Among the mix of registered dietitians conveying the accurate message, California Ag Today concluded our conversation about Facts Not Fear with Teresa Thorn, executive director of the Alliance for Food and Farming, located in Watsonville.
The Alliance hosted the second Facts Not Fear produce safety media tour, in conjunction with Markon Cooperative, for registered dieticians, health and nutrition writers, and bloggers last month in the Salinas Valley. Impacting the customer with the proper information is key.
“We have a mix of writers and bloggers who again have that bullhorn to consumers,” Thorn said.
Social media was also used in conveying the message.
“They’re posting, and we’ve read it and retweeted a lot of their stuff so you can go to our social channels and see some of it,” she explained.
Speaking to growers was very important, and asking industry professionals to attend was vital to cultivating relationships.
“They loved being out in the field. We were always the last ones to get on the bus because they had so many questions,” Thorn said.
The group also does a roundtable discussion where they bring in scientists, shafts, regulators, farmers, and farming companies into the room at Markon’s Produce Expo.
“Building that network was really important,” Thorn said.
“Facts Not Fear” Educates Participants on Vegetable Production
News Release Edited By Patrick Cavanaugh
The Alliance for Food and Farming, in conjunction with Markon Cooperative, hosted its second “Facts Not Fear” Produce Safety Media tour last week in the Salinas Valley.
“Our goal is for … [registered dieticians], health and nutrition writers and bloggers to see firsthand the care and commitment farmers have for producing safe and wholesome foods. We believe we met that goal. But, what we learn from our tour guests continues to be just as valuable,” said Teresa Thorne, Executive Director of the Alliance for Food and Farming, based in Watsonville.
In addition to farm and facility tours, the AFF and Markon facilitated a round table meeting where tour guests were joined by farmers and farming companies, scientists, regulators and chefs for a free-flowing discussion that encompassed food safety, farming practices, food waste, pesticide use, food safety regulations, new technologies, health and nutrition, and consumer outreach.
The RDs, bloggers, and writers attending the tour reported they enjoyed the chance to tour the farms one day and then discuss what they saw with these experts. They also appreciated the opportunity to share their information needs and concerns directly during the round table discussion.
And, what were some of our key takeaways from guests? Consumers want transparent and honest communication regarding food safety and food production practices. The RDs, bloggers, and writers share The Alliance for Food and Farming’s concerns about produce safety misinformation and appreciate and need access to scientists and experts that can assist them when addressing consumer questions and correcting misconceptions.
“And, they were very impressed with the technological advancements they saw in the harvesting and processing of produce,” said Thorne.
“While the importance of seeing the fields and harvest and touring processing facilities cannot be underscored enough, meeting and connecting with the people growing our food, directly sharing concerns with farmers and scientists in a group and one-on-one setting and the expansion of their produce industry network is of equal importance for our guests,” Thorne explained.
“Our sincere thanks to everyone who allowed us to visit their farms, watch the harvest, view their processing facilities as well as joined us for the round table discussion,” Thorne said. “And, our thanks and appreciation to our tour partner, Markon Cooperative, for making this tour possible as well as our tour sponsors Cal-Giant Berry Farms, the California Strawberry Commission and the Produce Marketing Association.”
Thorne also praised the 2017 and 2018 tour alumni.
“We will keep the conversation going and look forward to learning more from the attendees as we all work toward our shared goal of increasing daily consumption of organic and conventional fruits and veggies,” she said.
The host, The Markon Cooperative, supplies the food service industry fresh fruits and vegetables.
WGA’s Puglia on Sacramento’sMuddled Potable Groundwater Policy
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
Many residents in California’s agricultural regions rely on groundwater from private wells rather than from municipal supplies for clean drinkable water. Test results on many of these wells have revealed excess nitrates and other dangerous elements. Indisputably, all state residents deserve clean potable water.
Who is Responsible?
Cris Carrigan, director of the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) Office of Enforcement, issued confidential letters to growers in two regions, Salinas Valley and the Tulare Lake Basin, demanding these farmers supply potable water to the citizens in need.
“The letter represents a legal proceeding by the Office of Enforcement,” said Dave Puglia, executive vice president of the Western Growers Association (WGA). “Why they desire to keep it confidential is something they would have to answer, but I think sending that many letters to a community of farmers is a pretty good guarantee that it won’t remain confidential.”
The first letters went to growers in Salinas one year ago. “Although there has been some advancement of the discussions between some of the growers in the Salinas Valley and the Office of Enforcement,” Puglia said, “I don’t think it’s been put to bed yet.”
Which Groundwater Supply?
“It’s critical to distinguish between entire communities in need of [municipal] drinking water assistance and domestic well users whose wells have nitrate issues. Those are two different things.”
“It’s important to keep that distinction. The state has spent money and is advancing programs to provide clean drinking water to small community water systems that don’t have that capability, and that’s appropriate,” Puglia clarified. “That is not what we’re talking about here.”
“We’re talking about a smaller number of individuals whose domestic wells are contaminated with nitrates. These are people not served by a municipal system.”
“Again, these are people who depend upon wells located on property that has been previously used for agriculture, and the groundwater has nitrate levels that exceed state limits. We are talking about one to maybe five household connections serviced by one well, so it is a very small service of water.”
“This is a much smaller universe than we’re accustomed to talking about when we talk about nitrate levels in drinking water. It often conjures up the image of municipal water systems that [cannot be treated.] That is a different problem entirely, and the state has made some advances in tackling that problem and needs to do more. This is something of a smaller nature, but the cost-impacts could be very significant.”
“There are different ways of providing replacement drinking water for some period of time until those folks can be connected to municipal water service. That really should be the objective here; if a domestic well is that far gone, we should get these folks connected to a municipal water service,” Puglia said.
The bigger question is what should the state’s replacement water policy be for individuals whose wells are contaminated with nitrates? Puglia said, “The state of California and the federal government encouraged farmers to apply nitrogen for decades to produce something we all need—nutritious food preferably from American soil.
“Now, with the benefit of scientific advancement, we discover that much of that nitrogen was able to leach below the root zone and enter the groundwater supply.”
Groundwater Policy Debate
“This was not an intentional act of malice to pollute groundwater. These were farmers doing [best practices] to provide food as they were coached and educated by our universities and by our state and federal governments.” Puglia said the state looks at this problem as if it were a case of industrial pollution and growers should be punished.
“That is fundamentally not what this is. I think it’s really important for the state of California, for Governor Jerry Brown, and for his administration, to stand back, take a hard look at this problem and differentiate it from industrial pollution, because it is not the same. They need to go back to the SWRCB’s recommendations for best solutions,” Puglia declared.
“Three or four years ago, the Water Board recommended to the legislature the most preferable policy solution for the public good was to have everyone chip in for clean water. This is just like how all of us pay a small charge on our phone bill for the California Lifeline Service for folks who can’t afford phone service,” Puglia said.
“If we have a connection to a water system, we would all pay a small charge on our water bill to generate enormous amounts of revenue that the state could use to fix not only nitrate contamination but all of the other contaminants in the state’s drinking water supplies. Many of those contaminants are far more hazardous than nitrate, such as Chromium-6 (a carcinogen), arsenic and other toxins that are industrial pollutants, that pose a much greater health risk.”
Puglia explained that in this case, the state bypassed its own preferred ‘public goods charge‘ policy option with regard to water. The state bypassed its second preferred policy option, which is a small tax on food. The state bypassed its third preferred policy option, a fertilizer tax. “State officials from Governor Brown’s office went straight to the policy option the State Water Board said it did not prefer, which is to target farmers.”
Complex Contamination Needs a Holistic Solution
Now the big question is who ought to bear the burden of paying for that solution, both on a temporary basis and then on a permanent basis? Puglia said, “The state itself and the State Water Board itself already projected three policy options that would be preferable.”
“These options would have spread the cost very broadly among Californians through three different mechanisms, seemingly in recognition of the fact that farmers were doing the right thing for decades in growing food using fertilizer. Fertilizer that contains nitrogen has been essential to growing food since the dawn of humankind.”
Puglia said that nitrate contamination of drinking water is a legitimate problem in California. However, it pales in comparison to the presence of industrial pollutants in drinking water supplies that are highly carcinogenic and highly toxic. Such water sources throughout southern California and parts of the Bay Area can no longer be used.
Rather than looking at this holistically, Puglia said, Governor Brown’s administration has focused exclusively on one contaminant, nitrate, that affects a relatively small number of Californians and is targeting one small group of Californians to pay for replacement water. A holistic perspective would determine that California has a severe problem with its drinking water due to contamination by different toxic substances that vary in different regions of the state and that affect many Californians diversely.
“The obvious way to ensure people have safe, clean drinking water,” Puglia said, “is a broad solution, like a fee on water connections that we all pay. And that has been, in fact, the SWRCB’s preferred solution.”
“And, yet, we have made no effort as a state to move that policy forward. Instead, we are defaulting to running over a small group of people who are relatively defenseless, politically.”
“More importantly some people in the Governor’s Office, as well as leaders and secretaries in the Governor’s administration, including Matt Rodriquez, secretary, CalEPA, expressed some agreement with our position and sympathy with our predicament. Yet the letters continued to go out,” Puglia said.
Cris Carrigan Opens Dialogue With Growers about Nitrates in Water
By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director
Over the last year, 19 Salinas Valley growers, and recently 26 citrus growers on the east side of Tulare County, each received a confidential letter from Christian Carrigan, director, State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), Office of Enforcement. The letter constituted an invitation to a meeting to discuss the provision of uninterrupted replacement water to communities and individuals who rely on the region’s groundwater which contains too many nitrates.
Invitation recipients are growers who farm larger tracts of agricultural land in regions identified to have elevated nitrate-contaminated groundwater based on historical evidence. The ‘Harter Report,’ officially submitted to SWRCB in 2012 as, “Addressing Nitrate in California’s Drinking Water,” reinforced the nitrate problem.
The letter presented recipients with a choice: provide replacement potable water to disadvantaged communities with substandard drinking water or face a mandated Cleanup and Abatement Order that would require the development, installation, and ongoing operation of expensive reverse-osmosis water treatment systems or other fixes.
“We’re looking at ways to have a broader dialogue with the larger agricultural community,” Cris Carrigan explained. “I sent the confidential letter to a group of agricultural land owners in Tulare County and because I offered to maintain its confidentiality, I really don’t want to talk about the contents of it now.”
“I should be clear, this is an action by the Office of Enforcement at the State Water Board,” Carrigan said. “It is led by Jonathan Bishop, chief deputy director. I am a legal officer and he’s my client, the decision-maker at the Board.”
“We have not talked about this with the board members, Tom Howard, executive director, or Michael Laufer, chief counsel,” Carrigan clarified. “We have preserved their neutrality by not communicating with them about this action in case we need to do an adjudicatory proceeding. We did the same thing in Salinas.”
Carrigan noted that his office does not want this to go into an adjudicatory proceeding. “We are really set up, primarily, to try and resolve this in a mutually acceptable and cooperative way. We think there are ways to do that. We’ve learned a lot from engaging with the agricultural community in Salinas. Now we hope to apply those lessons and learn some new things in Tulare County.”
Carrigan commented that he is having the right kind of dialogue with farmers. “We’re talking about the right kinds of things. Again, I understand that nitrogen means food, food means jobs. We need to have a scientifically defensible way to bring back [water] resource restoration, so that our aquifers can become clean again.”
“In the meantime, we have to prevent people from being poisoned by bad water. That is what this is all about,” Carrigan said.
“We’re coming down to the wire pretty quickly,” commented Norm Groot, executive director of the Monterey County Farm Bureau in Salinas. “We’re moving forward with our SGMA implementation and moving closer to a proposal for our groundwater sustainability agency. We hope to have something presentable to the public entities sometime this fall.”
“We are meeting with stakeholders in the Valley and hopefully we can move forward with some of the solidification of the proposals and get into the nitty-gritty details of how to work that particular agency through the process,” Groot continued. “We have options to either take an agency that we have here in our county and rework it legislatively, or perhaps create a brand new agency. It just depends on the complexities of that particular issue based on the proposal that we come up with,” said Groot.
Groot noted local agricultural leaders have proposals on the table and various different options are under consideration. “The complexity of reworking an existing agency through a legislative process is rather daunting,” explained Groot. “The complexity of creating a new agency from the scratch is also very daunting and probably very expensive.”
Certainly any of these proposals under scrutiny will not be approved overnight. “It’s going to take some thought; some time, effort, and energy; and definitely some money to do,” said Groot.
Winegrape Cultural Practices Must Go Mechanical for Sustainability
By Emily McKay Johnson, Associate Editor
Higher wages handed down by the California Legislature are driving California winegrape growers to mechanize many farming operations. Doug Beck, geographic information systems (GIS) specialist and agronomist for Monterey Pacific Incorporated who works with winegrowers in the Salinas Valley, commented, “We don’t have the people; that’s the main problem. We can put bodies out in the field, but we can’t get the work done the way it needs to be done, at the time it needs to be done,” he said.
So the industry has no choice but to go mechanical on pruning, leafing as well as harvesting. Beck explained pruning has been tough to mechanize. “We’re basically just trying to do a system that is pruned by a tractor, creating a box head that self-regulates—it sets the amount of crop it needs and grows the size canopy it needs in order to balance that vine, produce good quality grapes and produce enough to be economically viable,” noted Beck.
Economic viability—profit—is critical, according to Beck. “In fact, it is true sustainability. Otherwise we’re not in business,” he said.
Mechanical pruning essentially creates a hedge every year. Beck explained, “Typically we have pruning spurs that have two buds or three buds, a hand space apart, coming off that cordon that we cut by hand. Instead of just having spurs, we let that grow into a box, and the mechanical pruner cuts along the sides and then across the top of the vine in one pass,” Beck explained. “It looks basically like a long box,” he said.
Beck has discovered that mechanical pruning into a box shape on the trellis wires, “works across all varieties we’ve tried. We’re definitely in a cool area for grape production,” Beck said, “so those are the kind of grapes that we’re growing: Pinot Noir, Grenache, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris, along with some Cabernet.”
Beck said that winegrape vineyards have a lot of vigor in the Salinas Valley. “You also have big crops, which may also require some shoot or crop thinning. You have to come up with other machines to do the rest of the operations that they usually do by hand.”
“The mechanical process appears to be working well because growers are seeing a bump in yield of 30 to 50 percent,” Beck commented, “and they are saving about $1,000 per acre. Economically, it makes a lot of sense.”
“Quality is definitely acceptable. It’s as good as any other trellis system we have out there. Quality comes from vine balance and fruit exposure to light, and that box prune system accomplishes both,” said Beck.
Recycled Water Project for Water Stability: Takes Shape, Part 4
By Brian German, Associate Editor and Broadcaster
As part of our ongoing coverage on the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program (NVRRWP), we spoke with Anthea Hansen, general Manager of the Del Puerto Water District. Over the next few months the project will start to take shape following the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation signing the Record of Decision last month, the high level of cooperation taking place among all the different entities, and positive public response.
Hansen commented, “I can’t speak enough about our good experience thus far. The cities, partners and consultants on the project have come together to really advance this concept—which was all it was seven or eight years ago —into something that will become a reality.
When demands are low in the Del Puerto water district, specifically in the winter months, water deliveries can flow to storage facilities or the San Luis Reservoir for later usage when demand is high. While many areas have already been using recycled water for agricultural needs, the progress by the North Valley program has inspired some communities to improve their own water policies.
Recycled water has long been used in agriculture in other areas of the state, most notably the Salinas Valley and in the south, maybe a little bit up in the north in the winegrape country. The Del Puerto Water District currently relies on water delivered through the Central Valley Project, which had zero deliveries for the previous two years, and are only providing 5% this year. This new program has the potential to produce more than 30,000 acre-feet of water per year as soon as 2018.
Among an estimated 100 recycled water projects in various stages of development throughout the state, Hansen stated, “For the Central Valley, I think this is definitely a big first. We received about 14 public comments on the joint environmental document. Of those 14, three or four were letters of support, and we received some broad support from the environmental community.
A project of this magnitude to deliver needed water stability could also be accomplished in other dedicated communities, according to Hansen. “We believe this project to be a model for other municipal and agricultural agencies in ways to regionally solve issues together, and hopefully, it will be a model for the nation.”
“Hopefully,” said Hansen, “people are looking at this as a good example of ways to think outside the box and use available technology to solve problems locally and regionally, which is what we have been forced to do here on the Westside.
“With all the complexities of California’s plumbing,” explained Hansen, “it would be impossible for a small district like Del Puerto to really affect any of the big picture changes, but we certainly do have the ability to affect how we act locally and regionally. I also think the Central Valley has not historically been a magnet for a lot of assistance, programs or changes that work to our benefit, so we have to devise these for ourselves or we’ll be out be of business. I’m very thankful that the two cities—Modesto and Turlock—on the east side of the river in our county, were willing to work with us, and I think we have a good partnership going forward.”
Elizabeth Mosqueda, Agriculture Science Recognition Award Honoree
By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor
Elizabeth Guerrero Mosqueda, a graduate student in the Department of Plant Science at Fresno State, was one of four students to receive the Agriculture Science Award in mid-March presented by Jim Patterson, California assemblymember, along with, Sandra Witte, dean of the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology and Lawrence Salinas, Fresno States’s executive director of government relations.
Patterson said Mosqueda, the child of migrant farmworkers from Mexico,“set her sights on overcoming many obstacles from an early age. Elizabeth’s parents worked on the lettuce fields in the Salinas Valley, which led to her understanding the vital role farmworkers have in harvesting crops and the impact of frequent labor shortages on farming. All of that experience led her to study ways to improve lettuce production.”
Patterson said the labor shortage has required the use of automated lettuce thinners to raise lettuce, one of the state’s biggest crops. “But some farmers are hesitant to use new technology,”said Patterson, “so Elizabeth decided to roll up her sleeves two and a half years ago” and conducted her graduate studies on the comparison of using lettuce thinning machines to lettuce work done by hand. “She completed her study and has since traveled nationwide to share her findings with other scientists and agronomists.”
Patterson added Mosqueda was recently selected as one of fifty students nationwide to attend American Society of Agronomy’s Graduate Student Leadership Conference.
“Elizabeth believes that life is a challenge that shapes us into the people that we are meant to be,” Patterson said. “And each and every struggle and accomplishment that life has presented her has made her, and is making her, into the dedicated, hardworking and successful woman she is today.”
While at Fresno State, Patterson said Mosqueda helped to reestablish the Plant Science Club, serving as both the club’s secretary and president. “Elizabeth is also a member and has volunteered for the Central Valley California Women for Agriculture,” Patterson said, “and many other local, statewide and national farming organizations.”
Mosqueda was encouraged to apply for the award by professors in her department. “I’m very proud to be a part of the Department of Plant Science,” Mosqueda said. “I’m very thankful to all my professors, my advisor and all the other mentors who have helped me achieve this prestigious award.”
One month away from completing her program, Mosqueda hopes to obtain a position with the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE), Monterey County as a farm advisor either in vegetable crop production or weed science upon graduation. Mosqueda said she would like to “help growers firsthand with the problems that are going on in our agriculture industry today.”
11 California Winegrape Trial Blocks Average Over 30% Yield Increases
By Laurie Greene, CalAgToday editor and reporter
AgroThermal Systems produced a third year of impressive winegrape fruit set results in 2014 patented Thermal Heat Treatment process trials, averaging 23% more berries per bunch and 27% more bunch weight at mid season. Yield per vine at the end of the season showed a 31% gain in treated blocks vs. control blocks.
The data, developed under the direction of the Dawson Company, which creates sales opportunities for new agricultural post harvest, produce ripening and crop production technologies and novel agrichemicals, came from 15 trial and control blocks in the Southern Salinas Valley, Livermore and the Central Valley. According to the company’s founder and president, Art Dawson, “ We have been sampling fruit set and bunch weights in conjunction with AgroThermal since 2012 and this represents the 3rd year of a consistent average increase of over 20% in fruit set at mid season vs. corresponding trial blocks. There is no doubt the technique produces more fruit, even in great fruit set years as evidenced from over 30 blocks tracked since 2012.” The increase in fruit set varied by varietal; it appears the response to instantaneous heat treatment is varietal-specific.
In 2014, the two companies collaborated on sampling harvest weights and berries per bunch counts a few days in advance of harvest, in 11 of the 15 winegrape trial blocks. According to Dawson, “We stripped six vines in each control and trial block to get a projection of weight per vine. The average increase was 31% more weight per vine. This indicated that the technique not only created more berries per bunch, but this advantage was carried forward to harvest yields.”
According to Marty Fischer, CEO of AgroThermal, “When we saw these sampling yield projections, we asked our growers to confirm their actual harvest data. Getting grower data on harvest yields has always been challenging due to the frenetic activity at harvest, the very reason why we decided to do the sampling prior to harvest. We have confirmation of substantial yield increases for 7 of the 11 blocks at Scheid Vineyards located in the Salinas Valley,” Fischer said, “and are awaiting grower harvest data from the other four blocks.”
Shawn Veysey, Head of Viticulture at Scheid in Greenfield, California stated, “We were very excited by what we have seen with the AgroThermal technique. We have blocks with up to a 40% increase in berries per bunch and weight per bunch. This translates to a 1 to 2 ton increase per acre.”
Fischer credited the increases in 2014 to a treatment shift; “Different protocols produce significantly different results after experimenting with treatment start dates, frequency of treatments and time of day applications. Growers who don’t want yield increases but want to change wine character need to use a protocol that provides more berries per bunch leading to higher skin to pulp ratios. Growers who want a yield increase need to adhere to a different protocol of treatments.”
AgroThermal expects some 15-20 wines to be barrel-tasted from the 2014 trials in California and Oregon, with wine quality results announced sometime in early 2015.
Agrothermal Systems Introduces North America Sales Manager
Kim Boyarsky was recently appointed North America Sales Manager, bringing wine industry marketing experience to AgroThermal Systems. She has spent ten years in customer development representing packaging and cooperage companies in the wine industry. For the last three years, she was Territory Manager with Barrel Builders, Inc. in St. Helena, California, where she was responsible for consulting with winemakers on barrel selections for current wine vintages in California, Oregon and Washington.
AgroThermal Systems (www.agrothermalsystems.com) is based in Walnut Creek California and is a dba of Lazo TPC Global, Inc. a California Corporation. AgroThermal has pioneered the use of in-field heat treatment as a means to increase yields, reduce pesticide needs and improve crop qualities. The company holds patents on Thermal Pest Control and has patents pending on Thermal Plant Treatment for agricultural crops . The AgroThermal Systems technology has shown consistent results for improving fruit set, harvest yields, pest control and improving certain wine sensory characteristics in various trials conducted in the US from 2012-2014.
UC Davis has announced that Hartnell College, in the Salinas Valley, is hosting a series of six agroterrorism training courses. David Goldenberg from the UC Davis, Western Institute for Food Safety and Security will be at the helm of these U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) courses.
Goldenberg, Acting Program Manager and Coordinator for Field Training at WIFSS, pointed out that the Agricultural Business and Technology Institute at Hartnell is partnering with WIFSS to conduct the agroterrorism training courses, which kicked off on September 5. These courses emphasize the importance of awareness of and preparedness for disasters that can affect the agricultural industry. Preparedness includes having a response action plan in which all community members and organizations have a coordinated disaster response strategy.
The remaining classes are:
• Oct. 10, AWR 155:Principles of Frontline Response to Agroterrorism and Food System Disasters, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
• Oct. 17, AWR 156: Principles of Planning and Implementing Recovery (6 hours), 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
These agroterrorism courses delivered at Hartnell are geared toward traditional first responders as well as community emergency planners, public health officials, and members of the agricultural community including county officials, local farmers and ranchers who are interested in training addressing potential threats to food safety and food security.