UC Davis Community Ecologist Louie Yang Shares Expertise at National Monarch Summit

By Kathy Keatley Garvey, UC Davis

UC Davis community ecologist  Louie Yang, professor of entomology, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, was one of 12 invited scientists nationwide who delivered a presentation during the two-day Monarch Butterfly Summit, held recently at the Capitol in Washington D.C. and organized by Sen. Jeffrey Merkley of Oregon.

It was a gathering of science experts and policymakers to share science and conservation actions to help the declining western monarch population. The scientists discussed the natural history of the monarch (Danaus plexippus), its population status, habitats and barriers to conservation success.

“It was a great group of folks working hard to connect science and policy to improve monarch conservation,” Yang said. “It was a privilege to part of it.’

During the summit, the Department of the Interior announced a $1 million award to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s (NFWF) Monarch Butterfly and Pollinators Conservation Fund, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced a Pollinator Conservation Center.

Last year two bills to support the Monarch Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat (MONARCH) Act and the Monarch and Pollinator Highway Act were proposed; and if passed, these acts would support a variety of initiatives focused on monarch research and conservation.

Sen. Merkley organized the summit in collaboration with the Department of the Interior. Officials attending included Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland; Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon; Sen. Alex Padilla of California; Cong. Jimmy Panetta of California; Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks (USFWS) Shannon Estenoz; and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  Director Martha Williams.

In addition to Professor Yang, three other scientists affiliated with UC Davis gave scientific presentations:

  • Professor Matt Forister, the Trevor J. McMinn Endowed Professor in Biology, Foundation Professor, at the University of Nevada, Reno. He holds a doctorate in ecology (2004) from UC Davis where he studied with major professor Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology
  • Elizabeth Crone, professor and population ecologist at Tufts University and a UC Davis collaborator who recently completed a six-month sabbatical at UC Davis.
  • Sarina Jepsen, director of the Xerces Society’s Endangered Species and Aquatic Program, who holds a master’s degree (2006) in entomology from UC Davis. She studied with major professor Jay Rosenheim, distinguished professor of entomology.

Others giving scientific presentations were Amanda Barth, Western Monarch and Native Pollinator Working GroupWendy Caldwell, executive director, Monarch Joint VentureRyan Drum, wildlife biologist, USFWS; Wayne Thogmartin, quantitative ecologist, U. S. Geological Survey;  Cat Darst, wildlife biologist, USFWS, Cheryl Schultz, professor, Washington State University, Pullman; Sarah Hoyle, pesticide program specialist policy lead, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation; and Francis Villablanca, professor, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

“Senator Merkley has been a champion for conservation since he entered the senate,” blogged Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society. “Mace Vaughan and I have worked with his staff in the past on improving pollinator provisions in the Farm Bill, and I have had the pleasure of meeting with him several times.  He is also very interested and worried about western monarchs.  Sarina, Jennifer Hopwood Emma Pelton, and I worked with his staff on the Monarch and Pollinator Highway Act (which passed but is awaiting funding) and the Monarch Action, Recovery, and Conservation of Habitat Act of 2021 (or MONARCH Act).  Sarina also met with him at Pismo Beach to see overwintering monarchs during this past year.”

“The Senator convened the Monarch Butterfly Summit to elevate the conservation issues that western monarchs face, and to include policy makers in work sessions to identify solutions,” Black noted. “Working closely with the USFWS and Xerces, Senator Merkley ensured that issues like pesticides, the availability of early emerging native milkweeds in the spring breeding areas, loss and degradation of western monarch overwintering sites, and other important issues would be highlighted throughout the meeting.  Sarina and Sarah did an amazing job representing Xerces – not only in their talks, but in the working groups.”

Black wrote that the event “raised the profile of western monarchs. One participant that came up to me enthusiastically and said, ‘This was incredible.  I have been working on monarchs for decades and never expected to come to a meeting where three U.S. Senators [Merkley, Padilla-CA, Wyden-OR] a congressperson [Panetta-CA] and the Secretary of Interior [Deb Haaland] come to talk about western monarchs!'”

“We hope will lead to additional focus on key priorities for recovering the western monarch population, such as the essential need to protect overwintering sites and invest in their restoration, and the need to scale up the production of early-emerging native milkweeds, such as Asclepias californica, to support the first generation of monarchs in the Priority 1 Restoration Zone and a focus on protecting habitat from insecticides that can harm monarchs.”

In a news release, the U.S. Department of Interior noted: “In the 1980s, more than 4.5 million monarchs overwintered along the California Coast. Currently, the western overwintering population has declined by more than 95 percent. In 2020, western monarch numbers dropped to all-time lows when only 1,900 overwintering monarchs were observed. In 2021, biologists and the public alike were greeted with the news that monarch numbers were heading in the right direction with approximately 250,000 monarchs estimated at overwintering groves along the coast of California.”

“There is no single cause for the extreme multi-decade drop in the western monarch butterflyoverwintering population numbers,” according to the Department of Interior, which aims to play “a central role in how the United States stewards its public lands, increases environmental protections, pursues environmental justice, and honors our nation-to-nation relationship with Tribes.

“Multiple factors have contributed to the long-term decline, including habitat loss and degradation in overwintering groves and breeding areas, pesticides, and the effects of climate change, including drought, increased storm frequency and severity, and temperature extremes,” the news release related. “As with many insects, monarch populations likely fluctuate in response to changes in temperature, precipitation, and other environmental factors. Conservation efforts are focused on an all-hands-on-deck collaborative approach, engaging a broad array of partners to enact large and small-scale conservation efforts for the benefit of monarchs and their habitats. Outcomes from this week’s summit will further contribute to the conservation of this iconic species.”

On July 21, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which works in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, listed the migratory monarch on its Red List of Threatened Species (Endangered). It is not yet listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but is listed (as of Dec. 15, 2020) as a candidate. (See more on the monarch butterfly on the USFWS website.)

Monarch-Milkweed Interactions.

Professor Yang recently authored newly published research investigating wild monarch-native milkweed interactions in rural Davis over a three-year period that yielded three key findings in the search for what factors constrain monarch development.

“First, we documented early and late seasonal windows of opportunity in the wild, migratory western monarch population,” the UC Davis professor said. “Second, our data suggest that early and late seasonal windows were constrained by different factors. Third, climatic and microclimatic variation had a strong effect on the timing and importance of multiple factors affecting monarch development. Broadly, we hope that this study contributes to a more temporally detailed understanding of the complex factors that contribute to year-to-year variation in monarch breeding success.”

The project, funded by two of Yang’s National Science Foundation grants, involved UC Davis, Davis Senior High School and the Center for Land-Based learning. Among them were 107 high school students and a K-12 teacher, 18 UC Davis undergraduate students,  three graduate students and two post-graduate researchers.

“This study collected a high-resolution temporal dataset on milkweed-monarch interactions during the last three years prior to the precipitous single-year population decline of western monarchs in 2018,” Yang said. He organized and led a 135-member team, all co-authors of the paper, “Different Factors Limit Early- and Late-Season Windows of Opportunity for Monarch Development,” published in the journal  Ecology and Evolution. (This document is open access at https://bit.ly/3volFaI.)

Other monarch research from the Yang lab is pending publication.

2022-08-10T08:36:26-07:00August 10th, 2022|

Confirmation of New Citrus Virus in California

By Citrus Insider

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has confirmed positive identifications of Citrus yellow vein clearing virus (CYVCV) in the city of Tulare detected during California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) routine multi-pest survey. This is the first detection of CYVCV in the United States. CDFA is surveying for the disease in Tulare County residential and commercial properties and will survey in Fresno and Kings counties in the coming months to fully determine the extent of the disease’s presence (which is currently limited to the city of Tulare). The survey results will inform the regulatory approach taken by CDFA and APHIS.

CDFA began initial delimitation survey work in March in a 1-mile core radius area around the initial find site. Since then, CDFA has conducted additional surveys in the surrounding areas, which have resulted in additional CYVCV confirmations in the city of Tulare, expanding the survey area. CDFA is conducting these surveys to gain knowledge on the extent of the infestation and potential impacts of CYVCV, and surveys will be ongoing for the near future. Since the detection of this virus is new to the United States, these learnings – CDFA’s robust pest prevention system that focuses on exclusion and monitoring, as well as CDFA and USDA’s experience responding to other vectored disease threats – will be critical in developing an appropriate regulatory response.

CYVCV can be spread by vectors as they move from tree to tree feeding on foliage. The vectors include citrus whitefly, green citrus aphid, melon or cotton aphid, and cowpea aphid, which are all known to be present in California. CYVCV can also be spread through grafting and the movement of infected propagative materials and rootstocks, or contaminated tools and equipment. While there is no treatment for CYVCV, as of now the best mitigation measure is to control the vector and sanitize tools and equipment. To the greatest extent possible, growers are encouraged to urge their field crews to clean and sanitize all their equipment thoroughly in between jobs or when moving between groves.

For any questions about CYVCV, please call the CDFA Pest Hotline at 1-800-491-1899 or contact your local Grower Liaison.

2022-08-05T08:35:57-07:00August 5th, 2022|

New Orchard Advisor Brings Research Background

By Tim Hearden, Western Farm Press

The central San Joaquin Valley has a new University of California Cooperative Extension orchard crops advisor who once took part in research into the way people pronounce the word “almond.”

Cameron Zuber, a UCCE staff researcher in Merced County since 2016, has been named the orchard crops advisor for Merced and Madera counties.

He will cover a variety of crops in Merced County, including walnuts, almonds and pistachios as well as figs and stone fruit, and will work with walnut growers in Madera County, according to the university.

Among his contributions to UCCE has been to keep alive a project on how Californians pronounce the word “almond” and mapping where they live, color-coding whether they pronounce the “l.”

The website https://ucanr.edu/sites/sayalmond was started by a marketing and social media expert who left the UC’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources a few years ago, spokeswoman Pamela Kan-Rice said.

Zuber earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental biology and management from UC Davis and a master’s in environmental systems from UC Merced before joining the university as a researcher.

For orchard crops, he has worked on fumigants and other soil pest controls, rootstocks and scion varietals, cultural practices related to tree spacing and whole orchard recycling, according to the university.

He also has experience in water management, having studied flood irrigation for groundwater recharge, irrigation and soil, water and air interactions.

A growing team

Zuber began his new position June 6, joining a growing team of Extension advisors and specialists as UCANR has received increased funding from Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature.

He was one of seven new advisors recently announced by the university, with others bringing expertise in wildfire, grapes, small-scale farms and youth development.

Among other advisors working with growers, Joy Hollingsworth began as the new table grape advisor serving Tulare and Kings counties on May 16; Kirsten Pearsons started as small farms advisor in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties on March 1; and Ricky Satomi joined UCCE Sutter-Yuba on March 15 as an area forestry and natural resources advisor in the Western Sierra Nevada region.

2022-07-28T14:58:19-07:00July 28th, 2022|

Munk, ‘pivotal’ in cotton success, retires after 36 years in Fresno County

By Pam Kan-Rice, UCANR

Daniel Munk, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor, retired from a 36-year career with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources on July 1. 

“Dan has played a pivotal role in the success of cotton that has been grown in California, especially his work on drought-related growing conditions and how best for cotton to overcome those conditions and thrive,” said Roger Isom, president and CEO of California Cotton Ginner & Growers Association and Western Agricultural Processors Association in Fresno.

“And while I know he has been involved most recently in reduced tillage research, it is his irrigation work that he will be remembered for,” Isom said. “Dan put on numerous irrigation workshops and grower meetings over the years, and he was the cotton industry’s ‘go to guy’ on deficit irrigation and related topics.” 

As a youngster, the Bay Area native was interested in the natural sciences so he earned a B.S. in soil and water science and an M.S. in soil science from UC Davis. 

“I never had an idea of becoming a farm advisor until I worked with Donald Grimes,” Munk said. In 1986, Munk took a job assisting the now UC emeritus water scientist with research on water penetration problems. It was while working with Grimes at Kearney Agricultural Research and Extension Center south of Fresno, Munk said, “I got an understanding of the importance of agriculture.” 

In 1990, he became a UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Fresno County.

“Dan has been helpful,” said John Diener, a Five Points farmer who began working with Munk in the 1990s. “If I needed anything, he was helpful, bringing information like for lygus bug or diseases or new varieties.” 

To solve a salinity problem, Diener consulted Munk. “Dan was an irrigation guy and worked with USDA ARS and NRCS. This was bigger than what a local farmer can do,” Diener said, adding that Munk brought UC technical knowledge and resources from USDA Agricultural Research Service and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to the West Side of Fresno County to build a tile system for managing the salinity in drainage water. “It took a whole group of people to make it happen,” Diener said.

When Munk joined UC Cooperative Extension, California was growing over 1 million acres of cotton, mostly Acala varieties. During the state’s six years of drought spanning the 1980s and 1990s, growers began planting the higher priced extra-long staple Pima cotton varieties instead of Upland cotton types.

In response, Munk began studying ways to improve irrigation management for Pima cotton. He and colleagues also studied plant growth regulators and found that by treating vigorously growing Pima cotton plants with plant growth regulators following first bloom, cotton yields improved by 60 to 120 pounds per acre, which translated to a $50 to $100 per-acre increase in crop value, with higher cotton quality and fewer problems with defoliation. 

As water became increasingly limited in California, the state’s cotton acreage plummeted and Munk turned his research to producing crops with less water using reduced tillage systems. In one study, he and his research collaborators found that they could improve water use efficiency by 37% by growing cotton in wheat residue versus conventional tillage. In other research, Munk and colleagues showed that reduced till cotton systems could reduce fuel use by more than 70%, increase soil carbon by more than 20%, and reduce dust emissions by more than 60%, relative to conventional till approaches. Another of Munk’s projects suggests that garbanzos and sorghum can be grown under no-till practices in the San Joaquin Valley without loss of yield.

“He has also been helpful in issues related to nitrogen uptake and air and water quality,” Isom said.

Because of Munk’s expertise in nutrient and water management practices, he was asked to serve on the state’s Agricultural Expert Panel in 2014 to assess agricultural nitrate control programs. They developed recommendations for the State Water Resources Control Board to protect groundwater.

One of the recommendations was to develop a comprehensive and sustained educational and outreach program. As a result, the California Department of Food and Agriculture and UC California Institute for Water Resources created the Irrigation and Nitrogen Management Training Program, for which Munk helped develop curriculum and train growers and farm consultants on best farm practices for nitrogen and water management. Leading the program’s southern San Joaquin Valley courses, he helped certify more than 300 growers, consultants and farm advisors in protecting groundwater.

“I hope these more recent programs will have lasting impacts on farm economic viability and improved groundwater quality,” Munk said.

The farm advisor also extended his irrigation knowledge beyond farms. Working with fellow UCCE advisors and specialists, Munk conducted hands-on training for school landscape staff in 2012-2013. The staff learned how to measure irrigation output, sample soil and manage water to avoid runoff and improve water quality. 

“He has had a huge impact, and his work will remain instrumental in the cotton industry’s survival in California as we deal with ongoing drought issues,” Isom said. “His departure will leave an empty spot in the cotton world today without a doubt!”

2022-07-20T11:51:59-07:00July 20th, 2022|

Congressman Valadao: Fewer Truckers on the Road will Worsen Supply Chain, Raise Costs

Today, Congressman David G. Valadao (CA-21) joined Congresswoman Michelle Steel (CA-48) and members of the California Republican congressional delegation in a letter to Governor Newsom urging him to take immediate action to prevent Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) from devastating the California trucking industry and further crippling nationwide supply chains.

“Central Valley families are paying more for just about everything, and they desperately need relief,” said Congressman Valadao. “The last thing we need is more burdensome regulations that will restrict the ability of truckers to move goods throughout our state. Fewer truckers on the road will worsen our supply chain bottlenecks and raise costs for Valley families.”

Read the lawmakers’ full letter here.

Congressman Valadao has been a strong voice in supporting balanced legislation to alleviate these supply chain backlogs:

  • Co-sponsored the TRANSPORT Act, which would temporarily waive operating standards should those standards be more stringent than the federal standard, allowing U.S. Department of Transportation-compliant trucks and drivers from other states to relieve ports and transport goods across the country.
  • Co-sponsored and voted in support of the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, which became law in June 2022.
  • Demanded vessel operating common carriers be held accountable when their practices intentionally harm farmers from the Central Valley.
  • Hosted a bipartisan roundtable with industry leaders on the ongoing supply chain crisis and the Ocean Shipping Reform Act.
  • Visited the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and discussed lack of container access for agriculture exporters, significant backlogs and congestion, and burdensome trucking restrictions.
  • Led a letter to President Biden alerting the administration to the severe impact supply chain backlogs were having on agriculture exporters and urging immediate action to address the supply chain.

Background:

Inflation this week reached a record breaking 9.1% thanks in part to supply chain backlogs. The lawmakers sent the letter after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up California Trucking Association v. Bonta, a case challenging AB5. AB5 was enacted by state lawmakers in 2019 and reclassifies many independent contractors as “employees,” subjecting them to stricter regulations and increasing costs of operations. The law had been stayed pending appeal, but will now go into effect, potentially shrinking the number of critical independent truckers, further worsening the backlogs at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and exacerbating the supply chain crisis.

2022-07-15T14:31:28-07:00July 15th, 2022|

NASS Forecasts Smaller Almond Crop for 2022

Objective Forecast predicts harvest 2022 will be down 11 percent from last year.

By The Almond Board of California

The 2022 California Almond Objective Measurement Report published Friday, July 8, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) estimates that the crop harvested in 2022 will come in at 2.6 billion meat pounds, 11 percent below last year’s 2.9 billion pounds.

The estimate is down 7 percent from NASS’s subjective forecast in May and comes in a complicated year. Some growers were impacted by frost in spring while the entire almond industry, and all California farmers, have been navigating a difficult water year and continued logistical issues impacting the ability to ship almonds to meet consumer demand around the world.

“Growers have been working hard in the face of challenging circumstances and it demonstrates their dedication to improving stewardship practices and meeting the demands of consumers,” said Brian Wahlbrink, chair of the Almond Board of California (ABC) Board of Directors.

The forecast for the average nut set per tree is 4,082, 12 percent down from 2021. The Nonpareil average nut set of 3,966 is also 12 percent lower than last year. The average kernel weight for all varieties sampled was 1.47 grams, up less than 1 percent from the 2021 average weight. The Nonpareil average kernel weight was 1.55 grams, up slightly from last year.

“Despite the shipping and logistical logjams, recent shipment numbers have set monthly records, which demonstrates the demand for California almonds continues to increase in the U.S. and around the world,” said Almond Board President and CEO Richard Waycott. “Almond growers are putting what resources they can afford this year into producing their crop, and their efforts show. Although there was a drop from last year, the forecast reflects the efforts of growers to meet global demand and ensure a steady supply of high quality California almonds.”

ABC’s April and May 2022 Position Reports showed that almond exports set records for both months, even while facing shipping and logistical obstacles, and total almond shipments in May also set a record.

NASS conducts the annual Subjective Forecast, Objective Report and Acreage Report to provide the California almond industry with the data needed to make informed business decisions. Of the crop estimates, the 2022 California Almond Objective Report is considered the more accurate and is based on actual almond counts using a statistically rigorous methodology.

2022-07-11T11:16:45-07:00July 11th, 2022|

Organic Farmers to get Technical Assistance From CDFA and UC ANR

By Pam Kan-Rice, UCANR

The California Department of Food and Agriculture is awarding $1.85 million to the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources to increase technical assistance for California’s organic farmers.

CDFA’s State Organic Program is executing $850,000 in contracts with UC ANR to run through September 2024, while CDFA’s Office of Environmental Farming and Innovation is awarding a $1 million grant to run from July 2022 to June 2025.

“California farmers provide 36% of all organic production in the United States,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “This funding expands technical assistance to growers transitioning to certified organic agriculture and supports our strong California community of organic farmers and consumers by conducting field trials and demonstration projects with farmers to improve organic practices.”

California organically farms just over 2 million acres, which is about 8% of the total agricultural acreage in the state, and will likely continue to expand over time as long as consumer demand continues to rise, according to Houston Wilson, director of UC ANR’s Organic Agriculture Institute.

“Demand for organic agriculture has consistently grown every year for the past two decades,” Wilson said. “Organic currently accounts for 5.8% of domestic food sales.”

“We are excited to see CDFA increasing support for organic agriculture as part of a broader climate-smart agriculture strategy,” said Wilson. “As demand for organic continues to rise, California growers need increasingly targeted technical assistance in all areas of organic production and marketing.”

The CDFA funds will allow UC ANR to hire two academic coordinators, which are currently being recruited.

“The academic coordinators will work directly with growers, as well as develop research and extension projects that will involve existing UC Cooperative Extension personnel,” Wilson said. “One of the coordinators will specifically focus on connecting our efforts with small-scale and historically underserved growers through our partnership with the UC Small Farms Program.”

The organic practices can be used by conventional farms as well as organic farms.

“Just as organic farmers benefit from UC ANR’s pest management, irrigation and crop production research, the new knowledge developed on organic practices by the UC Organic Agriculture Institute will be useful for all California farmers,” said Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

Some of the key UC ANR project objectives include:

  • Conduct research on soil health management, carbon sequestration and crop rotations in organic systems
  • Create new extension and training opportunities for organic growers across California
  • Provide technical assistance to both certified and transitioning organic growers
  • Review and summarize organic acreage and practices in California
  • Develop economic analysis of organic production and markets

The 2022-2023 state budget signed last week by Gov. Gavin Newsom includes $5 million in funds for CDFA to assist farmers with transitioning to organic operations, and the USDA recently announced an investment of up to $300 million for the same purpose.

2022-07-08T10:24:12-07:00July 8th, 2022|

New Research: Consumers Have Confidence in Farmers to Protect Produce Safety

By Alliance for Food and Farming

Consumers continue to trust farmers when it comes to protecting the safety of their fruits and vegetables. In a new survey conducted by the Alliance for Food and Farming (AFF), 76% of consumers said they have confidence in farmers to protect produce safety.

Government agencies are also trusted by consumers, according to the survey. Despite media reports and public statements to the contrary, 78% percent of survey participants responded they were confident in regulatory systems in place to protect public health.

The confidence shown in farmers is not unique to this research project. Consumers recognize that farming is hard work and it takes passionate and committed people to grow and nurture fruits and vegetables. For those of us who represent farmers, it is incumbent on us to continue to share information about farming practices, government safety requirements and regulations as well as the care farmers and farm workers take every day to produce these healthy foods.

Why is this so necessary? Because there are well-funded, well-connected groups that disparage the work of farmers and attempt to evoke unfounded fears about the safety of the food they grow. But it is gratifying when surveys like this show that those efforts may be failing. In fact, produce safety concerns have decreased by 20% since the AFF’s last survey in 2016. Concerns about residues have also dropped by 10%.

The AFF conducted this research to help improve overall information-sharing that will reassure consumers about produce safety. With only one in 10 of us eating enough of these nutrient-dense foods every day, it is important to understand consumer concerns as well as what science-based safety information helps them make the right shopping choices for themselves and their families.

A primary focus of the research was to share with participants safety information specific to pesticide residues as well as regulations and practices on pathogen prevention. This information generated strongly positive results with 76% to 83% of survey respondents stating they were confident in the safety of produce after reading each statement. A complete list of the science-based statements can be found here.

The AFF has developed a new webpage highlighting the research results. The consumer research project included three virtual focus groups followed by a nationwide survey with a 3.1 margin of error.

2022-07-05T11:01:30-07:00July 5th, 2022|

New Consumer Research Shows Progress in Produce Safety Outreach Efforts

By Alliance for Food and Farming

A new consumer research project conducted by the Alliance for Food and Farming shows a 20% decline in overall levels of concern about produce safety over 2016 survey levels. Concerns specific to pesticide residues have also decreased by 10% since 2016.

“These positive changes are likely the result of increased outreach, information sharing and transparency regarding produce safety as well as consumers being focused on the pandemic and other dominating issues since the survey was last conducted in 2016,” says Teresa Thorne, AFF Executive Director.

This comprehensive consumer research project included a series of virtual focus groups followed by a nationwide survey to determine changes in the levels of concern among consumers about safety issues specific to produce. This research was conducted to help improve overall information-sharing that will reassure consumers about produce safety. The AFF is the only organization that conducts broad-based, national research specific to produce safety.

“With only one in 10 of us eating enough of these nutrient-dense foods every day, it is important to understand consumer concerns as well as what science-based safety information helps them make the right shopping choices for themselves and their families,” Thorne explains.

Consumers Trust Farmers, Government Regulatory System
The survey shows consumers continue to trust farmers when it comes to produce safety. When asked “How confident are you in each of the following groups when it comes to protecting food safety,” farmers ranked highest with 76% of respondents expressing confidence in them.

When asked to “rate how much you trust each of the following sources to give you information about pesticide use and residues on fresh fruits and vegetables,” USDA, farmers, your doctor/health care provider and dietitians/nutritionists topped the list.

The survey also measured trust in the government regulatory systems. When asked: “How confident are you that government regulations and other food safety efforts are working well to protect public health,” 78% responded that they were very to somewhat confident with only nine percent stating they were not confident.

“Dirty Dozen” List
The “Dirty Dozen” list messaging was tested against AFF statements. By a two-to-one margin, survey respondents agreed with the AFF statements about produce safety versus safety claims made by the list authors.

“This two-to-one margin is a significant finding and underscores the importance of the objectives and work of the Safe Fruits and Veggies campaign to reach consumers through more balanced reporting on the list release as well as direct outreach strategies to target audiences and influencers,” Thorne says.

The “Dirty Dozen” list is released annually and inaccurately disparages the most popular produce items in an effort to promote one production method over another.

Information Sharing
A primary focus of the research was to determine what information helps consumers when making purchasing decisions as well as providing those results to members to assist them in their produce safety outreach.

Information was shared with respondents specific to pesticide residues as well as regulations and practices on pathogen prevention. This information generated strongly positive results with 76% to 83% of survey respondents stating they were confident in the safety of produce after reading each statement. A complete list of the science-based statements can be found here.

Research Conclusions

  • While declining produce safety concerns from 2016 survey levels shows progress, residues are still the top safety concern among consumers. Therefore efforts to provide consistent, science-based information to counter disinformation campaigns must continue to further alleviate unfounded safety fears about the more affordable and accessible forms of produce.
  • Continued sharing of regulatory protections and government produce safety data among key audiences is supported by the survey results.
  • Efforts to connect farmers to consumers and other key audiences to share information about their practices and care and commitment to grow healthy foods should remain an important component of outreach strategies specific to produce safety.
    The AFF has developed a new webpage at safefruitsandveggies.com highlighting the research results. The webpage includes a comprehensive white paper about the research project as well as a short, one-page review of the science-based information assessed by survey respondents.
2022-06-30T11:08:48-07:00June 30th, 2022|

Almond Alliance Supports Growers Whipsawed by Supply Chains, Water

By Farm Credit Alliance

Almonds may be California’s second-largest crop, bringing in $5.62 billion in sales in 2020, but almond growers feel whipsawed by two factors over which they have no control: water and supply chains.

That’s where the Almond Alliance comes in. A trade association devoted primarily to advocacy in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., the group formed in 1980 as the Almond Huller and Processors Association, but more recently changed its name and focus, said Aubrey Bettencourt, the organization’s new president and CEO – and a third-generation farmer.

“Our mission is to be the advocacy voice for the almond community in California and protect everything we need to create a thriving almond industry,” Bettencourt said. “The Almond Board does an amazing job as the research and development and market development arm for the industry. The Almond Alliance focuses on the advocacy and policy needed to allow us to continue to grow almonds.”

“The decisions made by policy makers at the state and federal level have a profound impact on California agriculture, which is why groups like the Almond Alliance are so important,” President and CEO of American AgCredit Curt Hudnutt said. “Our charitable contributions support advocacy organizations that allow the farmer’s voice to be heard when decisions are being made.”

This year, California’s Farm Credit institutions – American AgCredit, CoBank, Colusa-Glenn Farm Credit, Farm Credit West, and Fresno Madera Farm Credit – will contribute more than $280,000 to nonprofit organizations advocating for agriculture.

And there are plenty of issues affecting the almond industry.

The most recent crisis involves the worldwide supply chain breakdown. Bettencourt explained that shipping companies in China and other hubs are paying top dollar to get ships and their containers back as soon as possible to load up again after they discharge cargo in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

“It used to take a container ship 15 days to get to L.A. Now it takes 50, and the same container that was worth $30 empty now is worth $30,000, so they’re not going to Oakland to pick up ag products. Or, if they do, they’ll give us four hours to put products on the ship instead of four days,” she said.

As most almonds are exported, Bettencourt worries that California growers could suffer irreparable harm if the supply chain issues aren’t fixed. The Almond Alliance is working closely with state and federal trade officials to take action to help protect California’s market share.

“The feds can use the influence of the federal government to explore their legal and emergency authorities. For example, the authority to enforce or incentivize foreign carriers to keep their booking schedules and delivery contracts and to take and deliver sold U.S. products in a timely manner, according to contracted agreements and schedules,” she said.

The second critical issue the Almond Alliance focuses on is water. California has experienced drought conditions for all but one year since 2011, and farmers are preparing for the worst in 2022. The lack of water is forcing many almond growers to cut down trees in their prime to allow limited water allocations to be used on the remainder of their orchards. At the same time, almond growers face criticism for the amount of water the trees need.

Farm water experts say almond growers get an undeserved rap for their water usage as most tree crops need about the same amount of water. And Bettencourt points out that growers have reduced the amount of water per pound of almonds by one-third over the past 20 years and are working to reduce the amount used today by another 20 percent by the middle of the decade.

While drought is a reality, Bettencourt argues that much of the problem facing agriculture is due to abrupt changes in how the system is managed, along with a lack of investment in the water infrastructure. No new storage facilities have been built in the past 50 years, and virtually all the $2.7 billion in bond funds approved by voters in 2014 for additional water storage remain unspent.

She said growers need certainty to plan operations.

“Instead of managing the system as part of the solution, it’s been thrown into uncertainty as a result of administrative discretion. Water should be used for environmental purposes while still providing water supplies for all users,” she said.

“The Almond Alliance will put pressure wherever possible at the state and federal level to get back to that certainty. Everyone needs to know the rules and follow them so we can have a viable agricultural community and safe and reliable water for all people.”

Due to worldwide demand, the USDA reports that 7,600 almond growers – mostly small family businesses – actively farm 1.6 million acres in California, and Bettencourt said the future is bright, so long as growers have a functioning supply chain and adequate water supplies.

“From a production standpoint, we are at the beginning of our prime,” she said. “Looking at acreage and production, California almonds are just at the beginning of where we could be, and the potential is exciting.”

As part of its charitable mission, Farm Credit provides donations to organizations focused on different commodity types, including almonds, said Mark Littlefield, President and CEO of Farm Credit West.

“Because of its importance to California agriculture, Farm Credit supports the Almond Alliance, the Almond Board and other organizations each year,” Littlefield said. “We work hard each year to direct support to nonprofits that really do a great job in their efforts to support farming and ranching.”

About Farm Credit:
American AgCredit, CoBank, Colusa Glenn Farm Credit, Farm Credit West, Fresno Madera Farm Credit, and Yosemite Farm Credit are cooperatively owned lending institutions providing agriculture and rural communities with a dependable source of credit. For more than 100 years, the Farm Credit System has specialized in financing farmers, ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives, rural utilities and agribusinesses. Farm Credit offers a broad range of loan products and financial services, including long-term real estate loans, operating lines of credit, equipment and facility loans, cash management and appraisal and leasing services…everything a “growing” business needs. For more information, visit www.farmcreditalliance.com

About the Almond Alliance:
The Almond Alliance of California (AAC) is a trusted non-profit organization dedicated to advocating on behalf of the California almond community. California almonds generate more than $21 billion in economic revenue and directly contribute more than $11 billion to the state’s total economy. California’s top agricultural export, almonds create approximately 104,000 jobs statewide, over 97,000 in the Central Valley, which suffers from chronic unemployment. The AAC is dedicated to educating state legislators, policy makers and regulatory officials about the California almond community. As a membership-based organization, our members include almond processors, hullers/shellers, growers and allied businesses. Through workshops, newsletters, conferences, social media and personal meetings, AAC works to raise awareness, knowledge and provide a better understanding about the scope, size, value and sustainability of the California almond community. For more information on the Almond Alliance, visit www.almondalliance.org or check out the Almond Alliance on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

2022-06-29T13:22:12-07:00June 29th, 2022|
Go to Top