CULTIVATING COMMON GROUND: Almond Growers on Assessment Increase

Almond Growers Want Justification and Vote on Almond Board’s Assessment Increase

 

Editor’s note: We thank John Harris for his contribution to California Ag Today’s CULTIVATING COMMON GROUND. The Almond Board’s Response can be read at Almond Board’s Response on Assessment Increase.

By John Harris, owner, Harris Ranch

 

Marketing orders give agriculture a great tool to collect fees from producers to promote products and/or conduct research projects.  The concept is great, and increasing demand is always good. To be successful, the plan needs to be affordable and explained so it is understood and backed by a big majority of the producers.  I am concerned the Almond Board’s recent assessment increase from 3 to 4 cents a pound—in the absence of an almond producer vote—is unwise.

Harris Farms Fresh LogoAt the current rate of 3 cents per pound, money raised will increase as production increases, which seem fairly certain.  Plus, the fund receives significant help from a government program to encourage exports.  A year or so ago, almond growers were doing really well, when many sales were exceeded $4 a pound.  But last fall prices dropped significantly, in some cases to the $2 range. This loss in revenue made it tougher for almond growers to break even. A grower producing 2,500 pounds per acre is now paying $75 per acre in assessments; under the new plan it would increase to $100 per acre.

To get feedback from growers, the USDA published a request for comments. The comment period opened on July 18 and closed on August 2. But the industry was not notified until July 27. I commented at the time that I was not in favor of the assessment without full knowledge of the purpose of the extra money. I am certain many growers have an opinion on this, but only five comments were submitted. I think most growers did not realize both the assessment increase was under discussion and a producer vote would not be forthcoming.

The time frame for comments was alarmingly short; however, the USDA has decided to reopen the comment period for 10 days.  The reopening of the comment period is expected to be announced within the next two weeks and will be communicated immediately to the industry once it is published in the Federal Register.

I urge all producers to take a good look at the proposal and voice your opinions.

This link will take you to the almond assessment comment page: https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=AMS-SC-16-0045.

There should be more of a democratic process. I think this proposed assessment increase needs to go to a vote among the growers affected by it and should require strong approval by at least 51 percent of the growers representing 60 percent of the production. We don’t want to micromanage the Board’s process, but large changes like this assessment increase should demand some form of referendum.

I also think everyone would like to know how the millions of extra dollars collected would be used.

And, of course I think the industry deserves more awareness of this proposed increase in assessment. I do not hear people talking about it; many growers may not even learn about the extra assessment until they get their check from their handler next year. I think all almond growers need to know this is happening now and not be surprised next year.

If I asked my boss for a 33% raise, I believe the onus would be on me to sell the idea and win support, rather than just push it through providing little information to the guy who would be paying me.

If the Almond Board is increasing their budget by 33%, shouldn’t the burden be placed on the Board to win the support of growers?  I would think they would communicate a clear plan on how to spend the enormous increase—a strong and strategic plan—they would be eager and proud to share with growers and handlers.

To increase any tax/assessment, the logical thought process should be, “No, unless proven to be needed, supported, and affordable,” instead of defaulting to, “Increase the tax unless we get stopped.”


The Almond Board’s Response can be read at Almond Board’s Response on Assessment Increase.


Harris Ranch and Allied Companies


The Harris Family’s commitment to agriculture spans over 100 years, four generations, and four states, from Mississippi, to Texas, to Arizona, and eventually into California.

J. A. Harris and his wife, Kate, arrived in California’s Imperial Valley in 1916 to start one of California’s first cotton gins and cotton seed oil mills. They later moved to the San Joaquin Valley and began farming there.

In 1937, their only son, Jack, and his wife Teresa, began what is now known as Harris Ranch, starting with a previously unfarmed 320 acres of desert land on the Valley’s Western edge. With vision and determination, Harris Ranch has grown into the most integrated, diversified, and one of the largest agribusinesses in the United States.

Beginning with cotton and grain, Harris Ranch now produces over thirty-three crops annually, including lettuce, tomatoes, garlic, onions, melons, oranges, lemons, almonds, pistachios, walnuts and winegrapes, all backed by their commitment to superior quality and satisfaction. Harris Farms thoroughbreds are raised and trained to compete internationally. Harris Feeding Company, California’s largest cattle raising operation, and Harris Ranch Beef Company produce and market a premium line of packaged and fully-cooked beef products, including Harris Ranch Restaurant Reserve™ beef. All Harris products are served and sold at the internationally acclaimed Harris Ranch Restaurant and Inn.


The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the various participants on CaliforniaAgToday.com do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, viewpoints or official policies of the California Ag Today, Inc.


 

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ILRP Changes Target All Calif. Farmers

Proposed Changes to Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP) Could Impact Farmers Statewide

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Deputy Editor

 

Kings River Water Quality Coalition LogoThe recently proposed changes to the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program (ILRP), open for public comment until Wednesday, May 18, could significantly impact farmers, according to Casey Creamer, coordinator for the Kings River Water Quality Coalition“The proposed modifications concern the east San Joaquin Region, within Madera, Merced and Stanislaus Counties,” Creamer said. “That’s the scope of it.”

According to the State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) website, ILRP “regulates discharges from irrigated agricultural lands. This is done by issuing waste discharge requirements (WDRs) or conditional waivers of WDRs (Orders) to growers.” Discharges include irrigation runoff, flows from tile drains and storm water runoff, which can transport “pollutants including pesticides, sediment, nutrients, salts (including selenium and boron), pathogens, and heavy metals, from cultivated fields into surface waters. Orders contain conditions requiring water quality monitoring of receiving waters and corrective actions when impairments are found.”

While ILRP currently targets only the east San Joaquin region, Creamer said, “It’s a precedent-setting deal, so everything in there is going to affect not only the entire Central Valley, but the Central Coast and the Imperial Valley—that may not have near the issues or the current regulatory programs that we have here in the Central Valley. So, its very important statewide.”

Creamer emphasized, “Farmers need to know that this is not a minor issue; this is a big issue that affects their livelihoods and their ability to operate. They need to get involved. They need to communicate with their other growers, communicate with their associations, get involved and have their voices heard.”

__________________

The State Water Board is hosting a public workshop on the proposed order on Tuesday, May 17, in Fresno—one day prior to the closing of the ILRP public comment period. The workshop will be held at 9:00 a.m. in the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, Central Region, 1990 E. Gettysburg Avenue, Fresno.

The SWRCB is also soliciting written comments on the proposed order. Written comments must be received by 5:00 p.m., Wednesday, May 18, 2016. Please indicate in the subject line, “Comments to A-2239(a)-(c).” Electronic submission of written comments is encouraged. Written comments must be addressed to:

Ms. Jeanine Townsend

Clerk to the BoardSWRCB-logo-water-boards

State Water Resources Control Board

1001 I Street, 24th Floor [95814]

P.O. Box 100

Sacramento, CA 95812-0100

(tel) 916-341-5600

(fax) 916-341-5620

(email) commentletters@waterboards.ca.gov

  __________________

The Kings River Water Quality Coalition is a non-profit joint powers agency established by the irrigation districts in the Kings River service area. It is governed by a board of directors of landowners from each of the districts. Staffing of the Coalition is administered through an agreement with the Kings River Conservation District located in Fresno. The Coalition was formed in 2009 in order to allow growers within the region a cost-effective avenue to comply with the regulations developed by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. The Coalition conducts regional monitoring and reporting and assists members in compliance with regulations. The Coalition is not a regulatory agency. Enforcement of the ILRP is handled by the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

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Water Quantity, Quality Affect Melon Crops

Source: Steve Adler; Ag Alert

With severe shortages of surface water affecting key Central Valley production regions, melon growers say both water supply and quality will affect their final crop yields this year. As they ship cantaloupes, watermelons and other melons to supermarkets around the country, every grower in the Central Valley is talking about the water shortage.

There have been some acreage reductions because of lack of surface water, particularly on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, but most melon growers have wells on their farms to irrigate their fields. Because of the salinity of much of that groundwater, however, melon growers report lower yields in many fields.

In addition, growers said they have found it necessary to sink their wells deeper as underground aquifers decline, and farmers report that some wells have run dry.

The annual melon harvest begins in the Imperial Valley and the neighboring Yuma Valley in Arizona in early to mid-May, then progresses north through the San Joaquin Valley.

Melon yields in Imperial and Yuma were lower than normal this year, growers said, because many of the fields were hit with mosaic viruses.

“We fought mosaic in the melons this year that was aggravated by the strong winds that came in later than normal throughout April and much of May,” Imperial County farmer Joe Colace Jr. said. “The size early on was about a half to full size smaller than what we are accustomed to getting from our early crop, but after about the second week, our sizes improved and we were fine for the balance of the season.”

Due to the lack of water in the Bakersfield area, Colace said his farm decided not to plant melons there as it typically does, choosing instead to extend the season in the Imperial Valley, where water was more available.

Sal Alaniz, director of harvest and quality control for Westside Produce in Firebaugh, said they have about 2,500 acres of melons that will be harvested through October. Their plantings are down about 300 acres this year due to water shortages and quality, he said. The farm is using only groundwater this year and its quality has affected some fields.

“We’re using groundwater that is lower in quality and higher in salts, and that affects the quantity,” Alaniz said, adding that melon quality is good, but yields are expected to be only average.

Westside Produce started its melon harvest on June 27, about eight to 10 days earlier than normal due to warm spring weather, Alaniz said. Harvest crews will go through the fields several times, choosing the ripe melons and leaving the immature ones to be harvested later.

Alaniz said the farm uses drip irrigation, which allows for water to be applied when the plants need it while still providing the ability to move harvest equipment through the field. He noted that drip irrigation does bring extra expenses, “due to the labor and need for filters.”

So far, Alaniz said he has had no problem filling harvest crews. About 80 percent of the workers return each year for the melon harvest, he said, while noting that labor could get tighter as other melon growers begin their harvests. Each machine moving through the field employs a crew of 21 plus a foreman.

For cantaloupes, newly adopted mandatory food safety and trace-back requirements took effect last year, following a vote by melon growers.

“The new food safety and trace-back rules are working fine,” Colace said. “Anytime there is something new or a new application, there is always that learning curve. We are through that learning curve, and we are very consistent and satisfied with all of the food safety requirements. The rules are specific to the cantaloupes, but if we have customers who request this on other melons, we are in a position to do that as well.”

The program operates with oversight from the California Department of Food and Agriculture and utilizes auditors trained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“We are very pleased that all handlers achieved certification last year,” said Garrett Patricio, vice president of operations at Westside Produce and chairman of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board marketing committee. He said this season’s audits are currently ongoing and that any new handlers will be added to the certified list as soon as their audits are complete.

In 2013, California growers produced cantaloupes on about 36,000 acres. Farmers also grew 10,500 acres of honeydew melons and 10,000 acres of watermelons last year, along with smaller plantings of a variety of other melons.

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