Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

Innovative collaborations boost soil health outreach — CDFA funding helps make it happen

Collaborative Project in Sacramento Valley increased outreach, regional cooperation

Note — CDFA will join partners from around California to observe Healthy Soils Week, Dec 4 – 8.

A drive-by field tour in 2021the drive-by part was necessitated by the pandemic

By Linda J. Forbes
Director of Strategic Communications, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources

In 2020, agencies and experts in Colusa County came together for a project evaluating winter cover crops (planted in the fall and terminated in late winter or early spring) in annual crop rotations. This project had a large outreach component and various cover crops were planted each year to demonstrate how well they grew in the region.

During the three-year project, the team has significantly increased soil health outreach in the middle Sacramento Valley region and built a strong regional collaboration that continues for other projects. The research findings will be published upon completion of analysis.

Funded by CDFA’s Healthy Soils Program, the collaboration involved measuring changes in soil health between two cover crop treatments and a fallow control and led to innovation in outreach methods to make healthy soil practices more accessible.

Promoting soil health during a pandemic was a major challenge for the project team, comprising Sarah Light, UC Cooperative Extension agronomy farm advisor; Liz Harper, executive director of the Colusa County Resource Conservation District; Davis Ranch; Richter Ag; and the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

Unable to conduct in-person field days or workshops, Light and Harper created a YouTube channel called “The Soil Health Connection” and produced 29 episodes in English and five in Spanish. These episodes featured soil health experts from around the state. In addition, field demonstrations were recorded including soil sampling demonstrations, a cover crop field tour, and soil health field assessments following NRCS protocols.

“The collaboration was effective not only in sharing information on how to manage cover crops, but also allowed us to continue to extend knowledge and do outreach during COVID, when regular in-person programming was not available,” Light said.

Interviewees included researchers, farmers, ranchers, industry representatives, technical assistance providers and natural resource conservation agency representatives. The YouTube channel has over 200 subscribers and won the 2021 Conservation Education Award from the California-Nevada Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society.

NRCS collaborated on six of the episodes and featured them in their statewide Soil Health newsletter. Participants included Resource Soil Scientist Jacqueline Vega-Pérez, Regional Soil Health Specialist Kabir Zahangir, California Plant Material Director Margaret Smither-Kopperl, Colusa County Soil Conservationist Brandi Murphy, California State Conservationist Carlos Suarez, and USDA Research Soil Scientist Claire Phillips.

Other innovations included hosting a virtual field day with continuing education credits and two drive-by, in-person field tours. The project itself was innovative in terms of conducting virtual and in-person outreach in Colusa County.

“We were one of the first in the region to organize virtual soil health events and because of our strong project team were able to quickly pivot to comply with state and local regulations during the pandemic,” Light said.

Read more here

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Secretary Ross gives thanks for food, agriculture, and the people who make it possible

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

By CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

It is the season to reflect on the year, gather around the table, and give thanks!  As someone who feels truly blessed to work with people I respect and admire, I feel thankful every day to be part of food and agriculture. 

It is my passion and my purpose to travel the state and share with all Californians what I see first-hand as the amazing miracle of California agriculture! The farmers, ranchers, farmworkers, and all others who play an integral role in our food supply are a testament to hard work, innovation, resiliency, and optimism every day regardless of the challenges.  That includes every one of our dedicated and talented CDFA staff members who are so passionate about our mission to ensure safe, nutritious, high-quality food and agricultural products — produced with the highest environmental and labor standards.

For many of California’s nearly forty million residents it is easy to take for granted what goes into the food on our table, but it’s important to remember that nutritional security is not assured.  In a world of harsher and more frequent extreme weather events, producing food with access for all is threatened by climate change.  I am grateful for the investment Governor Newsom and the Legislature have made in climate smart ag programs to support adaptation and the ability of farmers and ranchers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and be part of the climate change solution by sequestering carbon.   

At the other end of the food chain, Governor Newsom, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, and the Legislature have made significant investments in Farm-to-School programs to support small and mid-sized, historically-underserved farmers and ranchers with local school procurement. It is a holistic investment that is combined with nutrition education and experiential learning to inspire healthy lifelong habits in students and their families, to help them avoid chronic diseases and fully achieve their potential. 

As young people learn about exciting agricultural technology and innovations that enhance our ability to produce food with care—for the environment as well as the people who make it possible–I know they will see what I do: California agriculture is about growing opportunity!  It’s a chance to be involved in a career -– a calling, really -– to produce food and ag products for healthy lives, healthy communities, and a healthy environment. How thankful I am for all the people who make our California agricultural bounty possible! 

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Cost of Thanksgiving dinner down slightly from 2022

From the American Farm Bureau Federation

Gathering around the table for a Thanksgiving dinner won’t take as much of a toll on your pocketbook this year compared to 2022, but the meal still reflects historically high costs. The American Farm Bureau Federation’s 38th annual survey provides a snapshot of the average cost of this year’s classic holiday feast for 10, which is $61.17 or less than $6.20 per person.

This is a 4.5% decrease from last year’s record-high average of $64.05, but a Thanksgiving meal is still 25% higher than it was in 2019, which highlights the impact high supply costs and inflation have had on food prices since before the pandemic.

The centerpiece on most Thanksgiving tables – the turkey – helped bring down the overall cost of dinner. The average price for a 16-pound turkey is $27.35. That is $1.71 per pound, down 5.6% from last year.

Farm Bureau “volunteer shoppers” checked prices Nov. 1-6, before most grocery store chains began featuring whole frozen turkeys at sharply lower prices. According to USDA Agricultural Marketing Service data, the average per-pound feature price for whole frozen turkeys declined further during the second week of November. Consumers who have not yet purchased a turkey may find additional savings in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

“Traditionally, the turkey is the most expensive item on the Thanksgiving dinner table,” said AFBF Senior Economist Veronica Nigh. “Turkey prices have fallen thanks to a sharp reduction in cases of avian influenza, which have allowed production to increase in time for the holiday.”

The shopping list for Farm Bureau’s informal survey includes turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10 with plenty of leftovers.

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Thanksgiving food safety tips from the USDA

America’s biggest food holiday is almost here, and the USDA wants to remind consumers to avoid habits that increase the risk of harmful bacteria in their Thanksgiving meal.

“Unsafe handling and undercooking your turkey can cause foodborne illness,” said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Emilio Esteban. “To ensure your Thanksgiving meal is wholesome and memorable without the illness, follow the four steps to food safety: clean, separate, cook and chill, and avoid risky food handling habits that go against USDA guidelines.”

Here are seven dangerous habits USDA would like consumers to drop:

#1 Not washing your hands or kitchen surfaces before, during and after food prep: Handwashing is the first step to avoiding foodborne illness. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before, during and after handling food.

  • Clean and sanitize any surfaces that have touched raw turkey and its juices and will later touch food, such as kitchen counters, sinks, stoves, tabletops, etc. Cleaning with soap and water physically removes the germs, and sanitizing kills any remaining. Many different sanitizers can be used: an easy homemade version is to make a solution of one tablespoon of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water, or you can use a commercial sanitizer or sanitizing wipe.
  • Thorough handwashing remains a concern for the USDA. The most recent USDA study shows that 87% of participants self-reported they washed their hands before starting to cook in the test kitchen. However, only 44% of participants were observed doing so before meal preparation. Additionally, handwashing was not attempted 83% of the time when it should have been done (after handling raw meat or touching contaminated surfaces). Throughout the study, 96% of handwashing attempts did not contain all necessary steps.

#2 Using the same cutting boards and utensils for raw and ready-to-eat foods: Cross-contamination is the spread of bacteria from raw meat and poultry onto ready-to-eat food, surfaces, and utensils. Avoid this by using separate cutting boards — one for raw meat and poultry and another for ready-to-eat foods like fruits and vegetables that will be served raw.

#3 Defrosting your turkey on the kitchen counter: Leaving any frozen package of meat or poultry for more than two hours on the counter at room temperature is dangerous. Even though the center of the package may still be frozen, the outer layer of the food is in the “Danger Zone” between 40 and 140 F — a temperature where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly. You can safely thaw a turkey using the following methods:

  • Refrigerator Thawing: When thawing in a fridge, allow roughly 24 hours for every four to five pounds of turkey. After thawing, a turkey is safe in a refrigerator for one to two days.
  • Cold Water Thawing: When thawing in a cold-water bath, allow 30 minutes per pound and submerge the turkey in its original wrapping to avoid cross-contamination. Change the water every half hour until the turkey is thawed. Cook it immediately after thawing.

#4 Cooking your turkey overnight at a low temperature: It is not safe to cook any meat or poultry in an oven set lower than 325 F. At lower temperatures, meat stays in the Danger Zone for too long. Cook your turkey at 325 F or above and ensure all parts of the turkey reach a safe internal temperature of 165 F.

#5 Relying only on a pop-up temperature indicator: While the pop-up timers found in many turkeys tend to be fairly accurate, they only check the internal temperature in one spot when we recommend three. Always use a food thermometer to ensure your turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165 F in the thickest part of the breast, the innermost part of the wing, and the innermost part of the thigh to check its internal temperature.

#6 Stuffing your turkey the night before: USDA recommends against stuffing your turkey since this often leads to bacteria growth. If you plan to stuff your turkey, follow these steps:

  • Prepare the wet and dry ingredients for the stuffing separately from each other and refrigerate until ready to use. Mixing the dry and the wet ingredients produce an environment that bacteria can thrive in hours before being placed in the oven. Mix wet and dry ingredients just before filling the cavity of the turkey.
  • Stuff the turkey loosely — about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound.
  • Never stuff a whole turkey and store in the refrigerator before cooking. Immediately place the stuffed, raw turkey in an oven set no lower than 325 F.
  • A stuffed turkey will take 50% longer to cook. Once it has finished cooking, place a food thermometer in the center of the stuffing to ensure it has reached a safe internal temperature of 165 F.

#7 Keeping leftovers for more than a week: Store leftovers in small shallow containers and put them in the refrigerator. Thanksgiving leftovers are safe to eat for up to four days when stored in the refrigerator. In the freezer, leftovers are safely frozen indefinitely but will keep the best quality for two to six months.

For more food safety information, call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), email or chat live at from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday. On Thanksgiving Day, the Hotline will be open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eastern Time.

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CDFA Secretary Karen Ross at APEC CEO Summit USA 2023

Governor Gavin Newsom with Secretary Karen Ross and Almond Board CEO Clarice Turner; Canada’s Prime Minster Justin Trudeau and Secretary Ross at a Food Affordability and Innovation Roundtable; California State Pavilion Staff at APEC CEO Summit; and Secretary Ross with New Zealand Minister for Trade and Export Growth Damien O’Connor.

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Don’t move homegrown fruits and vegetables off your property — urgent holiday reminder for Californians in fruit fly quarantine zones

Oranges in a tree

With Thanksgiving and its generous tradition of sharing coming up next week, CDFA is urgently reminding Californians in fruit fly quarantine zones that they should *not* be moving homegrown produce off their property — citrus as well as other fruits and vegetables — as movement is forbidden under quarantine requirements and also creates a risk of spread of the invasive flies.

There are seven different fruit fly quarantines currently active in California, in the counties of Los Angeles, Ventura, Sacramento, Riverside, San Bernardino, Contra Costa and Santa Clara.

  • What residents can do to help:
    • Do not take fresh fruits and vegetables off of your property.
    • Fruits and vegetables may be consumed or processed (i.e., juiced, frozen, or cooked) at the property of origin.
    • To dispose of fresh fruits and vegetables, double-bag and seal prior to placing it in a non-green waste bin.
    • Allow authorized agricultural workers access to your property to inspect fruit, check OFF traps, or conduct fruit fly eradication activities.
    • Report any suspect fruit fly maggots that you find inside of your backyard produce by calling the CDFA Pest Hotline: 1-800-491-1899.

Maps, quarantine restrictions, and other information is available online at:

Californians are urged to adopt the principles of “Don’t Pack a Pest” to help prevent future introductions of invasive pests and diseases — by declaring all agricultural products for inspection upon entering the country and state, and by shipping Ag products through official channels that allow for proper treatment of commodities to protect against invasive species.  

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USDA Contributes to the Fifth National Climate Assessment, Highlighting Impacts on Ag, Forests and Rural Communities and Adaptation Needs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced its important contributions to the Fifth U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA5) demonstrating a commitment to understanding and addressing the effects of climate change.

“Our farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners are on the front lines of climate change. USDA’s role in the NCA5 exemplifies our commitment to supporting these individuals and communities, especially those who are disproportionately affected,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The NCA5 is a congressionally mandated report that analyzes the effects of climate change on sectors and regions across the U.S. economy. The report, released on November 14, 2023 by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, was developed through a partnership with 14 federal agencies and included 58 USDA scientists. The information and analysis in the report can be used to inform decision-making, but it does not prescribe specific policies or actions.

USDA’s contributions to the NCA5 highlight the effects of climate change on agriculture, forests, food systems, historically underserved communities, and natural resources. The NCA5 emphasizes the increasingly important role of adaptation in building resilience, and the role of the land sector in mitigating greenhouse gases. It demonstrates how climate change affects the livelihoods of USDA’s stakeholders and it provides examples of how land managers are changing their operations and practices in response to changing climate conditions.

The effects of climate change are not confined to specific regions; rather, the entire nation is vulnerable to its consequences. Climate-induced changes in productivity, trade infrastructure, and livelihoods affect everyone – U.S. consumers who depend on globally integrated food and forest-product supply chains, international consumers of U.S. products, and U.S. producers whose livelihoods are connected to global food and forest-product supply chains.

USDA recognizes that agriculture and forests have pivotal roles to play in addressing climate change. The NCA5 is a comprehensive and timely evaluation of climate change’s relationships with the land sector. By understanding climate change and prioritizing innovation, land managers can be more adaptable to changing conditions and working lands can help to lessen the impacts of climate change.

For more information about the Fifth National Climate Assessment, visit

View the original release on the USDA site here.

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Visit State Organic Program booth at Organic Grower Summit Nov. 29-30

Pictured at last year’s SOP summit booth are (L-R) SOP Special Investigator Pam Rodriguez, National Organic Program (NOP) Agricultural Marketing Specialist Devon Pattillo, SOP Special Investigator Leslie Fernandez, SOP Supervising Special Investigator Danny Lee and NOP Accreditation Division Director Robert Yang.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture’s California State Organic Program (SOP) invites attendees of the sixth annual Organic Grower Summit to visit the SOP booth in the exhibitor section. The event runs November 29-30.

The summit provides a great opportunity for the organic ag community to interact with SOP staff as well as industry leaders, National Organic Program staff and others involved in organic production. It’s presented by Western Growers and the Organic Produce Network at the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel & Spa in Monterey.

The Organic Grower Summit is designed to provide information vital to organic growers and producers, as well as an overview of the opportunities and challenges in the production of organic fresh food. The two-day event boasts a sold-out trade show floor featuring soil amendment, ag tech, food safety, packaging and equipment exhibitors who will have the opportunity to connect with growers as well as organic field production staff, supply chain managers, pest management advisors and food safety experts. For more information, please visit

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CDFA helps California dairy farmers generate renewable energy from waste — from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources via Morning Ag Clips

California ranks number one in the nation for dairy production, with 1,100 to 1,200 dairy farms, each with an average of 1,436 cows, mostly concentrated in Tulare County in the San Joaquin Valley. A major dairy waste is cow manure, a byproduct that can require millions of dollars for each dairy to manage.

To help manage the manure, CDFA provides grant funds to California dairy farms to install dairy digesters, a technology that can break down manure and produce methane (a form of renewable energy). The digesters provide additional benefits such as capturing greenhouse gases while improving the nutrient value of manure and water quality.

Pramod Pandey, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the School of Veterinary Medicine Extension at UC Davis, has been studying dairy digesters for over 20 years to understand the conversion of manure into renewable energy. He also is trying to determine the effects of anaerobic processes (in low-oxygen conditions) on dairy manure quality, biogas production and the environment.

Between 2015 and 2022, CDFA supported approximately 133 dairy digester projects in California, with grants of more than $200 million to various dairy farms.

“The California state government plays a big role in the success of this technology because the majority of dairy farmers are not financially able to invest in implementing the manure management technology, which assist both dairy farms and community,” said Pandey.

For dietary components that cannot be completely digested by a cow’s stomach, dairy digesters use a variety of bacteria to break down the manure under anaerobic conditions. This provides an option for sustainable waste treatment. The process not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions by capturing the gases released from manure, but also produces renewable energy in the form of biogas, which can be used as an alternative fuel for cars to further bring down greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the dairy digester helps reduce odor and pathogens that pose a risk to human health.

According to Pandey, one cow can theoretically produce roughly 100 pounds of wet manure daily, and this manure contains nitrogen and phosphorous, which are important for soil. About 40 cubic feet of biogas is produced from the manure of one cow under anaerobic conditions, and this biogas has a potential to produce around 24,000 btu per cow. In California, a 1,000-square foot home uses 45,000 to 55.000 btu per day for heating and cooling. That means manure from two or three cows could meet the daily energy demand of a small home.

By using digesters, farmers can prevent greenhouse gas emissions and simultaneously generate energy and soil amendments, which provide nutrients to cropland, lessening the amount of commercial fertilizer needed. By connecting technologies, the liquid from digesters can be improved to produce water that can be used for irrigation and for meeting the water demands of a dairy farm.

“The main purpose of a dairy farm is to produce milk, and current low milk prices make it difficult for dairy farmers to focus on manure management without the support from government,” Pandey said, adding that managing waste is not only expensive but time-consuming. Although dairy digesters can cost $5 million to $10 million to build and install, the technology is helpful in manure management.

Dairy farmers traditionally use anaerobic or manure lagoons to store their liquid manure waste until they are ready to apply it to farmland as fertilizer. The issue is that the lagoons emit greenhouse gases such as methane into the atmosphere.

“It is important to not overexpect from a dairy digester because it doesn’t reduce all forms of pollution from manure completely,” Pandey said. “But given the available resources, funding and technology, I would say that we’re off to a good start.”

Dennis Da Silva, a dairy farmer in Escalon, has been working in the industry his entire life and used to be “totally against” digesters. In the late 1970s, Da Silva’s father, who immigrated from Portugal, started Da Silva Dairy Farm, which Da Silva currently runs.

“I spend a lot of money getting solids out of my lagoons every year,” Da Silva said.

Although he does not have digesters set up on his farm just yet, Da Silva agreed with Pandey that the government has made it much easier for farmers like himself to tackle waste.

“I used to be against the dairy digester idea, but there’s a lot more incentive to invest these days,” said Da Silva. “It’s also likely that, in the future, there’ll be regulations that will crack down on dairy farms if you don’t already have digesters,” he added.

Currently, he is in the permitting phase, waiting for approval to begin building the digester on his farm, which is expected to take about two years.

Pandey said that the process is slow and there is still a lot of room for improvement, but the intention is a step in the right direction. “The only thing that the digester doesn’t produce is milk,” Pandey said jokingly.

Read more here

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USDA launches initiative to improve competitiveness of specialty crop industry

From a USDA news release

The USDA is initiating a new effort to further support the U.S. specialty crops sector and increase the competitiveness of its products as part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to build new, more and better markets that catalyze opportunity for American farmers.

“We all count on America’s specialty crops for reliable access to nutritious, fresh foods,” said USDA Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small. “Specialty crop producers are hard at work to keep operations profitable while implementing sustainable practices, and President Biden is proud to invest in innovation within the industry to remain competitive domestically and in markets across the world.”

As part of this new effort, USDA conducted a departmentwide review of its current services and programs that support the specialty crops industry and compiled the information into a Specialty Crops Resource Directory (PDF, 1.6 MB). The directory, being launched today, is a one-stop shop for the sector and contains a comprehensive snapshot of USDA’s resources and services for specialty crops producers and businesses in one convenient location.

Additionally, over the next several months, USDA leadership will engage directly with the specialty crop industry and producers to gain feedback on how the Department can better address gaps in services and better meet the industry’s needs. Dates and locations of roundtables and other live opportunities for stakeholder feedback are to be announced.

USDA also encourages U.S. specialty crops stakeholders to submit comments on how USDA can better support and meet the needs of the industry. To submit a comment, visit the Request for Information posted in the Federal Register. Comments are due by March 8, 2024. A new specialty crops-dedicated webpage designed to provide information on the initiative is available at

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