Here are some items of interest in this month’s California agricultural report:
Judge blocks highway project pending further research on its agricultural impact
Caltrans didn’t do its homework when it put forward plans to renovate a section of Highway 16 in Yolo County. Superior Court Judge Michael P. Kenny has ordered the department to conduct a more thorough environmental impact report on how the proposed project, which involves widening and elevating a 13-mile stretch of road west of Interstate 505, would affect farmers in the area.
The decision is the result of a lawsuit brought by the California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF) on behalf of the Yolo County Farm Bureau. According to CFBF lawyer Kari Fisher, “The project’s environmental analysis was incomplete and did not include the necessary review of impacts to nearby agriculture.”
In his decision, the judge found that Caltrans’ highway project description was too vague, failing to describe adequately elevation changes planned for the roadway, and it did not address farmer concerns about the possible lack of accessibility for heavy farm equipment. State transportation officials were trying to raise the road above a flood plain that is at risk of inundation about every 100 years.
“While we [the CFBF] support road upgrades and adding features for safety, projects must take into account the negative effects on farms and ranches, and find solutions for those problems,” said Fisher.
During National Farmers Market Week, California leads by example
Sunday marked the beginning of National Farmers Market Week, and California has more reasons than any other state to celebrate. New data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that California hosts the most farm-to-consumer-direct markets in the country, continuing the state’s leading role in the local food movement. Of the 1,000 new farmers markets that have opened throughout the nation in the past year, 149 were in the California. In all, the Golden State has 729 farmers markets, which according to Ag officials, are critical links in the nation’s food supply chain.
In crops news, San Joaquin Valley blueberry farmers continue their record-setting harvest. Some analysts are calling this summer’s haul the best ever. Blueberries ripen on single plants at different times throughout the season, with the largest and best quality berries arriving now. Consumers can expect great deals on blueberries for the next couple of weeks.
The Chowchilla-based California Corn Growers cooperative says their corn crop looks good and will soon be ready for harvest after recovering from weather-related problems during planting. California produces a relatively small corn crop used mainly for making tortillas and chips. U.S. corn supplies could be greatly affected by drought and extreme heat conditions that have gripped the Midwest. Growers in that region are currently assessing possible crop loss.
Last, crop forecasters are projecting an 8 percent increase in state lemon production over last year. Farmers say the lemon harvest continues smoothly after a slow start. California orchards produce almost 90 percent of the nation’s domestic lemon supply. Most of these lemons are sold to restaurants and other businesses in the food service industry.