And the winner is…

"I tried barking. Maybe this is what it takes to ride on the front seat of the pickup."

“I tried barking. Maybe this is what it takes to ride on the front seat of the pickup.”

Thanks to everyone for playing in CDFA’s first-ever caption contest. We had nearly 60 entries! Congratulations to our winner, Harold Hackett. His caption is on the left.

This nine-and-a-half foot ceramic cow is named Daisy, and it comes from the people at Cow Parade, an organization that has sponsored public art displays of cow sculptures around the world. In 2015, in a campaign co-sponsored by Got Milk?, you’ll start to see newly-created cows turn up around Sacramento. At the conclusion of the “parade” next year, the sculptures will be auctioned-off for charity.  We look forward to Daisy and her chums brightening our days next year!

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Holiday spirit shines at CDFA

DSC_0033One of the perks of my job as Secretary of Agriculture is my annual visit to several of our department’s offices in the Sacramento area. The holidays are a traditional time of giving and my staff at the California Department of Food and Agriculture fully embrace that spirit throughout the season by dreaming up and fulfilling charitable campaigns, “adopting” local non-profit organizations, and showing their support for the annual State Employees Food Drive.

As I made the rounds today and enjoyed holiday snacks with the staff at each of our local facilities, I saw boxes of socks collected for local homeless shelters, bags of pet food for the SPCA, and stockings stuffed with hats, gloves and toothbrushes for a local “Stuff a Stocking, Warm a Heart” campaign. I was also part of a panel judging the staff’s “Can Creations” built with canned goods and other food items donated by the employees. Of course, they all won – perhaps we forgot to mention that there were multiple categories… (Photos of the creations are included in the clickable gallery, below.)

Incorporating Your Work Into Your “Can Creation”: CDFA’s Division of Measurement Standards, who built a working scale from their donated canned goods and other items.

Creativity: the Plant Pest Diagnostics Center’s “California Grown”-themed tree featured an amazing choo-choo train emerging from a tunnel, delivering food to families in need.

Agricultural Pride: a tie between Inspection Services with their “Can You Dig It?” wheelbarrow creation, and Pest Detection and Emergency Projects with their scale model farm entitled “Protecting Farms of All Shapes and Sizes.”

Capturing the Spirit of the Season: Our Animal Health office’s “Peace on Earth” display included a heartfelt presentation filled with warm wishes and an inspiring global message.

Best Use of Farm Animal: “CDFA Gives Back” is our Administrative Services Division’s canned goods creation, which they had to adapt to incorporate “Daisy’s Dream,” a cow sculpture that is part of the Got Milk? campaign’s upcoming Cow Parade art installation around the state.

Best Use of BBQ Baked Beans in a Can Creation: “Canstruction: Keeping Local Families Fed” was the nutrient-packed work of our Office of Information Technology Services and our County Liaison Office.

Thanks to all of you who support charitable organizations during the holiday season and throughout the year. Enjoy these photos of the day’s events, and happy holidays to you and yours!

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Stingerless wasps released in Asian citrus psyllid fight – from the San Bernardino Sun

Tiny, stingerless wasps intended for release in Riverside.

Tiny, stingerless wasps intended for release in Riverside.

By Sandra Emerson

RIVERSIDE – Hundreds of wasps imported from Pakistan were released into a 7.5-acre biocontrol grove of citrus trees near the UCR Botanic Gardens by entomologists Tuesday.

The wasps, Diaphorencyrtus aligarhensis, are a natural known predator of the Asian citrus psyllid, which acts as a carrier of “Huanglongbing” — a devastating disease to citrus trees.

“We know from past experience this insect and disease combination can be very devastating to citrus,” said Mark Hoddle, the director of the UCR Center for Invasive Species Research.

“It’s had a huge impact in Florida. They’ve lost over 60,000 acres, maybe more, of citrus there and it cost them $200 million in profits. Six thousand people lost their job and the industry has started to detract in Florida.”

The insect was first detected in California in 2008 in San Diego and Imperial counties.

The psyllid has been detected in 12 California counties, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The disease was first detected in April 2012 in the Hacienda Heights area.

The insect poses a threat to California’s $2 billion citrus industry.

Hoddle and other entomologists traveled to Pakistan six times over a 2 ½ year period looking for natural enemies of the psyllid. They ended up in the Punjab region, which is about a 70 percent climate match to Southern California.

It is also thought that the Punjab region is the psyllid’s area of origin, Hoddle said.

They were given permission by the Department of Agriculture on Nov. 24 to release the wasp. It had been in quarantine for three years and underwent about two years of safety testing, Hoddle said.

The wasp poses no risk to the environment and does not sting people or pets. It does not eat plants or spread disease.

Hoddle in 2011 released a psyllid-attacking wasp, Tamarixia radiata, into the same grove. This species attacks psyllid nymphs during their fourth and fifth developmental stages, while the species released Tuesday attacks the nymphs during the second and third developmental stages, Hoddle said.

Psyllid nymphs have five developmental stages after they hatch from the egg.

Only the female wasps kill the psyllid, and they do it in two ways. They lay their eggs inside the psyllid nymph and the wasp larva then feeds on the nymph or the female uses her “ovipositor” to stab the nymph until it bleed. She then eats the insect’s blood, which provides the protein she needs to mature eggs.

The university’s biological control program aims to suppress the amount of psyllid in agricultural settings and urban areas, where it is difficult to spray residential trees.

The wasps, about 1/16-of-an-inch-long versus the 1/8-of-an-inch-long psyllid, will spread through flying and the wind.

“Some estimates suggest probably more citrus grown in people’s backyards than in all commercial areas combined in California,” Hoddle said.

Link to article

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What’s the deal with that cow? It’s CDFA’s first-ever caption contest.

Please make your caption entries in the comments section. When we announce a winner we’ll explain why the cow is here at CDFA headquarters. Thanks for playing!

Cow Parade CDFA Lobby sm (2)



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More than just a job to do

CDFA's general counsel, Michele Dias.

CDFA’s general counsel, Michele Dias.

Our general counsel here at CDFA, Michele Dias, came into my office last Friday with an excitable look on her face. I think most people in positions of organizational leadership would agree that when your lawyer does that, it may not be a good thing … Thankfully, this time was different.

Michele was proudly carrying her newly minted, California agriculture-themed license plate proclaiming her to be “MAD4AG”, matching her initials (middle name Ann). She had ordered it online from the DMV as part of a great program we’ve worked on in recent years that generates funding for agricultural education. Aside from the welcome bit of levity in an otherwise busy Friday, this moment gave me pause to reflect on the remarkable workforce that makes this department run.

It isn’t unusual for someone to have a personalized license plate related to their work, especially when they sincerely enjoy the job as much as Michele does. Part of the reason is a very real connection to agriculture that makes this more than a job. Michele grew up on a small, family-run dairy in Turlock and, as any farm kid can tell you, there is no education quite like the one you get on a farm. From biology to math to engine repair, I’m betting on the kid with the dirty boots.

Fortunately, CDFA has quite a few folks who share that upbringing and awareness. We have livestock inspectors who, when their work day is done, trade in the pickup for a saddle as they start their second job as cattle ranchers. We have administrators and field staff who take a detour on the way home to check their walnut grove, walk a few rows of vegetables, or move sprinkler pipes to the other side of the alfalfa field. We have PhDs, technicians and support staff who grew up on the farm and now volunteer their time in support of worthy causes like water conservation and habitat restoration on ag lands. We have scientists who take the time to talk to local elementary school students about farms and food, passing on their own experience to the next generation.

Of course, CDFA also has many staff members who did not have ag experience before joining this organization. Whether they are new or long-term employees, the common thread is that they develop a passion for our mission to protect agriculture, from the farms and families we work with every day to the food supply that they produce and provide.

More than 17,000 California agriculture-themed license plates are already on the road in California, and that says a lot about this community’s support for agricultural education. The program is currently accepting proposals for grant projects to promote ag education and leadership activities for students at the K-12, post-secondary and adult education levels. As more and more of our neighbors have less and less direct exposure to farming, this investment in agricultural literacy is an important step toward helping all of our citizens become informed consumers and voters who understand what goes into producing our food.

There is something special about agriculture, and it’s important to remember that it’s something we all share: If you go back even a handful of generations on just about anyone’s family tree, you’ll find a farmer. I am proud to say you’ll find quite a few of them working for you here at CDFA as well.

Editor’s Note: Please use the “comments” section to tell us about the farmers in your family tree, or what you’ve learned from being a “farm kid.”

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Festive Farm Dinners Always in Season – from the Growing California video series

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Rice farms could provide offsets in carbon market – op-ed by CDFA Secretary Karen Ross in the Sacramento Bee


Sometimes it takes a crisis like climate change to reveal a golden opportunity. Our rice farmers in Northern California have long been exemplary stewards of their land, both in terms of providing habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife and for their ongoing efforts to work with environmental and research organizations to improve their farming practices. Now, in response to climate change, they stand ready to take the next step.

This week, the California Air Resources Board will hear a staff proposal for a set of management practices that will give rice growers incentives that could be used to reduce the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. For these farmers, who grow more than 95 percent of California’s rice within 100 miles of our state capital, it presents a proactive opportunity to contribute to the state’s climate change objectives.

The proposed Compliance Offset Protocol Rice Cultivation Projects would allow rice farmers in the Sacramento Valley to generate greenhouse gas offsets that can then be sold in the state’s carbon trading market. Rice would represent the first crop-based agricultural offset protocol, paving the way for additional agriculture-based protocols to be developed.

The management practices listed in this protocol are based on sound science and have proved successful around the world. We know that these practices will be adopted slowly at first, but we are hopeful for increased participation in the future as more growers learn about the benefits of these practices.

I am pleased to see progress toward this voluntary incentive program for rice farmers in the Sacramento Valley, where they have already made tremendous strides on other environmental issues. For example, rice farmers here provide their agricultural fields during the winter months as valuable open space and habitat for 230 species of wildlife and 7 million ducks and geese that migrate along the Pacific Flyway each year.

It is worth noting that, in developing these practices, the ARB took precautions such as excluding the Butte Sink Wildlife Management Area, which has the highest concentration of waterfowl per acre in the world, to ensure that this important wildlife habitat is unaffected by the implementation of any rice cultivation projects.

Even more importantly, the ARB has elected to exclude program options that could lead to reduced winter flooding throughout the Valley, a practice that now provides critical habitat to millions of waterbirds in a state where 95 percent of original wetlands are gone. Additionally, the development of this protocol has exemplified what collaboration is all about by bringing together the rice industry, environmental groups, multiple state agencies, national organizations and federal partners.

We at the California Department of Food and Agriculture call the multiple benefits to nature provided by farmers and ranchers beyond food production “Ecosystem Services.” These services include valuable open space and wildlife habitat and farming practices that enhance environmental quality, provide recreational opportunities and offer social benefits.

The protocol provides financial incentives for growers to help the state reach its emission-reduction goals by 2020. It’s timely, and recognizes rice farmers for one of the many ecosystem services they provide. Similar carbon crediting initiatives are taking place all over the country. For example, the USDA worked with Chevrolet to purchase almost 40,000 carbon dioxide reduction tons generated on working ranch grasslands in the Prairie Pothole region of North Dakota.

As the magazine Modern Farmer put it, “everyone agrees that climate change has and will have a disastrous or at least dramatic effect on agriculture.” With California’s rich history of innovative farmers who promote environmental stewardship, provide ecosystem services and strive for sustainability, it makes sense that the California rice industry is at the forefront of incorporating climate-friendly practices.

This protocol has the potential to move early innovators in the industry to get involved and start moving the needle on climate change. My department will continue to work across agencies to encourage its implementation, along with technology-based verification techniques. Any protocol proposed to the ARB for consideration must have real, quantifiable, verifiable and enforceable metrics, without compromising crop yields.

California agriculture is incredibly resilient and innovative, and our farmers offer many benefits beyond food production. Voluntary incentive programs, such as the rice protocol, offer farmers in California meaningful opportunities to ensure that as they produce food, they are also providing important environmental benefits.

Link to article

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USDA provides greater protection for fruit, vegetable and other specialty crops growers

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that greater protection is now available from the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program for crops that traditionally have been ineligible for federal crop insurance. The new options, created by the 2014 Farm Bill, provide greater coverage for losses when natural disasters affect specialty crops such as vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, floriculture, ornamental nursery, aquaculture, turf grass, ginseng, honey, syrup, and energy crops.

“These new protections will help ensure that farm families growing crops for food, fiber or livestock consumption will be better able to withstand losses due to natural disasters,” said Vilsack. “For years, commodity crop farmers have had the ability to purchase insurance to keep their crops protected, and it only makes sense that fruit and vegetable, and other specialty crop growers, should be able to purchase similar levels of protection. Ensuring these farmers can adequately protect themselves from factors beyond their control is also critical for consumers who enjoy these products and for communities whose economies depend on them.”

Previously, the program offered coverage at 55 percent of the average market price for crop losses that exceed 50 percent of expected production. Producers can now choose higher levels of coverage, up to 65 percent of their expected production at 100 percent of the average market price.

The expanded protection will be especially helpful to beginning and traditionally underserved producers, as well as farmers with limited resources, who will receive fee waivers and premium reductions for expanded coverage. More crops are now eligible for the program, including expanded aquaculture production practices, and sweet and biomass sorghum. For the first time, a range of crops used to produce bioenergy will be eligible as well.

“If America is to remain food secure and continue exporting food to the world, we need to do everything we can to help new farmers get started and succeed in agriculture,” Vilsack said. “This program will help new and socially disadvantaged farmers affordably manage risk, making farming a much more attractive business proposition.”

To help producers learn more about the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program and how it can help them, USDA, in partnership with Michigan State University and the University of Illinois, created an online resource. The Web tool, available, allows producers to determine whether their crops are eligible for coverage. It also gives them an opportunity to explore a variety of options and levels to determine the best protection level for their operation.

If the application deadline for an eligible crop has already passed, producers will have until Jan. 14, 2015, to choose expanded coverage through the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program. To learn more, visit the Farm Service Agency (FSA) website at or contact your local FSA office at The Farm Service Agency (FSA), which administers the program, also wants to hear from producers and other interested stakeholders who may have suggestions or recommendations on the program. Written comments will be accepted until Feb. 13, 2015 and can be submitted through

These new provisions under the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program were made possible through the 2014 Farm Bill, which builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for the taxpayer. 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


Link to news release

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USDA Seeks Public Comment on New Environmental Quality Incentives Program Rule

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is publishing a rule that outlines how it will improve the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), one of USDA’s largest conservation programs. The interim final rule includes program changes authorized by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill.

USDA has established a 60-day comment period for the rule. The rule is expected to be available in the Federal Register and on Friday, Dec. 12. Beginning Friday, public comments can be submitted through or by mailing them. Comments are due by Feb. 10, 2015. Full details are in the Federal Register notice.

“This interim final rule provides a roadmap to help streamline and simplify EQIP for farmers and ranchers,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “We strongly encourage agricultural producers, private forest landowners and stakeholders to provide comments on our implementation processes. This feedback will help us improve our operation and deliver technical and financial assistance more efficiently to our nation’s agricultural producers and forest landowners.”

The changes are intended to simplify the EQIP regulation regarding conservation practice scheduling, payment limitations and other administrative actions. Vilsack said USDA has enhanced EQIP by streamlining the delivery of technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers and forest landowners nationwide.

Highlights of program changes in this rule include the following:

  • Requires at least 5 percent of available EQIP funds be targeted for conservation practices that promote wildlife habitat;
  • Establishes EQIP as a contributing program for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program;
  • Increases the advanced payment from 30 percent to 50 percent for eligible historically underserved producers, including beginning farmers, to help purchase material or contract services;
  • Targets assistance to veteran farmers and ranchers including eligibility for the new 50 percent advance payment and up to 90 percent of the cost to implement EQIP conservation practices;
  • Increases the payment limitation for EQIP from $300,000 to a maximum of $450,000 for benefits received during 2014-2018 and removes the option for a waiver to exceed payment limitations;
  • Eliminates the requirement for a program contract to remain in place for one year after the last practice has been implemented, allowing practices to be scheduled through the tenth year of a contract;
  • Includes an option to waive the irrigation history requirement under certain conditions;
  • Incorporates the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program functions into EQIP.

This rule follows the publication of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) interim final rule in the Federal Register on November 5. USDA is also seeking comments for the CSP rule.

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers EQIP, a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to eligible agricultural producers and forest landowners to help them address soil, water, air and related natural resource concerns on their lands in an environmentally beneficial and cost-effective manner. Resulting conservation and environmental benefits include improved water and air quality, reduced soil erosion and sedimentation, improved energy conservation, improved grazing and forest lands, and created or improved wildlife habitat on working farms, ranches and non-industrial forestlands.

EQIP has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of agricultural producers and forest landowners since its launch in 1997. From that time through 2014, USDA has invested in 596,481 contracts for a total of nearly $11 billion on nearly 232 million acres nationwide.

For more information about interim final rules for USDA NRCS’s Farm Bill conservation programs, visit the EQIP Rule Page.

For more information on technical and financial assistance available through EQIP, visit the EQIP Web page.

Link to news release

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Real or fake? Drought intensifies debate over Christmas trees – from the Los Angeles Times

xmas tree

By Sarah Parvini

Before they picked out an eight-foot Christmas tree, Tara White and Ed Dilks wondered whether an artificial tree might be a more eco-friendly choice.

But after doing some research, the Glendale couple decided that the convenience of an artificial tree didn’t stack up against the fresh scent and homey feel of a real tree.

“I felt guilty at first,” White said, studying the towering noble fir for gaps. “But it’s not like they go into the great forest and kill the trees. It’s not deforestation.”

The question of which tree is more environmentally friendly — real or artificial? — is resurrected each Christmas season.

But the discussion has gained urgency as California limps through a third year of drought. The debate now hinges on whether plastic trees give the environment a break because they don’t soak up a scarce resource, water.

U.S. customers bought about 33 million real trees last year compared with 14.7 million artificial trees, according to the National Christmas Tree Assn., which represents tree farmers. The artificial tree industry cites different figures: About 25 million real trees were sold in 2013 compared with nearly 11 million artificial trees, the American Christmas Tree Assn. said.

The two groups disagree on plenty of other things.

Natural trees don’t consume enough water to justify buying an artificial tree, said Rick Dungey, spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Assn. And many of the real trees sold in California come from Washington or Oregon, which are drought free, he added.

Artificial trees “are a giant green toilet bowl brush,” Dungey said. “A real Christmas tree starts as a seed. It comes from nature. Fake ones end in a landfill, and they won’t decompose like a plant will.”

Advocates of natural trees note that many fake trees are made with polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, a petroleum-based plastic. PVC is made with vinyl chloride, which can cause cancer and other ailments if exposure in high concentrations occurs, Environmental Protection Agency research shows.

Nearly 80% of artificial Christmas trees are made in China, where most electricity is coal-generated, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Using PVC, coupled with the energy consumed and pollution created transporting the artificial trees from overseas, places a far heavier burden on the environment, Dungey said.

Artificial-tree advocates point to the convenience of a decoration that doesn’t inflame plant allergies, drop needles or require a stand full of water.

“The drought is really serious, especially in California,” said Jami Warner, executive director of the American Christmas Tree Assn. “And it does take many thousands of gallons of water to raise a Christmas tree.”

Buyers keep their trees about 10 years on average, she said, meaning nine fewer trees in a landfill for the average household.

“The better-quality tree you buy, the longer you can keep it. They fold up, they come with nice bags, and you can put them in the closet,” Warner said.

As for the environmental effects of the Christmas tree choice, whether real or fake, the difference is negligible, according to a study commissioned by the American Christmas Tree Assn. in 2011.

Many products Californians use every day also make the same overseas trip on the same ships that artificial trees do, Warner said.

In addition, the PVC used in trees is high quality and safe, the group says. A separate study was less favorable to the fakes. It found that consumers would have to use their artificial trees for about 20 years before the negative environmental effects drop to natural tree levels.

The independent study, conducted in 2009 by Canadian sustainable development consulting firm Ellipsos, also cited the use of PVC as problematic.

On the negative side of the environmental ledger for natural trees: Some tree farms use pesticides and herbicides to fend off damaging insects and weeds, said Char Miller, director of the Environmental Analysis program at Pomona College. Nevertheless, a natural tree, especially those grown close to where a buyer lives, is best for the environment, even amid a drought, he said.

“The petroleum that goes into producing fake trees and transporting them is on a carbon scale much worse than a locally sourced tree,” Miller said. “Just as we are interested in locally sourced food, here is another item that it is best to buy much closer to home.”

Still, consumer demand has spawned hundreds of varieties of artificial Christmas trees, from traditional pine look-alikes to ombre trees that fade from black to gold. For those who might miss the scent of pine throughout their homes, there are fragrant ornaments that give artificial trees the fresh smell of the forest.

Katrina Sullivan’s holiday ornaments are hanging on a “Frosty Flocked” tree from the quirky collection of online retailer Treetopia, based in South San Francisco, where shoppers can score a pre-lighted pink tree or even an upside-down evergreen.

Sullivan, a design blogger, said she finds the annual purchase of a real tree to be one more holiday expense, although natural trees tend to be cheaper than artificial ones on a one-time basis. In addition, she prefers the ease of putting together and taking apart an artificial tree without the stress of pine needles falling all over the floor.

“Artificial trees have come a long way and look amazingly real,” Sullivan said. “I love that.”

But for Ashley James, an artificial tree just doesn’t feel like Christmas. James and her husband, Elton, were shopping on a recent Monday for a natural tree at Mr. Snowman Christmas Trees in Glendale.

It’s their 5-month-old daughter Lily’s first Christmas; they had to give her the authentic holiday experience, she said.

“My family always had a real tree,” James said. “We talked about getting a fake one, but I like the smell of a real tree. I like that it’s natural.”

Link to story

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