Honeybees stung by drought – from CNBC


By Mark Koba

There’s very little in California’s agriculture industry that’s been left untouched by the ongoing drought, and bees are no exception.

Besides making honey, bees are crucial to pollinating about one-third of all U.S. crops.

But the drought, heading into a fourth year, is threatening honey production and the ability of beekeepers to make a living in a state that was once the top honey producer in the country.

“My honey production is down about 20 percent from the drought,” said Bill Lewis, president of the California Beekeepers Association.

Lewis, who manages around 50 billion bees in Southern California, explained that the lack of rain has reduced plants that provide food for the bees and the nectar they turn into honey.

Lewis said he’s had to feed his bees much less nutritional food such as sugar water that’s threatening the health of the bees and slowing the generation of honey.

“It doesn’t have the minerals that real food from plants have,” he said. “It’s like putting them on Twinkies.”

Lewis added that feeding the bees this way costs him more but it’s a cost he can’t pass on to consumers.

“Imports of honey keep me from raising my prices,” he said. “It’s a real challenge, financially.”

Commodity Cutbacks

In 2003, California was the top honey producer in the U.S., but it has since fallen behind North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota and Florida. And according to the Department of Agriculture, California’s honey crop fell from 27.5 million pounds in 2010 to about 10.9 million pounds in 2013, or less than 5 percent of the country’s yearly $317 million crop.

But beyond honey production is bees’ crucial role in the pollination of numerous crops, like plums, strawberries, melons, lemons, broccoli and almonds.

“It’s hard to overstate the importance of bees to our industry,” said Bob Curtis, associate director of agricultural affairs at the Almond Board of California. “The drought has decreased forage for bees within California, and ensuring a variety of forage is a long-term challenge.”

Leading Production States

Pounds Produced
Dollar Value of Production
North Dakota 33,120,000 $67,565,000
Montana 14,946,000 $31,088,000
South Dakota 14,840,000 $30,570,000
Florida 13,420,000 $27,377,000
California 10,890,000 $22,869,000
Source: US Department of Agriculture


Pollination also is a revenue source for beekeepers, but a lack of irrigation water has left many fields empty. An estimated 420,000 acres of farmland went unplanted this year—about 5 percent of the total in the state. That means that fewer farmers are renting hives and beekeepers have less income.

“I’ve had to raise my prices to farmers who do rent, which hasn’t been easy,” said the California Beekeepers Association’s Lewis.

“If we don’t get any water, there will be more cutbacks on commodities,” said Eric Mussen, a professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis. “And that will affect bees, honey production and pollination of crops going forward.”

Call for help

As bad as the situation in California is—80 percent of the state is in extreme or exceptional drought—the Almond Board’s Curtis said the lack of rainfall has not prevented almond growers from getting sufficient bee pollination so far.

But the drought is just one hazard making honeybees suffer. Beehive losses worldwide have increased over the years due to pesticides, parasites and colony collapse disorder, by which adult bees disappear from colonies due to various causes.

However, for Lewis, the drought is enough of a crisis to make a plea for help, even if it means using more water.

“It’s devastating,” Lewis said. “What people can do here is plant flowers wherever there’s dirt. The bees need them.”

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Rice growers wrap up drought-impacted harvest – from Capital Press


By Tim Hearden

WILLIAMS, Calif. — As rice growers in California wrap up their harvest of a drought-diminished crop, good yields and more widespread sales of rice straw are helping them to at least partly make up for lost acreage.


The rice harvest was 85 percent complete as of Oct. 19, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Leo LaGrande, a grower here, finished work over the weekend and said his yields deteriorated as the season went along.

“We had some fields that looked good earlier and we thought it would be better, but it didn’t quite mature to the yields we wanted,” he said. “I would call it an average year for us.”

But yields remained strong for Marysville, Calif., grower Charley Mathews, who also finished harvesting last weekend, he said. Good weather during crop development led to rice that grew tall and went flat, making for slow going during harvest, he said.

“It helps,” Mathews said of the big yields. “The yields might be up ahead of last year’s state average, but not enough to close the gap in our shortfall (in acreage).”

California rice growers are expected to produce 36.8 million hundredweight, down 23 percent from last year, NASS estimated. About 140,000 acres of rice went unplanted this year because of water shortfalls — a 25 percent decrease from last year’s crop, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation.

LaGrande had to leave about one-quarter of his land unplanted, he said.

“We thought we were very fortunate because some of our neighbors had to leave 100 percent out,” he said.

However, the yield forecast of 8,000 pounds per acre would be a 1 percent increase from last year and would tie records set in 2004 and 2008, according to NASS’ office in Sacramento.

The optimistic outlook for yields follows a spring planting season that was more drawn-out than usual because exchange contractors along the Sacramento River agreed to space out their water delivery schedules to maintain the right river temperatures for winter run salmon.

Rice is typically planted between mid-April and mid-May, with harvests coming six months later, but many growers didn’t get started until mid-May and were still planting in June. Those that were still harvesting this week ran into a rainstorm on Oct. 20 that stopped their work.

While farmers welcome the rain, their water worries aren’t over. Many are unsure if there will be enough water to decompose rice straw left in fields.

Willows, Calif., grower Larry Maben may pump water from wells into his fields after harvest if there isn’t enough rain, which is “an awfully expensive source of water,” he said.

“It’s going to be kind of a balancing act,” Maben said.

With not as much water available for decomposition, more producers are baling and selling straw “than I’ve ever seen,” said Mathews, who’s on the USA Rice Federation’s executive committee.

University of California researchers reached out to growers this summer to promote converting their rice straw into “strawlage,” a feed that the scientists say is on a par with a low-quality alfalfa. UC Cooperative Extension advisors said the straw would be a good alternative for livestock producers confronted with feed shortages because of the drought.

The straw can also be used for erosion control in forest fire recovery projects, Mathews said. While decomposition helps the soil, growers can make up for the lack of straw by adding nutrients before planting next spring, he said.

LaGrande said he’ll probably bale 60 percent of his rice straw, the majority of which will be fed to cattle.

“It’s huge,” he said. “I think the dairy industry is grabbing onto it more every year. And this year with the drought, some cattlemen who really never tried rice straw before are buying into it. At $300 a ton for alfalfa or $40 a ton for rice straw, you’re going to try it.”

Link to story

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USDA to Launch New Farm Bill Program to Help Provide Relief to Farmers Affected by Severe Weather

2014 Farm Bill’s APH Yield Exclusion to be Implemented for 2015 Spring Crops

WASHINGTON, Oct. 21, 2014 – U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the implementation of a new Farm Bill initiative that will provide relief to farmers affected by severe weather, including drought. The Actual Production History (APH) Yield Exclusion, available nationwide for farmers of select crops starting next spring, allows eligible producers who have been hit with severe weather to receive a higher approved yield on their insurance policies through the federal crop insurance program.

Spring crops eligible for APH Yield Exclusion include corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, grain sorghum, rice, barley, canola, sunflowers, peanuts, and popcorn. Nearly three-fourths of all acres and liability in the federal crop insurance program will be covered under APH Yield Exclusion.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Risk Management Agency and Farm Service Agency staff worked hard to implement several 2014 Farm Bill programs ahead of schedule, such as the Agricultural Risk Coverage, the Price Loss Coverage, Supplemental Coverage Option and Stacked Income Protection Plan. USDA is now able to leverage data from the Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage to extract the information needed to implement APH Yield Exclusion earlier than expected.

“Key programs launched or extended as part of the 2014 Farm Bill are essential to USDA’s commitment to help rural communities grow. These efforts give farmers, ranchers and their families better security as they work to ensure Americans have safe and affordable food,” said Vilsack. “By getting other 2014 Farm Bill programs implemented efficiently, we are now able to offer yield exclusion for Spring 2015 crops, providing relief to farmers impacted by severe weather.”

The APH Yield Exclusion allows farmers to exclude yields in exceptionally bad years (such as a year in which a natural disaster or other extreme weather occurs) from their production history when calculating yields used to establish their crop insurance coverage. The level of insurance coverage available to a farmer is based on the farmer’s average recent yields. In the past, a year of particularly low yields that occurred due to severe weather beyond the farmer’s control would reduce the level of insurance coverage available to the farmer in future years. By excluding unusually bad years, farmers will not have to worry that a natural disaster will reduce their insurance coverage for years to come.

Under the new Farm Bill program, yields can be excluded from farm actual production history when the county average yield for that crop year is at least 50 percent below the 10 previous consecutive crop years’ average yield.

RMA will provide additional program details in December 2014.

Federal crop insurance, which is sold through private crop insurance agents, offers a variety of options that may impact coverage and premium costs. Producers are encouraged to work with their crop insurance agent to determine the coverage that best meets their risk management needs. Farmers can find a crop insurance agent in their area at: www.rma.usda.gov/tools/agent.html.

Today’s announcement was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill. The 2014 Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.

View original release online: USDA News Release #0233.14

Contact the USDA Office of Comunications: (202) 720-4623

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Growing California video series – Acres of Ambition

The next segment in the Growing California video series, a partnership with California Grown, is “Acres of Ambition,” a  profile of a program in Salinas training farmworkers to become farmers.

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Almond Board of California introduces best practices for bees


As part of an ongoing commitment to honey bee health, the Almond Board of California released a comprehensive, set of Honey Bee Best Management Practices (BMPs) for California’s almond industry. Developed with a wide array of input from sources including the almond community, beekeepers, researchers, California and U.S. regulators, and chemical registrants, the BMPs represent the Board’s most extensive educational documents to date to ensure that almond orchards are and remain a safe and healthy place for honey bees. The documents lay out simple, practical steps that almond growers can take together with beekeepers and other pollination stakeholders to protect and promote bee health on their land and in the surrounding community.

(The) release builds on decades of work by the almond industry. Since 1995, the Almond Board of California has invested almost $1.6 million – more than any other crop – on research related to honey bee health, on subjects including Varroa mite and other honey bee pest and disease management, nutrition and honey bee forage, impact of pesticides, and technical assistance for beekeepers. Almond orchards are often honey bees first source of natural pollen after the winter, and honey bee hives routinely leave the almond orchard stronger than they arrived.1

“Nobody is a bigger fan of honey bees than almond growers. Without bees, there would be no almonds. And without almonds, bees would lose a vital source of nutritious natural pollen,” said Richard Waycott, CEO of the Almond Board of California. “These Best Management Practices are another significant milestone in our decades-long commitment to protect bee health and preserve that mutually beneficial relationship.”

“With these Best Management Practices, the Almond Board is responding strongly on honey bee health and, in particular, pesticide use and considerations during bloom,” said Dr. Eric Mussen, UC Davis Extension Apiculturist Emeritus. “Their recommendations actually go far beyond the almond orchard, providing important insights for all crops when it comes to promoting honey bee health.”

The BMPs emphasize the importance of communication among everyone involved in pollination, including beekeepers, bee brokers, farm owners/lessees, farm managers, pest control advisers and applicators. The wide ranging recommendations include information on:

  • Preparing for honey bee arrival;
  • Assessing hive strength and quality;
  • Providing clean water for bees to drink;
  • Using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies to minimize agricultural sprays;
  • Removing honey bees from the orchard; and
  • Addressing suspected pesticide-related honey bee losses

While experts have attributed honey bee health decline to a variety of factors including pests, decreasing sources of natural pollen, and lack of genetic diversity, the BMPs focus significantly on pesticide application practices and considerations during almond bloom – with lessons that apply to the multitude of other crops that rely on honey bees and that use pesticides and fungicides.2 Among the specific recommendations:

  1. There should be agreement between beekeeper and grower on a pesticide plan that outlines which pest control materials may be used.
  2. Insecticide applications should be avoided at bloom until more is known about their impact on young developing bees in the hive (bee brood).
  3. Tank mixing insecticides with fungicides should be avoided.
  4. If fungicide application is needed during bloom, it should take place in the late afternoon and evening, when bees and pollen are not present. This avoids contaminating pollen with spray materials.

Along with the full Best Management Practices, (the) release includes a Honey Bee Best Management Practices Quick Guide for Almonds, and Applicator/Driver Honey Bee Best Management Practices Quick Guide for Almonds. The guide for applicators and drivers is available in both English and Spanish to ensure maximum accessibility and adoption. Each of the documents is available in full atwww.Almonds.com/BeeBMPs.

Link to news release

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Great ShakeOut at CDFA!

Members of CDFA's Emergency Planning Committee take part in the annual Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill.  An estimated 20 million people around the world are estimated to be participating in the event to promote earthquake readiness.

Members of CDFA’s Emergency Planning Committee take part in the annual Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill at 10:16 this morning. An estimated 20 million people around the world are estimated to be participating in the event to promote earthquake readiness.

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World Food Day a reminder of everyday challenges with food access


It is encouraging to see World Food Day observed today, a designation made possible by the inspiring work of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The goal of this day is to reach a point in time when people are no longer going hungry. The world produces enough food to feed everyone on the planet. We must find solutions to the ongoing problem of food access.

At CDFA, we work in this area every day in a number of different programs. Our Certified Farmers’ Market program helps with access through the mere presence of farmers’ markets. As the number of markets statewide continues to grow, they make valued contributions to their communities with fresh, nutritious food directly from farms. The fact that many of them now accept CalFresh cards means that some of California’s neediest families are getting the access they need, and CDFA’s Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program helps provide these foods to needy senior citizens.

CDFA’s Office of Farm to Fork improves food access from another angle – working with school districts to develop and solidify connections with local farmers, and then helping teachers provide nutrition education to their students. I was very pleased to see these efforts play a role in bringing a truly exceptional honor this week to a group of Contra Costa County students – they were invited to the White House garden to meet First Lady Michelle Obama and help harvest vegetables for the White House kitchen!

Another program that helps with food access and education is CDFA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which provides USDA Farm Bill funds through a competitive grant process for a number of projects benefiting specialty crops. In 2014, California received nearly $20 million for grant distribution. Examples of food-access projects funded this year include programs in Chico and Sacramento seeking to improve access through community gardens for low-income residents and educational opportunities in both nutrition and urban production.

We work with the California State Board of Food and Agriculture to generate donations to our state’s food banks. We declare each December as Farm-to-Food Bank Month and ask our farmers and ranchers to make a donation or a pledge. Last year, they donated more than 127 million pounds of food. That’s great, and much appreciated! However, we still have some ground to cover to reach our goal of 200 million pounds by next year.

We want to thank our partners at California Grown for its commitment to the food bank effort with its “Snap a Selfie” program. California Grown is donating a pound of food to California food banks for every #cagrown selfie that is posted on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook by end of this month. Participants are asked to take a photograph of the CA Grown logo or anything grown or produced in California and then use #cagrown in their post.

In California, it’s believed that almost four-million people are food insecure, which means they could not afford enough food at least once in the previous year. In a state as bountiful as ours, we know we have the means to provide for these families. World Food Day is a reminder that we must do it.

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Pumpkin farmer sets North American record in annual Half Moon Bay contest – from NBC Bay Area

A California farmer broke a North American record on Monday when his large, bulbous gourd clocked in at 2,058 pounds during the annual Half Moon Bay pumpkin weigh-off, which has been drawing veteran growers and hobbyists alike since 1974.

The giant squash, dubbed by festival organizers as the “colossal ghost,” grown by John Hawkley of Napa — especially large for a drought year — was about 265 pounds shy of claiming the world record for largest pumpkin. That record was set Sunday in Germany, when Swiss grower Beni Meier turned in a pumpkin that weighed 2,323 pounds.

Still, Hawkley’s magnificent white pumpkin broke sacred ground statewide: It was the first time a pumpkin had smashed the ton-mark at the Half Moon Bay Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off, which has been running the contest for 41 years. Hawkley’s record also beat Tim Mathison’s 2,032-pound pumpkin at a nearby Uesugi Farms pumpkin weighoff this weekend.

Link to NBC Bay Area

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Farm-to-School – Northern California elementary school students to visit White House Garden

It's carrot season at a school garden in Pittsburg, CA

It’s carrot season at a school garden in Pittsburg, CA

Tomorrow, five students from the Pittsburg Unified School District in Contra Costa County will join First Lady Michelle Obama and students from schools in Arizona, Ohio and Washington D.C. to harvest vegetables from the White House Garden and work with chefs to turn them into a healthy meal.

Pittsburg’s students are attending the event in recognition of the Farm to School programs the district has implemented. The district now has eight school gardens, incorporates local produce in school cafeterias, and provides nutrition education in the classroom as well as after-school programs.

The students visiting the White House all come from Pittsburg’s Willow Cove Elementary School. The school’s garden began last year, when second-grade teacher Elba Ramirez requested milk crates to start a small classroom garden. Instead, district child nutrition director Matthew Belasco offered to build a larger garden with raised beds. Ms. Ramirez and her students planted and cared for the garden throughout the year and then harvested the vegetables, which were served in the cafeteria.

CDFA’s Office of Farm to Fork has been working closely with Pittsburg Unified’s Food Service Department to develop these programs and incorporate more locally grown food in district cafeterias. The office is also working with Pittsburg and surrounding school districts to directly connect them with nearby farmers to provide local food.

“I am so pleased that the White House has recognized the Pittsburg Unified School District for all the hard work it has put into its amazing farm to school program,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “It helps connect our students with food grown right here in California and, to the extent possible, from Contra Costa and surrounding counties. CDFA and its Office of Farm to Fork is committed to these types of programs. They teach our kids about where their food comes from while giving them access to healthy foods, and they support California farmers and ranchers.”

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California drought in perspective – from Drovers Cattle Network


By Angela Bowman

In January, the Drought Monitor first began to report areas of exceptional drought in California. Thirty-seven weeks later, the drought continues to rage.

According to the latest Drought Monitor report, currently 58 percent of California is in exceptional drought, unchanged for the 11th consecutive week. Last week, temperatures soared to 6 to 10 degrees above normal, and dry conditions dominated.

Just how dry is it?

With the beginning of a new water year on Sept. 30, the National Weather Service in Sacramento, Calif., issued some preliminary numbers to help put the state’s drought into perspective.

According to the National Weather Service, the 2014 Water Year came in as the fourth driest in terms of runoff dating back to 1906. It fell behind 1977, 1924 and 1931 respectively.

“No doubt about it, though, an above-normal Water Year is sorely needed to stave off even further depletion of surface and ground water supplies,” Mark Svoboda with the National Drought Mitigation Center wrote in this week’s report.

Click here to read more.

On Monday, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) issued a news release explaining the impact California’s drought has had on its hydropower.

“On average, hydropower accounted for 20 percent of California’s in-state generation during the first six months of each year from 2004 to 2013,” the EIA explained in a report here. “During the first half of 2014, however, hydropower accounted for only 10% of California’s total generation.”

Looking ahead, temperatures will likely remain between 3 and 6 degrees above normal across most of the West through Oct. 14. The Climate Prediction Center’s U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook showed persist drought to dominate more than two-thirds of California through the end of the year. Read more.


Link to article

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