Many of California’s farmers and rural residents are paying triple the national average for energy rates. Recent spikes at the gas pumps and on natural gas bills are in the spotlight as the Legislature kicks off a new session and explores policy options for reining in the costs. Fending off a reputation for skyrocketing rates and for igniting catastrophic wildfires, Pacific Gas & Electric was on defense last week during an oversight hearing on energy affordability for the Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee. Michael Boccadoro, executive director of the Agricultural Energy Consumers Association (AECA), ran through a litany of complaints with the investor-owned utility that he racked up during his 30 years of lobbying on energy costs. “If they’re doing all these efforts to reduce costs, why are they proposing to increase rates in 2023 alone by 36%—to 9.1 cents a kilowatt hour?” asked Boccadoro, as he chastised PG&E for proposing increases through at least 2026. “It’s a massive rate increase and it’s just the beginning.” He predicted rates for consumers and businesses will rise to four times the national average by 2030, far outpacing PG&E’s promise to maintain them at or below the level of inflation. Boccadoro said the high rates put his farmers “at a huge competitive disadvantage to farming operations in other parts of the country.” He pushed lawmakers to find ways to shift costs out of the rate base to the companies for shouldering investments in undergrounding power lines for wildfire hardening while also planning for a surge in demand from electric vehicles and a major transition to renewable energy. “If you don’t have skin in the game, you’re not really truly concerned,” he said. “Shareholder interests always take precedence over ratepayer interests with the investor-owned utilities.” Association President/CEO Roger Isom is the President of the Board for AECA, and Association Assistant Vice President Priscilla Rodriguez sits on the Board of AECA.
This month, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) released a new Proposed Decision (PD) for the Net Energy Metering Program, which they are now referring to as Net Billing Tariff (NEM 3.0). Below is a summary of some of the key points:
• The PD proposes to maintain an annual true-up.
• The PD proposes no changes to the NEM 1.0 or NEM 2.0 tariffs and customers will be able to remain on those tariffs as long as they do not significantly add to the existing project for 20 years from their initial interconnection date.
• The NEM 3.0 start date is a little vague, but if a completed application (that does not have significant and substantial errors) is submitted within 120 days of the final decision, the project will be able to take service under the NEM 2.0 program.
• The PD proposes for non-residential customers to get credited for excess power based on the “avoided cost calculator.” This rate will be approximately between $0.06-$0.08/kWh. Projects that have an energy storage component, such as a battery, will get a higher compensation rate.
• The PD proposes no changes to the NEM Aggregation program.
The CPUC hearing is set for next month. The Association will continue to closely monitor the issue. Click here for the full proposed decision.
By Western Agricultural Processors Association
On Monday, January 3, the Port of Oakland announced an interagency effort to improve the flow of agricultural exports at the Port. The program involves the use of additional yard space and equipment, restored export ship calls and assistance to export users. The goal is to provide relief to agricultural exporters who are facing shortages of export capacity and skyrocketing logistics costs. The Port will open and operate a 25-acre off-terminal, paved container yard equipped to move containers off chassis and store them for rapid pick-up. The yard will provide access to equipment and provide faster truck turns without having to wait for in-terminal space. Agriculture exporters will be assisted by federal and state agricultural agencies to use the yard.
The situation was the catalyst for a convening of State and Port officials with farm producers and transportation executives to solve a year-old shipping crisis. At stake was the state’s multi-billion-dollar agriculture export industry. The meeting was led by Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development Director Dee Dee Myers, State Transportation Agency Secretary David S. Kim and California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. Participants included seaport stakeholders within the broad and varied agricultural commodity sectors, freight forwarders, trucking and warehousing operators. The Association had two representatives from tree nut industry companies at the meeting to provide their expertise on the crisis. The meeting resulted in a list of potential solutions to unclog the supply chain for agriculture exports. The discussions have focused on short-term and long-term solutions to support American agricultural exporters. Long terms solutions include:
- Asset management including availability of containers and the chassis used to transport them over the road;
- Port and inland port operations, including off-dock container yards; and
Long-term supply chain strategies and increased investment in critical port infrastructure.
California Members Release Statement on Updated Biological Opinions for Central Valley Project
WASHINGTON, DC – Representatives Josh Harder (CA-10), John Garamendi (CA-03), Jim Costa (CA-16), and TJ Cox (CA-21) and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) released the following statement on the updated biological opinions for federally protected fish species and coordinated operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project:
“The Endangered Species Act requires periodic reviews to determine the best available science. The federal government’s science for Chinook salmon and Delta smelt was more than a decade old and needed to be updated, especially given climate change.
“We are examining the new biological opinions to ensure they incorporate the adaptive management and real-time monitoring needed to properly manage the Central Valley Project for the benefit of all Californians. The new biological opinions must also provide the scientific basis needed to finalize the voluntary settlement agreements between the State Water Resources Control Board and water users.
“We look forward to the State of California’s thoughtful analysis of the biological opinions. In Congress, we continue working to secure federal investment in the Central Valley Project to meet California’s future water needs and support habitat restoration efforts called for in the updated biological opinions.”
California Agriculture Concerned Over PG&E Increases, Overtime Rules
By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor
Water, labor, and air quality issues in California keep growers’ plates full of challenges, but with probable PG&E rate increases in the future, it seems they can’t catch a break. Roger Isom, President and CEO of the Western Agriculture Processors Association and California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, is among those wondering how the industry is going to compete.
“We’ve been paying for a lot of those safety upgrades. What happened? I mean, we’ve got to let the investigation take place, but to saddle rate payers with that amount of money, we just can’t do it,” Isom said of the threat of rate increases.
At the same time, the industry is still battling the effects of the Brown administration’s ruling on overtime.
“There are farm workers in 45 states that could work 20 hours a day, seven days a week, and never trigger overtime. We have to compete with that, and that’s just unacceptable,” Isom said.
Isom is optimistic about new appointments in California administration, though.
“You’ve got Jared Blumenfeld, who’s the new CalEPA Secretary. He was actually extremely helpful over there when we were working on incentives for replacing pumps and tractors,” Isom explained.
Isom also gave credits to Wade Crowfoot, who was on the previous administration and helped with port shutdowns.
“He’s going to hit up resources, which obviously with the water situation is a very critical agency for us. Seeing somebody over there that could be helpful is important,” he said.
CARB Wants Inventory of Ag Equipment
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is seeking participants for an update to their Agricultural Tractor and Mobile Equipment Survey. For those that remember, CARB conducted a similar survey in 2008, and partnered with Cal Poly in their review of the submitted surveys.
This survey effort is looking to inventory various mobile agricultural equipment, including tractors, combines, balers, agricultural use ATVs and forklifts, and many more. This survey is extended out to producers in the field, custom operators, and first processing facilities, and covers equipment using any type of fuel or electricity and any horsepower. Responses to the survey are completely confidential and are anonymized upon receipt.
The survey that was previously conducted in 2008 was utilized to help fund incentive programs for agricultural equipment turnover programs utilized throughout the state. CARB’s goal upon completion of this upcoming survey round is to utilize the data in the exact same manor, to utilize results to determine the best usage of incentive monies in the agricultural sector.
The survey is being made available through the internet. Please follow the link attached below to complete the survey. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact email@example.com. Paper copies will be available if you would like; feel free to contact Chris McGlothlin with the Western Agricultural Processors Association at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (559) 455-9272.
Survey can be found online here.
New Study Finds Fear-Based Produce Safety Messaging Negatively Impacts Low Income Consumers’ Produce Consumption
New peer reviewed research, “Low-Income Shoppers and Fruit and Vegetables: What Do They Think?” published in Nutrition Today, shows fear-based messaging tactics used by activist groups and some organic marketers that invoke safety concerns about non-organic produce may be having a negative impact on produce consumption—fruits and veggies—among low income consumers, according to the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF).
Researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s (IIT) Center for Nutrition Research surveyed low income consumers to learn more about what terms and information about fruits and vegetables may influence their shopping intentions. Among the key findings, misleading messaging which inaccurately describes certain fruits and vegetables as having “higher” pesticide residues results in low income shoppers reporting that they would be unlikely to purchase any fruits and vegetables – organically or non-organically grown.
“We were surprised to see how informational content that named specific fruits and vegetables as having the highest pesticide residues increased the percentage of shoppers who said they would be unlikely to purchase any type of fruits and vegetables,” says Britt Burton-Freeman, associate professor of food science and nutrition, ITT’s Center for Nutrition Research. “The concern is that depending on the structure of the communication about pesticides and fruits and vegetables, this could turn people away from wanting to purchase any fresh produce.”
“Despite efforts by the health community, consumption of fruits and vegetables is stagnating,” says Elizabeth Pivonka, Ph.D, R.D. and president, Produce for Better Health Foundation. “This new study shows what we have been concerned about for some time, that safety fears may be another barrier to consumption of these healthy and nutritious foods. The impact of the fear-based messaging on low income consumers is especially troubling since many don’t have access or can’t afford non-organic produce.”
The findings are also concerning since the safety claims carried predominantly by groups like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Only Organic about pesticide residues have been repeatedly proven to be scientifically inaccurate. For the last 20 years, EWG annually releases a so-called “dirty dozen” list which urges consumers to eat only organic versions of popular produce items accompanied by misleading and unscientific claims regarding pesticide residue levels. A peer reviewed analysis of EWG’s list entitled, “Dietary Exposure to Pesticide Residues from Commodities Alleged to Contain the Highest Contamination Levels“ and published by AFF showed that substitution of organic forms of produce for non-organic produce did not result in any decrease in risk because residue levels are so minute on these fruits and vegetables, if they are present at all.
“Their tactic clearly isn’t working and it’s actually backfiring since this research shows that consumers may react to their message by deciding not to buy any produce at all – organic or non-organic,” says Teresa Thorne of the AFF. “For the benefit of consumers, especially low income consumers, this study shows it is time for groups like EWG to rethink their strategy for promoting organics and move away from tactics intended to scare consumers from buying the more affordable and accessible produce items,” Thorne says.
This IIT research compliments the peer reviewed study by John Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future, “They Just Say Organic Food Is Healthier”: Perceptions of Healthy Food among Supermarket Shoppers in Southwest Baltimore,” published in January 2015 [orig. Dec. 2014] in the journal, Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment. Those researchers conducted interviews with study participants to learn more about the way organic food is understood within consumers’ definitions of healthy food. John Hopkins researchers also focused on low income consumers because “this group is particularly important demographically given the disparate burden of diet-related diseases they carry and the frequency of diet-related messages they receive.”
The study authors also found conflicting health and safety messages, including those about pesticide residues, were having a negative impact on consumers. Among their findings and recommendations: “The issue of organic can swamp or compete with other messages about nutrition, as evidenced by the data presented here. Perceiving that there is an overwhelming amount of sometimes contradictory information about healthy eating could make some consumers defeatist about trying to eat healthily. Given the potential implications of competing messages about healthy eating, it is important that those who want to improve food production techniques and those who want to improve nutrition cooperate to create consistent messaging about healthy eating.”
Dr. Burton-Freeman reached a similar conclusion. “Hearing that the majority of shoppers in this survey trust dietitians/nutritionists, scientists and physicians for health and safety information about fresh fruits and vegetables, this is an important opportunity for these professionals working in low-income populations. It is an opportunity to educate shoppers about organic and conventionally grown produce, particularly about best practices for washing, storing and preparing all fruits and vegetables to maximize their enjoyment and nutritional value and minimize their confusion and safety concerns.”
“Hopefully the peer-reviewed research from IIT and John Hopkins will have an impact on groups like EWG especially since the science clearly shows both organic and non-organic produce is very safe and can be eaten with confidence,” AFF’s Thorne says. “And, decades of nutritional research primarily conducted using non-organic produce shows that a plant rich diet leads to better health and a longer life. So choose either or both organic or non-organic produce, but choose to eat more every day.”
The Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF) is a non-profit organization formed in 1989 which represents organic and conventional farmers and farms of all sizes. Alliance contributors are limited to farmers of fruits and vegetables, companies that sell, market or ship fruits and vegetables or organizations that represent produce farmers. AFF’s mission is to deliver credible information to consumers about the safety of all fruits and vegetables. AFF does not engage in lobbying nor does it accept any money or support from the pesticide industry. In the interest of transparency, AFF’s entire 2011 tax return is posted on safefruitsandveggies.com.
Nut Harvest Safety Seminar Highlights Risk Areas of Harvest Season
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
Nut harvest safety was the topic of a recent seminar, sponsored by AgSafe and the Western Agricultural Processors Association (WAPA), at the Fresno Farm Bureau office.
When almond harvest commences in a few months from now, safety in the field is very important as crews move out to eight hundred thousand acres of bearing orchards. California Ag Today produced a video on this meeting.
Carlos Mendez, almond harvest manager for Madera-based AgriLand Farming, which produces almonds, pistachios, walnuts, grapes, and citrus, said, “Safety is number one for us. If you look at any of our vehicles, we have a lot of lights to help break through the dust. It looks like a Christmas tree, which includes my truck. We also use safety vests and strobe lights on everything,” he noted.
Mendez said safety is part of the AgriLand Farming culture. “We don’t have a safety officer or coordinator because we are all in charge of safety. All of us wear that ‘safety hat,’” Mendez said.
And when Mendez talks about all the necessary increased lighting, he is also trying to prevent harvest workers from being run over by harvest vehicles or getting their hands caught in chain drives or augers.
“We’re moving, at any given time, sixty pieces of equipment. Everyone must be aware of harvesters backing up to bank-out wagons in the orchard to transfer the crop, as well as bank-out wagons unloading their the crop at elevators into transport trucks,” Mendez said.
“All workers need to be so constantly careful, even to preventing falling off equipment,” said Mendez.
AgSafe is a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to providing employers and employees in the agricultural industry with education and resources to prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities. Our vision is to be a one-stop resource providing safety solutions for the agricultural industry.
Western Agricultural Processors Association (WAPA) was formed in 2009 to answer the industry’s call for representation and expertise in critical compliance areas, such as air pollution, food safety and safety services, a new agricultural organization has been formed. This organization shares staff and office with the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Associations. WAPA represents the tree nut industry including almond hullers and processors, pistachio, pecan and walnut processors, on regulatory and legislative issues. In addition, the Association performs critical consultative services for its members on issues such as air pollution permits, lockout/tagout and safety plans, Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) plans and many other services.
Roger Isom Warns: Take Precautions to Thwart Tree Nut Theft
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor
Roger A. Isom, Western Agricultural Processors Association (WAPA) president and CEO, told CalAgToday, “Tree nut theft is still a serious issue this year, as it was last year. Folks behind the thefts have not been caught. We’ve had over 30 thefts in the last 6 months.”
There is good news. “We’ve had numerous attempts thwarted,” Isom commented, “because folks have started to implement some of the procedures that we talked about at our emergency Tree Nut Cargo Theft Summit back in December.” Following the successful Summit, nut theft legislation sponsored by the WAPA passed out of the Assembly Agriculture Committee unanimously. According to WAPA, AB 2805 (Olsen) would form a statewide California Agriculture Cargo Theft Crime Prevention Task Force with combined law enforcement services and support activities to fight agricultural cargo theft. Among the loads of tree nuts stolen was a load of almonds reportedly stolen during the Summit.”
Isom explained, “We brought experts in cargo theft from across the country to the training seminar held in mid-April in Modesto to make sure all members understood: What has happened? How are the thefts occurring? What have we learned from those thefts and the investigations? What can people do to prevent these thefts from happening at their locations?”
“What we’ve learned, for sure,” he explained, “is that if you do not implement the procedures, you will be hit. Following the December meeting, we’ve had companies hit by cargo theft; the [companies] that implemented the practices we talked about prevented thefts from occurring; those that did not have lost truckloads of tree nuts.”
Isom understands it is time consuming to follow the recommendations, and there is some cost associated with it. “You have to take the time to take pictures of the drivers,” he elaborated. “You have to fingerprint the drivers. You’ve got to make calls. You’ve got to make sure these truckloads of shipments have been placed at least 24 hours in advance. If there are driver changes, you cannot allow that. It takes some serious steps to prevent [theft].”
“We had one a few weeks ago,” Isom explained, “where they switched drivers and trucks—literally the day of [transport]. It ended up being OK, but the alarms went off. The next time it could be an actual fictitious pickup.”
Tracking a stolen truckload is difficult. Isom reported, “Typically they do get the license plate number. Prior to these thefts, they might have just asked the driver for the license plate number and taken his word for it. Maybe they would go to the extent of taking a picture of [the plate], but what if it is what they call a “cold plate”, a stolen plate?”
“In at least one of the thefts,” said Isom, “the license plates had been switched. The thieves literally stole somebody’s license plates off a pickup truck and put them on the truckload of nuts. Had someone in charge been educated on license plate numbers—just normal [information]—they may have easily discovered the plates were not valid; they were not applicable for a truck-tractor-trailer setup.
Isom remarked the thieves are clever. “Most occur on a Friday or just prior to a holiday,” he stated. “In some cases, the theft might not be discovered for 3 or 4 days. The damage depends on the value of the nuts at the time,” Isom said, “and are we talking about finished product? Has it been processed? Seasoned? But you’re talking a stolen value of at least $100k-$150k. That’s what makes it so attractive and why cargo theft is on the increase across the country.”
Furthermore, Isom stated, “We’ve been told by law enforcement that Los Angeles (LA) is now the highest cargo theft location in the world. It has increased dramatically in the last couple of years, and more so this past year. We did not see theft in tree nuts until recently. We had the occasional theft out-in-the-field or maybe at the huller—someone picks up a couple of trailers and tries to get rid of them—but not to this level, not this brazen, and not with finished product.
“Now it’s over 30 loads!” he said. “We’ve had almonds taken from 4 or 5 different locations; we’ve had walnuts; we’ve had pistachios from several different locations; and we’ve had cashews stolen. We didn’t even know there were cashews here in California, but they are imported and processed here in Fresno, and there have been multiple loads stolen.”
“Nobody is immune to it,” Isom commented. “Tree nuts are the preferred product right now compared to other cargo thefts—TVs, tires, or tablets. Tree nuts have no serial numbers; thieves can turn and burn them faster than you-know-what. The other attractive part about the tree nuts is you can also store them for while. You can hit the farmers’ markets just a little bit at a time. It’s easy.”
“This is not the common criminal,” Isom surmised. “This is something sophisticated. Look how they have hacked into the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) database to get this information. Look how shipping papers have been modified; they put their phone numbers on them, and it looks legitimate. We’ve had trucking companies’ identities stolen. They’re using their forms, their information, their drivers’ names, but it is somebody else doing this.”
“And trust me,” Isom added; “it’s not the guys just right along California State Highway 99 (‘the 99’), they’ll go to the smallest processor off the beaten path. They fool people with what looks like very legitimate paperwork. This isn’t something that somebody took a sharpie to; these look like legitimate shipping papers.”
Isom and WAPA are engaged with “all the law enforcement, not just the local county sheriffs, including the Cargo Theft Interdiction Program (CTIP) with the California Highway Patrol. We’ve got the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) involved now. There are a lot of people on it, but, because of the value, it’s so attractive that we’ve got to make everybody is aware of this.”
“This is a new type of theft facing our industry,” warned Isom, ” and you have to do your due diligence. It takes somebody taking some time, and it is going to slow down shipments. There’s no doubt about it; you have to be prepared and aware.”
Through the use of fictitious pickup, even if the drivers are caught, Isom explained it’s not a felony anymore due to changes in California laws. “If you hold the driver at gunpoint,” he said, “and you basically carjack the truck; that’s a felony. So they’re basically saying that legally, the processor or handler voluntarily gave up the load. So it is not a felony; it’s a misdemeanor. So guys aren’t doing any state prison time. They’re doing a couple of weeks in county jail. With all the overcrowding, Boom, they’re gone; let them go.”
“Quite frankly,” Isom relayed, “the majority of the trucks end up in LA, so that’s where law enforcement finds the trucks. And that’s where they say the theft ‘happened.’ You can’t get the LA district attorney to prosecute these cases because they are too busy with murderers, rapists, and other—what they consider more serious—crimes than your voluntarily giving up a load, in their opinion. Even though some of these loads are worth half a million dollars.”
“But now we have the FBI involved,” Isom affirmed. “Thieves are now stealing on interstate highways; these are now federal crimes. There is certainly more teeth in federal law. When we catch these guys, they’ll be in federal prison, doing some serious time.”
(Featured Photo Source: USDA-NRCS)
Farmers Willing to Adapt Farming Practices for Regulators
By Laurie Greene, Editor
With increased scrutiny of the agriculture industry’s use of resources, growers must be proactive about their farming practices, and according to Roger Isom, president and ceo of Western Agricultural Processors Association, farmers are willing to adapt.
Isom noted how receptive growers are to improving their farming techniques. “One of the best examples I have for conservation management practices addresses air quality. Air quality regulators say we’ve got to put water on the back of tillage disks to suppress dust and to schedule no-farming days,” he said. “Wait a minute,” he added, “let’s get in a room and talk about what you want to do! You want to lower emissions? Well, farmers can combine practices and thereby lower emissions and save fuel and labor. And, we’ll do it!”
Isom said farmers appreciate incentive programs. “If I can get some money to help pay for it,” said Isom, “I’ll do it much sooner. There is nobody out there who doesn’t want a new tractor or truck to meet the mandated specifications; but if you provide some help, they will do it much sooner.”
“Growers and consumers each want the same things—a healthy environment and good produce,” he said. “You just have to sit down together and find solutions. The last thing we want is a food recall. Again, if we sit down in a room with scientists and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and develop agricultural guidance specific to each crop, farmers will be more amenable to adapt recommendations into practice,” Isom said.