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.”

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Celebrating California Agriculture . . .A Farmer Can Be The Cowboy, Buying Everybody Drinks

Peterangelo Vallis Offers Advice on How Farmers Can Connect with Public

By Patrick  Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

Peterangelo Vallis, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Wine Growers Association based in Fresno.  He says if you were to go around the world and see how farmers interact with the public, you would observe their interactions are different in other countries than here in California.

“Especially if you go to Europe, agriculture is pervasive in the countryside. If you have a city, automatically you’re going to have farmland around it,” Vallis said. “It’s a little different than what we have in California, where you have urban spaces, some desert, mountains and then you tend to have agriculture, but realistically the core portion’s the same.

Peterangelo Vallis, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Wine Growers Association
Peterangelo Vallis, executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Wine Growers Association

“If you go to France or Italy, your main business is agriculture. Farmers are not looked at as being different somehow. They are looked at as businessmen who happen to make the food that we’re serving on the table, you’re buying at the store or the restaurateur is preparing for you to enjoy,” he said.

There, they think about the farmer—the agriculturalist, who brings that food to them as “filling up your happy, cheese-loving belly. That’s something that we are totally missing in this country because, by and large, our rural populations are removed from our urban populations,” Vallis said.

california saloon, Peterangelo Vallis“As a result, that’s on us, with our own PR for our own businesses—to come into town and make a place for ourselves. . . show ourselves off so that people recognize when we come in and are thinking about us when we’re not there.”

“It’s just like in the Old West. No one worried about the guy that slunk in the back door of the saloon and just sat there with his hat down hoping no one would shoot at him. But everyone knew the guy with the black hat who walked right through the front door into the middle of the bar, said hello and bought everyone drinks. That’s us!” Vallis said.

Sustainable Conservation Works with Growers and Dairies to Solve Problems

Farmers and Sustainable Conservation Collaborate on Economic Improvements

By Laurie Greene, Editor

 

Sustainable Conservation helps California thrive by uniting people to solve some of the toughest issues facing our land, air and waters. Everyday the organization brings together business, government, landowners and others to steward the resources that Californians depend on in ways that make economic sense.

“We partner extensively with farmers in California on a variety of issues which focus on how to find, solutions that will solve the environmental issue, but also work economically,” said Ashley Boren, executive director, Sustainable Conservation, which has a home office in San Francisco as well as an office in Modesto.

ashly_boren
Ashly Boren, Executive Director of the Sustainable Conservation

“We work with the dairies in California to find manure management practices that work for the farm but also reduce nitrate leeching to ground water, to better protect groundwater quality.

“We help simplify the permeating process for landowners who want to do restoration work, maybe stream bank stabilization or erosion control projects,” Boren said. “We make it much easier to get good projects done.”

“We have a partnership with the nursery industry. This voluntary collaboration aims to stop the sale of invasive plants because fifty percent of the plants that are invasive in California were introduced through gardening, and the nursery industry has really stepped up to be part of the solution on that issue,” she said.

Sustainable Conservation is also doing a lot of work with groundwater. “We think there’s a real opportunity for farmers to help be part of the solution in sustainable ground water management. We are particularly focused on how to capture flood waters in big storm events, and how to spread the water onto active farmland as a way of getting it back into the ground,” Boren said.

Boren noted that she has partnered with the Almond Board of California and other grower associations regarding floodwater management. We actually have a pilot program with Madera Irrigation District and Tulare Irrigation District on helping them with some tools, as well as developing some tools together with them, that will help them figure out how to optimize groundwater management in their basins.

Celebrating California Agriculture

Celebrating California Agriculture – A Refreshing Perspective

By Laurie Greene, Editor

Peterangelo Vallis is the executive director of the San Joaquin Valley Winegrowers Association based in Kingsburg, CA. Today, he discusses the great care farmers put into their land.

“Hey, we don’t make any more land. God gave us a green earth. That is what we’ve got, and we live in the best possible place to grow virtually anything,” said Vallis.

peterangelo_vallis-side_shot-celebrating-california-agriculture
Peterangelo Vallis, executive director of San Joaquin Valley Winegrape Growers Association.

“In most cases, anything that has been farmed here in California has been farmed for a hundred years. The soil is better now than it was naturally because we are taking better care of it. We’re putting more natural green material back into the ground,” Vallis explained. 

“We are stewards of the land, and we have to be cognizant of that. We have to publicize that fact because farmers are the best people at caring for the land,” he said.

“I think oftentimes we are so busy caring for the land, we don’t do as good of a job pumping our chest up to everyone, going, ‘Hey! You know what? You come try to do this. You try to do it half as good as me, ‘because I’ve learned things from school. I’ve learned things from my family. I’ve learned things from generations. I’ve learned things just because I’m here doing my job and watching out,” Vallis said.

Vallis believes we need to widen the conversation and tell more people that farmers do the things they need to do; they do the things that benefit all society.

“We are proud of what we are doing. You know what? People who eat are the direct beneficiaries. Everyone who opens a can of beans. Everyone who goes and gets some lettuce out of the fridge. Everyone who eats beef, chicken or any other meat benefits from our taking care of the land to continue to produce,” he said.

“No farmer I know and no farmer I have ever met actively goes out and poisons our land, because then they can’t make food. Making food is what we are called to do.”

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Farm Water Coalition Shames State Water Resources     

Farm Water Coalition Shames SWRCB Over Proposal 

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

The California Farm Water Coalition (Coalition) was formed in 1989 to increase public awareness of agriculture’s efficient use of water and to promote the industry’s environmental sensitivity regarding water.

Mike Wade, executive director of the Sacramento-based Coalition, has major concerns about the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB)‘s proposal of taking 40% of the water from many irrigation districts along three rivers that flow into the San Joaquin River to protect an endangered fish. The SWRCB proposes to divert water from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced Rivers to increase flows in the Sacramento Delta.

Mike Wade, executive director, California Farm Water Coalition
Mike Wade, executive director, California Farm Water Coalition

Wade explained, “The Endangered Species Act (ESA) is important for the United States, and we want to see it work. However, it’s not working. It’s not helping fish, and it’s hurting communities.” But Wade wants to revise the ESA “in how we deal with some of the species management issues.”

Wade said SWRCB is doubling down on the same tired, old strategy that is not going to work any more now than it has in the past. “What happened in the past isn’t helping salmon. What’s happened in the past isn’t helping the delta smelt. You’d think someone would get a clue that maybe other things are in play, there are other factors that need to be addressed.”

The State Water Resources Control Board estimated the proposed 40% diversion of river flow would decrease agricultural economic output by 64 million or 2.5% of the baseline average for the region.

Ag officials warn that if the proposal goes through it would force growers in the area to use more groundwater—which they have largely avoided because the Turlock Irrigation District and Oakdale Irrigation District historically met the irrigation need of local farms.

This is the only agricultural area in the Central Valley that does not have critical overdraft problems. If the state takes away 40% of water available to growers, it could lead to a critical overdraft issue there as well.

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Food Tank’s Farm Tank Summit in Sacramento Reveals Knowledge Gap

Food Tank’s 1st Annual Farm Tank Summit in Sacramento Reveals Gap in Agricultural Knowledge

Good Starting Point for Constructive Conversation

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

Several hundred food activists attended the First Annual Farm Tank Summit in Sacramento last week, hosted by Food Tank, in partnership with the Visit SacramentoCalifornia Farm-to-Fork Program, and University of California, DavisDanielle Nierenberg, co-founder and president of Food Tank noted having the event in Sacramento enabled West Coast agricultural experts to contribute to the discussion.

“We were really excited to feature California agriculture, because it’s such a huge part of the American economy,” said Nierenberg. “Californians are feeding the world, and we need to really highlight what these amazing producers are doing. When the Farm to Fork program of the Visitors Bureau reached out to us, we were thrilled to partner with such an amazing group of people, as well as UC Davis folks and the Center for Land-Based Learning,” she said.

Food Tank, an abbreviation of Food Think Tank, is a 501(c)3 non profit organization focused on building a global community for safe, healthy, nourished eaters that values education, inspiration and change.

According to their website:

Food Tank is for the 7 billion people who have to eat every day. We will offer solutions and environmentally sustainable ways of alleviating hunger, obesity, and poverty by creating a network of connections and information for all of us to consume and share. Food Tank is for farmers and producers, policy makers and government leaders, researchers and scientists, academics and journalists, and the funding and donor communities to collaborate on providing sustainable solutions for our most pressing environmental and social problems.

The organization begins with the premise, “Our food system is broken. Some people don’t have enough food, while others are eating too much. There’s only one way to fix this problem—and it starts with you and me.”

Food Tank, Farm Tank SummitWith the goal of feeding the hungry world of nine billion people in a few years, “Food Tank highlights hope and success in agriculture. We feature innovative ideas that are already working on the ground, in cities, in kitchens, in fields and in laboratories. These innovations need more attention, more research, and ultimately more funding to be replicated and scaled-up. And that is where we need you. We all need to work together to find solutions that nourish ourselves and protect the planet.”

Nierenberg clarified, “I don’t necessarily think we need to scale up food production; I think we need to scale out different innovations that are working. We’re wasting about 1.3 billion tons of food annually. That’s enough to feed everyone who’s hungry today, so we don’t necessarily need to ramp up production. We need to have better distribution, and processing practices that can help get food to people who need it the most,” she said.

“We need the political will behind those things,” she continued, “to build the infrastructure necessary for farmers to have better processing facilities, to have better storage facilities, to have better roads—if we’re talking about the developing world. I don’t necessarily think that we need to invest in producing more calories; we need better calories. We need more nutrient-dense food, and we need less starchy staple crops,” she noted.


Editor’s Note: Activists overtook the stage during the event, and the conversation was notably challenging for panelists. In an effort to Cultivate Common Ground to link consumers with the farmers who grow their nutritious food—and vice versa—California Ag Today has chosen to share some interesting statements from presenters and attendees to illustrate, perhaps, where the discussion could begin:

Regarding farms and processing facilities, big is bad, and small is good.

Regarding food quality, organic produce is healthy and safe, while conventional produce is unsafe and full of pesticides.

One of many moderators from the Bay Area, Twilight Greenaway, managing editor of Civil Eats mistakenly introduced Oscar Villegas, Yolo County Supervisor, District 1, as being from Sacramento County. When Villegas corrected her, Greenaway said, “I’m showing my Central Valley and Bay Area eliteness.”

Eric Holt-Giménez, executive director of Food First, noted that farmworkers are invisible in California agriculture. “There is racism in the fields. We need more worker unions and we need farmworkers to be paid much more than they are now and the farmworkers should be getting pensions from the farmer.”

Michael Dimock, president, Roots of Change, said to the audience, “You guys are doing a great job. Keep doing it. Keep working with your NGOs. They know policy. In turn, they can work with the legislators.”

“You need to be in the capital, pursuading the legislatures to support their bills. They want to be reelected, and if they don’t do what we ask them to do, they are scared.”

“In the meantime, we have to be nice to farmers because farmers are scared. We are putting a lot of pressure on them; They are in a vice. Our movement has supported bills AB 1066 – the overtime bill, minimum wage increases, organic farming legislation,  and workers’ rights.”

Kerryn Gerety, founder and CEO, Lazoka, referred to John Purcell, vegetables global R&D Lead, Hawaii business lead, vice president and distinguished fellow, Monsanto Company, and said, “There is an elephant in the room, the Monsanto rep. Monsanto has all the technology patents. We all want transparency and we need you to be more transparent.”

Continuing, “Why doesn’t Monsanto open-source some of your patents and release the intellectual property so others can take advantage of your teçhnology?”

Purcell answered, “We are an Ag company. Why would our company invest a million dollars on technology and let everyone have it? It is our investment and we need to have the opportunity for a return on that investment.

During a panel discussion of food companies including Blue Apron, Almond Board of California, and Bayer CropScience, that covered organics, Jennifer Maloney, food chain sustainability manager, Bayer CropScience, said, “We do support  the organic industry, because we have biological products that work in organic as well as conventional [farming].”

Maloney also talked about agricultural Integrated Pest Management (IPM) technology such as smart sprayers that spray only targeted areas.

Matt Wadiak, founder & COO, Blue Apron, responded, “It’s not about smart sprayers; it’s about biological systems in the field and trying to lean on them instead of spraying.”

Maloney replied, “Yes, that is exactly what IPM is.”

Keith Knopf, COO, Raley’s Family of Fine Stores, commented on the organic question, “the way we see organic versus inorganic—that is not the discussion for us. What’s more important to us is, is it the candy bar or the apple?”


This two-day event featured more than 35 speakers from the food and agriculture field, interactive panels moderated by top food journalists, networking, and delicious food, followed by a day of hands-on activities and opportunities for attendees. This was the second in a series of three 2016 Summits, following the Washington, D.C. Food Tank Summit that completely sold out and drew in more than 30,100 livestream viewers. The third Summit will be held in Chicago on November 16, 2016.

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Senate Tells Gov. Agencies to Back Off WOTUS Rule

U.S. Senate Tells EPA/Army Corps to Back Off Farmers re: WOTUS Clean Water Act

 

Edited by California Ag Today Staff

 

A report issued TODAY by a U.S. Senate committee documents how federal agencies overreach their authority to regulate farmland, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF), which said the report underlines the need for congressional action to reform the agencies’ practices, particularly regarding the WOTUS Rule.

The report from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee describes numerous incidents in which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have tried to expand their authority to regulate what crops farmers grow and how they grow them, based on the agencies’ interpretation of the Clean Water Act.

“A disturbing number of the cases described in the Senate report came from California,” CFBF President Paul Wenger said. “Farmers and ranchers here have seen firsthand that the abuses outlined in this report aren’t theoretical—they’re real.”

One case in California is particularly troublesome. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) ordered John Duarte, a farmer and nurseryman to cease farming his land after he plowed 4-7 inches deep to plant a wheat crop in his field. Duarte, in turn, filed a lawsuit to vindicate his right to farm his land. The U.S. Department of Justice fired back with a countersuit.John Duarte WOTUS

Duarte has spent over $1 million in legal fees to date, yet the government is seeking $6-8 million in fines and “wetland credits.” Duarte now faces a costly appeal and legal battle, the outcome of which will set precedence on important issues affecting farmers and ranchers nationwide.

Landowners’ concerns stem from a rule the agencies finalized last year, known as the “Waters of the United States” or WOTUS rule, which would bring more waterways under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. Although a federal court has temporarily halted enforcement of the WOTUS rule, landowners and their representatives say the Corps continues to enforce the act so narrowly that, as a practical matter, its actions mirror the intent of the new rule.

“We’re grateful the Senate committee has highlighted the impact on farmers and ranchers caused by overzealous interpretation of the Clean Water Act,” Wenger said. “Farmers and ranchers want to do the right thing and protect the environment as they farm. But they shouldn’t be tied up in knots by regulators for simply plowing their ground or considering a new crop on their land, and they shouldn’t have their land declared off limits if they must leave it idle due to drought or other conditions beyond their control.”

Wenger called on California Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to join efforts to clarify Clean Water Act enforcement and reform agency practices. “Congress has the ability to restore balance to Clean Water Act enforcement,” said Wenger. “We urge our California members to help farmers grow food and protect the environment, free from fear of overreaching regulation.”

Details of Senate Statement

epa-logo-wotusU.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, released an EPW Majority Committee report titled “From Preventing Pollution of Navigable and Interstate Waters to Regulating Farm Fields, Puddles and Dry Land: A Senate Report on the Expansion of Jurisdiction Claimed by the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act.”

The report releases findings from the majority staff’s investigation into how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers are interpreting and implementing their authority under the Clean Water Act.

“This new majority committee report demonstrates in detail that the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, under the Obama administration, are running rogue,” Inhofe said. “Case studies in this report show that the Obama administration is already asserting federal control over land and water based on the concepts they are trying to codify in the WOTUS rule, even though the courts have put that rule on hold. Congress shouldn’t wait on the Supreme Court to make the inevitable decision that this agency overreach is illegal.

“This report should be evidence enough that it’s time for Democrats and Republicans to work together rein in EPA and the Corps. Over the course of the past year, 69 Senators – a veto proof majority – have gone on the record about their grave concerns regarding the WOTUS rule. It’s time to come together to protect farmers, ranchers, water utilities, local governments, and contractors by giving them the clarity and certainty they deserve and stopping EPA and the Corps from eroding traditional exemptions.”

The report summarizes case studies that demonstrate the following:

EPA and the Corps have and will continue to advance very broad claims of jurisdiction based on discretionary authority to define their own jurisdiction.

The WOTUS rule would codify the agencies’ broadest theories of jurisdiction, which Justice Kennedy recently called “ominous.”

Landowners will not be able to rely on current statutory exemptions or the new regulatory exemptions because the agencies have narrowed the exemptions in practice and simply regulate under another name.

For example, the report highlights instances where if activity takes place on land that is wet: Plowing to shallow depths is not exempt when the Corps calls the soil between furrows “mini mountain ranges,” “uplands,” and “dry land;”

Disking is regulated even though it is a type of plowing:

Changing from one agricultural commodity constitutes a new use that eliminates the exemption; and puddles, tire ruts, sheet flow, and standing water all can be renamed “disturbed wetlands” and regulated.

On Tuesday, Inhofe delivered a copy of the report with a letter to 11 Senate Democrats who, in a letter on Nov. 3, 2015 to Gina McCarthy, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) on WOTUS, stated that: “Farmers, ranchers, water utilities, local governments, and contractors deserve clarity and certainty. Should the EPA not provide this clarity or enforce this rule in a way that erodes traditional exemptions, we reserve the right to support efforts in the future to revise the rule.”

In Inhofe’s letter to the 11 Senators, he said the new committee report should meet the test set forth in their Nov. 3 letter, and he called on the members to live up to their commitment and work with the committee on tailored legislation to end agency overreach.

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Keeping the California Dairy Industry Afloat

The Necessity of Keeping the California Dairy Industry Competitive

 

By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

 

 

Anthony Raimondo, an attorney with 15 years of experience working with farmers and farm labor contractors, is concerned the California government is placing the state’s agricultural industry at an economic disadvantage compared to other states. Raimondo used the California dairy industry as a prime example in which arbitrary in-state legislation is giving other states an advantage.
dairy cows

 

“The state government tells the dairy farmer how much they get to charge for milk,” explained Raimondo. “They have now raised minimum wage and overtime, with AB-1066 becoming law, but they do not tie any of that [added cost] to the milk price. Farmers will lose money,” he said.

 

“The California dairy industry is still fighting to be a part of the USDA’s Federal Milk Marketing Order (FMMO),” Raimondo continued. “But until that happens, the added costs are causing many California dairymen to weigh their options.”

 

Increasing government regulation is making it difficult for California dairies to compete with other states, Wisconsin in particular. Raimondo elaborated, “For many years, Wisconsin’s milk production was on the decline and California’s milk production was on the rise; that trend has now reversed. Wisconsin is now on the rise again and California is on the decline because our dairies can’t make it with the level of regulation and the level of cost,” he said.

 

“Some dairies have reduced hours to keep costs low,” said Raimondo. “Other dairies are closing either because they are going out of business or because they are moving to places like Idaho and Texas where the milk price is better and the cost profile is more favorable.”

 

The move to a FMMO would help even the playing field for California dairies. Raimondo warned there is a lot at stake if nothing is done to lower milk production costs in the number one Ag state. “We are going to lose a segment of agriculture that is 100% family farms. Family farming is one of those things that is precious to our state, and it can’t be brought back once it’s gone,” Raimondo said.

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Governor Signs AB 1066 Overtime Bill for Farmworkers

Governor Signs AB 1066 With Good Intentions

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director and Laurie Greene, Editor

 

TODAY, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1066, the overtime bill for farmworkers, despite pushback from agricultural groups and farmworkers in the state. Ian LeMay, director of member relations & communications of the Fresno-based California Fresh Fruit Association, anticipates that not only will farmers in the state lose, but farmworkers, exports, and possibly consumers will lose as well. 

For years, California farm employees accrued overtime pay only after working a 10-hour day, instead of an 8-hour day, like most other employees in California. AB 1066 changes the overtime rules for farmworkers by gradually lowering overtime thresholds in steps over the next four years so farmworkers will eventually earn overtime after an 8-hour day.

The California farm industry has appreciated the prior overtime policy, according to LeMay, because agriculture is not a typical 52-week type of job. The workload of farming ebbs and flows with the seasons, weather, cultural practices and tasks.Farmworkers

For instance, harvesting of crops such as strawberries, citrus and table grapes, normally occurs during short 2- to 3-week periods in the state and is accompanied by an increase in demand for labor. As one might expect, the need for labor declines during non-harvest and non-planting phases, to the extent that farmworkers may endure periods of no work, and hence, no pay. So farmworkers have appreciated the opportunity to work extra hours and earn overtime during busier phases.

Labor costs for California growers of all fresh fruit, avocados and many vegetable crops will be most affected by this change. “This is going to have a very, very big impact on crops that require a high degree of labor like our stone fruit, table grapes and the rest,” said LeMay, “It’s definitely going to change the way our members have to approach doing business,” he said.

“When you compare it to the other states in the union that we are going to have to compete with,” LeMay elaborated, “when you take into account recent changes in minimum wage, piece-rate compensation, increasing farm regulations and now overtime, it’s going to be very difficult to compete not only in a domestic market, but also internationally. That’s the disappointing part about this.”

LeMay also explained that over the last 40 years, the California legislature has crafted labor law to create the highest worker standards in the U.S. “California was the only state in the union that had a daily threshold for overtime of [only] 10 hours per day, and we were one of four in the union that had a weekly threshold for overtime of [only] 60 hours. So in terms of ag overtime, California was already the gold standard.”

And, although lawmakers intended AB 1066 to help farmworkers, LeMay noted, “ultimately, the measure will impact farmworkers the most because farmers in the number one Ag state will find a way to keep its bottom line from eroding any further.

“California farmers will need to solve the puzzle of how to achieve the same amount of work in fewer hours per day,” said LeMay. “They will consider hiring double crews, increasing mechanization in packing facilities, orchards and vineyards, and reducing farm acreage to match their workforce. Or, for those commodities that require increased labor, you could see a transition to commodities like nut crops that use less labor.”

LeMay explained that during down periods on the farm, farmworkers generally collect unemployment, which is based on gross annual income. Now, by giving the farmer an incentive to reduce worker hours, farmworkers’ unemployment compensation may decrease as well.

Furthermore, for the consumer who desires fresh local food from small farms, the phase-in schedule AB 1066 provides to smaller companies is actually a competitive disadvantage. “While AB 1066 allows small farmers—those with fewer than 25 employeesmore time to phase in changes,” LeMay asked, “why would a farmworker stay at small farm under the prolonged 60-hour per week overtime threshold rule, when he or she could work at a larger farm under the phased-in 40-hour per week threshold?”

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Are consumers willing to pay for increased labor costs on the farm? “As the saying goes,” LeMay quipped, “generally farmers aren’t price makers, they are price takers. Consumers are usually unwilling to pay extra for their produce, so farmers usually have to absorb increased costs.”

“Economically,” LeMay summarized, “the legislature has taken us from high labor standards to economically disadvantaging farmers and farmworkers. Lawmakers are not paying enough attention to keeping California companies viable, sustainable and successful.”

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NASA satellite mission to help farmers and water managers

By Edward Ortiz; The Sacramento Bee

A NASA satellite being launched into space will measure moisture in the top layer of soil, including soil on California farm fields far below.

The Soil Moisture Active Passive project is expected to provide crucial information to Central Valley farmers and water resource managers dealing with the multiyear drought. The mission, which was due to launch Thursday but scrubbed by NASA because of a weather pattern, will begin a three-year mission after liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base aboard a Delta II rocket.

The soil moisture information gleaned from the mission can be used by farmers to decide when to plant and harvest crops, said Narendra Das, project leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is running the SMAP mission.

“This information will be a great tool for agriculture,” said rice farmer Charley Mathews Jr. Mathews owns a 700-acre rice farm in Marysville. He is an avid believer that more data can help his farming operation.

“For rice growing, it may help is preparing our rice fields,” he said of SMAP. “There are time periods when we prepare the soil or when we have rainfall events, and that is when we want to get our timing right.”

The 128-pound SMAP satellite will map soil moisture globally every two to three days. The SMAP data will be gleaned from space, using radar, with the use of a 19-foot antenna – the largest rotating antenna of its kind ever deployed by NASA.

It will take measurements 1 inch deep. The soil moisture it estimates will be matched to other data to provide accurate information on how much water is in the soil.

Only a tiny percentage of Earth’s total water is lodged in the top layer of soil. However, the water within that tiny layer plays an important role in moving water, carbon and heat between land and atmosphere.

The mission is the latest Earth-looking satellite effort at NASA, an effort that began in 1972 with the launch of the Landsat I.

The mission is the final of a recent slate of five Earth satellite missions to be launched by NASA within the past 11 months that began with the launch of the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory satellite. Each mission is culling data at never-before-attempted resolutions.

NASA said it has partnered with a large California grower, Paramount Farms, on sampling studies and airborne experiments on the run-up to the launch.

Paramount Farms, based in Kern County, is one of the world’s largest growers and processors of almonds and pistachios. Paramount Farms declined to comment on its work with NASA.

Predicting floods and suggesting improved water usage may ultimately be another benefit of the SMAP mission, said Robert Hartman, acting director with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s California Nevada River Forecast Center.

That entity runs climate models for California, Nevada and Southern Oregon. “Once we understand what the data represents and what they mean, it may help us with runoff models,” Hartman said.

Hartman said it remains to be seen how accurate the data from SMAP will be – especially from heavily forested environments. In other areas it may help assess how much moisture exists in a given watershed, especially prior to the onset of winter storms.

“In the fall we’re sensitive to how ready the watershed is to respond to the season’s first rain,” Hartman said. “It can also help us in the period between winter storms when there has been a substantial dry period.”

NASA has also been working with the California Department of Water Resources and expects the department will use the SMAP data to run its water use models.

The DWP is allowing the use of 40 soil sensor stations throughout the state for the SMAP mission. The sensors will help NASA calibrate the SMAP satellite measurements, said Jeanine Jones, DWP interstate resources manager.

Jones said it remains to be seen how useful the data will be to the department’s water management aims.

“Currently in the water supply and flood control business, most agencies do not use soil moisture information,” Jones said. “There are no applications for that kind of data yet. We’ll see if this mission will be the impetus to develop applications for it.”

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