Is the UFW a Union?

Attorney Michael Saqui Says UFW is Social Reform Movement

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Michael Saqui, is a principal with the Saqui Law Group, based in Roseville and Salinas, and he recently shared some opinions about the UFW with California Ag Today.

“They’re not a union, in my opinion. I have been fighting the UFW my whole career,” he said.

Saqui Law Group handles wage an hour, labor relations, employment litigation, and other disciplines for the agricultural industry. He said UFW is far from being a union.

“They are not an organized union; they’re a social reform movement, plain and simple,” Saqui said.

“They’re a political action committee that raises money from the limousine liberals,” he said.

Saqui said that the millions that are contributed to the organization do not get back to the workers.

“They run very much like a criminal organization. The way they funnel and shield money and not much gets back to the farm worker.”

The UFW thinks they have been successful at what is called the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI), where they have gotten retail companies to sign onto a code of conduct.

“These metrics that they have put together for compliance in all areas, including wage an hour, treatment, and respect are already codified in California state law to make large companies and other folks feel good,” he said.

Saqui has had no input on the EFI which they point to as a success.

“They can’t organize workers and when they do organize workers, history has shown that they have been absolutely inept at getting contracts,” Saqui said.

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IR-4 Program Trying to Help Florida Citrus Industry Due to HLB

IR-4 Researchers Control Material to Help Citrus Industy

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Jerry Barron, executive director of the IR-4 Project at Rutgers University in New Jersey spoke to California Ag Today recently about his program.

A major priority with the IR-4 Project is the prioritization of projects that need to be done to find crop protection products for crops such as citrus. Among the urgent challenges for citrus is the control of the Asian Citrus Psyllid (ACP) which vectors Huanglongbing (HLB)—a fatal disease to citrus. Barron spoke about the disease, which has devastated Florida citrus growers and all parts of the citrus economy in the state.

“HLB is devastating Florida citrus growers and the economy in Florida. It’s about a billion dollars of lost production, which is affecting local communities, food processors, and the people who are harvesting the fruit,” Barron said. “It is totally disrupting the whole economic base of certain areas.”

Asian Citrus Psyllid Yellow Trap (Source: Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program)

“So what we’re trying to do is work with the people in Florida, to provide them some tools, not only to control the Psyllid which transmits the disease but also provide them some tools to help control the disease once it’s infected the plant.

“At this point, it’s very difficult because certain crop protection products are just not available, but we’re trying to find these magic bullets to truly give them a solution for this devastating problem,” he said.

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FDA Releases Possible Factors for 2018 E. Coli Outbreaks

Leafy Greens Industry and Public Were Severely Impacted

By Hank Giclas, Western Growers Sr. Vice President, Strategic Planning, Science & Technology

Recently, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration released an environmental assessment that provides an overview of factors that potentially contributed to the contamination of romaine lettuce with E. coli that was implicated in a 2018 multi-state foodborne illness outbreak. The assessment can be found here and includes the background on the outbreak; the environmental team approach; and factors potentially contributing to the introduction and spread of E. coli; along with recommendations for the prevention E. coli in leafy greens.

FDA recommends that growers and processors of leafy greens:

  • assure that all agricultural water (water that directly contacts the harvestable portion of the crop) used by growers is safe and adequate for its intended use (including agricultural water used for application of crop protection chemicals);
  • assess and mitigate risks related to land uses near or adjacent to growing fields that may contaminate agricultural water or leafy greens crops directly (e.g. nearby cattle operations or dairy farms, manure or composting facility);
  • verify that food safety procedures, policies, and practices, including supplier controls for fresh-cut processors, are developed and consistently implemented on farms (both domestic and foreign) and in fresh-cut produce manufacturing/processing food facilities to minimize the potential for contamination and/or spread of human pathogens;
  • when a foodborne pathogen is identified in the growing or processing environment, in agricultural inputs (e.g., agricultural water), in raw agricultural commodities or in fresh-cut, ready-to-eat produce, a root cause analysis should be performed to determine the likely source of the contamination, if prevention measures have failed, and whether additional measures are needed to prevent a reoccurrence; and
  • Local in-depth knowledge and actions are critical in helping resolve potential routes of contamination of leafy greens in the Yuma growing region, including Imperial County and Yuma County, moving forward. FDA urges other government and non-government entities, produce growers and trade associations in Yuma and Imperial Counties to further explore possible source(s) and route(s) of contamination associated with the outbreak pathogen and with other foodborne pathogens of public health significance. This information is critical to developing and implementing short- and long-term remediation measures to reduce the potential for another outbreak associated with leafy greens or other fresh produce commodities.

The findings in the Environmental Assessment appear to provide little new information but will be closely reviewed by Western Growers and others as part of our industry’s ongoing efforts to ensure food safety.

Immediately after the outbreak, Western Growers collaborated with the leafy greens industry to help lead a task force that would assess the source of the outbreak, as well as develop recommendations to prevent future outbreaks. While sources of contamination remain uncertain, the task force made concrete recommendations to industry for assuring water is safe and adequate, assessing and mitigating risk from adjacent land uses as well as others to address risks from equipment and climatic conditions.  These recommendations go well beyond the requirements of the FDA’s own Produce Safety Rule and have already been incorporated into the California and Arizona LGMA requirements. State auditors are now charged with verifying adherence to these new controls through announced and un-announced audits that occur throughout the seasons. The industry is furthering its efforts to learn more including through research guided by respected entities such as the Center for Produce Safety and working directly with California and Arizona academic teams. There is a strong and broad commitment to continually work to improve our food safety system.

Other related information posted by FDA includes:

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Children Lacking Fruits and Vegetables

Centers For Disease Control Note Only 1 in 10 Children Are Eating Enough Produce

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

A recent study found that over a quarter of young children do not consume a single serving of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. That news is alarming for Teresa Thorne, executive director of the Alliance for Food and Farming in Watsonville.

The CDC releases consumption data every other year. At any age, only one in 10 people is eating enough fruits and vegetables every day.

“When you see a study like this and it talks about toddlers, children, and their lack of consumption, it is disturbing,” Thorne said.

Fruits and vegetables are not a current trend, but that is why it is important to make sure that there is an abundance of affordable and acceptable fruits and vegetables for parents to provide to their children.

“This is alarming because many children develop their eating habits around the age of two, and these habits will carry on into the rest of their lifetime,” Thorne explained.

In the study, the authors did some simple suggestions for parents in terms of helping parents to incorporate fruits and vegetables in the diet.

“The most important thing I thought was interesting is that it can take up to 10 times for a kid to adjust to a food and say, ‘oh yeah, I like that,’ ” Thorne said. “So be persistent again and keep trying.”

For more information, visit SafeFruitsAndVeggies.com.

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Bowles Farming Co. Shares Success Secrets

Google Hangouts Helps Bowles Farming Communicate Throughout 

By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor

When it comes to agriculture, Merced County-based Bowles Farming Company has it figured out. With 160 years of experience, and six generations worth of history, the company has had a major influence on the state. Danny Royer, Vice President of Technology at Bowles, has valuable insight on what makes the company so successful.

Royer is in charge of the technology behind growing various crops including tomatoes, cotton, wheat, watermelon, and other organic commodities. He said that the key to solving issues is by sharing data within the operation.

“Data is what’s going to provide the solution, but we have to create systems that give the people [the data] who have the competencies to solve the problem,” he explained.

One way Bowles Farming Co. is able to achieve this is by using Google Hangouts on the farm, which enables them to communicate with different sectors of the operation single-handedly.

“We’ve got to be a little more transparent and open about sharing our information with people that are coming from the tech sector trying to help us,” Royer said.

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EPA Blasts State’s Water Grab

EPA’s Acting Secretary Andrew Wheeler Visits The Valley With Congressman Denham

News Release Edited by Patrick Cavanaugh

Following his recent visit to the Valley, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler sent a letter to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) in Sacramento, expressing concern over several aspects of the proposed Bay-Delta plan. A copy of the letter is available here.

In the letter, Wheeler questions the effectiveness of drastically increasing flows to improve native fish species when studies show several additional factors contribute to their dwindling populations—including predation from non-native species, which the Bay-Delta plan does not address.

“I’m pulling every available resource to stop the state’s dangerous water grab,” said U.S. Representative Jeff Denham (R-Turlock). “Both the Department of Interior and EPA have now directly weighed in against Sacramento’s plan to steal our water.”

Oakdale Irrigation District General Manager Steve Knell said: “Finally, EPA Administrator Wheeler’s letter has put common sense back on the table in addressing the State’s draconian Water Plan. Thank you Congressman Denham for your efforts in bringing Mr. Wheeler to our area to hear our concerns.”

“This State Water Plan will devastate water storage in our dams, drive river temperatures to lethal levels and destroy the very fish species we at the local level are trying to protect. Our rivers deserve better. We have the science to show this, we have provided it to the State, and they have ignored it. We continued to advocate that sending more water down the river and not addressing other stressors is not an answer, and the State has ignored that too.”

South San Joaquin Irrigation District General Manager Peter Rietkerk said: “On behalf of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District, I would like to thank you and your staff for bringing Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler to our region on October 11, 2018. The meeting was a success, and our message was clearly heard, evidenced by today’s letter from the EPA to the State Water Board. We’ve continued to lament the devastating impacts of State’s plan to local drinking and irrigation water supplies, and to protected fish species within our rivers, and it is great to know that the EPA has listened and will be looking for balance and accountability from the State Water Board if they choose to approve this outrageous plan.”

At Denham’s request, several key administration officials have visited the Central Valley and have been actively engaged in policies to fight Sacramento’s water grab and increase water storage for our farmers and residents. This is the latest result of many such actions.

On July 27, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman submitted a strongly worded comment expressing serious legal concerns with the latest Bay-Delta amendment. The comment followed a visit by U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ryan Zinke to our impacted reservoirs at request of Denham on July 20. Additionally, Zinke sent an internal memo to DOI agencies on August 17 requesting all Central Valley Project authorities be provided to him for disposal to combat the state’s plan.

Following Denham’s September 28 letter requesting executive action, the President signed a memorandum to bring more storage to the Valley and address hydroelectric relicensing at Don Pedro, requiring agencies to consider local plans like the Tuolumne River Management Plan developed by Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts. Denham previously released an animated video on NMFS Sacramento’s dangerous water grab.

As a follow-up to the presidential memorandum, Denham recently hosted a call with senior administration officials from the Bureau of Reclamation to discuss the details of the memorandum, next steps in the process, and allow irrigation districts and farm bureaus an opportunity to ask questions.

The president’s order supplements legislation authored by Denham to support innovative financing opportunities for water projects throughout the western United States. Denham’s New WATER Act (H.R. 434) passed and was signed into law as part of America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (WRDA). Eligible projects include new reservoirs, below ground storage projects, recycling and desalination projects. This legislation supports large projects like enlargement of Shasta Dam, construction of Sites Reservoir and Temperance Flat Dam, and expanding Los Vaqueros Reservoir.

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Lallemand Plant Care Acts as a Voice for the Industry

Microbes Company Promotes Biostimulants for Ag

By Mikenzi Meyers, Contributing Editor

The term “regulation” is often an unattractive vernacular for farmers and ranchers, just as “pesticide” or “chemical use” would be for the uneducated public. Amy Roberts, Regulatory Affairs Manager for Lallemand Plant Care based in Montreal, Canada, is working to make both sides come together.

California Ag Today caught her comments at the 2018 Biological Products Industry Alliance (BPIA) Fall Meeting and Sustainability Symposium in Rochester. Roberts has been appointed the 2019 chair of BPIA

Lallemand Plant Care is a company that specializes in the use of microbes in agriculture for pesticides and biostimulants. However, Roberts has assisted them in taking on an even greater task.

“We’d like to be a voice to help improve things in a regulatory standpoint and perception standpoint,” she explained, and with the organization growing to represent the industry as a whole, “the goal seems tangible.”

This doesn’t come without its obstacles though, and Roberts noted that there is a lack of clarity for the regulatory framework, making products harder to market.

“It’s challenging for people to market them, and it’s challenging for growers and users to understand what they are and how they should be using them,” she said.

This combined with the continuous hesitation towards pesticides and biostimulants from people unfamiliar with the industry makes education and understanding on both ends that much more important.

More information can be found at www.bpia.org

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Gar Tootelian Has Big Annual Appreciation Lunch in Dinuba

AG Retailer Appreciates its Customers

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

Farmers, PCAs and other stakeholders in Ag packed the Veterans Memorial Building In Dinuba, and all had something in common: They were being appreciated by Reedley based Gar Tootelian, which for 70 years has been serving the Central San Joaquin Valley including Fresno, Kings, Kern, Madera, and Tulare Counties.

Big Crowd at Lunch during Gar Tootelian Customer Appreciation Day

“It’s all about cultivating and nurturing our small communities for the next generation. A lot of us grew up together. A lot of us went to school together. Our children, our grandchildren are growing up in those same communities.,” said Karen Musson, a partner with Gar Tootelian. “We share the same values and morals. It’s about nurturing for the next generation. Our legacy is the preservation of those legacy farmers that are continuing to farm and do the work to feed the world, and we’re just so pleased to be their partners.”

Musson noted that it’s just such an exciting time in agriculture in general. There is a growing population, more significant needs, more conscientious consumers, more than ever before. “They’re worried about their health and nutrition, about the health and nutrition of their children and grandchildren, so it’s a very exciting time to be a part of an industry that provides such a vital commodity to the world,” Musson said.

Of course, California farmers produce the food that people love to eat and should be in more abundance. “We do it the most sustainable, the most environmentally way. All of our of practices, of course, are with the consumer in mind at every step of the way, whether it be about the preservation of the land or the recycling or the water or just the nutritional commodity that we’re producing,” noted Musson. “We’re always more conscious about producing more with less and having less of an impact.”

Greg Musson, President and CEO of Gar Tootelian, hands out cookies during the Company’s Customer Appreciation Day Nov. 1 2018 in Dinuba

Gar is celebrating its 70th Anniversary as a chemical and fertilizer retailer. “We have the next generation. We’re already cultivating them. I can tell you that both generations love to eat as much as I do, and they love those fresh fruits and vegetables that we bring home in the evening.

California farmers are sustainable. They take care of the land and are very conscientious of what they do every day.

“The fact that somebody would think that they would purposely use unsustainable practices when their investment, everything they have in their legacy is in their land, there is nothing more valuable to them than preserving that for the next generation and the next generation and the next generation,” Musson said.

“For somebody in California to enter farming today is quite an undertaking, so the preservation of the land, the sustainability practices, the conscientious practices of conservation of the soil or water or whatever the inputs are, the plant nutrition of the commodity, and the inputs. That their legacy. Their land is part of their legacy. Family, land, and legacy are all connected for the next generation,” said Musson.

The company has been honored several times on the national scale.

In 2017 GAR was recognized for the Change Award, presented by Habitat for Humanity for its distinguished record of decisive leadership, entrepreneurship and service to the agricultural industry and the community.

In 2016 GAR was Honored by its national peers for the National Ag Retailer of the Year.

In 2015, GAR received the top honor for the Best North America for its environmentally safe facility and community outreach efforts.

In 2013 GAR received the Fresno Chamber and Baker, Peterson and Franklin Ag Business Award.

In 2009 it was recognized at the Top Employer in Central California.

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George Soares on How DPR Sees Cannabis

Soares: DPR Interpretation of Cannabis is Wrong

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

George Soares, a partner in Kahn, Soares, and Conway, a law firm based in Sacramento, recently spoke about the issues surrounding cannabis. He is managing partner of the firm and represents several agricultural commodity and trade groups in Sacramento.

He spoke at the recent California Associations of Pest Control Advisors (CAPCA) annual meeting in Anaheim. He touched on the fact that the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) is not thinking of the public in their handling of crop protection materials on cannabis.

“The people of California have decided that cannabis can be consumed by the public,” Soares said. “The question is how to grow the cannabis under the regulation.

Currently, the chemicals and fertilizers used to grow the cannabis are all illegal.

“So far, the solution is that we make it legal by stretching the interpretation of the law,” he explained.

By law, pesticides have to be labeled for use, and eligible crops must be on the label.

“The pesticides being used are being interpreted in ways to make it legal to use on cannabis,” Soares said. “Think about the damage that is doing to the legal structure of what we all adhere to.”

“DPR would never let a pesticide be used off-label, but when it comes to cannabis, it looks like the government is willing to let it slide,” he said.

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Labor Challenges in Sweet Potatoes

Challenges Are High Demand for Innovation

By Mikenzi Meyers Associate Editor

Harvest for sweet potatoes is in full swing, which means long hours and high labor expenses for producers. Scott Stoddard, of the UC Cooperative Extension in Merced County, knows the difficult task at hand in managing time and money.

With new overtime laws in place, the extended work days during harvest can be costly to farmers. With insight into several operations, Stoddard explained, “Everybody is crunched and trying to get as much as they possibly can get done in a day.”

However, this isn’t the only issue farmers are facing, because although hourly pay is on the rise, labor is becoming more difficult to find.

Stoddard said, “I had a guy tell me last week when I was harvesting sweet potatoes that it is getting a little bit harder to find labor.”

All of these factors, he concluded, are driving forces for mechanical innovation.

Innovation and new pieces of equipment are continuing to “shake up” the industry, Stoddard noted. In a typical operation, it takes two passes in sweet potato fields to eliminate excess vines leading up to harvest. Stoddard said that the new machine is capable of removing vines pre-harvest in just one pass.

“It helps get rid of the extra little vines that are still left over after you flail mow the crop,” he explained.

Although this machine is costly, according to Stoddard, it is estimated to save about one person per harvester, which in the big picture can add up.

“It’s a little tweaking of the system, which will make sweet potato harvest more labor efficient.”

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