Water in Agriculture Forum highlights cooperation between California and Israel

Today, Secretary Karen Ross and Israeli Agricultural Minister Uri Ariel signed a Letter of Intent (see below) on agricultural cooperation furthering the commitment between California and Israel in addressing issues related to a changing climate.

The document was signed during the opening ceremony of the Water in Agriculture – Seminar & Discussion being held in Sacramento, jointly hosted by the CDFA and Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of the State of Israel. The forum brings together both Israeli and California government officials, businesses and researchers to address water/agriculture-related issues while also exploring opportunities for future innovation and sustainable management of water resources.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross discusses cooperative efforts with Minister Uri Ariel during the opening ceremony at today’s Water in Agriculture event.

At today’s Water in Agriculture event, (from left) Josh Eddy of CDFA, Ifat Weiss, CDFA Secretary Karen Ross, Minister Uri Ariel and his wife; Consul General Andy David, and Economic Consul Gili Ovadia.

Dr Jay Lund with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences presenting at today’s Water in Agriculture event.

Posted in Climate Change, Climate Smart Agriculture, Drought | Leave a comment

Farmers look back at range of impacts from drought – From Ag Alert

By Dave Kranz, Ag Alert

Lessons learned during the multi-year California drought will help farmers and ranchers cope with the next one—and those lessons extended beyond the farm to the realms of policy and public perception, according to farmers who spoke at a water conference in Monterey.

Four farmers from different parts of the Central Valley talked about impacts of the drought during a panel discussion at the Association of California Water Agencies event last week.

Stanislaus County nut grower Jake Wenger said coping with water shortages during the drought required “ingenuity and creativity.”

“It made us stronger, it made us better, it made us more prepared for the next drought, which we know is going to happen,” Wenger said.

Rice farmer Greg Johnson, executive vice president of Far West Rice in Butte County, said he had weathered two droughts during his career—in the early 1990s and the recent one—and that improved technology made “a tremendous difference” in how the farm coped. Zero-grade leveling of rice fields has made water use more efficient, he said, and the availability of online data from the Western Canal Water District allows farmers to keep close track of water usage.

“Now, growers have access to their usage records almost immediately,” Johnson said. “On a daily basis, you can look at what you’ve used and what your allocation has left.”

For Cannon Michael, who grows a variety of vegetable and field crops at Los Banos-based Bowles Farming Co., the drought resulted in an agricultural community committed to finding water-policy solutions for fish and for farms. It also demonstrated to farmers the need to work collaboratively toward those solutions, Michael said.

“I think the overlying understanding is that we all have to work together,” he said. “We’ve got better relationships now between different areas that maybe felt like they were immune to some of the problems that were happening along the west side of the valley for a long time.”

Aubrey Bettencourt, who farms with her family in Kings County and serves as executive director of the California Water Alliance, said the impact of the drought underlined for farmers the importance of communication, whether with water districts, regulatory agencies, county governments, others in agriculture and the non-agricultural public.

“Communication is key,” Bettencourt said. “We’re still learning, still debating how best to do that, but I think we’re getting much better.”

The theme of the ACWA panel encouraged the farmers to discuss what they wished urban Californians knew about farming. More than one participant remarked about the time they must spend in the office, rather than in the field, dealing with the wide spectrum of regulations that govern their operations. They also discussed the constant innovation needed to maintain a successful California farm.

“We’re very quick to adapt new technologies,” Johnson said. “We’re looking for better ways to do our jobs, ways of cutting down on input costs, ways of protecting our farms and protecting the land.”

For California farmers to stay in business, Michael said, “we’re going to have to be at some level recognized for the additional steps we take for paying a living wage, for paying overtime, all these things that even other neighbors in the U.S. don’t do.”

He described himself as “a transformer of water into a useable product that people need and value.”

The drought brought added focus to the amount of water used to produce California crops, and Bettencourt said it showed how the value of water should be based on what that water can produce.

“So long as you value that almond, that’s what it costs in water,” she said. “If you think about water in those terms, the value of that lettuce is the cost of the water to put into it. So as long as you value the lettuce, you have to value the water you put into that lettuce.”

During a discussion of the sustainability of Central Valley agriculture—another topic that arose during the drought—Wenger pointed out that different groups define “sustainability” differently.

“I think the concept of sustainability is being able to produce and do something so you’re not having environmental impacts, so the ground stays available in the way that it was, in perpetuity,” he said, “that the water supply stays available in perpetuity, that you are not making negative impacts on your environment and your surroundings.”

The panelists agreed that to remain sustainable, California farmers will need to adapt constantly with new technology, new crops, sophisticated management and continuous awareness of their status in the political and media spheres.

Michael, whose family started farming in California in 1858, put it this way: “Especially in California, you’d better be a pretty shrewd businessperson if you’re going to be around for one generation, let alone six.”

See the original article on the Ag Alert site here.

(Dave Kranz, editor of Ag Alert, moderated the panel discussion at the ACWA conference. He may be contacted at dkranz@cfbf.com.)

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Video: Secretary Ross joins celebration of the formation of the California Farm Demonstration Network – from UC ANR


The newly formed Farm Demonstration Network is designed to increase the adoption of improved-performance conservation agriculture systems in California.

Founding signatories, including CDFA Secretary Karen Ross, gathered on May 5 to launch the network with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU): the California Farm Bureau Federation, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the California Association of Resource Conservation Districts, the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the University of California, Davis College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences.

Learn more about the MOU signing ceremony and the Farm Demonstration Network here.

 

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Dairy and Livestock Working Group Kickoff Meeting at CDFA

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross (center) with Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols and PUC member Cliff Rechtschaffen today at the first meeting of the Dairy and Livestock Greenhouse Gas Reduction Working Group, which will collaborate on the development of a plan to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane from dairy cows and other livestock. The meeting continues today until 2 pm and can be viewed via live stream.  

 

The meeting has drawn a capacity crowd to CDFA’s auditorium.

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First came hydrogen cars; now the refueling stations – from the New York Times

A hydrogen refueling station in Hayward.
Photo from the New York Times

Note – The California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Division of Measurement Standards plays an important role in the ongoing development of hydrogen fueling stations by certifying hydrogen fuel meters and regulating fuel quality, advertising and labeling in the marketplace. For more please see the video at the end of this story. 

By Neal E. Boudette

The daily commute is a real grind for most people, but not for Heather McLaughlin.

In February, Ms. McLaughlin leased a 2017 Honda Clarity FC, a sedan powered by hydrogen fuel cells and available only in California. And it has transformed her daily 20-mile commute near San Francisco.

With no pistons or spark plugs, the car is serenely quiet. Its electric motor provides a peppy ride. And wherever Ms. McLaughlin goes, the only thing that comes out of the tailpipe is a bit of water vapor. There are no pollutants, no greenhouse gases.

“On cold mornings you can actually see drops of water — it’s so cool,” Ms. McLaughlin said recently. “Driving to work is usually the best part of my day.”

Right now, a morning ride in a hydrogen-powered car is possible only in California. But in the coming months, environmentally minded consumers on the East Coast will have the opportunity to join in.

Automakers and environmentalists have long hailed fuel cells as a revolutionary technology that can reduce planet-warming tailpipe emissions, which account for a significant portion of the greenhouse gases released in the United States. After years of development, several models are now on the road, like the Toyota Mirai and the Honda Clarity FC.

The next challenge is building networks of hydrogen stations so owners can refuel their cars.

So far California has 30, enough to enable owners to drive throughout the state without worry of running out of hydrogen, and it intends to expand that to 100 by 2020. Sales of fuel-cell vehicles have been limited to the state so far.

The automakers are poised, however, to expand into the Northeast. Air Liquide, a producer of industrial gases, is working with Toyota to set up a chain of 12 hydrogen fueling stations stretching from New York to Boston; the first is expected to go into operation later this year. Locations will include the Bronx; Brooklyn; Hempstead, N.Y., on Long Island; Lodi, N.J.; Hartford; and Braintree and Mansfield, Mass.

The availability of hydrogen fuel will pave the way for the start of East Coast sales.

The Northeast is “the next critical step toward a much wider distribution of fuel-cell vehicles,” said Craig Scott, director of Toyota’s advanced technology group. The densely populated Northeastern states “in some sense could rival California as a market,” he said, adding, “As a region, they have very good sales potential.”

In March, Hyundai previewed a new fuel-cell sport utility vehicle that it plans to introduce next year.

Steve Center, Honda’s vice president for environmental business development, said oil companies and others were also showing interest in adding hydrogen fueling stations on the East Coast. “What we want to see is clusters of fueling stations in the cities, and then connectors in corridors between the big cities so you have fueling between Boston, New York, Washington,” he said.

California has had an advantage because it is a large state with a government committed to supporting zero-emissions technologies. “In the Northeast, you have different states under different leadership, so it’s a little tougher to get a unifying plan,” Mr. Center said.

The automakers say they plan to continue to push ahead with fuel-cell technology even if the Trump administration pulls back federal support for advanced-technology cars. The companies believe that they will be required, within a decade or two, to produce large numbers of cars and trucks that release nothing into the atmosphere in most markets around the world.

“We know the end game is zero emissions,” said Mark Reuss, General Motors’ executive vice president for global product development.

Fuel cells operate by setting off a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. The two elements bond, creating an electric charge. Stack a few hundred cells together, and they can generate enough electricity to power a car motor.

Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, if they take off, could offer advantages over the battery-powered cars on the road now, like the Tesla Model S and the Nissan Leaf. Electric vehicles need to be recharged, sometimes for a few hours, when their batteries run down. While the Chevrolet Bolt is said to go 238 miles before needing to recharge, others are more limited.

A version of the Clarity powered by batteries goes just 80 miles on a single charge. By comparison, the Clarity FC — the fuel-cell version — can go 366 miles on a full tank.

The Clarity FC is a four-door sedan and is the same size as a Honda Accord, but it features more futuristic touches including slitlike headlamps, a sloping roofline and angular taillamps. It was designed from the ground up for an electric powertrain, which enabled Honda to create more interior space while fitting in two nearly indestructible hydrogen tanks.

Refueling the Clarity and the Mirai is virtually the same process as filling a car with gasoline. In California, owners pull up to what looks like a normal fuel pump. The fueling hose clicks into the car’s intake port, and hydrogen gas is forced into the tanks. It all takes three to five minutes.

Most of the hydrogen pumps in California are at existing gas stations. The state recently provided $32 million in grants to fund the construction of 15 additional fueling stations.

So far, Toyota is in the lead in sales, having sold about 1,400 Mirais. The company expects sales to exceed 3,000 by year’s end. Honda started selling the Clarity this year and has delivered about 100. Hyundai has also leased a small number of fuel-cell versions of its Tucson S.U.V. in Southern California.

In a bid to cut the cost of fuel-cell systems, G.M. and Honda are setting up a plant in Michigan to mass-produce fuel-cell systems that both companies will use in future hydrogen-powered vehicles. The companies hope that by pooling their resources they can quickly increase production and lower costs.

For now, subsidies are offered to make fuel-cell vehicles more affordable. Both the Clarity FC and the Mirai have list prices of about $58,000, although almost all customers lease the vehicles. The federal government gives a $7,500 tax credit on zero-emissions vehicles, and the state of California offers a $5,000 grant on top of that.

The Trump administration has not yet made clear if it plans to scrap the federal tax credit. If it does, that could severely crimp sales of high-mileage cars like electric vehicles.

The automakers add incentives of their own, too. Toyota and Honda give their customers credit cards for up to $15,000 of fuel over the first three years of ownership. Hydrogen fuel is still significantly more expensive than gasoline. Filling a tank costs about $75.

In addition, both Toyota and Honda provide a rental car for up to three weeks a year, in case a customer needs to go on a long trip out of range of hydrogen fueling stations and their Mirai or Clarity FC has to stay home.

Ms. McLaughlin, the Clarity FC owner in California, says she pays $369 a month to lease her car — a great deal in her view, given the benefits Honda is providing.

“I love never paying for fuel, and I probably will take advantage of the rental car coverage at some point,” she said. “I almost feel like they are paying me to own the car.”

 Link to story

View this CDFA video on hydrogen-fueled vehicles.

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Soil Health Institute releases action plan – from Agri Pulse

By Steve Davies, Agri Pulse

Farmers and ranchers need better tools to measure and understand the value of soil health, the Soil Health Institute said in a sweeping action plan released recently.

Enriching Soil, Enhancing Life” lays out a series of goals along with accompanying “data gaps” that need to be addressed with research. Among the more ambitious objectives: development of a national soil health assessment.

“It’s really become increasingly recognized that soil health represents one of those rare win-win situations where what is good for the farmer or the rancher is also good for the environment,” said C. Wayne Honeycutt, president and CEO of the institute and a former deputy chief for science and technology at the Natural Resources Conservation Service. But he added, “To achieve more advances in soil health, it really does require science-based information.”

Honeycutt spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where he was joined by Bill Buckner, president and CEO of the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation; Keith Alverson, a 6th-generation farmer who serves as a member of the Corn Board of the National Corn Growers Association; Leonard Jordan, acting chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service; Jerry Lynch, vice president and chief sustainability officer at General Mills; and Michael Doane, director of working lands at The Nature Conservancy. Bruce Knight, former NRCS chief and the principal and founder of Strategic Conservation Solutions, moderated.

The action plan calls for extensive research, both in laboratories and in the field, in order to develop tools that can be used to measure soil health, but also to establish the link between soil health and human health.

“While it is recognized that soils are important for human health, a paucity of research exists on these relationships, especially when considered in light of the potential benefits likely to be realized,” the plan says, listing as priorities the improvement of water quality through more efficient nutrient use, as well as increased carbon sequestration and a reduction of greenhouse gases.

“In some soils and environments, improving soil health can enhance available water holding capacity, infiltration, and nutrient availability,” the action plan says. “However, specific relationships between soil organic carbon and AWHC, along with the relationships between SOC and water infiltration, differ among soils.”

Alverson, who farms corn and soybeans on 2,600 acres in South Dakota, said he has been working to increase organic matter in his soil.

“Each percentage (point) of increase in organic matter can hold about 1.43 acre inches of water,” Alverson said. “You talk to some of the seed trade providers and they say that modern corn hybrids can produce about 10 bushels of grain for every inch of water that you provide the crops.”

After about 30 years of ridge-till farming, he said the organic matter has increased about 1.5 percent, which translates into “about 20 bushels to the acre of added production capacity that we see on an annual basis.”

The renewed focus on soil health is necessary because the world’s remaining arable soil “is degrading at rapid rate,” said General Mills’ Lynch, quoting from the action plan. “We’ve got a real challenge in front of us.”

“Agriculture is a great part of our economy but we have unintended effects,” The Nature Conservancy’s Doane said. “We need to recognize those and we think we can address them.”

“Many of our waterways are straining under the stress of sediment and nutrient loads that cause eutrophication, declining fisheries, and clean water problems,” Doane said, estimating that if half of all ag land in the U.S. now planted to row crops were managed for soil health, “we would eliminate 116 million tons of soil erosion annually” and cut the amount of nutrients lost to the environment by 344 million pounds.

“In 33 years, there is going to be another 2 billion people on this earth to feed,” Honeycutt said. “We’re losing land at an alarming rate, and farmers are increasingly challenged to deal with more and more extreme weather events – all the way from drought to heavy precipitation.”

He and the other speakers repeatedly emphasized the benefits to both the environment and producers of addressing soil health. But Honeycutt also said, “We know farmers and ranchers are businessmen and women. … It has to be economically viable for them, and so we’ve identified specific actionable steps to quantify the profitability of these soil health-promoting practices.”

Lynch said he is excited about the development of measurement tools. “Having a measurement system that is pragmatic … that everybody agrees on is really important, so we’re all pulling in the same direction.”

The institute was established in December 2015 with a $20 million, 10-year investment from the Noble Foundation and “ongoing support from the Farm Foundation,” Buckner said.

Some of the action plan’s goals, along with “desired outcomes,” are excerpted below.

Goal: Enhance productivity and resilience through improved soil health

Desired outcomes: Enhanced soil productivity and resilience to extreme weather by increasing available water holding capacity, increasing water infiltration into soils, suppressing soil-borne plant pathogens, and increased nutrient availability.

Goal: Quantify and enhance environmental and human health benefits that result from improved soil health

Desired outcomes: This research will result in improved water quality through increased nutrient use efficiency and reduced nutrient losses, increased climate change mitigation through reduced greenhouse gas emissions and increased carbon sequestration, and will establish the current state of knowledge on the relationships between soil health and human health.

Goal: Determine the appropriate measurements to initiate a national soil health assessment and to assess soils at specific locations, including a framework for comparing new and established measurements.

Desired outcomes: Widely accepted measurements for routine, national-scale use to quantify physical, chemical, and biological properties and processes in soils will have valid relationships to soil health. The suite of routine and widely used measurements will be open to new and improved measurements and methodologies.

Goal: Design and conduct pilot studies to evaluate approaches to large scale assessments of soil health

Desired outcomes: Data from measurements chosen for pilot assessments will be used to establish a national dataset that will eventually include national assessment data, and will represent management systems from a range of poor to excellent soil health status nationwide, such that they provide information on the functioning of essential biological, physical, and chemical soil properties and processes:

Goal: Conduct a full National Soil Health Assessment

Desired outcomes: The full NSHA will:

  • establish baselines for soil health at regional to national scales;
  • identify trends in changes in soil health;
  • establish a context to interpret soil health information obtained for individual land managers and local decision makers;
  • support selection of land management practices that will lead to improvements in soil health and the resulting benefits to agricultural production and natural resources; and
  • provide information to policy makers responsible for public policies in agriculture and natural resources

Goal: Quantify economic risk of soil health management systems

Desired outcomes: The resilience-promoting aspects of soil health management systems will result in increased yield stability (i.e., less variation in yield among years and/or locations) and reduced economic risk, thereby providing a key incentive for farmers and ranchers to adopt soil health management systems.

Goal: Determine profitability of soil health management practices and systems

Desired outcomes: Educational materials developed for and distributed to farmers will inform decisionmaking related to the impacts of soil health management systems on potential profitability. This is expected to increase adoption of soil health-promoting practices.

Goal: Establish Approaches for Monetization of Soil Health

Desired outcomes: The economic values of soil health will be established from both producer and public perspectives.

Goal: Make soil health the cornerstone of natural resources management policies throughout the nation

Desired outcomes: Natural resources policies support research, education, and adoption of soil health management systems. Public policies related to agriculture and natural resources management routinely consider impacts on soil health when evaluating intended and unintended consequences.

See the original press release on the Agri Pulse site here.

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May is CalFresh Awareness Month

California has the largest Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the nation. Our state’s farmers and ranchers are proud to play a critical role in reducing hunger and improving health. Throughout the month of May, our state is highlighting the importance of providing nutrition assistance to low income households through the CalFresh Program.

The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) is encouraging counties to focus CalFresh Awareness Month activities on alleviating childhood hunger and enrolling eligible families in CalFresh through partnerships with the Women, Infants, and Children program, school meals, First 5, and Medi-Cal.

These partnerships are the critical foundation in developing coordinated plans to connect children to all available nutrition and medical services. CDSS is also encouraging counties to continue to increase overall program participation by supporting public and private partnerships that work together to reduce food insecurity in our state.

Together we can increase the number of families that receive assistance to purchase the food they need and improve the health and wellbeing of children.

For information on agencies in your community that provide CalFresh Outreach application assistance please see the list on the CalFresh Outreach website.

 

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Profiles in stewardship: how California specialty crop growers are producing a better environment – from American Farmland Trust

Across the Golden State, California agriculture producers are increasingly recognizing their responsibility to contribute to a healthier environment.

This portfolio of profiles compiled by American Farmland Trust showcases outstanding real-world examples of environmental stewardship by California specialty crop producers. These are stories about significant efforts to increase on-farm conservation practices, presented in an interactive map containing more than 60 profiles.

“These stewardship profiles clearly show how much California specialty crop growers love the land,” said CDFA secretary Karen Ross. “The profiles show a commitment to constant adaptation and preparing for the next generation. As consumers, we are the beneficiaries of the bounty that California agriculture produces and the care with which it is grown.  We salute the specialty crop producers who are featured and we commend American Farmland Trust for sharing their stories!”

In a world where consumers increasingly care about how and where their food is produced, better stewardship practices are key to enhancing the California agricultural brand. California farmers must be ready to rise to the challenge. These stories are intended to inform and inspire other specialty crop growers to pursue environmental quality as an integral and prominent feature of their operations.

Link to American Farmland Trust website.

 

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Kickoff meeting of Dairy and Livestock GHG Working Group – May 23

The California Air Resources Board, in partnership with the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), and California Energy Commission (CEC), will host the first meeting of the Dairy and Livestock Greenhouse Gas Reduction Working Group on May 23, 2017.  The first meeting of the Working Group will be held on:

Date:  May 23, 2017

Time: 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM

Location:

CDFA’s Main Auditorium

1220 N Street

Sacramento, CA 95814.

The meeting will be live-streamed for online viewing, but this will be a listen-in only option. Public comments will be received at the meeting. Members of the public who wish to provide oral comments at the meeting should plan to attend in person. More information on the Working Group and meeting materials can be found at https://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/shortlived/shortlived.htm

The formation of the Working Group is called for by legislation passed in 2016, Senate Bill 1383 (Lara), which requires the State to develop and approve a plan to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs). Short-lived climate pollutants, including methane from dairy cows and other livestock, are greenhouse gases that, despite having a relatively short residence time in the atmosphere, have a powerful warming influence.  They are also harmful air pollutants. Accomplishing swift reductions of SLCP emissions can have a significant impact on cumulative climate change, lessening harmful climate change impacts over the long term, and can improve public health.

Methane from dairy manure and enteric fermentation make up the largest portion of California agriculture’s 8% total greenhouse gas emissions. CDFA houses two incentive programs to provide dairies with financial assistance to reduce methane emissions; the Dairy Digester Research and Development Program and the Alternative Manure Management Practices Program. Despite the development of these programs and the growing efforts to reduce emissions, there are still many challenges which the Working Group will address.

The newly-formed Working Group will identify and address technical, market, regulatory, and other barriers to the development of dairy methane reduction projects. The Working Group, made up of CDFA, partner agencies and a diverse group of stakeholders and experts, will produce recommendations to advance methane reductions on and achieve other co-benefits from California dairies and livestock operations while also supporting the resiliency and sustainability of California’s world-renown dairy and livestock industry. The Working Group will also foster important relationships and build the cooperation necessary to maximize environmental benefits, minimize impacts to disadvantaged communities, and utilize available resources efficiently.

 

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CDFA Border Inspection Stations recognize National Police Week

Several of California’s Border Inspection Stations, including this one at Topaz along Hwy 395, are utilizing electronic signboards to recognize National Law Enforcement Week, May 14-20. CDFA partners with law enforcement and other government agencies in a number of ways to protect California and its environment. Electronic signboards are a relatively new feature at CDFA’s Border Inspection Stations. Before long all 16 stations will have them.

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