A sweet farewell – Climate Smart Agriculture Mission to Australia

Nutella

New South Wales: One of our last stops in Australia was so fun – Ferrero Rocher, the world’s third largest confectionary!! Claudio Cavallini, general manager of the company’s Australian agriculture program, welcomed us to the 2,000-hectare property -a former cattle ranch being converted to hazelnut plantings. In addition to its famous namesake chocolates, Nutella is one of the company’s products.

The company sources its hazelnuts from Turkey, Italy, Chile, Argentina, the U.S., Spain, South Africa and Serbia. Australia is the latest addition to its growing sites, which are selected for climate, chill hours, soils and access to water. Diversifying sourcing locations helps manage risk and ensure the best quality and freshest hazelnuts.

Ferrero Rocher started as a family pasticceria in the Piedmont area of Italy. It is headquartered in Milan. I am impressed by its corporate commitment to responsible stewardship and its programs to foster healthy rural development in +regions where its products are sourced. The company has met its goal for sustainably-sourced palm oil and is on track to meet goals for sustainably-sourced chocolate.

Hazelnuts

A Ferrero Rocher hazelnut orchard in New South Wales

The farm we visited is designed not only as a production farm but also as a research, development and demonstration site to assist growers in bringing hazelnuts to the region. It includes a nursery and an amazing deployment of technology to improve water use efficiency and reduce energy use. Compost is used extensively to get the shrubs started. Sorghum and casuarina are planted every five rows for windbreaks.

After planting has been completed later this year, the next phase of the project will be a cracking and drying facility where the company plans to deploy an aggressive clean energy strategy. The high cost of energy has been mentioned as a driver for change in all of our meetings this week.

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Citrus Down Under – Climate Smart Agriculture Mission to Australia

Australian citrus farmer Frank Mercuri greeting the Climate Smart Agriculture delegation.

Australian citrus farmer Frank Mercuri greeting the Climate Smart Agriculture delegation.

New South Wales: Australian farmers grow some of the same specialty crops as we do in California, including citrus. Frank Mercuri, chairman of Pacific Fresh, hosted us for a tour of as citrus packing house and an orchard. Pacific Fresh is owned by 8 farmers and packs for another 22 growers. The co-op was established in 1997 and has quickly grown to the country’s fifth-largest. It is affiliated with Sunkist in California. Exports are critical to the Australian citrus industry. It ships 65 percent of its production overseas.

Frank told us Valencia prices are almost double this year –even for juice. This is in part due of the loss of Florida Valencia orchards to Huanglongbing, or citrus greening, the disease carried and spread by the Asian citrus psyllid. This is yet another example of how interconnected we are in the world of agriculture

In the middle of Vallerosa Orchard (named for the small Italian town where Frank’s parents were born) we had a great discussion about water, the water trading system of Australia, and how this area of New South Wales has thrived. Growers in this region had full water allocations even during the drought. Water use efficiency has increased in recent years, which has allowed growers to sell water on a short-term basis some years, making the water an asset on their balance sheets.

Here’s a member of our delegation, Emily Rooney, president of the Agricultural Council of California.

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Impressions of a vast, dry continent – Climate Smart Agriculture Mission to Australia

The New South Wales countryside

The New South Wales countryside

New South Wales: On this day we left Canberra at 7am and traveled south and west to what is known as “irrigation country.” The scenery reminds me of a drive from Sacramento to Ione (Amador County). Our stops included a visit with representatives of Coleambally Irrigation, a farmer-owned co-op. The district encompasses 491 irrigated farms producing rice, wheat, corn, cotton, barley, soy beans, canola, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. We received an on-the-ground look at water reforms, featuring a system that runs on solar power and includes broadband communications. Water orders can be met within 2 hours and there is precise regulation of flows, precise measurement, and automated water accounting.

We saw first-hand that farmers here have embraced solutions beyond water management. LandCare is a grass-roots conservation program that partners with landholders to plant trees, foster biodiversity, capture soil moisture, and protect waterways. The program connects students, families and retirees to natural resources through community events. Cost share funding for restoration projects comes through federal and state government grants.

Photo of map

Representatives of LandCare provide an overview of their regional work with a map of New South Wales.

LandCare has expanded its focus to include community engagement events to address increasing mental health issues in rural farming communities. The social aspect of land stewardship is a critical component of healthy communities and shows the true value of resource management and restoration on the land.

As we continue our work in California to adapt to climate change and manage our way through a drought that, believe it or not, is still with us, there is much to learn in Australia. The country endured its own epic drought from 1995-2012 and has developed strategies for sustainability that are the reason for our visit.

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Photo highlights from #CalAgDay 2017

It wouldn't be Ag Day at the California Capitol without "Cool Cow" and our rodeo queens (from left): Brittney Phillips, Miss Rodeo California; Megan Ford, Miss California Rodeo Salinas; and Leandra Steenkamp, Miss Grand National Rodeo 2017.

It just wouldn’t be Ag Day at the California Capitol without “Cool Cow” and our rodeo queens (from left): Brittney Phillips, Miss Rodeo California; Megan Ford, Miss California Rodeo Salinas; and Leandra Steenkamp, Miss Grand National Rodeo 2017.

 

Special thanks to Bob Laliberte and Robbie Chessey for their help with the photography this year.

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Ag Day underway

Under cloudy bu dry skies, Ag Day 2017 is underway at the State Capitol. This year, SnapChat users may use this special filter to frame their Ag Day photos.  All social mdeia users are urged to use the #CalAgDay hashtag for their photos

Under cloudy but dry skies, Ag Day 2017 is underway at the State Capitol. SnapChat users attending the event may use this special filter to frame their Ag Day photos. All social media users are urged to use the #CalAgDay hashtag for their photos

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Ag Day today – rain or shine!

Ag Day is today! Join us at the west steps of the State Capitol from 11:30-1:30, rain or shine!

Ag Day is today! Join us at the west steps of the State Capitol from 11:30-1:30, rain or shine!

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Climate Smart Agriculture Policy Mission – Secretary Ross and Ag delegation in Australia

Old Parliament House in Canberra, Australia. Once the seat of Parliament, it has served as a museum in recent years.

Old Parliament House in Canberra, Australia. Once the seat of Parliament, it has served as a museum in recent years.

CANBERRA, the Australian capital: A number of us were late in arriving to Canberra because of weather delays while traveling. So we made a quick turnaround to join up with the rest of the delegation and our hosts for day-one of our visit, starting at the offices of the Australian agriculture ministry.

We then observed the Parliamentary “Question Time” at the Capitol building. Now that is an interesting way for members to question/challenge the prime minister and majority party about leadership policies and proposals!

Australian troops awaiting review by the prime minister.

Australian troops awaiting review by the prime minister.

As we left the building there was quite a display of military in front of the Parliament awaiting review by the prime minister. The Capitol itself is an impressive structure; it is built upon a hill overlooking a reflecting pool, the nation’s war museum, and a mall leading to a war memorial.

The afternoon of our first day ended with a fascinating meeting with staff at Australia’s Climate Change Authority and its Department of the Environment and Energy. The Authority is an independent agency established to advise the government on emissions reduction strategies. It has a nine-member board of experts, including a chief scientist. It has recently undertaken an “action on the land” research project to seek ways to better coordinate action to reduce carbon emissions, enhance the natural environment, and improve on-farm profitability.

Australia's current Parliament building.

Australia’s current Parliament building.

We had a great discussion about what works and what doesn’t; Australia’s reverse credit auction process; and how to achieve/fund multiple benefits from land management practices. The California delegation peppered them with questions. I guess we were inspired by “Question Time!”

 

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A Farm Bill for our families

House-Button_FarmBillCDFA is in the midst of preparing California’s recommendations for the 2018 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill is renewed every five years and serves as the policy guideline for food and farming in the United States. The legislation touches all of us in numerous ways, as this series of blog posts will explain in greater detail.       

The Farm Bill affects well-being of families across the country, including right here in California, by helping to facilitate access to nutritious foods. With the support of the Farm Bill, California is committed to increasing food access for our most vulnerable and food-insecure communities. According to some estimates, up-to 20 percent of Californians are at risk of food insecurity, including more than two-million children, and more than one-million residents live in “food deserts,” where they lack access to basic grocery stores stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables. As the country’s largest producer of specialty crops, we must work to change that. Two titles in the Farm Bill – Nutrition and Horticulture – are helping us reach this goal.

Nutrition

The first of these titles is Title 4, or the Nutrition title. As the largest piece of the Farm bill pie (Nutrition accounts for over 80 percent of Farm Bill spending), the Nutrition title creates the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. SNAP is the country’s largest food safety net program, and it helps millions of American families. In California, SNAP is known as CalFresh, and it provides nearly 4.2 million Californians with benefits. This support program also stimulates the economy. According to the USDA, every dollar invested in SNAP generates $1.79 in economic activity. Alongside SNAP, the Nutrition title also provides:

  • $200 million for job training to help Americans get back on their feet
  • $125 million for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative to help bridge the gap between underserved communities and healthy food retailers
  • $100 million in incentives to increase fresh fruit and vegetable purchases
  • An additional $250 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program to help low- income families and senior citizens access food.

Specialty Crops

Numerous studies suggest that lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables (specialty crops) can result in negative health impacts, including higher rates of diabetes and obesity. Through the Horticulture title, Title 10, the Farm Bill provides California with the support it needs for growth in the specialty crops sector through a variety of approaches, including the creation of promotional programs.

One example of this is “California Food for California Kids: Promoting California Grown Fruits and Vegetables in Summer Meals”. This program, established through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program(SCBGP), promotes the quality and benefits of healthy, freshly prepared meals made with California grown fruits and vegetables. Specialty crop programs receive:

  • $30 million to increase the consumption of locally and regionally produced agricultural products
  • $72.5 million to the SCBGP to support marketing, pest management and food safety efforts
  • $11.5 to the Organic Cost Share program to assist organic producers in their certification efforts

Both of these Farm Bill titles are instrumental in ensuring that Californians as well as all Americans have access to nutritious, safe and healthy food. California is the country’s number-one producer of specialty crops. Our farmers and ranchers are committed to producing fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables that have positive impacts for our families.

 

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Video – Parasitic wasps released in Asian citrus psyllid project in Santa Clara County

Tamarixia radiata, a tiny stingless wasp utilized the Asian citrus psyllid program

A magnified photo of tamarixia radiata, a tiny stingless wasp utilized in the Asian citrus psyllid program. The actual size of the wasp has been compared to fleas or particles of dust.

CDFA has initated the release of tiny parasitic stingless wasps in Santa Clara County as part of the Asian citrus psyllid project there.

The wasps, called tamarixia radiata, control psyllid populations by parasitizing their egg masses. Once a population of wasps is released, successive generations are capable of flying up-to eight miles in search of Asian citrus psyllids.

This approach is one of many examples of CDFA pursuing biological control methods in its pest prevention programs.

In this video shot yesterday in San Jose, CDFA’s Dr. David Morgan discusses the program and then introduces the wasps to Santa Clara County agricultural commissioner Joe Deviney. Following that, Dr. Morgan and Deviney release the wasps on a property containing grapefruit, tangerine and kumquat trees.

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More than a slogan – The urgent need to work together for a better water future

Common Good Panel_1

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross (second from right) at this week’s panel discussion: ‘The Common Good – Working Together for a Secure Water Future.” Others with Secretary Ross (from right) are moderator Mark Keppler of the Maddy Institute, Ashley Boren of Sustainable Conservation, Central Valley farmer Cannon Michael, former Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin, and Ellen Hanak of the Public Policy Institute of California.

Earlier this week I joined people representing a diverse group of interests for a panel discussion about water. The event, in Clovis, was organized by Sustainable Conservation, and its title, The Common Good: Working Together for a Secure Water Future, represents much more than a simple, optimistic slogan. As our discussion made clear, working together is absolutely essential to maintain and build sustainability for California agriculture as well as the state’s ongoing development in all facets.

I was honored to join former Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin, Sustainable Conservation’s Ashley Boren, the Public Policy Institute of California’s Ellen Hanak, and Central Valley Farmer Cannon Michael. Between the four of us and moderator Mark Keppler of the Maddy Institute, we covered the waterfront, so to speak – all of the modern demands for water were represented. Our group symbolizes the type of partnerships that must come together and move forward to effectively manage our future.

We know that demand for food worldwide will grow significantly over the next several decades, and we know that available natural resources are becoming more scarce – so to reach a point where sustainability can be achieved, all sides in the water discussion must truly communicate with one another. This is no longer about Farms v. Fish. Rather, it’s about building a California where we’re all vested in each other’s success. I hope you’ll take the time to view this video recording of our discussion and then join us in working together for a better water future.

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