Secretary Ross Joins Ag in the Classroom “Teach the Teachers” event

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross (center) demonstrates the five F's of agriculture--Food,  Fiber, Flower, Forests and Fuel--at a California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom event this month in Santa Cruz. The picture depicts forestry, showing that it helps provide housing.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross (center) helps demonstrate the five F’s of agriculture–Food, Fiber, Flower, Forests and Fuel–at a California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom event this month in Santa Cruz. The picture depicts the impacts of forests, showing that they help provide housing.

More than 220 California educators and volunteers attended an annual California Agriculture in the Classroom Conference earlier this month to learn about agriculture and connecting Common Core to California crops. The conference, hosted by the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom (CFAITC), was held October 16-18 in Santa Cruz County and provided participants with free resources and valuable avenues for teaching Common Core, STEM, and school garden/nutrition lessons.

The program, designed for educators, administrators, and community volunteers, presented opportunities to explore the agricultural industry and enhance existing curriculum with examples and scenarios about food and fiber production. California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross welcomed the group of educators along with Dr. Jim Painter, professor emeritus at Eastern Illinois University. Renee Shepherd, owner of Renee’s Garden, also spoke to the educators and Michael Marks, Your Produce Man, closed the conference with trivia about the more than 400 crops grown in California. Conference participants were able to experience the variety of agriculture at the conference and were able to learn directly from leading agricultural experts.

In her comments, Secretary Ross shared the importance of California agriculture, emphasizing the many things that stem from from agriculture, and helped teach the educators the 5 F’s of agriculture – Food, Fiber, Forests, Flowers, and Fuel.

From cut flowers and strawberries to artichokes and timber, Santa Cruz County is the smallest agriculture producing county in California in land mass and one of the most diverse.

The California Ag in the Classroom conference empowers attendees to return to their classrooms and school communities confident and capable of sharing the importance of agriculture’s significant impact on California and its economy with their students.

CFAITC is a 501(c)(3) organization that works with K-12 grade level teachers, students and community leaders, to enhance education using agricultural examples. The organization’s mission is to increase awareness and understanding of agriculture among California’s educators and students. The ultimate vision of the organization is an appreciation of agriculture by all.

Link to CFAITC news release

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School Lunches: “California Thursdays” Project Launch Follows Success of National School Lunch Week


A quick quiz:  If you could be a student anywhere in the nation during National School Lunch Week, which state would you choose? Easy answer, right? California!  Students across the nation celebrated this annual observance last week, October 12-18, and of course the California kids had the best spread to choose from. But then, we’re allowed to be a bit biased about things like that at CDFA – in fact, we’re proud of it.

To show our pride, California is taking National School Lunch Week one step further today (October 23) with “California Thursdays,” a partnership at schools throughout the state seeking to serve more healthy, freshly prepared, California-grown fruits and vegetables in cafeterias. The project is a collaboration by the Center for Ecoliteracy (CEL), partner school districts and allied organizations; and will make each Thursday a focal point for featured California-grown menu items at our schools. It’s a great way for students to learn that their state’s agriculture is something to take pride in – and something to take part in as well.

CDFA has provided support for the program with a Specialty Crop Block Grant, and our Office of Farm to Fork is helping participating schools source directly from California growers. I’m pleased to note that Office of Farm to Fork employees will be in Turlock today for the “California Thursdays” event there.

California’s innovative growers, our Mediterranean climate, our rich and varied soils, and all of the other ingredients that our state boasts help to make this the very best place for a student to get a tasty, healthy, nutritious, energy-infusing school lunch. We also have a lot of dedicated, hard-working cooks, chefs, nutritionists, food service professionals and school staff throughout this state who make it their business to put California produce on the menu at our schools. From farmers to administrators, servers and students, it takes all of us to get the job done.

There will be “California Thursdays” rollout events in 15 different school districts: Alvord, Coachella Valley, Conejo Valley, Elk Grove, Hemet, La Honda-Pescadero, Lodi, Los Angeles, Monterey Peninsula, Oakland, Oceanside, Riverside, San Diego, San Francisco, and Turlock. We look forward to seeing that list grow in the future.

These events are wonderful ways to feature California-grown produce, enrich the lives and the nutrition of our students, and emphasize the natural link between health and education.


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USDA launches site to provide climate information to farmers and ranchers


The USDA has launched a Climate Hubs web site. The new site provides a portal for farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, and others to find useful, practical information to help cope with the challenges and stressors caused by a changing climate. The site provides resources related to drought, fire risks, pests and diseases, climate variability, and heat stress, and links users to the network of USDA conservation programs and resources that provide producers with technical and financial assistance to manage risks.

Each region also has its own site. For more information, see the “USDA Climate Hubs Website: Connecting Stakeholders to the Hubs” blog.

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Honeybees stung by drought – from CNBC


By Mark Koba

There’s very little in California’s agriculture industry that’s been left untouched by the ongoing drought, and bees are no exception.

Besides making honey, bees are crucial to pollinating about one-third of all U.S. crops.

But the drought, heading into a fourth year, is threatening honey production and the ability of beekeepers to make a living in a state that was once the top honey producer in the country.

“My honey production is down about 20 percent from the drought,” said Bill Lewis, president of the California Beekeepers Association.

Lewis, who manages around 50 billion bees in Southern California, explained that the lack of rain has reduced plants that provide food for the bees and the nectar they turn into honey.

Lewis said he’s had to feed his bees much less nutritional food such as sugar water that’s threatening the health of the bees and slowing the generation of honey.

“It doesn’t have the minerals that real food from plants have,” he said. “It’s like putting them on Twinkies.”

Lewis added that feeding the bees this way costs him more but it’s a cost he can’t pass on to consumers.

“Imports of honey keep me from raising my prices,” he said. “It’s a real challenge, financially.”

Commodity Cutbacks

In 2003, California was the top honey producer in the U.S., but it has since fallen behind North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota and Florida. And according to the Department of Agriculture, California’s honey crop fell from 27.5 million pounds in 2010 to about 10.9 million pounds in 2013, or less than 5 percent of the country’s yearly $317 million crop.

But beyond honey production is bees’ crucial role in the pollination of numerous crops, like plums, strawberries, melons, lemons, broccoli and almonds.

“It’s hard to overstate the importance of bees to our industry,” said Bob Curtis, associate director of agricultural affairs at the Almond Board of California. “The drought has decreased forage for bees within California, and ensuring a variety of forage is a long-term challenge.”

Leading Production States

Pounds Produced
Dollar Value of Production
North Dakota 33,120,000 $67,565,000
Montana 14,946,000 $31,088,000
South Dakota 14,840,000 $30,570,000
Florida 13,420,000 $27,377,000
California 10,890,000 $22,869,000
Source: US Department of Agriculture


Pollination also is a revenue source for beekeepers, but a lack of irrigation water has left many fields empty. An estimated 420,000 acres of farmland went unplanted this year—about 5 percent of the total in the state. That means that fewer farmers are renting hives and beekeepers have less income.

“I’ve had to raise my prices to farmers who do rent, which hasn’t been easy,” said the California Beekeepers Association’s Lewis.

“If we don’t get any water, there will be more cutbacks on commodities,” said Eric Mussen, a professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis. “And that will affect bees, honey production and pollination of crops going forward.”

Call for help

As bad as the situation in California is—80 percent of the state is in extreme or exceptional drought—the Almond Board’s Curtis said the lack of rainfall has not prevented almond growers from getting sufficient bee pollination so far.

But the drought is just one hazard making honeybees suffer. Beehive losses worldwide have increased over the years due to pesticides, parasites and colony collapse disorder, by which adult bees disappear from colonies due to various causes.

However, for Lewis, the drought is enough of a crisis to make a plea for help, even if it means using more water.

“It’s devastating,” Lewis said. “What people can do here is plant flowers wherever there’s dirt. The bees need them.”

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Rice growers wrap up drought-impacted harvest – from Capital Press


By Tim Hearden

WILLIAMS, Calif. — As rice growers in California wrap up their harvest of a drought-diminished crop, good yields and more widespread sales of rice straw are helping them to at least partly make up for lost acreage.


The rice harvest was 85 percent complete as of Oct. 19, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Leo LaGrande, a grower here, finished work over the weekend and said his yields deteriorated as the season went along.

“We had some fields that looked good earlier and we thought it would be better, but it didn’t quite mature to the yields we wanted,” he said. “I would call it an average year for us.”

But yields remained strong for Marysville, Calif., grower Charley Mathews, who also finished harvesting last weekend, he said. Good weather during crop development led to rice that grew tall and went flat, making for slow going during harvest, he said.

“It helps,” Mathews said of the big yields. “The yields might be up ahead of last year’s state average, but not enough to close the gap in our shortfall (in acreage).”

California rice growers are expected to produce 36.8 million hundredweight, down 23 percent from last year, NASS estimated. About 140,000 acres of rice went unplanted this year because of water shortfalls — a 25 percent decrease from last year’s crop, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation.

LaGrande had to leave about one-quarter of his land unplanted, he said.

“We thought we were very fortunate because some of our neighbors had to leave 100 percent out,” he said.

However, the yield forecast of 8,000 pounds per acre would be a 1 percent increase from last year and would tie records set in 2004 and 2008, according to NASS’ office in Sacramento.

The optimistic outlook for yields follows a spring planting season that was more drawn-out than usual because exchange contractors along the Sacramento River agreed to space out their water delivery schedules to maintain the right river temperatures for winter run salmon.

Rice is typically planted between mid-April and mid-May, with harvests coming six months later, but many growers didn’t get started until mid-May and were still planting in June. Those that were still harvesting this week ran into a rainstorm on Oct. 20 that stopped their work.

While farmers welcome the rain, their water worries aren’t over. Many are unsure if there will be enough water to decompose rice straw left in fields.

Willows, Calif., grower Larry Maben may pump water from wells into his fields after harvest if there isn’t enough rain, which is “an awfully expensive source of water,” he said.

“It’s going to be kind of a balancing act,” Maben said.

With not as much water available for decomposition, more producers are baling and selling straw “than I’ve ever seen,” said Mathews, who’s on the USA Rice Federation’s executive committee.

University of California researchers reached out to growers this summer to promote converting their rice straw into “strawlage,” a feed that the scientists say is on a par with a low-quality alfalfa. UC Cooperative Extension advisors said the straw would be a good alternative for livestock producers confronted with feed shortages because of the drought.

The straw can also be used for erosion control in forest fire recovery projects, Mathews said. While decomposition helps the soil, growers can make up for the lack of straw by adding nutrients before planting next spring, he said.

LaGrande said he’ll probably bale 60 percent of his rice straw, the majority of which will be fed to cattle.

“It’s huge,” he said. “I think the dairy industry is grabbing onto it more every year. And this year with the drought, some cattlemen who really never tried rice straw before are buying into it. At $300 a ton for alfalfa or $40 a ton for rice straw, you’re going to try it.”

Link to story

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USDA to Launch New Farm Bill Program to Help Provide Relief to Farmers Affected by Severe Weather

2014 Farm Bill’s APH Yield Exclusion to be Implemented for 2015 Spring Crops

WASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 2014 – U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the implementation of a new Farm Bill initiative that will provide relief to farmers affected by severe weather, including drought. The Actual Production History (APH) Yield Exclusion, available nationwide for farmers of select crops starting next spring, allows eligible producers who have been hit with severe weather to receive a higher approved yield on their insurance policies through the federal crop insurance program.

Spring crops eligible for APH Yield Exclusion include corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, grain sorghum, rice, barley, canola, sunflowers, peanuts, and popcorn. Nearly three-fourths of all acres and liability in the federal crop insurance program will be covered under APH Yield Exclusion.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Risk Management Agency and Farm Service Agency staff worked hard to implement several 2014 Farm Bill programs ahead of schedule, such as the Agricultural Risk Coverage, the Price Loss Coverage, Supplemental Coverage Option and Stacked Income Protection Plan. USDA is now able to leverage data from the Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage to extract the information needed to implement APH Yield Exclusion earlier than expected.

“Key programs launched or extended as part of the 2014 Farm Bill are essential to USDA’s commitment to help rural communities grow. These efforts give farmers, ranchers and their families better security as they work to ensure Americans have safe and affordable food,” said Vilsack. “By getting other 2014 Farm Bill programs implemented efficiently, we are now able to offer yield exclusion for Spring 2015 crops, providing relief to farmers impacted by severe weather.”

The APH Yield Exclusion allows farmers to exclude yields in exceptionally bad years (such as a year in which a natural disaster or other extreme weather occurs) from their production history when calculating yields used to establish their crop insurance coverage. The level of insurance coverage available to a farmer is based on the farmer’s average recent yields. In the past, a year of particularly low yields that occurred due to severe weather beyond the farmer’s control would reduce the level of insurance coverage available to the farmer in future years. By excluding unusually bad years, farmers will not have to worry that a natural disaster will reduce their insurance coverage for years to come.

Under the new Farm Bill program, yields can be excluded from farm actual production history when the county average yield for that crop year is at least 50 percent below the 10 previous consecutive crop years’ average yield.

RMA will provide additional program details in December 2014.

Federal crop insurance, which is sold through private crop insurance agents, offers a variety of options that may impact coverage and premium costs. Producers are encouraged to work with their crop insurance agent to determine the coverage that best meets their risk management needs. Farmers can find a crop insurance agent in their area at:

Today’s announcement was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill. The 2014 Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit

View original release online: USDA News Release #0233.14

Contact the USDA Office of Comunications: (202) 720-4623

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Growing California video series – Acres of Ambition

The next segment in the Growing California video series, a partnership with California Grown, is “Acres of Ambition,” a  profile of a program in Salinas training farmworkers to become farmers.

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Almond Board of California introduces best practices for bees


As part of an ongoing commitment to honey bee health, the Almond Board of California released a comprehensive, set of Honey Bee Best Management Practices (BMPs) for California’s almond industry. Developed with a wide array of input from sources including the almond community, beekeepers, researchers, California and U.S. regulators, and chemical registrants, the BMPs represent the Board’s most extensive educational documents to date to ensure that almond orchards are and remain a safe and healthy place for honey bees. The documents lay out simple, practical steps that almond growers can take together with beekeepers and other pollination stakeholders to protect and promote bee health on their land and in the surrounding community.

(The) release builds on decades of work by the almond industry. Since 1995, the Almond Board of California has invested almost $1.6 million – more than any other crop – on research related to honey bee health, on subjects including Varroa mite and other honey bee pest and disease management, nutrition and honey bee forage, impact of pesticides, and technical assistance for beekeepers. Almond orchards are often honey bees first source of natural pollen after the winter, and honey bee hives routinely leave the almond orchard stronger than they arrived.1

“Nobody is a bigger fan of honey bees than almond growers. Without bees, there would be no almonds. And without almonds, bees would lose a vital source of nutritious natural pollen,” said Richard Waycott, CEO of the Almond Board of California. “These Best Management Practices are another significant milestone in our decades-long commitment to protect bee health and preserve that mutually beneficial relationship.”

“With these Best Management Practices, the Almond Board is responding strongly on honey bee health and, in particular, pesticide use and considerations during bloom,” said Dr. Eric Mussen, UC Davis Extension Apiculturist Emeritus. “Their recommendations actually go far beyond the almond orchard, providing important insights for all crops when it comes to promoting honey bee health.”

The BMPs emphasize the importance of communication among everyone involved in pollination, including beekeepers, bee brokers, farm owners/lessees, farm managers, pest control advisers and applicators. The wide ranging recommendations include information on:

  • Preparing for honey bee arrival;
  • Assessing hive strength and quality;
  • Providing clean water for bees to drink;
  • Using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies to minimize agricultural sprays;
  • Removing honey bees from the orchard; and
  • Addressing suspected pesticide-related honey bee losses

While experts have attributed honey bee health decline to a variety of factors including pests, decreasing sources of natural pollen, and lack of genetic diversity, the BMPs focus significantly on pesticide application practices and considerations during almond bloom – with lessons that apply to the multitude of other crops that rely on honey bees and that use pesticides and fungicides.2 Among the specific recommendations:

  1. There should be agreement between beekeeper and grower on a pesticide plan that outlines which pest control materials may be used.
  2. Insecticide applications should be avoided at bloom until more is known about their impact on young developing bees in the hive (bee brood).
  3. Tank mixing insecticides with fungicides should be avoided.
  4. If fungicide application is needed during bloom, it should take place in the late afternoon and evening, when bees and pollen are not present. This avoids contaminating pollen with spray materials.

Along with the full Best Management Practices, (the) release includes a Honey Bee Best Management Practices Quick Guide for Almonds, and Applicator/Driver Honey Bee Best Management Practices Quick Guide for Almonds. The guide for applicators and drivers is available in both English and Spanish to ensure maximum accessibility and adoption. Each of the documents is available in full

Link to news release

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Great ShakeOut at CDFA!

Members of CDFA's Emergency Planning Committee take part in the annual Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill.  An estimated 20 million people around the world are estimated to be participating in the event to promote earthquake readiness.

Members of CDFA’s Emergency Planning Committee take part in the annual Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill at 10:16 this morning. An estimated 20 million people around the world are estimated to be participating in the event to promote earthquake readiness.

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World Food Day a reminder of everyday challenges with food access


It is encouraging to see World Food Day observed today, a designation made possible by the inspiring work of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The goal of this day is to reach a point in time when people are no longer going hungry. The world produces enough food to feed everyone on the planet. We must find solutions to the ongoing problem of food access.

At CDFA, we work in this area every day in a number of different programs. Our Certified Farmers’ Market program helps with access through the mere presence of farmers’ markets. As the number of markets statewide continues to grow, they make valued contributions to their communities with fresh, nutritious food directly from farms. The fact that many of them now accept CalFresh cards means that some of California’s neediest families are getting the access they need, and CDFA’s Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program helps provide these foods to needy senior citizens.

CDFA’s Office of Farm to Fork improves food access from another angle – working with school districts to develop and solidify connections with local farmers, and then helping teachers provide nutrition education to their students. I was very pleased to see these efforts play a role in bringing a truly exceptional honor this week to a group of Contra Costa County students – they were invited to the White House garden to meet First Lady Michelle Obama and help harvest vegetables for the White House kitchen!

Another program that helps with food access and education is CDFA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which provides USDA Farm Bill funds through a competitive grant process for a number of projects benefiting specialty crops. In 2014, California received nearly $20 million for grant distribution. Examples of food-access projects funded this year include programs in Chico and Sacramento seeking to improve access through community gardens for low-income residents and educational opportunities in both nutrition and urban production.

We work with the California State Board of Food and Agriculture to generate donations to our state’s food banks. We declare each December as Farm-to-Food Bank Month and ask our farmers and ranchers to make a donation or a pledge. Last year, they donated more than 127 million pounds of food. That’s great, and much appreciated! However, we still have some ground to cover to reach our goal of 200 million pounds by next year.

We want to thank our partners at California Grown for its commitment to the food bank effort with its “Snap a Selfie” program. California Grown is donating a pound of food to California food banks for every #cagrown selfie that is posted on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook by end of this month. Participants are asked to take a photograph of the CA Grown logo or anything grown or produced in California and then use #cagrown in their post.

In California, it’s believed that almost four-million people are food insecure, which means they could not afford enough food at least once in the previous year. In a state as bountiful as ours, we know we have the means to provide for these families. World Food Day is a reminder that we must do it.

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