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Statement of Western Growers on Reagan-Udall Foundation Report on FDA Reform

By Ann Donahue, Western Growers

Following the release of the Reagan-Udall Foundation report on proposed reforms to the Food and Drug Administration’s Human Foods Program, Western Growers SVP of Science, De Ann Davis, issued the following statement:

“We are very pleased and thankful for the expert panel’s dedication to this report. We think it reflects many of the conversations that we’ve had and recommendations that we made, including the need for a single point of leadership for the agency when it comes to human foods program

“We are also appreciative of the panel’s acknowledgement of the need for a prevention focus by the agency when it comes to the safety of the nation’s food. This was the original intention of the Food Safety Modernization Act and we are very grateful for the call to see it re-established. With more than 20,000 farms in California alone that provide produce to the nation, we acknowledge that the best way to continue to achieve food safety is through prevention-based programs rather than compliance.

“We look forward to continuing to collaborate with the FDA on the implementation of these recommendations, as well as working with our Congressional counterparts to find the best strategies to ensure resources for these recommendations.”

The entirety of the report can be read by clicking here.

2022-12-06T13:05:06-08:00December 6th, 2022|

Farm Bureau President Rejects Policy of Scarcity for Agriculture

By Peter Hecht, California Farm Bureau

California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson opened the organization’s 104th Annual Meeting in Monterey Monday by calling on policymakers to build critical infrastructure to protect water resources and allow America’s most important agricultural sector to continue to thrive.

“The management of scarcity is failing,” Johansson told the gathering. “It’s time now to reimplement the management of bounty, which made California great.”

California’s nearly 70,000 farms and ranches produce more than 400 commodities as the nation’s leading food producer. But a recent University of California, Merced, study estimates that an additional 750,000 acres of farmland in the state were fallowed this year due a third year of drought and cuts in state and federal water deliveries to agriculture.

Johansson stressed that such an outcome may have been avoided had California delivered on the $7.1 billion water infrastructure bond approved by state voters in 2014. He said the state has failed to update its water system to meet the needs of California farms and communities as well as the challenges of a drier climate.

The consequences for agriculture are aggravated, Johansson said, by policies that stem from a mindset of working within the limits of scarcity—of adapting to a changing environment by paring down California’s agricultural potential.

Instead, Johansson said, new water storage and groundwater recharge projects can capture and store water in wet years for dry years and help protect and grow California’s food production.

“Change is inevitable,” Johansson said. “We understand change in agriculture. But what we struggle with is a state that doesn’t have a plan of how we make those changes based on principles.”

Johansson said, “We can continue in agriculture to make a difference, feed the world and more importantly prosper our communities.”

2022-12-06T08:38:08-08:00December 6th, 2022|

New Board President and New Board Members

By Elizabeth Jonasson, Westlands Water District

Today, the Westlands Water District Board of Directors appointed Jeff Fortune as president of the District. Mr. Fortune succeeds Ryan Ferguson. Mr. Fortune is a third generation California farmer and second generation Westlands farmer. He is a “boots on the ground” farmer with more than four decades of farming experience. Mr. Fortune works alongside his father and two brothers at their family farm growing tomatoes, almonds, and pistachios.

At the Special Board Meeting today, Mr. Fortune was joined by four new Board members who were elected to the Board in November: Ernie B. Costamagna, Justin Diener, Donald Ross Franson III, and Jeremy Hughes. Each new Board member will serve a four-year term.

Ernie Costamagna is a third generation family farmer in California. He began farming in Westland’s in the 1980’s. His farming operation is comprised of nuts, wine grapes, cherries, garlic, onions, cotton and processing tomatoes. He is a resident of Hanford CA with his wife and has 7 children.

Justin Diener continues to work in the same area his family began farming in the 1930s. Mr. Diener, with his family, grows processing tomatoes, garlic, almonds, and lemons and raises lambs. Mr. Diener is responsible for the financial management of his family’s farming operation. He is a graduate of Stanford University with a degree in Economics with Honors. Before returning to the farming operation, Mr. Diener spent more than a decade of his career working for JP Morgan Securities, Wells Fargo Bank, and Bank of the West. Mr. Diener lives in Five Points, where he was born and raised, with his wife and daughter.

Ross Franson’s family has farmed in Westlands since the District’s formation in 1952. Mr. Franson currently serves as VP of Strategy at his family business, Woolf Farming & Processing, which grows almonds, pistachios, tomatoes, and other row crops. His family business also operates almond and tomato processing facilities within the District. Over the years Mr. Franson has served on various agricultural-related Boards, including Woolf Farming & Processing, Harris Woolf California Almonds, Cal-West Rain, and Aliso Water District. Mr. Franson currently resides in Fresno with his wife and three children.

Jeremy Hughes, a fifth-generation farmer, has farmed in the District for over 25 years with his family. Since his father started the operation in the mid-1970s with a one-quarter section of land, the farm has steadily increased. Mr. Hughes started the company that bears his name in 1997, farming various row crops including processing tomatoes, almonds, and pistachios. Mr. Hughes lives in Clovis with his wife and two children.

2022-12-06T08:24:31-08:00December 6th, 2022|

California Almond Acreage Drops in 2022 – First Time in Decades

By Rick Kushman, Almond Board of California

Bearing acreage grew but there were fewer new plantings and increased orchard removals

California’s almond acreage decreased for the first time in more than 25 years, according to a new report from Land IQ to the Almond Board of California (ABC).

Total standing acreage as of Aug. 31 was estimated at 1.64 million acres, compared with 1.66 million acres at the same time in 2021. Bearing acres – orchards producing almonds and planted in 2019 or earlier – increased slightly to 1.34 million from 1.31 million last year. But non-bearing acres – new plantings going back to 2020 but not yet bearing almonds – dropped to 294,000 acres from 353,000 acres in 2021.

In addition, the Land IQ 2022 Standing Acreage and Removed Acreage Final Estimate said approximately 30,000 acres are either classified as stressed or abandoned. They were included in the standing acreage total because the orchards “may have the ability to recover,” Land IQ said.

Removed orchards contributed to the drop in total acreage and continued a trend from 2021. Total orchard acreage removed was about 60,400 acres as of Aug. 31 this year compared with 56,900 removed acres in 2021.

“Land IQ’s report may indicate a possible trend towards lower California almond acreage in the year ahead,” said Richard Waycott, ABC president and CEO. “This acreage estimate was based on data collected through Aug. 31, so it does not reflect any additional removals that may have occurred as the harvest and post-harvest seasons progressed this fall. Those data will be incorporated in the next acreage estimate to be published in April 2023.”

The estimate comes from multiple lines of evidence, including extensive examinations on the ground and advanced remote sensing analytics. Land IQ said the 2022 standing acreage estimate is 98.8 percent accurate.

Land IQ’s Final Acreage Estimate in November, along with USDA-NASS’s April Acreage Report, May’s Subjective Estimate and the Objective Report in July are all commissioned by ABC to provide statistical transparency and a robust picture of California almonds to industry stakeholders around the world.

In 2018, ABC first commissioned Land IQ, a Sacramento-based agricultural and environmental scientific research and consulting firm, to develop a comprehensive, living map of California almonds. The map is the result of more than a decade of research.

2022-12-05T08:37:35-08:00December 5th, 2022|

Many Growers Are in Great Farming Frustration

Almond Grower said the Situation is Tight

By Patrick Cavanaugh with the AgInformation Network

Zach Fowler is a CEO and Director of Asset Management for Fowler Brothers Farming, based in Waterford. He comments on this growing frustration for almond growers.

“We’re seeing a lot of frustration just with the prices, water regulations, and everything like that. People are very frustrated. They’re just keeping their heads down. But I mean, it’s just… really tightening down on people on what they’re spending and what they’re doing coming up, and whether they’re redeveloping ground or just holding tight on what they can do,” said Fowler.

And Fowler said one of the big troublesome areas is the price of almonds.

“It’s pretty low. It’s an all-time low right now,” Fowler said.

We asked Fowler about those prices. “I know we did see in-shell prices for Nonpareil, around two dollars a pound. And it’s low on all varieties like Independence, you’re looking, like a dollar fifty-five. It’s really low,” he said.

We asked Fowler what he thinks about the near and long-term future of ag, especially with the drought issues

“It’s going to be really tough. If we don’t see any water, it’s going to get tight. And it was tight this year, but I don’t think we saw anything yet compared to what it could be this next season. If we don’t get water and get these reservoirs full and get a good snowpack, which is most important, then we will be in deep trouble as farmers,” noted Fowler.

People commonly think, oh, we just need a lot of rain. Well, we need that snow up in the hills, too, because that’s what gives us our long-term storage.

Yeah, oftentimes the rainfall in the mountains just soaks into the ground. It never makes it down to the valley.

“Exactly. That takes years and years to do that,” said Fowler.

2022-12-05T08:32:47-08:00December 5th, 2022|

The Nut In Nutritious Says it All

The Word Nut is In Nutrition and Nutritious

By Patrick Cavanaugh with the Ag Information Network

Have you ever noticed the word Nut in the word nutritious? Well, I’ve never noticed it before when it comes to the nut industry, and it took the American Pecan Council to bring it to my attention. Alex Ott is the Executive Director of the American Pecan Council.

“We have a great team, and Weber Shandwick is our PR company that’s there. We work with other folks such as Eat Well Global in the dietitian areas,” said Ott. “And the staff and a lot of the members that participate, both on and off the council as well as the boards, provide a lot of great insight. So we’re very fortunate to have a fantastic team,” he noted.

When you think of nuts, they are nutritious. It’s perfect. The word nut in the first three letters of the word nutrition.

“It’s nice when the industry all comes together with one purpose. Everybody uses their talents to really drive the message.

 I asked Ott if Weber Shandwick, the PR company, came up with that concept.

“They definitely helped out with the website and the messaging, and we’re very fortunate to have Weber as our team, absolutely,” he said.

2022-12-05T08:30:32-08:00December 5th, 2022|

USDA Farm-to-School Grant Open

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will award up to $12 million in competitive grants to eligible entities through the Farm to School Grant Program in fiscal year 2023. Each grant helps implement farm-to-school programs that increase access to local food in eligible schools, connect children with agriculture for better health, and inspire youth to consider careers in agriculture.

Grant application deadline is January 6, 2023.

Click here to learn more about how to apply.

2022-12-02T16:20:43-08:00December 2nd, 2022|

Nominations Open for the 2023 Common Threads Awards

By Rebecca Quist, Common Threads Committee Chair

The Common Threads Committee is pleased to announce
nominations are being accepted for the 27th Annual Common Threads
Awards honoring women in agriculture. Honorees are selected from
Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced and Tulare counties for their
remarkable contributions to agriculture and philanthropic
stewardship.

We invite you to nominate worthy women who have deep roots in
agriculture and have made a significant difference within the
agricultural industry and their communities. The completed
nomination packet, with a cover letter, must be received in the
California Agricultural Leadership Foundation (CALF) office by December 12, 2022:

Attention: Mia Mirassou
CALF
80 Garden Ct, Suite 270
Monterey, CA 93940
Email: mmirassou@agleaders.org

A pdf version of the nomination form is available at www.agleaders.org.
Letters of recommendation are encouraged, but not required; however,
no more than three letters of recommendation may be submitted. If you
need further clarification or additional information, please call Mia
Mirassou at CALF at (831) 585-1030.

A luncheon recognizing the honorees will be scheduled in March or
April 2023. CALF, Ag One Foundation and the Jordan College of
Agricultural Sciences and Technology will host the luncheon.

2022-12-02T16:15:51-08:00December 2nd, 2022|

California Farm Bureau Reacts to Initial 5% Water Allocation

By Peter Hecht, California Farm Bureau

The California Department of Water Resources on Thursday announced an initial allocation of just 5% of requested 2023 water supplies from the State Water Project. This comes after this year and 2021 both yielded final water allocations of 5%.

“Here we go again,” said California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson. “This means that 23 million people and 750,000 acres of farmland are facing another year of uncertainty and economic hardships. California has failed to act on critical projects to provide additional water storage, stormwater capture and groundwater recharge that are needed to protect our farms and cities from water shortages in dry years.

“California’s dismal leadership in safeguarding our water resources harms our food production as consumers face rising prices at the grocery store. It also undercuts healthy crop production, which helps reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. California must have a more coherent water plan. Our drought strategy cannot solely be a policy of managing scarcity.”

2022-12-02T15:54:36-08:00December 2nd, 2022|

New Tool Calculates Crop Rotation Costs, Benefits for California Rice Growers

By Mike Hsu, UCANR

Due to severe water shortages, rice acres planted in California plummeted by 37% from 2021 to 2022, according to numbers released recently by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. But now, thanks to University of California researchers, growers have a new tool they could potentially use to cope with droughts and other environmental and socioeconomic changes.

A crop rotation calculator provides farmers in the Sacramento Valley – where 97% of California rice is grown – with projections on the economic impacts of transitioning their fields from rice into four less water-intensive crops: dry beans, safflower, sunflower or tomato.

The tool represents an initial attempt to address the dearth of research on rice crop rotation in California, while giving growers much-needed, science-backed data on whether the practice would make financial sense for their farms.

“I believe more rice growers could benefit from the many advantages of crop rotation, and this new tool is an excellent first step by the UC to help growers look into making such a transition,” said George Tibbitts, a Colusa County rice farmer.

Funded in part by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, through the Western Integrated Pest Management Center, the calculator is a collaborative effort of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, UC Integrated Pest Management and UC Davis to fill a major gap in rice research.

“I do think there are people who would have tried rotational crops in the past, but it’s just so unknown, we didn’t have anything we could give them and be like, ‘Hey, this is the recommended crop for your area,’” said Whitney Brim-DeForest, UC Cooperative Extension rice advisor. “This tool gives them some preliminary data they can use to make a more informed decision.”

Crop Rotation a Potential Boon to Growers, Environment

UC Davis doctoral student Sara Rosenberg and Brim-DeForest, alongside other members of the UC rice research team, surveyed California rice growers in 2020 on their experiences with and perceptions of crop rotation. Although the practice is rare in the Sacramento Valley (only an estimated 10% of rice acreage is under rotation), some farmers reported benefits that could be crucial in a water-scarce future.

“From having conversations with growers who do rotate, one of the biggest benefits they describe is their flexibility in times of drought, where they can keep producing on their land when there isn’t enough water to grow rice,” said Rosenberg, noting that crop rotation could be one option in a “toolbox” of strategies that growers also use to manage fertilizer price shocks, herbicide resistance and other challenges.

During the ongoing drought that caused about half of California’s rice acreage to go fallow in 2022, Tibbitts said his water district was only able to allocate 10% of his usual allotment.
“With such a limited supply, it would have been tough to grow even one field of rice,” he said. “But it was enough water so that we could rent two of our fields to a tomato grower – tomatoes under drip irrigation use much less water than a flooded field of rice. We were also able to grow one field of sunflowers, which doesn’t need any irrigation at all if you can plant the seeds into existing moisture in the early spring.”

While drought is one motivating factor to rotate crops, Tibbitts said that on principle he avoids planting all his acreage in rice and “not have all (his) eggs in one basket.”
“My primary motivation for rotating into and out of rice has been to help with weed and disease control,” he added. “Crop rotation is a primary tool of IPM (integrated pest management), and I feel it has helped me greatly over the years.”

According to Brim-DeForest, rotating cropping systems can allow for the use of different weed control tools, such as different herbicide modes of action, and different cultural controls such as tillage, reducing the chances of selecting for herbicide-resistant weeds – an increasingly pervasive issue in rice systems.

Rosenberg noted that, in some situations – and depending on the crops in rotation – the practice can also disrupt the life cycles of insects and diseases and potentially improve soil structure and increase nutrient cycling and uptake, which may lead to a reduction in inputs such as fertilizer.

More Research on Crop Diversification Needed in Rice Systems

The benefits of crop rotation for California rice growers are largely theoretical and anecdotal, however, so the UC rice team is looking to add evidence-based grounding through a variety of studies – from looking at long-term effects on soil health indicators to testing various cover crops (which may deliver some benefits of diversification, similar to those of rotation).

“In California, there is no quantitative data on crop rotation in rice,” said Brim-DeForest. “You’d think after a hundred and some odd years (of UC agricultural research), all the research would have been done, but, no – there’s tons still to do.”

Through interviews with Sacramento Valley growers, researchers found that cost was frequently mentioned as a barrier to trying crop rotation, along with incompatible soil conditions and a lack of equipment, knowledge and experience.

To help clarify those economic uncertainties, the new calculator tool allows growers to enter baseline information specific to their circumstances – whether they rent or own their own land, whether they contract out the work to plant the rotational crop, and other factors. The calculator then generates potential costs and benefits of staying in rice versus rotating to dry beans, safflower, sunflower or tomato, during the first year and in an “average” year for those crops.

The upfront costs of rotation during “year one” can be daunting. Therefore, the tool only focuses on a short-term profitability perspective. Researchers are currently working on longer term modeling for crop rotation – incorporating the possibility of reduced herbicide use over time, and under different crop yield scenarios, for example – that could significantly change the growers’ calculus.

“You could actually be profitable in the long term, whereas this first, short glimpse is showing you a negative,” said Rosenberg.

In addition, thanks to collaboration with the UC IPM team, the rice rotation calculator is an evolving tool that will be continually improved based on user feedback and additional data. Brim-DeForest also said that it could be adapted to other cropping systems – for example, alfalfa going into another rotational crop.

The rice calculator tool can be found at: https://rice-rotation-calculator.ipm.ucanr.edu/.

Other contributors to the project include Bruce Linquist, Luis Espino, Ellen Bruno, Kassim Al-Khatib and Michelle Leinfelder-Miles of UCCE; Cameron Pittelkow of UC Davis; as well as UC IPM team members Chinh Lam, Tunyalee Martin and Hanna Zorlu; and the California rice growers and industry members who participated in the research.

2022-12-01T13:56:46-08:00December 1st, 2022|
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