USDA Climate-Smart Agriculture Projects Now top $3 Billion

By Scott McFetridge, Associated Press

The federal government on Monday announced another $325 million for agricultural projects that are intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The latest list of 71 recipients for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Climate-Smart Commodities program primarily involve small and underserved farmers and ranchers. The payments follow $2.8 billion awarded in September to 70 projects, mostly larger-scale efforts backed by universities, businesses and agricultural groups.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the latest round of funding at Tuskegee University, a historically Black college in Alabama, saying it’s vital that small operations benefit from the program.

“It’s important that we send a message that it’s not about the size of your operation, that you don’t only benefit from the programs like this if you’re a large-scale producer,” Vilsack told The Associated Press. “If you’re a producer that historically has not been able to participate fully and completely in programs at USDA, that this program is going to be different.”

The goal of the program is to use financial incentives to expand markets for producers who implement practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. More than 1,000 proposals have been submitted to the USDA to participate in the program.

The underserved farmers and ranchers who would benefit from the latest funding are those who are beginners, from socially disadvantaged communities, veterans and those with limited financial resources.

The projects announced Monday, with funding ranging from $250,000 to $4.9 million, include:

— $4.9 million to promote urban, mainly Black, farmers who grow and market crops in Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi and South Carolina.

— $4.9 million to help small and socially disadvantaged farmers in San Diego County, California, by improving soil health through applying compost, reducing tillage of the land and growing trees and shrubs.

— $3 million to help farmers in over 60 Texas counties adopt practices such as regenerative agriculture, which builds healthy soil that is more resistant to drought and heat.

— $4.9 million to help farmers in 10 states and on tribal land grow barley on land using regenerative practices and to pay a premium for crops from those farms.

Agriculture causes an estimated 11% of the nation’s climate-warming emissions, and President Joe Biden has set a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by half in the U.S. by 2030.

Timothy Searchinger, a senor research scholar at Princeton University’s Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment, said he welcomes the surge in federal spending to learn how to reduce agricultural emissions and implement practices. However, even as those ideas are tried out in dozens of spots around the country, it still will take years to study the results and replicate what works.

“There are lots of promising ideas, but they are generally not in broad use,” Searchinger said. “There are lots of good ideas about what you can do but they haven’t been proven out.”

After the climate-smart money is awarded, Vilsack said there would be a concerted effort to monitor what programs succeeded and those that struggled so the efforts could be replicated elsewhere in the U.S. and other parts of the world.

“We think this is an effort to really unify this effort on climate, not make it a divisive approach but one that unifies American agriculture and forest landowners and a concerted effort to improve income opportunities, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to store carbon, to create healthier soils and clean water,” Vilsack said.

2022-12-13T16:12:49-08:00December 13th, 2022|

Speak Out Act

By Barsamian & Moody

President Biden signed the Speak Out Act (“Act”) into law, which will limit the enforceability of pre-dispute non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses relating to sexual assault and sexual harassment claims. This federal law makes agreements in which employees agree to keep confidential any unraised past, and future sexual assault or harassment claims unenforceable. It also makes non-disparagement clauses unenforceable to the extent they would limit an employee’s ability to comment on a sexual harassment dispute or a sexual assault dispute.

The Act applies only to non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses in agreements (signed prior to or after the effective date) entered into before a sexual assault or sexual harassment dispute has arisen. This means the Act does not apply to separation and settlement agreements resolving claims an employee has already raised.

The Act also includes a carveout provision to protect trade secrets or proprietary information that may be present in employment agreements signed during the hiring process.

What This Means for Employers:

This bill will not have much additional impact on California employers because California law already prohibits non-disclosure clauses within settlement agreements that prevent or restrict the disclosure of factual information related to a lawsuit or administrative complaint based on sexual assault, sexual harassment and workplace harassment or discrimination, including failure to prevent an act of workplace harassment or discrimination, or an act of retaliation against a person for reporting or opposing harassment or discrimination.. Nonetheless, employers should carefully review any employment agreements, new hire forms, employee handbooks and confidentiality agreements to ensure compliance with the Speak Out Act.

2022-12-12T08:34:01-08:00December 12th, 2022|

Farm Bureau President Rejects Policy of Scarcity for Agriculture

By Peter Hecht, California Farm Bureau

California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson opened the organization’s 104th Annual Meeting in Monterey Monday by calling on policymakers to build critical infrastructure to protect water resources and allow America’s most important agricultural sector to continue to thrive.

“The management of scarcity is failing,” Johansson told the gathering. “It’s time now to reimplement the management of bounty, which made California great.”

California’s nearly 70,000 farms and ranches produce more than 400 commodities as the nation’s leading food producer. But a recent University of California, Merced, study estimates that an additional 750,000 acres of farmland in the state were fallowed this year due a third year of drought and cuts in state and federal water deliveries to agriculture.

Johansson stressed that such an outcome may have been avoided had California delivered on the $7.1 billion water infrastructure bond approved by state voters in 2014. He said the state has failed to update its water system to meet the needs of California farms and communities as well as the challenges of a drier climate.

The consequences for agriculture are aggravated, Johansson said, by policies that stem from a mindset of working within the limits of scarcity—of adapting to a changing environment by paring down California’s agricultural potential.

Instead, Johansson said, new water storage and groundwater recharge projects can capture and store water in wet years for dry years and help protect and grow California’s food production.

“Change is inevitable,” Johansson said. “We understand change in agriculture. But what we struggle with is a state that doesn’t have a plan of how we make those changes based on principles.”

Johansson said, “We can continue in agriculture to make a difference, feed the world and more importantly prosper our communities.”

2022-12-06T08:38:08-08:00December 6th, 2022|

New Board President and New Board Members

By Elizabeth Jonasson, Westlands Water District

Today, the Westlands Water District Board of Directors appointed Jeff Fortune as president of the District. Mr. Fortune succeeds Ryan Ferguson. Mr. Fortune is a third generation California farmer and second generation Westlands farmer. He is a “boots on the ground” farmer with more than four decades of farming experience. Mr. Fortune works alongside his father and two brothers at their family farm growing tomatoes, almonds, and pistachios.

At the Special Board Meeting today, Mr. Fortune was joined by four new Board members who were elected to the Board in November: Ernie B. Costamagna, Justin Diener, Donald Ross Franson III, and Jeremy Hughes. Each new Board member will serve a four-year term.

Ernie Costamagna is a third generation family farmer in California. He began farming in Westland’s in the 1980’s. His farming operation is comprised of nuts, wine grapes, cherries, garlic, onions, cotton and processing tomatoes. He is a resident of Hanford CA with his wife and has 7 children.

Justin Diener continues to work in the same area his family began farming in the 1930s. Mr. Diener, with his family, grows processing tomatoes, garlic, almonds, and lemons and raises lambs. Mr. Diener is responsible for the financial management of his family’s farming operation. He is a graduate of Stanford University with a degree in Economics with Honors. Before returning to the farming operation, Mr. Diener spent more than a decade of his career working for JP Morgan Securities, Wells Fargo Bank, and Bank of the West. Mr. Diener lives in Five Points, where he was born and raised, with his wife and daughter.

Ross Franson’s family has farmed in Westlands since the District’s formation in 1952. Mr. Franson currently serves as VP of Strategy at his family business, Woolf Farming & Processing, which grows almonds, pistachios, tomatoes, and other row crops. His family business also operates almond and tomato processing facilities within the District. Over the years Mr. Franson has served on various agricultural-related Boards, including Woolf Farming & Processing, Harris Woolf California Almonds, Cal-West Rain, and Aliso Water District. Mr. Franson currently resides in Fresno with his wife and three children.

Jeremy Hughes, a fifth-generation farmer, has farmed in the District for over 25 years with his family. Since his father started the operation in the mid-1970s with a one-quarter section of land, the farm has steadily increased. Mr. Hughes started the company that bears his name in 1997, farming various row crops including processing tomatoes, almonds, and pistachios. Mr. Hughes lives in Clovis with his wife and two children.

2022-12-06T08:24:31-08:00December 6th, 2022|

California Almond Acreage Drops in 2022 – First Time in Decades

By Rick Kushman, Almond Board of California

Bearing acreage grew but there were fewer new plantings and increased orchard removals

California’s almond acreage decreased for the first time in more than 25 years, according to a new report from Land IQ to the Almond Board of California (ABC).

Total standing acreage as of Aug. 31 was estimated at 1.64 million acres, compared with 1.66 million acres at the same time in 2021. Bearing acres – orchards producing almonds and planted in 2019 or earlier – increased slightly to 1.34 million from 1.31 million last year. But non-bearing acres – new plantings going back to 2020 but not yet bearing almonds – dropped to 294,000 acres from 353,000 acres in 2021.

In addition, the Land IQ 2022 Standing Acreage and Removed Acreage Final Estimate said approximately 30,000 acres are either classified as stressed or abandoned. They were included in the standing acreage total because the orchards “may have the ability to recover,” Land IQ said.

Removed orchards contributed to the drop in total acreage and continued a trend from 2021. Total orchard acreage removed was about 60,400 acres as of Aug. 31 this year compared with 56,900 removed acres in 2021.

“Land IQ’s report may indicate a possible trend towards lower California almond acreage in the year ahead,” said Richard Waycott, ABC president and CEO. “This acreage estimate was based on data collected through Aug. 31, so it does not reflect any additional removals that may have occurred as the harvest and post-harvest seasons progressed this fall. Those data will be incorporated in the next acreage estimate to be published in April 2023.”

The estimate comes from multiple lines of evidence, including extensive examinations on the ground and advanced remote sensing analytics. Land IQ said the 2022 standing acreage estimate is 98.8 percent accurate.

Land IQ’s Final Acreage Estimate in November, along with USDA-NASS’s April Acreage Report, May’s Subjective Estimate and the Objective Report in July are all commissioned by ABC to provide statistical transparency and a robust picture of California almonds to industry stakeholders around the world.

In 2018, ABC first commissioned Land IQ, a Sacramento-based agricultural and environmental scientific research and consulting firm, to develop a comprehensive, living map of California almonds. The map is the result of more than a decade of research.

2022-12-05T08:37:35-08:00December 5th, 2022|

Nominations Open for the 2023 Common Threads Awards

By Rebecca Quist, Common Threads Committee Chair

The Common Threads Committee is pleased to announce
nominations are being accepted for the 27th Annual Common Threads
Awards honoring women in agriculture. Honorees are selected from
Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced and Tulare counties for their
remarkable contributions to agriculture and philanthropic
stewardship.

We invite you to nominate worthy women who have deep roots in
agriculture and have made a significant difference within the
agricultural industry and their communities. The completed
nomination packet, with a cover letter, must be received in the
California Agricultural Leadership Foundation (CALF) office by December 12, 2022:

Attention: Mia Mirassou
CALF
80 Garden Ct, Suite 270
Monterey, CA 93940
Email: mmirassou@agleaders.org

A pdf version of the nomination form is available at www.agleaders.org.
Letters of recommendation are encouraged, but not required; however,
no more than three letters of recommendation may be submitted. If you
need further clarification or additional information, please call Mia
Mirassou at CALF at (831) 585-1030.

A luncheon recognizing the honorees will be scheduled in March or
April 2023. CALF, Ag One Foundation and the Jordan College of
Agricultural Sciences and Technology will host the luncheon.

2022-12-02T16:15:51-08:00December 2nd, 2022|

New Tool Calculates Crop Rotation Costs, Benefits for California Rice Growers

By Mike Hsu, UCANR

Due to severe water shortages, rice acres planted in California plummeted by 37% from 2021 to 2022, according to numbers released recently by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. But now, thanks to University of California researchers, growers have a new tool they could potentially use to cope with droughts and other environmental and socioeconomic changes.

A crop rotation calculator provides farmers in the Sacramento Valley – where 97% of California rice is grown – with projections on the economic impacts of transitioning their fields from rice into four less water-intensive crops: dry beans, safflower, sunflower or tomato.

The tool represents an initial attempt to address the dearth of research on rice crop rotation in California, while giving growers much-needed, science-backed data on whether the practice would make financial sense for their farms.

“I believe more rice growers could benefit from the many advantages of crop rotation, and this new tool is an excellent first step by the UC to help growers look into making such a transition,” said George Tibbitts, a Colusa County rice farmer.

Funded in part by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, through the Western Integrated Pest Management Center, the calculator is a collaborative effort of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, UC Integrated Pest Management and UC Davis to fill a major gap in rice research.

“I do think there are people who would have tried rotational crops in the past, but it’s just so unknown, we didn’t have anything we could give them and be like, ‘Hey, this is the recommended crop for your area,’” said Whitney Brim-DeForest, UC Cooperative Extension rice advisor. “This tool gives them some preliminary data they can use to make a more informed decision.”

Crop Rotation a Potential Boon to Growers, Environment

UC Davis doctoral student Sara Rosenberg and Brim-DeForest, alongside other members of the UC rice research team, surveyed California rice growers in 2020 on their experiences with and perceptions of crop rotation. Although the practice is rare in the Sacramento Valley (only an estimated 10% of rice acreage is under rotation), some farmers reported benefits that could be crucial in a water-scarce future.

“From having conversations with growers who do rotate, one of the biggest benefits they describe is their flexibility in times of drought, where they can keep producing on their land when there isn’t enough water to grow rice,” said Rosenberg, noting that crop rotation could be one option in a “toolbox” of strategies that growers also use to manage fertilizer price shocks, herbicide resistance and other challenges.

During the ongoing drought that caused about half of California’s rice acreage to go fallow in 2022, Tibbitts said his water district was only able to allocate 10% of his usual allotment.
“With such a limited supply, it would have been tough to grow even one field of rice,” he said. “But it was enough water so that we could rent two of our fields to a tomato grower – tomatoes under drip irrigation use much less water than a flooded field of rice. We were also able to grow one field of sunflowers, which doesn’t need any irrigation at all if you can plant the seeds into existing moisture in the early spring.”

While drought is one motivating factor to rotate crops, Tibbitts said that on principle he avoids planting all his acreage in rice and “not have all (his) eggs in one basket.”
“My primary motivation for rotating into and out of rice has been to help with weed and disease control,” he added. “Crop rotation is a primary tool of IPM (integrated pest management), and I feel it has helped me greatly over the years.”

According to Brim-DeForest, rotating cropping systems can allow for the use of different weed control tools, such as different herbicide modes of action, and different cultural controls such as tillage, reducing the chances of selecting for herbicide-resistant weeds – an increasingly pervasive issue in rice systems.

Rosenberg noted that, in some situations – and depending on the crops in rotation – the practice can also disrupt the life cycles of insects and diseases and potentially improve soil structure and increase nutrient cycling and uptake, which may lead to a reduction in inputs such as fertilizer.

More Research on Crop Diversification Needed in Rice Systems

The benefits of crop rotation for California rice growers are largely theoretical and anecdotal, however, so the UC rice team is looking to add evidence-based grounding through a variety of studies – from looking at long-term effects on soil health indicators to testing various cover crops (which may deliver some benefits of diversification, similar to those of rotation).

“In California, there is no quantitative data on crop rotation in rice,” said Brim-DeForest. “You’d think after a hundred and some odd years (of UC agricultural research), all the research would have been done, but, no – there’s tons still to do.”

Through interviews with Sacramento Valley growers, researchers found that cost was frequently mentioned as a barrier to trying crop rotation, along with incompatible soil conditions and a lack of equipment, knowledge and experience.

To help clarify those economic uncertainties, the new calculator tool allows growers to enter baseline information specific to their circumstances – whether they rent or own their own land, whether they contract out the work to plant the rotational crop, and other factors. The calculator then generates potential costs and benefits of staying in rice versus rotating to dry beans, safflower, sunflower or tomato, during the first year and in an “average” year for those crops.

The upfront costs of rotation during “year one” can be daunting. Therefore, the tool only focuses on a short-term profitability perspective. Researchers are currently working on longer term modeling for crop rotation – incorporating the possibility of reduced herbicide use over time, and under different crop yield scenarios, for example – that could significantly change the growers’ calculus.

“You could actually be profitable in the long term, whereas this first, short glimpse is showing you a negative,” said Rosenberg.

In addition, thanks to collaboration with the UC IPM team, the rice rotation calculator is an evolving tool that will be continually improved based on user feedback and additional data. Brim-DeForest also said that it could be adapted to other cropping systems – for example, alfalfa going into another rotational crop.

The rice calculator tool can be found at: https://rice-rotation-calculator.ipm.ucanr.edu/.

Other contributors to the project include Bruce Linquist, Luis Espino, Ellen Bruno, Kassim Al-Khatib and Michelle Leinfelder-Miles of UCCE; Cameron Pittelkow of UC Davis; as well as UC IPM team members Chinh Lam, Tunyalee Martin and Hanna Zorlu; and the California rice growers and industry members who participated in the research.

2022-12-01T13:56:46-08:00December 1st, 2022|

Conversion to Organics Could Increase Food Prices, Shrink Farm Profits

By Peter Hecht, California Farm Bureau

A European Union policy goal to exponentially increase organic farming to 30% of all agricultural production by 2030 is expected to be considered by Gov. Gavin Newsom for next year’s budget. However, a new economic analysis says such a plan would dramatically increase the price of food for many consumers and jeopardize the solvency of organic farms.

California currently has an estimated 7.35 million acres of irrigated cropland, of which 460,000 acres—or 6%—is certified as organic and not all of that is farmed in any given year.

A preliminary analysis by ERA Economics, a Davis-based consultancy specializing in the economics of agriculture and water resources in California, focused on the potential challenges of applying the EU standards to one California crop: tomatoes. The state produces 95% of America’s processing tomatoes and the total annual tomato crop is valued at $1.2 billion.

Only 5% of California’s 228,000 processing tomato acreage is currently needed to meet consumer demand for organic. The study found that reaching 30% organic production by 2030 would cause substantial disruptions to the market. The farmgate price of conventional tomatoes was estimated to rise by more than 11%. And, importantly, the price for organic tomatoes was estimated to fall by 28% at the farmgate level—potentially putting the market price below the cost of production.

That could mean organic farmers would be forced to cease production, sell, or farm something else—a result that could potentially crash the organic market and ultimately drive-up consumer prices. Mandating an increase in organic acreage without a clear connection to consumer demand could result in market disruptions that would hurt farmers, farm employees and consumers alike, the study noted.

Any initial organic price drop would mostly benefit wealthier consumers who purchase organically grown products, with lower-income customers paying more for traditionally grown products. All tomato farmers, organic or not, could see reduced profits, according to the analysis.

“Farming works when we are able to grow what the consumer actually wants and not what government mandates. California consumers are already struggling to afford higher prices for food than other states because of government mandates and these types of proposals just make things worse,” said Jamie Johansson, president of the California Farm Bureau. “When the government increases the price of food, it acts like a regressive tax, hurting lower- and middle-income families the hardest. At the end of the day, the government needs to let organic markets grow organically.”

The study was funded by Californians for Smart Pesticide Policy, a coalition of farmers and businesses the rely on farmers, focused on educating policymakers on the benefits of modern scientific agricultural tools. It was undertaken on behalf of the California Bountiful Foundation, the 501(c)(3) science and research arm of the California Farm Bureau. The full report may be found at https://www.californiabountifulfoundation.com/research/.

A recently released report (https://www.fb.org/newsroom/farm-bureau-survey-shows-thanksgiving-dinner-cost-up-20) by the American Farm Bureau Federation shows that the average cost of a family’s Thanksgiving dinner—now $64.05—is up 20% from 2021 and nearly 36% from 2020.

The findings by ERA Economics include the following:

• To increase organic acreage for processing tomatoes from an average of 4% to 30% would represent a five- to six-fold increase in current acreage. Tomato growers and processors interviewed for the analysis confirmed industry data regarding consumers’ finite desire to purchase organic tomato products.

• Tomato growers may specialize in organic, non-organic or both, depending on market demands and conditions. By mandating a specific growing method, it could greatly impact the ability of farmers to keep their operation sustainable, both financially and as they encounter other challenges, such as climate change and pests and disease.

• Both conventional and organic farmers of processing tomatoes face risks of economic losses. Conventional growers, with likely reduced acreage, could see a 17% potential downside cost from expected earnings.

• Organic production presents greater risk of crop failure, higher production costs and lower crop yields. As a result, organic farmers are likely to see less stability. They face a potential downside cost of 36% of anticipated net returns, making it potentially unprofitable to grow organic processing tomatoes.

2022-11-23T09:00:36-08:00November 23rd, 2022|

USDA Invites Ag Producers to Respond Online to the 2022 Census of Agriculture

By Jodi Halvorson, USDA

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) mailed survey codes to all known agriculture producers across the 50 states with an invitation to respond online to the 2022 Census of Agriculture at agcounts.usda.gov. The ag census is the nation’s only comprehensive and impartial agriculture data for every state, county, and territory. By completing the survey, producers across the nation can tell their story and help generate impactful opportunities that better serve them and future generations of producers.

The 2022 Census of Agriculture will be mailed in phases, with paper questionnaires following in December. Producers need only respond once, whether securely online or by mail. The online option offers timesaving features ideal for busy producers. All responses are due Feb. 6, 2023. Farm operations of all sizes, urban and rural, which produced and sold, or normally would have sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural products in 2022, are included in the ag census.

“The 2022 Census of Agriculture is a powerful voice for American agriculture. The information gathered through the ag census influences policy decisions that will have a tremendous impact on ag producers and their communities for years to come,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “I strongly encourage all farmers, no matter how large or small their operation, to promptly complete and return their ag census. This is your opportunity to share your voice, uplift the value and showcase the uniqueness of American agriculture.”

Collected in service to American agriculture since 1840 and now conducted every five years by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the Census of Agriculture is a complete picture of American agriculture today. It highlights land use and ownership, producer characteristics, production practices, income and expenditures, among other topics.

“Our farmers and ranchers have an incredible impact on our nation and the world. I want to thank them in advance for responding to the ag census,” said NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer. “We recognize how valuable their time is, so we have made responding more convenient and modern than ever before.”

Between ag census years, NASS considers revisions to the questionnaire to document changes and emerging trends in the industry. Changes to the 2022 questionnaire include new questions about the use of precision agriculture, hemp production, hair sheep and updates to internet access questions.

Responding to the Census of Agriculture is required by law under Title 7 USC 2204(g) Public Law 105-113. The same law requires NASS to keep all information confidential, to use the data only for statistical purposes, and only publish in aggregate form to prevent disclosing the identity of any individual producer or farm operation. NASS will release the results of the ag census in early 2024.

To learn more about the Census of Agriculture, visit nass.usda.gov/AgCensus. On the website, producers and other data users can access frequently asked questions, past ag census data, special study information, and more. For highlights of these and the latest information, follow USDA NASS on twitter @usda_nass.

2022-11-23T08:55:01-08:00November 23rd, 2022|

New Proposed Decision Released for Net-Energy Metering (NEM) 3.0

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.

2022-11-22T08:09:54-08:00November 22nd, 2022|
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