California farm update

California growers have been earning record-high prices on their avocados, and it’s easy to understand why when you learn that Southern California growers are expected to produce a crop that is less than half the size of last season’s. With underproduction in Mexico and increased awareness about their health benefits from an advertising campaign, avocado demand is outstripping supply. Analysts are predicting that avocado prices will remain high until imports increase from Chile in the late summer.

 

In other crop news, the California cherry harvest has officially come to a close but harvests of California stone fruits are in full swing, a government report says. Peaches, plums, apricots and nectarines began to reach peak ripeness last week thanks to favorable growing conditions in both northern and southern regions. Apples and pomegranates still need a little more time to grow.

 

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is announcing a Notice of Preparation (NOP) for the Statewide Plant Pest Prevention and Management Program Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The purpose of the report, the agency says, is to speed up response time for pests and diseases that threaten crops. The final EIR will:

 

     “include a process to evaluate and include new developments and potential environmental impacts while providing for public participation throughout the pest management process.”

 

Public comment will be heard at a series of scoping sessions throughout the state. The content of the EIR has already been discussed at public meetings in Chico and Sacramento. Upcoming sessions will take place in Irvine, San Francisco and Fresno.

 

Now that the state has eliminated $32 million in general funds for agricultural fairs, the CDFA is developing a plan to restructure governance and address future operation and oversight of the state’s network of fairs. These include 54 district agricultural association fairs, 23 county and 2 citrus fairs along with the California Exposition and State Fair which starts next week in Sacramento. These agricultural fairs are part of a rural tradition that predates the Civil War.

 

For the first time in over eight decades, fair organizers will have to rely solely on their own revenue to continue operations. Insiders say that budget cuts won’t harm the larger venues because they generally receive fewer funds from the state. But for almost two dozen smaller fairs, their future is uncertain. Rebecca Desmond, director of the California Department of Food and Agriculture Fairs and Expositions Division and former Siskiyou County Fair manager, is coordinating a task force of almost 30 fair and exposition insiders from all over the state.  It will be their job to recommend new business models to help maintain the fair network. The CDFA aims to have its report in the governor’s hands by the end of the year.

 

California Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross said the budget situation presents a challenge, but it can represent a good opportunity as well.

 

     “California’s fairs are an important part of our communities, and I am committed to working with the fairs to find ways they can be more entrepreneurial, including exploring options for more local control,” Ross said in a prepared statement.

 

Some local leaders don’t welcome the help which the state is offering to restructure the fair network. Jim Spinetta, a California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF) director was quoted by the Federation in a recent press release as saying:

 

     “The problem we’re facing is that the state wants to take away our funding, but they still want to be in charge of our operations.”

 

Spinetta, an Amador County winegrape grower, describes his county’s fair as a community resource center that has established a nonprofit foundation with a large group of volunteers. Its facilities, much like others throughout the state, are used for a variety of fundraising and community events as well as an evacuation center for displaced families and their livestock in case of a disaster.

 

Spinetta told the CFBF:

 

     “The fair is only five or six days a year. It’s the other 360 days that matter in terms of keeping the facilities viable. We want to see the fairs operating for the benefit of future generations and we need to figure out how to do it.”