Latinos move from fields to office – from the New York Times

Sergio Silva, 53, left, and Adrian Espinoza, 36, are partners at Rancho Espinoza, a flower business in Salinas, Calif. Credit – Jim Wilson/The New York Times

By Tanzina Vega

When he was 15, an immigration raid at a Japanese flower nursery turned Arturo Flores’s life around.

The owners needed a new group of workers to replace the ones removed by immigration officials, and Mr. Flores landed a job cutting flowers. He slowly worked his way up to packaging and delivering them. In the mid-1980s he got a call from two businessmen looking to start their own cut-flower business. They asked him to manage deliveries and distribution. Today Mr. Flores, 50, is the president of Central California Flower Growers in Watsonville, a distributor in Santa Cruz County that sells more than 100 varieties of flowers and other plants.

Farming businesses in the United States are still dominated by whites, but Mr. Flores (whose last name means “flowers” in English) is one of a growing number of Latinos who own or operate farms in the country. While the overall number of farms in the United States decreased by 4 percent from 2007 to 2012, during the same period the number of farms run by Hispanics increased by 21 percent to 67,000 from 55,570, according to data released in May from the government’s 2012 census of agriculture. The numbers signaled a small but consistent pattern of growth in agribusiness among Latinos, many of whom have gone from working in the fields to sitting in the head offices.

Many, like Mr. Flores, emigrated from Mexico in the 1970s and ‘80s and worked their way up from picking produce to managing the business. They have classic American bootstrap stories of grit, determination and a little bit of luck. Some own the land they till while others rent. Many employ Mexicans whose language and job duties they understand intimately.

Salvador Vasquez, 56, who owns Vas Vision Berry Farms, a berry grower for Driscoll’s in Watsonville, came to the United States from Mexico when he was 11. Mr. Vasquez said it was his ability to communicate in English and Spanish with the workers and the supervisors on the farms in Watsonville that helped him move up from being a fruit picker to becoming a supervisor.

But it was not an easy ascent. In 1989, Mr. Vasquez worked as a supervisor during the day and in the fields at night. “If I slept nine hours in five days it was a lot,” he said.

By the 1990s, he supervised more than 2,500 farm employees, and by 2000 he had become part owner of the business. “You have to work hard for the American dream, but it is possible to achieve,” he said.

Sergio Silva, 53, is the chief executive of Rancho Espinoza in Salinas, Calif., a company that grows and distributes calla lily bulbs under the name Coastal Callas. Mr. Silva, whose parents obtained green cards after being guest workers in the California agriculture business, came here from Mexico when he was 13. After struggling to learn English, he dropped out of high school in the 10th grade and went to work in the Salinas Valley, “doing any field work you can think of,” he said.

At 22, Mr. Silva got a job at a vegetable transplant production company, where seeds are started indoors and later moved to fields. It was owned by two venture capitalists, and he worked his way up from dropping seeds in the soil to operating machines and supervising. By 1994 he had invested $15,000 of his savings to buy shares in the company, and he ultimately became its president.

oday he and his partner, Adrian Espinoza, 36, a first-generation Mexican-American, have invested $1.4 million of their own money into the flower company.

The majority of Hispanic-owned agricultural businesses are family-run like Mr. Vasquez’s; he employs his daughters to help him run the business. Jose R. Fernandez, the president of Fernandez Brothers, a strawberry grower for Naturipe Farms in Salinas, whose clients include Stop and Shop, Costco and Safeway, expects his 19-year-old son to go into the business.

Some of the younger, second- or third-generation Hispanics entering the industry have advanced degrees in agriculture or business.

“First-generation farmworkers have worked their way up in terms of responsibility, and now we see many of their children going on to have the opportunity to pursue higher education,” said Charles Boyer, the dean of the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at California State University, Fresno. “These people are increasingly seeing that agriculture has a very wide window of opportunity from the business side to the quality-control side to the science side.” Mr. Espinoza, of Rancho Espinoza, graduated from Fresno State with a degree in plant science.

While more Hispanics are running farms, many of them in the region say federal immigration policies have made it increasingly difficult to find workers. Mr. Vasquez, the berry grower, said 12 acres on his farm were not harvested last year because of the lack of labor. “That’s an incredible loss,” he said. Mr. Silva, the calla lily grower in Salinas, said he supported guest-worker programs that allowed seasonal workers to come into the country legally.

Perhaps because of their own backgrounds, many of the farmers prided themselves on treating their workers well. Mr. Flores, the flower distributor in Watsonville, said he was looking into retirement plans for his workers. He showed off a neat canteen area that included an altar with Catholic symbols like the Virgin Mary, coffee makers and a grill still greasy from the meat that had been cooked on it that day.

Much of the growth in Hispanic-operated farms around the country has been concentrated in small and midsize farms. Some small-scale farmers are hoping that the increased popularity of organic produce will also increase revenue.

Francisco Serrano, 52, used to administer 200 acres of industrial farmland before scaling down to a much smaller organic farm in Watsonville where he grows produce like kale and beets. Mr. Serrano, who tired of the grueling hours at the industrial farm, is leasing 11 acres from a local nonprofit organization called the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association, or ALBA, which trains mostly Latino students how to become organic farmers.

Like many farmers, Mr. Serrano rents the land because it is cheaper to do so. An acre in this region can cost an average of $40,000. He said the recession had complicated the plans of Hispanic farmers he knew, with some who tried to buy land losing both their homes and land. By contrast, farmers like Mr. Silva are hoping investing in land has a big payoff.

Mr. Silva recently secured a line of credit to purchase an additional 10.26 acres and greenhouses worth $1.3 million. On a recent weekday afternoon, a bouquet of calla lilies in shades of deep purple and hot pink sat on Mr. Silva’s desk. “I just pray like hell that I can make it work,” he said.

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Farm workers, Monterey County forge historic accord – from the Salinas Californian


By Dennis L. Taylor

In the first of its kind in the state, an accord has been hammered out between the Monterey County Agricultural Commissioner and a Salinas farm-worker advocacy group to form a panel that will jointly tackle issues such as worker safety and pesticide protection.

The accord is important in both historical and future contexts. Historically, agricultural commissioners and farm-worker groups have not been exactly simpatico. But by striking this accord and forming a Farmworker Advisory Committee attached to the commissioner’s office, the hope is the future will see more collaboration than conflict.

In the past, issues such as farm-worker exposure to pesticides were settled often by acrimonious lawsuits brought by organizations such as the Center for Community Advocacy, the grass-roots farm-worker advocacy group that joined with Agricultural Commissioner Eric Lauritzen to forge the advisory committee.

At the event announcing the pact, there were even moments of levity.

“In 1974, fresh out of college, I came down here to fight growers … like Jim Bogart,” said Juan Uranga, the executive director and lead attorney for CCA, nodding toward the president of the Salinas-based Grower-Shipper Association, who attended the media conference. Bogart, laughing, noted that his board of directors unanimously supported the formation of the advisory committee.

“This is a new era where we focus on commonalities and building the kind of relationships we have now that lead to forming a farm-worker advisory committee,” Uranga said at the conference at the Agricultural Center in Salinas, which houses the commissioner’s office.

In addition to Bogart, the news conference was attended by Chris Reardon, the chief deputy director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. Flanking Uranga and Lauritzen were a score of staff members who will compose the advisory committee.

“The advisory committee gives us direct access to farm-worker leaders, to their concerns and to their suggestions,” Lauritzen said. “This gives us the opportunity to engage in positive, productive conversations that will help us fulfill our obligations to the farm-worker community and to the agricultural industry in general.”

One of the committee members is Teo Gonzalez, the chief deputy agricultural commissioner, whose personal story makes him an ideal fit to serve on the committee. Twenty-six years ago Gonzalez was picking lettuce in the Salinas Valley. He earned a degree in agricultural economics from Universidad Autónoma de Chapingo in Mexico City and his green card to work in the United States.

“I talked to my father about coming here, and he told me to go for it,” Gonzalez said after the press conference. “I didn’t know the language but I had my hands.”

Eventually Gonzalez worked up the nerve to walk into Lauritzen’s office, unannounced, and ask for a job. Three months later he was offered a position. That was 14 years ago.

Gonzalez said he hopes the first goal of the committee will be to “establish a baseline for communication.” It’s important, he said, to have clear answers to the questions, “Why are we here and what do we want to accomplish?” – a foundation for action.

The first building block to that foundation is a statement of purpose, worked out between the CCA and the vommissioner’s office, with four key goals:

• To meet at regular intervals with the commissioner and staff to exchange information and ideas to improve the safety of farm workers.

• To help disseminate safety information for the commissioner’s office to farm workers.

• To host annual forums to discuss the commissioner’s jurisdiction over agricultural lands in the county.

• To promote a more sustainable agricultural economy by protecting its most critical resource: farm workers.

With a turbulent history in the Salinas Valley dating back to Cesar Chavez and his United Farm Worker movement in the 1960s and ’70s, and again with the passing of Proposition 187 in 1994 that was seen by many as a racist prohibition preventing undocumented workers from receiving health care, public education or social services, a basic distrust of government and the agricultural industry became grounded in farm-worker culture.

Paulina Mejia, an agricultural inspector and biologist with the Agricultural Commissioner’s office and a member of the advisory committee, said following the press conference Tuesday that one of her immediate goals is to forge trusting relationships with farm workers.

“When I’m out in the fields, there’s a hesitation when we drive up in county trucks,” Mejia said. “Many farm workers don’t understand we are here to help them. I want to ensure they are comfortable enough to approach us.”

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USDA study places cost of raising a child at nearly $250,000


WASHINGTON, August 18, 2014 – Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its annual report, Expenditures on Children and Families, also known as the Cost of Raising a Child. The report shows that a middle-income family with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend about $245,340 ($304,480 adjusted for projected inflation*) for food, housing, childcare and education, and other child-rearing expenses up to age 18. Costs associated with pregnancy or expenses occurred after age 18, such as higher education, are not included.

While this represents an overall 1.8 percent increase from 2012, the percentages spent on each expenditure category remain the same. As in the past, the costs by location are lower in the urban South ($230,610) and rural ($193,590) regions of the country. Families in the urban Northeast incurred the highest costs to raise a child ($282,480).

“In today’s economy, it’s important to be prepared with as much information as possible when planning for the future,” said USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Under Secretary Kevin Concannon. “In addition to giving families with children an indication of expenses they might want to be prepared for, the report is a critical resource for state governments in determining child support guidelines and foster care payments.”

The report, issued annually, is based on data from the federal government’sConsumer Expenditure Survey, the most comprehensive source of information available on household expenditures. For the year 2013, annual child-rearing expenses per child for a middle-income, two-parent family ranged from $12,800 to $14,970, depending on the age of the child.

The report, developed by the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP), notes that family income affects child-rearing costs. A family earning less than $61,530 per year can expect to spend a total of $176,550 (in 2013 dollars) on a child from birth up to age 18. Middle-income** parents with an income between $61,530 and $106,540 can expect to spend $245,340; and a family earning more than $106,540 can expect to spend $407,820.

“Food is among the top three expenses in raising children,” said CNPP Executive Director Angela Tagtow. “Parents have the challenge of providing food that is not only healthful and delicious, but also affordable. We have great resources such that features tips to help families serve nutritious and affordable meals. I encourage parents to check out our Healthy Eating On a Budgetresources, 10-Tips Nutrition Seriesrecipes, and MyPlate Kids’ Place, which features digital games for kids to get engaged themselves in healthy eating.”

For middle-income families, housing costs are the single largest expenditure on a child, averaging 30 percent of the total cost. Child care and education was the second largest expense at 18 percent, followed by food, which accounted for 16 percent of the total cost.

“Variations by geographic region are marked when we look at housing, for example,” said study author and CNPP economist Mark Lino, Ph.D. “The average cost of housing for a child up to age 18 is $87,840 for a middle-income family in the urban West, compared to $66,240 in the urban South, and $70,200 in the urban Midwest. It’s interesting to note that other studies are showing that families are increasingly moving to these areas of the country with lower housing cost.”

In 1960, the first year the report was issued, a middle-income family could have expected to spend $25,230 ($198,560 in 2013 dollars) to raise a child until the age of 18. Housing was the largest child-rearing expense both then and now. Health care expenses for a child have doubled as a percentage of total child-rearing costs during that time. In addition, some common current-day costs, such as child care, were negligible in 1960.

Expenses per child decrease as a family has more children. Families with three or more children spend 22 percent less per child than families with two children. As families have more children, the children can share bedrooms, clothing and toys can be handed down to younger children, food can be purchased in larger and more economical quantities, and private schools or child care centers may offer sibling discounts.

The full report, Expenditures on Children by Families, 2013, is available on the web at In addition, families can enter the number and ages of their children to obtain an estimate of costs with a calculator via the interactive web version of the report.

Link to news release

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Native ecosystems blitzed by drought – From Scientific American

Drought ecosystems

By Alexandra Witze and Nature Magazine

Peter Moyle has seen a lot in five decades of roaming California’s streams and rivers and gathering data on the fish that live in them. But last month he saw something new: tributaries of the Navarro River, which rises in vineyards before snaking through a redwood forest to the Pacific, had dried up completely.

“They looked in July like they normally look in September or October, at the end of the dry season,” says Moyle, a fish biologist at the University of California, Davis.

Blame the drought. The Navarro and its hard-pressed inhabitants are just one example of stresses facing a parched state. From the towering Sierra Nevada mountains — where the snowpack this May was only 18% of the average — to the broad Sacramento–San Joaquin river delta, the record-setting drought is reshaping California’s ecosystems.

It is also giving researchers a glimpse of the future. California has always had an extreme hydrological cycle, with parching droughts interrupted by drenching Pacific storms (see ‘Extreme hydrology’). But scientists say that the current drought — now in its third year — holds lessons for what to expect 50 years from now.

“The west has always gone through this, but we’ll be going through it at perhaps a more rapid cycle,” says Mark Schwartz, a plant ecologist and director of the John Muir Institute of the Environment at the University of California, Davis. He and others are discussing the drought’s ecological consequences at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America, which runs from August 10 to 15 in Sacramento, California. He says that the state’s plant and animal species are at risk in part because California ecosystems are already highly modified and vulnerable to a variety of stresses.

Many of the state’s 129 species of native inland fish, including several types of salmon, are listed by federal or state agencies under various levels of endangerment. “We’re starting from a pretty low spot,” says Moyle. He hopes to use the current drought to explore where native fish have the best chances of surviving.

That could be in dammed streams such as Putah Creek near the Davis campus, where water flow can be controlled to optimize native fish survival. Another focus might be on spring-fed streams such as those that flow down from volcanic terrain in northernmost California and can survive drought much longer than snow-fed streams.

In the late 1970s, Moyle discovered that native fish in the Monterey Bay watershed recolonized their streams relatively quickly after a two-year drought. But today’s streams face greater ecological pressures, such as more dams and more non-native species competing for habitat.

Other challenges arise in the delta where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers meet, north-east of San Francisco. An invasive saltwater clam (Potamocorbula amurensis) has taken advantage of warming river waters and moved several kilometres upriver, says Janet Thompson, an aquatic ecologist with the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Menlo Park, California.

Potamocorbula out-competes a freshwater clam (Corbicula fluminea), and accumulates about four times as much of the element selenium from agricultural run-off and refineries as its freshwater cousin does. When endangered sturgeon feed on Potamocorbula, the fish consume much more selenium than is optimal. “That’s the biggest shift that we’ve seen that’s of environmental concern,” says Thompson. “These are the kinds of things that can have a lasting effect on a predator species.”

Teasing out the drought’s effects on terrestrial animals is tougher. Researchers have documented drops in various California bird populations this year, such as mallard ducks (Anas platyrynchos) and tricolor blackbirds (Agelaius tricolor). But many other factors — especially habitat loss — also come into play, so it becomes hard to isolate the effects of drought.

The drought’s effects on larger animals such as bears are also uncertain. Anecdotal reports suggest that more bears than usual are showing up closer to people this year, says Jason Holley, a wildlife biologist at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in Rancho Cordova. Within the space of six weeks this spring, four black bears appeared along the Sacramento River corridor, much farther out of the mountains than normal. “Those sorts of calls definitely pique your interest,” says Holley, who thinks that dry conditions in the mountains might be pushing bears closer to populated areas.

The longest-lasting effect could be on California’s forests, including its iconic giant sequoias. The drought has handed forest ecologists an unplanned experiment, says Phillip van Mantgem, a forestry expert at the USGS in Arcata, California, who is speaking at the Sacramento meeting.

Researchers are gathering data to examine whether thinning of plots in the forest, in part to reduce fire risk, might help trees do better under drought. Tests may also help to reveal the main mechanisms by which drought kills different tree species, whether by interrupting the flow of water within the tree or by starving it. “I’m really curious to see how this turns out,” van Mantgem says.

There should be plenty of time to gather data. Climatologists expect an El Niño weather pattern to form in the Pacific this year, which usually brings more rain and snow to parts of California (see Nature 508, 20–21; 2014). But the pending El Niño looks to be weaker than first expected, and may not have much, if any, influence on ending the drought. Chances are that the state will remain dry well into 2015.

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California drought transforms global food market – from Bloomberg News

From Bloomberg News

From Bloomberg News

By Alan Bjerga

For more than 70 years, Fred Starrh’s family was among the most prominent cotton growers in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Then shifting global markets and rising water prices told him that wouldn’t work anymore.

So he replaced most of the cotton plants on his farm near Shafter, 120 miles northwest of Los Angeles, and planted almonds, which make more money per acre and are increasingly popular with consumers in Asia.

“You can’t pay $1,000 an acre-foot to grow cotton,” said Starrh, 85, crouching to inspect a drip irrigator gently gurgling under an almond tree.

Such crop switching is one sign of a sweeping transformation going on in California — the nation’s biggest agricultural state by value — driven by a three-year drought that climate scientists say is a glimpse of a drier future. The result will affect everything from the price of milk in China to the source of cherries eaten by Americans. It has already inflamed competition for water between farmers and homeowners.

Growers have adapted to the record-low rainfall by installing high-technology irrigation systems, watering with treated municipal wastewater and even recycling waste from the processing of pomegranates to feed dairy cows. Some are taking land out of production altogether, bulldozing withered orange trees and leaving hundreds of thousands of acres unplanted.

There will be some definite changes, probably structural changes, to the entire industry” as drought persists, said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman. “Farmers have made changes. They’ve shifted. This is what farmers do.”

In the long term, California will probably move away from commodity crops produced in bulk elsewhere to high-value products that make more money for the water used, said Richard Howitt, a farm economist at the University of California at Davis. The state still has advantages in almonds, pistachios and wine grapes, and its location means it will always be well-situated to export what can be profitably grown.

That may mean less farmland in production as growers abandon corn and cotton because of the high cost of water. Corn acreage in California has dropped 34 percent from last year, and wheat is down 53 percent, according to the USDA.

Cotton planting, Fred Starrh’s one-time mainstay, has fallen 60 percent over the decade, while almonds are up by more than half.

On its own, California would be the world’s ninth-largest agricultural economy, according to a University of California at Davis study. Shifts in its production reverberate globally, said Dan Sumner, another agricultural economist at the school.

“It’s a really big deal,” Sumner said. “Some crops simply grow better here than anyplace else, and our location gives us access to markets you don’t have elsewhere.”

The success of California agriculture was built in large part on advances in irrigation that allowed the state to expand beyond wheat, which flourishes in dry climates. It’s now the U.S.’s top dairy producer and grows half the country’s fruits, vegetables and nuts.

“Water has allowed us to grow more valuable crops,” Sumner said. “Now, we have fruits and vegetables and North Dakota grows our wheat. Without irrigation, we’d be North Dakota.”

An estimated 82 percent of California is experiencing extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Agriculture has been hard hit as it consumes about four-fifths of the water that isn’t set aside for environmental preservation. Some farmers are paying as much as 10 times more for water than what it cost before the drought.

Another dry year in 2015 is a strong possibility, according to a study by the University of California at Davis released last month. The same study pegs drought-related farm losses at $1.5 billion, with 17,100 jobs lost statewide.

Groups such as the California Citrus Mutual and California Farm Bureau Federation have been calling for bigger allocations from the state’s watersheds for agriculture, asking the state to add storage capacity and ease environmental regulations that set aside water to preserve endangered species.

California Governor Jerry Brown last week called for a $6 billion “no frills” bond measure for this November’s election to boost water storage, a key demand of farmers that’s smaller than what some groups want.

That puts the farmers on a collision course with environmentalists and urban advocates who say some choices — such as a switch to almonds — could worsen the scarcity.

California grows four-fifths of the world’s almonds, much of it for overseas markets. That has pushed the price up to more than $3 a pound, a record that has encouraged farmers to divert water from other crops.

Almonds use enough water to supply 75 percent of the state’s population, according to Carolee Krieger, president and executive director of the California Water Impact Network, which supports bigger supplies for cities. Much of the crop is exported, meaning it isn’t even feeding Californians, she said.

“Farmers should be profitable, but it can’t come at the expense of urban water ratepayers,” she said.

The U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation, which supplies water to a third of the state’s irrigated farmland, cut off California water distribution to some areas, while leaving others with 75 percent or less of their normal allocation.

Shawn Stevenson, who grows 1,200 acres of orange and olive trees outside Fresno, is in a zero-allocation area.

Unable to obtain affordable water for his trees, he hired a bulldozer to uproot about 400 acres of orange trees. He called his farm the “canary in the coal mine” for California agriculture, part of the 500,000 acres being abandoned this year, according to the University of California at Davis.

“We’re going to deliver 25 percent of our volume this year,” Stevenson said over the crunch of bulldozed branches. “That impacts the packing house, the people who sell the fruit, the people that we buy pesticides and fertilizers from.”

“If this persists in the next year, the devastation we will see here and across the state will be biblical.”

Faced with chronic dryness, farmers have been figuring out ways to adapt. Starrh’s drip-irrigation system was pioneered in Israel and is now widely employed across California, cutting water use by supplying plants with smaller, targeted amounts.

“Farmers have done a remarkable job, scrambling around to get every piece of water they can,” Sumner, the University of California economist, said. “They’ve taken water out of rice, out of alfalfa and moved it into onions and carrots and kept the trees and vines alive.”

Will Terry grows peppers and strawberries in Ventura County, a region 60 miles west of Los Angeles that produces about $700 million of the fruit annually. The farm he runs with his father now uses about two-thirds of the water it used 20 years ago.

“People will try to grow the same things, but they’ll have to change how they do it,” said Terry as workers draped string across fields with which to hold up pepper plants.

Brad Scott, a dairy producer near Riverside in the Los Angeles suburbs, supplies his farm with treated municipal wastewater. The chlorine makes his ranch smell a bit like a swimming pool, but it has allowed his property to disconnect from the city water supply.

The disruption is worthwhile: Dairy prices reached an all-time high of $24.31 per hundred pound in April as export demand pushed dry-milk shipments to a record.

he drought has put special pressure on ranchers raising livestock, drying out pasture land and making it more costly to cool the herd by spraying the animals with water.

Brian Medeiros, a 26-year-old dairyman near Hanford, about 30 miles south of Fresno, is replacing the fields of corn and wheat he grows to feed his cows with sorghum and triticale, a heartier wheat and rye hybrid better suited for drought.

Medeiros drives past a shed containing almond hulls and distillers’ dried grains — the byproduct of ethanol and brewery production — and citrus pulp, all of which he buys from nearby vendors to feed his cows. Leftover pomegranate has been a herd mainstay, though less so as the consumer craze for anti-oxidants has faded, reducing the number of suppliers.

He’s also working with an engineer to create a cow-motion sensor. The system, deployed in his animal stalls, would change how animals are sprayed with water to keep them cool, ensuring that water only sprays while a cow is present.

“You have to look at everything,” Medeiros said between conversations in Portuguese with his father, who founded the farm, on his mobile phone.

A warmer climate is forcing Cindy Lashbrook to phase out cherries on the organic farm where she also grows walnuts, blueberries and other fruits and tree nuts near Merced, about 100 miles southeast of San Francisco.

Her cherries require 1,000 hours of temperatures under 45 degrees (7 degrees Celsius) between November and February, an amount her farm hasn’t seen for several years. “We don’t get the fog like we used to.”

Howitt, of the University of California, said the drought means the state’s farmers will have to permanently reduce water usage.

“California needs to rebalance its agricultural portfolio in response to this drought,” Howitt said. “You will see more fallowing of land. We have to reduce our water footprint.”

That means drip-fed trees for Starrh, a cotton-grower since when his family arrived on 30 acres in 1936 who now focuses on nuts.

And solar panels.

The Starrhs are leasing 480 acres to a sustainable-energy company on land that may never be watered again.

“It was good land for production,” he said. “But reality dictates.”

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A comparison: How California farms stack-up around the country – From the Porterville Recorder



By Don Curlee

Counting the ways farming in California differs from farming in the rest of the country might result in some surprises, especially for proud Californians.

To begin with, farms in California are about 25 percent smaller on average than those in the rest of the country. The contrast between farming here and farming there is even more remarkable when you consider that the state’s smaller farms outpace those in the rest of the country by producing almost five times the dollar amount per acre. Of course, that means farmers in the Golden State receive more income than those elsewhere.

These characteristics of the country’s farm profile come from information collected in the 2012 Census of Agriculture, the latest every-five-years exercise conducted by the federal government. Comparing data from the most recent census with that from the 2007 effort reveals some memorable results.

Some of those results have been compiled by Emma Knoesen, a research associate and Rachael Goodhue, a professor of Agricultural Resource Economics (ARE) at the University of California, Davis. Their report was published in the May/June issue of Update, published by the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics at Davis.

In the conclusion of their report they say: “(The census) indicates that California agriculture remains distinct from U. S. agriculture as a whole, although in both cases farms continue to grow larger in both acreage and market value of production.”

One of the report’s tables shows that almost a quarter of California farms are between one and nine acres, compared to only 11 percent of farms at that size elsewhere in the country. Another quarter of California farms are between 10 and 49 acres, not that different from the rest of the country, and 17 percent fall into that 50 to 179- acre bracket, opposed to 30 percent of farms that are outside the state.

A very telling statistic puts the number of California farms with 2,000 acres or more at 2,434, while the number of farms in the other 49 states with 2,000 acres or more is more than 82,000. Seems that fly-over country has some pretty big spreads, and it isn’t puny backyards where Texans raise their cattle.

Perhaps even more telling is the effect of California’s higher value crops, the vegetables, fruits and specialty commodities. The report says: “The average market value of production per acre of farmland in California was $1,667, compared to $289 in the United States as a whole.”

On average, California farms produced a market value of $547,510, about three times that of other U.S. farms, which averaged $187,097.

Production of high-value fruit and vegetable crops continued in California at about the same pace and in about the same places as reported in the 2007 census. Tree and vine crops dominated the Central Valley counties, and vegetables were the commodities of choice in coastal areas and in the Imperial Valley.

Imperial County registered a strong increase from 2007 to 2012 in the amount of land used to grow vegetables, from less than 69,000 acres in the earlier census to nearly 106,000 acres in 2012. The number of farms growing vegetables there increased as well, from 86 to 105.

Even though the number of California farms decreased from 2007 to 2012, the total market value of their production increased by a little more than 25 percent.

No question, farming is a winner in California and a significant contributor to the state’s economy. If overzealous legislators and social and environmental purists can control themselves enough to leave it alone the state’s different-but-better agriculture can continue to prosper and continue to help overcome world hunger.


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Growing California video series wins three Telly Awards


The Growing California video series, a partnership between CDFA and California Grown produced in association with California State University, Sacramento, has been recognized with three 2014 Telly Awards, a video competition now in its 35th year. Growing California also won three Tellys in 2013.

Two of the segments that won, “Blossom Buddies (parts 1 and 2)” and “From Service to Harvest,” were honored in the category of Online Video – Information. The third video, “Onion Power,” was recognized in the category of Social Responsibility.

Growing California is an in-depth look at the many ways farming and ranching touches our lives – going beyond food production, although that is certainly featured prominently. The series also highlights food access, the diversity of California agriculture, and protection against invasive species. The winning videos are below.

About the Growing California video series.

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Inspections underway in Central Valley for huanglongbing, Asian citrus psyllid – from the Fresno Bee

Cora Barrera, a CDFA inspector, uses a magnifier as she searches for Asian citrus psyllids in a citrus grove in Fresno.  ERIC PAUL ZAMORA — THE FRESNO BEE

Cora Barrera, a CDFA inspector, uses a magnifier as she searches for Asian citrus psyllids in a citrus grove in Fresno.

By Robert Rodriguez

Armed with magnifying glasses and bug-sucking aspirators, state agriculture technicians are in Fresno, checking residential citrus trees for any signs of the Asian citrus psyllid and the tree-killing disease it can carry.

The psyllid poses one of the greatest threats to California’s nearly $2 billion citrus industry and officials want to keep it from gaining a foothold in the central San Joaquin Valley.

Inspectors will spend several weeks in the Fresno area and then move into Tulare County — the largest citrus producer in the state.

“We don’t want this disease here,” said Cora Barrera, a state technician. “It would be a disaster.”

Barrera recently checked several trees at a home near Fresno Pacific University in southeast Fresno. Using her magnifying glass, she looked for tell-tale signs on the tree’s leaves: dull orange-yellow nymphs and the waxy tubules that push honeydew away from their body. She also looked for adult psyllids that are about 1/8 of an inch and brownish.

When Barrera finds a psyllid, she catches the insect using an aspirator and drops it into a glass tube. Any bugs caught will be tested for the disease.

A team of about six state technicians, including Barrera, will visit thousands of homes in the city.

Jennifer Romero, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said that so far no psyllids have been found nor any sign of the disease they carry, huanglongbing, also known as citrus greening.

Citrus farmers fear the disease because there is no known cure. Infected trees produce bitter-tasting fruit and eventually die. In Florida, the nation’s orange juice capital, the disease has caused $1.3 billion in lost revenue over the past several years.

So far, the disease has only been found in one residential tree in the Hacienda Heights area of Southern California. But the psyllids have spread throughout the region, and a massive quarantine prohibits the movement of citrus fruit and trees out of the area.

Despite the regulatory net, the bug has hitchhiked its way to the Valley, having been caught in insect traps in Fresno and Tulare counties. To keep the psyllid in check, farmers have sprayed their groves and the state has treated residential trees where the psyllids have been caught.

A quarantine also has been put in place that covers 870 square miles of the Valley’s citrus belt.

But all that still isn’t enough, experts say. One key lesson learned from Florida’s losing battle with the disease is early detection and prevention.

Door-to-door residential inspections have been used in Southern California since the discovery of the disease in 2012.

Using a method developed by U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist Tim Gottwald, the survey targets specific areas with potential risk factors. The factors are many, but include proximity to commercial citrus groves, roads used by trucks transporting citrus and flea markets.

Experts say citrus trees at flea markets and swap meets are sold without the benefit of government inspection and should be avoided.

So far, the state’s inspectors have surveyed more than 1,000 homes in Fresno and hundreds more remain.

Romero said fortunately for the inspectors most residents don’t mind the visits.

“We really have not had any problems and it helps that people are aware of the disease,” she said. “They also don’t want to lose their own trees.”

If the resident isn’t home, the state will leave an information sheet about the bug and disease and information for setting up a future home visit.

Gene Hannon, entomologist with the Fresno County Department of Agriculture, urged owners of citrus trees to be vigilant about checking their own trees. He also said that people should avoid bringing home any citrus from the Southern California area; buying citrus trees at flea markets; or grafting trees from Southern California or any other region with the disease.

“The more people are aware, the better able we are to keep this disease out of our area,” Hannon said. “We don’t want to have this problem.”


Link to story

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Mexico trade mission and Ag labor issues – Looking Forward


While in Mexico City last week, Governor Brown met with Secretary Navarrete Prida of the Mexican Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare and signed a letter of intent to address labor rights issues for temporary Mexican workers in California – a matter of high importance, of course, for California’s farmers and ranchers. Moving forward from that promising development, we are working to create a pilot program than connects at least one California agricultural employer with Mexican officials to establish a set of protocols. Our objective is to help curb migrant worker abuse on a national and international basis, and provide stronger assurances to California agricultural employers that migrant labor employed within a H-2A program are not subject to illegal fees, misrepresentation of employment terms, fraud and other issues.

California, the U.S. Department of Labor, and a network of cross border nongovernmental organizations would work with Mexico to establish a bi-nationally available register of certified labor recruitment agencies. In addition, Mexico would develop a system for monitoring, verifying and supervising the activities carried out by recruitment agencies. In California, the state would identify agricultural employers that voluntarily commit to using certified recruiters.

In the absence of a national immigration solution, This pilot program can be a great benefit to California’s agricultural community and strengthen our bi-lateral ties with Mexico.

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Water Use in California – Analysis from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC)

Sacto River

By Jeffrey Mount and Jay Lund, UC Davis, and Emma Freeman, PPIC

Water in California is shared across three main sectors. Statewide, average water use is roughly 50% environmental, 40% agricultural, and 10% urban. However, the percentage of water use by sector varies dramatically across regions and between wet and dry years. Some of the water used by each of these sectors returns to rivers and groundwater basins, and can be used again.

Environmental water use falls into four categories: water in rivers protected as “wild and scenic” under federal and state laws, water required for maintaining habitat within streams, water that supports wetlands within wildlife preserves, and water needed to maintain water quality for agricultural and urban use. Most water allocated to the environment does not affect other water uses. More than half of California’s environmental water use occurs in rivers along the state’s north coast. These waters are largely isolated from major agricultural and urban areas and cannot be used for other purposes. In the rest of California where water is shared by all three sectors, environmental use is not dominant (33%, compared to 53% agricultural and 14% urban).

Agricultural water use is holding steady even while the economic value of farm production is growing. Approximately nine million acres of farmland in California are irrigated, representing roughly 80% of all human water use. Higher revenue perennial crops—nuts, grapes, and other fruit—have increased as a share of irrigated crop acreage (from 27% in 1998 to 32% in 2010 statewide, and from 33% to 40% in the southern Central Valley). This shift, plus rising crop yields, has increased the value of farm output (from $16.3 billion of gross state product in 1998 to $22.3 billion in 2010, in 2010 dollars), thereby increasing the value of agricultural water used. But even as the agricultural economy is growing, the rest of the economy is growing faster. Today, farm production and food processing only generate about 2% of California’s gross state product, down from about 5% in the early 1960s.

Despite population growth, total urban water use is also holding steady. The San Francisco Bay and South Coast regions account for most urban water use in California. These regions rely heavily on water imported from other parts of the state. Roughly half of urban water use is for residential and commercial landscaping. Despite population growth and urban expansion, total urban water use has remained roughly constant over the past 20 years. Per-capita water use has declined significantly—from 232 gallons per day in 1990 to 178 gallons per day in 2010—reflecting substantial efforts to reduce water use through pricing incentives and mandatory installation of water saving technologies like low-flow toilets and shower heads. Coastal regions use far less water per capita than inland regions—145 gallons per day compared with 276 gallons per day in 2010—largely because of less landscape watering.

The current drought exposes major water use challenges. In the Central Valley, where most agricultural water use occurs, the failure to manage groundwater sustainably limits its availability as a drought reserve. The increase in perennial crops—which need to be watered every year—has made the region even more vulnerable. In urban areas, the greatest potential for further water savings lies in reducing landscaping irrigation—a shift requiring behavioral changes, not just the adoption of new technology. Finally, state and federal regulators must make tough decisions about how and when to allocate water to the environment during a drought. They are faced with balancing short-term economic impacts on urban and agricultural water users against long-term harm—even risk of extinction—of fish and wildlife.

Link to item on PPIC web site

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