluate their budgets, Brazeel says.
“They do have money to purchase items. They will buy less canned goods and more fresh fruits and vegetables,” he says.
2. Food Banks Are Good for Farmers
Farmers who participated in the program now see food banks as a potential customer, Brazeel says. And while food banks demand fresh, nutritious, safe produce, it doesn’t have to be perfect.
“It can have a blemish or two, or it doesn’t have to be a specific size, and it can be packed using misprinted or unused packaging,” he says.
He clarifies that the point is not to grow extra produce for the food bank market; instead, farmers can plan ahead.
“If someone is sorting out undersized or oversized fresh produce, don’t put it in a fancy waxed box that costs $2; instead, put it in a cardboard box, cool it, and send it over (to SunTerra) because I’m going to use it today. And it’s going to be in someone’s fridge tomorrow.”
While Brazeel learned food banks could be good customers, he also discovered that SunTerra can pack and distribute food boxes on a large scale. It has the warehouse space and packing lines in place. Even more importantly, it has a mature line crew management team who stepped up to handle the internal logistics of packing the food boxes.
For example, with only seven days’ notice, on the first day of allowable deliveries, SunTerra delivered seven truckloads of food boxes to seven different food banks located in four different states. They efficiently sourced products from 15 different grower-shippers from four different states into more than 10,000 boxes (250,000-plus pounds total).
But growers do not need to have large, integrated operations to build a good food bank business, Brazeel says. Small and mid-sized farms can partner with larger grower/packer/shipper operations that can easily use small truckloads of produce to fill food boxes (boxes do not have to have identical items).
“I love the way the food box program works now, in the sense that you free flow around and take products that the market doesn’t want,” Brazeel says.
Any farm can realize extra profit from selling less-than-perfect produce in less-than-perfect packaging while making fresh food available to people who need it. It’s a win-win-win situation.
Working with Food Banks Pays in Other Ways
Providing food boxes has benefits beyond the bottom line.
“They are fun to do, and they’re exciting, and I think they’re something that is going to be in the future,” Brazeel says.
The people he met deeply impressed him.
“They are a teacher or an accountant or have some other job during the day. And they’re just dedicating their time to hand out food to people. They’re not making any money on that. It’s not their job.”
Working with food banks taught Brazeel something else. Something about community.
“There are so many people out there doing awesome things in our communities that I never saw in my own community. So it connected me more to my community. So as long as there’s any sort of demand for any type of food boxes — private, public, government program, or otherwise — we would love to continue to do it.”
The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) co-sponsored, attended and presented at the sixth annual Latino Farmer Conference on February 11. The virtual conference presented in Spanish was held to facilitate the creation of networks and provide pertinent information and resources to the Latino farming community. It was hosted by the National Center for Appropriate Technology in partnership with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
CDFA Farmer Equity Advisor Thea Rittenhouse gave a presentation about the CDFA Farmer Resource Portal, which is designed to help farmers and ranchers learn about CDFA grant programs, regulations that affect farmers, CDFA boards and commissions, and resources CDFA offers for farmers and ranchers in multiple languages.
“I specifically mentioned our Climate Smart Agriculture programs and how to find a technical assistance provider to apply and implement the projects, as well as the prioritization of small-scale farmers, Latino farmers and other socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers,” said Rittenhouse.
A news release from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service
SACRAMENTO, CA – February 10, 2021 – The 2020 crush totaled 3,542,038 tons, down 13.9% from the 2019 crush of 4,115,413 tons. Red wine varieties accounted for the largest share of all grapes crushed, at 1,813,964 tons, down 15.9% from 2019. White wine varieties crushed totaled 1,590,335 tons, down 9.8% from 2019. Tons crushed of raisin type varieties totaled 42,425, down 30.5% from 2019, and tons crushed of table type varieties totaled 95,315, down 29.1% from 2019.
The 2020 average price of all varieties was $674.72, down 16.8% from 2019. Average prices for the 2020 crop by type were as follows: red wine grapes, $791.33, down 22.4% from 2019; white wine grapes, $554.74, down 5.9% from 2019; table grapes, $162.41, down 38.2% from 2019; and raisin grapes, $250.58, up 2.3% from 2019.
In 2020, Chardonnay continued to account for the largest percentage of the total tonnage crushed at 15.2%. Cabernet Sauvignon accounted for the second largest percentage of the total crush at 14.1%. Table grape varieties crushed for wine accounted for less than 3% of the total crush for the first time since 2016. Raisin varieties crushed for wine were a record low at 1.2% of total crush.
District 13 (Madera, Fresno, Alpine, Mono, Inyo Counties; and Kings and Tulare Counties north of Nevada Avenue (Avenue 192)), had the largest share of the State’s crush at 1,229,676 tons. The average price per ton in District 13 was $314.25.
Grapes produced in District 4 (Napa County) received the highest average price at $4,577.62 per ton, down 20.7% from 2019. District 3 (Sonoma and Marin counties) received the second highest average price at $2,417.48 per ton, down 15.1% from 2019.
The 2020 Chardonnay average price of $827.85 was down 9.3% from 2019 and the Cabernet Sauvignon average price of $1,230.96 was down 30.5% from 2019. The 2020 average price for Zinfandel was $519.04, down 11.0% from 2019, while the French Colombard average price was up 4.2% from 2019, at $287.52 per ton.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked for $88.6 million to build a livestock health lab in Turlock much better than the one already there.
Backers say the project would help assure safe food for humans while containing diseases in poultry, cattle, swine, horses and other livestock.
The lab would cover about 41,000 square feet on land already owned by the state at 830 Dianne Drive, just west of Highway 99 near Canal Drive.
The site is about a mile southwest of the current lab at Fulkerth and Soderquist roads, next to the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds. It opened in 1958 and, at just 5,100 square feet, can only examine poultry.
Newsom included the money in his Jan. 8 proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. It needs votes from the Assembly and Senate, which approved a total of $6.8 million for the site purchase and planning in 2017 and 2019.
The current funding request includes detailed design and construction, which could be done by 2024.
The new lab would employ an estimated 56 people, compared with 17 at the current site, said spokesman Steve Lyle at the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Three of the four labs – in Davis, Tulare and San Bernardino – have enough room to accept cattle and other large carcasses for necropsies, which seek the cause of death.
The lab system also tests blood and other samples from veterinarians treating live creatures. And it can be used for backyard animals, some raised by FFA and 4-H members.
“It’s great for all of our animal agriculture,” said Tom Orvis, governmental affairs director for the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau. He said many owners of large livestock here now drive to the Davis lab.
The new Turlock site would serve livestock within about a 90-minute drive, said a report accompanying the budget request. That circle takes in the diverse farms of the Northern San Joaquin Valley and the cattle ranches of the central Sierra Nevada and Coast Range.
Stanislaus alone produced 333,075 head of cattle, 159.1 million chickens and 8.7 million turkeys in 2018, the county agricultural commissioner estimated. They brought about $1.27 billion in gross income to farmers. Thousands of other people work in processing, trucking and other jobs that ripple out from the farms.
DISEASES OF MAN AND BEAST
Some livestock-borne diseases can infect humans, such as salmonella or campylobacter from undercooked chicken. Others don’t sicken people but can kill farm animals or reduce their production of meat, milk and eggs.
Poultry ailments have been California’s main concern in recent years. They include a 2018 outbreak in Southern California of virulent Newcastle disease and earlier cases of avian influenza.
Larger livestock can come down with foot-and-mouth, brucellosis, tuberculosis and other diseases. Controlling them takes lab capacity much greater than what Turlock can now offer.
“The current avian necropsy room is approximately 245 (square feet) and does not have adequate space or capacity for a large animal hoist, a large animal necropsy table, or floor drains necessary to accommodate cows that can exceed 1,500 pounds,” the report said.
The state could recover a small portion of the new lab’s cost by selling the current site. The surrounding area has far more homes and businesses than when it opened 63 years ago.
Tulare’s annual World Ag Expo will go on after all — online, that is — with expectations for participants and exhibitors from around the world.
Scheduled to kick off Tuesday and run through Thursday, the event now in its 54th year has grown to become the world’s largest trade show for farmers. An average of 100,000 people from 65 countries attend yearly.
This year more than 700 exhibitors are expected to take part online. More than 100 seminars are planned on a variety of topics. Registration can be handled online at https://www.worldagexpo.com.
That the show is going on at all is a reversal from mid-September, when the event was declared canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Adjustments were made and a few months ago a decision was made to proceed. One difference this year is that the expo will host exhibitor information all year long.
It won’t be the sprawling, outdoor exhibition floor the event has become known for. There won’t be grilled meats and comfort food, as in years past. But it will still be a showcase of technological innovations in many fields of agriculture.
Already news is being released as part of this year’s show. This week, for example, an announcement was made about a new partnership focused on helping automate the kind of grape-related farmwork Central Valley growers have long awaited.
Viticulture, as grape cultivation is known, requires careful, manually intensive work that can be expensive, largely because of the continuing shortage of experienced field workers across the region.
The partnership unveiled Monday combines the digital perception and crop-protection expertise of French company EXXACT Robotics with the autonomous control systems of Canadian ag company JCA Technologies. A news release on the effort said it will target worker safety and environmentally friendly crop care.
“The collaboration in between JCA team and EXXACT Robotics is a real leap forward to reach actual robotics solutions, to tackle the challenges of vineyards owners regarding safety and performance,” Colin Chaballier, general manager at EXXACT Robotics, said in the release.
Also in the mix this year is a product by Irish company Cainthus that combines digital optics with artificial intelligence to keep an eye on dairy herds to maximize milk production without compromising animal welfare.
The company says its system introduces new operational consistency by making sure dairy cows get the right amount to eat.
“The goal is to ensure that your cows are displaying optimal behavioral patterns to maximum milk production but also animal welfare,” the company said in materials submitted for the ag expo. “ALUS Behavior enables you to monitor lying time, with the intent to make the changes required to improve cow comfort and address lameness or other health issues proactively.”
Cainthus, known for its technology for recognizing bovine faces, added that it has installed its herd-management technology on several major farms in the United States and is now tracking tens of thousands of cows.
There’s a better end for used food than taking up space in landfills and contributing to global warming.
UC Riverside scientists have discovered fermented food waste can boost bacteria that increase crop growth, making plants more resistant to pathogens and reducing carbon emissions from farming.
“Beneficial microbes increased dramatically when we added fermented food waste to plant growing systems,” said UCR microbiologist Deborah Pagliaccia, who led the research. “When there are enough of these good bacteria, they produce antimicrobial compounds and metabolites that help plants grow better and faster.”
Since the plants in this experiment were grown in a greenhouse, the benefits of the waste products were preserved within a closed watering system. The plant roots received a fresh dose of the treatment each time they were watered.
“This is one of the main points of this research,” Pagliaccia said. “To create a sustainable cycle where we save water by recycling it in a closed irrigation system and at the same time add a product from food waste that helps the crops with each watering cycle.”
Food waste poses a serious threat to the planet. In the U.S. alone, as much as 50% of all food is thrown away. Most of this waste isn’t recycled, but instead, takes up more than 20% of America’s landfill volume.
This waste represents not only an economic loss, but a significant waste of freshwater resources used to produce food, and a misuse of what could otherwise feed millions of low-income people who struggle with food security.
To help combat these issues, the UCR research team looked for alternative uses for food waste. They examined the byproducts from two kinds of waste that is readily available in Southern California: beer mash — a byproduct of beer production — and mixed food waste discarded by grocery stores.
Both types of waste were fermented by River Road Research and then added to the irrigation system watering citrus plants in a greenhouse. Within 24 hours, the average population of beneficial bacteria were two to three orders of magnitude greater than in plants that did not receive the treatments, and this trend continued each time the researchers added treatments.
UCR environmental scientist Samantha Ying and her team then studied the carbon dynamics and nutrients including nitrogen in the soil of the treated crops. The analysis showed a spike in the amount of carbon in irrigation water after being treated with waste products, followed by a sharp decrease, suggesting the beneficial bacteria used the available carbon to replicate.
Pagliaccia explained that this finding has an impact on the growth of the bacteria and on the crops themselves. “If waste byproducts can improve the carbon to nitrogen ratio in crops, we can leverage this information to optimize production systems,” she said.
Another finding of note is that neither the beer mash nor the mixed food waste products tested positive for Salmonella or other pathogenic bacteria, suggesting they would not introduce any harmful element to food crops.
“There is a pressing need to develop novel agricultural practices,” said UCR plant pathologist and study co-author Georgios Vidalakis. “California’s citrus, in particular, is facing historical challenges such as Huanglongbing bacterial disease and limited water availability,” said Georgios Vidalakis, a UCR plant pathologist.
The paper’s results suggest using these two types of food waste byproducts in agriculture is beneficial and could complement the use synthetic chemical additives by farmers — in some cases relieving the use of such additives altogether. Crops would in turn become less expensive.
“Forging interdisciplinary research collaborations and building public-private sector partnerships will help solve the challenges facing global agri-food systems,” said UCR co-author Norman Ellstrand, a distinguished professor of genetics.
When companies enable growers to use food waste byproducts for agricultural purposes, it helps move society toward a more eco-friendly system of consumption.
“We must transition from our linear ‘take-make-consume-dispose’ economy to a circular one in which we use something and then find a new purpose for it. This process is critical to protecting our planet from constant depletion of natural resources and the threat of greenhouse gases,” Pagliaccia said. “That is the story of this project.”