California Coffee Brews Success

Mark Gaskell on California Coffee Crop

By Laurie Greene, Founding Editor

California Ag Today recently spoke about the emerging California coffee crop  with Mark Gaskell, who covers San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties as farm advisor for the University of California Small Farm Program as well as the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR) Cooperative Extension.

“Currently, there are about 30 farms with maybe 30,000 coffee plants between San Luis Obispo and San Diego Counties,” Gaskell said. “I would expect that to double this year. California’s coffee crop is doing well.”

“There is also now a private company, Frinj Coffee,” explained Gaskell, “that evolved out of a long relationship I had with Jay Ruskey, CEO and co-founder of Goleta-based Good Land Organics. Ruskey participated in some of our early research and development work with California coffee. Our collaboration has justified investment by the number of coffee growers in the Frinj Coffee operations.”

There are 25 growers, according to the Frinj Coffee website.

Coffee cultivation is new to California, because, as Gaskell explained, “traditionally, coffee is grown in subtropical areas, specifically at high elevations where the relatively cooler temperatures are. Cooler temperatures prolong the ripening time, which improves the quality of the coffee beans.”

“So, in the world’s newest coffee growing region, Coastal Southern California,” Gaskell said, “we replaced the high elevation with the influence of the Pacific Ocean. The ocean delivers a huge mass of relatively cool temperatures—always between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. These mild coastal conditions enable a very long ripening season for the coffee cherries and coffee beans.”

Gaskell projects the California coffee crop will be very successful.

“We expect the coffee volume will double this year and probably continue to double for the next few years. Just based on existing interest in coffee, I expect demand to keep pace with the ability of California growers to supply it, and more and more growers will be planting it this year.”

Farm employment: Drought impact adds uncertainty to hiring outlook

Source: Ag Alert

Even though reduced crop production caused by water shortages may reduce on-farm employment in California, farmers and farm labor contractors say they expect continued trouble in filling agricultural jobs this spring and summer.

“The drought is still ongoing, which means that there will be a lot of land left uncultivated,” said Bryan Little, California Farm Bureau Federation director of employment policy and chief operating officer of the Farm Employers Labor Service. “This will probably soften the blow of the shortage of labor some, but everything I am hearing is that the labor market is still pretty tight.”

Little said most of the farmers with whom he speaks “are finding that labor is still pretty scarce.” He said farmers are expressing increasing interest in the federal H-2A guestworker program—despite its signficant drawbacks—while “relying more and more” on farm labor contractors.

San Luis Obispo County farmer Carlos Castañeda, who is also a farm labor contractor, said the growing season kicked off in his region earlier than usual. So far, he said, he has been able to hire the people he needs but, he added, there isn’t an abundance of workers.

“My growers are cutting plantings back tremendously,” Castañeda said. “Unfortunately, the shortage of water is helping the shortage of labor—but as soon as the water issues are solved, the labor one is going to go into warp speed.”

About a month from now, Castañeda said, he expects several commodities will be ready for harvest at the same time, which will increase the need for on-farm employees and reduce the number of workers available.

Michael Frantz, co-owner of Frantz Wholesale Nursery in Hickman, said he remains concerned about finding enough people to do the highly technical work at his horticultural company, which specializes in landscape trees, shrubs and drought-tolerant plants.

“We have full-time employment that requires learning the skills of a trade that are taught on-farm. There are a lot of technical skills, whether it is grafting or budding and training of trees to be grown to retail-grade specifications, that take years to master,” Frantz said. “For a nursery to grow consistent quality product, we need a workforce that looks at our nursery and our company as a career choice. Our best employees have been here 10 to 30 years.”

Frantz said he has had problems hiring skilled workers for the past several years. In 2013, his nursery supplemented its own hiring with the use of farm labor contractors. Last year, he said, was “the first year that we were unable to fill all of the positions.”

Frantz said his business printed fliers describing the company, its pay rates, benefits and other amenities.

“For the first time, we felt we had to sell ourselves to the community as opposed to expecting people to show up looking for work,” Frantz said. “We set up card tables at the employment office and had human resources people there handing out fliers. That outreach had minimal results.”

As a result, he said he is very concerned about locating reliable workers for this season, adding that many other nurseries share the same concern.

“This year, we are running ads on Spanish radio. We have ramped up our hiring efforts and already, it is early, but it seems that 2015 is going to be more difficult than last year,” Frantz said. “The lack of a dependable ag workforce is preventing us from adding additional jobs and growing our family businesses like we would like to be able to do.”

Earl Hall, owner of Hall Management Corp., a farm labor contractor headquartered in Fresno, said he is aware that agriculture faces a shortage of available employees, but says he has avoided shortages by being “real careful” not to expand unless conditions warrant.

“You have to be in this industry for a long time like I’ve been so that you know the trends and what is happening,” said Hall, whose company reaches 50 years in business this year.

Castañeda said more growers are opting to use the federal H-2A program to hire immigrant employees, which he called an “expensive and absolutely bureaucratic nightmare, but it is the only tool available.”

Little said use of the H-2A program among California farmers and ranchers remains relatively slight because of a variety of problems with the program, including its lack of the flexibility agricultural employers need to hire people on a timely basis.

Another factor affecting the availability of potential on-farm employees is reduced migration by Mexicans to the U.S., according to research conducted by Edward Taylor, a professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California, Davis, and doctoral student Diane Elise Charlton. Their research found fewer potential farm employees migrating to California due to growth in Mexico’s non-farm economy, falling birth rates and an increase in rural education.

Because of this trend, Little said, Farm Bureau and other groups have advocated for a permanent solution to agricultural labor shortages through immigration reform.

Without legislation to address the country’s current labor situation, bills such as the Legal Workforce Act would harm farms and ranches, Little said. The bill, which would require agricultural employers to use the E-Verify system to prove employment eligibility for agricultural workers, was approved last week by the House Judiciary Committee.

“We are absolutely, adamantly opposed to moving forward with mandatory E-Verify until we know we are going to get a workable guestworker program,” Little said.

California agriculture relies on about 400,000 employees during peak season. Some experts estimate that 70 percent or more of hired farm employees responsible for U.S. fruit, vegetable, dairy, livestock, nursery and other production are not authorized to work in the United States, despite presenting apparently legitimate work documents, Little added.

Everyone Plays a Part in Protecting California Citrus

Protecting California Citrus

By Victoria Hornbaker; Ag Alert 

Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its final crop estimate for the Florida orange crop, reflecting a reduction of 30 million cartons in total production from the previous season. There is no denying the devastating impact that Huanglongbing has had on the Florida citrus industry since the disease was first discovered in 2005. A drive through Florida citrus country will offer vastly different scenery than that of California’s premier citrus-producing regions.

In some respects, the California citrus industry has been fortunate to learn from the situation in Florida and has taken a very proactive approach to protect itself from a similar fate. In 2009, the industry supported a mandatory self-assessment to fund a comprehensive treatment and trapping program to manage the insect carrier of HLB, the Asian citrus psyllid, and prevent HLB from taking hold.

The Asian citrus psyllid is now endemic throughout a majority of Southern California, particularly in dense, urban areas where citrus trees can be found in six out of every 10 backyards. In March 2012, HLB was discovered for the first time in a backyard citrus tree in Los Angeles County. Although there have not been any additional confirmed cases of HLB since then, as an industry we must remain vigilant statewide in order to protect our $2 billion citrus crop.

Currently, there are eight counties in California that are entirely quarantined for the Asian citrus psyllid: Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura. Additionally, portions of Fresno, Kern, San Luis Obispo and Tulare counties are also under quarantine for the Asian citrus psyllid.

The total quarantined area statewide is now 46,530 square miles. Maps are available online at www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/go/acp-quarantine.

With a large portion of the state’s commercial citrus production now within quarantine zones, it is increasingly important that growers and packers are up to date on current regulations and protocols, to best manage psyllid populations and prevent the pest from spreading any further.

There are two approved options under the Bulk Fruit Movement Performance Standard available for commercial citrus growers and packers to comply with the quarantined regulations: Remove all leaves and stems/plant debris using a field cleaning machine, or apply a University of California integrated pest management-recommended material within 14 days prior to harvest.

There are no restrictions on moving fruit with leaves and stems if shipping to a packinghouse or processing facility located within the same quarantine boundary.

Asian citrus psyllids can easily “hitchhike” on citrus plant debris, so it’s important that we all do our part to minimize the movement of plant material between work sites. It is strongly recommended that growers and packers work with farm labor contractors, picking crews, pesticide applicators and hedging/topping services to ensure that all equipment, picking bags, field bins, clothing and gloves are free of stems and leaves before leaving the field.

We all have a commonality in agriculture and can understand the pressures posed by invasive insects and diseases. This is a fight that no commodity can win without the support of homeowners and consumers, which is why everyone with a backyard citrus tree should:

  • Not move citrus—Do not move citrus plants, plant material or fruit into or out of a quarantine area or across state or international borders.
  • Inspect your trees—Inspect your citrus trees for signs of the psyllid or HLB whenever watering, spraying, pruning or otherwise tending to trees.
  • Plant responsibly—Plant trees from reputable, licensed California nurseries.
  • Talk to your local nursery—Ask about products that are available to help stop the Asian citrus psyllid.
  • Graft with care—Use only registered budwood that comes with source documentation.
  • Be mindful of clippings—Dry or double-bag plant clippings prior to disposal.
  • Cooperate—Cooperate with agricultural officials who are trapping and treating for the Asian citrus psyllid.

By working together, we can help stop the Asian citrus psyllid and protect California citrus from Huanglongbing.

Ag Crime: Stolen Trailer Recovered

 

Ag Crime Assistance Requested:  The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office Rural Crime Unit is looking for any information on a recovered, stolen trailer. The only markings on it appear to be hand stamped.antiCrime

Description: PJ Trailer, 2 Axle, had a “Trailer Barn” sticker on it, was stolen at least 3 years ago.

If you have any information on who it might belong to, please contact Officer Mark Ernstrom at: (805) 431-5529.