Agriculture well-represented at Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Awards


CDFA Secretary Karen Ross joined colleagues from across state government this week to honor recipients of the annual Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Awards (GEELA).

The GEELA program is California’s highest environmental honor – recognizing individuals, organizations, and businesses that have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made notable, voluntary contributions in conserving California’s precious resources; protecting and enhancing our environment; building public-private partnerships; and strengthening the state’s economy.

Secretary Ross was pleased to present awards to Parducci Wine Cellars, for its efforts to conserve and reclaim water; to the Lodi Winegrape Commission, for its rules for sustainable winegrowing; and the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, for the development of metrics for water, energy, and nitrogen use, as well as greenhouse gas emissions.

GEELA is administered by the California Environmental Protection Agency, in partnership with the Natural Resources Agency; the Department of Food and Agriculture; the State Transportation Agency; the Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency; the Labor and Workforce Development Agency; and the Health and Human Services Agency.

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Hopes for drought’s end fade as California rains vanish – from Bloomberg

dry river


By Brian K. Sullivan

California will reach the halfway point in its rainy season this weekend. Hopes that the three-year drought will be washed away are probably already in the past.

While December brought heavy rains that put the state on pace for a normal season, there hasn’t been much precipitation since then. Since Jan. 1, Sacramento and Fresno have received too little to measure.

“We’ve had four weeks of a very minimal amount of rain in the northern part of the state, which is where our key reservoirs lie,” said Pete Fickenscher, senior hydrologist at the California Nevada River Forecast Center in Sacramento.

Now the forecast calls for a high pressure ridge to form along the West Coast, bringing sun, mild temperatures and an extended dry spell.

“They certainly have a dry forecast with that ridge,” said Brian Hurley, a meteorologist with the Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland. “That ridge is going to keep it dry through the weekend.”

The ridge may also deflect any storms coming in off the Pacific, sending them farther north, he said.

California’s drought will probably extend into a fourth year if rain doesn’t fall and snow doesn’t pile up in the mountains. Governor Jerry Brown declared an emergency a year ago and asked residents to cut water use by 20 percent.

The drought affects about 37 million people and 77.5 percent of California is suffering extreme drought or worse, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor in Lincoln, Nebraska.

As of Jan. 21, some of the state’s largest reservoirs are ahead of last year’s levels, according to the California Data Exchange Center’s website. Lakes Shasta and Oroville, for instance, have more water in them than they did a year ago.

While it may look optimistic, without rain to sustain them those hopes could fade. According to one measure, the Northern California Eight Station Index, the state is on track for its driest January on record, Fickenscher said.

In order to equal a normal year, California will need 25 inches of liquid equivalent, either from rain or snow, in February and March, based on U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, said Matthew Rosencrans, a meteorologist at the Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“They would need records amounts of precipitation to get back to normal,” Rosencrans said. “There will be one or two more storms, but I don’t think it will be the year that turns the tide.”

It may take years to replenish California’s groundwater, Fickenscher said. As for the drought on the surface, the message since the start of the rainy season hasn’t changed.

“What we really need is some concentrated rain back-to-back,” Fickenscher said. “We had one good month; we need to two or three months. It’s looking like it’s probably not going to break out this year.”

Link to story

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New for the 2015 growing season: brochures provide nitrogen fertilization guidelines

AlmondFertGuidelinesCoverOver the past 20-plus years, California farmers have come to know CDFA’s Fertilizer Research and Education Program (FREP) office as a respected resource for the science of crop nutrients. Recently, through a joint project with UC Davis, FREP has completed its most ambitious effort yet – synthesizing years of research into an accessible online database and online crop fertilization guidelines designed for growers. That project is getting a boost from a new series of brochures debuting in 2015, each summarizing the online nitrogen fertilization guidelines for an important California crop. The first, pictured here, is for almonds. The second, for walnuts, is also available online, with others to follow.

The brochures lead growers through nitrogen fertilization needs for each of the major annual stages, from bloom in the spring to fruit development in the summer, and then post-harvest in the fall. Guidelines are also provided for fertilization of young trees. The brochures cover application timing and rates as well as guidance on uptake, leaf analyses and fertilizer types. Growers looking for additional details will find easy links in the brochures to supporting data and references online. The web site also includes guidelines for other essential nutrients including phosphorus and potassium.

These guidelines, both in the brochure format and on the web site, can give farmers important information to help with on-farm decisions. However, they are not intended to be a replacement for in-depth discussions with local farm advisors or fertilization experts about site-specific adjustments based on soil type, climate and crop management.

For more information, contact the CDFA Fertilizer Research and Education Program at (916) 900-5022 or

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UC Davis launches Innovation Institute for Food and Health – from the Sacramento Bee


By Edward Ortiz 

The fate of the world’s food supply, the relationship of food to health, and the role of venture capital in farming were among a slate of issues tackled by noted national scientists and others during the official launch of the Innovation Institute for Food and Health at UC Davis on Wednesday.

The center is a partnership between the university and Mars Inc., and signals a deepening of a 40-year relationship between the two.

The institute is destined to operate under the umbrella of UC Davis’ planned World Food Center, which the university has said it wants to establish in Sacramento, possibly in the downtown railyard.

Wednesday’s event at the Mondavi Center was the first held by the innovation institute, which will be funded with $40 million from Mars, the company best known as the maker of Snickers and M&Ms. UC Davis will contribute $20 million.

“This will be a research-based relationship, but there is another element to it. It will also be an innovation-based relationship,” said Harold Schmitz, chief science officer at Mars Inc.

In participating, Mars hopes to find a sustainable business model it can use in the long term for its food operations – especially its growing pet food operation.

For UC Davis, the institute is being seen as a Silicon Valley-like center where startups and innovative research will be created within the food realm.

Mars will not be the only company involved in the center. Other companies, universities and entities will eventually be brought into the fold, said Linda P.B. Katehi, chancellor of UC Davis.

“A number of faculty have already started collaboration work with other companies, and we will invite them to participate,” Katehi said. She did not specify which companies are involved, or what research might be included.

The broad-based approach the institute seeks to take in tackling food issues was evident in the wide-ranging and powerhouse roster of speakers invited to the symposia.

One of those was molecular biologist and Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, who spoke about how education and genetics affect health. Blackburn won a Nobel prize in medicine in 2009 for her research into how chromosomes are protected by shoelace cap-like end pieces called telomeres.

Blackburn related a key study of 100,000 Californians that found those who did not finish high school had shorter telomeres, a phenomenon correlated with the onset of disease, like cancer.

Blackburn said that an innovation institute could allow such research to get into the hands of those who can use it for the public good.

“Communication is absolutely the key thing,” Blackburn said. “Scientists are skeptical of other areas of science. There’s a lot of mutual mistrust.”

Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, also attended. “I believe this is a watershed moment for food and health” she said. “At the end of the day, nutrition education is an important foundation for helping our youth learn lifelong habits and this is the kind of thing that should happen in this region.”

Climate change and its effect on food security was also a topic of discussion.

“We’re at a tipping point where we’ve seen warning signals. We can no longer plead ignorance, we’re no longer bystanders,” said Benjamin Santer, atmospheric scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “So, I hope this new institute can do a better job of communicating the science of climate change.”


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El Capitan Achievement Celebrated with California Sparkling Wine

Here area couple of exciting photos of Sonoma County native Kevin Jorgeson and his climbing partner Tommy Caldwell celebrating with California sparkling wine after scaling the Dawn Wall of El Capitan – a feat that has earned them admiration and cheers from all over the world.

Ocean Reserve

The featured wine is the Ocean Reserve Blanc de Blanc from Iron Horse Vineyards – whose sales help promote the National Geographic’s Ocean Initiative. Joy Sterling, CEO of Iron Horse Vineyards is also a member of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture.


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California conservation projects in new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program


Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that 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.  Vilsack made the announcement near Phoenix, where the new program will invest in a project with five local partners to clean and conserve water along the Verde River, a tributary of the Colorado River.

“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.

Link to complete news release

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“Coins for Cans” highlights final days of Holiday Food Drive

CDFA employees Merry Wells, Debby Tanouye, Conor O'Brien and Jaime XXX rounding up donations of cash for "Coins for Cans." an initative marking the finals days of the California State Employees Food Drive, which will end on January 16. CDFA staffers at headquarters and the Gateway Oaks office donated XXXX, in addition to contributions earlier in the food drive. The goal is to raise 10 million pounds of food. We're close, but we need a final push this week to take us over the top.

CDFA employees Merry Wells, Debby Tanouye, Conor O’Brien and Jaime Robles rounding up donations of cash for “Coins for Cans,” an initiative marking the final days of the California State Employees Food Drive, which will end on January 16. Co-workers at CDFA headquarters and the Gateway Oaks office were asked for spare change and donated nearly $500, in addition to contributions made earlier in the food drive. The goal is to raise 10-thousand pounds of food. We need a big push this week to take us over the top! More information is available at the California State Employees Food Drive web site

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Recent CDFA Border Protection Station activities protect bird flocks and citrus

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An old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The California Department of Food and Agriculture practices this principle through its Border Protection Stations. There are 16 of them along the state’s perimeter, staffed by state employees dedicated to protecting our food supply and environment from invasive species. Each year, the Border Stations intercept thousands of potentially dangerous invasives before they can enter California.

Two recent issues demonstrate the broad reach of the Border Stations. In late 2014, inspectors at our Needles station stopped a moving van and found a citrus tree, which was confiscated. Subsequent testing revealed it was carrying huanglonbing (HLB), or citrus greening, a fatal disease of citrus spread by the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), which has infested a substantial portion of southern California and has also moved into some counties to the north. Fortunately, HLB has been detected in the state just once, and the excellent work at Needles helped keep it that way.

With recent detections of high-pathogenic avian influenza (AI) in wild birds in Washington-state, Oregon and California, CDFA is keeping close tabs on all birds passing through its Border Stations. Our veterinarians know it’s a short journey for AI from wild birds to commercial flocks, so it’s critical to monitor the disease very closely. In this recent event, early detection by regulatory agencies in all three states and preventive measures already in place on our farms have helped prevent these cases from moving into our commercial flocks. It is important to note that the detected strains of AI are not a risk to human health and have not been found in commercial poultry in the United States – and the proactive, preventive efforts underway here in California help keep it that way, including the crucial work at Border Protection Stations.

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The Tournament of Roses – a California Grown opportunity to honor tradition and look to the future

Cal Poly's float at the 2015 Rose parade

Cal Poly’s award-winning float, “Soaring Stories,” at the 2015 Rose Parade. Photos courtesy of the California Cut Flower Commission 

Over the last several years I have been honored to receive invitations from the California Cut Flower Commission to spend time with them at the Tournament of Roses, and I was fortunate to be able to visit Pasadena again last week for the annual festivities. The Commission has developed partnerships with the Buy California Marketing Agreement (CA Grown), the floral company FTD, and Cal Poly (both the SLO and Pomona campuses) to place floats in the Rose Parade consisting of California-grown flowers!

Prior to the parade, I was pleased to provide certification that 85 percent of the flowers on the Cal Poly float were California Grown. This is the fourth year in a row the university’s float has been able to qualify for the CA Grown certification. It requires extraordinary planning, creative designs, and innovative engineering on the part of the students as well as a year-round working relationship with flower growers who donate many of the flowers used and have to know the design in order to plant the right crops to be ready for the big day. And all that work paid off – the float won the Lathrop K. Leishman award for the Most Beautiful Non-Commercial Float!

Once again, I was impressed by the outstanding Cal Poly students and their advisors. Their commitment, collaboration and hard work is inspiring and reminds me that the best crop we produce in California is our students – the future of our state.

A first at this year’s parade was CA Grown certification for the cars carrying Rose Bowl VIPs. The cars were sponsored and decorated by FTD. Its floral designer was thrilled to receive the CA Grown certification! In accepting the certificate, he noted that his inspiration comes from being able to work directly with California flower farmers.

The Cut Flower Commission is encouraged by the visibility the certification creates within the FTD national network of floral designers. Proof-positive of the benefits of this exciting partnership to keep locally-grown flowers at the center of the fabulous Tournament of Roses!

The newly released movie Unbroken tells the story of Louis Zamperini, this year’s Rose Parade Grand Marshal, who unfortunately passed away in July. FTD Flowers honored him by adorning a 1936 Packard Standard Eight with delicate flower varieties alongside Olympic rings to celebrate Zamperini’s medal in the 1936 Berlin Games and a ribbon in tribute to his military service.

The newly released movie Unbroken tells the story of Louis Zamperini, this year’s Rose Parade Grand Marshal, who unfortunately passed away in July. FTD Flowers honored him by adorning a 1936 Packard Standard Eight with delicate flower varieties alongside Olympic rings to celebrate Zamperini’s medal in the 1936 Berlin Games, and a ribbon in tribute to his military service.

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Restaurant scraps returned to farms as compost in new program – from the Sacramento Bee

Scott Thompson, program director for ReSoil Sacramento, transports scraps collected from a local restaurant.  ANDREW SENG ASENG@SACBEE.COM

Scott Thompson, program director for ReSoil Sacramento, transports scraps collected from a local restaurant. Photo by Andrew Seng -ASENG@SACBEE.COM


By Edward Ortiz

It’s farm to fork to farm.

That describes the loop that is near and dear to Sacramentan David Baker, co-founder of ReSoil Sacramento, a local effort to use bikes to pick up food scraps at area restaurants and deliver them to local farms and gardens.

Baker and ReSoil program director Scott Thompson have designed it is a zero-emission endeavor – all of it is pedal-powered, and intensely local.

Three days a week, Baker and others at ReSoil take to the streets on bicycles pulling custom-made trailers. The bikers haul 32-gallon composting bins that they’ve picked up at restaurants.

ReSoil, which started operating six months ago, is a project of the nonprofit Green Restaurants Alliance Sacramento, or GRAS. The endeavor is mostly funded by donations. Typically a restaurant is encouraged to donate $50 monthly per bin, said Baker. The organization also solicits donations on Twitter and Facebook.

ReSoil picks up scraps – known as “pre-consumer waste” – at 18 restaurants, including Hot Italian, Sun and Soil, and Selland’s Market Cafe.

Waterboy, which has also been working with ReSoil since June, discards into the bins items such as vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, egg shells and even recyclable hand towels, said Adam Schultze, executive chef of the midtown eatery.

The restaurant has contributed 6,041 pounds of food scraps since it started participating in ReSoil. That effort has yielded compost that has been taken to Sacramento farm soils, said Baker.

“For years and years our waste was going out to the landfill without getting used instead of helping these farmers and pop-up gardens around town,” said Schultze. “We really appreciate that – it’s an example of garbage being turned into something good.”

Every week more restaurants sign up, Baker said. Midtown craft cocktail bar Shady Lady and the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op both recently agreed to host ReSoil bins.

Selland’s has been participating in the ReSoil effort since July, said Josh Nelson, co-owner of Selland’s. What does not end up on a plate gets set aside in a yellow ReSoil bin kept inside the restaurant.

“We just separate our pre-consumer waste, and they pick it up,” Nelson said of ReSoil. “At this point it’s something I don’t have to give any thought to. It’s like we’re on autopilot.”

When Baker talks about the composting pickup and delivery effort, it’s a passionate conversation.

“I wasn’t so into dirt when I started this project, but now I’m fascinated by the zillions of microbes that surround us every day,” said Baker. “These microbes enable things like kimchi, beer, wine and compost – and life itself.”

Baker’s original inspiration was restaurateur Alice Waters and her Chez Panisse restaurant.

“She did this from the very beginning,” said Baker. “Farms would bring her produce, and (the restaurant) would compost, and she’d send it back.”

Baker’s focus is to get as much compost as possible into the hands that need them, namely community gardens and urban farmers.

“The local compost was no longer going back into the soil,” Baker said. “ReSoil is our way of controlling it, and getting it back to where we wanted it to go – back into community gardens, back into the ground.”

Urban farmers such as Chanowk Yisrael in south Oak Park see the ReSoil effort as a crucial step in the urban farming process. He gladly takes what ReSoil has to offer for his 11/2-acre Yisrael Family Urban Farm.

“ReSoil provides the bulk of our kitchen scraps for our compost piles,” said Yisrael. “If it wasn’t for the scraps they give us, we’d have to buy compost from an outside source.”

Purchasing compost would not only add to operating costs, but the farm also would move away from its focus on keeping everything it does local.

“That loop system of farming is one we’re striving to maintain,” said Yisrael. “Because what you put back into the soil is local and not outsourced from a far-away location.”

On a larger scale, what ReSoil is doing may have an effect on greenhouse gas issues.

Research has shown that composting can help soil sequester carbon and improve soil fertility and water retention. A recent UC Berkeley study showed that even a one-time dusting of compost substantially boosted the soil’s carbon storage, and the effect has persisted over six years.

ReSoil recently passed the 60,850-pound mark for its scrap pickup. By Baker’s calculations, that effort has eliminated 7.7 tons of methane from the environment, without adding diesel or carbon monoxide to the environment along the way.

He sees what ReSoil does as a no-brainer.

“The nutrient cycle of farm to fork and back to farm? That was nature’s idea. It was the original idea,” he said.

Link to story



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