California Ag Today recently spoke with Dan Munk, Irrigation Soils and Cotton Farm Advisor of the UC Cooperative Extension in Fresno County, about the state’s cotton crop. California farmers have an advantage in that they get a higher price per pound due to the high quality produced.
“The San Joaquin Valley, and really California, does enjoy the production of higher quality cotton,” Munk said. “When mills are looking for the highest quality, extra long staple cotton, oftentimes they’re going to be going straight to California because of the consistency of the crop, the good color, the good strength, the good fiber qualities that typically make up a good and optimum fiber for translating into fabric.”
Munk said that an extended gin period could be implemented due to the increased crop in the Valley. “I’m not aware of any closed gins that are going to be opening up after closure. Although that might be the case for one or two, I imagine we’ll see extended gin period this year to take care of the additional crop.”
And while there is a trend to go with innovative harvesters that produce round bales of cotton, that will only be true for bigger operations, Munk sad.
“It’s going to be popular for the larger growers, and so we are going to see increases in equipment for those round bales, but for the most part, many of the smaller growers will not be converting any time soon to move to those round bale producing pickers,” he said.
Munk explained that the rainstorm coming through the Central San Joaquin Valley in early September had a minimal effect on the cotton.
“Certainly, parts of Fresno, Tulare and Kings County … there’s parts of the Valley that got quite wet, I’m sure. But most of the cotton had not opened, and because of those delayed crops, we’re probably not going to be impacted in a significant way at all by the rains that we saw,” he said.
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Temperance Flat is a Sure Way to Improve California’s Water Infrastructure
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
Mario Santoyo is the Executive Director for the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority. He spoke to California Ag Today about Temperance Flat, a proposal supported by the Joint Powers of Authority composed of five counties: Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare and Kings County. In addition to those counties, there are representatives from the eastern side cities, (Orange Cove) and western side cities, (Avenal)
“We also have water agencies, such as the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors,” Santoyo said. “The JPA is also in the process of dealing with membership requests by Friant Water Authority and the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority.”
“You can see we’ve got a pretty elaborate team as far as the authority,” Santoyo said. “It was put together in order to pursue funding opportunities both by the state of California and the federal government to build revenue leading towards the construction of the Temperance Flat Dam and Reservoir project, which will be located just north of Friant Dam on Millerton Lake, and actually would be built in Millerton Lake … expanding that reservoir.”
The five counties got together on this because they understand fully the importance of creating a more reliable water supply for the area. Santoyo said, “It was proven to be a problem when we had the five-year drought and the Valley had to exercise its groundwater pumping, which plummeted the groundwater levels so much that … it actually resulted in what is now the Groundwater Sustainability Law.”
“So there’s no question this project is greatly needed, and the irony is that this year, coming out of a five-year drought, we’ve got high runoff, and the Bureau of Reclamation had to make flood releases in order to not exceed the capacity at Friant Dam/Millerton Lake,” Santoyo explained. “We fully expect that they will have made up to 2.5 million acre feet of releases down the river to the ocean. Then if you stop and think about what that means, it basically you could roughly say it’s about two years’ worth of water supply for the eastern side of the Valley.”
“There are those who would argue that we would never fill up the Temperance Flat Reservoir,” Santoyo said. “Well, not only have we done it twice this year, we also have a history—a long history—of this … [being] the common scenario.”
When there is high runoff water, it doesn’t come in little bits, it comes in huge amounts. “I think we looked at the record, and 50% of the time that we have high runoff, we usually have to make flood releases in excess of one million acre feet, so that’s why the size that was determined for Temperance Flat was just a little bit over a million acre feet,” Santoyo said.
“Now having that, it’s actually 1.2 million acre feet that it adds to the system. When you add it to … the balance of what’s left with the original, we’re close to 1.8 million acre feet,” Santoyo said.
“It will triple the capacity of Millerton, ensuring that for the future, that [there is] a chance to maximize the available water supply for the cities, for the farms, and most importantly, to recharge the groundwater and put us back into a level that we’re stable and that residents, farmers and others can use that groundwater and not be restricted by the new groundwater sustainability laws,” said Santoyo, adding, “If we don’t solve that problem, the world is going to change dramatically for our farmers, number one, and it will have an immediate effect also on our cities.”
Santoyo describes the recharge opportunities. “What we’ll be doing is with Temperance Flat, we will be making timed releases to various water districts and entities that will have groundwater recharging basins, and they will be syncing it, but you need time,” he said.
“You need storage, and you need time to be able to move water from above ground to below ground. That’s just a physical necessity, and that’s part of the argument against those that argue, ‘Don’t build above, you only need below.’ Well, if you don’t have water above, you aren’t putting it below. It’s just as simple as that,” Santoyo explained.
Temperance Flat would be ideal for the state of California. “The Friant-Kern Canal is the longest of the two primary canals. The other one is the Madera Canal. The Madera moves it north to Chowchilla. The Friant moves it south to Bakersfield, so yeah, those are the primary conveyance systems for farmers and cities,” he said.
Recently a video that educates the public on the value of Temperance Flat, released on YouTube called Build Temperance Flat. We ask all who are active on social media to grab a link of the video and post it on Facebook and Twitter as well as other social media platforms.
Temperatures heating up throughout Central California are a reminder of the critical importance of heat illness prevention for farm employees working in the luminous fields.
Scott Peters farms peaches and nectarines in the Reedley and Dinuba areas of Fresno County. He carefully watches his workers. “During the high heat periods, we have to be very careful so the guys don’t get heat illness, heat stroke types of symptoms. So we have shade and cold water readily available. We’re working on portable toilets now that have covers over them so they’re not as warm, for summer use.”
Peters maintains that prevention is always the best way to keep workers safe. “It comes down to regular training,” he said.
“We also conduct heat illness training with all the field workers. We go over proper clothing— light-colored clothing, cool clothing, hats, bandanas and sunscreen—to help prevent issues,” Peters said. “If the field worker is safe and happy, he does a better job. It’s better performance and, all the way around, everybody benefits.”
And Cal/OSHA rules require certain provisions to ensure workers’ safety as the days warm up. “We have postings,” Peters said. “Our crew bosses have binders with all the heat illness information, emergency contact numbers – both company and medical – such as 911 and the local hospital. [These postings] are with them in their vans and [affixed] to our restroom units in the field.”
California Agriculture Takes National Farm Safety Week Seriously
By Patrick Cavanaugh Farm News Director
California is focused on National Farm Safety Week across all commodities and in all areas of the state. Amy Wolfe, president and CEO of AgSafe, based in Modesto, said National Farm Safety Week takes place in September because it is such a critical juncture for folks. “We’re gearing up at the beginning of harvest, or the middle of harvest for some, and it’s the end of harvest for others,” said Wolfe.
“It’s really a great opportunity to make sure you’re either taking a look at what’s going on in your operation and making those necessary mid-harvest adjustments, or evaluating what went well or what could be improved upon.”
Sadly, Wolfe shared, Farm Safety Week follows a tragedy that occurred during the week of September 12 “when lack of agricultural safety cost somebody their life in the Huron area of Fresno County. We’ve had a fatality in our nut industry, which just continues to be—number one—a tragedy for those of us who work in agriculture. It is also a very significant reminder of the importance of addressing such issues as lockout-tagout, which ensures that equipment is properly shut down before any maintenance,” said Wolfe.
“There needs to be strict communication between everyone around the machine. Everyone should know why it may be shut down and why they should never restart the machine until everyone is cleared,” noted Wolfe. In addition, all equipment must be maintained so that it runs properly in the field. “We also need to make sure that good systems of communication are in place when someone is injured.
AgSafe is recognizing Farm Safety week in many creative ways this week. “This is the week to reflect on how well we are doing everything that we possibly can to protect our farmworkers,” Wolfe said. “If you book for Farm First Aid Training with us by Friday, you’ll receive a 10% discount. We are going to enter folks into a drawing at the end of the week for free attendance to the 2017 AgSafe Conference if you participate in some of the fun Q&As on Facebook and @AgSafeOnline on Twitter,” Wolfe said.
“We will also offer specials every day this week on our tailgate training kits, our pesticide decontamination kits, and on our compliance binders,” said Wolfe. “Its our way of getting folks even more engaged, and giving discounts for our services in honor of a very important week for the industry.”
For more information on these tailgate training kits and other events, go to Agsafe.org.
AgSafe is a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to providing employers and employees in the agricultural industry with education and resources to prevent injuries, illnesses and fatalities.
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“It raises this question,” Peltier asked, “When do we get honest and start talking about the regulatory drought—the man-made drought, the policy-induced drought, the policy-directed drought? We can’t even have an honest conversation about that.”
“That our opponents want to deflect and obscure that whole conversation is telling,” he continued, “because we have a tremendous story of adverse economic impact as a result of failed policies. When they tried to protect the fish, they took our water away and they made the supply unreliable. ‘Just a huge failure and they don’t want to address it; they don’t want to deal with it. The same agencies are fixated with their false confidence or their false certainty, their false precision, in terms of how to help the fish.”
Peltier explained the regulators failed to deliver all of the 5% allocation [née water delivery reduced by 95%] to growers in the federal water districts south of the Delta. “It’s nonsense,” he reiterated, that part of the insufficient 5% was never delivered this season. “It’s avoidance of the reality that the regulators have constricted the heck out of the water projects and made it so—even in wet years, and like this year, a normal to wet year—we’ve got huge amounts of land out of production,” Peltier said, adding that almond growers in the federal water districts are not getting a late, post-harvest irrigation, which can hurt next year’s production.
¹Inscription on the James Farley Post Office in New York City
Fresno County Ag Commissioner Les Wright on the 6.55 Percent Drop in Ag Value
The Fresno County agriculture value for the 2015 fiscal year was calculated at $6.6 billion. It was down 6.55 percent from 2014, when Fresno County had a record year of $7.0 billion in agriculture value. The report included nearly 400 commodities; 62 of which had a value in excess of $1 million.
The report represents the resiliency and hard work of farmers and farm workers, as well as those allied in the industry.
Delta Smelt Among Many Reasons for Pumping Constraints
By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor
Farmers in the federal water districts of Fresno and Kings Counties were granted only five percent of their contracted water this year; yet they are at risk of getting even less due to pumping constraints. Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, a Los Banos-based federal water district explained, “The original forecast had full pumping in June, July, August, and September.
“Because of the temperature constraints and because of the water quality standards,” Peltier stated, “we’ve been operating only one or two pumps. There’s just not enough water flowing south to meet the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s(Reclamation) obligations to the exchange contractors, the [wildlife] refuges and the urban agencies, along with the 5% allocation to the ag services contractors,” he noted.
Peltier is concerned for those in the Central Valley, and water agencies are working frantically to find answers. “We’re working on it,” Peltier affirmed. “We’ve got a lot of engineers and operators preparing spreadsheets and analyzing both the variables and what changes could be made to avoid lower water levels at San Luis Reservoir.”
Commenting on this year’s deliveries, Peltier stated, “No doubt we’re in an unprecedented operating environment. Here we are, eight months into the water year, and we just got a temperature plan for Lake Shasta—that is driving the whole operation—the project. Limiting releases like they are in the temperature plan [designed keep the water cold to protect winter-run salmon eggs]—at least we thought—would allow Reclamation to hold the commitments they made. But we’re on razor’s edge right now,” Peltier explained.
Peltier described how the process is holding up water release, “The National Marine Fisheries Service wants to keep as much water in storage as possible, in order to keep the cold water cool as long as they can. This is all to protect the winter-run salmon eggs that are in the gravel right now, protect them until the weather turns cool and things naturally cool down. Then they can release water. Shasta’s been effectively trumped by another million-acre feed because of this temperature plan.”
Peltier further noted that the Lake Shasta temperature plan has not allowed water to flow into the Sacramento River. It has severely impacted growers in Northern California on a year when the northern part of the state received above average rain and snowfall during the winter.
“People diverting off the river in the Sacramento Valley have had their own water level issues. There hasn’t been enough water coming down the river to get elevation enough adequate for their pumps. There’s been a lot of ground water pumping,” he said.
The nearly extinct Delta Smelt has been a longstanding issue for those affected by California’s drought. After the past five years of sacrifice, even more water is being taken from agriculture and cities to help save the fish from extinction.
“We’ve got the California Department of Fish and Wildlife wanting significant increases in delta outflow over the summer, supposedly for the benefit of delta smelt, another operational complexity that is sadly not based on any science that we could see. The agencies have their beliefs, and they have the power,” said Peltier.
Featured photo: Jason Peltier, executive director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority.
California Ag Today will update readers on Bureau of Reclamation announcements about the 5% contracted water delivery federal water district growers were expecting.
“This is a major event, a significant milestone in terms of the process to get Temperance Flat Dam built.” Santoyo said. “In essence, it is a partnership between the new joint powers of authority and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and, more specifically, their study team who worked on the technical studies and the feasibility reports for Temperance Flat.”
Merced, Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare Counties are joining forces with leaders of cities, Tribes, and other agencies to begin this significant move towards building the Temperance Flat Dam. “Working together, we are going to put the application together and submit it to the California Water Commission for their consideration for funding through Proposition 1, Chapter 8,” Santoyo said. “It’s a solid statement that needs a signature.”
“It’s a memorandum of understanding between the Bureau of Reclamation and the joint powers of authority,” he said, “that defines the scope of work. In essence, it’s full cooperation between their technical people and our joint powers of authority. Our people are tailoring the application to the state to optimize funding. Keep in mind, we’re talking big dollars here; we are not talking a million or a hundred million; we are talking a billion.”
Temperance Flat Dam would create nearly 1.3M acre-feet of new water storage, according to the SJWIA, 2.5 times the current capacity of Millerton Lake, and would be a part of the Federal Central Valley Project.
“Chapter 8, which is the storage chapter in Prop 1, has $2.7 billion in it,” Santoyo explained. “Projects that are submitted for funding are limited to up to 50% of the capital costs of their project. If we were to take Temperance Flat, for instance, that’s going to cost somewhere around $2.8 billion. The maximum you could ask from the state is $1.4 billion, but we don’t expect that because there is a lot of competition. There’s not enough dollars to go around. We’re hoping to shoot for somewhere around $1 billion.”
“I see [the July 1 event] as being historic,” Santoyo reflected, “because it is one of the most critical things to happen—to be able to build Temperance Flat, as well as a good opportunity to be at a place where history’s being made.”
For more information, contact Mario Santoyo at 559-779-7595.
Featured image: Mario Santoyo, executive director of the San Joaquin Water Infrastructure Authority (SJWIA)
Monterey County 2015 Crop Report Shows Ag Value Up 7.75 Percent
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
Monterey County Ag Commissioner Eric Lauritzen announced TODAY the production value by farmers in Monterey County for 2015 is $4.84 billion, an increase of 7.75% or $348 million over the previous year. According to the the 2015 Monterey County Crop Report released TODAY, the Monterey is again the fourth highest Ag producing county in California, following Tulare, Kern, and Fresno Counties.
“Crop values vary from year to year based on production, market and weather conditions,” said Lauritzen. “As often the case, there was much fluctuation in the 2015 values, with 22 commodities down and 29 commodities increasing in value.
Notable results include:
head values increased 12% on better pricing.
Head lettuce showed a decline of 2% with fewer acres planted but higher prices.
Spring mix and salad products also declined in overall value.
Strawberry values increased by 21% on increased acreage and higher production.
Cauliflower and celery each saw values increase by approximately 25%. Celery showed a decrease in production with stronger pricing and cauliflower posted increases in both production and pricing.
Winegrapes declined 25% in 2015, after above-average production in previous years. This followed the statewide trend, with lower production and slightly higher prices.
Despite reduced acreage related to the drought, the value of nursery products increased by 11% on stronger pricing for many products.
“It is always important to note that the figures provided here are gross values and do not represent or reflect net profit or loss experienced by individual growers or by the industry as a whole,” Lauritzen clarified. “The numbers are big and only tell part of the story. It’s really about diversity and the ability to withstand changes, whether it is commodity change or Mother Nature,” said Lauritzen.
“Growers do not have control over increased input costs such as fuel, fertilizers and packaging, or drought and labor shortage conditions,” Lauritzen explained, “nor can they significantly affect market prices. The fact that the gross value of agriculture increased reflects positively on the diversity and strength of our agriculture industry and its ability to respond to the many challenges,” he noted.
“The mainstays in Monterey County are the cool season vegetables,” said Lauritzen. “County growers are able modify planting programs even within the same year depending on market strengths or changes in consumer needs. When the cable food shows or restaurants decide to feature certain vegetable there is suddenly increase demand so Monterey County growers are often flexible in their planting schedules to meet demand.
“The Salinas Valley floor is very tight on acreage and available land planted out on the bench lands,” he said. “And growers are being asked to produce more with the same amount or even less ground and we are seeing that it increases prices,” he noted.
“Each year we like to highlight a component of the industry in our report,” Lauritzen elaborated, “and this year we chose Certified Farmers Markets. We include a short piece on some of the people who produce and sell their own products directly to consumers at the 14 markets in Monterey County and elsewhere,” he said. “This important segment of our industry lets consumers meet farmers face-to-face and to become more directly connected with the food they eat.”
“Monterey County is proud to produce the crops that are healthy for the nation,” Lauritzen said, “and if consumer demand really matched what we need for a healthy diet, there would not be enough vegetables produced. We produce the food that consumers need to eat and it’s not just an economic driver for our region, but for the health of our nation,” he added.
“This 2015 Crop Report is our yearly opportunity to recognize the growers, shippers, ranchers, and other businesses ancillary to and supportive of agriculture, which is the largest driver of Monterey County’s economy,” Lauritzen summarized. “Special recognition for the production of the report goes to Christina McGinnis, Graham Hunting, Shayla Neufeld, and all of the staff who assisted in compiling this information and improving the quality of the report.”
In an exclusive interview with Fresno attorney Anthony Raimondo, California Ag Today’s Patrick Cavanaugh discussed the significance to farmworkers of yesterday’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB) decisionto “set aside” Gerawan farmworker votes from the ALRB-sanctioned November 2013 election to decertify the UFW. Raimondo is the attorney for the UFW union decertification petitioner, Silvia Lopez, an employee of Gerawan Farming, a Fresno County diversified tree fruit operation.
California Ag Today: The central California agricultural industry is flabbergasted this week following the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board’s decision to set aside—and not count—the ballots of 2,600 Gerawan farmworkers cast in 2013. What is your take on this decision?
Raimondo: It is unfair because from the outset, we have argued all along that this entire process has been unfair and has denied the workers their “day in court” and their due process. From the first day that Silvia Lopez walked into the ALRB office in Visalia, the greatest opposition to her filing for an election has been the ALRB itself.
We had a judge who couldn’t stay awake for the hearing. We have board members who are—shall we say at the least—biased. In the case of ALRB board member, Genevieve Shiroma, we have a person whose entire career is intertwined with the UFW’s primary paid lobbyist. There’s no way these folks can be objective in a case that has this kind of stakes in the UFW.
And this case is all about money. If they can get a contract with Gerawan, the UFW will essentially double its revenue and double its membership overnight.
California Ag Today: What is at stake for the UFW?
Raimondo: There is a clear reason why the State would end up spending $10 million on this case: They want to silence these workers and save the UFW. There is no union organizing in the field; the UFW has abandoned organizing. They’re not out there getting the workers to support and join the union.
They’re in the courtroom and in the back halls of Sacramento, making deals to take control of these workers’ future, whether the workers want it or not.
California Ag Today: In denying the ballot votes to be counted, the ALRB said it was unfair that the employer—Gerawan in this case—gave the workers a pay raise without permission of the state government or the UFW.
Raimondo: But even with this illegitimate process, the only thing that the Board actually found was that the employer violated the law—not the workers.
So the Board is going to punish the employees by destroying their ballots, like some sort of third-world dictator. What control does the farmworker have over what the company does? What can the workers do to protect their right to vote if their right to vote can be thwarted by what a third party—the company—does?
The workers’ right to vote shouldn’t be in the hands of the company, or of the union, or of anybody else. The California Constitution says that when people cast votes in our state, those votes must be counted. That’s apparently true, unless you’re a farmworker.
California Ag Today: And the agricultural industry is asking, “How can the State of California and the state ALRB get away with this?”
Raimondo: It’s appalling what they’ve done here. It really is appalling. They’ve decided that the best way to control the behavior of an employer is to punish the workers who have no control over that employer.
You know there’s no reason that, if they believe that that election was tainted, they can’t run another election. I’ve spoken to Silvia, and Silvia’s not afraid of letting the people vote. I wonder if the UFW is as brave.
Let the people vote.
California Ag Today: Is the ALRB and the UFW requesting a new vote?
Raimondo: No, they want the farmworkers to stand off to the side and be quiet while the UFW makes the deal through political moves to take their money.
California Ag Today: What’s next?
Raimondo: We are planning, on Silvia’s behalf, to file briefs in the ongoing mandatory arbitration case that is sitting before the California Supreme Court. The UFW has a brief due and the Court has not yet set a hearing date.
We’re hoping that the Supreme Court will be kind enough to give us the opportunity to speak in that case, as the Court of Appeal did. So that case still provides us with a very real chance to vindicate the workers’ rights.
In the election case that was just decided, we are planning on filing a petition for reconsideration with the Board. We think that they need to think twice before they destroy people’s ballots.
California Ag Today: The ballots have not been destroyed at this point, right?
Raimondo: We don’t know. That’s a question only the ALRB can answer.
From my view, I would hope that they were not rushing to have a bonfire today.
I would think that because these votes are precious and irreplaceable, the Board would show the restraint to withhold taking any action on the ballots until the parties have had the opportunity to pursue the various legal options that we have to challenge this decision and make sure they are doing the right thing.