Farm Workers Fearful for Future

Americans not interested in farm worker jobs, Western Growers Association says

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

Jason Resnick
Jason Resnick

The noble farm workers moving though California orchards and vineyards – where they are pruning trees and tying vines, along with other winter work – are fearful that they could be deported.

“They are scared because there has been a lot of the rhetoric in the news out there that’s come from the presidential campaign,” said Jason Resnick, Vice President and general counsel for the Western Growers Association, based in Irvine. “It has certainly raised concerns for workers. However, we are confident that the President-elect understands the needs of agriculture, the importance of agriculture and that we rely on these workers to harvest the crops that feed the country and the world.”

“For the last decade agricultural leaders through all segments of the ag industry have been leaning hard on Congress for an immigration reform package that will do two things: One that will help us to maintain our existing workforce and to normalize their status,” Resnick said. “And two, we need lawmakers to streamline the future flow of workers who want to come here for the season and do the work and return back to their home country. It’s really a two-prong approach that we are looking for.”

And there has been additional rhetoric, along with letters to editors in major newspapers across the country. Many uninformed people are saying that farm workers should not be here because they are taking away American jobs.

“We’ve known for years and it’s been tested and proven again and again that Americans won’t pick crops at any wage,” Resnick said.  “As part of the H2A temporary agricultural program that allows agricultural employee who are facing a shortage of domestic workers to bring foreign workers to the U.S. to perform ag work services on a seasonal basis, we have advertised for American workers in multiple states.”

“We are seeking American workers to do the work at considerable higher wages than minimum wage,” he said. “And we do not get many Americans applying at all. And when we do, they come to work and they barely last a day, let alone the season.”

“People in this country would do almost anything rather than farm work,” Resnick said.

 

Future Looks Bright with Young Cattlemen’s Club

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo Group Educates Fellow Students About Cattle

By Joanne Lui, Associate Editor

If their attendance at the California Cattlemen’s Association’s 100th Annual Convention was any indication, the future is bright for the next generation of cattlemen and cattlewomen. We spoke to Veronica Staggs, a junior at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, about why she’s a member of the Young Cattlemen’s Club and what they are doing to educate students about the cattle industry.

Veronica Stacks, member of the Cal Poly San Luis Obisop Young Cattlemen's Club
Veronica Staggs, member of the Cal Poly San Luis Obisop Young Cattlemen’s Club

The club, which is a chapter of the California Young Cattlemen, has about more than 50 members, with both those who grew up on cattle ranches and many who just have a passion for livestock agriculture, Staggs said

Staggs, who is studying animal science at Cal Poly with the goal of becoming a livestock veterinarian, is one of those who doesn’t haven’t a background in cattle.

“I actually love cattle, but it’s a great industry to go into and to be a vet for because the people you work with are just so nice, and so genuine, and they’re so easy to work with,” Staggs said.

The prospect of working with cattle ranchers was a main reason that drew her to studying animal sciences.

“I just think that cattle ranchers are super easy people to work with,” Staggs said. “They’re super genuine. You can work well with them. They treat you like family, so I think being a vet for cattle ranchers would just be a super great job.”

Cal Poly San Luis Obispo is well-known for a great agriculture program in general. The Young Cattlemen’s Club does their part to get to engage fellow ag students about the cattle industry.

“We do a lot of networking with people not a part of agriculture to show them what’s going on,” Staggs said. “And most of them are pretty receptive to it, and actually get interested in what’s going on and seeing how their food reaches their table.

Recently, the club even brought a calf into the student union to let people meet the animal and to educate the public about food animals. The Young Cattlemen also use social media to get their message across.

“We try to put a lot of information out there for them, because we think that it’s important for everyone to understand how food reaches their table and that it’s not just from a super market,” Staggs said.

The Latest Buzz in ‘RoboBee’ Research

Thanks to recent headway in RoboBee research and development, these mechanized pollinators could be headed to a greenhouse near you soon.

Guest Editorial By Tim Jennings, President of Custom Case Group, Maker of DroneHangar

My company has been manufacturing custom cases in the drone and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) industry for decades. Because we’re involved in so many facets—from the military to the consumer and agricultural segments—my team is often privy to advancements early on. Being a drone enthusiast myself, I try to keep up with the latest developments on my own time, too.

Today, some of the most exciting activity I’m seeing is in the field of agricultural drones, where researchers are making major progress toward mainstreaming RoboBees—tiny drones capable of pollination and other forms of indoor crop maintenance. While open-air agricultural applications, such as crop scouting and pesticide application, are now standard, there’s been little progress in indoor agriculture applications—until now.

New microdrone research in the U.S. and Spain could soon allow RoboBees to run greenhouses and large-scale indoor farms around the globe.

“RoboBees” – The Pollinators of the Future

RoboBees have been on the scene for some time through a collaborative project between teams at Harvard University and Northeastern University. The teams have been working together about 12 years to create “swarms” of tiny worker drones capable of tethered flight. The drones, with wingspans of just 1.2 inches, weigh less than real bees, but, tiny as they are, RoboBees are the result of some intense collaboration among experts in dozens of fields, including neurobiology, computer science and chemical engineering.

The Latest Advancements

Perching & Takeoff. It seems simple: Design a tiny drone that can take off and land easily. However, perching and takeoff have turned out to be among the most critical functions and toughest challenges in RoboBee development. This year, though, the Harvard team may have a breakthrough. The functions of perching and takeoff are critical because they allow the drones to “rest,” protecting them from the mechanical fatigue and power drain of constant flight. The team reported the possible breakthrough in an article in the journal Science titled, “Perching and Takeoff of a Robotic Insect on Overhangs Using Switchable Electrostatic Adhesion,” where they suggest that electrostatic forces allow the small drones to “stick” to different surfaces, such as plant leaves. And the power required to generate those forces is less than what’s needed to keep the RoboBee in flight.

Indoor Environmental Mapping. Large drones that can map and negotiate complex outdoor environments have been around a while; however, small size has been a major limitation in the development of drones capable of indoor mapping. So far, the massive data collection and processing necessary for environmental mapping requires a machine too large for indoor use. But that may be changing.

This year, a research team from the Centre for Automation and Robotics in Spain published a paper titled “Heterogeneous Multi-Robot System for Mapping Environmental Variables of Greenhousesin the journal Sensors, where they describe a heterogeneous robot team capable of monitoring the environmental variables inside greenhouses. They call the drone team, which includes aerial and ground drones, a “system” that understands and negotiates its surroundings by way of a shared multi-sensor application.

The drones within the system, some of which have cameras for visual monitoring, can also measure factors like soil and air temperature, humidity, luminosity and carbon dioxide concentrations in the greenhouse environment.

How Soon?

It could be a couple more years before RoboBee teams will totally manage indoor crops. But advancements like that above ensure this tech is headed to the mainstream fast. What are your thoughts on drone automation for indoor agriculture? Where do you see this tech bringing the industry in the next 20 years?

Feel free to share on the California Ag Today Facebook page; we’re interested in knowing what you think.

California Farm Bureau Federation President Decries Water Diversion Plan

Science Shows Increased Water Flow Doesn’t Save Fish, Paul Wenger Says

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

California Ag Today is continuing our coverage of the State Water Resources Control Board’s plan to take 40 percent of the water from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced Rivers to feed into the San Joaquin River to increase flows for salmon. There is major pushback by affected farmers. We spoke with Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation, at their 98th annual meeting in Monterey this week. He farms almonds and walnuts in that area, and he and his family would be seriously impacted; they would be forced into more groundwater pumping.

president of the California Farm Bureau Federation
Paul Wenger, President of the California Farm Bureau Federation.

“It just seems the same old adage,” Wenger said. “If we put more water in the rivers, it’s going to be better for the fish. We know that it hasn’t worked with biological opinions. We know it hasn’t worked in the Sacramento, it hasn’t worked in the delta. We need to go after some of these other predatory species: the striped bass. They’re an introduced species.”

Wenger said there’s a lot of data saying that just won’t work. “The studies have been done, the science is out there. Just to say that we’re going to keep adding water to the problem [and] we’re going to get a different result is ridiculous. We have a finite resource of water today. We have growing needs for it for urban [and] foreign environmental flows, but also for farming and manufacturing.”

Wenger believes that the Water Board always makes rules quickly are not invested in the outcome.

“As I tell the folks, you come up with the ideas, but you’re not invested. You’re investing my future. You’re investing my resources, and other farmers’, but when we have these environmental groups say, ‘This is a solution.’ Why don’t you put your money up?”

 

 

BREAKING NEWS: California Water Authorities Sue U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

The following is a joint statement by Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority and Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District on today’s filing of a lawsuit to compel the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation to reassess its Endangered Species Act (ESA)-related actions.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Fails to Consider the Environmental Impacts of Biological Opinions Which Have Been Devastating Communities

FRESNO, CA-TODAY the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority (SLDMWA) and Westlands Water District (WWD) filed a lawsuit in federal court to compel the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (“Reclamation”) to examine the effectiveness of the existing measures intended to protect endangered species, the environmental impacts of those measures, and whether there are alternatives to those measures that would better protect both endangered fish species and California’s vital water supplies.

San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority The existing measures, adopted in 2008 and 2009, are based on biological opinions issued under the Endangered Species Act.  The measures are responsible for the largest redistribution of Central Valley Project and State Water Project (water supplies away from urban and agricultural uses and have jeopardized the water supply for waterfowl and wildlife refuges.  Since 2008 and 2009, the farms, families, cities and wildlife that depend upon Central Valley Project and State Water Project water supplies have suffered substantial environmental and socio-economic harm from the reduced water deliveries caused by the existing measures, with little apparent benefit for fish.

Reclamation adopted the existing measures without any review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  Federal courts, including the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, held this action violated NEPA, and Reclamation was ordered to perform environmental review.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals wrote:

It is beyond dispute that Reclamation’s implementation of the Biological Opinions (BiOp) has important effects on human interaction with the natural environment.  We know that millions of people and vast areas of some of America’s most productive farmland will be impacted by Reclamation’s actions.  Those impacts were not the focus of the BiOp….  We recognize that the preparation of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIS) will not alter Reclamation’s obligations under the ESA.  But the EIS may well inform Reclamation of the overall costs – including the human costs – of furthering the ESA.

The court-ordered review provided Reclamation a rare opportunity to reexamine the necessity for and the benefits of the existing measures, as well as the resulting impacts on the environment and water supplies, potential alternative measures, and new information and studies developed since 2008 and 2009.  It provided Reclamation an opportunity to make a new and better-informed choice.

Unfortunately, Reclamation neglected to take advantage of that opportunity. In November 2015 Reclamation completed an EIS that did not examine whether the measures are necessary or effective for protecting endangered fish populations.  Instead of analyzing the existing measures, Reclamation accepted them as the status quo.U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

The EIS did not identify any mitigation for the water supply lost to these measures, despite current modeling that estimated how the existing measures would reduce the annual water delivery capabilities of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. Loss was estimated to be over 1 million acre-feet on a long-term average and in spite of years of harm caused by implementing the measures.

Nor did the EIS try to identify alternatives that could lessen these impacts.  Reclamation attempted to minimize the impacts of lost surface water supply by unreasonably assuming the lost supply would be made up from increased pumping of already stressed groundwater supplies.  In its Record of Decision issued January 11, 2016 Reclamation announced that it would continue on with the existing measures, and provide no mitigation.

It is inexplicable that Reclamation would pass up the opportunity to reassess the existing measures and make a much more careful and robust analysis than what is found in the EIS.  NEPA requires no less.

The lawsuit filed today seeks to compel Reclamation to do the right thing and perform the analysis it should have.  If successful, the lawsuit may ultimately result in measures that actually help fish, and identify mitigation activities or alternatives that lessen or avoid water supply impacts that millions of Californians in the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project depend on.

Many of those affected reside in disadvantaged communities and are already struggling to pay for a water supply made scarce by layers of other, yet equally ill-advised bureaucratic regulations.  California’s water supply is too precious for Reclamation not to make the best informed decision it can.