Celebrating Fairness and Accuracy in the Marketplace: March 1-7 is National Weights and Measures Week

Toledo Scale

“No Springs – Honest Weight.”

A taxi fare, an ounce of gold, a pound of butter, a milligram of medication, a ton of rice, an acre of land, a gallon of gas … What do they have in common? We get what we pay for because these measurements are made by machines and people who operate according to a recognized system called “weights and measures.”

March 1-7 is National Weights and Measures Week, celebrating the evolution of a system that dates back to 1799 in this country. Here in California, more than 1.4 million devices are used to weigh and measure in commercial transactions. CDFA’s Division of Measurement Standards teams with county officials to make sure these devices are accurate. Inspectors also verify that advertised prices match what is charged at the checkout counter, and they make sure the amount of a product inside the box matches the claims on the outside.

“Agriculture is a perfect example of an industry that benefits from a dependable, verifiable system of weights and measures,” says Kristin Macey, director of CDFA’s Division of Measurement Standards. “Over the years, our division’s work has expanded to encompass not just farm-related measurements but also alternative fuels, supermarket scanners, railway systems that weigh trains while they are in motion, and even software-based measuring systems for a broad range of commodities and industries.”

For commerce to function – whether it’s a purchase at the local farmers’ market or a contract between multinational corporations – the integrity of weights and measures is a foundational element of our system. Please join CDFA and measurement standards officials across the country in observing National Weights and Measures Week March 1-7.

For more information on the history of weights and measures in California, click here.

Teachers and parents: there’s also a cool online “Kid’s Corner” about weights and measures here.


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Secretary Ross views Ag water solutions – from the Santa Cruz Sentinel

Secretary Karen Ross hearing about water usage and conservation at a Santa Cruz County farm this week.

By Donna Jones

The first step toward finding solutions to long-standing groundwater overdraft in the Pajaro Valley was to acknowledge the problem and agriculture’s contribution to it, said Miles Reiter, chairman and CEO of Driscoll’s Strawberry Associates Inc.

Reiter’s remark came during a visit by California Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross to Driscoll’s Watsonville headquarters Tuesday.

The visit, which also included a stop at a raspberry farm on Holohan Road, showcased Driscoll’s efforts to tackle the groundwater problem in advance of a campaign aimed at raising the profile of the business community in the state conversation about water. The push, organized by Ceres, a nonprofit advocate of sustainable economies, is set to launch in March.

“We’re still more of the problem than the solution, but we have a tremendous amount of motivation,” said Reiter, who’s involved in water policy at the state level as well. “We absolutely need this resource for our business, and we live in the communities where we operate.”

The Pajaro Valley has been consuming about 12,000 acre-feet more groundwater than is recharged by annual rainfall for decades. The result has been dropping levels of fresh water in the aquifer and saltwater intrusion.

An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water, or enough, on average, to irrigate a half-acre of strawberries.

After years of strife over the issue, Driscoll’s spearheaded the formation of the Community Water Dialogue, a coalition of farmers, landowners and resource agencies, to find answers.

The issue is crucial for Driscoll’s, Reiter said, because its crops are almost all grown in areas that rely on groundwater and overdraft is not confined to the Pajaro Valley. He said he came to believe the problem could be solved, and that the best solution would come from the people who helped create it.

In the Pajaro Valley, agriculture is responsible for about 85 percent of water consumption.

Emily Paddock, water resources manager for Driscoll’s Northern District, detailed the accomplishments of the coalition, such as installation of a wireless network that allows farmers throughout the valley to monitor irrigation remotely to ensure efficient water use.

Paddock also said since 2013 Driscoll’s has required its growers to track and report water use through electronic devices installed on wells. The tracking aims to identify problem areas to fix and successful practices to share, she said.

Ross said Californians are rethinking water policy in light of the drought, and there’s a potential for more holistic policies than in the past. For example, when the state adopted storm water regulations, capturing runoff wasn’t part of the conversation.

“The issue has renewed everyone’s focus on reusing water, recycling water, knowing where every molecule of water is going,” Ross said. “This is an opportunity for us.”

Link to story

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Export Training Course Comes to CDFA

CalAgX-Final-Logo-e1399506124590This April, CDFA will be jointly hosting CALAGX 2015 – the only comprehensive export training program available to California’s specialty crop growers.  The program provides intensive training to help companies move their products into foreign markets, led by instructors who are experts in the fields of banking/finance, shipping/logistics and sales & marketing.

“The CalAgX Training Program assisted our company by helping us better understand and respond to foreign sales inquiries, as well as navigate foreign market requirements,” said Gold River Orchards President Don Barton, a past participant of the training program.  “We’ve seen success with this program and it has been very useful for our company.”


Participants in a recent CalAgX Training

The 2015 California Agricultural Export Training (CalAgX) Program is a six session seminar program held over a two month period and focuses on issues such as finance, export documentation, market barriers and federal/state resources.   More than 300 companies have taken CalAgX since its inception in 2005 and past participants have included Blue Diamond Growers, Earthbound Farm, Harris Fresh, Morning Star Packing Company, National Raisins, Point Conception Wines, Ratto Bros, and Summit Almonds.

“Interest in international trade continues to grow”, said Alicia Rios with the State Center Community College District. The District, part of the statewide Center’s for International Trade Development, are the organizers of the training program. “As incomes rise in foreign markets, California’s specialty crops are increasingly in demand among the world’s consumers.  We are seeing a lot of specialized food companies taking advantage of these international opportunities.”

Applications are now being accepted through April 10, 2015. Training will be held in Salinas, Fresno and Sacramento and classes begin the week of April 13th. For more information, please visit www.fresnocitd.org or call 559.324.6401.

The CalAgX program is hosted by the California Center for International Trade Development at State Center Community College District, and is funded by the 2012 Specialty Crop Block Grant program of the United States Department of Agriculture, and is presented by the California Centers for International Trade Development in cooperation with the California Department of Food and Agriculture


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A new network for women in agriculture – from the USDA

By Krysta Harden, Deputy Secretary, USDA

To be a woman in agriculture is to face a unique set of challenges. And because I know all too well the trials that women can face as they look to take on leadership roles, I made it a goal as USDA’s Deputy Secretary to start a community for women leaders in agriculture.

This past fall, I held a White House discussion with farmers, agribusiness, academics and youth leaders about the opportunities that exist to help advance women in agriculture to leadership positions. Since that meeting, the response has been overwhelming. Women from all walks of life and every sector of the agriculture supply chain are empowering one another, and they’re sharing beautiful photographs and touching stories about how they’ve done it.

Today, I am announcing the creation of the Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network. This newly established network is designed to support and engage women across all areas of agriculture and to foster professional partnerships between women with shared backgrounds, interests, and professional goals.

We have created an e-mail address, agwomenlead@usda.gov, for you to share your suggestions, stories and other snippets on how we can build a new generation of women leaders in agriculture. By e-mailing us, you will automatically be added to the Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network.

I am truly excited by the passion and confidence I continue to see in women in agriculture across the country. In the office, on the road, I am constantly stopped by young women looking to find mentorship, or current leaders looking to lift up our next generation. Now, with our new network, you can.

This is just the first step in giving women the tools they need to be successful agricultural leaders. Keep sharing your stories using #womeninag and stay tuned for more information on the Women in Agriculture Mentoring Network.


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Pooch sniffs out forbidden fruit and bad bugs – from the Riverside Press-Enterprise

Bishop, a parcel inspection dog in San Bernardino County.

Bishop, a parcel inspection dog in San Bernardino County.

By Jan Sears

The work day starts early for Bishop, a gangly yellow lab, and his handler, Kristina Cummings.

By 4:30 a.m. the two San Bernardino County agriculture department workers are on the job, checking out boxes that are being loaded onto trucks at UPS or Fed-Ex shipping hubs.

The good-natured dog isn’t hunting for drugs or weapons – he’s searching for fruit, vegetables, plant material, soil or live insects. When he sniffs out a box with anything like that inside, he eagerly pounces on it, digging so energetically he sometimes dents or punctures the box.

Cummings, 28, and her partner, Joshua Hardeman, 25, set the box aside and Hardeman opens it to see if it’s something the dog was trained to find. If so, Bishop gets a treat.

Some days, Bishop gets lots of treats.

“At UPS today, he alerted on 42 boxes,” Cummings said Tuesday, Feb. 10.

Not everything he finds is a forbidden substance.

Many of the boxes Bishop alerts on have been properly inspected and certified. Those usually, though not always, are found to be pest-free and sent along their way. It’s the fruit and plants arriving in unmarked boxes that are the biggest problem.

On Jan. 2, Bishop made a major find at a Fed-Ex shipping hub in Ontario. He sniffed out an unmarked box that was found to contain seven pounds of mandarin oranges sent from Louisiana, said Sandy Cleland, deputy agriculture commissioner in San Bernardino County.

Along with the mandarins were stems and leaves and two A-rated pests – citrus snow scale and tea scale. The A rating means that if the pests got into California’s citrus crops, they could have a significant negative economic impact.

The shipment also violated a federal quarantine for huanglongbing, or citrus greening disease, and the Asian citrus psyllid, which carries the disease.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture has 13 dog teams checking for illegally shipped agricultural material in counties with major shipping hubs, from San Francisco and Sacramento south to San Diego.

Like the other dogs, Bishop spends his days in busy, noisy, sometimes hot warehouses, picking through boxes on moving conveyor belts, checking out rolling bins loaded with parcels and stretching up to give boxes on shelves a once over.

The San Bernardino County Department of Agriculture/Weights and Measures had two teams as recently as February 2014, but detector dog Kiwi had to retire because of a torn ligament. Hardeman adopted her.

Link to story

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Bird Health Awareness Week – USDA sponsors webinar on bird health

Bird Health Awareness Week is from Feb. 24 through March 2. The USDA’s Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS) is bringing poultry experts together for a webinar called, “Growing Chicks Into Healthy Chickens: Getting Ready for Spring,” to be held on Thursday, Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. (EST). The webinar is hosted by the Chicken Whisperer and will feature veterinarians. Registration is required and details are here.

The Chicken Whisperer raises backyard birds in rural Georgia.  He started years ago with a few hens and ducks, and this year is starting a new flock of 40 birds at his new home. Andy Schneider (the Chicken Whisperer’s real name) has helped countless bird lovers with their own flocks, has a radio show about backyard bird care, and runs the Atlanta Backyard Poultry Meet-Up Group, which has more than 1,600 members.

Kiel’s birds—Cornelius, Rajun Cajun and Milla—enjoy a tasty snack fresh from the garden.

“There’s nothing not to like about backyard birds!” croons Andy. “The eggs are always fresh and tasty, but there are many other benefits to backyard chickens like composting, fertilizer, insect control, education for kids, and entertainment for the family.”

Raising backyard birds is becoming increasingly popular across the country and, as the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass describes, are part of the growing momentum and interest in local meat and poultry.


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Final results announced for 2014-15 California State Employees Food Drive

food drive graphic…and the results are in!

Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services (SFBFS) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) announced today the final results of the 2014-15 California State Employees Food Drive. The Food Drive raised more than 622,000 pounds for needy families and residents of the greater Sacramento area. California state employees donated more than $167,000 to purchase food products, 185,000 pounds of non-perishable food items, and 1,765 turkeys over the two-and-a-half month food drive.

“We are honored and grateful to work with the California state employees for this wonderful food drive,” said Blake Young, CEO of Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services. “The compassion and enthusiasm the state employees showed for helping families in need went beyond our wildest dreams. This group effort will allow our organization to reach more families who struggle with food insecurity and access to healthy food.”

Food Drive 2014-15

Food Drive coordinators and staff celebrate a successful year. From left: Blake Young, CEO – Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services; Peggy Marshall, Food Drive Coordinator – Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services; Marilyn Lluch, Food Drive Coordinator – California Environmental Protection Agency; Taylor Roschen, Statewide Food Drive Coordinator – California Department of Food and Agriculture (Source: Zsi Widman)

Nearly 100 state agencies, offices and departments participated in this year’s food drive. Employees hosted a variety of events and promotions ranging from bake sales to can-building competitions to encourage colleagues to donate. While all were successful, some agencies made a distinguished impact through their generous contributions:

  • Highest Overall Donation Total – Board of Equalization with 126,687 lbs!
  • Highest Cash Donation Total (non-rice) – Department of Education with $19,877 in donations!
  • Highest Rice Donation Total – California Environmental Protection Agency with $6,852 in donations for the Rice Program!

Congratulations to each of these agencies and to everyone who participated for making this year’s Food Drive a resounding success! Due to the generosity of state employees, SFBFS will be able distribute the food collected from the Drive to those in need through a network of agencies and programs throughout the greater Sacramento area. To see a complete list of agency donations visit the State Employees Food Drive website: http://www.fooddrive.ca.gov/Summary.asp

The Food Drive was administered by Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services in partnership with the California Department of Food and Agriculture. SFBFS was founded in Sacramento’s Oak Park community in 1976 and has worked for nearly 40 years to provide food, clothing and other services to those in need in the Sacramento area. SFBFS provides cost-free goods and services to over 150,000 men, women and children each month, operating three facilities with 45 staff members and more than 5,800 volunteers annually. SFBFS hosts a number of donation-oriented events including the Turkey Drive and the Run to Feed the Hungry, which takes place every year on Thanksgiving Day. To learn more about SFBFS, please visit their website at: http://www.sacramentofoodbank.org/index.php.


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USDA announces $9 million to support Community Food Projects program

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2015 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) today announced the availability of $9 million in funding to assist low-income individuals and communities in developing local and independent food systems. NIFA is funding the grants through the Community Food Projects program (CFP), authorized by the Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill).

“Community Foods Projects provide the opportunity for low-income communities to become more self-reliant and take control of their own food systems,” said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director. “These projects create food systems that are economically equitable and socially and environmentally sustainable, providing real solutions for communities most in need.”

Community Food Projects involve the entire food system. Projects assess strengths and establish connections among existing food systems, resulting in improved food systems that support self-reliance.

Grants are intended to help eligible, private, nonprofit entities in need of a one-time installment of federal assistance to establish and carry out multipurpose community food projects. Projects are funded from $10,000 to $300,000 and up to 36 months. All grants require a dollar-for-dollar match in resources.

Applications are due March 17, 2015. Please see the request for applications for specific program requirements.

CFP is an important part of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which works to strengthen and support local and regional food systems. More information on the initiative, including an interactive map of CFP and other federally-supported local food projects, can be found at: www.usda.gov/knowyourfarmer.

The primary goals of the Community Food Projects program are to (1) meet the food needs of low-income individuals; (2) increase the food self-reliance of low-income communities; (3) promote comprehensive responses to local food, farm and nutrition issues; and (4) meet specific state, local or neighborhood food and agricultural needs, including needs relating to infrastructure improvement and development, planning for long-term solutions and the creation of innovative marketing activities that mutually benefit agricultural producers and low-income consumers.

Since 2009, NIFA has provided more than $28 million to 154 Community Food Project awards in 48 states to help communities improve access to healthy, local food. Past projects include Philadelphia Green, which supports small-scale growers in their efforts to bring fresh, locally grown produce to the Philadelphia metro area, and RootDown LA, which is engaging Los Angeles-area youth in community gardens.

Funding for the CFP program is authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill. 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.

Through federal funding and leadership for research, education and extension programs, NIFA focuses on investing in science and solving critical issues impacting people’s daily lives and the nation’s future. More information is at: www.nifa.usda.gov.


View this release on USDA’s web site here.

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Rural ag producers encouraged to apply for USDA’s Rural Energy for America (REAP) program

From USDA:

USDA Announces Funding for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Projects

usda-rd-logoWASHINGTON – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that rural agricultural producers and small business owners can now apply for resources to purchase and install renewable energy systems or make energy efficiency improvements. These efforts help farmers, ranchers and other small business owners save money on their energy bills, reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, support America’s clean energy economy, and cut carbon pollution. The resources announced today are made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill.

“Developing renewable energy presents an enormous economic opportunity for rural America,” Vilsack said. “The funding we are making available will help farmers, ranchers, business owners, tribal organizations and other entities incorporate renewable energy and energy efficiency technology into their operations. Doing so can help a business reduce energy use and costs while improving its bottom line. While saving producers money and creating jobs, these investments reduce dependence on foreign oil and cut carbon pollution as well.”

USDA is making more than $280 million available to eligible applicants through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Application deadlines vary by project type and the type of assistance requested. Details on how to apply are on page 78029 of the December 29, 2014 Federal Register or are available by contacting state Rural Development offices.

USDA is offering grants for up to 25 percent of total project costs and loan guarantees for up to 75 percent of total project costs for renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements. The REAP application window has been expanded. USDA will now accept and review loan and grant applications year-round.

Eligible renewable energy projects must incorporate commercially available technology. This includes renewable energy from wind, solar, ocean, small hydropower, hydrogen, geothermal and renewable biomass (including anaerobic digesters). The maximum grant amount is $500,000, and the maximum loan amount is $25 million per applicant.

Energy efficiency improvement projects eligible for REAP funding include lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation, fans, automated controls and insulation upgrades that reduce energy consumption. The maximum grant amount is $250,000, and the maximum loan amount is $25 million per applicant.

USDA is offering a second type of grant to support organizations that help farmers, ranchers and small businesses conduct energy audits and operate renewable energy projects. Eligible applicants include: units of state, tribal or local governments; colleges, universities and other institutions of higher learning; rural electric cooperatives and public power entities, and conservation and development districts. The maximum grant is $100,000. Applications for these particular grants have been available since December 29 of last year and are due February 12.

The REAP program was created in the 2002 Farm Bill. Because of the success of the program, Congress reauthorized it in the 2014 Farm Bill with guaranteed funding of no less than $50 million in annual funding for the duration of the 5 year bill. The 2014 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 2009, USDA has awarded $545 million for more than 8,800 REAP projects nationwide. This includes $361 million in REAP grants and loans for more than 2,900 renewable energy systems. When fully operational, these systems are expected to generate more than 6 billion kilowatt hours annually – enough to power more than 5.5 million homes for a year.

In 2013, owners of the Ideal Dairy restaurant in Richfield, Utah, used REAP funding to install 80 solar modules and two 10-kilowatt inverters, which convert energy from solar panels to electricity. The owners have saved, on average, $400 per month. These savings have helped them preserve their restaurant and livelihood.

President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA’s investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values.


View the original release on USDA’s site here.

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West Coast Governors Call for an End to Port Labor Impasse

California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. and his colleagues in Washington and Oregon have issued the following joint statement:


SACRAMENTO – As U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez helps mediate discussions between dockworkers and port operators, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Oregon Governor Kate Brown today called for a quick resolution to the harmful labor impasse impacting West Coast ports and businesses, issuing the following statements:

“This impasse is disrupting international trade and jeopardizing thousands of jobs,” said California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. “After nine months of bargaining, to be hung up on what appears to be arcane process issues is unacceptable. Get it done, guys.”

“I told Secretary Perez how much I appreciated the attention that he and President Obama are giving this dispute, and that I hoped his direct engagement with the parties would help bring a swift resolution,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee said. “This impasse has dragged on way too long and is playing havoc with international trade, an essential component of Washington’s economy. I understand there are important issues at stake, but it is time to settle before any more damage is done.”

“Our local farmers, small businesses and communities in Oregon are in limbo because of the uncertainty surrounding the West Coast and Oregon ports,” said Oregon Governor Kate Brown. “We urge all parties to rise above their differences and find a common solution to avoid the disruptions that are beginning to suppress our efforts to ensure a strong, growing economy across the state.”

Yesterday, California Governor Brown discussed the impasse with Secretary Perez by phone and earlier this month, sent a letter to the President of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Chairman and CEO of the Pacific Maritime Association urging them to quickly resolve this dispute.


View the original release on Governor Brown’s site here.

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