Drought Takes Big Toll on Sierra Nevada Mountains

New Aerial Survey Identifies More Than 100 Million Dead Trees in California

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced the U.S. Forest Service has identified an additional 36 million dead trees across California since its last aerial survey in May 2016. This brings the total number of dead trees since 2010 to over 102 million on 7.7 million acres of California’s drought-stricken forests. In 2016 alone, 62 million trees have died, representing more than a 100 percent increase in dead trees across the state from 2015. Millions of additional trees are weakened and expected to die in the coming months and years.

With public safety as its most pressing concern, the U.S. Forest Service has committed significant resources to help impacted forests, including reprioritizing $43 million in California in fiscal year 2016 to conduct safety-focused restoration along roads, trails and recreation sites. However, limited resources and a changing climate hamper the Forest Service’s ability to address tree mortality in California. USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Forest Service officials are seriously hampered not only by short-term budgets passed by Congress, but also a broken budget for the Forest Service that sees an increasing amount of resources going to firefighting while less is invested in restoration and forest health, Vilsack said.

“These dead and dying trees continue to elevate the risk of wildfire, complicate our efforts to respond safely and effectively to fires when they do occur, and pose a host of threats to life and property across California,” Vilsack said. “USDA has made restoration work and the removal of excess fuels a top priority, but until Congress passes a permanent fix to the fire budget, we can’t break this cycle of diverting funds away from restoration work to fight the immediate threat of the large unpredictable fires caused by the fuel buildups themselves.”

 

dead trees sierra nevada california drought
Bark Beetles have contributed to tree die-off in the Sierra Nevada forest due to the drought in California

The majority of the 102 million dead trees are located in ten counties in the southern and central Sierra Nevada region. The Forest Service also identified increasing mortality in the northern part of the state, including Siskiyou, Modoc, Plumas and Lassen counties.

Five consecutive years of severe drought in California, a dramatic rise in bark beetle infestation and warmer temperatures are leading to these historic levels of tree die-off. As a result, in October 2015, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on the unprecedented tree die-off and formed a Tree Mortality Task Force to help mobilize additional resources for the safe removal of dead and dying trees.

This year, California had a record-setting wildfire season, with the Blue Cut fire alone scorching over 30,000 acres and triggering the evacuation of 80,000 people. In the southeastern United States, wildfires have burned more than 120,000 acres this fall. The southeast region of the Forest Service is operating at the highest preparedness level, PL 5, reflecting the high level of physical resources and funding devoted to the region. Extreme drought conditions persist, and many areas have not seen rain for as many as 95 days.

Longer, hotter fire seasons where extreme fire behavior has become the new norm,] – as well as increased development in forested areas – is dramatically driving up the cost of fighting fires and squeezing funding for the very efforts that would protect watersheds and restore forests to make them more resilient to fire. Last year, fire management alone consumed 56 percent of the Forest Service’s budget and is expected to rise to 67 percent in by 2025.

As the situation in the southeast demonstrates, the problem of shrinking budget capacity is felt across the U.S., not only in the western states. The health of our forests and landscapes are at risk across the nation, and the tree mortality crisis could be better addressed if not for the increasing percentage of the Forest Service budget going to fight wildfire. “We must fund wildfire suppression like other natural disasters in the country,” Vilsack said.

Forest Service scientists expect elevated levels of tree mortality to continue during 2017 in dense forest stands; stands impacted by root diseases or other stress agents; and in areas with higher levels of bark beetle activity. Photos and video of the surveys are available on the Forest Service multimedia webpage.

Learn more about tree mortality and the work to restore our forests in California at the Forest Service’s web page by clicking here.


U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

U.S. Forest Service

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.

 

CFFA Logo

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.”

WAPA-Logo

 

“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?”

 

CCGGA logo

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)

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USDA, Microsoft Innovation Challenge Winners

Open Data from USDA, Microsoft Cloud Technology Strengthen Food Supply Through “Innovation Challenge” Winners

 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Microsoft officials announced the winners of the USDA, Microsoft Innovation Challenge late last month in which contestants used USDA agriculture production open data to develop online tools that can help make the American food supply more resilient in the face of climate change.

“In yet another example of how public and private resources can be leveraged together to address significant global concerns, the winners of the USDA-Microsoft Innovation Challenge have used open government data to create an impressive array of innovative tools to help food producers and our communities prepare for the impacts of climate change and ensure our nation’s ability to provide plentiful, affordable food,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “For more than 100 years, USDA has compiled data on the farm economy, production, and the health of crops around the country, and it is exciting to see such modern, useful tools spring from these information sources.”

The Challenge was created in support of the President’s Climate Data Initiative, which aims to harness climate data in ways that will increase the resilience of America’s food system. USDA provided contestants with more than 100 years of crop and climate data through Microsoft Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform.

“Combining the advantages of cloud computing resources with the government’s desire to provide open access to public data is likely to transform scientific research and business innovation,” said Dr. Daron G. Green, deputy managing director of Microsoft Research. “Microsoft’s partnership with the USDA evidences how public-private partnership can stimulate new applications, explore novel scenarios and, in this case, work towards a more resilient and sustainable food production.”

A total of $63,000 in cash and prizes were awarded, with winners selected from more than 346 registrants and 33 submissions from around the world.

The award recipients and their projects, are:FarmPlenty

 

  • Grand Prize, Open Source Application Award, and Best Visualization in Time or Space Award recipient: Farm Plenty, submitted by George Lee of San Francisco, Calif. This application allows farmers to analyze USDA data about crops grown within five kilometers of their farms to make informed decisions about their own crop choices.

 

  • Second Prize and Open Source Application Award recipient: Green Pastures, submitted by Khyati Majmudar of Mumbai, India. This comprehensive dashboard interface allows a farmer to visualize production, economic, livestock, and commodity data from NASS, ERS, ARMS, and other sources at scales from national to local, including information on farmers’ markets.

 

  • Third Prize recipient: What’s Local, submitted by Benjamin Wellington of Landscape Metrics LLC in Brooklyn, N.Y. This tool analyzes the resources that are required to produce agricultural outputs by using data from the Census of Agriculture in a way that allows urban population centers to connect with farmers in their area.

 

  • Honorable Mention: Open Source Application Award, and Best Student-Made Award recipient: Farm Profit Calculator, submitted by Fernando Napier and Matt Pedersen of Lincoln, Neb. Farmers can use this mobile phone application to compare their input costs (fertilizer, seed, fuel, etc.) to regional averages, and find financial efficiencies where their costs are above the norm.croptrends

 

  • Honorable Mention recipient: Croptrends, submitted by Chaiyawut Lertvichaivoravit and Ta Chiraphadhanakul of Thousand Eyes in San Francisco. This useful tool can be used for viewing spatial and temporal trends in crop production and yield by county for the entire United States by using NASS data.

 

  • Popular Choice Award recipient: VAIS, submitted by Ken Moini of Thallo Tech in Nashville, Tenn. This tool uses NASS data for the entire United States to provide a unique approach to visualizing crowd-sourced pricing data.

 

  • Large Organization Recognition Award recipient: Farmed, submitted by Bryan Tower of Applied Technical Systems in Silverdale, Wash. This tool allows farmers to view crop conditions in their area by using VegScape data from NASS combined with local weather data.

 

USDA is an active founding member of the Global Data Partnership through the memberships of both the U.S. Government Open Data and the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) initiatives. USDA is helping pave the way for coordinating global efforts to make agriculture and nutrition data open. USDA’s Open Data Catalog is the authoritative source of publicly available USDA data.

Since 2009, USDA has invested in and advanced innovative and transformative initiatives to solve societal challenges and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. USDA’s integrated research, education, and extension programs, supporting the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel, have resulted user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that are combating childhood obesity, improving and sustaining rural economic growth, addressing water availability issues, increasing food production, finding new sources of energy, mitigating climate variability, and ensuring food safety. To learn more about USDA’s impact on agricultural science, visit www.usda.gov/results.

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Trade Agreement Big for State

Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement Will be Boon for California

By Laurie Greene, Editor

On Friday, Nov. 6, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told California Ag Today the released full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement shows that it will be boon for California Exports. Vilsack said, “You’re close to the market, you have ports that access and serve those markets, and you have the products those markets want—whether they are fruits and vegetables or tree nuts,” Vilsack noted. “In fact, we just released a report on our exports as they exist today. Obviously tree nuts are a big export opportunity. We saw significant growth there as well; it is now an $8.8 billion market and California certainly plays to that,” he said.

Vilsack said the trade deal is all about better access, “The fact that tariffs are going to be eliminated in a number of these countries that we do business with will level the playing field for our fruits, vegetables and tree nuts. It is going to open up enormous opportunities for us.”

Vilsack also said these increased exports will definitely increase jobs in California, “This agreement will add and anticipated $120 to $130 billion in U.S. export opportunities, of which agriculture is roughly 9%, so you do the math; it is billions of dollars in additional trade. California is going to get their fair share. It will impact employment because every billion dollars in ag sales supports 6500 good paying jobs, and these are jobs that currently pay about 18% more in benefits than non-export-related jobs.”

President Obama intends to sign this legislation, but first, Congress is poring over the text to make their concerns or support known. Then they will have an up or down vote, but no amendments can be added to the bill.

Again, California specialty crop growers stand to benefit greatly from this trade bill. Ag leaders are urging Congress to pass it and all California commodity trade groups are solidly behind it as well.

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USDA Awards Grants to Support Schools Serving Healthier Meals and Snacks

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be awarding over $30 million in grants to help schools prepare healthy meals for their children. Twenty-five million dollars in grants will help schools purchase needed equipment to make preparing and serving healthier meals easier and more efficient, and up to $5.5 million will provide additional training for school food service professionals.

“Schools are successfully serving more nutritious meals to America’s students, and healthier meals mean healthier kids. We’re working to do everything we can to support schools as they work to provide kids the nutrition they need to learn and develop into healthy adults,” said Vilsack. “These grants will help schools obtain better equipment and additional training for their hardworking school food service professionals. With doctors, parents, teachers and schools all working together, we can make sure we’re giving our kids the healthy start in life they deserve.”

Since 2009, USDA has provided $185 million in kitchen equipment funding to states and schools participating in the National School Lunch (NSLP) and School Breakfast (SBP) Programs. USDA provides the funding to states, which then competitively award grants to school districts in order to purchase necessary equipment, giving priority to high-need schools where 50 percent or more of the enrolled students are eligible for free or reduced price meals.

The school equipment grants announced today are another example of how USDA is supporting schools as they implement the new meal standards resulting from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. USDA works closely with schools to address implementation challenges, and provides funding, training and technical assistance to overcome barriers.

To further assist school food workers USDA is also announcing the availability of up to $5.5 million in Team Nutrition training grants for FY2015. These grants are only open to state agencies administering the NSLP, SBP, the Summer Food Service Program, or Child and Adult Care Food Programs. Through a competitive grants process, Team Nutrition training grants will be funded for the period of September 30, 2015 – September 30, 2017. State agencies may apply for up to $350,000. To apply for the grants, state agencies should visit www.grants.gov.

These competitive grants focus on the implementation of Smarter Lunchrooms – an innovative strategy using behavioral economics to encourage healthy eating in the cafeteria – as well as the healthier meal standards, HealthierUS School Challenge, USDA Foods, nutrition education, and wellness activities in schools and child care institutions. These funds may be also used to assist the state agency in providing training and technical assistance to school staff in creating Smarter Lunchrooms.

The Team Nutrition Training grants are two-year grants that have been awarded to state agencies on an annual basis since the inception of the program in 1995. They serve as key delivery systems for supporting the implementation of USDA’s nutrition requirements for meals served in schools and child care centers.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service administers America’s nutrition assistance programs including the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the Summer Food Service Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Together these programs make up the federal nutrition safety net.

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USDA Designates Imperial County as Primary Natural Disaster Area

Drought-Ridden Imperial County Named Primary Natural Disaster Area 

TODAY, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) designated Imperial County in California as a primary natural disaster area due to damages and losses caused by a recent drought.

“Our hearts go out to those California farmers and ranchers affected by recent natural disasters,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation’s economy by sustaining the successes of America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through these difficult times. We’re also telling California producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood.”

Imperial County, CA
Imperial County, CA

Farmers and ranchers in Riverside and San Diego Counties in California also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous.

Farmers and ranchers in La Paz and Yuma Counties in Arizona also qualify for natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous.

All counties listed above were designated natural disaster areas TODAY, making all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low interest emergency (EM) loans from USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), provided eligibility requirements are met. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the declaration to apply for loans to help cover part of their actual losses. FSA will consider each loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability. FSA has a variety of programs, in addition to the EM loan program, to help eligible farmers recover from adversity.

Additional programs available to assist farmers and ranchers include the Emergency Conservation Program, The Livestock Forage Disaster Program, the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program, and the Tree Assistance Program. Interested farmers may contact their local USDA Service Centers for further information on eligibility requirements and application procedures for these and other programs. Additional information is also available online at http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov.

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USDA Funds $30M to Fight Citrus Greening

USDA Targets Citrus Greening with Promising Tools and Long Term Solutions

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $30 million in funding TODAY for 22 projects to help citrus producers combat Huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening, a devastating citrus disease that threatens U.S. citrus production. The money will fund promising projects that could offer near-term solutions as well as research funding that may develop long-terms solutions. The promising near-term tools and solutions are funded through the HLB Multiagency Coordination Group while the research projects are funded through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative Citrus Disease Research and Education (CDRE) program, which is made available through the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill).

“Our HLB Multi-Agency Coordination Group has worked closely with the citrus industry to select and fund projects that we think will make a real difference for growers against HLB,” said Vilsack. “Funding these projects through cooperative agreements puts us one step closer to putting real tools to fight this disease into the hands of citrus growers.” Vilsack continued, “Through the CDRE research we are announcing today, we are also investing in long-term solutions to diseases that threaten the long-term survival of the citrus industry.”

USDA’s HLB Multi-Agency Coordination Group funded fifteen projects that support thermotherapy, best management practices, early detection, and pest control efforts for a total of more than $7 million. All of them are designed to provide near-term tools and solutions to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $30 million in funding TODAY for 22 projects to help citrus producers combat Huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greening, a devastating citrus disease that threatens U.S. citrus production.  the citrus industry fight HLB. The projects include:

Two projects to provide improved delivery of thermotherapy to HLB infected trees, a promising treatment that has shown to help infected trees regain productivity after treatment. One of these projects will test thermotherapy on a grove-wide scale. since studies have shown heating a tree to 120 degrees for approximately 48 hours can kill the HLB bacterium in the upper part of the tree, allowing the tree to regain productivity. This funding will address the challenge of identifying a quick and practical way for growers to use the technology on a large scale.  

Six projects to provide citrus producers with best management practices in Florida citrus groves.

  • One project will focus on lowering the pH of the irrigation water and soil to strengthen the root systems of citrus trees to help them better tolerate HLB infection.
  • Three projects will support different combinations of integrated management approaches for sustaining production in trees in different stages of infection.
  • Two projects will test strategies for preventing tree death due to HLB infection. One of those will field test rootstocks that have shown ability to tolerate HLB infection. The other will use technologies to rapidly propagate the tolerant material for field use by the industry.

Three projects to increase early detection of HLB.

  • One project will train dogs to detect HLB infected trees. Detector dogs have proven to be highly adept at detecting citrus canker and early results suggest they will be an effective early detection tool for HLB.
  • One project will develop a root sampling and testing strategy.
  • One project will compare several promising early detection tests.

Four projects to provide tools to kill the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), the vector of HLB.

  • One will produce and release the insect Diaphorencyrtus aligarhensis as a second biological control agent in California.
  • One project will use a biocontrol fungus to kill ACP adults.
  • One project will use a trap to attract and kill ACP adults.
  • One project will increase the use of field cages for the production of the insect Tamarixia radiata in residential areas, especially those that are adjacent to commercial groves in Texas. Tamarixia has already proven to be an effective biological control agent for ACP. Using field cages will enable the wider use of this effective ACP control.

In addition to these projects, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture funded more than $23 million dollars for research and education project to find lasting solutions to citrus greening disease. Examples of funded projects include developing HLB-resistant citrus cultivars, the development of field detection system for HLB, using heat as a treatment for prolonging productivity in infected citrus trees, creating a new antimicrobial treatment, among others. A fact sheet with a complete list of awardees and project descriptions is available on the USDA website.

Fiscal year 2014 grants have been awarded to two California universities, University of California, Davis, $4.6M and University of California, Riverside, $1.7M. The University of Florida, Gainesville and Kansas State University, Manhattan, are also receiving research awards.

CDRE is a supplement to the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI). The focus of this year’s funding was specifically on citrus greening disease. Because there are wide differences in the occurrence and progression of HLB among the states, there were regional as well as national priorities for CDRE. These priorities, recommended by the Citrus Disease Subcommittee, fall within four categories: 1) priorities that deal with the pathogen; 2) those that deal with the insect vector; 3) those that deal with citrus orchard production systems; and 4) those that deal with non-agricultural citrus tree owners.

One subcommittee member is Justin D. Brown, Vice President and General Manager, D Bar J Orchards, Inc. in Orange Grove, California.

The Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.

USDA NIFA Citrus Greening Awardees Fact Sheet
USDA NIFA Citrus Greening Awardees Fact Sheet

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USDA Seeks Applications for Conservation Innovation Grants

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that applications are being accepted for up to $20 million in grants to facilitate the creation of new, innovative markets for carbon credits, providing additional revenue sources for producers to use to address natural resource conservation challenges. These grants are part of the Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program, authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill.

“USDA has been a leader in supporting market-based solutions to improve water quality and reduce carbon pollution,” Secretary Vilsack said. “With this opportunity, we are supporting the next generation of projects that will help mature these markets and bring them to scale to benefit both producers and the environment.”

For 2015, approximately half of the $20 million is available for environmental markets and conservation finance projects that engage agricultural producers. In past years, CIG has helped fund the development of the basic infrastructure of these markets. This year, USDA, through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is seeking applications for projects that will build on these efforts by maturing and scaling markets and accelerating efforts to leverage private capital and investment in private lands conservation. Improved quantification tools, multi-resource crediting, and projects that substantively engage corporate or financial partners are the types of activities NRCS is pursuing.

As an example, USDA, though CIG, helped fund the development of the first interstate water quality trading program in the Ohio River Basin. Administered by the Electric Power Research Institute, in April, the program is holding its first public auction of water quality credits, generated by farmers in the basin. USDA also funded a project led by the Delta Institute that culminated in the generation and sale of nitrous oxide credits on corn fields in the Midwest. This project demonstrated that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced on cropland while maintaining corn yields.

USDA is also soliciting proposals for projects to stimulate natural resource improvements, including, but not limited to, improvements in water quantity, soil health, and wildlife habitat. Applications from this funding pool may also emphasize expected benefits to historically underserved producers, veterans, and organic producers. Applications in the fields of economics and sociology as they relate to natural resources are also being welcomed.

Under CIG, Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds are used to award competitive grants to non-Federal governmental or nongovernmental organizations, Tribes, or individuals. The 2014 Farm Bill also included language that has led to some changes in this year’s CIG funding announcement. One change eliminates the requirement that half the applicant’s match be in cash. Another expands eligibility for the 10 percent set-aside provision for historically underserved producers.

As in prior years, NRCS will accept pre-proposals for initial review before inviting entities to submit full proposals. Pre-proposals are due Tuesday, February 24, 2015. To apply electronically, visit http://www.grants.gov or contact a local NRCS office.

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USDA Proposes New Measures to Reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in Poultry Products

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) proposed new federal standards to reduce Salmonella and Campylobacter in ground chicken and turkey products as well as raw chicken breasts, legs and wings. Development of these new standards is a major step in FSIS’ Salmonella Action Plan, launched in December 2013 to reduce Salmonella illnesses from meat and poultry products.

“Today, we are taking specific aim at making the poultry items that Americans most often purchase safer to eat,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This is a meaningful, targeted step that could prevent tens of thousands of illnesses each year.”

“These new standards, as well as improved testing patterns, will have a major impact on public health,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety Al Almanza. “The proposed changes are another way we’re working to meet the ever-changing food safety landscape and better protect Americans from foodborne illness.”

“Getting more germs out of the chicken and turkey we eat is an important step in protecting people from foodborne illness,” said Robert V. Tauxe, MD, deputy director of the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “I look forward to seeing fewer Americans get sick as a result of these proposed changes.”

A pathogen reduction performance standard is the measure that FSIS uses to assess the food safety performance of facilities that prepare meat and poultry products. By making the standards for ground poultry tougher to meet, ground poultry products nationwide will have less contamination and therefore result in fewer foodborne illnesses. FSIS implemented performance standards for whole chickens in 1996 but has since learned that Salmonella levels increase as chicken is further processed into parts. Poultry parts like breasts, wings and others represent 80 percent of the chicken available for Americans to purchase. By creating a standard for chicken parts, and by performing regulatory testing at a point closer to the final product, FSIS can greatly reduce consumer exposure to Salmonella and Campylobacter.

FSIS’ science-based risk assessment estimates that implementation of these standards would lead to an average of 50,000 prevented illnesses annually. FSIS intends to evaluate comments for 60 days and announce final standards and an implementation date this spring. The federal register notice is available on FSIS’ website at  http://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/regulations/federal-register/federal-register-notices.

For chicken parts, ground chicken, and ground turkey, FSIS is proposing a pathogen reduction performance standard designed to achieve at least a 30 percent reduction in illnesses from Salmonella. For chicken parts, ground chicken, and ground turkey, FSIS is proposing a pathogen reduction performance standard designed to reduce illness from Campylobacter by at least 19 and as much as 37 percent.

FSIS plans to use routine sampling throughout the year rather than infrequently sampling on consecutive days to assess whether establishments’ processes are effectively addressing Salmonella and, where applicable, Campylobacter on poultry carcasses and other products derived from these carcasses.

 

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California Projects in New USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced 115 high-impact projects across all 50 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico will receive more than $370 million in federal funding as part of the new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP).  In addition, these projects will leverage an estimated $400 million more in partner contributions—for a total of nearly $800 million—to improve the nation’s water quality, support wildlife habitat and enhance the environment.

“This is an entirely new approach to conservation efforts,” said Secretary Vilsack. “These partnerships empower communities to set priorities and lead the way on conservation efforts important for their region. They also encourage private sector investment so we can make an impact that’s well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own.”

The RCPP competitively awards funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives.

Through the RCPP, partners propose conservation projects to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat, and other related natural resources on private lands.

Four of the selected projects are connected to California:

1) Expansion of Waterbird Habitat – The current sequence of events for rice production creates a situation where birds are frequently left with abrupt changes in habitat availability. The proposal extends the “watering” season of flooded rice fields beyond just the production phase and adds shallow water habitat in the winter/spring and fall months. This proposal supports the California Rice Commission in expanding the Waterbird Habitat Enhancement Program (WHEP) by 50 percent, thus enhancing the wildlife value of 165,000 acres of rice and the long term sustainability of rice agriculture.

2) Rice Stewardship Partnership – The Rice Stewardship Partnership, composed of Ducks Unlimited, the USA Rice Federation, and 44 collaborating partners, will assist up to 800 rice producers to address water quantity, water quality, and wildlife habitat across 380,000 acres in Mississippi, Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas.

3) Tricolored Blackbird Habitat – The Tricolored Blackbird once was abundant in California with a population in the millions. It now has an estimated 145,000 birds remaining statewide, and many predict that it is heading toward extinction. This proposal is a partnership between the dairy industry and conservation groups, with Audobon California as the lead partner, to address the factors that challenge California dairy farmers and threaten Tricolored Blackbirds, with the goal of finding a sustainable solution for management of colonies on farms and saving the Tricolored Blackbird from extinction.

4) Klamath-Rogue Woodland Health and Habitat Conservation – Many at-risk and listed species depend on quality oak woodlands that are threatened by conifer encroachment, densification, and severe wildfires in this project area, covering portions of Oregon and California. Working with landowners, including historically underserved producers, and using a sound, science-based approach, the partners will target 3,200 high-priority acres recently identified in a Conservation Implementation Strategy to preserve, enhance, and restore the structural diversity, ecological function, and overall health and persistence of oak habitats and their watersheds.

A complete list of the projects and their descriptions is available on the NRCS website.

 

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