A look back at Earth Day – from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross Ross (second from left) at Iron Horse Vineyards in Sebastopol for an Earth Day celebrations on Sunday, April 23. Other in the photo, from left, are chef Traci Des Jardins, Stacey Sullivan of Sustainable Conservation, and Joy Sterling, president of Iron Horse and a member of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross (second from left) at Iron Horse Vineyards in Sebastopol for an Earth Day celebration on Sunday, April 23. Others in the photo, from left, are chef Traci Des Jardins, Stacey Sullivan of Sustainable Conservation, and Joy Sterling, CEO of Iron Horse and a member of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture.

By Kevin McCallum

Often critiqued for their outsized impact on a changing environment, farmers are actually key to helping California achieve its aggressive conservation and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.

That was the Earth Day message California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross brought to the sun-drenched Sonoma countryside Sunday.

Speaking at a private event on a hillside at Sebastopol’s Iron Horse Vineyards, Ross praised CEO Joy Sterling and her family for stewardship of their 300-acre property in the prized Green Valley appellation.

“We recognize that conserving our farmland, conserving our natural working landscapes and managing them in a way that stores carbon is the solution,” Ross said.

Sterling’s family has close ties to Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration, and she sits on the state’s Food and Agricultural Board.

Ross touted Brown’s environmental leadership, including his call for the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, as well as the sustainability efforts of the wine industry, which she knows well from her 13 years heading the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

Ross reminded the assembled wine lovers that as consumers, they hold the power to ensure the climate accord struck in Paris last year — which many feel is now imperiled by the Trump administration — is ultimately successful.

“It was businesses and individuals and nonprofits that came together, which tells you no matter what the policies are in Washington, D.C., the market and the people at the grass roots are not going to allow it to change,” Ross said.

Ross noted that the state’s 77,600 farmers need the support of its 40 million residents if they are going to be successful in adapting to climate change.

“We need a partnership to support our farmers in the changes that they embody, and this farm is a perfect example,” Ross said.

“This region is a perfect example.”

Sterling cited just a few of the sustainability efforts the property has taken over the years, noting that state biologists released 8.400 juvenile coho into Green Valley Creek last month from the property.

She also noted the irony that while the menu for the event included veggie burgers, the property on which it was held was a 1920s cattle corral.

“That’s exactly how change happens — you repurpose things, and you rethink about them,” Sterling said.

In a nod to the importance of preventing food waste, Komal Ahmad, CEO of food-sharing app Copia, explained how her organization began as a way to get perfectly fine food that was going to waste at UC Berkeley into the hands of the homeless and is now on track to feed 1 million people this year.

“We really want to solve what we believe is the world’s dumbest problem,” Ahmad said of food waste.

Money from Sunday’s event will support the San Francisco-based nonprofit Sustainable Conservation, which works with businesses to promote an array of environmental initiatives, including waste-to-energy projects and habitat restoration.

“Farmers are at the interface of human society and the natural world, and they are there every day,” said Stacey Sullivan, policy director of Sustainable Conservation. “Who better to celebrate Earth Day with?”

Link to story

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It Only Takes One Person to Spread Harmful Invasive Pests

hungry_pests_2

CDFA is observing Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month throughout April. The USDA, CDFA and organizations across the agricultural spectrum are reminding the public about the risks that invasive plant pests, diseases and harmful weeds pose to America’s crops and forests—and how we all can prevent their spread.

Each year, harmful invasive plant pests and diseases cost the United States about $40 billion in crop losses, damage to forests and vulnerable ecosystems, and expensive eradication and control efforts. It only takes one person who moves one piece of infested firewood, one infected plant, or one piece of infested fruit to spread these invasive pests to a new area. That’s why USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has designated April as Invasive Plant Pest and Disease Awareness Month. Spring is the perfect time to remind everyone of the simple steps they can take to prevent the spread of harmful invasive plant pests.

For example, USDA believes Huanglongbing (HLB, or citrus greening) was spread from Florida to California by one person who likely mailed an infected plant to that State. HLB was first detected in Florida in 2005 and has since spread rapidly. A concerted effort by USDA, California and the citrus industry is underway to find new strategies in the fight against HLB.

The good news is that individuals can also stop the spread of invasive pests by looking for and reporting suspicious insects or signs of damage. For example, the Asian longhorned beetle was detected in Boston in 2010 when a single groundskeeper with a keen eye noticed and reported an unusual dime-sized hole in a tree. That one call provided early warning to jump-start an eradication effort that quickly eliminated this destructive pest from that city.

Here’s what you can do to help keep invasive pests from spreading as spring gets underway and all year round:

  • Spring is a busy time for buying plants. Buy yours from reputable nurseries or online businesses. Ask if they comply with federal and state quarantine restrictions to ensure their plants are pest-free.
  • Planning to travel? Whether it’s between states or to another country, check with your local USDA office before you bring back fruits, vegetables or plants so you know what’s allowed. And when returning from abroad, always declare all agricultural items to U.S. Customs and Border Protection so they can make sure items are free of harmful pests or diseases.
  • When enjoying the great outdoors, don’t move untreated firewood. Instead, buy or responsibly gather firewood near the place you’ll burn it. Or, take certified, heat-treated firewood on your trip with you.
  • If you live in an area under state or federal quarantine for an invasive pest, don’t move produce or plants off your property. Call your local USDA office to find out how to safely dispose of yard debris like trees and branches. Also, allow authorized agricultural workers access to your property for pest or disease surveys.
  • Make sure to clean outdoor items before moving them. Wash dirt from outdoor gear and tires before traveling long distances to or from fishing, hunting or camping trips. If relocating to a new home, clean lawn furniture and other outdoor items before placing them in a moving van or storage pod.
  • Finally, report any signs of invasive pests by going to http://www.HungryPests.com

To learn more, visit www.HungryPests.com or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter. The website includes photos and descriptions of 19 invasive pests that can be moved easily by people, an online federal quarantine tracker by state, and phone numbers for reporting signs of invasive pests. Questions? Contact CDFA’s pest hotline at 1-800-491-1899.

 

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Secretary Ross visits students in Fresno

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross speaking today at the annual Future Farmers of America (FFA) Conference in Fresno. Secretary Ross also visited Fresno State today, sharing with college and high school students alike a vision of the future of California agriculture, and urging young people to consider careers in Ag or related fields.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross speaking today at the annual Future Farmers of America (FFA) Convention in Fresno. Secretary Ross also visited Fresno State University, sharing with college and high school students alike a vision for the future of California agriculture, and urging young people to consider careers in Ag or related fields.

TV coverage from ABC-30:

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Ag investment in tech is booming – from Ag Web

Ag tech 5

By Susan Skiles Luke

If it seems to you advanced ag technology is invading farm fields across America, you should see Silicon Valley. Investors have poured more than $10 billion into agtech inventions since 2014, according to AgFunder, an online marketplace tracking the sector.

One thing that has become increasingly clear to many investors:  farmers are key to the process.

“We’re on the cusp of the next agricultural revolution, and this one is going to be digital as well as biological,” says Louisa Burwood-Taylor, AgFunder’s head of media and research. Just as the first relatively simple cell phones hit the market in the 1990s, touching off a race to innovation and fast adoption just a few years later, the same is happening in agtech, she says. “We’re just at the beginning.”

Of the $3.2 billion invested in 2016, the largest portion, 40%, went toward developing new food-service and e-commerce technologies, such as services that deliver fresh groceries and link consumers to food production, according to AgFunder. FreshDirect is one example. The second-largest chunk of investment, 22%, went toward coming up with new biotechnology tools, such as a new microbial seed coating for cotton. Indigo Agriculture is an example in this category. The third-largest portion of investment, at 11%, went toward farm-management software, according to AgFunder. FarmersEdge is an example in this group.

More than 300 start-up companies and investors gathered in Silicon Valley recently to showcase their inventions and look for opportunities.  Some (but not all!) of the new agtech creating buzz:

  • FarmDog: An online tool that uses independent data to illustrate your (and your neighbors’) pest and disease management
  • Benson Hill Biosystems: A ‘computational breeding’ platform that promises to breed new seed traits in half the time it typically takes
  • Blue River Technology: Which has a robotic sprayer that recognizes and reacts to the needs of individual plants

One prominent theme of the conference was farmers. While Silicon Valley has plenty of data scientists, these start-ups are often short on real farmers to ground-truth the new technologies, says Kirk Haney, CEO of a new agtech acceleration fund called Radicle, whose major backers include Bayer CropScience, DuPont Pioneer and the agtech venture fund Finistere. That can be an obstacle when investors are accustomed to high-tech inventions going from drawing board to customer hands – and profitable mass adoption — in a year or less, he says.

“Investors have two enemies: time and money,” Haney says. “But once you involve venture capital, your enemy is time.”

Farmers interested in serving on user groups or otherwise volunteering to test new technologies – or who want to show off their own inventions — can visit Radicle’s website at http://radicle.vc and click on Contact. After all, says Haney, “You have to have dirt under your fingernails to know farming.”

Link to article

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Secretary Ross joins Land O’ Lakes for sizable food bank donation

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross (center) visited the Placer  Food Bank this week with representatives from Land O'Lakes, which donated 40-thousand pounds of macaroni and cheese and 20-thousand  pounds of refrigerated desserts.  CDFA  works closely with agriculture to increase contributions to food banks across California.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross (center) visited the Placer Food Bank this week with representatives of Land O’Lakes, which donated 40-thousand pounds of macaroni and cheese and 20-thousand pounds of refrigerated desserts. CDFA works closely with agriculture to increase contributions to food banks across California.

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A Farm Bill for our farmers

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CDFA is in the midst of preparing California’s recommendations for the 2018 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill is renewed every five years and serves as the policy guideline for food and farming in the United States. The legislation touches all of us in numerous ways, as this series of blog posts explains in greater detail.

When first passed in 1933, the Farm Bill (then known as the Agricultural Adjustment Act) was designed to incentivize struggling growers to produce more food for Americans suffering from the Great Depression. Although that time has long since passed, America’s farmers and ranchers continue to face challenges ranging from volatile market prices to erratic weather patterns.

Take, for example, California’s historic drought: according to economic analyses conducted by UC Davis, California’s drought caused $5.6 billion in losses to the state’s agricultural economy in its final three years. For California’s farmers and ranchers, the farm bill not only provides a healthy safety net, but more importantly, peace of mind.

Specifically, three titles within the Farm Bill help create a strong safety net for our farmers and ranchers: commodities, crop insurance and trade.

Safety Net – Commodity and Insurance

The 2014 Farm Bill brought wholesale changes to programs that support traditional commodity crops. Under the 2014 legislation, both Direct Payments and Average Crop Revenue Election programs were replaced with two new programs: Price Loss Coverage (PLC), which makes payments to growers when the price of covered crops drop below a government set reference price; and Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC), which covers a farmer’s out-of-pocket loss when revenue declines.  Additionally, under the 2014 bill, growers gained the ability to choose between both.

For Californians, the Farm Bill commodity programs need to cast a wider net. California’s unmatched range of crops means that many of our commodities do not fall under typical Farm Bill titles, so they do not qualify for insurance or commodity support.  A future Farm Bill should look to expand these definitions to include the diversity of crops grown in California.

Trade

As the world’s fifth-largest supplier of food, California’s agriculture sector is a primary player in global trade. In 2015, California exported approximately 26 percent of its agricultural production by volume, at a value of more than $20 billion. Significantly, California is the nation’s sole exporter of many agricultural commodities. We supply 99 percent or more of the following crops: almonds, artichokes, dates, dried plums, figs, garlic, kiwifruit, olives and olive oil, pistachios, raisins, table grapes, and walnuts.

In order to continue providing our high-quality products abroad, California farmers and ranchers rely on several trade/food supply related programs, including the Market Access Program (MAP), Foreign Market Development Program (FMDP), Emerging Markets Program (EMP) and Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) program.  A future Farm Bill should continue to support these trade programs to ensure equitable trade and global access for our farmers and ranchers.

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Update to California Ag Vision Released – Framework for Future Action by the California State Board of Food and Agriculture

From water to labor, the dynamics of farming and ranching continue to change. In this environment, building meaningful relationships is critical to telling the story of California agriculture. I truly believe that California is a better place to live, because of what we grow and how we grow it.  However, this belief is not always shared in the marketplace and the regulatory arena. We need to do a better job engaging those (all of us!) with a stake in the success of California agriculture.

Ag Vision 2016_2017This is why we have Ag Vision – it serves as a blueprint for the State Board to engage with regulators and other stakeholders to focus on the long-term success of California agriculture as well as address some of the shorter-term needs of the state’s farmers, ranchers and farm workers.

Ag Vision was first developed in 2010 and has been updated several times as the board has reviewed changing landscapes.

Our most recent update is focused on five strategic priorities: Water; Regulatory Environment; Labor/Human Capital; Resource Preservation & Stewardship; and Outreach & Communications.

The update includes two new goals that emphasize the need to create connections between farmers and the consuming public, as well as the need for agricultural entities to thrive.

California Agricultural Vision 2016/2017

Each of these issues is critical to farming and ranching in our state. These priorities were determined in collaboration with a diverse stakeholder group representing agricultural, environmental and consumer interests.  It is our diversity that makes California so unique. I look forward to discussing farming and ranching with all of our constituents and engaging them on what it means to be a farmer or rancher in our state.

I would like to thank the many individuals who participated in the Ag Vision Update as well as Nuffer, Smith, Tucker, Inc. for guiding the process.

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Citrus Stride: farmers, fitness and food banks at the State Capitol

California Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross joined citrus farmers and food bank advocates today at the State Capitol to celebrate the second annual Citrus Stride – a one mile walk around Capitol Park to raise awareness about hunger and celebrate the positive impact that citrus has on the health, economy, and environment of California.

For each participant who registered for Citrus Stride, California Citrus Mutual growers pledged to donate 1,000 pounds of citrus to California food banks.

 

 

 

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CDFA to host FundMatch webinar on April 25th for California food businesses – learn, connect and compete in export markets

The California Department of Food and Agriculture, in coordination with the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association (WUSATA) will be holding a webinar on federal market development programs designed to assist California companies in expanding export sales.

The webinar will be held on April 25th from 9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. – Register here

Fund Match ManualWUSATA’s FundMatch program provides reimbursement for promotional trade activities for small food and agricultural businesses wishing to expand market share and sales in foreign countries – effectively doubling marketing dollars. Eligible activities can include trade shows (domestic/foreign); advertising; retail promotions; printed sales material; seminars; translation and more.

Food and agricultural based businesses interested in or currently exporting are encouraged to participate.

The Western U.S. Agricultural Trade Association (WUSATA) is a non-profit organization aimed at increasing the export of U.S. food and agricultural products. WUSATA works closely with each state department of agriculture in the west to enhance the economic well-being of the region.  For more than 30 years, WUSATA has offered programs and services to assist exporters of food and agricultural products. WUSATA is funded by the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), dues from its member states, and administrative fees paid by private companies.

 

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Secretary Ross at dairy digester unveiling in Kings County

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross speaking today at the unveiling of a new dairy digester at Philip Verwey Farms in Hanford. CDFA's Dairy Digester Research and Development Program contributed $3 million for the project, which will provide an estimated greenhouse gas reduction of 53,577 metric tons of CO2e per year – that’s equivalent to 11,317 passenger vehicles.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross speaking today at the unveiling of a new dairy digester at Philip Verwey Farms in Hanford. CDFA’s Dairy Digester Research and Development Program contributed $3 million for the project, which will provide an estimated greenhouse gas reduction of 53,577 metric tons of CO2e per year – that’s equivalent to 11,317 passenger vehicles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secretary Ross greets dairy owner Philip Verwey (R) and his son, Brent.

Secretary Ross greets dairy owner Philip Verwey (L) and his son, Brent, and thanks them for being early adopters of modern dairy digester technology.

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