The California Fresh Fruit Association (CFFA) recently announced their Top Issues for 2019. Members were surveyed in December 2018 and ranked the top issues for CFFA to concentrate on in 2019.
President of the California Fresh Fruit Association, George Radanovich, stated “As in years past, our membership has given us strong direction in identifying their top priorities for 2019. The issues of labor, water, and food safety, will lead our list of issues. CFFA will continue to serve as the primary liaison between regulatory and legislative authorities by acting as the unified voice for our members on these and many other issues.”
Here are the results:
1) Federal Immigration Policies Addressing Current and Future Labor Force
Attorney Michael Saqui Says UFW is Social Reform Movement
By Jessica Theisman, Associate Editor
Michael Saqui, is a principal with the Saqui Law Group, based in Roseville and Salinas, and he recently shared some opinions about the UFW with California Ag Today.
“They’re not a union, in my opinion. I have been fighting the UFW my whole career,” he said.
Saqui Law Group handles wage an hour, labor relations, employment litigation, and other disciplines for the agricultural industry. He said UFW is far from being a union.
“They are not an organized union; they’re a social reform movement, plain and simple,” Saqui said.
“They’re a political action committee that raises money from the limousine liberals,” he said.
Saqui said that the millions that are contributed to the organization do not get back to the workers.
“They run very much like a criminal organization. The way they funnel and shield money and not much gets back to the farm worker.”
The UFW thinks they have been successful at what is called the Equitable Food Initiative (EFI), where they have gotten retail companies to sign onto a code of conduct.
“These metrics that they have put together for compliance in all areas, including wage an hour, treatment, and respect are already codified in California state law to make large companies and other folks feel good,” he said.
Saqui has had no input on the EFI which they point to as a success.
“They can’t organize workers and when they do organize workers, history has shown that they have been absolutely inept at getting contracts,” Saqui said.
After last year’s tremendously successful raisin harvest, Steve Spate a fourth generation farmer, said it is understandable to see a bit of a decline in tonnage this year. Spate, who is also a grower representative for the Raisin Bargaining Association (RBA), which has been representing the raisin industry for nearly 50 years, said, “Just by nature, the year following a high crop year could potentially be down—especially for Thompson Seedless Grapes,” noted Spate.
Raisin grape harvest in the central San Joaquin Valley is a two-month process for growers, typically running from late August to mid-to-late October, depending on crop maturity. Hard numbers on this year’s overall crop won’t be available for a few more months, but growers are reporting a significant decline from last year’s harvest. “Last year was a large crop,” said Spate,” so definitely we were considering that this year would be down—but not as severely as some growers have reported. We have people reporting differences in yield from 10% to as high as almost 50%.”
There are various possible reasons for this year’s drop in yield, aside from the cyclical nature of grapevines. “I think drought conditions last year may have played a big role, while the buds were setting basically for this year,” said Spate. He also suggested water was a significant factor this year as well, particularly if growers lacked enough surface water deliveries or a grower had a pump issue and there was a critical time where he or she didn’t get water on the field.
The overall reduction in acreage of this year’s harvest is yet another factor to consider. Industry experts report approximately 10K to 15K fewer raisin grape acres compared to last year. This shrinkage is attributed to growers replacing raisin crops with higher-value crops such as almonds.
As many industries struggled with the cost and availability of labor, Spate commented that it wasn’t too difficult to fill their labor needs this year. “Going into the year growers made different decisions and chose more mechanized harvests. The handpicking crews were much larger and seemed to be readily available,” Spate said.
While grape growers were thankful for the amount of available labor this year, they have some serious concerns regarding the cost of labor in the next few years. Between a minimum wage that will incrementally climb to $15 an hour in a couple of years and the newly established shorter workday for farmworkers [before reaching the overtime threshold of 8 hours, as opposed to 10 hours], growers consider the investment in mechanization as being more cost effective in the long run.
“I think we will continue to see shifts towards any type of mechanization possible due to some of those minimum wage [increases].” Before the governor signed the overtime bill, Spate said, “We used to have the ability to have workers work longer hours before overtime kicked in.”
Raisin grape growers will still be harvesting for the next few weeks. Although it appears overall tonnage is down a bit, sugar levels seem to be higher than last year, resulting in better quality raisins.
“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.
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.”
With 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 Groundto 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.
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.
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.
“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.
Nassif Warns that More Farmers Will Leave Highly Regulated California
By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster
Earlier this summer, the California legislature voted down Assembly Bill 2757 which would have ended the 10-hour workday for farmworkers and eliminated their opportunity for overtime pay. Now, the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, is trying again with Assembly Bill 1066.
Tom Nassif, who has presided as president and CEO of Western Growers for the past 14 years, described this bill as a major cause for concern for farmers. “That’s very top-of-mind,” said Nassif. “Many of our members tell us the increase in minimum wage is onerous and the overtime bill is even worse; it will be more expensive and all it’s going to do is drive more producers out of production or into foreign countries,” he said. From his many years as a labor attorney working with multiple growers and shippers throughout the state, Nassif has a clear understanding of how this type of bill would adversely affect the farmworkers it’s being touted as helping. “When you think about the fact that you’re going to be taking ground out of production or moving production somewhere else, eventually you’re not going to have enough jobs. Additionally, people are starting to move into crops that don’t require so much labor, like tree nuts, which are mechanized,” noted Nassif.
Nassif explained that over the past few years, the overall cost of farming in California has risen more than 30 percent resulting from the climbing cost of water, various types of government regulation, and increased wages. “If AB 1066 were passed and put into effect, farmers will do what they need to do in order to survive, including limiting worker hours and hiring additional workers to make up the difference, or simply moving the entire farming operation to another state that’s more cost-effective.”
Nassif noted he has already heard of some farmers who are not waiting for costs to become more expensive and have already left California. “No question; it has been happening for a number of years,” said Nassif, adding the number of departures is growing all the time.
“You cannot put up with the high cost of production and micromanagement by the government, whether it’s the state government or the federal government or even regional governments, and have an effective economic model for farming,” Nassif stated. “Pretty soon that is just going to drive everybody away. They can produce much more cheaply in foreign countries.”
Following Defeat of Overtime Bill AB 2757, CAWG Gears up to Fight New Overtime Bill AB 1066
By Laurie Greene, Editor
California Assembly Bill 2757, which called to end the 10-hour workday for farm laborers (by enforcing overtime) and to illuminate extra work time opportunities, was voted down in June 2016, but a new version of the bill, AB 1066, is back on the drawing table.
Brad Goehring, treasurer of the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) Board of Directors and current chair of the CAWG State Government Affairs Committee, spoke about the process of fighting back on this bill. “We already beat it and we had a major victory in the California State Assembly earlier in the year. The author of the bill didn’t like that result, and it is all union-backed and backed by taxpayer groups like California Rural Legal Association, Inc. (CRLA),” Goehring said.
“But the pressure is back,” said Goehring, also a fourth–generation winegrape growerand owner of Goehring Vineyards, in Clements, near Lodi. “They did a dirty gut and amend bill¹, which is a slide of hand and basically reintroduces the bill again under a different bill number. This time it’s going to start in the Senate and we’re expecting a tough battle; but we’ve got a very organized coalition of Ag associations and we’re going to put the same energy into fighting this that we did before,” explained Goehring.
“It was a bloody fight in the Assembly,” noted Goehring. “But still, we’re optimistic as there are plenty of no votes from the party that wanted this to go through that we think it will be hard for the governor to sign even if [the bill] makes that far.
Goehring maintained, “The key is to educate legislators that the bill would hurt farmworkers because it would force farmers to minimize work hours to prevent overtime payroll. In fact, farmworkers are pushing for this second bill to fail.”
“Where the lack of understanding lies is the clear line between the urban legislators and the rural legislators,” Goehring commented. “The urban legislators, ironically, are the ones who already hav $15 minimum wage laws in their towns—San Diego, San Jose, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. These legislators are trying to cram it down our throats and our lives here in the rural areas. We’re not having any real hard times getting to agreement with either party, if they are in the rural areas. It’s the urban ones that are doing all the damage.”
“We’ve had these legislators out to our farms. We’ve walked away and let them talk openly with our employees, and our employees have told them they don’t want it,” Goehring said. “Our employees have told them that they want to make an honest living. They want to teach their kids how to do the same thing. Our employees have taken it one step further; we overheard them telling the legislators they are not even in favor of any of the entitlement programs because that’s not the way to make an honest living that they want for their kids.”
“With all that said,” Goehring concluded, “the urban legislators are turning their backs on and ignoring our employees. This is all about unions and CRLA. They don’t care about the employees—is basically what they’re saying,” noted Goehring.
Poultry Industry Shines, Like a Canary in a Coal Mine
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation, based in Modesto, reported the state’s poultry industry is doing well despite new regulations and wage increases. “First of all,” he explained, “it looks like chicken has taken over as the [category of] highest meat consumption now in the United States. It’s getting more and more popular, so that’s good,” Mattos noted.
“Also, the best thing is the industry seems to be weathering the Highly Pathogenic Avian Flu (HPAI) A (H5N1) storm,” he continued. “In California, we’re doing our due diligence with biosecurity. We don’t have any Avian Influenza. We’ll knock on wood for that.”
“The industry is also enjoying lower feed costs. That’s 60% of our cost, so that’s good news,” he added.
And, poultry industry employees have job security. “It doesn’t look like there will be fewer employees in the industry over the next few years, and we’d like to have more,” he said.
Notwithstanding the good news, challenges loom on the near horizon. “The Air Quality and Water Quality Control Boards are regulating a lot of different industries,” Mattos observed. “They’re starting to look at the poultry industry now that they have completed the dairy rules. We’re very concerned about those issues, so we are trying to work with the boards to explain to them what we do and how our business runs,” noted Mattos.
The updated minimum wage requirement may hurt the California poultry industry, another big concern of Mattos. “We supply half the chicken consumed in California. The other half comes from out of state. Without the same minimum wage requirements, we’re going to be at a disadvantage. We’re looking into the different possibilities—what we can do—to offset that.”
“You will be seeing some new things coming out from the poultry industry as we look at the ramifications of the new minimum wage,” explained Mattos. “We can’t compete with that. They are going to be taking a lot more percentage away from us, which may cost us some jobs if we don’t work this out.”
“With the minimum wage hike, California lawmakers are trying to appease workers. But it really affects businesses. Ours happen to be mostly in the Central Valley, which is the hardest-pressed area for unemployment. It isn’t a good place to have to follow wage requirements like you’re seeing in San Francisco and Los Angeles. It frankly makes no sense in the Central Valley,” said Mattos.
California already requires agricultural employers to provide overtime pay to farmworkers after they work 10 hours in one day and 60 hours in one week, which recognizes the flexibility that farmers and employees need given the variable nature of farming and seasonal labor. Authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), AB 1066, phases in a new overtime wage law requiring California farmers to pay agricultural workers overtime after eight hours in one day or 40 hours in one week by the year 2022.
Rooney says AB 1066 adds an unnecessary regulatory burden on the agricultural industry, and, combined with the recently passed $15 minimum wage law, makes it difficult for farmers in the state to remain competitive. “We do need six democrats to vote with us to oppose the bill, which will be a challenge,” said Rooney. “The Senate is left of center, at least compared to the Assembly, but we are working very hard to secure those votes and just hope that the bill doesn’t get back to the Assembly.”
Rooney said the Assembly killed a similar bill earlier this month. “It is very disappointing that the bill has been repackaged and presented to the Senate as a gut and amend bill, AB 1066,” she said. “The new bill was basically reintroduced less than two weeks after we defeated it in the Assembly.”
Rooney stressed the importance that the Senate not approve AB 1066, because should the Senate approve it, the bill would go back to the Assembly because both houses are needed to pass the bill. “And while the earlier bill failed in the Assembly, we are not sure that it would fail again,” she said.
There are Assembly legislators who voted against it before, who are willing to vote against it again, said Rooney, “but the timing of it is really unfortunate. We expect that while the legislators are on summer recess in July, they may have time to build up support for the bill. It’s the end of session, and we have a number of challenges to defeat the bill; but we are hopeful that if the California Senate does not defeat it, the Assembly will,” said Rooney.
Rooney suggested those who oppose AB 1066 go to the post, “Oppose Gut & Amend Legislation to Change Ag Overtime Wage Requirements” on the Ag Council Action Center webpage, “to easily send an opposition letter to their state legislator.
Challenge to Farmworker Piece-Rate Pay May Actually Depress Wages
By Brian German, Associate Editor
Assembly Bill No. 1513 requires employees who are paid on a piece-rate basis to be compensated separately for rest and recovery breaks, and to be paid an hourly wage for non-productive time under the employer’s control, according to Anthony Raimondo, a Fresno-based attorney who has represented farmers and farm labor contractors since 2001.
Raimondo contends that while the bill was designed with the best intentions, its application may be detrimental to farmworkers. “The State of California believes that if piece-rate workers are not paid additional hourly wages for their ten minute breaks, they are being cheated,” Raimondo explained, “even though, every single day, every worker in California on a-piece rate basis always makes above minimum wage for the hours they work on that day.”
Raimondo, who has assisted employers with strategic planning and labor relations and who regularly defends wage claims before the California Labor Commission, elaborated on why farmworkers prefer piece-rate compensation. “You won’t see a day in our fields where a worker on piece-rate’s total earnings total less than what he would have made hourly on a minimum wage. That is why the unintended consequences of these laws will be to depress worker’s wages,” said Raimondo.
“It is why workers demand piece-rate from us; they don’t want hourly wages. Because we work in market-based commodities, the more the employer can tie earnings to production, the higher the wages that employer can deliver to the worker. They are both benefitting from an economic bargain that generates revenue through the ranch for both the employer and the employee. When compensation is tied to production, everybody makes more money,” he noted.