<b>Higher beef prices looming in 2014</b>

Cattle futures climbed to a record Friday as U.S. beef production is forecast to drop to an 11-year low in 2014 while the improving economy signals increasing meat demand.

U.S. beef output will fall 5.7 percent from 2013 to 24.205 billion pounds next year, the lowest since 1993, the Department of Agriculture has forecast. Feedlots added 3.1 percent fewer cattle last month than a year earlier, reducing the total inventory to the second-lowest for Dec. 1 since the USDA started collecting data in 1996.

The USDA this month boosted its outlook for 2014 per capita beef consumption by 0.6 percent. Higher beef prices will raise costs for retailers, while grocery shoppers will pay as much as 3.5 percent more for meat next year, the government projects.

Cattle futures for February delivery rose 0.6 percent to settle at $1.3495 a pound Friday on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, after reaching $1.35275, the highest since the commodity started trading on the CME in 1964.

<b>Southern California cracks down on fraud at farmers markets</b>

Southern California officials have cracked down on vendors at farmers markets who violate state law by selling fruits and vegetables they don't produce.

This year, 20 vendors were fined in Los Angeles County and five were sanctioned in San Diego County, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Violators can be fined up to $1,000 for each offense and banned from markets for up to 18 months.

Inspectors are trained to recognize tipoffs such as fruit that is out of season or has a commercial appearance, such as fruit that is waxed or of uniform size. They also look for sales volume that exceeds a grower's capacity, although some farmers have tried to fool inspectors by planting dummy crops.

Los Angeles County, which has 153 farmers markets, spent $243,000 to fight market fraud during the fiscal year that ended June 30.

<b>EPA fines farm chemical companies</b>

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has fined two companies selling farm chemicals in California and Arizona nearly $75,000 for improper storage and containment of pesticides.

Wilbur-Ellis, a San Francisco agricultural products company, must pay $62,080 in civil penalties. Helena Chemical, based in Collierville, Tenn., must pay $12,800 in civil penalties.

Wilbur-Ellis facilities in Glenn and Hughson, Calif., and Buckeye, Ariz., had unsealed cracks in the floors and walls of their pesticide containment areas, the EPA said. The company's Glenn and Hughson facilities were found to have improper safeguards for pesticide equipment, such as hoses and valves, which increases the risk of a pesticide release to the environment.

Helena Chemical's Hanford, Calif., pesticide repackaging facility was found to have an inadequate containment area for potential pesticide spills.

Staff and wire reports. Submit items to robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com