A recent meeting brought farmers and other stakeholders to California State University, Fresno to discuss the possible impacts of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
SGMA requires governments and water agencies of high and medium priority groundwater basins to halt overdraft pumping and to bring those basins in equal levels between pumping and recharge. Under SGMA, these basins should reach sustainability within 20 years of implementing their sustainability plans. For critically over drafted basins, that will be 2040. For the remaining high and medium priority basins, 2042 is the deadline.
Don Wright,the publisher of WaterWrights.net, which is the only agriculture water reporting service in the Valley, spoke om the topic.
“SGMA is an overwhelming concept for most people because it’s an overwhelmingly poorly written law,” Wright said. “However, you show me anybody more creative than a farmer trying to get water. Hopefully, people left [the meeting] with the hope that others are looking out for solutions.”
Wright explained that the meeting helps blunt the impacts, the intended consequences, and the unintended consequences that come from legislation like this.
On the panel were farmers, agronomist, soil engineers, farmers, and a water attorney.
“All of these people are intimately involved in how the junction between water being delivered to the plants and harvest taken place. A lot of questions were answered, more importantly, we started defining the issues that need to be asked. And often that’s often the most critical step,” Wright said.
Lauren Layne, a water law attorney with Baker Manock and Jensen, suggested that farmers take action and put meters on their wells to start collecting data that could be of use to them.
“That’s a double edge sword,” Wright said. “For one it’s, it’s like putting a GPS on your vehicle for the government to follow you around. You don’t want that. You don’t want the government necessarily know how much water you’re using. But on the other side, if you keep that information private, once SGMA starts being implemented, and you can prove that you’ve used X amount of water, you can report your average cost per acre. Also, if a farmer is in an area with surface deliveries, how much does the surface deliveries impact your pumping? That’s a great combination to have.”
Wright said if the industry can get enough information, then they can report that the reason the farming industry needs to repair aquifers is due to cut offs from the deliveries to farmers.
Service providers, product manufacturers, and designers are looking at solutions to SGMA. These products can be seen at Fresno State’s Water Energy and Technology (WET) Center.
“It’s all about how can we keep farmers farming,” Wright said. “I know when a farmer is by himself and your back is against the wall, people are looking out for you.”
Wright also explained that the people that are populating the Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) boards are not the enemy.
“They are men and women like you and I, with a stake in it. They are not the ones trying to cut off the water; they are the ones with boots on the ground dealing with a poorly written law.”
Increased funding to make farming easier is a priority, an expert told California Ag Today recently. LaKisha Odom is the science program director for the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research based in Washington, DC. Funding sound science is a goal for the foundation.
“We are interested in increasing the amount of funding that is available to make farming and decision making easier,” Odom said.
This is all based on sound science. Their foundation base depends on the readily available funding.
“We match public-private dollars and increase that amount of funding available to fund sound science,” she explained.
The funding is for foundations and agencies that will assist farmers.
“The universities, industry partners, foundations and the research that’s funded by those entities can then inform those decision makers to assist those farmers who are making those decisions,” she said.
“We were provided $200 million dollars in the 2014 Farm Bill,” Odom added.
There are seven challenge areas that the foundation focuses on: water scarcity; urban agriculture; food waste; food loss; making my plate your plate, which focuses on nutrition; protein challenge, which focuses on animal sustainability; and innovation pathways.
Fresno State is one of the founding partners.
“I’m working with the irrigation innovation consortium, which is a consortium of university partners as well as industry partners, and Fresno State is one of our partners in that,” Odom said.
They are working with Dr. Davis at Fresno State for ways in which they can make innovations in irrigation and make water issues a little less challenging for farmers.
Dr. Avery Culbertson, who is passionate about agricultural leadership joined California State University, Fresno (Fresno State) in August, in a newly created position to develop an Ag leadership curriculum for the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology.
Dr. Culbertson’s interest in Ag leadership was initially sparked by “being a product of National FFA Organization* (FFA). You have a lot of role models and influences around you. You start getting an idea of what Ag leadership is,” said Culbertson.
“After I got my degree in agricultural education and was looking for a job, I met with a colleague who said, ‘There are adult leadership programs around the country, and I want you to start one at New Mexico State University.’”
Having been trained by the California Agricultural Leadership Program, Culbertson was confident that she could successfully launch a program. “They really opened their arms to me,” she commented, “and provided resources. As that progressed, I started defining what leadership was.”
Culbertson asserted, “An agricultural leadership program is not only [about] understanding our industry, but understanding our customer. That became very important to me in and outside of the job. The only way that agriculture can lead in society is by understanding our stakeholders.”
Culbertson thinks it is critical not only to know how to lead—having the skill set to be a great speaker or to be knowledgeable in different fields,” she explained, “we also need to know who we are leading. As I’ve been discussing with my classes right now, leadership is a matter of taking a group of people and accomplishing a collective goal,” she said.
*National FFA Organization (FFA), formerly known as Future Farmers of America, helps students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.
By Kate Campbell; Ag Alert
Central Valley farmers and businesses donated and shipped about 30 tons of fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts last week to help address food shortages at California food banks. A newly organized grassroots coalition, “California Water Feeds Our Communities,” was joined by the California Community Food Bank, Westlands Water District, the California Water Alliance and El Agua Es Asunto De Todos to bring valley-grown produce to those in need across the state.
Fresno County farmer Bill Diedrich said the impact of fallowing hundreds of thousands of acres of irrigated cropland in the San Joaquin Valley this year translates into significant economic losses for the valley’s small farming communities.
“It’s the people—and the communities that depend on agricultural production—that are getting hurt,” Diedrich said at a news conference in Fresno to announce the donations. “For example, the schools are being hurt. If people are moving on, there’s no reimbursement for (school) attendance and the children of those families who’ve stayed are losing out. Besides the school districts, cities and counties also are being affected and their ability to help in this crisis is reduced.”
Diedrich said that when he drives through the valley’s small towns, he sees workers standing around idle, “because there’s so much fallowed ground there isn’t the normal demand for labor. We’re looking at a disaster and we’re hoping for regulatory relief,” noting that Congress will be considering drought-relief bills in coming weeks.
Kym Dildine with Fresno-based Community Food Bank said one in four people in Fresno, Kings, Madera, Kern and Tulare counties copes with food insecurity, a situation made worse by the ongoing drought.
Prior to the drought, she said the agency was serving about 220,000 people a month. With the drought, that number has increased by another 30,000 people a month in the five-county area.
“Every food bank we’ve spoken to is really grateful to be receiving an entire truckload of fresh produce grown right here in the valley,” she said. “Because less fruit is available, they’re having a harder time accessing it.”
To help address the problem, 15 trucks were loaded with boxes of fresh produce at Simonian Fruit Co. in Fowler before heading to food banks in Fresno, Merced, Bakersfield, Los Angeles, Watsonville, Salinas, Santa Maria, Oxnard, Riverside and San Diego.
“The food we grow here extends far and wide,” said Gayle Holman of the Westlands Water District. “In fact, most people don’t even realize the food they may be eating in other parts of the state, or across the United States, actually originates here.”
The Fresno County Farm Bureau, along with many valley farms and businesses, supported the food donation effort, as did irrigation districts and service groups such as the Girl Scouts of Central California-South and the Fresno Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, as well as California State University, Fresno.
Participants said the coalition hopes not only to bring attention to the impact of the drought and how far-reaching it is, but also to set the stage for future food donation drives as the crisis deepens during the winter. Diedrich said the effort also brings attention to the fact that an unreliable water supply jeopardizes everyone’s food security.
“The drought has impacted California’s food banks because they can no longer adapt to the spike in food prices resulting from a lack of water for farmers,” said Cannon Michael, president of Los Banos-based Bowles Farming Co. “This campaign has been launched to feed the needy and raise awareness about how the drought hurts the most vulnerable people in the state.”
Drought-related land fallowing brings “many unintended consequences,” Michael said.
“We hope raising awareness about the drought will bring all stakeholders together to find short- and long-term solutions,” he said.
Westside farmer Sarah Woolf said the coalition will continue to support food banks.
“This was just one small aspect of how we’re trying to help,” she said.
When the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced a zero water allocation for farm customers south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Mendota Mayor Robert Silva said his community knew it was facing “a terrible situation.” But he said the city learned from the drought in 2009 and immediately began preparing.
“We got service agencies and utilities to come in and set up assistance programs right away,” Silva said. “We’ve added recreational opportunities for our youth to keep them busy and we’ve been finding ways to support our schools.”
In 2009, Silva said water shortages led to severe social problems such as domestic violence and higher school dropout rates that might have been eased with adequate social services. The unemployment rate in Mendota today is in the range of 35 percent, he said, compared to 50 percent at the same time in 2009.
“Unemployment is still high, but not as bad as we feared,” Silva said. “But we’re not out of danger yet. I understand it’s going to be a short growing season this year, harvest is nearly over, and that means more people will be unemployed for a longer time. We haven’t seen the worst yet.”
He said Mendota residents have been planning ahead and “trying to get the resources they’ll need to get by until they can go back to work next year,” and more agencies are prepared to help.
“But it’s going to be a long winter,” Silva said.
Commentary by Joseph I. Castro
Source: California Farm Bureau Federation
At the end of my first 100 days as president of California State University, Fresno, I announced the formation of the President’s Commission on the Future of Agriculture and charged it with the task of identifying opportunities and strengthening industry partnerships to make Fresno State’s agricultural programs and facilities among the best in the nation.
There is no doubt that California agriculture has transformed itself over the decades, born of a necessity to address endless challenges such as the current, devastating drought.
Fresno State, located in the heart of the No.1 producing region in the nation, is geographically poised to take the lead in making sure the agricultural industry has the tools it needs to be cutting edge and remain economically successful, whatever the challenges that lie ahead.
I created this commission to fulfill my vision for Fresno State to become the front-runner in providing California agriculture with its future employees, industry leaders and innovators in production agriculture and food processing.
Fresno State’s Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology is proud of its programs that provide quality education and applied research in agriculture and food technology, but we can do more.
We must help our students excel in a changing agriculture and food industry, and ensure Fresno State will be even stronger for the next generation of students.
My commission is designed to do just that: identify industry needs and make recommendations on how Fresno State’s agricultural programs—defined to include intersections with science, math, engineering, business and other areas—can be among the very best.
Co-chaired by dairyman, attorney and industry leader George Soares of Hanford and Fresno State Interim Provost Andrew Hoff, the commission includes agribusiness and industry leaders from throughout the valley, plus university representatives, who are charged specifically to:
Commission members include Darius Assemi, Granville Management Inc., Fresno; Kim Ruiz Beck, Ruiz Food Products Inc., Dinuba; Barry Bedwell, California Grape and Tree Fruit League, Fresno; Carol Chandler, Chandler Farms, Selma; Octavia Diener, Fresno State Foundation Board, Fresno; Ryan Jacobsen, Fresno County Farm Bureau, Fresno; David Mas Masumoto, Masumoto Farms Inc., Del Rey; Marvin Meyers, Meyers Farming, Firebaugh; Dennis Parnagian, Fowler Packing Co., Fresno; Pat Ricchuiti, P-R Farms Inc., Clovis; Mario Santoyo, Friant Water Authority, Lindsay; Bill Smittcamp, Wawona Frozen Foods, Clovis; Peter Weber, Regional Job Initiatives, Fresno; and Dennis Nef, Susan Elrod, Ram Nunna and Lynn Williams, all of Fresno State.
The commission has met and is actively engaged in examining ways for the Jordan College to achieve its full potential.
A preliminary report of the commission’s findings and recommendations will be available in early May.
This is an exciting time for Fresno State agriculture, its students, faculty, alumni and industry partners.
I encourage our alumni and friends of the university, in particular, to become part of this very important effort. I hope you will contact me with your ideas and suggestions.
(Joseph I. Castro is president of California State University, Fresno. He can be contacted on Twitter via @JosephICastro.)