Despite Great Harvest, California Apple Growers Face Challenges

California Apple Growers Face Regulatory Disadvantage

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

Many California apple growers are in the midst of harvest season right now. Alex Ott, executive director of the Clovis-based California Apple Commission expects a 3% increase in production across the country. Ott foresees a 1% increase in California this season, where apples stand out because of their freshness.

“California is the fifth largest producer of apples in the United States,” Ott explained. “We are about the third largest exporter of apples in the United States. We like to pick, pack and ship. Unlike other states that like to store fruit and have that fruit around longer, California apple growers like to get in and get out,” Ott said.california-apple-commission-logo California Apple

“We have a small marketing window and we pride ourselves on fresh crops,” Ott elaborated. “So we try to get out of the market no later than December. Sometimes we go as late as January, but the idea is to [quickly] fill that niche window between the Chilean and the Washington state fruit.”

Alex Ott, executive director of the Clovis-based California Apple Commission
Alex Ott, executive director of the Clovis-based California Apple Commission

Yet, the California apple industry faces challenges going forward. Ott stated, “Over the last five years, California apple crop production has decreased by nearly 39%. A lot of that has to do with the changing of the crops. Any time you start to see an uptick in another crop, especially when it is not hand labor-intensive like apples, you will see a migration to those types of crops.”

Transitioning toward less labor-intensive crops may accelerate since Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1066. This bill will enable California farm employees to accrue overtime pay after working an 8-hour day, instead of a 10-hour day.

“It’s definitely going to be a challenge for California apple growers,” Ott said, especially given the labor shortage. “So apple production in the state will decrease.”

Ott lamented many countries already produce a lot of these other less labor-intensive crops. AB 1066 definitely puts us at a competitive disadvantage in keeping up with demand. The challenge is how can California apple growers compete with farmers in other state and countries who can do it faster and cheaper?

Overtime Bill AB 1066 Heads to Governor’s Desk

California Assembly Sends AB 1066 Overtime Bill to Governor

By Patrick Cavanaugh Farm News Director

 

The California Assembly voted 44 to 32, yesterday, August 29, in favor of a bill that would make California the first in the country to give farmworkers overtime pay after working 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week instead of current law that mandates agriculture workers earn overtime after 10 hours per day or 60 hours per week.

 

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Because farmworkers are unable to work some days due to weather or harvest schedules, they have historically preferred to work as many hours as possible on any given day. Now farmers may be forced to restrict employees from working more than 8 hours per day to avoid the costly overtime payroll, which would severely hurt their financial bottom line.

 

The bill, which has already cleared the State Senate, now moves on to Governor Jerry Brown, who has until September 31st to sign or veto the bill.

 

George Radanovich, president of the Fresno-based California Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA) that represents many farmers who rely on hand labor, stated, “It’s a clear example of people who live on black top and cement and who never talk to people in the vineyards or in the fields. They think they are helping the farmworker, and they are not. They’re making it harder for the farmworker and for the farmer,” said Radanovich.

 

Roger Isom, president of the Western Agricultural Processors Association (WAPA) and the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association (CCGGA), said AB 1066 just places additional burdens on the farmer. “When you combine this Ag overtime legislation with the minimum wage increase and all of the other labor issues—the workers comp costs that are imposed on growers—it makes us noncompetitive,” Isom said. “On top of that you add the regulatory costs from the different issues like the truck rule; we can’t compete.”

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“There isn’t anybody out there who wouldn’t want to pay the workers more than what they’re getting today, or even that overtime,” said Isom. “But consider that California is one of only 5 states that even pays overtime, and none of them pay it after only 10 hours. We already had the most stringent overtime regulations for farmworkers in the country before it was ever adopted. Now, we’ve made it worse; we are going to have the highest minimum wage of any farm state out there, so how do we compete?”

 

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Isom commented, “This last week, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was actually calling Assembly members in the State, urging them to support this bill. We were outraged,” Isom said. “When he was Governor of the State of Iowa, his own state had the lowest Ag wages and has no Ag overtime. The majority of our states, 45 states, have no overtime. You could work 16 hours, 20 hours, and not be paid any overtime.”

 

Isom noted that supporters of AB 1066 are very shortsighted. He predicts the law will only reduce the number of available working hours available for farm employees and thus decrease their earnings. Isom hopes Governor Brown will see this bill as an added negative impact tied to the recently passed increases to California’s minimum wage.

 

Agriculture leaders are calling for all concerned to put pressure on Governor Brown to veto AB 1066 by Emailing or phoning constantly.

Governor Jerry Brown
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814

Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 558-3160

email: governor@governor.ca.gov


(Featured photo: Roger Isom, president of Western Ag Processors Association and the California Cotton Ginners Association)

Vigilant Seed Bank Reduction for Weed Control

Vigilant Seed Bank Reduction: Whatever it takes, don’t let weeds set seed.

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

 

For the past 15 years, Robert Norris, professor emeritus and vegetable crops weed specialist, UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, has continued to attend Weed Day each year at UC Davis and to contribute weed photography for CalPhotos, a UC Berkeley Digital Library Project photo database of world-wide plants, animals, landscapes, and other natural history subjects developed to provide a testbed of digital images for computer science researchers to study digital image retrieval techniques. Norris was involved with initiating the Plant Protection and Pest Management Graduate Program at UC Davis.

 

“I’ve been a botanist since I was 14 years old,” Norris said, “and I still have a lot of passion regarding weed control.” Norris has a strong and steady philosophy on weed control and it all comes down to seeds. “The last 25 years of my work, I looked at population dynamics of weeds, like seed longevity in the soil and what we call the size of the seed bank also known as the seed production by weeds. That’s really where I spent most of my time.

Field Bindweed
Field Bindweed

 

“I found that most people have a very poor idea of how many seeds are produced by a weed. This led me to question some of our current management philosophies; namely, the one that comes out of entomology—the use of thresholds (or how many weeds need to be present before treating them),” noted Norris. “I felt that for weed science, thresholds were not the way to go, and my position has been vindicated by the problems we’ve run into using thresholds.”

 

Norris offered the example, “Barnyard grasses are probably one of our most serious summer grass weeds. A small plant can produce 100,000 seeds; while a big plant, well over a million. I can remember going put in a tomato field years ago and looking at one barnyard grass plant. Because I had been working with it, I can say that plant probably put out 50,000 seeds. If you spread those seeds around an acre, that’s enough to give you serious yield loss the next year,” Norris explained. “Again, that’s one plant, spread out over an acre. Obviously its seeds wouldn’t spread over an acre [on their own], but with our tillage equipment we would move it around quite a bit.”

 

“My bottom line for about 30 years now is: Don’t let the weeds set seed. Whatever it takes, don’t let them set seed,” Norris said. If you follow that philosophy, Norris said after a while you drive the seed bank down.

 

“Many people don’t realize this, but some of our really big growers got on to it a long time ago. One farming operation I worked with for years, J. G. Boswell Co., with most of its land in Kings County. “I knew the manager in the late ’50s, into the ’70s. He now is retired now, but he came to this conclusion himself back in the late ’50s,” Norris said. “I haven’t been on Boswell’s property now for 20 years, because I retired. However, if you go down there, you will not see a weed problem, at least not like most growers.”

 

“The difficulty really is, in order to carry out this philosophy, you need to use hand labor for weed management and it is becoming less and less easy to find,” explained Norris. “Most weed management is done on a one-year one-crop basis; whereas, the type of management we’re talking about where we’re really thinking seed bank dynamics, has to be done over multiple years. Another big problem that I still see is if you miss one year, you can undo 5 to 10 years of what you’ve just been doing, because of this high seed output,” he said.


NEVER LET ‘EM SET SEED, by Robert Norris, Weed Science Society of America.