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Open Access Publications from the University of California


California Agriculture is a quarterly peer-reviewed journal reporting research, reviews and news on California’s agricultural, natural and human resources.

Volume 56, Issue 5, 2002

Issue cover


California's cattle and beef industry at the crossroads

Beef cattle remain one of California’s most important agricultural products, ranking fifth in 2001 at $1.35 billion in value of production, behind dairy, grapes, nursery products and lettuce. However, technological change, coupled with declining consumption of red meats during the 1970s and 1980s, triggered a wave of mergers and acquisitions in the beef-processing sector. To evaluate how such trends are affecting the industry in Calif-ornia, we undertook a survey during 2000 and 2001 and obtained responses from ranchers in 40 counties. Our results confirm that the industry appears to be at a crossroads, for a variety of reasons. Cow-calf ranching operations now predominate, and a significant percentage of cattle leave the state for feeding and slaughter. Auction yards, a principal marketing outlet for most of the survey respondents, require a large volume of activity in order to operate efficiently. As aging ranchers exit the business, this important exchange mechanism is threatened, possibly contributing to the industry’s further decline. Most ranchers reported having five or fewer potential buyers for their cattle.

Survey quantifies cost of organic milk production in California

This study measures the cost of organic milk production, and in particular, the differences in cost of production between organic and conventional milk in California. Results show that the total cost of production on a per cow and a per hundredweight basis is about 10% higher for organic producers than for conventional producers in the surveyed regions, and about 20% higher when compared on a statewide basis. The higher costs appear to be due to reduced milk production, higher feed costs, higher average labor costs, significantly higher herd replacement costs and significant transition costs. The higher costs associated with organic milk production are exacerbated to some extent by lower milk yields, and at the same time, are mitigated by the substitution of lower cost pasture for higher priced roughage and concentrate feeds. The higher prices paid for organic milk may more than offset these higher costs compared to their regional, same-sized neighbors.

Insecticide choice for alfalfa may protect water quality

Some insecticides used for control-ling Egyptian alfalfa weevil have been detected in California’s surface waters and are of concern, due to their impact on water quality and toxicity to some aquatic life. To assess the impact of insec-ticide choice on water quality, we collected tail-water samples from on-farm alfalfa sites in the northern Sacramento Valley over a 3-year period. Samples were collected during irrigation after organophosphate and pyrethroid sprays were applied. We found significant differences between insecticide classes in the mortality of Ceriodaphnia dubia (water flea), a test organism used to detect pesticides in water. Nearly all sites where organophosphate insec-ticides were used resulted in 100% water flea mortality in a 24-hour test of tail-water samples; pyrethroid-treated sections of the same fields exhibited insignificant flea mortality. The pyrethroids we used provided significantly better control of Egyptian alfalfa weevil than the organophosphates, with no significant differences in beneficial insect counts. Although water runoff does not always occur in alfalfa fields, insecticide choice may be an important tool for protecting water quality. In addition, consideration should be given to the fact that pyrethroids, while they proved advantageous in these experiments, can affect beneficial species and do have high toxicity to fish at extremely low concentrations.

Pheromones control oriental fruit moth and peach twig borer in cling peaches

Slow-release pheromone tech-nology can successfully control oriental fruit moth and peach twig borer while eliminating in-season insecticide sprays in cling peaches. In conjunction with a demon-stration program, we compared mating disruption for these two pests with standard grower pest-control methods in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, and monitored for pest damage, yield and grower costs. While the mating-disruption program was effective in controlling the targeted pests, costs were higher and growers preferred a partial disruption program that included some supplemental late-season insecticide sprays. Subsequently, we developed monitoring methods to determine the need for supple-mental sprays. This partial mating-disruption program still costs about $60 more per acre than a standard spray program. Predicting efficacy and determining the need for supplement sprays is also more difficult with the partial program than with the pheromone-based control program.