HMC Farms Vaccinates Farm Employees

HMC Farms Delivers COVID-19 Vaccinations to Agriculture Workers

 

HMC Farms, based in Kingsburg,  has announced the successful distribution of 450 COVID-19 vaccines to agricultural employees in California’s Central Valley.

HMC Farms recently hosted vaccination clinics that distributed hundreds of COVID-19 vaccines to employees of HMC and several nearby businesses in the ag industry. More vaccinations are on the way as the first recipients near the second dose time frame.

HMC Farms is a family-owned and operated business, and the McClarty family values their employees as an extension of that family. Sarah McClarty, Chief Financial Officer of HMC Farms, stated at the event, “To watch every employee in our organization who wants a vaccine receive one over the last two days has been the biggest win in what has been an extremely challenging twelve months. Partnerships with the California Farmworker Foundation and Elite Medical that were in place prior to the pandemic have played a huge part in HMC’s continued efforts to support our employees’ health and well-being, and are what made this week’s event possible.”

At the vaccination event, it was clear to see that people were relieved to have vaccines available to them. Several employees were seen having their photos taken while receiving the vaccine to share with friends and family. “This is such a relief,” said one employee as she received her shot. Another employee commented, “The distribution process for vaccines has been confusing. It’s so helpful that HMC was willing and able to bring vaccinations directly to us.”

The past year has been difficult for people and industries around the globe, and the ag industry has felt the weight of keeping employees safe and healthy while maintaining the food supply. Speaking about the partnership with the California Farmworker Foundation which helped make the vaccination even possible, Harold McClarty, owner and Chief Executive Officer of HMC Farms, expressed gratitude. “We have all struggled during these very difficult times,” said McClarty. “We are very grateful and supportive of all the work that this organization has done for farmworkers. It gives us some hope that we will persevere and continue to move forward with our work to support the nation’s food supply.”

HMC Farms is located in the heart of California’s Central Valley, and has been family-owned and operated since 1887. All of their produce is grown sustainably, protecting the land, water, and people who make it possible to deliver delicious peaches, plums, nectarines, and table grapes year after year. To learn more, visit https://www.hmcfarms.com/ 

 

Farm Workforce Modernization Act Reintroduced

California Fresh Fruit Association Supports H.R. 1537

 

The California Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA) applauds the reintroduction of H.R. 1537 “Farm Workforce Modernization Act” which will create a workforce solution for the nation’s agriculture industry.

California agriculture represents $50 billion in production value and is a leader in the nation’s exports. However, securing a reliable workforce in California and across the nation has remained a constant struggle within the industry. With the introduction of H.R. 1537, there is an optimism that these concerns will finally be addressed.

CFFA President Ian LeMay stated, “The ability to have a reliable, legal workforce represents one of the most important steps forward our industry has made in over 30 years. H.R. 1537 will address critical needs within agriculture by providing a pathway to legal status for current undocumented employees, along with reform to the current H-2A program,” said Ian LeMay, CFFA President.

“There is no doubt the agricultural industry has waited many years for an immigration reform bill to address the labor concerns amongst the many different commodities produced here domestically so that it can continue to provide the nation and world with a safe and reliable food supply long into the future,” LeMay said.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act that was originally passed out of the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress will make significant changes to address the needs of our current agricultural workforce and guestworker program. The Association will continue to engage in the bill negotiations to ensure the California fresh fruit industry’s concerns are addressed.

New H-2A Wage Rates In Effect

Adverse Effect Wage Rates (AEWR) for 2021 In Effect Immediately

By Western Growers Staff

On Feb. 23, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor published the Adverse Effect Wage Rates (AEWR) for 2021. The new AEWRs go into effect immediately, meaning any H-2A workers or U.S. workers in corresponding employment, get an immediate pay raise.

The new wage rates are identical to those projected here:

  • California’s AEWR is now $16.05 per hour;
  • Arizona’s and New Mexico’s AEWR is now $13.67 per hour; and
  • Colorado’s AEWR is now $14.82 per hour.
  • California had the largest increase in the nation — jumping $1.28/hour, or 8.7%, above 2020.

The AEWRs are the minimum rates the DOL has determined must be offered and paid by employers to H-2A workers and workers in corresponding employment based on a particular occupation and area.

The DOL was ordered to publish new AEWRs this month after a U.S. District Court granted an injunction, effectively killing the rule that would have frozen the 2020 AEWRs for two years. The rule would have also adjusted how wages would be determined after 2023.

Wage rates were scheduled to be adjusted based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Cost Index, instead of the Farm Labor Survey.  The UFW has also asked the court to award backpay to H-2A employees who have worked under the 2020 wage freeze since the injunction was issued. That question remains unsettled.

All employers with H-2A contracts now in effect should adjust their payroll systems to reflect the new AEWR. Western Growers H-2A Services has begun filing H-2A applications reflecting the new AEWRs in filings on behalf of its clients.

Less Almond Harvest Dust

Semi Off-Ground Almond Harvesting Leads to Less Harvest Dust

By Tim Hammerich with the Ag Information Network

Almonds have traditionally been harvested by shaking the tree and sweeping the nuts into a windrow. Many are now looking for ways to skip this sweeper pass by harvesting the almonds off ground. One advocate of off-ground harvesting is Scott Hermann of TOL, Inc in Tulare. They sell equipment to make off-ground harvesting possible.

“We’ve proven that we have a machine that can right now in the orchards that exist in California, shake those almonds, catch the almonds and put it right down into a windrow and therefore eliminating the need to sweep during harvest,” noted Hermann

Hermann says this approach not only saves growers from having to make the sweeper pass, but it also helps the industry accomplish one of their Orchard 2025 goals.

“The Almond Board of California has set up a goal. And that goal is to reduce the amount of dust generated during harvest by 50%. And they want to accomplish this by the year 2025. Well, we’re very confident with the Twin D shakers that we can not only meet that 50% reduction goal, but we can by far surpass it. And we believe we can reduce the dust by 80 to 90%. Again, through the ability to eliminate the sweeping,” he said.

Hermann said the orchard requirements are that they are hedged and that there is 19” of available trunk space before the first scaffold.

“So that’s another big advantage. We can fit our machines into the orchards as they are grown today. We do not require significant changes in the planting dimensions or even the pruning style of the trees,” noted Hermann.

 

 

CALOSHA Unfairly Insists that Ag Increase Prevention of COVID Spread

Agriculture and Business Coalition Disappointed in Cal/OSHA Emergency Standards Preliminary Injunction Ruling

 

In response to the decision of the Superior Court to deny motions for preliminary injunctions restraining the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board from enforcing the Emergency Temporary Standards, a coalition of agricultural and business groups issued the following statement:

“The health and safety of farm and ranch employees is the top priority for agricultural employers. Throughout California, farmers and ranchers have adapted their operations to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. In addition, agricultural organizations have advocated with local, state, and federal elected officials and agencies to prioritize access to vaccines for farm and ranch employees; individual farms and agricultural businesses have sponsored vaccination clinics, with more already scheduled.

“The court’s decision only complicates the ongoing work by family farms and other essential businesses to maintain safe, plentiful food supplies in the wake of COVID-19. The Cal/OSHA Board failed to justify the need for emergency intervention, despite their own staff report that the emergency standards were not necessary to protect employee health.

“With this decision, the court failed to properly exercise its oversight on this critically important issue, and we are now exploring our legal options to ensure the safe and timely delivery of food and essential services to all Californians. In the meantime, we will work with Cal/OSHA to assure the agency better understands the essential businesses and agricultural operations it regulates, and to inject practicality into the Emergency Temporary Standards as it develops forthcoming policies and guidance.”

Hemp in the Produce Department?

Hemp as a Leafy Green

 

By Tim Hammerich, with The Ag Information Network

You’ve probably heard of a wide variety of uses for hemp, but you may not have heard of this one. Researchers down in Yuma County Arizona are experimenting with hemp as a leafy green, similar to kale or spinach. Robert Masson with the Yuma County Cooperative Extension, says he sees real commercialization potential.

“We planted it just like how we would plant baby leaf spinach. So we had really high planting densities, 3 million seeds per acre. And that makes it grow up and etiolates it so that there’s a lot of tenderness in the leaves,” said Masson. “And, you know, we just wanted a similar comparison to spinach. Because we figured it would be something similar where you’d plant, sprinkler up, we definitely sprinkled it, and then flood irrigated it to complete. We planted it on big beds, 84-inch beds, just like we do baby leaf spinach.”

To be clear though, these are not the same varieties used to produce CBD or THC.

“We are specifically looking at the industrial grain and fiber varieties. So these are used to make rope and to make clothing and also to grow seeds. These are not varieties that produce high levels of cannabinoids. So these are no risks to the grower of going hot for THC,” noted Masson.

Masson says there are regulations in progress that could allow for state-by-state legalization of hemp for this purpose.

Dibble’s Law for Spraying–Go Slow

Go Slow for Best Spray Coverage

By Patrick Cavanaugh, with the Ag Information Network

It’s called Dibble’s Law and it’s named after Dr. Jack Dibble, a retired UC Berkeley and UC Kearney Agricultural and Extension Center Research Entomologist.

He has worked primarily in tree crops and a big part of his career was on spray techniques and he is well known for Dibble’s Law, which states the best spray coverage is when the driver goes less than two miles per hour down the row.

“We found out right from the outset and continued to prove this with growers and commercial spray applicator companies that speed of travel is very important,” said Dibble.

“The faster you go, the whippier the spray gets, and the spray that is released must be pushed up into the tree by the spray behind it,” said Dibble.

“If the driver is going too fast, there is no spray pushing the spray you just released. Therefore, you lose control of the spray project because you are not getting coverage in the centers at the top of the tree.”

spray tank mixes“By going two miles per hour or less, the spray released will be pushed up into the tree by the spray behind it. It just pushes it up,” said Dibble.

“It’s hard for a grower to do that because it’s a dirty, wet job,” noted Dibble.

However, returning to the orchard for another spray is even more costly. Of course, lack of good coverage will lead to more pest damage before you get back at it.

Speaking of spraying, growers should assess the diseases present in their orchards and select materials carefully. Not all fungicides are equally effective against all diseases.

Yes, Ants Are Amazing!

Why Ants Are Amazing: UC Davis Programs

“Ants are amazing because they’re way more diverse than most people realize,” says UC Davis entomology doctoral candidate Jill Oberski. “Some are huge, some are tiny, some are blue or green, and a lot of them have crazy spines. There are ants that run farms with crops and livestock, and ants that can build bridges and survive floods, and ants that live in the highest treetops and never touch the ground.”

That’s just some of the information showcased at the UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Month program on Saturday, Feb. 13 when three doctoral students in the Phil Ward lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, took the helm.  Oberski, a fourth-year doctoral student, and Ziv Lieberman, a first-year doctoral student, spoke about the diversity of ants and field questions, followed by doctoral candidate Zach Griebenow’s presentation on his research.

Then on Saturday, Feb. 20, from 11 a.m. to noon, Professor Phil Ward will host “All About Ants,” billed as a “fun and lively question and answer session.” The programs are free and family-friendly. See http://biodiversitymuseumday.ucdavis.edu/live-programs.html for the Zoom links.

Zach Griebenow
Griebenow grew up in rural Kentucky and received his bachelor’s degree in entomology in 2017 from The Ohio State University, undertaking undergraduate research with distinction on species boundaries in the Puerto Rican fauna of the subterranean termite Heterotermes.

“As so everyone in the Ward lab, I study how different groups of ants are related to one another, and why they look and behave the way that they do,” he said. “Specifically I study an obscure group called the Leptanillinae, which have no common name. As ants go, they are strange, and we know very little about them. So far, I have confidently teased out the major evolutionary relationships among leptanilline ants, but there is a lot more work to be done, particularly in comprehending the often bizarre structural modifications seen in the male Leptanillinae (legs that look like toothbrushes, etc.).”

Ziv Lieberman
Lieberman, born and raised in California, studied at the College of Marin before transferring to UC Davis to major in evolution, ecology and biodiversity, with a minor in insect evolution and ecology. “Prior to UC Davis, I spent several years working abroad for the California Academy of Science documenting historical ant specimens,” Lieberman said. “At the end of my undergrad, I published my first paper, a revision of the poorly-understood (and very cute) African species of the ant genus Discothyrea.”

In the Ward lab, Lieberman studies “ant evolution, specifically focusing on connecting evolutionary relationships (the ant ‘family tree’) with anatomy, using a combination of next-generation imaging techniques and large-scale genetic analyses. In particular, I am interested in describing and comparing internal anatomical features which are usually ignored, and understanding how these traits contribute to biodiversity.”

Jill Oberski
Oberski grew up in Minnesota. “I was fascinated by insects from a very young age,” she said. “I attended Macalester College, spent a few confused years on a pre-med track, and ultimately discovered a career in entomology was feasible and worth pursuing. This has led me to Phil Ward’s ant systematics lab at UC Davis, where I’m now a PhD candidate.”

“My research centers on the ant genus Dorymyrmex, which is commonly found all over the Americas,” Oberski said. “Even though they’re extremely common (Davis itself is home to two species!), we have no idea how many species there really are. In addition to discovering and naming these species, I’m really interested in biogeography and ancient history: Where did Dorymyrmex originate? How are the North American species related to the South American species? And how did they disperse before the isthmus of Panama was connected?”

Professor Phil Ward
Professor Ward teaches California insect diversity, insect taxonomy and field ecology, and introductory biology (the tree of life). His research interests include systematics, biogeography and evolution of ants; ant-plant mutualisms; phylogeny and speciation. He holds a bachelor of science degree in biology from Queens University, Canada (1973) and a doctorate in zoology from the University of Sydney, Australia (1979).

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 10th annual UC Davis Biodiversity Museum program is all virtual this year via webinars and pre-recorded presentations and takes place throughout the month of February. The science-based event traditionally occurs on only one day–the Saturday of Presidents’ Weekend, when families and friends gather on campus to learn first-hand about the UC Davis museums and collections.

This year’s biodiversity event is showcasing 12 museums or collections:

  • Anthropology Museum
  • Arboretum and Public Garden
  • Bohart Museum of Entomology
  • Botanical Conservatory
  • California Raptor Center
  • Center for Plant Diversity
  • Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven
  • Nematode Collection
  • Marine Invertebrate Collection
  • Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology
  • Paleontology Collection
  • Phaff Yeast Culture Collection

For more information and the schedule, access these two formats on the UC Davis Biodiversity program website: (1) live talks and demonstrations at https://bit.ly/3d2p1rI and (2) pre-recorded talks and activities at https://bit.ly/3a4Q2Zw.

To help support the Biodiversity Museum event, contributions are being accepted through a month-long crowdfunding campaign program at https://crowdfund.ucdavis.edu/project/24310.

Initial Water Allocation at 5 percent!

Westlands Water District Responds to Reclamation’s Five Percent Allocation for South-of-Delta Repayment and Water Service Contractors 

 

In response to today’s U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) announcement that the initial allocation for South-of-Delta agricultural repayment and water service contractors is 5%, Tom Birmingham, Westlands general manager, today issued the following statement:

 

“Today’s announcement is no surprise given current hydrologic conditions and regulations that restrict operations of the Central Valley Project, but it is devastating nonetheless for farmers and communities across the region that rely on water from the CVP and jobs created by irrigated agriculture. It’s also yet another reminder of the urgency behind our continued work with policymakers, regulators and the farming community to maximize water use efficiency, improve climate resilience, and ensure greater water supply reliability now and in the future.”

 

Westlands is among the South-of-Delta contractors that, together, hold contracts with Reclamation for approximately 3 million acre-feet (977 billion gallons) of water. Over the last 10 years, Westlands and other South-of-Delta agricultural repayment and water service contractors have received a 100% allocation of water only once and have received a 0% allocation two times. On average, these contractors have received less than a 40% allocation of water over the past decade.

 

Recent studies have shown that reductions in surface water availability in the Central Valley can cause approximately 194,000 acres of land to be taken out of production, more than $1.3 billion in lost crop revenue and thousands of job losses. Lack of surface water also increases reliance on groundwater and can have negative impacts on drinking water availability and quality – particularly in disadvantaged communities.

 

To maximize water use efficiency, Westlands’ water distribution system is comprised of approximately 1,100 miles of buried pipeline and is outfitted with over 3,000 water meters. Since 2017, Westlands has invested $14.2 million in its water infrastructure system, which measures every drop of water and minimizes losses caused by seepage and evaporation.

“With the announcement of this year’s initial allocation, Westlands remains more committed than ever to ensuring that every drop of water available to the District is put to beneficial use,” Birmingham added. “A 5% allocation, although better than zero, will result in a human and economic disaster for families on the West side of the Valley and could result in major strains for the nation’s food supply. We urge Governor Newsom to move swiftly to mitigate the impacts of today’s announcement and help prevent the disastrous impacts of past droughts by streamlining transfers of available water, immediately reengaging on negotiations of the voluntary agreements and supporting critical water infrastructure investments to help ensure we can continue managing water efficiently, even as we face the consequences of a changing climate.”

 

Past studies indicate that statewide economic losses as a result of California’s 2014-2016 drought totaled $3.8 billion, with thousands of jobs lost in the Central Valley alone and many rural drinking water wells running dry. Furthermore, parts of the Central Valley Project infrastructure that carry water to Westlands have lost up to 30% of their conveyance capacity over time due to subsidence; combined with higher operational and power costs, this results in millions of dollars in higher costs to convey less water through the system every year. Westlands is among a broad coalition of water agencies supporting both state and federal legislation to address this issue.

Off Ground Almond Harvesting Studied

Reducing Dust in Almond Harvesting is Big Goal of the Industry

By Patrick Cavanaugh with the Ag Infomation Network

One major proposal is off-ground harvesting with the almonds being caught in a catch-frame, and then sent the processing from there.

Dr. Patrick Brown, a professor in the Department of Plant Sciences at UC Davis. He noted that the term off-ground harvesting is also known as alternative harvesting.

“The benefits from alternative harvesting are many fold, certainly soil health, and orchard sustainability, but in addition, reduce pests and disease interaction,” Brown said.

Brown said it will also reduce navel orangeworm damage as well as a problem known as Hull rot.

“There’s no negative impact on the quality of the fruit or the kernel nor the yield, the major issues to be resolved is how to dry the fruit effectively though about the information that has been presented, suggests it’s actually quite cheap and effective to dry the almonds mechanically,” noted Brown. “The big issue, I suppose, for most growers would be investments in new machinery and the optimization of their orchards for these practices. I think off ground has to go with early harvesting, like two weeks prior to what’s currently being done”

And we asked Brown why would a grower want to harvest earlier?

“Because you can. And because of the reason we were harvesting, when we are, is simply the convenience of getting the nuts as dry as possible on the tree before harvest. It was not for any particular horticultural benefit,” Brown said.

Still, mass adoption of off-ground harvesting is decades away.