Agriculture and Food

August 23, 2013

California Avocados smaller this year

This is probably not good news, but avocados from Southern California seem to be getting smaller, at least this year. According to a report by NPR hundreds of thousands of trees in Southern California are producing much smaller Hass avocados than in recent years.

The reasons, they say, is a very unusual growing year that consisted of low winter rainfall in early 2012, erratic bee activity during the late spring bloom period, and lots of unseasonably cool and cloudy weather in the year since.

“I can’t ever remember a season when all the avocados were this small, and that’s over 30 years in the business,” they quoted Charley Wolk, a farmer with orchards in San Diego and Riverside counties as saying.

Consumers generally want avocados in a certain size range with about eight ounces being optimal. This year’s crop is averaging about 30 percent less than that. There is some good news here. The total crop did pretty well, and will probably weigh in more than last year – with about a half billion pounds expected by the end of October. The quality of the avecados is said to be the same with size being most a factor in consumer preference and convenience.

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July 25, 2013

California shark fin ban now in effect

California’s law that prohibits the sale, possession, trade, or distribution of shark fins went into full effect on the first of this month ending the Chinese custom of serving shark fin soup in California restaurants.

The legislation went into effect in January, but had exemptions allowing the sale of previously obtained shark fins until the end of June. Anyone now caught violating the law could face a penalty of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

the law caused a controversy between environmentalists, concerned about the declining shark population and some Chinese-Americans, who want to continue to honor this Chinese tradition. The soup is an expensive delicacy, has been popular in China since the Ming Dynasty, and is often served during weddings, banquets and other Asian ceremonies.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, however, it is thought that close to 73 million sharks are killed for their fins each year. Many, are obtained by the process of finning – slicing the fins from live sharks and throwing the disabled animals back into the ocean, where they drown. The market for shark meat is nowhere as great as for the fins, the Times reported, and demand for the fins has reduced some shark populations to 10% of historical levels.

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July 24, 2013

California Food and Agriculture Head to lead Trade Mission to Vietnam and China.

State food and agriculture secretary Karen Ross will lead a trade delegation to China and Vietnam in September, according to a press release issued by the California Deparment of Food and Agriculture. She will be leading an agricultural trade delegation to China and Vietnam from September 16-21, 2013, as part of the California State Trade and Export Promotion program.

This mission will visit Shanghai and Ho Chi Minh City with the goal of providing export business opportunities for California farmers, ranchers and food processors. The new California-China Trade and Investment Office in Shanghai, opened by Governor Brown during his trade mission, will help coordinate this mission by facilitating links between California businesses and Chinese counterparts who have shown interests in purchasing California products.

Funding for this trade mission will come from a grant administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Companies interested in participating in the trade mission should contact the Fresno Center for International Trade Development at (559) 324-6401or visit, The full press release can be read at this link:

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December 1, 2012

California marks 100 years of rice growing

California recently celebrated its 100th year of rice growing according to an AP report and the California Rice Commission. Farmers began experimenting with growing rice during the Gold Rush more than 160 years ago after being introduced in California by Chinese gold miners, who later built the state’s railroads and river levees. It wasn’t until 1912, however, that the first commercial production started in Butte County, in the Sacramento Valley about 70 miles north of the state capital. Since then, California has become the nation’s largest producer of short- and medium-grain sticky rice, with much of the product shipped to Japan and other Asian countries through the Port of West Sacramento. Most sushi in the U.S. is made with California rice, the report which can be read in full at this link: The website for the California Rice Commission is at and contains a wealth of information about the State’s rice industry, along with guest blogs from California rice farmers.

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January 19, 2011

California Wines Marketing Campaign Launched

The Wine Institute, a California Trade Group, has launched a new global marketing campaign intended to boost California wine exports. Using the tagline “Discover California Wines” the campaign will incorporates images of the state’s famous landmarks and will feature print advertising, brochures, video and trade show attendance. The campaign is scheduled to debut at several 2011 events, including The London International Wine Fair, Vinexpo and the California Wines European Spring Tour.

The Wine Institute—which manages its own international marketing and shipping export program—will provide campaign materials to winemakers, importers, retailers and restaurateurs actively pushing California wine overseas. “The ‘Discover California Wines’ campaign gives our international representatives the tools they need to build California wine sales exponentially around the globe,” said Robert Koch, president and CEO of The Wine Institute. “We’re setting an ambitious goal of more than doubling California/U.S. wine exports to $2 billion by 2022.”

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March 26, 2009

Huge demand for California bonds

The Sacramento business journal is reporting “huge” demands for California bonds: Investors were more enthusiastic about buying California debt than expected, putting in orders for $6.54 billion in general obligation bonds in a sale by the state Treasurer’s Office that ended Tuesday State officials had expected to sell $4 billion. The extra cash will allow officials to restart more stalled projects that were halted in December due to the state’s cash crisis. Treasurer Bill Lockyer’s office said there was “huge” demand from both individual investors and institutional buyers such as mutual funds. Officials have not determined which of 5,300 halted projects should be allowed to proceed. Until this sale, the tight credit market and the state’s prolonged budget crisis kept California out of the bond market for nine months.

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Yasheng Group seeking stock exchange listing

Agricultural holding company Yasheng Group reported a $76 million profit for 2008 as part of its goal to be listed on a major U.S. stock exchange, according to a report in the San Francisco Business Times. Yasheng Group is a Redwood City holding company focused on agriculture in China. It has about 15,000 workers. It owns seven agricultural businesses in China that grow products such as onions, potatoes, apples, alfalfa, flax, beets, wheat, apricots, sunflowers, beer barley and cumin. As part of its move towards a major stockmarket listing, Yasheng published its financial results for 2006 and 2007 in January. More on Yasheng Group seeking stock exchange listing

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November 17, 2008

Federal grant of $125,000 awarded for sustainable wine program

The California Sustainable Winegrow-ing Alliance, created by the San Francisco-based Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers has received a $125,000 specialty crop block grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service to create a certification system for the effort. According to a Business Journal Report, the program started five years ago with the creation of the voluntary Code of Sustainable Winegrowing. Some environmental-protection advocates have called for third-party verification of compliance with the extensive best-management practices in the code. The alliance is currently drafting guidelines for certification.

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May 19, 2008

California agricultural products face shipping squeeze

Big farm products exporters are finding it more difficult and more expensive to ship their products overseas. The problem apparently is a result of high fuel prices a weakening economy- which is buying fewer foreign products resulting in fewer empty containers are heading out of U.S. ports. As reported in Sacramento Bee:

As the weak dollar makes the fruits of California farms ever more attractive to overseas buyers, big exporters like Sacramento’s Blue Diamond Growers are finding it tougher to get their products to far-off customers. The high price of oil and shifts in the global balance of trade have made space on container ships hard to come by. Cargo rates are up sharply. Delays of several months have become routine.

“It’s really put a crunch on U.S. ag exporters,” said Tammy Rossi, Blue Diamond’s manager of logistics and operations, as a forklift driver parked the last of 22 tons of almonds in a shipping container at the company’s

If all goes well, the 40-foot-long box will sail from the Port of Oakland through the Golden Gate on Monday and reach Germany 30 days later. A tangle of economic trends, however, has made the journey from Sacramento to Hamburg far less routine than it was just two years ago. From 2001 through 2006, a growing trade imbalance meant more and more containers reached U.S. ports full but left empty. Cargo carriers hungry to fill their ships offered rock-bottom prices and quick service to exporters.

“If the alternative is to send an empty container back, you put your hands on any customer you can,” said Asaf Ashar, co-director of the University of New Orleans’ National Ports and Waterways Institute. But the tide has shifted. The slumping U.S. economy has lowered demand for imports, while booming global demand for food commodities has boosted exports. The weak dollar, which has lost 24 percent of its value against the euro since early 2006, has made imports more expensive for U.S. buyers and exports cheaper for customers abroad.

As a result, fewer empty containers are heading out of U.S. ports. “The market power is changed,” Ashar said. “Shipping lines are putting the squeeze on (exporters) now.” The base cost of shipping a 20-foot-long container – the industry benchmark – from the Port of Oakland to Europe has risen 25 percent in the past year to around $2,500, according to David Enberg, a manager with the freight-forwarding firm EFI Logistics. He expects prices to rise another 20 percent by year end.

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March 4, 2008

Crashing dollar makes wine exporters happy campers

As reported in the Los Angeles Times:

With the declining value of the U.S. dollar and increasing wine sales overseas, Charles Shaw wine, an American favorite, may seem in some places more like “One-Buck Chuck.”

That’s because the low value of the dollar is starting to turn California wines into bargains abroad. 2007 was a vintage year for wine exports, which grew by almost 9% to a record $951 million, the Wine Institute, the industry’s main trade group, said Thursday. California wineries make 95% of the U.S. wine sold abroad. Two large Central Valley companies, E. & J. Gallo Winery and Charles Shaw maker Bronco Wine Co., were among the biggest exporters.

Gallo, the nation’s largest wine exporter, has bottles on the shelves of supermarkets in China and 91 other countries, and Bronco is a big supplier of bulk wine that is bottled and sold in England, one of the largest foreign markets for California vintages.

The volume of U.S. wine sold abroad is growing by an even faster, 12% rate. California wine is now sold in 125 countries. On Thursday, the euro rose above $1.52 for the first time in its nine-year history. Further interest-rate cuts in the United States are likely to keep exchange rates favorable for wine exporters. At the same time, the low dollar helps California winemakers fend off foreign competition in the U.S. Jon Fredrikson, a Woodside, Calif., wine industry analyst, believes there are early signs that the low dollar is starting to pay off for California makers of premium wines.

“American wines are a bargain right now, and that’s showing up with what’s being shipped to Canada, where the value of our wine shipments is up nearly 25%,” he said. But exporters and industry analysts said the rosy numbers masked a more negative truth about the global wine market: There’s a huge trade imbalance.

Though the U.S. sold nearly $1 billion of wine abroad last year, it imported $4.7 billion worth, according to Fredrikson. The U.S. is a target for virtually every other wine-producing nation because it is the most lucrative market in the world, he said. Americans drink about $30 billion worth of wine each year.

High-end California vintners are having trouble breaking into many foreign wine markets abroad, where French labels still carry more prestige, he said. Much of the wine moving between the U.S. and Europe is less expensive bulk wine that companies are purchasing to bottle and market under their own labels. Fredrikson said the trade had taken on a certain irony with “these big ships of wine passing each other at night.”

Vintners, though, are bullish about exports. “We can compete very well with anywhere in the world,” said Joseph Gallo, chief executive of Modesto-based Gallo, the largest winery in the U.S. Constellation Brands Inc. of Fairport, N.Y., which owns the Ravenswood and Robert Mondavi brands, among others, said its sales of California wine grew by double digits through November.

“A lot of growth is happening with better wine at higher price points,” said Jose Fernandez, CEO of Constellation Wines North America. “It’s just not people looking for an inexpensive California Chardonnay.” Fernandez believes the low dollar has enticed overseas drinkers to sample California wine, and “once that happens, they discover that they like the quality of the wine.”

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Mexican avocado exporters sue California business group

The feud between Mexican and California avocado growers continues. As reported in “The Packer”:

Last year the Irvine-based California Avocado Commission unsuccessfully sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture in an effort to keep out Mexican avocados because of concerns about armored scale insects.

Now, Mexican avocado exporters have two active lawsuits against California interests.

Following up on a January lawsuit against the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Avocado Producer and Exporting Packers Association of Michoacán (APEAM) has filed a lawsuit against the California Avocado Commission, requesting an unspecified amount to compensate for what it called severe damage to the marketing of Mexican avocados in California caused by the commission in 2007. Tom Bellamore, senior vice president and corporate counsel for the California Avocado Commission, said APEAM essentially has refiled the case that was dismissed without prejudice last September. “It is the commission’s position that that those claims then lacked merit and still do today,” he said.

Mexican exporters had hoped to settle the matter out of court, but the avocado commission’s board rejected a settlement proposal, said Emiliano Escobedo, APEAM’s U.S. representative in Los Angeles. “We had definitely hoped that the lawsuits were behind us, but they unfortunately are not,” he said. “What we really want is to sell more avocados and not have to fight anyone in court.”
The lawsuit states that less than two months after Mexico began shipping avocados into California in early 2007 the commission created significant disruption to the market and “severely damaged the ability of Mexican growers and packers to market their fruit,” according to a press release from APEAM.

The lawsuit charges that the California Avocado Commission spread falsehoods and disparaged Mexican avocados in ways that significantly reduced sales. Dale McNiel, Washington, D.C.-based lawyer for APEAM, said the lawsuit alleges trade defamation, interference with contractual relations, interference with prospective economic advantage, negligence and unfair competition. “The gist of the matter is that CAC made numerous public defamatory statements about Mexican avocados which contributed to the severe drop in demand during 2007 and to some extent continuing into the future,” he said.

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February 25, 2008

California beef recall sets back trade negotiations

As reported in International Herold Tribune, but isn’t it possible that in some countries this situation could have occurred and no recall would have been issued in the first place?

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said Friday the nation’s largest beef recall has set back negotiations to ship U.S. beef to Japan and South Korea. Those markets closed to the U.S. cattle industry in 2003 after a scare over mad cow disease. Schafer said at a convention of meat packers and processors that he is hopeful trade talks will continue, but that the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. recall has diplomats asking why the U.S. can’t ship safe meat. The USDA recalled 143 million pounds of beef from the Chino-based slaughterhouse after the U.S. Humane Society released undercover video that showed slaughterhouse workers there kicking and shoving sick and crippled cows and forcing them to stand with electric prods, forklifts and water hoses. Downer cows, or those too sickly to stand, are banned from the food supply because they carry a higher risk of mad cow disease and other illnesses.

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January 23, 2008

California sends Agricultural Trade Mission to Cuba

As reported by Reuters:

California, the top U.S. food producing state, has sent its first official agricultural trade mission to communist Cuba, looking to tap a potential $180 million food market. While other U.S. states have pushed ahead in selling Cuba an average $350 million per year in agricultural products, mainly grains, California is a late arrival. Californian companies sold products worth just $735,000 to Cuba in 2006.

“Some of us might be a little late in getting here, but we are here,” California Food and Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura told reporters in Havana. Kawamura is leading a delegation of companies seeking Cuban contracts for dairy products, wine, grapes, figs, nuts and other specialty fruits. So far, Cuba has bought powdered milk and rice from California, and some wine and apples.

U.S. food sales to Cuba were allowed in 2000 under an exception to the trade embargo Washington has maintained since 1962 against Fidel Castro’s government.

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October 30, 2007

Fatburger to open in United Arab Emirates

Santa Monica Fatburger Corp. plans to open three restaurants in the United Arab Emirates. The development is represented by Fatburger franchisee Khalil Asfour of Vetra Investment with the first Fatburger restaurant scheduled to open in Dubai in 2008. Fatburger, a subsidiary of Portland, Oregon.-based Fog Cutter Capital Group Inc.has a total of 91 restaurants more than a dozen state as well as China and Canada.

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October 15, 2007

Whole Foods Sells Henry’s Markets to Smart & Final

Whole Foods Market Inc. has completed the sale of its 35 Henry’s Farmers Market and Sun Harvest Market stores to a subsidiary of Los Angeles grocer Smart & Final Inc., according to a report in San Diego Business Journal. The Austin, Texas-based company sold its two operations to Smart & Final for $166 million, including a distribution facility in Riverside. Sun Harvest stores are located in Texas, and Henry’s are located in California, with 15 stores in San Diego County. “Our plans are to continue under the existing names and formats,” a spokesman told the Journal. “Overall what you’ve seen is the model that you’re going to get going forward, including the focus on natural and organic and lots of produce.” The sale of Henry’s was the result of Whole Foods’ bid to acquire Henry’s parent Wild Oats for about $565 million. Wild Oats was Whole Foods’ main rival in the natural grocery business.

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September 13, 2007

California Biodiesel industry starts trade group

Biodiesel industry leaders have created the California Biodiesel Alliance, a new not-for-profit trade association to promote increased use and production of high quality, renewable biodiesel fuel in California, according to a report in Central Valley Business Times. The founding members of the group is are biodiesel feedstock suppliers, producers, fuel marketers and distributors, technology providers, fuel retailers, consumers, and advocates. “We’re inviting industry and members of the public to join us in unleashing the power of the biodiesel market here in California,” says Alliance Chairman Eric Bowen of Tellurian Biodiesel.

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August 9, 2007

Western Growers hires former Trade Negotiator as new Lobbyist

Trade negotiator Cathleen Enright has been hired to head Western Growers’ office in Washington, DC. , according to a press release issued by the association. Enright has served as deputy assistant U.S. trade representative, plus held positions in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. State Department.

“Cathleen stood out for her combination of academic training in science, intellectual firepower, her energy and determination, and her substantial record of achievement in the difficult world of foreign trade negotiations,” said Western Growers president and chief executive officer Tom Nassif.

As deputy assistant U.S. Trade Representative, Enright negotiated bilateral and multi-lateral agreements with U.S. trading partners that restored market access, or opened access for the first time, to U.S. agricultural commodities. Among these included agreements with South Korea for California citrus, India for California almonds, and Canada for northwest U.S. potatoes. Enright served from 2000 to 2006 as assistant deputy administrator with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She negotiated the resolution of 30 plus phytosanitary trade barriers affecting U.S. agricultural commodities. From 1995 to 2000, Enright served as a policy analyst with the U.S. State Department, where she coordinated interagency and international coalition efforts for negotiation of an international treaty in trade in products of biotechnology.

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June 11, 2007

Food buying group from Shanghai coming to Long Beach

The Chico Enterprise Record reports:

Area exporters and businesses have an opportunity to put their wares before the eyes of retail buyers from Shanghai, China next month.  Butte College’s Center for International Trade Development is one of the state’s centers putting out a call to exporters.  “Retail growth is extremely strong in the Chinese market, creating tremendous incentives for California exporters,” said Chico center director Jim Wilson.  Businesses must register by Thursday.  Suitable products include cheese products, nuts, frozen products, canned foods, wines, cereals, bakery products, premix flours, snack foods, condiments, dried foods, cookies, chocolate, fruit jam, oil and oil products, seafood, organic food products, and juices.  The buying mission is organized by the California Department of Food and Agriculture and U.S. D   epartment of Agriculture, in addition to the California Centers for International Trade Development.  The event itself is July 2 at Long Beach City College.Questions can be directed to Wilson at 879-9049, or to Priscilla Lopez at the Center for International Trade Development at Long Beach City College, 1-562-938-5018.

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May 18, 2007

Food prices up in Southern California

“Southland residents already pay among the highest grocery prices in the nation, and the forecast is for even higher costs. Federal statistics released Tuesday for April show that food prices in Southern California rose 5.7% from a year earlier. Prices are going up for much of what gets dumped into the grocery cart including cereals, bread, bacon, pork roasts, chicken, eggs, cookies, hot dogs, oranges, soda pop and dried beans. Nationally, food prices rose 3.9% in April compared with the same month in 2006, and the outlook is equally chilling wherever you shop. It is happening for many reasons: inflation, drought, freezing weather, even the rising cost of corn — highly sought after not only as ingredients for thousands of food products but also to make ethanol.”

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April 26, 2007

California dairy producers must grow despite glut

“Already fraught with a persistent glut of milk, enormous environmental challenges and lack of new processing capacity, the California dairy sector will need to continue its growth or face declining profits and harder times ahead, according to a report commissioned by the California Milk Advisory Board. ‘These three challenges end up amounting to a problem where the industry will face a sustained period of tougher profits and tougher economic times for dairymen,’ said David Palecek, a consultant with McKinsey and Co., which conducted the study. As the No. 1 milk-producing state in the nation, California is now a major exporter of dairy products nationally and globally. Producers enjoyed several decades of success and two of their most profitable years in 2004 and 2005. But they are also at a crossroads because the very strategies that have worked so well to drive their success in the past are now threatening the dairy sector’s viability, the report said. Ray Souza, a dairy producer from Stanislaus County and president of Western United Dairymen, which conducted a forum this month to facilitate discussion of the study, said the McKinsey report lays down a road map for producers to look at where they want to go in the future. ‘And it comes at a critical time because we’re on the heels of developing a new Farm Bill, so we’re looking at milk pricing and our dairy industry both in a national and statewide level,’ said Souza.”

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