USDA unveils new ‘Urban Agriculture Toolkit’

Urban garden

The USDA has unveiled the Urban Agriculture Toolkit to increase access to healthy food through urban agriculture. From neighborhood gardens grown on repurposed lots, to innovative mobile markets and intensive hydroponic and aquaculture operations, urban food production is rapidly growing into a mature business sector in cities across the country.

The toolkit is intended primarily for entrepreneurs and community leaders looking to create local benefit from urban agriculture. It will help urban and small farms navigate more than 70 helpful resources, including technical assistance and financing opportunities. It focuses on some of the most pressing challenges confronting urban producers, such as land access, soil quality, water resources, capital and financing, infrastructure, market development, production strategies, and applying for federal, state or private foundation grants.

Industry estimates show U.S. local food sales totaled at least $12 billion in 2014, up from $5 billion in 2008, and experts anticipate that value to hit $20 billion by 2019. The numbers also show that these opportunities are helping to drive job growth in agriculture, increase entrepreneurship and expand food access and choice.

Link to USDA news release

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Spring storms help snowpack as California drought persists – from Capital Public Radio


By Ed Joyce

There was no change in drought conditions last week in California and Nevada, but spring storms added snow to the northern Sierra Nevada.

The U.S. Drought Monitor released April 28 shows that slightly more than 4 percent of California, in the northwest part of the state, is not in drought. But, unlike the previous update, which showed extreme and exceptional drought had eased in the state, there were no changes in this week’s report (which has a cutoff day of Tuesday).

042816 DROMON-Calif.

“In northern California, 1-3 inches of precipitation fell along the northern Sierra, which translates to well above normal, but normals are lower this time of year and the amounts are small compared to the multi-year deficits, so no change was made to the depiction in California and Nevada,” according to the Drought Monitor.

The Drought Monitor intensity levels are Abnormally Dry, Moderate, Severe, Extreme and Exceptional drought.

The report shows extreme drought covers 49 percent of California and exceptional drought now covers 21 percent of the state. Moderate drought covers 90 percent of the state, with 74 percent in severe drought.

042916 DROMON-Snowpack

Recent storms have helped increase the statewide Sierra Nevada snowpack, however slightly. Last week the snowpack was 60 percent of normal. But that increased to 63 percent of normal this week. A week ago, the statewide snowpack was 58 percent of normal.

042816 DROMON-West

Last week, exceptional drought was removed from Nevada, the first time since July 2013 the state does not have that level of drought.

In the Pacific Northwest, just 3 percent of Washington is abnormally dry and nearly half of Oregon is free of drought.

“Coastal Washington and Oregon received 1-3 inches of precipitation this week, but these areas were outside the drought and abnormally dry region,” the update noted. “Precipitation amounts were much lighter east of the Cascades, generally less than half an inch.”

The U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook (released April 21 by the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center) shows that drought persists through much of California and western Nevada through July 31, 2016.

042816 DROMON-Outlook

Link to Capital Public Radio web site

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Growing California video touches on benefits of SWEEP program, fertilizer management

With the announcement this week of $16 million in grants from the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP), CDFA offers an encore presentation of the Growing California video, “Strawberry Fields…Forever,” a look at a grower utilizing SWEEP as well assistance from CDFA’s Fertilizer Research Education Program (FREP).

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#CAonMyPlate Day!

Today is the day to Tweet, Facebook and Instagram a photo of your breakfast, lunch, dinner of California food or closet with California fiber. It's #CAonMyPlate Day, so don't forget the tag! Does your latte' have some California milk? That steak salad lunch include some California greens and beef? What about your sheets? Are they made with California cotton? Post a photo with #CAonMyPlate tomorrow, Wednesday, April 27. Pair the image with hashtags #CAonMyPlate and #CultivateCA

Today is the day to Tweet, Facebook and Instagram a photo of California food, flowers or plants from California; or a closet with items containing California fiber. It’s #CAonMyPlate Day, so don’t forget the tag! Does your latte’ have some California milk? That steak salad lunch include some California greens and beef? What about your sheets? Are they made with California cotton? Post a photo with #CAonMyPlate

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CDFA’s Ross urges FFA members to think of the future – from Capital Press

Ross FFA 2016Tim Hearden, Capital Press

FRESNO, Calif. — State Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross told 5,000 FFA members here that California’s agriculture-related industries will need their energy and innovations in the challenging years to come.

Ross cited water shortages, food safety concerns and global population growth as problems that today’s students in FFA could someday help solve.

“Think about how you use your hand-held technology and your gaming technology,” Ross told a packed audience during the Monday morning session in Fresno’s Selland Arena. “Those are the very tools you may use for (assisting) the smart farm of the future.”

Ross also praised the FFA chapters for promoting the CDFA’s three-year-old agriculture-themed license plate program, which has generated nearly $500,000 for education. The department in January handed out $249,352 in the second round of grants from the CalAgPlate program, including $212,000 for FFA leadership and development programs.

“It’s going great, but one of the challenges of the special license plates program is they have to keep selling or the interest goes away,” Ross told the Capital Press after her speech. “The students’ energy (in promoting the plates) is really important for these ag programs. … It’s such an important way for people to know, ‘I’m making a contribution to ag education.’”

Ross’ appearance was among the highlights of the 88th annual California State FFA Leadership Conference, which continues through April 26. With the theme, “Electrify,” students in high school FFA programs throughout California converged to participate in contests, hear inspiring speakers, attend a career fair and take part in other activities.

Ross’ appearance excited members of the FFA’s state leadership team, including outgoing president Joelle Lewis of San Luis Obispo, who said she’s also met the secretary during visits to schools.

“I think having her come here and talk (about students’ potential for future leadership) makes a big difference in people’s minds,” Lewis said.

Ross has attended several state FFA conventions since becoming food and ag secretary in 2011.

She began her address by praising FFA member McKenzie Brazier of King City, Calif., who sang during one of the session’s talent segments.

“I would recommend her for ‘The Voice,’” Ross said to loud cheers. “Wouldn’t it be great if we had someone on ‘The Voice’ with a blue jacket? And then if somebody standing behind her would hold up a CalAgPlate sign?”

Ross told the students that among them could be sitting a future state lawmaker, water board member, agriculture secretary or even U.S. president. She said it’s important that California agriculture recognize its mission and the ability to feed the world.

“You cannot appreciate what you have until you don’t have it,” Ross said, noting that she missed fresh California produce when she shopped in Washington, D.C., during her stint as chief of staff for U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“California can show the world how to grow food,” she said.

In the interview, Ross said she always tries to set aside time in her schedule to meet with FFA members.

“They’re curious, energetic and they’ve got new ideas,” she said.

View the original article online here.

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USDA Announces $22 Million Available for Research to Combat Citrus Greening

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced the availability of $22 million in grants to help citrus producers fight Huanglongbing (HLB), commonly known as citrus greening disease. This funding is available through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) Citrus Disease Research and Extension Program (CDRE), which was authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill and is administered by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

“Since 2009, USDA has committed significant resources to manage, research and eradicate the citrus greening disease that threatens citrus production in the United States and other nations,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Thanks to the continued, coordinated efforts between growers, researchers, and state and federal government, we are getting closer every day to ending this threat. The funding announced today will help us continue to preserve thousands of jobs for citrus producers and workers, along with significant revenue from citrus sales.”

USDA has invested more than $380 million to address citrus greening between fiscal years 2009 and 2015, including $43.6 million through the SCRI CDRE program since 2015.

HLB was initially detected in Florida in 2005 and has since affected all of Florida’s citrus-producing areas. A total of 15 U.S. states or territories are under full or partial quarantine due to the detected presence of the Asian citrus psyllid, a vector for HLB. Those states include Alabama, American Samoa, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

USDA has employed both short-term and longer-term strategies to combat citrus greening. Secretary Vilsack announced a Multi-Agency Coordination framework in December 2013 to foster cooperation and coordination across federal and state agencies and industry to deliver near-term tools to citrus growers to combat Huanglongbing. The Huanglongbing MAC Group includes representatives from the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), USDA NIFA, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, Environmental Protection Agency, State Departments of Agriculture from California, Florida, Texas and Arizona, and the citrus industry.

The HLB MAC group is charged with quickly putting practical tools and solutions into the hands of producers, allowing them to remain economically productive while longer term solutions continue to be developed. The Group invested $20 million into more than 30 projects over the past two years. The funding supports projects by universities, private industry, state and federal partners. Today, growers are benefiting from the use of thermotherapy, soil acidification, biocontrol and other tools funded through the first round of HLB MAC investment. The HLB MAC Group is now considering the best use of an additional appropriation from 2016 of more than $5 million and more information on the HLB MAC Group’s work can be found here.

Last year, the University of Florida and Washington State University received NIFA support for research on growing the putative pathogenic bacterium in artificial culture, which will greatly facilitate research efforts to manage HLB. Another project at the University of Florida will develop bactericides to reduce or eliminate pathogen populations in citrus trees, with the goal of recovering fruit production in orchards affected with HLB. Research at the University of California will use virulence proteins from the pathogen to detect its presence before symptoms appear and to develop strategies for creating citrus rootstocks that are immune to HLB. Information about all of the projects funded to date can be found online.

NIFA will give priority to CDRE grants projects that are multistate, multi-institutional, or trans-disciplinary and include clearly defined ways to communicate results to producers. Successful applicants will be expected to engage stakeholders to ensure solutions are commercially feasible. Projects should also include an economic analysis of the costs associated with proposed solutions. Based on consultation with the Citrus Disease Sub-committee of the National Agricultural Research, Education, Extension and Economics Advisory Board (NAREEE), only applications that deal with the HLB or its management will be considered.

Pre-applications that include a Stakeholder Relevance Statement are due on May 16. Applicants who are invited to submit full applications based on an industry relevancy review of the pre-applications will be required to submit full applications by Aug. 18. See the request for applications on the NIFA website for more information.

See the USDA press release here.


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Farming gets high tech in bid to offer locally grown produce – from the Wall Street Journal

A rooftop greenhouse in Chicago - from the Wall Street Journal

A rooftop greenhouse in Chicago – from the Wall Street Journal

By Ruth Simon

A crop of startups have emerged in recent years to grow vegetables on city rooftops or turn old factories into indoor farms. But their quest for locally grown lettuce is running into challenging business realities.

BrightFarms Inc. last year pulled the plug on a planned greenhouse in Washington, D.C., 10 months into the process of getting permits, and earlier exited an effort to develop a rooftop farm in Brooklyn, New York. FarmedHere LLC, which operates a farm in a former box factory outside Chicago, shut down for six months last August to revamp its strategy.

Building farms on city rooftops is “a foolish endeavor” because of the higher costs and the additional time for permitting, said Paul Lightfoot, chief executive of BrightFarms. The firm, which has raised more than $25 million in equity and more than $15 million in project finance, is now focusing on greenhouse farms in locations outside of urban centers.

“You would scale very slowly, and waste investors’ money,” Mr. Lightfoot said of city projects. The cost for the Washington, D.C., facility would have been nearly 20% more than an $8.5 million greenhouse it instead built in suburban Virginia, he added.

Venture-backed for-profit farming startups have sought to reshape agriculture by growing crops such as salad greens and herbs in or near big cities. The idea is that urban farms promise year-round supplies of greens, with less spoilage and lower transportation costs than soil-raised produce from California or Mexico.

The undertaking is a far cry from the community gardens on once-vacant lots that are typically associated with urban farming. Gotham Greens Farms LLC, which has raised about $30 million, said it currently sells more than 20 million heads of lettuce and leafy greens a year to restaurants, food-service companies and retailers such as Whole Foods Market Inc.

The company, started in 2009, operates four rooftop greenhouses, including a Queens, N.Y., facility that once housed Ideal Toy Co., a maker of teddy bears and Rubik’s Cubes.

High-tech indoor farming can involve millions of dollars in investments and a sophisticated mix of crop science, fertilizer know-how as well as expensive lighting and sensor systems to monitor temperature, moisture and other conditions.

“This is very much a technology play,” said David Rosenberg, chief executive of Newark, N.J.-based AeroFarms LLC, which currently operates one indoor commercial farm as well as a research and development farm and a farm in a local school.

AeroFarms said it has raised over $70 million in corporate and project financing. The company isn’t profitable but says it expects each of its farms to become cash-flow positive in its first year.

FarmedHere, which restarted its business in February, abandoned an aquaponic model that relied on a tilapia farm to generate fertilizer to grow lettuce, basil and other greens. Now the company, which has raised about $13 million, uses plant-derived organic fertilizers.

Aquaponics “sounds pretty elegant,” said Nate Laurell, who recently took over as CEO. But “it’s a much simpler process to use organic nutrients than to manage a school of fish and all that biology and chemistry.” He said the change will also reduce the total cost of raising crops by 30%.

Most startups grow lettuce and herbs that have short growing cycles and thrive in controlled environments. Brooklyn-based Edenworks says it can produce many varieties of baby lettuce in its indoor farm in just 18 to 21 days compared with 28 to 35 days for field-grown products.

“We are getting better unit economics than a farmer farming 1,000 acres in Salinas, Calif.,” said Edenworks CEO Jason Green, noting that a shorter growing cycle and a 12-month operation allows the startup to turn over its crop more often than soil-based farms. By locating close to purchasers, the company cuts transportation and warehouse costs, he added.

Still, the economics are challenging. In a second facility, not yet under construction, Edenworks plans to cut labor costs by more than 50% by automating seeding, harvesting, washing, drying, packaging and labeling. “The numbers would not work out if we didn’t do that,” Mr. Green said.

Flavor is also tricky. Industry participants disagree about what combination of lighting, fertilizer and growing methods produces the tastiest greens at the lowest cost. Some startups operate greenhouses, while others stack trays of plants in so-called vertical farms that rely on lighting systems instead of sunlight.

“It is more difficult for hydroponic growers to achieve the same taste as soil-grown products or herbs,” said Elly Truesdell, a buyer for Whole Foods, which buys produce from several high-tech farmers. In hydroponic farming, plants are grown in nutrient-rich water.

Ms. Truesdell said customers are willing to pay a premium for locally grown produce.

In New York, Whole Foods typically sells a 5-ounce package of Gotham Greens lettuce for $3.99, about the same price as a slightly larger package of store-brand organic greens grown in California and $1 more than a head of soil-grown organic romaine lettuce.

Gotham Greens CEO Viraj Puri said the company had to experiment with dozens of varieties of kale before settling on one that would thrive in its greenhouses without turning bitter and struggled to find a variety of green leaf lettuce that wouldn’t “bolt,” or shoot up and take on a sharp taste, just before harvesting.

“Plants are not widgets,” said Mr. Puri. “There are a lot of dependent variables.”

Link to story

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Video: Earth Day @ CDFA

Happy Earth Day from CDFA! This video provides a brief look at just a few of the programs and projects at the California Department of Food and Agriculture that help farmers protect the environment. From healthy soils and dairy digesters to alternative fuels and beneficial bugs, we are working toward a future when every day is Earth Day.

Posted in Climate Change, Environment, Fertilizer, Healthy soils, Hydrogen, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Invasive Species, Measurement Standards | Tagged | 1 Comment

Hydrogen Vehicle Rally from Santa Monica to Sacramento – from SCTV

Hydrogen Rally

On Wednesday, April 20, California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols led a rally of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles with Energy Commissioner Janea Scott and Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) Deputy Director Tyson Eckerle on a 400-mile journey from Los Angeles to ARB headquarters in Sacramento in celebration of Earth Day. The rally highlights the fact that these ultra-clean vehicles are now available for sale or lease, and there is a rapidly growing statewide network of hydrogen filling stations to support them.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) Division of Measurement Standards plays an important role in the ongoing rollout of hydrogen fueling stations by certifying hydrogen fuel meters and regulates fuel quality, advertising and labeling in the consumer marketplace.

For more background on the event: Hydrogen Car Rally video – from SCTV in Santa Clarita

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Farms that Grow Groundwater – from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC)


By Lori Pottinger

Farmers use the lion’s share of California’s groundwater, but they also do the most to rebuild depleted reserves of this critically important water source. We talked to Graham Fogg—a groundwater expert at UC Davis and a member of the PPIC Water Policy Center research network—about farmland groundwater recharge.

PPIC: How do farms recharge groundwater?

Graham Fogg: Crops don’t use all the water they get through irrigation—a lot seeps into underlying groundwater. Farms also move water from place to place through leaky ditches. The type of irrigation can affect the amount of recharge. For example, with flood irrigation a large fraction can end up back in the aquifer—commonly as much as a third or more. With micro-irrigation, a larger fraction of applied water is taken up by plants, and less ends up recharging groundwater.

Many farmers have adopted micro-irrigation technology. Farmers prefer groundwater when using drip systems because it’s free of sediment that can clog emitters, and groundwater is available whenever the farmer needs to run the system, sometimes multiple times a week. The result is that drip-irrigated farms may pump more groundwater—and they’re not recharging the aquifer as much. It’s an unintended consequence of more efficient irrigation.

PPIC: Are farmers being encouraged to recharge groundwater?

GF: The drought has helped many farmers realize the importance of better groundwater management, and some are figuring out how they can do more recharging on their land. The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act will require better management and balanced water budgets in each basin. This can be achieved with decreased groundwater pumping or increased recharge. In essence, we need to start managing groundwater systems in ways that are similar to surface storage reservoirs and use recharge as a hedge against future drought.

If we continue to rely on irrigation for most of our recharge, it raises questions about groundwater quality. Water that goes through farmland is more likely than non-farm recharge to be tainted with salts, nitrates, and some pesticides.

PPIC: What practices can improve California’s groundwater supplies?

GF: We need to do a variety of things to bank groundwater or face the prospect of having to reduce pumping in dry years and in depleted basins. One solution with high potential is “spreading basins.” These are flat places with the right soils and geological conditions for ponding water so it can infiltrate the aquifer. We need to map these surface and subsurface features and take steps to protect them for recharge purposes.

The Central Valley is not only home to some of our most over-tapped groundwater basins, but also to lands with good potential for fast infiltration. One promising approach is routing excess winter runoff onto farmlands, where irrigation infrastructure can be used to spread the water and recharge groundwater. This practice is gaining much interest from farmers.

We also can manage rivers to encourage recharge, bringing benefits to entire basins. Rivers can recharge groundwater with seepage through their beds. And when rivers overflow their banks, water spreads across the floodplain. Two approaches with high potential to improve groundwater conditions are moving levees back to reconnect rivers with their floodplains, and managing groundwater and surface water as an integrated system. When groundwater systems fill to the point of spilling over, rivers and wetlands stay wet, and there’s a natural exits for groundwater contaminants. Without such exits, these basins will become increasingly polluted over time.

Link to PPIC blog post

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