Treatment of farm animals will go to voters

Californians will get a chance to vote Nov. 4 on an initiative that could decide the fate of enclosures used to house farm animals.

A measure called the Prevention of Farm Animals Cruelty Act has qualified for the California state ballot. The measure directs that egg-laying hens, pregnant sows and veal calves not be kept in enclosures that do not allow them to fully extend their limbs.

It's expected that the greatest effect would be on those who have egg-laying chickens because of the scarcity of veal calf operations and swine-breeding farms that still use gestation crates.

In Corcoran, for example, the hog processor Corcpork this year ceased use of the crates because it shut down its breeding operation.

"Across California, millions of farm animals are crammed into cages so small they can barely move for months on end," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, which is backing the measure, along with groups that include groups Farm Sanctuary, which has a Northern California presence.

Those who oppose it include an egg-industry group called Californians for Sound Farm Animal Agriculture, which says expanding cage space could have negative effects on bird health and increase costs to consumers. The group also contends that California farmers are already raising hens in a variety of ways, meaning consumers can choose to buy from cage-free operations.

Even before the initiative qualified last month, animal welfare and poultry science experts from the University of California at Davis and other universities began teaming up to study the use of cages for egg-laying chickens.

They received $400,000 from the American Egg Board, an egg-marketing organization.

The central San Joaquin Valley is a major producer of chickens and turkeys, but most of the region is not a leader in egg production. However, Merced County leads the state at $81 million in egg production. Riverside County is in second place with $54 million in 2006.

From the meat industry

The meat industry has begun a new online video channel because of concerns about alleged mistreatment of animals, including at a Cargill Meat Solutions plant in Fresno.

The video shows handling of animals and the first installment includes commentary from Temple Grandin, an animal behaviorist who advises Harris Ranch Beef Co., Cargill and other processors on humane handling of animals based on their behavior patterns.

Interesting stuff. Check it out at meatnewsnetwork.

Sweet, indeed

We're probably two weeks away from being able to score what should be some good-tasting tree fruit grown right here in the central San Joaquin Valley.

That's the word from Sheri Mierau, president of the California Tree Fruit Agreement in Reedley, who said that the orchards got plenty of chilling hours and that should mean better flavor.

And there will be plenty of the fruit coming out of those orchards, a total crop of 56.6 million packages of peaches, plums and nectarines.

That was the estimate announced by the Tree Fruit Agreement this week. The industry expects 23.8 million packages of peaches, 11.6 million for plums and 21.2 million for nectarines.

Peach and nectarine trees are expected to produce crops similar to last year's.

A better set and better sizing of plums should bring about 10% more than last year, even considering the frost damage that occurred in Tulare County last week, Mierau said.

"We expect nectarines to start off with a bang come mid-May," Mierau said. "just in time for Memorial Day promotions."

Speaking of fruit

Byproducts from the region's fruit processing industry may have another use -- as a growth medium for mushrooms.

Gour Choudhury, a food science researcher and professor at Fresno State, is studying use of the fruit discards that would otherwise become animal feed supplements or soil amendments.

Increased regulatory requirements have made those uses more complicated and costly.

Meanwhile, increased interest in the nutritional and health benefits of mushrooms has resulted in increased production in the United States.

Choudhury said food processing byproducts are relatively high in carbohydrates, an important nutritional need for mushrooms.

Kings to Kern kudos

Congratulations are in order for Ruben Arroyo, deputy agricultural commissioner in Kings County for 10 years, who is now the agricultural commissioner for Kern County, which had crop production valued at $3.5 billion in 2006.

Arroyo took the post about a month ago. He succeeded David J. Moore, who held the job for two years after the retirement of Ted Davis, who was commissioner for 17 years.