Growing California video series – Apple Hill

This is a reprise post from our Growing California video series. Apple Hill is now open for its annual fall run in El Dorado County.

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Nation’s Ag Co-Ops Set Record for Annual Sales and Income – USDA News Release

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the nation’s farmer, rancher and fishery cooperatives set a new sales record in 2013, with total business volume of more than $246 billion. That surpasses the previous record, set in 2012, by $8 billion, a 4 percent gain. U.S. co-ops also enjoyed robust job growth over the previous year.

This third consecutive year of record sales by ag cooperatives reflects increased sales in the overall farm economy in 2013. U.S. crop production and livestock sales both increased 6 percent in 2013, while production input (farm supply) sales increased 2 percent.

“These sales and net income records for ag cooperatives, combined with strong gains in employees for 2013, underscore the strength and productivity of the nation’s farmer- and rancher-owned cooperatives. These co-ops play a vital and growing role in the nation’s economy,” Vilsack said.

Secretary Vilsack made the announcement to mark the start of National Cooperative Month in October. He also signed a Cooperative Month proclamation that salutes the nation’s entire cooperative business sector, which includes about 30,000 co-ops. In addition to agriculture, the nation’s co-ops play a major role in electricity and telecommunications services, credit and financial services, housing and in many other sectors of the economy.

Ag co-ops also enjoyed record net income (before taxes) of $6.2 billion, besting the previous high of $6.1 billion, set in 2012. Co-op income is either reinvested in the co-op for needed improvements or returned to the member-owners. It then circulates in local communities.

The number of full-time employees working for ag co-ops climbed by almost 7,000 in 2013, to 136,000, up 5 percent from 2012. Counting seasonal employees, ag co-ops employ 191,000 people.

In addition to marketing and processing their members’ crops and livestock, co-ops are also major players in the farm supply market. Co-op sales of petroleum, feed, seed and crop protectants were all up in 2013. Fertilizer sales declined, the only major farm supply to see sales drop in 2013.

With grain and oilseed prices generally lower in 2014, it appears unlikely that co-ops will set a fourth consecutive sales record when the results are tallied next year. However, livestock, poultry and dairy producers and their co-ops will benefit from lower feed costs, which should offset at least some of the decline in revenue from grain and oilseed sales.

While 33 ag cooperatives recorded more than $1 billion in sales in 2013, 33 percent (726 co-ops) had less than $5 million in sales.

The value of cooperative assets fell in 2013 by almost $1 billion, with liabilities decreasing by $5.3 billion and owner equity gaining $4.5 billion. Equity capital still remains low but is clearly showing an upward trend, with a 15 percent increase over the previous year.

Patronage income (refunds from other cooperatives due to sales between cooperatives) increased by almost 33 percent, to $1.2 billion, up from $900 million in 2012.

U.S. farm numbers remained about the same in 2013 as in 2012, with USDA counting 2.1 million in both years. There are now 2,186 farmer, rancher and fishery cooperatives, down from 2,236 in 2012. Mergers account for most of the drop, resulting in larger cooperatives.

Producers held 2 million memberships in cooperatives in 2013, down about 7 percent from 2012. The number of cooperative memberships is slightly less than the number of U.S. farms, but this does not mean that every producer is a member of an agricultural cooperative. Previous studies have found that many farmers and ranchers are members of up to three cooperatives, so farm numbers and cooperative memberships are not strictly comparable.

Link to news release

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New California Law to Boost Inspections at Farmers’ Markets – from the Los Angeles Times

An inspector at work at a Southern California farmers' market.  Photo credit - David Karp, Los Angeles Times

An inspector at work at a Southern California farmers’ market.
Photo credit – David Karp, Los Angeles Times

By David Karp

Bringing to fruition a decade-long campaign by farmers market stakeholders, on Friday, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1871, which for the first time provides what supporters say is adequate funding to ensure that growers at certified farmers markets produce what they sell.

“This is the single-most significant change to farmers market laws since they were established in 1977,” said Ben Feldman, chair of the California Alliance of Farmers’ Markets.

Starting Jan. 1, 2015, the bill will increase the state fee paid by markets for their vendors from 60 cents to $2 daily. Currently only farmers pay the fee, but next year it will extend to all vendors, including food and crafts sellers in non-agricultural sections.

Legislative analysts have estimated that the bill will raise $1.35 million annually, including more than $1 million in new revenues, which will go to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. It will be used chiefly for hiring new state inspectors and reimbursing counties for local investigative work, as well as maintaining a database of markets and growers.

Across the state, consumers should see more inspectors at farmers markets. As cheaters are caught and fined or suspended from participation, shoppers will have greater confidence that the farms they buy from really grew the produce. In the short term, they may also see a reduction in the quantity and variety of produce at certain markets, as cheating becomes more difficult.

Among other noteworthy provisions of the bill, vendors will no longer be allowed to sell “fresh whole fruits, nuts, vegetables and flowers” in adjacent non-agricultural sections of markets.

Noncertified flower vendors are the most common of these. Depending on how state regulators interpret the law, well-known mushroom resellers such as David West and LA Funghi may be excluded from markets, unless they restructure to become growers. Noncertified vendors of juices and dried fruits will not be affected.

Growers will be required to post conspicuous signs with the name and location of their farm, which will be helpful for shoppers. The sign must also state “We grow what we sell,” a declaration that may appear superfluous (vendors in agricultural sections already are supposed to grow what they sell), but is intended to make cheating a more clear-cut violation. The bill creates a new misdemeanor, making false statements about the grower, growing area or growing practices of agricultural products punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and imprisonment of up to six months.

In late 2012, stung by media exposes of farmers market cheating, Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner Kurt Floren boosted enforcement. Since then, inspectors have issued 66 citations for cheating, resulting in multiple fines totaling up to $6,600 per vendor, and 16 suspensions and proposed suspensions, said Ed Williams, deputy agricultural commissioner. This is a huge change from previous years, when only a few citations were issued.

Los Angeles County inspectors will now have a long-term source of funding for enforcement, and when they suspect a vendor of cheating, they will have greater assurance that their counterparts in other counties will have the resources to conduct timely farm visits. A pilot program funded by the state Department of Food and Agriculture between May 1 and June 20 proved effective in coordinating enforcement efforts between Los Angeles and eight other counties, according to a report presented at a farmers market advisory meeting in Sacramento on Sept. 17.

A survey of a dozen farmers and shoppers at markets last weekend found almost unanimous support for enhanced enforcement. As he loaded his cart at the Hollywood farmers market, Daniel Mattern, chef of Cooks County restaurant, said that AB 1871 will “help protect me, because as someone who buys a lot of produce at farmers markets, I like to know that it’s actually coming from the farm I buy it from.”

“The devil’s in the details whether enforcement will be effective, but I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Scott Beylik, a vegetable grower in Fillmore.

Link to story

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Drought’s impact on crops – from the Sacramento Bee

Drought sign

By Dale Kasler

It’s harvest time in much of California, and the signs of drought are almost as abundant as the fruits and nuts and vegetables.

One commodity after another is feeling the impact of the state’s epic water shortage. The great Sacramento Valley rice crop, served in sushi restaurants nationwide and exported to Asia, will be smaller than usual. Fewer grapes will be available to produce California’s world-class wines, and the citrus groves of the San Joaquin Valley are producing fewer oranges. There is less hay and corn for the state’s dairy cows, and the pistachio harvest is expected to shrink.

Even the state’s mighty almond business, which has become a powerhouse in recent years, is coming in smaller than expected. That’s particularly troubling to the thousands of farmers who sacrificed other crops in order to keep their almond orchards watered.

While many crops have yet to be harvested, it’s clear that the drought has carved a significant hole in the economy of rural California. Farm income is down, so is employment, and Thursday’s rain showers did little to change the equation.

An estimated 420,000 acres of farmland went unplanted this year, or about 5 percent of the total. Economists at UC Davis say agriculture, which has been a $44 billion-a-year business in California, will suffer revenue losses and higher water costs – a financial hit totaling $2.2 billion this year.

Rising commodity prices have helped cushion at least some of the pain, but more hurt could be on the way. With rivers running low and groundwater overtaxed, the situation could get far worse if heavy rains don’t come this winter.

“Nobody has any idea how disastrous it’s going to be,” said Mike Wade of Modesto, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, an advocacy group based in Sacramento. “Is it going to create more fallowed land? Absolutely. Is it going to create more groundwater problems? Absolutely.

“Another dry year, we don’t know what the result is going to be, but it’s not going to be good,” Wade said.

Central Valley residents don’t have to look far to see the effects. Roughly one-fourth of California’s rice fields went fallow this year, about 140,000 acres worth, according to the California Rice Commission, leaving vast stretches of the Sacramento Valley brown instead of their customary green.

“We’d all rather be farming, as would everybody who depends on us – the truck drivers, the parts stores, the mills,” said Mike Daddow, a fourth-generation rice grower in the Nicolaus area of southern Sutter County.

Daddow opted to fallow 150 of his family’s 800 acres this year and counts himself lucky. “We did better than a lot of people,” he said.

Last week, Daddow was gearing up for the harvest, which begins Monday. It was pleasantly warm, but the faint smoky smell from the King fire was another unwelcome reminder of the parched season of discontent.

“It affects me, yes, I will have less profit,” he said. “It affects hourly workers. If there’s no ground to till, I can’t hire them to do anything.”

Daddow hired just six workers during spring planting, instead of the usual nine or 10.

Three boxes, not two

Calculating total job losses related to the drought is difficult, especially in an industry in which many workers are transient and much of the work is part time. The state Employment Development Department, drawing from payroll data, said farm employment has dropped by just 2,700 jobs from a year ago, a decline of less than 1 percent.

But experts at UC Davis say they believe the impact is more severe. Richard Howitt, professor emeritus of agricultural economics, said he believes the drought ultimately will erase 17,000 jobs. He bases that, in part, on the increased number of families seeking social services.

The human cost shows up at rural food banks, which are reporting higher demand for assistance from farmworkers and their families. At the Bethel Spanish Assembly of God, a church in theTulare County city of Farmersville, the number of families receiving food aid every two weeks has jumped from about 40 last year to more than 200. Farmersville, a city of 10,000, is at the heart of a region that grows an array of crops, from lemons to pistachios to grapes.

“Some of them are working … but they’re not putting in the hours,” said the Rev. Leonel Benavides, who is also Farmersville’s mayor. Thanks to state-funded drought relief, the church has been able to meet the increased demand – and then some.

“Instead of just two boxes, we give them three,” Benavides said.

The effect goes beyond the farm fields. N&S Tractor, which sells Case IH brand farm equipment throughout the Central Valley, has seen business tail off as farmers conserve cash.

“It’s not just our dealership,” said N&S marketing director Tim McConiga Jr., who works out of the company’s sales office in Glenn County. “You talk to John Deere, you talk to Caterpillar, everyone is going to tell you their numbers are down.”

The drought has had varying impacts on different areas of the state, depending in part on who has first dibs on the dwindling water supply. Some growers have stronger water rights than others. Generally speaking, Sacramento Valley farmers have had it easier than their counterparts south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where the cutbacks have been more severe.

The Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts are delivering about 40 percent of their usual amounts. The Merced Irrigation District is far worse off, as are many of the West Side areas supplied by the federal Central Valley Project. The Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts have not had large cutbacks, but leaders worry about a dry 2015.

Regardless of geography, many growers have had to make difficult choices about which fields to water, leaving portions of their farms idle.

Bruce Rominger of Winters, chairman of the California Tomato Growers Association, made the decision to push ahead with his tomato crop at the expense of other commodities. With tomatoes selling for a robust $83 a ton, vs. about $70 a year ago, it was a matter of simple economics.

“Other crops are not getting the water,” said Rominger, who owns and leases a total of about 5,000 acres. “We sacrificed some alfalfa, we sacrified some sunflowers, we sacrificed quite a bit of rice. We fallowed 25 percent of our farm.”

Much of the processing tomato crop goes to canneries in Modesto, Oakdale, Escalon and Los Banos.

Almonds, citrus affected

Choosing to focus on one crop doesn’t guarantee victory. Even the $4 billion almond industry – the great success story of California agriculture in recent years – could not be shielded from the drought’s effects.

As worldwide demand for almonds has boomed, prices have soared past $4 a pound and farmers have responded with more supply. Orchard plantings have continued unabated, even this year. With water supplies running low, many almond growers set aside other commodities to keep their orchards going.

Even so, the almond yield declined. Blue Diamond Growers, the big farmer-owner almond cooperative based in Sacramento, predicts that production in California will fall this year to around 1.9 billion pounds when the harvest is complete in a few weeks. That compares with the 2 billion pounds harvested last year and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s forecast, released in late June, that this year’s crop would total 2.1 billion pounds.

What went wrong? Almonds are one of the thirstiest crops around, and there wasn’t enough water to generate big yields.

“I don’t think there was anyone who used as much (water) as they normally do,” said Dave Baker, director of member relations for Blue Diamond. The hot spells in June and July “stressed the trees even further” and curtailed production, he said.

With California accounting for 80 percent of global almond supply, Baker said he’s worried about being able to meet demand. “We have a growth industry,” he said.

Blue Diamond has plants also in Salida and Turlock, and several smaller processors are in or near Stanislaus County.

The lack of water last spring likely also has stunted navel orange production in the San Joaquin Valley, where harvest is expected to begin in a few weeks.

“We’re expecting some kind of damage to the crop,” said Alyssa Houtby, spokeswoman for California Citrus Mutual, a grower-owned association based in Tulare County. “We didn’t have the water in those key months.”

Economist Vernon Crowder, a senior vice president with agricultural lender Rabobank, said farmers went into this difficult season with a couple of advantages: Most commodity prices have risen in recent years, and most growers are in pretty good financial shape as a result. But another dry year could bring more serious hardship, he said.

“They have a little bit of cash to withstand this,” Crowder said. “They’re going to get through it. The real question is what is going to happen next year.”

Similar questions are being raised in the California wine industry, which produces much of its volume in the Modesto area. The last two grape harvests were extraordinarily strong, leaving an overhang of product that should help offset the slight declines in this year’s harvest. “Pricing should be steady,” said industry consultant Robert Smiley, a professor emeritus of business at UC Davis.

That doesn’t eliminate fears that next season’s crop could shrink substantially. Craig Ledbetter of Vino Farms, a Lodi grape producer, had enough water this year but said he’s afraid he’ll receive “curtailment notices” from the state signaling significant cutbacks in next season’s water supply.

“I’m very nervous about water,” said Ledbetter, who also raises wine grapes in Sonoma County. “If we don’t have a rainy winter, I can pretty much guarantee we’re all going to be receiving curtailment notices. If that happens, we’re going to be concerned about keeping the vine alive rather than harvesting it.”


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Banned Books Week: CDFA Secretary Karen Ross reads from “The Grapes of Wrath”

Banned Books Week is September 21-27, 2014

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross reading a favorite passage from Of Mice and Men. See the video online here.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross reading a favorite passage from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

To draw attention to the harms of censorship and celebrate the importance of free speech, the California State Library is hosting an online video “Read-Out” during Banned Book Week, September 21-27.

Many books that have been removed from library shelves and classrooms over the years are now considered classics of modern literature and taught in schools throughout the country. One such novel is John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, from which CDFA Secretary Karen Ross was invited to read. The book and its strong language for its time–1939–was banned due to its bare-knuckled portrayal of Dust Bowl refugees and the hardships they faced coming west. It was banned in at least one California county, and Joseph Stalin banned it in the Soviet Union.

California State Librarian Greg Lucas started the week by reading a passage from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Secretary Ross has joined other Brown Administration cabinet members in reading from banned books throughout the week. 

For further information, see the State Library’s press release.

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Statement from USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on New Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture

The Obama Administration today announced the launch of the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture, a new effort to promote greater international engagement on ways agriculture can help mitigate the impact of climate change. The announcement, during the United Nations Climate Summit in New York, demonstrates another key area in which the Obama Administration is leading efforts to collaborate with other nations and industry leaders to develop the next generation of solutions that will help agriculture adapt to modern climate challenges.

(USDA) Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said:

“Farmers, ranchers and other producers in the U.S. and around the world are feeling the impact of climate change now. They are experiencing production challenges from extended droughts, more severe flooding, stronger storms, and new pests and diseases. The Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture offers the opportunity to collaboratively share knowledge, make investments and develop policies that will empower all producers to adapt to climate change and to mitigate its consequences. Long term global food security depends on us acting together now.”

Link to news release

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El Dorado County Fair serves as key resource during King Fire

Cal Fire has set-up a command center for the King Fire at the El Dorado County fairgrounds.

Cal Fire has set-up a command center for the King Fire at the El Dorado County fairgrounds.

With the massive King Fire northeast of Placerville continuing to burn, the El Dorado County Fairgrounds continues its critical role as a nerve center for fire fighters as they work to gain the upper hand.

The fairgrounds are serving as a command center for Cal Fire, and is home base for roughly 5,000 firefighters and support personnel. Fair staff members are providing 24-hour maintenance and support for what has become a small city with a number of urgent needs – fork lifts and drivers; garbage, electrical, tools and equipment; tables, chairs and stages; and coordination with neighbors for overflow issues such as signs, directional barricades  and traffic flow.

It is also the home for a number of evacuated animals – horses, cows, goats, poultry, alpacas and a llama. fairgrounds staff set up pens, water troughs  and cages for the animals, and the group South County Large Animal Rescue (SCHLAR) is assisting with 24-hour care of the animals, coordinating feeding, exercising and cleaning of the pens.

The office staff is busy fielding calls from the community with an outpouring of volunteers and donations. They are also accepting and posting letters, cards and posters filled with gratitude and well wishes for the firefighters.  The fair is using its Facebook page to keep people informed.

CDFA’s Division of Fairs and Expositions provides fiscal and policy oversight to the network of California fairs and ensures compliance with laws and regulations. California’s 78 fairs are located throughout the Golden State from the early spring to the fall of each year. We are proud to call them our partners.

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Big Fresno Fair looks to conserve water during upcoming run – from ABC-30, Fresno

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What’s Plantable? It’s the new gardening app from the California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers

screen568x568We farmers love our tractors, but if you had to pick an official “tool of the 21st century,” you’d probably put the “app” at the top of that list. Apps (mobile device software applications) are a great way to reach the Millennial audience on its own technological wavelength. Our friends over at the California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers (CANGC) have joined in the fun, launching the new Plantable app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod.

Available online at, this resource gives consumers a swipable menu of DIY projects like “The Incredible, Edible Patio Garden” and “House Plants that Clean the Air,” complete with materials lists and simple, straightforward instructions. It’s the kind of tool that can transform a young, urban audience into new urban farmers and home gardeners, giving them a chance to share a little bit of the thrill that farmers get every time they bring a crop to harvest.

CANGC developed the Plantable app with the help of a $237,000 grant from CDFA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The app will help drive young consumers to nurseries and garden centers, which is great for the industry – but it also accomplishes the goal of raising consumers’ “ag IQ” and that’s good news for all of us.

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California school district rewrites menu for student lunches – Video from PBS

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