Produce Passes All Residue Testing in 2017

FDA Produce Residue Sampling “Once Again” Verifies Safety

Last week the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its 2017 pesticide residue sampling data results. FDA concluded: “The latest set of results demonstrate once again that the majority of the foods we test are well below the federal limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency.”

Note the term “once again” in FDA’s statement. They used it because government residue sampling data year after year reaffirms the safety of our food and the exceptionally high level of compliance among farmers with laws and regulations covering the use of organic and conventional pesticides.

Let’s get a little technical for a moment and focus on how FDA residue sampling is protective of consumers. FDA employs a three-fold strategy to enforce the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) tolerances or safety standards for pesticide residues.
If you haven’t heard – September is National Fruit and Vegetable month. Yes, it is time to celebrate the only food group health experts and nutritionists agree we should all eat more of every day for better health and a longer life.
While decades of studies have shown the nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables are overwhelming and significant, the safety of both organic and conventional produce is also impressive. Government sampling data shows an over 99% compliance rate among farmers with the laws and regulations required for pesticide applications on organic and conventional fruit and vegetable crops. This led the United States Department of Agriculture to state that: “The U.S. food supply is among the safest in the world.”

Many health organizations are promoting National Fruit and Vegetable month to remind consumers about the importance of increasing consumption – only one in 10 of us eat enough of these nutrient-packed foods each day.

However, studies show a growing barrier to consumption is fear-based messaging which inaccurately calls into question the safety of the more affordable and accessible fruits and veggies. This messaging is predominantly carried by the same activist groups year after year despite studies which show that “prescriptions” for fruits and veggies could reduce health care costs by $40 billion annually. Or that 20,000 cancer cases could be prevented each year.

2019-09-23T15:06:22-07:00September 23rd, 2019|

2019 Strawberry Harvest is Brisk

Labor Tight, But Incentive Programs Keep Berries Harvested

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

The 2019 strawberry harvest is going strong, and field employees are busy picking at the height the ripeness. Carolyn O’Donnell, a communication director for the California Strawberry Commission based in Watsonville, said lots of hands are harvesting the berries.

Carolyn O'Donnell

Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director, California Strawberry Commission

“We need to harvest the berries when ready,” O’Donnell said. “We can’t leave the ripe berries on the plant a few extra days, and we can’t harvest them early and then ripen them in some other modified atmosphere. They have to be picked when they’re ready to go. So, timing is part of it, as well as just having an adequate supply.”

O’Donnell explained how growers are handling the tight labor supply.

“It’s been a challenge. The growers have been doing all kinds of different incentive programs. Definitely, wages have been raised, different benefits have been offered, but we do find that growers are still struggling to keep up with their harvest,” O’Donnell said.

And when those harvesters out there picking the strawberries, they want to make the money, and they are in fact running back and forth with their trays to refill them.

“We are definitely in a busy harvest season right now. And so with a quick harvest comes incentive pay. And harvest workers will be hustling a little bit more. There are lots of berries to pick. There is money to be made,” O’Donnell said.

2019-07-08T16:37:07-07:00July 8th, 2019|

Strawberry Commission Oversees Valuable Crop

Strawberries in California

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Strawberries are California’s sixth most valuable crop which makes strawberry research a valuable tool for California farmers.  Mercy Olmsted is senior manager of production research and education at the California Strawberry Commission. Growers in the California Strawberry Commission have invested over $28 million into research. These include areas such as diseases, insects, and weeds—all in an effort to help solve production challenges and boost economic gains.

“We are a commission that’s funded by the growers, and so we do research that meets their research priorities,” Olmsted said.

So far, $13 million has been invested in research to explore alternatives to methyl bromide. The commission says that strawberry farmers continue to invest in researching fumigant alternatives.

“We also work with researchers. We have a robust grant program, and we work with those researchers in order to assist them in their field trials,” Olmsted explained.

Some of their researchers are in house, and others are from the USDA and university researchers.

“We develop training programs for our growers because we work for the growers. We can contact them as often as we need to, and we are able to see how things and research priorities might change in the industry,” Olmsted said. “There are a number of facilities and a board that helps direct research priorities and any necessary changes.”

For more information on strawberry research being done by the California Strawberry Commission visit calstrawberry.com.

2021-05-12T11:05:07-07:00January 2nd, 2019|

Ag Leaders Discuss AB 1066 Consequences

Ag Leaders on AB 1066 Consequences

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director and Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

California ag leaders hoped that Governor Brown would see how the AB 1066 overtime bill would actually hurt farmworkers and veto it. Now that the Governor has signed it, the following ag leaders weigh in on AB 1066 consequences: Norm Groot, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau; Bryan Van Groningen, field manager for Van Groningen & Sons Farms; and Anthony Raimondo, a Fresno-based attorney who has been representing farmers and farm labor contractors for over 15 years, among them.

Norm Groot

Norm Groot anticipated, “The end result of AB 1066 is a big move to mechanized harvesting, which probably means a change in some of the crops that we’re growing here simply because currently we can’t harvest lettuce or strawberries or some of the other vegetable crops by mechanized means. Lawmakers are forcing the hand of the growers to move into crops that are less labor intensive and thus, save the [labor] cost,” said Groot.

Groot noted the inaccurate AB 1066 assumption—that an increase in overtime hours and pay will result from its passage. “We will probably see their hours cut back to the eight hours a day and forty hours per week,” he explained, as stipulated in the law. “Growers will adjust their planning schedules to the amount of laborers that they think they have available for harvest. It’s not an automatic given that we’re going to see all these paychecks increase, simply because we’re putting overtime at more than eight hours a day or after forty hours a week,” Groot said.

Groot added that farmworkers are not in favor of losing 33% of their income at this point. “I think overall, the unions have been supportive of this particular change, but the unions do not represent the majority of the laborers or field workers at this point,” he said.

“I think if you were to ask the average field worker whether he wants to work ten hours a day and sixty hours a week, he would probably say yes. Field workers want that income. They know they work in a seasonal business; they have to earn their income when they can,” he explained.

Bryan Van Groningen

Bryan Van Groningen

Bryan Van Groningen

“Our farmworkers, our employees, love to put in the extra hours because this is the time that they’re making wages. Our company is accustomed to paying overtime if that’s what it requires,” said Van Groningen, “and the majority of our workers are already satisfied with the existing compensation structure.”

But Van Groningen noted the problem lies in what is considered overtime. With a shorter workday, overtime compensation rates will kick in much earlier than in the past, which will end up being a tremendous cost to the employer. “That’s going to cause our farm to mechanize a little bit more to try to get through the harvest more bit quickly because [the cost] is going to become too big of a burden,” he said.

Growers want to help their employees as best they can, but Van Groningen predicts reduced hours may become a necessity. “It’s just smart business. We don’t want to cut hours, but if we’re forced to because our bottom line is starting to become an issue, that’s what we’ll have to seriously consider,” he said.

Anthony Raimondo

Anthony Raimondo

Anthony Raimondo

Anthony Raimondo foresaw the effects of AB 1066 could put California at a disadvantage in the global marketplace. “At the very least,” Raimondo said, “employers will be forced to evaluate where they can cut production costs.”

“The increased overtime in some industries is going to drive automation,” said Raimondo. “So you are going to lose jobs because now it’s worth it for people to do the research and development to have more automation, more machine-harvested crops and less labor.”

Raimondo also expects some employers to add more H-2A temporary agricultural guest workers to make sure hours stay low enough to prevent their costs from increasing. “In the end, this is really going to cost farmworkers in terms of their real wages and it creates a massive economic disadvantage for California’s agricultural industry,” he said.

Policies like AB 1066 become increasingly problematic as the global agricultural industry continues to become more competitive. “Increasingly, agriculture has become a global marketplace in which we compete against countries that do not maintain the same labor standards nor the same environmental standards that we maintain, so our agricultural industry continues to remain at an economic disadvantage with the rest of the world,” noted Raimondo.


Featured photo: Norm Groot, Monterey County Farm Bureau executive director

2016-09-14T12:51:49-07:00September 14th, 2016|

Governor Signs AB 1066 Overtime Bill for Farmworkers

Governor Signs AB 1066 With Good Intentions

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director and Laurie Greene, Editor

 

TODAY, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1066, the overtime bill for farmworkers, despite pushback from agricultural groups and farmworkers in the state. Ian LeMay, director of member relations & communications of the Fresno-based California Fresh Fruit Association, anticipates that not only will farmers in the state lose, but farmworkers, exports, and possibly consumers will lose as well. 

For years, California farm employees accrued overtime pay only after working a 10-hour day, instead of an 8-hour day, like most other employees in California. AB 1066 changes the overtime rules for farmworkers by gradually lowering overtime thresholds in steps over the next four years so farmworkers will eventually earn overtime after an 8-hour day.

The California farm industry has appreciated the prior overtime policy, according to LeMay, because agriculture is not a typical 52-week type of job. The workload of farming ebbs and flows with the seasons, weather, cultural practices and tasks.Farmworkers

For instance, harvesting of crops such as strawberries, citrus and table grapes, normally occurs during short 2- to 3-week periods in the state and is accompanied by an increase in demand for labor. As one might expect, the need for labor declines during non-harvest and non-planting phases, to the extent that farmworkers may endure periods of no work, and hence, no pay. So farmworkers have appreciated the opportunity to work extra hours and earn overtime during busier phases.

Labor costs for California growers of all fresh fruit, avocados and many vegetable crops will be most affected by this change. “This is going to have a very, very big impact on crops that require a high degree of labor like our stone fruit, table grapes and the rest,” said LeMay, “It’s definitely going to change the way our members have to approach doing business,” he said.

“When you compare it to the other states in the union that we are going to have to compete with,” LeMay elaborated, “when you take into account recent changes in minimum wage, piece-rate compensation, increasing farm regulations and now overtime, it’s going to be very difficult to compete not only in a domestic market, but also internationally. That’s the disappointing part about this.”

LeMay also explained that over the last 40 years, the California legislature has crafted labor law to create the highest worker standards in the U.S. “California was the only state in the union that had a daily threshold for overtime of [only] 10 hours per day, and we were one of four in the union that had a weekly threshold for overtime of [only] 60 hours. So in terms of ag overtime, California was already the gold standard.”

And, although lawmakers intended AB 1066 to help farmworkers, LeMay noted, “ultimately, the measure will impact farmworkers the most because farmers in the number one Ag state will find a way to keep its bottom line from eroding any further.

“California farmers will need to solve the puzzle of how to achieve the same amount of work in fewer hours per day,” said LeMay. “They will consider hiring double crews, increasing mechanization in packing facilities, orchards and vineyards, and reducing farm acreage to match their workforce. Or, for those commodities that require increased labor, you could see a transition to commodities like nut crops that use less labor.”

LeMay explained that during down periods on the farm, farmworkers generally collect unemployment, which is based on gross annual income. Now, by giving the farmer an incentive to reduce worker hours, farmworkers’ unemployment compensation may decrease as well.

Furthermore, for the consumer who desires fresh local food from small farms, the phase-in schedule AB 1066 provides to smaller companies is actually a competitive disadvantage. “While AB 1066 allows small farmers—those with fewer than 25 employeesmore time to phase in changes,” LeMay asked, “why would a farmworker stay at small farm under the prolonged 60-hour per week overtime threshold rule, when he or she could work at a larger farm under the phased-in 40-hour per week threshold?”

ab-1066-provisions

 

Are consumers willing to pay for increased labor costs on the farm? “As the saying goes,” LeMay quipped, “generally farmers aren’t price makers, they are price takers. Consumers are usually unwilling to pay extra for their produce, so farmers usually have to absorb increased costs.”

“Economically,” LeMay summarized, “the legislature has taken us from high labor standards to economically disadvantaging farmers and farmworkers. Lawmakers are not paying enough attention to keeping California companies viable, sustainable and successful.”

2016-09-12T18:40:13-07:00September 12th, 2016|

Celebrate Labor Day With California Strawberries!

Add California Strawberries to Your Labor Day Event

 

By Laurie Greene, Editor

 

Many people will be out and about with an extra day off on Labor Day, trying to get that last swallow of summer. They’ll crowd beaches, lakes, parks and backyard BBQs. What better way to celebrate the achievements of American workers than to add fresh-picked California strawberries to the menu?

Carolyn O'Donnell

Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director, California Strawberry Commission

 

“Any holiday can be celebrated with strawberries as they are available year-round,” said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director of the California Strawberry Commission in Watsonville. “Strawberries are one of the most popular fruits around. They are sweet but low in sugar, and they are quite nutritious. People are often surprised to find out that having just eight medium strawberries gives you more vitamin C than eating an orange,” she said.

 

“Grown year-round, right now strawberries are coming mostly from the Salinas-Watsonville area on the Central Coast and also in the Santa Maria area,” noted O’Donnell. “As we get more into the fall there will be less coming from the northern sections and more from the Ventura County area to the south. Eventually strawberries will come out of Orange County and Northern San Diego County. The crop will roll back up the coast again with the New Year. By next April or May, strawberries will be coming mostly from the Watsonville area again,” O’Donnell explained.

generational_small strawberries

 

O’Donnell said that strawberry growers are very dedicated to growing the best possible product they can for their customers. “Their strawberries are actually often a crop of opportunity. A number of our farmers started as field workers and were able to work their way up to owning a farm because you can produce a lot of fruit and make a good living on a small amount of land.”

 

O’Donnell said supplies should be plentiful in the grocery store. “We probably have more fruit this time of year than usual probably because rain this past winter delayed harvest, which was good news. Now we’re just working our way along. Folks in the Watsonville areas are also beginning to start preparing their other pieces of fallow ground so that they can plant around Thanksgiving and produce next year’s crop,” she said.

 

Photos: Courtesy of California Strawberry Commission

2016-10-06T16:04:28-07:00September 4th, 2016|

Celebrate National Ice Cream Month!

Celebrate National Ice Cream Month with California Ice Cream and Flavors!

By Lauren Dutra, NAFB Summer Intern and Assistant Editor

Jennifer Giambroni, director of communications, California Milk Advisory Board

Jennifer Giambroni, director of communications, California Milk Advisory Board

First established in 1984 by Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, National Ice Cream Month was scheduled for the month of July, with the third Sunday of the month designated as National Ice Cream Day.

Jennifer Giambroni, director of communications, California Milk Advisory Board, explained why Californians, in particular, have so much to celebrate during National Ice Cream Month. “As the number one ice cream state,” she said, “we produce 126 million gallons of ice cream a year.”

Thats a lot of scoops!

California also leads the nation in milk production, and 99 percent of dairies in the state are family-owned. Including milk production on farms and milk processing, the California dairy industry, supports about 190,000 jobs in the California economy and contributed about $21 billion in economic value added in 2014, according to “Contributions of the California Dairy Industry to the California Economy,” by the University of California Agricultural Issues Center (May 14, 2015). 

Blueberry Ice Cream Float

Blueberry Ice Cream Float (Source: California Milk Advisory Board, Kristina Vanni Blogger, 2012)

Ice cream, being both timeless and innovative, has evolved in flavors and varieties over the years, according to Giambroni, while still holding true to the traditional treat you grew up with as a kid. “Ice cream is an important category that represents a lot of the milk produced on California’s more than 1,400 family dairy farms and carry the Real California Milk seal,” she noted.

“We’re seeing adult-friendly milkshakes with the addition of spirits, ice cream sandwiches made with more than cookies, and sundaes with everything from balsamic vinegar reductions to red bean paste,” Giambroni elaborated. Other new ice cream trends include hyper-indulgent flavor combinations, including nuts and fruits grown in California, and “better for you” versions with probiotics, varying levels of fat and sugar, added calcium, lactose-free, and different kinds of oils. “We’re loving the olive oil and walnut oil ice creams for their subtle flavors,” Giambroni noted.


Approximately 12 pounds of Real California Milk are used to make just one gallon of California ice cream.


Watermelon Chill Ice Cream (California Milk Advisory Board)

Watermelon Chill Ice Cream (California Milk Advisory Board)

The California Milk Advisory Board works with bloggers on how to incorporate ice cream into events for children of all ages:

TomKat Studio – DIY Ice cream Sandwich Bar

Hostess with the Mostess – Healthy Milkshake Bar

Hostess with the Mostess – How to Set Up a Cocktail Milkshake Bar

Hostess with the Mostess – Kids Sundae Party


Check it out:

Ice Cream Sandwich (California Milk Advisory Board)

Ice Cream Sandwich (California Milk Advisory Board)

Rick’s Ice CreamBlue Moon-A fruit loops tasting ice cream with super-secret natural ingredients

McConnell’s Boysenberry Rosé Milk JamCentral Coast, grass-fed milk & cream and cane sugar, slowly-simmered to a thick, rich and decadent milk jam – then churned into house-made, boysenberry & rosé wine preserves. 

Breyer’s Strawberry Ice Cream-packed with sun-ripened California strawberries picked at the peak of happiness!

Gilroy Garlic Festival Garlic Ice Cream-July 29-31, 2016

The Orange Works‘ Orange Ice Cream and Chili Mango Ice Cream

Where Is the Best Ice Cream in California? (PBS, 2014)

2016-07-23T17:33:15-07:00July 22nd, 2016|

Steve Koike on Resistant Cultivars

The Search for Resistant Cultivars

By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor

In the second part of our series with Steve Koike, plant pathology farm advisor for UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Cooperative Extension in Monterey County, the focus is on the critically needed research on resistant cultivars. Koike, who has focused his research since 1989 primarily on the understanding of disease systems and the investigation of new methods of disease control, said, “The role or the need for resistant cultivars is tremendous.”

“Some good case studies of resistant cultivar research address soil-born problems on lettuce,” Koike explained. “For example, Fusarium wilt and Verticillium wilt on lettuce could be managed lightly; but in order to overcome those diseases, resistant lettuce varieties need to be in place.”

Steve Koike, UC Cooperative Extension, Monterey County.

Steve Koike, UC Cooperative Extension, Monterey County.

“First discovered in 1995 on the Central Coast,” said Koike, “Verticillium wilt has the potential to infect and damage numerous different crops. And although Fusarium wilt was typically unseen in the San Joaquin Valley, it has recently begun to appear on the Central Coast.”

Continued improvement of management techniques upon discovering initial disease symptoms is necessary, according to Koike. “Symptoms of the disease usually appear on the lower leaves of plants, around the edges, and the areas between the veins can turn a yellowish-brown.”

“Strawberries currently have three really important disease pressures state-wide: Verticillium wilt, Macrophomina (charcoal rot) and Fusarium wilt,” Koike commented. “Even the fumigation tools we have are not cleaning them up 100 percent, so we have problems.”

“We will continue to have problems,” Koike elaborated, “until there are truly resistant strawberry varieties to those pathogens. Plant breeders understand that IPM management of these diseases is so dependent on developing resistant varieties,” he said, “but we’re not there yet. We do not yet have truly resistant lettuce or strawberry varieties out in the field,” Koike said.

_______________________________

Koike and his fellow researchers discovered a new race of the downey mildew pathogen in spinach that has been designated race 16. While there are some varieties that are supposedly resistant to race 16, Koike noted that there is still more research to be done.

To read the first part of our series on Downey Mildew, click here.

 

2021-05-12T11:05:54-07:00June 27th, 2016|

Dirty Dozen…Really?

Dirty Dozen Does Disservice

 

Following the April 12, 2016 release of the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) annual Dirty Dozen list, Teresa Thorne, a spokesperson with the Watsonville-based Alliance For Food and Farming, a non-profit organization which exists to deliver credible information to consumers about the safety of fruits and vegetables, conversed with California Ag Today’s Patrick Cavanaugh, farm news director and deputy editor,

California Ag Today: Let’s talk a little about the Dirty Dozen list that the EWG just published for 2016.

Thorne: They’ve been doing this for 20 years now, and it is concerning to us because they’re putting out misinformation about the safety of conventionally grown produce. We know that the products on this list are among the most popular among families, especially children. EWG targets them, and their efforts really scare moms and consumers away from conventionally grown. It makes no sense to us; I mean, both organic and conventionally grown are very safe. We should all be consuming more every day for better health. That’s really the message for consumers. This list—all it does is serve to confuse people.

California Ag Today: It’s all a big scare tactic to try to get everybody to think that only organic food is safe, right?

Thorne: We strongly believe that organic food is very safe, but we maintain the same for conventional. And it’s interesting also too, because in a recent study that really focused on Manhattan, the researchers found—and we did blog about this—that organic was not as available as they had previously thought. So, what happens to the mom who wants to buy strawberries for her child’s lunch, but only conventional strawberries are available? Now she’s scared because of what EWG has stated in really inflammatory language this year—over the top. Now what is she supposed to do? Her store doesn’t carry organic strawberries. Availability is very much an issue, as well accessibility and affordability. Conventionally grown still is the most accessible and affordable [produce]. So, to scare people away from that really does a disservice to consumers.

California Ag Today: Yes, and food safety experts from the USDA and California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), a department of the California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), agree that any small risk from the trace [below legal thresholds set by the EPA] levels of pesticides found in fresh produce should not keep you from the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. DPR tracks food for pesticide residues, and they find 99 percent of all the fruits and vegetables grown in California—whether they’re organic or conventional—are safe to eat and we should be eating more of them.

Thorne: Absolutely, and that’s what’s also interesting; EWG—and we’ve called them on this in the past and they still have not changed—does not link, in their report, directly to USDA studies. They state over and over that they base their results on this USDA Agricultural Marketing pesticide data program (USDA PDP), but they don’t link to it. In what world do you not link to a study that, you basically state, you base your entire Dirty Dozen list upon? We find that quite odd.

We think the reason they don’t link is this simple: People will see that the USDA clearly states that residues do not pose a food safety concern. And that is in direct contrast to what [the EWG is] saying.

California Ag Today: Of course, if we wash the fruits and vegetables we eat, it helps. We should always wash produce to get the dirt off and talk about food safety in our own kitchens.

SafeFruitsandVeggies logoThorne: That’s right. Conventional and organic alike, wash them before you eat them. It’s a healthful habit that everybody should follow for various reasons. And the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearly states that you can reduce or eliminate any residues that may be present on fruits and vegetables, simply by washing.

California Ag Today: One last question, Teresa. You’ve been terrific. The EWG has been losing some strength in their message over the years because the media is getting sharper and better at challenging the contradictions in their reports. We’ve got the Alliance for Food and Farming’s new SafeFruitsAndVeggies website now, and you guys are reaching out to the media, saying “Let’s be reasonable; let’s look at this from a scientific point of view, not an emotional point of view.” Do you want to comment on that? While they’re not being picked up as much anymore, they keep trying, now with strawberries at the top of the list, right?Strawberries1

Thorne: Yes, we think they’re using the tactic of putting another kid-popular fruit to re-spark interest. In fact, we predicted it in a blog a few weeks ago, in which we said interest from the media is declining because more reporters and bloggers are actually reading the USDA PDP report, seeing what it says. So, we actually predicted in our blog that they would do something like this. Our number one prediction was they would have a new number one on their list, and it would, of course, be a kid-popular fruit.

So, it will be interesting to see. We’re still early on in the process to see if they have had any success with that, but we believe that that was a tactic [EWG] tried to employ to revive very lagging media coverage on this list. They used to enjoy widespread media coverage back in the day.

__________________________

Resources:

Setting Tolerances for Pesticide Residues in FoodsUnited States EPA

Pesticide info: What You Should Know About Pesticides, “Pesticides and Food: How We Test for Safety,” California Department of Pesticide Regulation

The Pesticide Data Program: Helping Monitor the Safety of America’s Food SupplyUSDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)

Pesticide Residue Calculator, Alliance for Food and Farming

2021-05-12T11:03:02-07:00April 14th, 2016|

UC’s Karen Klonsky Retires

Karen Klonsky Retires, Gets Major Credit for CA Agricultural Cost and Return Studies

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor and Laurie Greene, Editor

 

This is an exclusive interview with Karen Klonsky, UC Davis Cooperative Extension specialist emeritus, in the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Her expertise has been farm management and production, sustainable agriculture and organic agriculture.

CAT: Congratulations on your recent retirement!UCANR 100 years logo

Klonsky: Thanks Patrick. I retired on July 1, 2015, after 34 years. I started at UC Davis in ’81, straight from graduate school.

CAT: What has been your primary research interest?

Klonsky: My primary research areas are sustainable and organic agriculture. I have approached these subjects from several dimensions, including the economic feasibility of alternative farming practices, the size and growth of organic production in California, and factors influencing the adoption of alternative farming systems.

CAT: Wow, what a great career! I understand your interest in alternative farming systems began with your dissertation work comparing alfalfa systems with integrated pest management.

Klonsky: I studied agricultural economics in graduate school and started working with a professor in my department who had a joint appointment in agricultural economics and entomology. And I just became very interested in that research area.

I worked with entomologists and researchers on a computer model of plants and alfalfa weevils, and their interaction, plus a management component. I studied the plant and bug components, then did the management part and imposed it on top and asked, ‘If you did this, how many bugs would die?’ The plant model showed how much the alfalfa would grow, and at what point you could cut the alfalfa and achieve the desired yield. I never actually did any fieldwork.”

CAT: Since 1983, you not only directed ongoing Cost and Return Studies, but the development of an entire archived library of Cost and Return Studies for the UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. You recently completed studies on pistachios and walnuts, right?

Klonsky: Yes, both “Sample Costs to Establish and Produce English Walnuts In the Sacramento Valley, Micro sprinkler irrigated” and “Sample Costs to Establish and Produce Pistachios In the San Joaquin Valley-South, Low-Volume Irrigation.”

Our library contains studies about field, tree and vine crops and animal commodities. But since I retired, Dan Sumner, director, University of California Agricultural Issues Center and Frank H. Buck, Jr. Distinguished Professor for the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics has taken that over and I continue to be peripherally involved.

CAT: These cost studies have been recognized worldwide.ARE Cost and Return Studies

Klonsky: Yes, and it has been very gratifying work. We decided to put them online routinely, and we have had a million downloads per year. Around 2005, Pete Livingston, my staff research associate, got the idea of scanning in the older studies. All of the newer studies were in electronic file format, so posting was easy. However, most of the older studies were paper copies, so we got a grant to scan and add them to our new online archive.

CAT: What was the most interesting thing about doing those cost studies?

Klonsky: I loved doing those studies. I really learned a lot because all cost studies are done directly with farmers we met through county farm advisors. I really got to know what farmers were thinking about and what their options were.

CAT: So those were real costs, not university costs?

Klonsky: Those were not university costs. The farmers tell us what equipment they will use, and then we calculate the cost of using their equipment—the fuel used to operate the equipment and the repair costs—with an agriculture-engineering program.

CAT: Do you have a math background?

Klonsky: Yes, I got my bachelor’s at the University of Michigan in mathematics. It was very helpful.

CAT: And you also earned your Ph.D. at the University of Michigan?

Klonsky: Yes.

CAT: So did you grow up in Michigan?

Klonsky: No, I grew up in New York.

CAT: And you just had an interest in going to Michigan State University?

Klonsky: Well, I had an interest in agriculture because I had an uncle who farmed corn and vegetables in upstate New York. We would go up there and I thought it was the most wonderful thing in the world.

CAT: What were some of the highlights of your career?

Klonsky: For many, many years, I was involved in the long-term on-campus sustainable agriculture research on land that is now on Russell Ranch, but it started as Sustainable Ag Farming Systems. We looked at four different farming systems, organic, low input, high-input, and we did a lot of analyses with cover crops and rotations. It was great to work on that project.

CAT: And you worked with USDA on the trends of organic farms?

Klonsky: And then I worked quite a bit with Department of Food and Agriculture on using the registration data for their organic farmers to compile statistics about how many farmers they had, what they grew, and the number of acres they planted with each crop. They had this database, which started in 1992 I believe, but they weren’t using it. Now the most recent registration analysis is available for 2012.

CAT: Just to try to get more data on the organic movement and organic growth?

Klonsky: Yes, because there was no data at all about it. Now NASS (National Agriculture Statistics Service) conducts a nationwide Organic Census, in addition to the regular Census of Agriculture.

CAT: I understand you served as an editor of the Journal of American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA). What did that entail?ASFMRA

Klonsky: Yes. I did that for many years. ASFMRA is a national organization. The Journal of the ASFMRA comes out annually. As editor, I corresponded with the authors, assigned reviewers, and ultimately, accepted or rejected submissions, like any journal.

CAT: Did you travel a lot with your work and presentations?

Klonsky: You know, not so much, I went to Spain one time and France once for work. But I did travel around domestically to symposiums and conferences to speak on the economics of growing a lot of different crops, including many presentations at the EcoFarm Conference.

CAT: You worked and collaborated with some really interesting people.

Klonsky: Most of my important collaborations were conducting trials with people in other disciplines. For instance, at Russell Ranch, I was the only economist involved in the collaboration with plant pathologists and pomologists who ran trials to discover fumigation alternatives in the preplanting of trees.

Then I worked with people at UC Santa Cruz on alternatives for strawberry fumigation. Most of my work has been interdisciplinary.

CAT: California farming in general is huge, diverse industry. We produce 60% of the fruits and vegetables, and nearly 100 percent of the nut crops that people across the country consume. Any comments on that and on how valiant and resilient farmers are to get through year after year, particularly lately with the drought and the lack of water deliveries?

Klonsky: When I first started, there was a land price bubble, and there were a lot of bankruptcies because people had these land payments they just couldn’t pay.

It was kind of like the mortgage crisis that housing saw in 2008, agriculture saw in the early 80s.

CAT: So as you have been editor for the Journal of the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers, you see land values going up and that keeps agriculture strong—the high land values, right?

Klonsky: Well, but it keeps it expensive. So now there is more and more leasing of land. As farmers retire from permanent crops, they have an orchard, but they don’t really want to sell it, so they lease it.

CAT: There you go. Keep it somehow in the family.

Klonsky: Yes, they try to keep ownership in the family. Or what we see also are these development leases where a young farmer can’t afford to buy the land, so they lease the land, but they pay for the trees to be planted.

CAT: So you are still coming to your office at UC Davis?

Klonsky: I am officially retired, but we have what we call a ‘partial recall’ where you can do things if you have funding. I have a project along with Rachel Goodhue, Professor, UC Davis Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, funded through the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. The Department of Pesticide Regulations is required by law to do an economic analysis of all proposed new regulations. So that is what I am working on.

CAT: Give me a couple of examples. VOC regulations?

Klonsky: Yeah, we do VOC.

CAT: Are you looking at sustainable groundwater legislation?

Klonsky: No, just pesticide regulation. It is funded by the Mill tax on pesticides.

CAT: Did you work with a lot of graduate students at UC Davis?UC Davis Graduate Studies

Klonsky: Oh yeah, I worked with a lot of graduate students coming through. One of them was on different ways of pesticide management on eucalyptus trees. I said I went to Spain. On that trip, I spoke about growing eucalyptus for firewood.

CAT: That was an economic study, wasn’t it?

Klonsky: Yes it was. They grow it not for firewood, but for paper. But that never really caught on here.

CAT: Are you bullish on agriculture? Do you think Ag is going to continue thriving in California?

Klonsky: Oh, sure. Oh, sure. But I think that the water situation is definitely real, and I think agriculture already has definitely made tremendous strides in irrigation systems, especially the subsurface irrigation in vegetables, in particular processing tomatoes, which I worked on.

CAT: That was a huge improvement in growing tomatoes. And people didn’t think it was going to work, but it turned out to be fantastic.

Klonsky: Yeah, a really win-win on that one. And orchards are getting more efficient. If you look at the water per pound of crop produced, you see major improvements with water efficiency.

CAT: Absolutely. Of course, most plants transpire most of the water they take up through the roots, up through the leaves and the stomata cells. By the way, do you have any interesting stories regarding your career?

Klonsky: It’s not the highlight, but the weirdest thing of my career is I got an email from somebody in Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries from the United Arab Emirates. They wanted me to give a live presentation about Cooperative Extension in California and how it’s organized.

So I had to go to this office building in downtown Sacramento at 10:00 at night because of the time difference. I went into a conference room that had a special kind of projector so I could see them and they could see me. And on the monitor I see all these men walked in—they were all men—and half of them were in Western dress and half of them were wearing a Sheik-like headdress, with a band that sits on top and holds it on.

That was crazy, just being downtown after everybody is gone and the whole building was dark and quiet, except the one room that I was in.

CAT: How long was the presentation?

Klonsky: Gosh, maybe an hour.

CAT: You needed to do some research for that presentation?

Klonsky: Yeah, I had to do some research, I had to think about Cooperative Extension in a different way—the big picture. 

CAT: Keep up the good work, and I hope you are enjoying retirement.

Klonsky: Yeah, I come in two days a week, so it is nice to see everybody. I still get a lot of emails, which I need to answer.

2016-08-18T13:54:40-07:00January 26th, 2016|
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