Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

Imperial Valley Ag community helps farmworkers crossing border with PPE – from the Desert Review

Letter to the editor by Shelby Dill, Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers

As we continue to adapt to the new limitations as a result of COVID-19, agriculture has been classified as an essential service and the Imperial Valley has continued to farm. A majority part of the farming effort is the harvest of field crops — alfalfa, wheat, and Bermuda grass — this time of year. We need farm workers to continue harvest, while some live here and some live in Mexicali Valley. Those in Mexicali cross daily, and some experienced long wait times and crossing was delayed. We are pleased to report that the majority of the crossing issues experienced in early May have been greatly improved or resolved completely.

We, however, noticed that not all of those crossing had protective face masks, thus creating dangerous conditions for themselves, their families, and their co-workers. Initially, as the statewide order for face masks was issued, the supply for disposable masks was extremely limited. To protect our farm workers, three separate efforts occurred. First, prior to the start of onion, sweet corn, and melon harvest, washable cloth masks were purchased from a reliable source in California and distributed directly to cattlemen and farmers for them to disperse to their employees. Shortly after, the California Department of Food and Agricultural obtained a supply of disposal masks that were distributed through the Imperial County Ag Commissioners’ office. A second supply has also been received and is available for the agriculture community through the Ag Commissioner’s office.

The third and most notable is the donation by an anonymous donor for disposable masks and gloves to be distributed in three efforts to the essential workers. A portion of the allocation has been provided to the two local hospitals, El Centro Regional Medical Center and Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District, for their use at the hospitals and their clinics throughout Imperial Valley. These medical professionals are certainly essential and continue to be critical in this pandemic. The second allocation has been provided to Comite Civico Del Valle, Imperial Valley Community Health Coalition, and Coalicion De La Buena Salud y Bienestar Communitario. These coalitions will distribute the masks to the farm workers once they have crossed the border and at times the farm workers are generally crossing daily. The last allocation will be distributed by Imperial Valley Vegetable Growers Association, who has been designated by the donor as the local coordinator. This allocation will be made available to the labor contractors and farmers for those farm workers who live in Imperial Valley or those who did not receive them otherwise.

We also acknowledge the ongoing support of Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia to elevate the local farm worker and health needs in response to COVID-19. The safety of all of us is a major concern — we need healthy farm workers to harvest the food we eat and we need medical staff safe as they care for those of us who have contracted COVID-19. All are important, and we are certainly appreciative of the effort by the donor to provide this generous and timely donation. Working together our community is more resilient in stopping the spread of this novel virus and speeds the pathway to recovery.

Link to letter on Desert Review web site

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Farmworker Pandemic Safety Campaign Launched

From a California Farmworker Foundation News Release

The California Farmworker Foundation has launched a new campaign, La Seguridad Empieza con Usted, which translates to Safety Starts with You, to help the farmworker community stay safe through the pandemic by
providing encouragement for best practices and information on additional resources.

The campaign will reach farmworkers in the greater Bakersfield and Fresno growing regions. Advertisements on Spanish-language radio will encourage farmworkers to visit the Foundation Facebook page for ways
to stay safe during the pandemic.

On the Foundation Facebook page are messages that encourage safe practices during a pandemic, dispel myths about the pandemic, and provide tips for increased safety measures in daily life. These messages will continue throughout the campaign.

“The health of farmworkers and their families is just as essential as their work to keep the world fed,” said Hernan Hernandez, California Farmworker Foundation executive director. “Farming operations have adopted safety procedures to keep workers safe on the job. This campaign provides our communities with more Spanish-language information and
resources about the pandemic, including the dispelling of COVID-19 myths, to better educate everyone on the need to make safe choices in their personal lives.”

This campaign is an expansion of work that the foundation has already been doing to keep the community safe during the pandemic, including distributing PPE, combating food insecurity, and providing virtual medical consultations.

The foundation has a free hotline for farmworkers to call seeking additional information on ways to stay safe during the pandemic. The number is 661-446-4077.

The farmworker safety campaign is supported by the California Fresh Fruit Association and California Table Grape
Commission.

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Some unsolicited seeds identified – from the USDA via USA Today

By N’dea Yancey-Bragg, USA Today

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has identified 14 kinds of seeds in the mysterious packages that appear to have been sent unsolicited to people around the country.

All 50 states have issued warnings about the packages, some of which contain flowering plants like morning glory, hibiscus and roses, according to Osama El-Lissy, with the Plant Protection program of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. El-Lissy said other packages contain vegetables  such as cabbage and herbs including mint, sage, rosemary, and lavender. 

A spokesperson for the USDA said the department is urging anyone who receives the packages not to plant them and to contact their state plant regulatory official (county agricultural commissioners in California) and keep the seeds and packaging, including the mailing label, until they receive further instruction.

“At this time, we don’t have any evidence indicating this is something other than a ‘brushing scam’ where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales,” the statement said. “USDA is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents and determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment.”

NOTE – Californians in possession of unsolicited seeds are urged to contact their local county agriculture commissioner.

Link to USDA Q-and-A document about seeds

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CDFA scientist Dale Woods retires after 35 years at agency


Dale Woods displays a congratulatory proclamation from CDFA Secretary Karen Ross in honor of his retirement after 35 years at the agency. Dale served in the Plant Health and Pest Protection Services Division and the Inspection Services Division (ISD), ending his career as Environmental Program Manager of the Fertilizing Materials Inspection Program and Organic Input Material Program.
 
Dale’s accomplishments at CDFA include assisting on Medfly and Mexican fruit fly detection and eradication projects, advising CDFA on all aspects of plant pathology as the Primary State Plant Pathologist, and helping to improve efficiency and effectiveness in weed biological control.
 
“I stayed with CDFA as long as I did – with three different programs – because I loved every one of them, and especially my knowledgeable and kind colleagues,” Dale said. “All my years at CDFA with its people were fun, challenging and fulfilling.”
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CDFA scientists published in academic journal after developing improved method to test for mycotoxin in feed

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(L-R) CDFA scientists Bahar Nakhjavan, Nighat Sami Ahmed and Maryam Khosravifard.

California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Center for Analytical Chemistry (CAC) scientists Bahar Nakhjavan, Nighat Sami Ahmed, and Maryam Khosravifard were recently published in an academic journal after developing an improved method to test for mycotoxin in feed. Their article, “Development of an Improved Method of Sample Extraction and Quantitation of Multi-Mycotoxin in Feed by LC-MS/MS,” details their research of evaluating the three most popular sample preparation techniques for determination of mycotoxins, then selecting the best method and optimizing it.

Mycotoxins are the most common contaminants in agricultural crops produced by several species of mold and fungi. During growth, maturity, harvest, storage and processing of food and animal feed products, the fungus produces mycotoxins and other secondary metabolites. Mycotoxin-contaminated food and feed threaten human and animal health even at very low concentration.

Nakhjavan, Ahmed and Khosravifard work in CDFA’s CAC Environmental Safety Laboratory. Testing for mycotoxin in food and animal feed in the Regulatory Analysis Laboratory is part of their job of preventing contaminated food and feed from being consumed by humans, livestock and poultry in California. CAC uses state-of-the-art equipment and processes to test fruits, vegetables, nuts, animal feed, milk, water and air to ensure that pesticide and chemical levels are within the safety range established by national and international standards. Additional CAC staff who contributed to the work discussed in this published paper include Sally Henandez, Jose Salazar and Sarva Balachandra. 

Click here to read “Development of an Improved Method of Sample Extraction and Quantitation of Multi-Mycotoxin in Feed by LC-MS/MS,” by CAC scientists Nakhjavan, Ahmed and Khosravifard.

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Governor Newsom releases final Water Resilience Portfolio

Water policy blueprint will guide state actions, support regional efforts

Safe drinking water, groundwater recharge, healthy waterways, progress on Salton Sea among top priorities

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom today released a final version of the Water Resilience Portfolio, the Administration’s blueprint for equipping California to cope with more extreme droughts and floods, rising temperatures, declining fish populations, over-reliance on groundwater and other challenges.

The portfolio outlines 142 state actions to help build a climate-resilient water system in the face of climate change. The actions tie directly to Administration efforts to carry out recent laws regarding safe and affordable drinking water, groundwater sustainability and water-use efficiency. They also elevate priorities to secure voluntary agreements in key watersheds to improve flows and conditions for fish, address air quality and habitat challenges around the Salton Sea and protect the long-term functionality of the State Water Project and other conveyance infrastructure.

“Water is the lifeblood of our state, sustaining communities, wildlife and our economy,” said Governor Newsom. “For more than a year, my Administration has worked to assemble a blueprint to secure this vital and limited resource into the future in a way that builds climate resilience for all communities and sustains native fish and the habitat they need to thrive.”

The California Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency, and California Department of Food and Agriculture solicited extensive public input to prepare the portfolio in response to an April 2019 Executive Order (N-10-19).

“The state’s playbook for managing water in coming decades must be broad and comprehensive,” said Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot. “The portfolio identifies how the state can help regions maintain and diversify water supplies, protect and enhance natural systems and prepare for a future that looks very different from our recent past.”

The agencies released a draft version of the portfolio for public feedback in January 2020. Input from more than 200 separate individuals and organizations helped shape revisions, including the addition of 14 new actions. The revisions give greater emphasis to tribal interests and leadership, upper watershed health and cross-border water issues.

“The Water Resilience Portfolio is a roadmap that will help us plan and build for a climate uncertain future. This blueprint establishes regional priorities that align challenges with opportunities for water-focused innovations like conservation, replenishing aquifers and direct potable reuse,” said Secretary for Environmental Protection Jared Blumenfeld. “By implementing this portfolio of actions together, we can meet the existential threat posed by climate change with a strategic sense of obligation and vision.”

The portfolio also recognizes the role of healthy soils in building resilience, including efforts that promote using working lands to sequester carbon, store water and prevent pollution.

“Evaluating our water management system for improved resilience is an essential first step in our quest for long-range sustainability and reliability,” said Secretary for Agriculture Karen Ross. “I look forward to collaborating with our state partners and agriculture stakeholders on this essential issue.”

Given the recent drastic downturn in the state’s budget situation, the final version acknowledges that the pace of progress on the actions in the portfolio will depend upon the resources available. The portfolio is a comprehensive, aspirational document, but there are several priorities the state will focus on.

These priorities include:

  1. Implementing the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Act of 2019
  2. Supporting local communities to successfully implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014
  3. Achieving voluntary agreements to increase flows and improve conditions for native fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and its watersheds
  4. Modernizing the Delta water conveyance system to protect long-term functionality of the State Water Project
  5. Updating regulations to expand water recycling
  6. Accelerating permitting of new smart water storage
  7. Expanding seasonal floodplains for fish and flood benefits
  8. Improving conditions at the Salton Sea
  9. Removing dams from the Klamath River
  10. Better leveraging of information and data to improve water management

State agencies intend to track and share progress on portfolio implementation with an annual report and stakeholder gathering.

For more information, visit www.waterresilience.ca.gov.

Link to news release on Governor Newsom’s web site

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CDFA statement on unsolicited seeds from China

Recently the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has become aware of a number of reports regarding unsolicited seeds from China being received by homeowners throughout the US. CDFA is communicating with the USDA to determine any necessary actions for shipments received in California. 

In the meantime, CDFA is instructing residents not to open any unsolicited seed packets received and to contact their local county agricultural commissioner’s office. Seed packets should not be opened, shipped, or disposed of by residents in order to prevent potential dispersal of invasive species and/or quarantine pests. Unopened seed packets should be held by the resident or county official until further instructions are provided. 

From the USDA: “At this time, we don’t have any evidence indicating this is something other than a ‘brushing scam,’ where people receive unsolicited items from a seller who then posts false customer reviews to boost sales. USDA is currently collecting seed packages from recipients and will test their contents and determine if they contain anything that could be of concern to U.S. agriculture or the environment.”

SPANISH VERSION

El Departamento de Alimentos y Agricultura de California emite una alerta sobre el envio de semillas de China a los Estados Unidos 

Recientemente, el Departamento de Alimentos y Agricultura de California (CDFA) fue alertado por parte de una serie de informes sobre semillas no solicitadas de China que están siendo recibidas por propietarios de viviendas en todo Estados Unidos. CDFA se está comunicando con el Departamento de Agricultura de los Estados Unidos (USDA) para determinar las medidas necesarias de los envíos recibidos en California.  

Mientras tanto, CDFA está instruyendo a los residentes que no abran ningún paquete de semillas no solicitadas que hayan sido recibidas y que se pongan en contacto con la Oficina del Comisionado Agrícola del condado local. Los paquetes de semillas no deben ser abiertos, enviados o tirados a la basura o dispersados por los residentes — con el fin de evitar la posible dispersión de especies invasoras y/o plagas que puedan resultar en una cuarentena. Los paquetes de semillas sin abrir deben ser retenidos por el residente o el funcionario del condado hasta que se proporcionen más instrucciones.  

Del USDA: “En este momento, no tenemos ninguna evidencia que indique que esto es algo más que una estafa, donde las personas reciben artículos no solicitados de un vendedor que luego publica opiniones falsas de clientes para aumentar las ventas. El USDA actualmente está recolectando paquetes de semillas de los destinatarios y probará su contenido y determinará si contienen algo que pueda poner en riesgo la agricultura o tener un impacto negativo en el medio ambiente de los Estados Unidos.” 

Comunicado de prensa de USDA (inglés): https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/newsroom/stakeholder-info/sa_by_date/sa-2020/sa-07/seeds-china 

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What is Soil? From Dirt to Dinner

By Lucy M. Stitzer

THE DIRT

Life on earth would not survive without soil. Whether we live in a city apartment or on the farm, our lives depend on this seemingly mundane piece of earth. Yet it is not boring and dull at all – it is full of minerals, water, air, organic matter, and microscopic creatures that give life to almost all the food we eat. Let’s take a few minutes to better understand and appreciate our living soil…

What is Soil?

It is a natural body on the land surface of Earth, made up of minerals and organic matter. Soil has many jobs, including:

  • Providing our plants with the minerals and nutrients needed to give them proper nourishment which then keeps us healthy
  • Holding in moisture, preventing flooding, giving us groundwater, and keeping water intact for crops to grow
  • Modifying the atmosphere by providing a massive carbon sink for the Earth’s CO2 cycle by emitting and storing CO2, water vapor, and other gases
  • Purifying the water as it enters the ground
  • Providing a habitat for everything, from groundhogs and gophers to bacteria and fungi
  • Recycling nutrients so they can be used over and over again
  • Finally, it is also the foundation for photosynthesis, which is needed to grow our food

Soil vs. Dirt

Soil is found in layers with the “litter zone” on top. This layer is what we can see and where we find matter, like twigs and leaves. After that, there’s the topsoil, the subsoil, and rock fragments and bedrock at the bottom. That is a lot more than just a pile of dirt!

The most important layer is the topsoil, where all plant growth takes place. But it is a long, slow process. Because it is made from crushed rock and decaying plants and animals, it can take thousands of years in colder climates and hundreds of years in hot, wet climates to make just one inch of topsoil. Crushed rock is the time-consuming part.

Think of the rich, dark soil that was formed by the glaciers when they came down across North America and other parts of the world. A combination of glacial pressure, wind, rain, and basic weathering broke down the rocks into smaller fragments. As they break down, the minerals from the rocks dissolve into the earth.

Take a look at the soil in your hand, rub it between your fingers. Those shiny particles could be crushed rock from the glaciers millions of years ago.

Soil is also formed by decaying roots, old plant material, and living organisms, which help break it down.  As dying material degrades into the soil, it provides nutrients for vegetation, as well as enriching the microbiome. These microbiomes are arguably the most important part of the soil.

The Soil Microbiome

When you hold soil in your hand, what you can’t see with the naked eye are the billions of bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and other microorganisms. These are known as microbes and, this collection is commonly referred to as the soil microbiome.

Microbes act like a fertilizer. They help plants change nitrogen from the air for growth and maturity, absorb phosphorus for health and vigor, and can protect a plant from fungal disease, like botrytis, or gray mold. This is the fungus we see most on our spoiled, inedible strawberries.

A diverse microbiome is an essential ingredient to healthy food and nutrition and is responsible for the micro and macro ingredients for our daily 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables, protein in wheat, and healthy animal feed for our protein. The more microbe diversity in your gut, the healthier your gut and overall immune system. A spoonful of soil? It is generally thought that by working in the garden, you inadvertently ingest soil – and healthy microbiomes for your gut.

Ever wonder how some plants grow in dry conditions? Microbiomes! The microbiome in and around the roots of that plant helps it survive amidst drought and heat. Scientists can isolate these microbes and apply them to crops with drought conditions. For example, the company Indigo Ag has developed microbial-treated seeds for wheat to increase plant health in the face of water stress.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Soil health is the key to human and environmental life and health. With its layers and microbiomes, it is our most precious resource. Next time you put your shovel in the garden, thank all the little creatures, minerals, and nutrients that are providing us with our life.

Some Fun Topsoil Facts:

  • One earthworm can digest 36 tons of soil in one year – that is equal to five elephants!
  • There are over 70,000 kinds of soil in the U.S.
  • Five tons of topsoil spread over an acre is as thick as a dime

Link to story on Dirt to Dinner web site

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Governor Newsom announces new supports for California workers

Governor announces support for workers to isolate and quarantine outside their home

Unveils new actions to increase outreach and education to slow the spread and reduce the risk for COVID-19 at work, at home, and in the community 

Announces new resources for employers to support a safe, clean environment for workers and customers

SACRAMENTO — Building on previous actions to protect California’s front-line workforce, Governor Gavin Newsom today announced a host of new safeguards for California workers who face the greatest risk of COVID-19. In addition to support for workers, including agricultural and farmworkers, to isolate and quarantine, Governor Newsom unveiled a robust education campaign for workers and employers. He also committed to working with the Legislature and key stakeholders to expand critical protections like paid sick leave.

“Stopping the spread of COVID-19 depends on keeping our workers safe,” said Governor Newsom. “The vital work they do every day puts them and their families at higher risk for exposure and infection. Taking action to protect them will help protect all Californians. Working with the Legislature, we will advance new initiatives to support these key workers and their employers.”

Helping Workers Isolate and Quarantine

Isolation and quarantine are proven public health interventions fundamental to reducing COVID-19 transmission. Many who contract COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms, do not require hospitalization, and can isolate at home. Providing safe, suitable places for isolation outside a home can help stop the spread to other household members. This is especially important for people who live in multigenerational households.

The state will allocate existing federal funds to local public health departments and community-based organizations to assist with supportive services for isolation and quarantine.

A new program, Housing for the Harvest, provides safe, temporary isolation spaces for agricultural and farmworkers who test positive or were exposed to the virus, which limits the risk of spreading COVID-19 to their coworkers or households. This program will operate in partnership with counties and local partners in the Central Valley, Central Coast, and Imperial Valley – the regions with the highest number of agricultural workers.

These efforts build on the state’s experience with already-established isolation programs, including Hotels for Health Care Workers serving COVID-19 positive patients and Project Roomkey, the non-congregate shelter program for COVID-19 positive, exposed or vulnerable homeless Californians.

Outreach and Education

Building on California’s public awareness campaign to #WearAMask and #StoptheSpread, the campaign will expand its reach to employers, to workers and to their families to inform them of ways they can break the cycle of spread and reduce their risk for COVID-19 at work, at home, and in their community. This effort will leverage the public service media campaign, and build a more comprehensive community engagement strategy to include work with community-based organizations, promotoras, labor unions and worker advocacy groups to directly reach workers.

Support for Employees

Governor Newsom will work with the Legislature to build on previous executive action and advance worker protections. Expanded paid sick leave will provide workers financial security so they are able to stay home when sick. Similarly, workers’ compensation access helps ensure that front-line workers can quarantine and stay home from work when ill.

Employer Resources

As California businesses work to reopen, a new Employer Playbook released today will guide them on how to provide a clean environment for workers and customers to reduce risk. Proactive education efforts led by the Labor and Workforce Development Agency (LWDA) will provide information and support to businesses to help them come into and stay in compliance, including technical assistance and a model training program. Additionally, the state will provide employers information to share with their workers regarding health insurers’ COVID-19 testing coverage and eligibility requirements.

Strategic Enforcement

Cal/OSHA and the Labor Commissioner’s Office have strategically targeted investigations in high-risk industries, where the state has seen the most workplace outbreaks. Expedited enforcement authority and advanced reporting of health and safety hazards at work will improve enforcement outcomes. Requiring employers to report outbreaks to their local health departments will help track county transmission. Governor Newsom will work with the Legislature to establish this authority.

Today’s actions and proposals build on ongoing efforts to protect workers from the first days of this crisis. In addition to strengthening supports like paid sick leave for workers in the food sector and expanded child care, the administration has built a pipeline of personal protective equipment to help these workers stay safe on the job. The state has also expanded testing and health plan reimbursement for the essential workforce, in addition to requiring health plans to reimburse all COVID-19 testing for high-risk essential workers. Finally, the administration has released robust workplace safety and health guidance that emphasizes masks, distancing, cleaning, hand washing, screenings and staying home if feeling sick.

Watch the new PSAs about how we can all do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep California healthy here:

Listen to radio spots for essential workers about how to safely transition from work to home here:

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New shutdowns complicate farms’ plans – from Ag Alert

By Kevin Hechtman

Making planting decisions for fall and winter vegetables is hard enough without a pandemic and ever-changing shutdown orders dimming the crystal ball.

The state ordered indoor restaurant dining to cease again July 13 as coronavirus cases spiked around the state, prompting even more uncertainty for vegetable farmers in a growing season already rife with it.

“Up until a couple of weeks ago, we felt reasonably confident putting together a planting schedule that was fairly similar to previous years,” said Steve Brazeel of SunTerra Produce, based in Orange County. “As we get closer, these decisions become more critical, as it looks like it will come down to the last minute.”

He’ll have to decide within the next couple of weeks what winter-vegetable crops to plant in the Imperial Valley. Ordinarily, those would include iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, green and red leaf lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower.

Brazeel said planting decision making normally starts with talking to customers about their expectations.

“What’s going on now is, those initial conversations are just not clear, because of the situation of opening and closing and opening and closing,” Brazeel said, noting he’s likely looking at an across-the-board reduction of as-yet-undetermined scope.

The original shelter-in-place orders in March caused food-service orders to vanish seemingly overnight, forcing some farmers to plow under their crops. An economic study commissioned by the California Farm Bureau Federation and other organizations and conducted by ERA Economics found some Imperial Valley growers lost entire leafy-green crops worth millions.

Markets have been up lately, but they have begun to decline again, said Mark Shaw, vice president of operations at Markon in Salinas. Its main line of business is supplying fresh fruits and vegetables to the food-service sector.

“We just came out of a high market,” during which iceberg lettuce sold for $18-19 per carton, and romaine for $25 or so, Shaw said. “Both of those markets are declining now—have been declining for the last two weeks.”

The latest shutdown order restricts restaurants to outdoor dining, takeout and delivery.

“It is going to take away the food-service demand for lettuce, romaine, broccoli and cauliflower,” Shaw said, adding that the shutdown will keep markets low, “lower than basic growing costs.”

The latest shutdown order doesn’t have an expiration date, leading Shaw to predict depressed markets could last into August, as restaurants don’t know when they’ll be able to resume indoor dining.

Brazeel said he’s ready for a wild ride.

“I fully expect roller-coaster markets this winter on the wet vegetables, because of the reduced plantings, and then pockets of resurgence of volume—of restaurants reopening or schools utilizing it,” Brazeel said. “I think that there’s just as good of an opportunity of the market being really high as opposed to disastrous like it has been, just because decreased supply obviously will result in higher pricing.”

Shaw said some farmers reduced plantings of leafy greens as the first round of shelter-in-place orders took hold.

“It’s typically a 90-day crop from seed to emergence to harvest,” he said, noting that people started backing off on acreage in March and early April. “That reduction started hitting about June 15.”

With food service reduced and unemployment soaring, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched the Farmers to Families Food Box program, which seeks to purchase farm products without any other market and route them to families in need via food banks. The program has invoiced 41.5 million boxes as of July 17, according to the USDA.

“That had an effect as well, driving those markets up because you had all these produce boxes that were being produced,” Shaw said. “They were taking up available supply out of the Salinas Valley for lettuce and romaine and broccoli and cauliflower.”

One Sacramento wholesaler, Produce Express, began putting together consumer boxes and selling them directly to the public shortly after the first shutdown order came. The boxes feature fruits and vegetables that otherwise had lost their markets.

“We’ve never done them before,” said Jim Boyce, who runs the business his parents started in 1984. “We’ve been asked to do them quite often in the past.”

The boxes, he said, were created out of several needs—moving produce that otherwise had lost its market, keeping his employees busy, and filling a void in the community at a time when going to the store was dicey because of long lines and product shortages.

Demand for boxes has declined from about 400 a day at the zenith to about 25 a day, Boyce said, adding that he doesn’t foresee strong demand for them again until late fall or early winter.

“The reason I say that is because grocery stores, retail stores struggle with getting enough product on the shelves the farther product comes away from home,” he said. “Right now, it’s pretty easy to get broccoli overnight.”

Boyce said he figures that as people return to work, they’ll be less inclined to cook at home and will seek out takeout or delivery.

“What we’re seeing is the people that are buying the boxes, and continue to buy the boxes, are more of what we call a ‘foodie,'” he said. “They want a good-quality meal that they’re going to fix with all-natural ingredients and do it their way.”

He said he doesn’t think the latest shutdown will affect box demand much, because restaurants can take advantage of summer weather to expand outdoor seating. He’s concerned, however, about the farmers who supply his business.

“I can tell you the ones that I’ve talked to, they’re as frustrated as I am,” Boyce said. “We don’t know how to plan for the future, let alone for tomorrow.”

Brazeel said he’s trying to maintain a sunny outlook for the winter crop.

“We have optimism and excitement going into the winter, just like we do every winter,” he said. “There’s always optimism when you plant, and then realism when the harvest time comes.”

Link to article on Ag Alert web site

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