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Increasing consumer demand for year-round access to fresh produce has driven a 200% increase in fresh vegetable imports over the past two decades. That brings a host of challenges to U.S. farmers.

The top two sources of imported fresh veggies are Mexico (77%) and Canada (11%), thanks to favorable trade agreements, a stronger dollar, and those countries' ability to cater to Americans' tastes with affordable organic and greenhouse-grown produce, Wilma Davis and Gary Lucier report for Amber Waves, a digital Agriculture Department magazine.

Extended market-window creep is another reason for Mexico and Canada's increasing dominance of imported vegetables: The U.S. once imported vegetables mostly when they were out of season domestically, but vegetables grown under greenhouses or in much warmer climates make it easy for American wholesalers or grocers to buy imported produce even when it's in season in the U.S. For example, "Summer is historically the primary market window for U.S. producers; however, fresh vegetable import volumes from Mexico during the summer months have shown substantial increases in the past 15 years," Davis and Lucier report. (The proliferation of imported, greenhouse-grown produce helped spur AppHarvest, a start-up building huge greenhouses in Kentucky.)

Amber Waves has other excellent reports from USDA's Economic Research Service that can inform rural reporting. Here are a few others from this month's edition, and from ERS's home site:

Food pantry use increased from 2019 to 2020 for most types of U.S. households. "Data from the Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement sponsored by the USDA Economic Research Service shows that use of food pantries increased from 2019 to 2020. In 2020, 6.7 percent of all U.S. households reported using a food pantry, an increase from 4.4 percent in 2019," Alisha Coleman-Jensen and Matthew P. Rabbitt report.

Free meal sites expanded rapidly to provide meals to children during the early months of the pandemic, Saied Toossi reports. A working paper provides more details, and notes that free meal sites are more prevalent in urban areas, leaving many rural communities underserved.

Off-farm organizations are responsible for bringing 40% of total irrigation water applied to croplands. Several federal agencies collaborated on a survey of such organizations in 2019, the first federal attempt to collect nationwide data on such organizations since the Census Bureau's 1978 Census of Irrigation Organizations. The report highlights broad trends, including how much water is lost to seepage because of unlined irrigation canals. Considering the massive drought in the West, that data matters. Read more here.

There have been many stressors on alfalfa fields this year, from early weevils to drought and hail and now fall armyworms and cutworms. Can fa…

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People take pictures of Lake Mead near Hoover Dam on Aug. 13. The lighter layer of minerals shows the high-water mark of the reservoir. (Associated Press photo by John Locher)

"Low water in the Colorado River’s largest reservoir triggered the first-ever federal declaration of a shortage on Monday, a bleak marker of the effects of climate change in the

drought-stricken American West

and the imperiled future of a critical water source for 40 million people in seven states,"


Karin Brulliard and Joshua Partlow of The Washington Post. "Water in Lake Mead, the

mammoth reservoir

created by the Hoover Dam that supplies the lower Colorado basin, is projected to be 1,065.85 feet above sea level on Jan. 1, nearly 10 feet below a threshold that requires Arizona, Nevada and Mexico to reduce their consumption in 2022. On Monday, it was

just under 1,068 feet

, or about 35 percent full, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the water that states and Mexico have rights to use." The lake hasn't been that low since it began filling after completion of the Hoover Dam in the 1930s." 

The water-supply cuts triggered by the declaration will mostly affect Arizona farmers—at first. "Beginning next year they will be cut off from much of the water they have relied on for decades. Much smaller reductions are mandated for Nevada and for Mexico across the southern border," Henry Fountain reports for The New York Times. "But larger cuts, affecting far more of the 40 million people in the West who rely on the river for at least part of their water supply, are likely in coming years as a warming climate continues to reduce how much water flows into the Colorado from rain and melting snow."

The mandatory cuts "are part of a contingency plan approved in 2019 after lengthy negotiations among the seven states that use Colorado River water: California, Nevada and Arizona in the lower basin, and New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming in the upper basin. American Indian tribes and Mexican officials have also been involved in the planning," Fountain reports. "The shortage announced Monday affects only the lower basin states, but the Bureau of Reclamation may declare a similar shortage for the upper basin, perhaps as early as next year."

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Corn country landscape - painted late summer - high clouds, heavy with moisture waiting for afternoon to thicken and darken and start raising Cain.

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Alfalfa is a relatively drought-tolerant forage, but irrigation makes it possible to produce higher yields. This perennial crop does not have …

Low soil moisture levels in many areas across the state may mean irrigating alfalfa before the first cutting. Have you considered irrigating early?

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