Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

Farmers on Drought — Vinnie Sassone and Steven Turley, Monterey County

As relatively new farmers in California, Steven Turley and Vinnie Sassone continue to learn the importance of responsible water management. Coming from the eastern US where droughts aren’t as common, they didn’t have the same reliance on irrigation they do now in southern Monterey County. It wasn’t as significant a consideration, Turley said. Having owned their vineyard in the San Antonio Valley since late 2018, the co-owners have not known any condition other than drought, but it seems to intensify with each passing year, according to Turley.  

CDFA interviewed Steven Turley about the experience:  

What does this drought mean for you and your farm, and what did you have to do to adapt to it? 

The greatest change we had to make has proven to be a benefit. Previously, this vineyard had been farmed for quantity, using large amounts of water to increase the yield. During our first year of production here, we decided to greatly decrease the water used on the vines, resulting in smaller fruit with a better juice-to-skin ratio. For winemakers seeking a higher-quality grape, this meant we needed to find a different type of buyer for the fruit, one that was looking specifically for grapes grown to produce an artisanal type of wine. For this reason, we can increase our price per ton. 

What are the biggest challenges you face adapting to ongoing drought? 

There is a greater sense of urgency to conserve water. This includes close monitoring of the irrigation distribution system. More time must be spent in the vineyard searching for and repairing any leaks and making sure each plant is getting the water it needs – no more, no less. 

Another challenge is the constant fear of having our well run dry. With each passing year, we hear of another neighbor having their well run dry, this would be disastrous for any farmer relying on a consistent supply of water. 

Has the drought provided you with any silver linings or happy discoveries you may not have otherwise found? 

As previously mentioned, while the drought has forced us to cut back the amount of water used, the result has been a higher quality grape for winemaking.  

Another important silver lining has been an education in water conservation. The drought led us to seek ways to monitor our usage, which led us to install a new weather station, well water meter, groundwater moisture sensors, and new valves, all Wi-Fi controlled. We received a SWEEP grant for those items, which made it all possible. 

What would your advice be to other farmers for reducing water use and improving efficiency? 

Education is key. Talk to other farmers about how they are reducing their water usage. Perhaps join a group of other farmers who are producing the same crop. There is also a lot of information on water conservation available from state agencies. It might also be beneficial to have a conversation with your buyers. Learning what their expectations are in terms of the final product might lead you to some decisions on what your farming practices will be for that year. 

With all the recent rain, it would seem like a good thing for farmers – is that the way you see it? How have the recent storms impacted some of your water savings practices? 

The recent rains are very welcome here. In addition to raising the water table in our well, there is nothing like natural rainwater to create a pH/acid balance within the soil. We have found that during the drought, the pH in our grapes has been high while the acid is low, and adjustments must be made in the winemaking process. It will be interesting to see, but we suspect that with all the rain this year, there will be a better balance, requiring fewer adjustments. 

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USDA Offers Disaster Assistance to Farmers and Livestock Producers in California Impacted by Floods

From the USDA

California agricultural operations have been significantly impacted by the recent floods throughout the state. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has technical and financial assistance available to help farmers and livestock producers recover. Impacted producers should contact their local USDA Service Center to report losses and learn more about program options available to assist in their recovery from crop, land, infrastructure and livestock losses and damages.

“Production agriculture is vital to the California economy, and USDA stands ready to assist in the recovery from these catastrophic flood events,” said Zach Ducheneaux, Administrator of USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), who met with disaster-impacted producers last week in Fresno, Yuba, Salinas Valley and other areas.  “I assure you that USDA employees are working diligently to deliver our extensive portfolio of disaster assistance programs and services to all impacted agricultural producers. We’re also proud of recent updates FSA made to disaster assistance programs that allow us to improve our response to California producers.”

USDA Disaster Assistance

Producers who experience livestock deaths may be eligible for the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP). To participate in LIP, producers will be required to provide verifiable documentation of death losses resulting from an eligible adverse weather event and must submit a notice of loss to their local FSA county office within 30 calendar days of when the loss of livestock is apparent.

Meanwhile, the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program provides eligible producers with compensation for feed and grazing losses. For ELAP, producers will need to file a notice of loss within 30 days and honeybee losses within 15 days.

Additionally, eligible orchardists and nursery tree growers may be eligible for cost-share assistance through the Tree Assistance Program to replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes or vines lost. This complements Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program  or crop insurance coverage, which covers the crop but not the plants or trees in all cases. For TAP, a program application must be filed within 90 days. 

“Once you are able to safely evaluate the impact on your operation, be sure to contact your local FSA office to timely report all crop, livestock and farm infrastructure damages and losses,” said Blong Xiong, State Executive Director for FSA in California. “To expedite FSA disaster assistance, you will likely need to provide documents, such as farm records, herd inventory, receipts and pictures of damages or losses.”

FSA also offers a variety of direct and guaranteed farm loans, including operating and emergency farm loans, to producers who are unable to secure commercial financing. Producers in counties with a primary or contiguous disaster designation may be eligible for low-interest emergency loans to help them recover from production and physical losses. Loans can help producers replace essential property, purchase inputs like livestock, equipment, feed and seed, cover family living expenses or refinance farm-related debts and other needs. Additionally, FSA has a variety of loan servicing options available for borrowers who are unable to make scheduled payments on their farm loan debt to FSA because of reasons beyond their control.

Risk Management 

Producers who have risk protection through Federal Crop Insurance or FSA’s NAP should report crop damage to their crop insurance agent or FSA office. If they have crop insurance, producers should report crop damage to their agent within 72 hours of damage discovery and follow up in writing within 15 days. For NAP covered crops, a Notice of Loss (CCC-576) must be filed within 15 days of the loss becoming apparent, except for hand-harvested crops, which should be reported within 72 hours.

“Crop insurance and other USDA risk management options are offered to help producers manage risk because we never know what nature has in store for the future,” said Jeff Yasui, Director of RMA’s Regional Office that covers California. “The Approved Insurance Providers, loss adjusters and agents are experienced and well trained in handling these types of events.”

Producers who have not applied for NAP coverage may still be covered. FSA updated NAP earlier this month to remove barriers and establish procedures through which an underserved producer with a CCC-860, Socially Disadvantaged, Limited Resource, Beginning and Veteran Farmer or Rancher Certification, on file prior to the applicable NAP application closing date will automatically receive basic coverage for any NAP-eligible crops they plant. Like all other covered producers, underserved producers will still need to file a notice of loss and apply for benefits. 

Conservation

FSA’s Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) and Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP) can assist landowners and forest stewards with financial and technical assistance to restore fencing, damaged farmland or forests. Earlier this month, FSA updated ECP to enable advance payments, up to 25% of costs, for all ECP practices. 

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) administers the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program, which provides assistance to local government sponsors with the cost of addressing watershed impairments or hazards such as debris removal and streambank stabilization.  The EWP Program is a recovery effort aimed at relieving imminent hazards to life and property caused by floods, fires, windstorms and other natural disasters. All projects must have an eligible project sponsor. NRCS may bear up to 75% of the eligible construction cost of emergency measures (90% within county-wide limited-resource areas as identified by the U.S. Census data). The remaining costs must come from local sources and can be in the form of cash or in-kind services. 

EWP is designed for installation of recovery measures to safeguard life and property as a result of a natural disaster. Threats that the EWP Program addresses are termed watershed impairments. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Debris-clogged waterways.
  • Unstable streambanks.
  • Severe erosion jeopardizing public infrastructure.
  • Wind-borne debris removal. 

Eligible sponsors include cities, counties, towns or any federally recognized Native American tribe or tribal organizations. Sponsors must be able to provide the local construction share, obtain permits and site access and agree to perform operations and maintenance of the constructed projects. Willing sponsors must submit a formal request (by mail or email) to the state conservationist for assistance within 60 days of the natural disaster occurrence or 60 days from the date when access to the sites become available. For more information, potential sponsors should contact their local NRCS office.  

“NRCS can be a very valuable partner to help communities with their recovery efforts,” said Carlos Suarez, State Conservationist for the NRCS in California. “Our staff will work with communities to make assessments of the damages and develop approaches that focus on effective recovery of the land.” 

More Information

On farmers.gov, the Disaster Assistance Discovery ToolDisaster Assistance-at-a-Glance fact sheet, and Farm Loan Discovery Tool can help producers and landowners determine program or loan options. For assistance with a crop insurance claim, producers and landowners should contact their crop insurance agent. For FSA and NRCS programs, they should contact their local USDA Service Center.

Also visit CDFA’s Flood Recovery Resources page for more information about flood recovery programs

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Secretary Ross joins state partners and diverse stakeholder group to introduce Sustainable Pest Management Roadmap for California

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross today joined leaders from a diverse range of backgrounds to unveil a roadmap of ambitious goals and actions to accelerate California’s systemwide transition to sustainable pest management and eliminate prioritized high-risk pesticides by 2050 to better protect the health of our communities and environment, while supporting agriculture, food systems and community well-being.

The Sustainable Pest Management Roadmap for California – released by the Department of Pesticide Regulation, the California Environmental Protection Agency and CDFA – charts a course for the state’s transition to sustainable pest management in agricultural and urban settings.

The roadmap was developed over nearly two years by a diverse, cross-sector group of stakeholders representing conventional and organic agriculture, urban environments, community and environmental groups, tribes, researchers, and government.

Secretary Ross spoke at an event to introduce the roadmap at UC Davis.

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CDFA offers mental health resources web page for farmers and farmworkers

The hearts of CDFA employees go out to the community in the Half Moon Bay-area following yesterday’s shootings at two farming properties, and our thoughts are also with the Monterey Park community following the tragic shootings there over the weekend.

CDFA understands that stressors felt by farmworkers and farmers are very real, and the agency maintains a webpage with mental health resources for those who need them.

Please visit our page for tips on stress management as well as information on places to turn for people requiring assistance.

Additionally, CDFA and its partners will disseminate information and resources within agricultural communities to assist farmers and farmworkers.

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Secretary Ross joins federal partners to discuss 2023 Farm Bill with farmers

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross recently traveled to the Monterey Peninsula to discuss the 2023 Farm Bill at the annual EcoFarm Conference, joining Congressman Jimmy Panetta and USDA Undersecretary Jenny Lester Moffit for a panel discussion with farmers.

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USDA offers additional assistance to dairy farmers

Cows at a dairy

From the USDA

The USDA today announced the details of additional assistance for dairy producers, including a second round of payments through the Pandemic Market Volatility Assistance Program (PMVAP) and a new Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program (ODMAP).

The update to the PMVAP and the new ODMAP will enable USDA to better support small- and medium-sized dairy operatiors who weathered the pandemic and now face other challenges. 

“The Biden-Harris administration continues to fulfill its commitments to fill gaps in pandemic assistance for producers. USDA is announcing a second set of payments of nearly $100 million to close-out the $350 million commitment under PMVAP through partnerships with dairy handlers and cooperatives to deliver the payments.,” said USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt. “USDA is also announcing new assistance targeted to small to medium size organic dairy farmers to help with anticipated marketing costs as they face a variety of challenges from weather to supply-chain challenges.”

Pandemic Market Volatility Assistance Program 

The PMVAP assists producers who received a lower value due to market abnormalities caused by the pandemic and ensuing Federal policies. As a result of the production cap increase, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will make PMVAP payments to eligible dairy farmers for fluid milk sales between 5 million and 9 million pounds from July through December 2020. This level of production was not eligible for payment under the first round of the PMVAP.  Payment rates will be identical to the first round of payments, 80 percent of the revenue different per month, on fluid milk sales from 5 million to 9 million pounds from July through December 2020.  USDA will again distribute monies through agreements with independent handlers and cooperatives, with reimbursement to handlers for allowed administrative costs. USDA will contact handlers with eligible producers to notify them of the opportunity to participate. 

As part of the first round, the PMVAP paid eligible dairy farmers on up to 5 million pounds of fluid milk sales from July through December 2020. The first round of payments distributed over $250 million in payments to over 25,000 eligible dairy farmers. These dairy farmers received the full allowable reimbursement on fluid milk sales up to 5 million pounds. 

More information about the the PMVAP production cap increase is available at www.ams.usda.gov/pmvap

Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program 

The new ODMAP, to be administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), is intended to help smaller organic dairy farms that have faced a unique set of challenges and higher costs over the past several years that have been compounded by the ongoing pandemic and drought conditions across the country. Many small organic dairy operations are now struggling to stay in business and FSA plans to provide payments to cover a portion of their estimated marketing costs for 2023. Final spending will depend on enrollment and each producers projected production, but the ODMAP has been allocated up to $100 million. 

The assistance provided by the ODMAP will be provided through unused Commodity Credit Corporation funds remaining from earlier pandemic assistance programs. The assistance will help eligible organic dairy producers with up to 75 percent of their future projected marketing costs in 2023, based on national estimates of marketing costs. This assistance will be provided through a streamlined application process based on a national per hundredweight payment. The payments will be capped at the first five million pounds of anticipated production, in alignment with preexisting dairy programs that target assistance to those smaller dairies that are most vulnerable to marketing challenges. This program is still in development.  

Details about the Organic Dairy Marketing Assistance Program will be available and updated at www.farmers.gov as more details are released in a Notice of Funds Availability later this year.

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CDFA offers flood recovery resources page on web site

Heavy rainfall in early 2023 caused floodwater challenges for many in California’s agriculture community, and CDFA is offering a web page featuring relief and support resources from state and federal partners.

We will continue to monitor the range of resources available and will update the page as needed.

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Secretary Ross greets participating farmworkers at 2023 Sonoma Grape Growers Foundation Leadership Academy

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross was in the Santa Rosa area this week to meet participating farmworkers at the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation 2023 Leadership Academy. Secretary Ross provided an overview of California agriculture and discussed the importance of a robust, highly-trained workforce.

The academy was established a year ago. Secretary Ross spoke at the program’s inaugural opening session then and hosted the participants at CDFA for their final class in the fall of 2022. She explains the importance of the academy in this video.

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DWR Accepting LandFlex Grant Applications to Protect Drinking Water Supplies

From the Department of Water Resources

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) is pleased to announce grant applications are now being accepted for the LandFlex Grant Program. The $25 million grant program awards funds to Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs) within critically overdrafted basins, which will then grant awards to growers to:

1. Immediately idle land as a drought-relief measure for a period of approximately one year

2. Permanently eliminate groundwater overdraft of these same lands. The program targets operators of small- and mid-sized farms in areas where the reduction of agricultural pumping would protect drinking water wells from going dry.

DWR, in coordination with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, is working directly with partners in non-governmental organizations and the agriculture industry to reach vulnerable communities in need and provide small or disadvantaged farmers access to the program. Partners include the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, Self-Help Enterprises, Western United Dairies Foundation, and the Almond Alliance.

The grant application process comes after the completion and review of public comments for the program’s draft guidelines. Final guidelines can be found online at https://water.ca.gov/landflex. GSAs may submit applications through February 3, 2023.

To learn more about the LandFlex program and how to apply, please visit: https://water.ca.gov/landflex.

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USDA publishes ‘Strengthening Organic Enforcement’ final rule


From a USDA news release

Today, the USDA National Organic Program (NOP) published the Strengthening Organic Enforcement (SOE) final rule, with an effective date of March 20, 2023. This update strengthens oversight and enforcement of the production, handling, and sale of organic products. This final rule implements 2018 Farm Bill mandates, responds to industry requests for updates to USDA organic regulations, and addresses National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommendations.

“Protecting and growing the organic sector and the trusted USDA organic seal is a key part of the USDA Food Systems Transformation initiative,” said Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt. “The Strengthening Organic Enforcement rule is the biggest update to the organic regulations since the original Act in 1990, providing a significant increase in oversight and enforcement authority to reinforce the trust of consumers, farmers, and those transitioning to organic production. This success is another demonstration that USDA fully stands behind the organic brand.”

What does the rule do?

SOE protects organic integrity and bolsters farmer and consumer confidence in the USDA organic seal by supporting strong organic control systems, improving farm to market traceability, increasing import oversight authority, and providing robust enforcement of the organic regulations. Key updates include:

  • Requiring certification of more of the businesses, like brokers and traders, at critical links in organic supply chains.
  • Requiring NOP Import Certificates for all organic imports.
  • Requiring organic identification on nonretail containers.
  • Increasing authority for more rigorous on-site inspections of certified operations.
  • Requiring uniform qualification and training standards for organic inspectors and certifying agent personnel.
  • Requires standardized certificates of organic operation.
  • Requires additional and more frequent reporting of data on certified operations.
  • Creates authority for more robust recordkeeping, traceability practices, and fraud prevention procedures.
  • Specify certification requirements for producer groups.

SOE complements and supports the many actions that USDA takes to protect the organic label, including the registration of the USDA organic seal trademark with the USPTO. The registered trademark provides authority to deter uncertified entities from falsely using the seal, which together with this new rule provides additional layers of protection to the USDA organic seal.

Who is affected?

The rule may affect USDA-accredited certifying agents; organic inspectors; certified organic operations; operations considering organic certification; businesses that import or trade organic products; and retailers that sell organic products. To see if you are affected by SOE, please read the full rule available at: www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection/2023-00702/national-organic-program-strengthening-organic-enforcement

When must organic operations comply with the rule?

Organic operations, certifying agents, and other organic stakeholders affected by the rule will have one year from the effective date of the rule to comply with the changes.

Learn more about the final rule: www.ams.usda.gov/organic/SOE.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross: “We commend the USDA National Organic Program for taking these vital steps to ensure the integrity of organic certification and labeling with enhanced regulations and enforcement. Our California State Organic Program looks forward to working with the NOP and organic industry on these important changes and collectively strengthening California’s valued organic agriculture.”

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