Food waste-to-energy converter introduced at UC Davis

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State Drought Relief Program to Provide Food to Hard-Hit Communities – from the California Department of Social Services

Food bankAs extreme drought continues to grip much of the state, the California Department of Social Services has announced that food banks in 24 drought-affected counties will be receiving shipments of food assistance. The first $5.1 million in food assistance will begin to hit food bank shelves in early May, delivered directly to drought-impacted communities.

The announcement represents the first wave of drought-related food assistance to be delivered to communities throughout California this year. The $687 million emergency drought legislation, signed by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. last month, included $25 million in food assistance for the counties most impacted by the drought.

Shipments will be sent to counties where the unemployment rate is higher than the 2013 statewide average, and have a higher share of agricultural workers than the state as a whole. These counties include: Amador, Butte, Colusa, Fresno, Glenn, Kern, Kings, Lake, Lassen, Madera, Merced, Modoc, Monterey, San Benito, San Joaquin, Santa Cruz, Sierra, Siskiyou, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Tulare, Yolo and Yuba. A study on effects of the drought by the University of California, Davis has been initiated and, once completed, will help refine the locations of future food assistance distributions.

In addition to drought-related food assistance, families and individuals who are expecting long-term impacts of the drought will be offered information and assistance in applying for the CalFresh Program. CalFresh is a federal program designed to help families put healthy and nutritious food on the table.

Governor Brown has called on all Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent –visit for ideas about how to conserve, and visit Drought.CA.Gov to learn more about how California is dealing with the effects of the drought.

Link to news release.

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California food banks to benefit from California Grown promotion

CA Grown Donate 2California’s agricultural community has long been a champion of our state’s food banks. The folks over at California Grown have taken a thoroughly modern approach to supporting California food banks: snap a “selfie” and they’ll donate a pound of food.

Participants must take a photograph of the CA Grown logo or anything grown or produced in California (think flowers, wine, apples, milk, beef, etc.) and use #cagrown in the post on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. CA Grown will keep track of the posts from now through the end of October.

See the CA Grown blog for more about this inspiring program.


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CDFA Press Release – Leading the Way on Specialty Crops: California Garners More Than $19 Million from Federal Block Grant Program

SACRAMENTO, April 17, 2014 – The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today that California has been allocated $19.76 million in funding for the 2014 Specialty Crop Block Grant Program (SCBGP). The agency awarded approximately $66 million nationwide for projects that help support growers of specialty crops through research, market development, environmental stewardship and more.

 The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program is designed to enhance the markets for specialty crops like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, including floriculture.

 “California’s leadership in the production and development of specialty crops is due in large part to the innovative nature of our growers,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “The research, market development and other projects supported by this partnership with USDA help keep our farmers on the cusp of innovations from food safety to stewardship, from identifying niche markets to expanding international exports.”

 Today’s announcement marks the beginning of the 2014 grant cycle. In 2013, CDFA was awarded approximately $18 million and solicited competitive proposals for projects including market enhancement, agriculture education, nutrition, and research. The 64 projects funded under the 2013 SCBGP reflect the diversity of California’s specialty crops across the state, including: creating economic opportunities for specialty crop producers through market development activities that focus on local, regional, or international markets; development of effective agritourism associations to enhance rural tourism and promote specialty crops; food safety benefits and training programs; growing community food systems in underserved neighborhoods; online irrigation nitrogen management tool for cool season vegetables; and research to mitigate impacts of invasive pests.

 In addition, CDFA partnered with the Center for Produce Safety in the evaluation and recommendation of food safety related projects. These projects represent an ongoing effort to minimize outbreaks by proactive research.

 Information about the program, including California’s 2013 projects, is available online at Stay tuned for future announcements regarding the development and submission of proposals for the grant funds announced today. The USDA announcement, including award amounts by state, is available online at


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From CCOF: Farm Aid, CCOF and Community Alliance with Family Farmers Offer Drought Assistance

California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) has announced the availability of special hardship funds for certified organic producers who are having a hard time making ends meet this spring due to damage caused by drought.

Thanks to a special grant from Farm Aid, CCOF is joining with Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) to make these funds available to growers affected by the drought. CCOF chapters across the state are also contributing to the emergency drought fund to increase the number of families that can be helped through this program.

CCOF will offer drought disaster grants to certified organic farmers while CAFF will offer the grants to family farmers who use sustainable agriculture practices. The CCOF funds are available to any certified organic producer, not only those certified by CCOF.

Each eligible producer may apply for a $500 grant to offset drought impacts on their families. CCOF requirements for eligibility include:

  • Organic certified operation currently in good standing
  • Located in a county designated a drought disaster area by USDA (not limited to California)
  • Experiencing severe financial hardship resulting from the drought
  • Have not received federal assistance for the same loss

Preference will be given to farms that match the federal definition of a small family farm (those that have gross annual sales less than $250,000).

To qualify for emergency funds, completely fill out an application form and send to CCOF by April 30. Please call the CCOF office for an application or download one at CCOF expects to release funds by the end of May.

In addition to offering this direct drought disaster assistance, CCOF supported regulatory measures to ease drought impacts on California livestock producers and is facilitating access (for livestock feed) to organic crop wastes or culls. A list of drought resources for organic producers is available at

For more information, contact CCOF Policy and Outreach Specialist Jane Sooby at (831) 423-2263, ext. 49 or Non-organic producers, contact CAFF Water Program Coordinator Kendall Lambert at (510) 832-4625, ext. 13 or


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Sign-up begins for USDA disaster assistance programs restored by Farm Bill

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that eligible farmers and ranchers can now sign up for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) disaster assistance programs restored by passage of the 2014 Farm Bill.

“We implemented these programs in record time and kept our commitment to begin sign-up today,” said Agriculture Secretary Vilsack in a release issued April 15. “To ensure enrollment goes as smoothly as possible, dedicated staff in over 2,000 Farm Service Agency offices across the country are doing everything necessary to help producers that have suffered through two and a half difficult years with no assistance because these programs were awaiting Congressional action.”

Depending on the size and type of farm or ranch operation, eligible producers can enroll in one of four programs administered by the Farm Service Agency. The Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP), and the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) will provide payments to eligible producers for livestock deaths and grazing losses that have occurred since the expiration of the livestock disaster assistance programs in 2011, and including calendar years 2012, 2013, and 2014. The Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP) provides emergency assistance to eligible producers of livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish that have suffered losses because of disease, severe weather, blizzards and wildfires.

Enrollment also begins today for the Tree Assistance Program (TAP), which provides financial assistance to qualifying orchardists and nursery tree growers to replant or rehabilitate trees, bushes and vines damaged by natural disasters.

Producers signing up for these programs are encouraged to contact their local FSA office for information on the types of records needed and to schedule an appointment. Taking these steps in advance will help producers ensure their application moves through the process as quickly as possible.

Supporting documents may include livestock birth records, purchase and transportation receipts, photos and ownership records showing the number and type of livestock lost, documents listing the gallons of water transported to livestock during drought, and more. Crop records may include purchase receipts for eligible trees, bushes, or vines, seed and fertilizer purchases, planting and production records, and documentation of labor and equipment used to plant or remove eligible trees, bushes, or vines.

Producers have three to nine months to apply depending on the program and year of the loss. Details are available from any local FSA office.

For more information, producers may review the 2014 Farm Bill Fact Sheet, and the LIP, LFP, ELAP and TAP fact sheets online, or visit any local FSA office or USDA Service Center.

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Congratulations to Food and Ag Board President Craig McNamara – Agriculturalist of the Year


I wish to offer my congratulations to my colleague and friend Craig McNamara for being named Agriculturalist of the Year by the California State Fair. Craig is a uniquely visionary leader – someone who is highly deserving of this prestigious award.  Beyond his deep commitment as a farmer and as president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, Craig has a passion to bring disparate parties together to focus on the big challenges of our time. He has demonstrated his understanding of the need to reach our next generation through the great work of his groundbreaking Center for Land Based Learning in Winters, which connects students to nature and agriculture and, in the process, helps to groom our future farmers and leaders. Again, my heartfelt congratulations to Craig. He’s an agriculturist for all-time.

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California farmers look to oil industry for water – from KQED

By Lauren Sommer

With California’s reservoirs running low, many Central Valley farmers are struggling to keep their trees and crops alive this year.

In the southern San Joaquin Valley, some are getting extra water from an unlikely source: the oil industry.

California is the third largest oil-producing state in the country, extracting roughly 200 million barrels a year. But in the process of getting oil, companies also produce massive volumes of water, found naturally in the same underground formations.

“To produce one barrel of oil, we produce about nine barrels of water,” says Chevron’s Thep Smith, walking around the company’s Kern River oil field, east of Bakersfield. Almost 10,000 pump jacks cover the hills. The field is more than a century old, but is still the second-most productive in the state.

The rock formations that bear oil in California are also full of briny, brackish water, leading to an old saying about oil companies in California: they’re actually water companies that get oil as a byproduct. “This is really a water plant that skims oil,” Smith says.

During this year’s drought, it’s the district’s only reliable supply, since water deliveries from state and federal water projects have been cut completely.

“It’s going to be very tough,” Ansolabehere says. “We’re looking at just making sure the landowners can keep their trees alive this year.”

Other Central Valley water districts are in the same boat right now, which is why Ansolabehere says there’s been a lot of interest in this recycling project.

“Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of phone calls,” he says, “meeting with people that want to do the same type of thing.”

Oil Industry as Water Source, Not Sink

Oil and agriculture have long been neighbors in Kern County. And it hasn’t been lost on farmers that while their water supplies are going dry this year, the industry next door is swimming in billions of gallons.

It’s especially true on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, where many water districts rely almost entirely on tenuous supplies imported from elsewhere in the state.

After the oil is separated, Chevron handles millions of gallons of water a day. The company uses about a quarter of it to enhance oil production, turning the water into steam and injecting it back into the rock formation to boost oil flow.

“The stuff here is really heavy oil,” Smith says, “kind of like molasses. At room temperature, it actually is almost solid.”

After using some for steam, there’s still plenty of water to get rid of. Many companies dispose of it long-term by pumping it back underground, where it’s trapped in rock layers.

From Pump Jacks to Produce

In the only project of its kind in the state, Chevron’s water travels several miles through a 40-inch pipe, until it arrives in a reservoir used by the Cawelo Water District. Chevron provides up to a quarter of the water district’s supply each year, around 26,000 acre-feet.

“The fact that we have this water coming in, it’s a tremendous bonus,” says David Ansolabehere, general manager of the irrigation district, near Bakersfield. “We deliver water to about 45,000 acres, about 95 percent permanent crops which are nut trees, citrus and vineyards,” he says.

The district mixes Chevron’s water with an equal amount of freshwater, until it reaches a quality that works for local orchards.

“We can’t deliver it straight,” Ansolabehere says. “It has too much salt, but we blend it down and then it’s irrigation quality.”

“You have tremendous water resources that are a byproduct of oil production,” says Tupper Hull of the Western States Petroleum Association, an oil industry group.

“It’s very conceivable that in the very near future,” Hull says, “oil production could be a net provider of water for California ag and other purposes, as opposed to a consumer.”

Opponents have criticized the oil industry’s use of water, largely because the controversial oil extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, consumes freshwater. Recycling water would offset that use, but to duplicate Chevron’s project in other parts of the state, the industry would face significant hurdles.

High Water Treatment Costs

“One of the problems they’ve seen at that project is very high arsenic levels in the water,” says Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group.

Until a few years ago, Chevron released water from the Kern River field into a local creek during the winter, when demand from farmers was low. The water wasn’t diluted and the company was fined by the regional water quality control board for violating limits on arsenic.

“It just shows again that there’s no safe way to deal with the oil and gas wastewater,” Siegel says. “Every single method that has been proposed and used has real risks and health harms associated with it.”

Dealing with contaminants could be even tougher in other oil fields. “The water that’s here at Kern River field is at an almost near freshwater quality,” says Chevron’s Abby Auffant, “and that is different from water elsewhere.”

Water produced in the company’s other fields is significantly saltier and would need to go through a treatment process like reverse osmosis, which adds cost.

“If we were able to identify a cost-effective manner in which to treat the water,” Auffant says, “it’s certainly something that we would be interested in.”

The economic case improves in drought years when water prices are sky-high, but drought economics only last so long.

“Normally the water’s going for $30-40 an acre-foot,” says Ansolabehere. “When it costs you $500 to treat it, there’s not really a market except for years like this and then you can’t get the treatment in place in time to really make any effect. So you have to think a couple years ahead.”

As technology advances and reduces those costs, he adds, it becomes more likely that water recycling projects would come together.

For many, the drought has added new urgency, as a reminder of the state’s limited water resources. “I think as the resource becomes more strained, people look to these other sources as a solution,” says Harry Starkey, general manager of the West Kern Water District, west of Bakersfield.

“That conversation is happening on the west side,” Starkey says. “It’ll be interesting to see if you can get oil companies, that tend to be very private, to engage. Getting those two to partner up in those regards – they’re different classmates. It’s a matter of building trust.”

It’s something many farmers are watching closely, as they face the long, dry summer ahead.


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From French fries to kitty litter – USDA scientists work to improve lives

Cat fryWhile most people have a mental image of research that involves scientists in lab coats, test tubes and beakers, and technical language that can seem complex, much of the groundbreaking research conducted by USDA scientists actually ends up on your plate, in your home, or on your back. Their discoveries in the lab truly translate into science you can see.

For example, many of us make a conscious effort to eat healthier and cut calories, but it can be tough when faced with a favorite snack, like French fries. USDA scientists have figured out a way to make French fries healthier. Before frying, scientists exposed potato strips to a few minutes of infrared heat. This forms a crispy outer shell on the outside of the fries, which helps to reduce their oil uptake and ultimately reduces calories per serving. If adopted commercially, this method is great news for both food processors and our waistlines.

Or maybe you’re a healthy snack lover and looking for a way to make your snacks pack an even healthier punch. USDA scientists have found a way to add oat fiber to yogurt without affecting its flavor or texture. Yogurt is already a pretty healthy snack, and adding addition fiber can only help—studies have indicated that oat fiber can help to improve heart health.

If you are lactose-intolerant, you may use Lactaid™ so you can still enjoy dairy products. USDA scientists helped to develop the basis for that product, too. USDA scientists also conducted the core research behind ChoiceBatter, a gluten-free rice flour batter that is now being marketed and sold by CrispTek, LLC.

For those who’ve ever woken up late before a big work meeting, USDA scientists have got your back here, too. They helped to develop cotton fabric that is wrinkle-free and fire-resistant.

If you’re a cat person, you may someday see USDA science impact your pet. USDA scientists have developed a kitty litter product that’s nearly 100 percent biodegradable and made from spent grains, often referred to as dried distiller’s grains (DDGs), leftover from the process of making corn ethanol. DDGs are often used as cattle feed, but this new product may provide a higher-value market for the tons of DDGs leftover after ethanol production.

And, to the delight of farmers and people with noses everywhere, USDA scientists are part of a team of researchers investigating ways to combat the brown marmorated stink bug, which in addition to having a distinct odor, can also cause serious damage to valuable agricultural crops.

These are just some of the ways that research conducted by USDA scientists and partner research institutions touch your daily life. Beyond that, agricultural research also helps to boost the economy. Studies have shown that every dollar invested in agricultural research returns $20 to the economy. In the past five years alone, research by USDA scientists has led to award of 215 patents covering a wide range of topics and discoveries. One of its research agencies, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), currently has 380 active licenses of ARS-developed technology that are supporting new businesses and job opportunities across the country.

The recently-signed 2014 Farm Bill will help to build on these accomplishments by establishing a new research foundation that leverages private sector funding to support groundbreaking agricultural research. You can follow the USDA’s progress in implementing the new farm bill and establishing the research foundation at

Thanks to the new Farm Bill, the USDA can continue the vital research and innovation that that have enhanced food safety and nutrition, made farming and ranching more efficient, and improved quality of life for millions of people in the United States and around the world.

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Program looks to give bees a leg (or six) up – from the New York Times












By John Schwartz

LOCKEFORD, Calif. — Helping America’s beleaguered bees could start with something as humble as planting a shrub.

Here in California’s Central Valley, researchers are trying to find assortments of bee-friendly plants that local farmers and ranchers can easily grow, whether in unusable corners and borders of their land or on acreage set aside with government support.

Bees could certainly use the assist. Since 2006, the commercial beekeepers who raise honeybees and transport them across the country to pollinate crops have reported losing a third of their colonies each year, on average.

Native species of bees, too, have been in decline. That is taking a toll on crops that rely on bees for pollination, including many nuts and fruits. The Department of Agriculture says that one of every three bites that Americans take is affected, directly or indirectly, by bees. They cause an estimated $15 billion increase in agricultural crop value each year.

The causes of the decline, known as colony collapse disorder, are still being studied. But they appear to be a combination of factors that include parasites, infection and insecticides. Underlying all of these problems is the loss of uncultivated fields with their broad assortment of pollen-rich plants that sustain bees. That land has been developed commercially or converted to farming corn, soybeans and other crops.

The federal government has announced a new $3 million program to step up support for honeybees in five states in the Upper Midwest. Those five — Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and North and South Dakota — have huge numbers of honeybee colonies at various times of the year, perhaps 65 percent of the nation’s total. Beekeepers truck them around the country in the spring to pollinate commercial crops.

The new program will encourage farmers and ranchers to grow alfalfa, clover and other crops favored by bees and which serve a second purpose of being forage for livestock. Other proposed changes in practices include fencing property for managing grazing pastures in rotation so that they can replenish, leaving living plants for the bees.

Jeffery S. Pettis, who leads bee research at the federal Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Md., said the effort to get farmers to plant more crops with pollinators like bees and butterflies in mind was intended to help the creatures weather the challenges of pathogens, parasites and pesticides. “If they have a good nutritional foundation, they can survive some of the things they are faced with,” Dr. Pettis said.

The federal agency that focuses heavily on these issues, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, began in the 1930s as a government effort to help farmers hold on to soil and prevent dust bowls. The 2008 farm bill called for the service to include fostering pollinator health in its efforts in all 50 states.

That, in turn, has led to about 43 million acres of land across the country incorporating conservation features that support pollinator health. From 2009 to 2012, the bill’s environmental quality incentive program spread around $630 million.

In the Central Valley, the research to support that work is done on 106 acres of prime farmland at a Department of Agriculture plant materials center. The results are beautiful: More than 2,200 feet of hedges and fields of blended crops present a feast for the eyes — and for bees — beginning in early spring. On a recent viewing, flowers dotted the landscape with color. The bright orange flowers of California poppies opened near rich purple lupines. Last year, an entomologist found about 50 species of bees and 1,500 other beneficial insects, birds and creatures of all sorts in the hedgerows.

Jessa Cruz, a senior pollinator conservation specialist with the Xerces Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving pollinator health that is collaborating with the center, said drought-resistant plants that are bee friendly are increasingly important in arid California.

“It’s important to be able to tell farmers, ‘You’re not going to have to use your precious water to irrigate your hedgerows,’ ” Ms. Cruz said.

The use of hedgerows and cover crops is on display at nearby Vino Farms, whose grapes are bought by 180 wineries. Growing among the vines are peas and beans, aromatic sage, golden currant, wild rose and even daikon radish.

Chris Storm, the director of viticulture for the company, said that even though grapes are self-fertilizing and do not need bees in the way that the nearby almond orchards do, “We’re doing it for everybody else,” providing a habitat for bees pollinating other crops nearby.

Vino Farms receives other benefits from the plantings, which help reduce the use of pesticides by supporting beneficial creatures like the tiny wasps and green lacewings that kill pests. Mr. Storm has taken out rows of vines for some hedgerows, and has flowering plants growing at the base of vines.

His company’s efforts also allow it to assert that it grows grapes sustainably. The certified sustainable production, he said, can bring a 10 percent increase in price from winemakers looking for a green edge. That translates to anything from $250 to $500 more per ton.

“It doesn’t yet pay for itself,” he said, though he clearly expects it to. It also helps that Mr. Storm is as adept at raising money from government conservation programs as he is at raising grapes and pollinating plants. He is constantly on the lookout for federal and state programs that will help pay for new techniques.

A mix of plants that works beautifully in California’s Central Valley will not necessarily be much good in the Upper Midwest, said Laurie Davies Adams, the executive director of the Pollinator Partnership, which promotes the health of bees, butterflies and other plant helpers.

“When I talk about hedgerows to guys in Iowa, they just kind of glaze over,” Ms. Adams said. The big bushes would interfere with the giant equipment those farmers use, she said, but they might be persuaded to set aside small plots of land for pollen-rich plants, which can help accomplish the same conservation goals.

“This is not one size fits all,” she said. “This is one ethic fits all.”

A major commercial beekeeper, John Miller, said that the multimillion-dollar pollinator program for the Upper Midwest would not work miracles. Spreading the money across five states over several years, he said, doing a little “shirttail math,” means that “you’ve got about a Dixie cup worth of seeds going into a field” in any one season.

He added, however, that the program is good news because it means “the pendulum, perhaps, is beginning to swing back” to paying attention to the role of bees in the food supply.

Surging corn prices have led farmers to grow on every available acre, which has been bad for bee habitats. A. Gary Shilling, an economic consultant, asset manager and avid beekeeper in New Jersey, said corn prices had been coming down again, and that should affect the number of acres they plant. “There will be less incentive to plant fence-row to fence-row,” he said. So pollinator plantings could make a comeback, especially if social pressure encourages farmers to support bees.

“This is a business,” Mr. Shilling said. “Are these guys going to go out of their way for something that’s going to hurt their business, affect their bottom line? Not unless they think they’ll catch some flak if they won’t.”

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