Legislative Pressure on Agriculture

Legislative Pressure Builds for Agriculture

By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor

Dennis Albiani is a lobbyist with California Advocates based in Sacramento. California Ag Today met with him at the recent Almond Alliance meeting in Santa Barbara, where he discussed the legislative pressure on agriculture. California’s agricultural interests have had a challenging past couple of years on the subjects of overtime, minimum wage and some of the regulatory compliance areas.

“As we work with legislators, legislative process and the administration, we need to definitely find opportunities to advance the arguments on how the regulations are impacting agriculture,” Albiani said.

What also needs to be realized is that there might be some opportunities. We may be able to benefit from in the climate contained, constrained economy. We also must keep in mind the possible challenges.

Albiani looked at the almond industry as an example. “We have three crops per the drop for nuts. You have the nut, the bio-massed product, and the tree is a carbon sink,” he said. All of those are options that need to be further explored and also continue to pushed back on the regulatory constraints that they are inflicting.

Fine Tuning Almond Irrigation

New technology helps farmers use water to maximum effectiveness

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

At the recent big Almond Conference in Sacramento, there were a lot of discussions on water use in almonds. And while growers are doing a great job in conserving, there’s always ways to improve, according to Larry Schwankl, UC Cooperative Extension Irrigation Specialist Emeritus. He shared with California Ag Today the take-home points of his talk in front of several hundred growers.

larry_schwankl
Irrigation Specialist Larry Schwankl

“We have been researching, ‘How much do growers need to irrigate?’ We want to make sure that their irrigation system are effective and that they know how long to operate it and then ways of checking to make sure that they’re doing a good job and utilizing soil moisture sensors and devices,” Schwankl said.

Schwankl also suggested that growers use pressure bomb to accurately measure the pressure of water inside a leaf. When used, it’s possible to measure the approximate water status of plant tissues.

In using a pressure bomb, the stem of a leaf is placed in a sealed chamber, and pressurized gas is added to the chamber slowly. The device has been calibrated to indicate whether or not that leaf is stressed for water.

“We can predict how much water the tree’s going to need, and we can predict how much an irrigation system is going to put on, but there’s errors in all predictions,” Schwankl said.   “We need to go back and check and make sure that we’re staying on target. That’s where knowing the soil moisture and the plant water status really helps.”

Fighting to Protect Family Farms from Water Diversion

In Face of Water Diversion Threat, Ag Industry Experts are Speaking Out

By Laurie Greene, Editor

 

California Ag Today has been reporting on the California State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) proposed plan to divert 40 percent of the surface water from the Tuolumne River and two additional tributaries of the San Joaquin River between February 1st and June 30th every year. The SWRCB plan is designed to increase flows in the Delta in an effort to help the declining smelt and salmon populations. Yet, these water diversions would severely impact not only the farm industry, but communities in the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts as well.

Michael Boccadoro, president of West Coast Advisors
Michael Boccadoro, president of West Coast Advisors

Ag officials say this is yet another threat to family farms in an attempt to protect the smelt and salmon. Farmers would lose a major portion of their surface water and be forced to pump more groundwater.

“Farming is not just a job; it’s a way of life for many of these families. And that livelihood, that way of life, is being threatened,” said Michael Boccadoro, president of West Coast Advisors, an independent, nonpartisan public affairs and advocacy firm that specializes in complex and often controversial public issues in Sacramento.

Boccadoro said the farm industry in the region is not sitting still while all of this is happening. There is a website, worthyourfight.org, that addresses this new assault on agriculture.

worthyourfight-logo Water Diversion
WorthYourFight.org

“It is worth fighting for,”said Boccadoro. “I was born and raised in agriculture, and I still think it’s a wonderful lifestyle. We need to protect it at all costs. This is starting to border on the ridiculous in terms of just one issue after another. . .  This is not a “Mother Nature” issue; this is government putting these obstacles and these problems in front of agriculture, and that’s troubling.”

“We produce much of the fruits and vegetables and nearly all the nut crops for the entire nation. So, of course, we would expect to see significant amounts of water being used by farming in California,” Boccadoro said.

“It’s just reality, and for whatever reason, I think people have been misled and don’t understand this is just part of growing food. Like I have said, if you are concerned about it, all you’ve got to do is quit eating. It’s that simple.”


Links:

California State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB)

West Coast Advisors

worthyourfight.org

Joel Nelsen on Departure of UK from the EU

Joel Nelsen Comments on EU and Impact on Ag from Recent Washington D.C Trip

Yesterday, we were fortunate enough to meet up with Joel Nelsen of California Citrus Mutual at Fresno-Yosemite Airport. He filled us in about his recent trip to Washington, D.C.

Nelsen told us about the discussion he and his colleagues had with foreign trade leaders regarding imports into the United States, as well as how California Ag will be impacted by the United Kingdom exiting from the European Union.

Click below to check it out!

Statement from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Historic New Course for U.S.-Cuba Relations

The following was written by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack: 

“Throughout history, agriculture has served as a bridge to foster cooperation, understanding and the exchange of ideas among people. I have no doubt that agriculture will continue to play that powerful role as we expand our relationship with the Cuban people in the coming years.

“Today’s announcement expands opportunity for U.S. farmers and ranchers to do business in Cuba. It removes technical barriers between U.S. and Cuban companies and creates a more efficient, less burdensome opportunity for Cuba to buy U.S. agricultural products. It also makes those products far more price competitive, which will expand choices for Cuban shoppers at the grocery store and create a new customer base for America’s farmers and ranchers.”

World Ag Expo Offers $3,000 Grand Prize for Video Contest

By: Monique Bienvenue; Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter

World Ag Expo is calling for video submissions to tell the story of agriculture for a chance to win $3,000. The contest will focus on the theme, “Where Would We Be Without Farmers?”

Entrants are asked to tell the story of agriculture and the people who work to provide the products we enjoy. Entries will be evaluated by a panel of judges. The top videos will be posted at www.WorldAgExpo.org and the public will vote for their favorites beginning in December 2014.

“Farmers play an integral role in every part of our lives,” said Jerry Sinift, chief executive officer of the International Agri-Center. “We’re asking for talented individuals to portray the connection between farmers and the world they feed and clothe.”

The winner will be announced on January 30, 2015 and awarded the $3,000 cash prize. The top video will be posted on World Ag Expo’s website; will play during the show, February 10-12, 2015 in Tulare, California and the winner will be recognized at World Ag Expo.

To enter, upload your video to your own YouTube or Vimeo account and complete the online entry form on the World Ag Expo website. Videos must be at least 30 seconds long and may not exceed six minutes. Anyone of any age is eligible to enter. All videos must be submitted by December 1, 2014. Visit www.worldagexpo.org/video-contest for full rules and online entry form.

California FARMS Leadership Program Aims to Get Youth in Ag Business

Christine McMorrow Heads up FARMS Leadership Program

By Colby Tibbet, California Ag Today Reporter

California-based “Farming, Agriculture, and Resource Management for Sustainability,” or FARMS Leadership Program, is a special Center for Land-Based Learning program that provides innovative, hands-on experiences to urban, suburban and rural youth at working farms, agri-businesses and universities.

“We currently serve students in 10 California counties, seven sites throughout the state, and because agriculture is becoming such a key issue in California and more people are becoming interested in farming practices, knowing where their food comes from, and how it’s grown,” said Christine McMorrow, FARMS Leadership Program Director.

McMorrow said, “Our primary goal is to get high school students out on farms and ranches, into Agri-businesses, learning about jobs in agriculture, especially jobs that go beyond production agriculture. Those jobs that involve science, technology, engineering, and math,” said McMorrow.

As industry partners are always looking for qualified people, McMorrow explained, “We want to help generate those qualified people, so we are getting students from ag backgrounds and students who are not from ag backgrounds and exposing them to the wide variety of careers available to them in agriculture.”

She said the best way to enable those students to know what all the different jobs in agriculture is to get them to where the work is happening.“We give them opportunities to do work on these farms and in these businesses. We also make sure they have plenty of opportunities to speak with people working there and find out how they became interested in agriculture and how they got to where they are today,” said McMorrow.

For more information the program, go to the FARMS website. If you represent an agricultural company that needs good qualified help, go to the Center for Land-based Learning website for contact information.

 

Nation’s Ag Co-Ops Set Record for Annual Sales and Income

Source: USDA

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the nation’s farmer, rancher and fishery cooperatives set a new sales record in 2013, with total business volume of more than $246 billion. That surpasses the previous record, set in 2012, by $8 billion, a 4 percent gain. U.S. co-ops also enjoyed robust job growth over the previous year.

This third consecutive year of record sales by ag cooperatives reflects increased sales in the overall farm economy in 2013. U.S. crop production and livestock sales both increased 6 percent in 2013, while production input (farm supply) sales increased 2 percent.

“These sales and net income records for ag cooperatives, combined with strong gains in employees for 2013, underscore the strength and productivity of the nation’s farmer- and rancher-owned cooperatives. These co-ops play a vital and growing role in the nation’s economy,” Vilsack said.

Secretary Vilsack made the announcement to mark the start of National Cooperative Month in October. He also signed a Cooperative Month proclamation that salutes the nation’s entire cooperative business sector, which includes about 30,000 co-ops. In addition to agriculture, the nation’s co-ops play a major role in electricity and telecommunications services, credit and financial services, housing and in many other sectors of the economy.

Ag co-ops also enjoyed record net income (before taxes) of $6.2 billion, besting the previous high of $6.1 billion, set in 2012. Co-op income is either reinvested in the co-op for needed improvements or returned to the member-owners. It then circulates in local communities.

The number of full-time employees working for ag co-ops climbed by almost 7,000 in 2013, to 136,000, up 5 percent from 2012. Counting seasonal employees, ag co-ops employ 191,000 people.

In addition to marketing and processing their members’ crops and livestock, co-ops are also major players in the farm supply market. Co-op sales of petroleum, feed, seed and crop protectants were all up in 2013. Fertilizer sales declined, the only major farm supply to see sales drop in 2013.

With grain and oilseed prices generally lower in 2014, it appears unlikely that co-ops will set a fourth consecutive sales record when the results are tallied next year. However, livestock, poultry and dairy producers and their co-ops will benefit from lower feed costs, which should offset at least some of the decline in revenue from grain and oilseed sales.

While 33 ag cooperatives recorded more than $1 billion in sales in 2013, 33 percent (726 co-ops) had less than $5 million in sales.

The value of cooperative assets fell in 2013 by almost $1 billion, with liabilities decreasing by $5.3 billion and owner equity gaining $4.5 billion. Equity capital still remains low but is clearly showing an upward trend, with a 15 percent increase over the previous year.

Patronage income (refunds from other cooperatives due to sales between cooperatives) increased by almost 33 percent, to $1.2 billion, up from $900 million in 2012.

U.S. farm numbers remained about the same in 2013 as in 2012, with USDA counting 2.1 million in both years. There are now 2,186 farmer, rancher and fishery cooperatives, down from 2,236 in 2012. Mergers account for most of the drop, resulting in larger cooperatives.

Producers held 2 million memberships in cooperatives in 2013, down about 7 percent from 2012. The number of cooperative memberships is slightly less than the number of U.S. farms, but this does not mean that every producer is a member of an agricultural cooperative. Previous studies have found that many farmers and ranchers are members of up to three cooperatives, so farm numbers and cooperative memberships are not strictly comparable.

 

Fresh Harvesting and Packing Co Relies on H-2A Workers

Steve Scaroni is a owner of Valley Harvesting and Packing, a major harvester of strawberries and leafy green vegetables in California and Arizona. At a recent romaine lettuce harvest operation in Salinas, Scaroni talked about how much labor and equipment his production utilizes.

Scaroni said much of his labor comes from Mexico, as part of the federal H-program, which allows temporary visas for agricultural labor workers.

“The H-2A is so important. We absolutely could not produce at the levels of volume that we do without H-2A labor. There is not enough legal labor for us to do the amount of volume that we are asked to do by our customers.”

Scaroni explains that having the H-2A visa program is essential to his produce production and harvesting, even for company that is not seen by the consumer.

“Between the different brands that we probably serve, we probably touch 20 percent of every salad eaten in america everyday. But you don’t see our name anywhere, you don’t hear about us, we are a vendor behind the scenes for the major brands,” said Scaroni.

With the demand and need for guaranteed freshness in produce, a constant flow of workers is even more crucial to the harvesting and production process.

“But we are the ones putting up the harvester equipment and we are making sure we have enough labor. The whole process is now “just in time”. See that’s the other thing, now we have freshness, food safety, but you know we have to have a consistent workforce because we are on just in time deliveries because that’s what the grocery store requires. It comes all the way come back to us.”

Scaroni explains the process by which his company obtains out of state workers, legally and those with good work ethic.

“We’re fortunate that we have what have a farming operation in Mexico, so we vet a lot of our workers that we bring up here. we vet them first in our operation in Guanajuato Mexico. And then the good ones we give them the opportunity to come up here to work two to three to four to five to six  months, making more in an hour than they can make in a day in Mexico.” said Scaroni.

Scaroni noted that there must be approvals from five different government agencies to get that worker out of Mexico and here working in California, legally with a H-2A visa.

“I have a great H-2A team, all they focus on is H-2A, the process, getting the workers up here, going to the consulate to do the intake process. Every worker is background checked, fingerprinted, and if they have any criminal history in the system, they’re excluded and cut off the border, and they can’t come.”

Scaroni said the job wouldn’t get done without them.

“In today’s labor reality I would not have a business at the volume that my customers bless us with. We would be at half of what we are, We’d be half the business we are now.” Scaroni added.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross talks with students at Chico State

Source: Excerpted from Heather Hacking, ChicoER News; posted by CDFA

California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross spoke to students at the California State University, Chico Farm on Tuesday.

Ross was in Chico as guest speaker at the Chico Rotary Club and she toured the University Farm before meeting with students and local ag leaders.

“We need to reconnect farmers with consumers and create an ag-literate populace,” said Ross.

One student asked about a recent proposal by the governor to eliminate grant funding for FFA agriculture education.

Ross said students can send a powerful message; those in the FFA blue jackets can and should stand up at school board meetings and talk about the importance of investing in youth.

“What about conflicting messages that come from various sectors of agriculture?” asked Dave Daley, an instructor at Chico State.

Ross said there is room for many different segments of the food industry — organic and conventional and all the variations in between.

“Consumers want assurance that they have a choice,” said Ross. “Having many different markets also provides opportunities for producers.”

For students wondering which direction to go with after college, Ross encouraged young people to consider careers with CDFA and USDA.

“Many people are at retirement age,” Ross said. “A fresh workforce is welcome.”

"CDFA Secretary Karen Ross talks with students at CSU Chico" -ChicoER News
“CDFA Secretary Karen Ross talks with students at CSU Chico” -ChicoER News

For any ag producers, it’s important to be able to communicate and to clearly express themselves through writing, she added.

The stories of the farm cannot be told in 140 characters, the length of one Twitter entry, and the ability to communicate science to non-farmers will become increasingly important.

Ross also noted that farming has always included adaptation; as the world population increases and open land decreases, improvements to farming will continue.