Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

Proposed revision to Produce Safety Rule agricultural water requirements — comment period open through April 5

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing a revision of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule that would change the pre-harvest agricultural water requirements for farms covered by the Produce Safety Rule (other than sprouts). Most California fruit, vegetable and nut farms are covered by the Produce Safety Rule, including those with more than $25,000 in average annual produce sales, with some exceptions.

FDA’s proposed revision is intended to address stakeholder concerns about the complexity and practical implementation of certain pre-harvest agricultural water requirements. The proposed revision does not change requirements for agricultural water used during and after harvest, or for sprouts. It would introduce a systems-based, pre-harvest agricultural water assessment to evaluate potential hazards and guide risk management decision-making on the farm. Public comments about the FDA’s proposed revision may be submitted via the Federal Register until April 5, 2022.

In California, the Produce Safety Rule is regulated on FDA’s behalf by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Produce Safety Program. During the proposed revision’s comment period and until the FDA rulemaking process has been completed, CDFA’s Produce Safety Program will maintain the current inspection process related to this section of the Produce Safety Rule.

Visit CDFA’s Produce Safety Program webpage for more information about farms covered by the Produce Safety Rule.

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New FFA program helps students transition to college

From a Farm Credit Alliance news release

Going off to college is a big leap into the unknown for most college-bound high school seniors – especially when they’re doing so in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. To help ease the transition, the California Association of Future Farmers of America (FFA) has introduced a new program to make that leap a little more manageable – and to remind the students that there are many pathways to a career in California agriculture.

Funded in part by grants from Farm Credit, the Change Makers Summit: The Future Awaits! is a two-day program aimed at incoming high school seniors, explained Maureen Funk, the California FFA Foundation’s development director.

“The original plan, pre-pandemic, was that prior to their senior year, seniors would take time out and go to a conference at a college campus, experience life in the dorms, and have conversations with FFA alums about what skills they need to develop during their senior year to get ready for their next steps,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for them to stop and reflect for a bit – you’re almost done with this program, what’s next?”

Of course, due to COVID-19, the conference had to be virtual. The first one was held in the spring of 2021 for students about to graduate from high school, with a second session held in August for incoming seniors. FFA is planning to hold the program again this year, but plans are not yet final.

Rob Faris, President and CEO of Golden State Farm Credit, said the program is designed to help students use the skills they have gained and fulfill their life’s purpose after leaving the FFA blue and gold.

“The FFA alumni volunteers help students identify the specific skills they have gained from their FFA education and help them create a career plan that highlights how those skills will help them find success,” Faris said. “The volunteers also outline specific service projects seniors can undertake in their home communities or at college, and the seniors will leave knowing how capable, valuable and marketable they are.”

Maureen Funk said 164 students participated last April and another 207 did so in August.

“Our target was 150 participants at each session, so we were very pleased with the outcomes. Both sessions included a broad band of students from all our areas and participation was very good. The interns and volunteers all felt they got really good feedback and that it was a valuable experience.”

For more information about the summit, visit https://calaged.org/change-makers-summit.

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Information on free COVID tests from federal government

Graphic from the California Department of Public Health

The federal government has launched a website that allows individuals to order free at-home COVID-19 antigen tests delivered directly to one’s home.

  • Order online at www.covidtests.gov
  • Every home in U.S. can order four (4) free at-home COVID-19 tests
  • Tests are free and will be shipped by the U.S. Postal Service
  • Tests should arrive within 7-12 days from order

The tests available for order:

  • Are rapid antigen at-home tests, not PCR
  • Can be taken anywhere
  • Give results within 30 minutes (no lab drop-off required)
  • Work whether or not you have COVID-⁠19 symptoms
  • Work whether or not you are up to date on your COVID-⁠19 vaccines
  • Are also referred to as self-tests or over-the-counter (OTC) tests

If you need a COVID-⁠19 test now, please see other testing resources for free testing locations in your area.

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Video — California’s citrus heritage in Tulare County

California leads the nation in citrus production, and Tulare County leads California in navel orange production. Meet a farmer whose family has been on land in Tulare County since 1917! Videos in English and Spanish.

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Yolo County vintner honored as first-ever Nuffield International Scholar from California

Yolo County vintner Tom Merwin

From a Nuffield Scholars news release

The Nuffield International Farming Scholars program, which develop leaders to help shape the future of agriculture, has named vintner Thomas Merwin of Clarksburg (Yolo County) as a scholar for 2022. He is the program’s first-ever scholar from California.

Merwin is the General Manager and Vice President of Merwin Vineyards, a multi-generational family farm, and co-founder and partner in Silt Wine Company, a winery and tasting room in Clarksburg. He also serves as president of the Clarksburg Wine Growers and Vintners Association.

Nuffield Scholars step out of their own lives and activities during their year of scholarship to find best practices, ideas, insight, and resources to carry back home. Whether they are investigating production agriculture, financial and succession planning topics, market trends, or communications and outreach efforts, Nuffield Scholars dig into a topic of interest to them and of value to the industry. 

Merwin plans to study how family farms in California can survive and thrive and will travel to Spain and France to study corporate, family, and cooperative farms and wineries; Latin America to research small cooperatives in conjunction with large corporate farms; and the UK to study agritourism and agricultural finance.  

“Given how challenging the situation is, I want to focus on how family farms can pivot or re-focus for long-term survival, looking at strategies and examples such as collaborating with institutional investors, vertical integration, specialization, and joint venture partnerships,” said Merwin. “I believe this topic is important because family farms play a critical role in our local, national, and global agricultural community. I hope my research and experiences will inspire others to re-evaluate their business models and improve their odds for succession and survival”.

Read more about the Nuffield Scholars program here

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Governor Newsom’s California Blueprint provides meaningful and historic opportunities for agriculture

Governor Gavin Newsom’s California Blueprint, the proposed state budget for 2022-2023, will provide a number of meaningful opportunities for rural California, including agriculture. 

“The investments in this budget are a huge boost for our rural communities as we continue our work for sustainable and resilient food systems and the development of Climate Smart Agriculture programs,” said CDFA secretary Karen Ross. “When we factor in last year’s historic investments we have a truly unique opportunity to meet the challenges and opportunities presented to us in the 21st century.” 

Budget highlights include:

Supply Chain Resilience and our state’s Port Infrastructure

$2.3 billion to leverage the $17 billion in federal funding (through IIJA) to upgrade our supply chain infrastructure.

$110 million over three years to establish a Goods Movement Training Campus for the adoption of new technologies to enhance supply chain movement.

Nature-based Solutions for Natural and Working Lands

The 2021 Budget included $768 million one-time General Fund over two years to support implementation of the state’s Natural and Working Lands Climate Smart Strategy and 30×30 Pathways strategy. The Administration has released drafts of these strategies and will incorporate public input into the final documents and proposed budget that will be forthcoming in the spring.

Drought Resilience and Response

$750 million for drought in addition to the $5.2 billion, over 3 years, designated in the last year’s budget.

Multibenefit Land Repurposing – $40 million in additional funding to increase regional capacity to repurpose irrigated agricultural land to reduce reliance on groundwater.

Groundwater recharge is proposed at $30 million to provide grants to water districts to plan and implement recharge projects.

CDFA’s SWEEP Program stands to receive $20 million in this budget for grants to implement irrigation systems that reduce greenhouse gases and save water on agricultural operations. This is in addition to $50 million already designated in last fall’s supplemental budget.

Technical Assistance and Drought Relief for Small Farmers – $10 million ($5 million to CDFA, and an additional $5 million to DWR) to provide mobile irrigation labs, land use mapping and imagery, irrigation education, and direct assistance to small farmers and ranchers who have experienced water cost increases of more than 50 percent.

Climate Smart Agriculture

$85 million for the Healthy Soils Program for on-farm conservation management practices that sequester carbon, reduce GHG emissions, and improve soil health.  

$48 million for our Methane Reduction Programs – dairy digesters and alternative manure management.

$25 million to the Climate Catalyst Fund for critical infrastructure projects that help agriculture address the impacts of climate change and be part of the solution.

$15 million for Pollinator Habitat, part of our commitment to biodiversity and nature-based solutions.

$22 million for the Conservation Agriculture Planning Grants Program, which will help farmers and ranchers develop plans that identify actions for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

$150 million for the successful “FARMER” program under CARB to replace older farm vehicles and equipment.

$5 million in General Fund dollars for research into GHG reductions, associated with livestock methane reduction strategies and projects.

Farm to School / Career Training Investments

$30 million (one-time) to expand the California Farm to School Incubator Grant Program and $3 million (ongoing) to establish the regional California Farm to School Network. This is in addition to $30 million already designated in last fall’s supplemental budget.

$450 million (available over three years) to upgrade school kitchen infrastructure and equipment to incorporate more fresh, minimally processed California-grown foods in school meals.

$50 million in one-time General Fund dollars to support equipment and facilities upgrades at the CSU University Farms, which provide hands-on experience for career preparation in climate resilience, regenerative agriculture, animal welfare, food processing, and water and natural resources management.

These career and training investments are in addition to $60 million to be invested through grant solicitations by the Workforce Development Board and the Labor Agency’s Workforce Services Branch.

$185 million to UC for applied climate research; establishment of regional innovation hubs; and, workforce development.

Other Programs at CDFA

Several CDFA budget change proposals would fund positions to implement recently passed legislation important to us all: 

  • More than $1.1 million, with another million in 24-25, to establish criteria for the phase-out of captive, closed-colony blood banks for animals. Those are to be replaced by community blood banks.
  • $287 thousand for Sustainable Animal Agriculture, making sure that animal mortalities are handled in a manner that mitigates the risks to human and animal health, while enhancing stewardship of the environment.
  • $537 thousand, with an additional $736 thousand in 23-24 for the State Organic Program to conduct new outreach and education efforts for stakeholders.
  • $681 thousand, with $593 thousand more on 23-24, to expand our Alternative Fuels Program in partnership with CARB.
  • $150 thousand for Industrial Hemp – we will develop a process to share hemp product registration information with the California Department of Public Health, as required by AB 45 in order to facilitate compliance and enforcement activities.

Ag-Relevant Funding Outside of CDFA

  • There are also many items throughout the state budget that provide meaningful investment and incentives to the agricultural business community:
  • $85 million for the Food Processor Investment Program, for grants to accelerate the adoption of energy technologies at California food production facilities.
  • Key business tax credits are also restored in this budget proposal, including research and development credits and net operating losses that were limited during the COVID-19 Recession.
  • The budget proposes an additional $250 million per year for three years for qualified companies headquartered in California that are investing in research to mitigate climate change.
  • The budget also includes a new tax credit for those who opt-in to develop green energy technologies—totaling $100 million per year for three years.

“We are fortunate to have such a comprehensive budget, as there are a great many areas in our state—in agriculture and beyond— that are in in need of substantial investment,”  said Secretary Ross.  “I’m proud of what we’re doing at CDFA, and this budget puts us in a strong position to keep building on what we’ve achieved together.”

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USDA Invests $9M to Expand Reach and Increase Adoption of Climate-Smart Practices

Includes $1.5M for the California Climate Hub at UC Davis

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today a $9 million investment in new Cooperative Extension and USDA Climate Hubs partnerships to bolster climate research and connect and share climate-smart solutions directly with the agricultural community.

“The Cooperative Extension system and the USDA Climate Hubs have unmatched capacity to reach agricultural, Tribal and underserved communities, as well as educators and students, and our nation’s farmers directly,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This partnership will strengthen climate research efforts and accelerate the development, adoption and application of science-based, climate-smart practices that benefit everyone.”

This investment is part of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), the nation’s leading competitive grants program for agricultural sciences. This new AFRI program area provides effective, translatable and scalable approaches to address climate change through regional partnerships, including the USDA Climate Hubs, and further extends outreach through organizations such as the Cooperative Extension Service. “These new NIFA-funded projects will work toward net-zero emissions in agriculture, working lands and communities adapted to climate change, training a diverse workforce that can communicate and incorporate climate considerations into management and climate justice that is appropriate for unique U.S. agronomic conditions,” said NIFA Director Dr. Carrie Castille.

The funding announcement includes a key investment of $1.5 million in the California Climate Hub. University of California (Davis) will develop multifaceted pathways with the California Climate Hub to climate-smart agriculture through stakeholder needs assessments, climate-smart agriculture trainings for technical service providers, regional workshops for farmers and ranchers, and student education with Extension service-learning opportunities. Participatory program development and delivery through extensive network of stakeholders, collaborators and supporters are at the core of this integrated proposal.

More information on the program and the six funded projects is available on the USDA site.

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CDFA joins partner state agencies to detail progress on Water Resilience Portfolio

From a News release by the California Natural Resources Agency


A new report released today conveys significant progress made in the past 18 months to implement the Water Resilience Portfolio, the Newsom Administration’s water policy blueprint to build climate resilience in the face of more extreme cycles of wet and dry.

The report summarizes work done on each of 142 separate actions called for in the Water Resilience Portfolio. The portfolio was developed by the California Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency, and California Department of Food and Agriculture in response to Governor Newsom’s April 2019 Executive Order calling for a suite of actions that would help California communities, the economy, and the environment address long-standing water challenges while adapting water systems to a changing climate.

Recent progress includes assisting tens of thousands of Californians who depend on small water systems or domestic wells that have drinking water supply problems, dedicating hundreds of millions of dollars to improve streamflow for salmon and other native fish species, advancing the removal of four obsolete dams that block salmon passage on the Klamath River, providing extensive financial and technical assistance to local sustainable groundwater management agencies, restoring streams and floodplains, and steadily improving the state’s ability to manage flood and drought.

The 2021-22 state budget included $5.2 billion in water resilience investments across California that will build momentum to carry out portfolio priorities over the next several years. On Jan. 10, Governor Gavin Newsom proposed an additional $750 million in water resilience investments, with a focus on water conservation, drought relief, protection of fish and wildlife, groundwater recharge, and support for local agencies bringing groundwater basins into sustainable conditions.  

“We’ve made solid progress building drought and flood resilience across the state in the last 18 months,” said Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot. “At the same time, accelerating climate change has driven weather whiplash, worsening drought and flood threats in real-time. Recognizing this urgency, we have to deploy historic funding provided by the Governor and Legislature quickly and effectively, in partnership with local and regional partners. Every part of California has unique water supplies, environmental conditions, user needs, and vulnerabilities. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to our water challenges, and the portfolio recognizes that.”

The portfolio builds upon lessons learned in the 2012-16 drought, which exacerbated a long-standing struggle in many California communities. An estimated one million Californians do not have access to reliable supplies of safe drinking water. Many actions in the portfolio aim to help communities maintain and diversify their water supplies.

“Our top priority must be ensuring clean water for all Californians,” said CalEPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld. “We’re making good progress on that front and advancing water use efficiency, stormwater capture and recycling for long-term drought resilience.”

Secretary Blumenfeld noted that the state budget includes $30 million for the State Water Resources Control Board to begin modernizing the state’s water diversion management data system to reduce user error, daylight existing water use metrics and trends, and create efficiencies for the regulated community and regulators.

Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said the portfolio and the state budget will help water providers plan for warmer storms and more intense drought in individual watersheds, while also investing in the major water delivery systems that supply multiple regions.

“California built its major water delivery systems nearly a century ago based on precipitation patterns that are changing as average global temperatures warm,” said Secretary Ross. “We need to know what to expect, and we need flexible, well-functioning infrastructure to respond.”

Developed with stakeholder input, the Water Resilience Portfolio was released in July 2020. Thousands of individual local districts handle most water management in California, but the state plays a role in providing funding, operating major infrastructure, developing laws and policies, gathering and sharing data, conducting research, setting standards, catalyzing coordination and emergency response, and forming partnerships to address problems beyond the capacity of any single region.

The actions in the portfolio focus on these state roles and are organized around maintaining and diversifying water supplies, protecting and enhancing natural systems, building connections, and being prepared. In coming years, state agencies will continue to track portfolio implementation and issue annual progress reports.
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The importance of California’s agricultural water supplies — opinion piece from CalMatters

By Chris Scheuring, senior counsel for water policy at the California Farm Bureau

Wendell Berry famously said that eating is an agricultural act. That makes all of us into farmers, and nowhere is that more true than in water terms.  

For farming is irreducibly the process of mixing dirt, water and sunshine to bring forth from the ground what we need to eat. And no matter who you are, it’s true:  somebody, somewhere, must devote a lot of water to the process of feeding you.

Some have been sidestepping this fact in the ongoing policy evolutions over the way we must capture, store and move water in California. Yet even the most ardent urban environmentalist finds herself at the local grocery store or the farmers’ market – filling her basket with California-grown nuts, fruits and vegetables.  

Some of these crops can only be grown here, or in one of the few similar agricultural climates around the world, in an irrigation-based agricultural economy.

Take almonds, now and then the whipping-post of California water use: They cannot be grown in a place where it rains in the summer. Iowa, for example, is awfully cold in February – which is precisely when almonds need mild Mediterranean winter weather for their blossoms to be pollinated. Mediterranean crops need a Mediterranean climate, which usually means mild winters and hot, dry summers.

Beyond that, the case for California agriculture is made by our farming practices and their regulatory backdrop, whatever natural reticence California farmers may have about being regulated. We do it more efficiently here, and with more oversight, than in most alternative agricultural venues around the world. I would compare a California avocado favorably to an avocado anywhere else in the world, on those terms.

That’s why I have always thought that a subtle strain of NIMBYism runs through the retrograde ideas that some have about “reforming” agricultural water rights here and constraining the water projects that ultimately deliver food to the world.  With nearly 8 billion people on the planet, pinching off California’s agricultural water supplies is a game of whack-a-mole which will cause the same water issues to arise elsewhere.

Without question, we must continue on our trajectory of making California farming more water-efficient. If you have been watching California agriculture for a generation, you already know that much of the landscape has transitioned from old-fashioned flood and sprinkler irrigation to more efficient drip and micro-sprinkler techniques – even in the case of row crops. We must continue this path; new technologies related to irrigation continue to be developed, including better monitoring of applied water and crop water use.

We must also recognize inherent conflicts between agricultural water use and the flora and fauna that are dependent upon our rivers and streams. 

Gone are the days in California when a grizzly bear might paw a salmon out of the Suisun Marsh, but we can work together to find non-zero-sum water and habitat solutions that would take advantage of opportunities to protect and rehabilitate species of concern, where it can be done without disproportionate human impact. Again and again through public enactment, California has demonstrated its will to keep the environment in mind as we move forward.

Further, we must also carry forward processes to develop new water supplies for California’s farms and growing cities, whether those are storage facilities above ground or below ground, or stormwater capture and aquifer recharge, or desalination or recycling. In the face of a changing hydrology and the expected loss of snowpack, we simply cannot accommodate serious discussion on the demand side of water questions without working on the supply side. Otherwise, we are chasing a receding goalpost – and we will not get there.

Finally, remember that farming is not a question of “if,” but “where.” We’re going to eat – all of us around the world – and we’re going to farm in order to do so. So we should protect California’s agricultural water supplies, because the case for California water being used on California’s farms is strong.  

Link to item on CalMatters web site

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Secretary Ross joins California State Transportation Agency Secretary David Kim in urging that the Port of Oakland be utilized to help ease port congestion

A letter from Secretaries Ross and Kim to the leading companies shipping to California ports

We are writing to request that ocean carriers take full advantage of underutilized California ports, including the Port of Oakland, to ease congestion in the San Pedro Bay. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack recently made a similar request and we wholeheartedly concur with them.

California Governor Gavin Newson’s Administration has been working closely with the Biden-Harris Administration’s White House Supply Chain Disruption Task Force, and California has taken a series of actions to address supply chain disruption caused by COVID-19. We have also been working directly with the Port of Oakland and California agricultural exporters to ease access to international markets for agricultural exports. It is our strong belief that restoring ocean carrier service to the Port of Oakland would ease congestion in the San Pedro Bay and better enable American agricultural products to be exported.

In October 2021, Governor Newsom signed Executive Order N-19-21 to address supply chain challenges. Since then, California state agencies have taken multiple steps, including temporarily issuing overweight trucking permits for international shipping containers, doubling Commercial Driver’s License testing capacity, identifying state-owned properties that can be available to address short-term cargo container storage needs, and many others. We are also planning major long-term investments that will make our internationally significant goods movement infrastructure more efficient and resilient. These actions and investments benefit ocean carriers and all those utilizing California’s global gateways in international trade.

At the same time, we have heard similar concerns expressed by Secretaries Buttigieg and Vilsack, namely that U.S. agricultural shippers have seen reduced service, uncertain return dates, and inadequate access to shipping containers to export their goods. We agree that the situation may require further intervention by the Federal Maritime Commission, and would also note that the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed California Congressman John Garamendi’s bipartisan H.R. 4996, the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2021, which strengthens the Federal Maritime Commission’s statutory authority to promote reciprocal trade and regulate ocean carrier service standards in the public interest.

Thank you for working with us to relieve the supply chain disruption caused by COVID-19. We urge you to help agricultural shippers of U.S. exports by restoring services to the Port of Oakland.


Sincerely,

David S. Kim
Secretary
California State Transportation Agency

Karen Ross
Secretary, California Department of Food and Agriculture

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