Northern California fairs step-up to support fire response

The fairgrounds in Shasta County are serving as a base camp for fire fighters responding to the Carr Fire.

With the Carr, Ferguson, Mendocino Complex, Whaleback and Natchez fires continuing to burn in Shasta County, Lassen County, Mariposa County, Mendocino County, and Del Norte County–not to mention a number of additional fires–California’s network of fairs is fulfilling a crucial role as staging areas for fire crews, and serving as evacuation centers for people and animals. The following fairgrounds are serving during the current spate of wildfires.

Mariposa County Fairgrounds and Exposition Center, Mariposa, CA: This is an evacuation center currently housing people and animals displaced by wildfire.

Tehama District Fairgrounds, Red Bluff, CA:  As many as 200 animals are being housed at this site, which is also serving as a fire camp.

Sonoma-Marin Fair, Petaluma, CA: Seventy goats are being sheltered at this animal evacuation center.

Shasta District Fair and Event Center, Anderson, CA: This fair is serving as a base camp for crews from CalFire, the National Guard and the California Conservation Corps.

Lassen County Fair, Susanville, CA: This is a fire camp supporting crews from CalFire, the US Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management.

Lake County Fair, Lakeport, CA: Utility crews responding to fires are being housed there.

This emergency service is yet another example of how California’s network of fairs partners with local communities. The fairs are much more than a place to congregate and celebrate. They are bonafide public assets; essential institutions that serve Californians in many important ways.



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Virulent Newcastle Disease outreach in Southern California

USDA veterinarian Dr. Daniel Ahnen (standing) meets with bird owners and 4H members last night in Murrieta, Riverside County – part of ongoing outreach in the Virulent Newcastle Disease project in Southern California. Dr. Ahnen and Dr. P. Ryan Clarke, also of the USDA, provided an overview of the program as well as key biosecurity tips to prevent spread of the disease. More information here.

Virulent Newcastle Disease has been detected in San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles counties. The disease has been found at a total of 74 properties – all residential. It has not been detected at commercial poultry operations. In this video, USDA veterinarian Dr. P. Ryan Clarke discusses the current incident along with a review of the disease outbreak in 2002-2003 in California.

This slide informed bird owners of the status of the current outbreak.

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Virulent Newcastle Disease: the view from Kern County – from

A rooster at a Kern County chicken ranch.
From the Bakersfield Californian

By John Cox

As the guy responsible for more than 2 million hens laying 1.5 million eggs per day, Jeff Peterson took no chances when news broke May 17 the chicken disease called virulent Newcastle had been confirmed in Los Angeles County.

He “locked down” his company’s 160-acre farm northwest of Wasco. Anyone entering had to be screened and sanitized. No more visits from congressmen wanting to see what a cage-free operation looks like.

“We are taking it that seriously,” said the general manager of Central Valley Eggs, one of California’s largest producers. “Any outbreak of virulent Newcastle has the potential to be catastrophic if mishandled.”

Since the lockdown, 64 cases of virulent Newcastle disease have been confirmed in Southern California, prompting state officials earlier this month to declare poultry quarantines in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Although no cases have been identified north of Los Angeles County this year, the situation worries local chicken owners, from commercial operators to people with backyard coops on Bakersfield’s fringes. Even the Poultry Committee Chairman of the Kern County Fair is monitoring the situation to avoid an ordeal like what he and the organization endured last time.

Virulent Newcastle poses little or no threat to humans. Eating meat or eggs from infected chickens is no problem. Pink eye and a fever is the worst that happens to infected humans.

But it is fatal and highly contagious to birds including ducks and parrots. In 2003, more than 100,000 commercial birds suspected of having the disease had to be put down. In 1971, nearly 12 million chickens were destroyed because of it.

County records show Kern produced $24.4 million worth of eggs and egg products in 2016, a little more than half the year before’s total. No more recent data are available.

Garcia’s Feed & Pet on the outskirts of east Bakersfield sells baby chicks in an area where backyard coops are common. Employee Genaro Garcia said he fields customer questions about virulent Newcastle disease probably once a month.

This flyer is being distributed to feed stores in southern and Central California. Find it online

“We usually do tell them to be careful and quarantine” chickens who appear ill, he said, adding the store has given out so many state-produced flyers about the disease in recent months that he’s run out.

Animal feed store The Roundup on Rosedale Highway also sells chicks and gives the same advice. Manager Mikinzi Whitezell noted chickens can succumb to many different diseases. She said people with chickens in the back yard don’t tend to take them to a veterinarian.

Whitezell recalled the time maybe five years ago a customer very experienced with chickens became convinced virulent Newcastle was spreading through her flock. “She ended up having to kill them all,” she said.

The county’s assistant agricultural commissioner, Darin Heard, would rather people didn’t panic. But the fact neighboring counties have reported multiple cases, and the chance locals unwittingly harbor infected birds, raises his concerns considerably.

Heard said the county is working closely with the California Department of Food and Agriculture — the lead agency on the outbreak — to keep on top of the situation. He said Kern’s commercial egg producers already have in place “biosecurity” measures designed to keep diseases off the premises.

As much as an outbreak would financially hurt commercial producers, he said, it would also devastate people whose chickens feed the household.

“I tell you what, people love their chickens,” he said. “Some people love their chickens more than they love their dogs.”

Orville Andrews, chairman of the Kern County Fair’s Poultry Committee, is among those paying close attention to the situation. He’s hopeful the state can get it contained, he said, because otherwise things are going to get ugly.

He wants to send a strong message to young people planning to put their chickens in front of the fair’s judges come September: Leave any animal that’s not full healthy at home.

Andrews recalled the scene some years ago when state officials shut down all movement of chickens in California in an effort to halt the spread of virulent Newcastle. This occurred in the middle of the fair and continued for two weeks.

None of the animals ended up testing positive, which was a relief to him. But keeping all the chickens at the fairgrounds was a hassle nonetheless.

“I had to come in and feed and water chickens every day,” he said. “That was tough.”

Link to story

Link to CDFA’s Virulent Newcastle Disease web page

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California hit with two heat waves in less than a month. Here’s why it matters – from Mashable

Historic heat records fell in California earlier this month. Yet, two weeks later, another mass of warm air has returned to the southern part of the state, heating the region for days.

The second heat wave of July will last from Monday through Thursday, said the National Weather Service. While this heat won’t be quite as severe as the last, it’ll still bring “record and near-record high temperatures” to different areas of California.

As average temperatures around the globe continue their accelerated rise, extreme heat events like these are becoming more and more frequent.

“The big picture is clear,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in an interview.

“As our temperatures globally have been increasing, we’ve been seeing a lot more record-breaking heat waves,” said Swain. “It’s not just this year or last year — it just the way things have been.”

Potent greenhouse gases amassing in Earth’s atmosphere, notably carbon dioxide, are responsible for trapping heat on the planet, causing overall temperatures to rise.

“With greenhouse-gas induced warming temperatures, heatwaves are expected to become more common,” Robert Weisenmiller, Chair of the  California Energy Commission, said via email.

“The number and duration of heat waves will also increase and, again, high temperature records will be broken more frequently,” said Weisenmiller.

“There are many variables with weather, but scientist around the world agree, in general, extreme weather is becoming more common, along with rising seas, prolonged droughts, and more frequent wildfires.”

The region of warm air now over Southern California, often referred to as a “heat dome,” had been parked over the desert Southwest, but Swain noted that it can “wobble around.” Now, it’s come back west.

It’s not unusual for inland Southern California, like the valleys beyond Los Angeles, to hit 110 degrees Fahrenheit or higher during a heat wave. But, “it’s something special to get those temperatures near the coast,” said Swain, as they did earlier this month. Temperatures here are usually tempered by the cooler air over the Pacific Ocean.

“A warming of our planet and of California in particular will result in more frequent breaks of temperature records including areas near the coast,” said Weisenmiller. “Both coastal areas and inland regions will experience record breaking temperatures in both regions.”

The University of California, Los Angeles campus, for instance, hit 111 degrees on July 6 — an all-time record. These extreme temperatures were largely enabled by wind blowing air down from the warm air mass hovering thousands of feet above Southern California. As warm air descends, it compresses, generating even more heat.

“When you warm something up that’s already warm, it can become super hot,” said Swain. At 3 a.m. in coastal Santa Barbara County, it was nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit on July 6.

The new heat wave, while less intense than the previous scorcher, will reach between 100 and 110 degrees in Southern California’s valleys and deserts. The heat isn’t just restricted to California, as temperatures in Phoenix, Arizona are forecast to reach over 115 degrees Fahrenheit this week.

In California, perhaps few all-time records will fall this week. But others likely will.

“We’re probably going to have record-high temps — merely exceeding the daily records,” said Swain.

Link to story


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Apple-picking robots: College students to compete to build the best – from the University of California’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR)

By Pamela Kan Rice

Nineteen teams of college students from top universities in the U.S., Canada and China will compete to build robots to mechanize farm work at the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers Annual International Meeting in Detroit.

The 2018 ASABE Student Robotics Challenge, being organized by Alireza Pourreza, University of California Cooperative Extension agricultural mechanization specialist, will be held on July 31.

“The labor availability for agriculture is decreasing while the need for more food is increasing to feed the growing world population,” said Pourreza, who is based in the UC Davis Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering. “So agriculture should switch to technologies that are less labor-dependent, such as using more robots, to overcome this challenge.”

The ASABE Student Robotics Challenge provides an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills of robotics in agriculture.

“The goal of this event is to encourage young agricultural engineers to get involved in building robots for agricultural applications and to get experienced as the next generation of farmers,” Pourreza said.

The challenge will be to simulate the harvest and storage of apples, a crop commercially grown in several states. The students will design and operate robots that will autonomously harvest “apples” on field that measures 8 feet by 8 feet. The robots will harvest eight mature apples (red ping-pong balls), remove and dispose of eight diseased or rotten apples (blue ping-pong balls) and leave eight immature apples (green ping-pong balls) on the tree.

This year, the competitors are being divided into a beginner division and an advanced division.

Beginner Teams

California Polytechnic State University        Green and Gold Mustangs
China Agricultural College                          China Ag, Beginners
McGill University                                       We Are Groots
Purdue                                                     ABE Robotics
Purdue                                                     Harvestiers
Texas A&M                                               Texas A&M
University of California Merced                   Bobcats
University of Nebraska Lincoln                    HuskerBots 2
University of Nebraska Lincoln                    HuskerBots3
University of Wisconsin River Falls               Falcon Robotics
Zhejiang University                                    ZJU team 1
Zhejiang University                                    ZJU team 2
Clemson University                                    CARA

Advanced Teams

China Agricultural College                             Dream
McGill University                                          Agrobots
University of Georgia                                    UGA Engineers
University of California – Davis                      Ag-Botics
University of Florida                                      RoboGators
University of Nebraska Lincoln                       HuskerBots 1

The competition will be held in Cobo Center Exhibit Hall, 1 Washington Blvd., Detroit, Michigan. There will be three rounds throughout the day and each team will participate once in each round.

For more information, visit the 2018 ASABE robotics competition website:

Video of 2016 competition:

Video of 2017 competition:

Link to UC ANR blog


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Teachers aim to bring Ag lessons to classrooms – from

Teachers learn about egg production in Kern County.

By Joseph Luiz

For a few days (last week), nearly 40 local teachers got the chance to be the students.

The Kern County Farm Bureau held a Teachers’ Ag Seminar. Through the seminar, teachers toured farms and other facilities, heard presentations from farmers and industry experts, participated in hands-on activities and more.

The goal of the seminar is for teachers to implement what they’ve learned about agriculture in their classrooms.

“We’ve got to educate the kids so that they can protect the future of agriculture, but also the teachers need to know more about agriculture,” said Lorri Roberts, a Valley Oaks educator who helped coordinate activities for the seminar. “With this program, the teachers can learn and share that knowledge with their kids.”

One of the participants this year was Standard Middle School sixth-grade teacher Valeri Gusman, who said she enjoyed her first time with the program.

“It was amazing to see the passion behind these farmers that are right here in our backyards,” she said. “Many people don’t even know what we have here in Kern County. This is a mecca of amazing agriculture, and we just don’t see it in our neighborhoods.”

Gusman said she learned much through the seminar, such as the thought and care that goes into pesticides to make sure they work well but are also safe.

“I thought workers just go out with a big machine and just spray the heck out of everything, rather than looking into the science behind it,” she said. “There’s a lot of chemistry involved to make sure everything is safe and effective.”

Gusman said she plans to incorporate ag more in the math work for her kids, hoping that it helps them understand math in a more relatable way while also informing them about ag industry. She said she wants them to learn about costs, profit margins, and other aspects relating to the financial side of the industry.

“I want to show them it’s more than just going to a store and buying something,” she said. “The seminar was very eye-opening. My brain feels like there’s just so much information to mull over. I’ll be doing a whole lot of thinking about that this week, putting my thoughts together.”

Kelly Carter, a first-year teacher with Shafter High School, said her main goal with the seminar was to learn more about Kern County, having just arrived from Northern California.

“i always thought Bakersfield was just oil rigs, but seeing the vineyards that you guys have, the livestock, seeing everything that is possible in this area has been really big,” she said. “I see a lot of the diversity that is available here.”

Carter said she’s hoping to bring students to some of the places she’s toured through the program.

Jennifer Allen came all the way from Lake Isabella to participate in the seminar. Allen teaches fifth grade at Wallace Elementary School, part of the Kernville Union School District.

Allen said she enjoyed inhabiting the role of a student and learning about the breadth of the ag industry in Kern County.

“I came ready to learn and see what I could incorporate into my classroom,” she said. “My hope is to help my kids understand where their food comes from, knowing how much we produce here in Kern County.”

Allen said she also hopes to inspire some of them to consider future careers in the local ag industry.

“I want to open up opportunities for them, show what’s possible and get them thinking about it early,” she said.

Link to article

Link to California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom

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Virulent Newcastle Disease eradication program moves deliberately, one property at a time

The ongoing program to eradicate Virulent Newcastle Disease (VND) following detections in San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles counties is a very deliberate process requiring teams of CDFA and USDA employees to go door-to-door in the search for symptoms of the disease among backyard birds.

So far VND has been detected at 65 properties, but survey teams have paid visits to more than 73,000 thousand properties. Quarantines are in place at 1,786 properties, and even though the disease has not been detected at commercial poultry operations, several of them are under quarantine due to their proximity to infected premises, as a safeguard.

Outreach is a key part of the survey teams’ work. Information is shared on prevention and the recognition of symptoms at each property. This effort includes visits to farmers’ markets, feed stores, veterinary clinics and egg sellers; as well as ongoing communications with bird clubs and 4H groups and weekend visits to church services in the affected areas.

As this work continues bird owners everywhere, but especially in Southern California, are urged to practice strict biosecurity measures. In Southern California these include:

  1. Don’t move birds
  2. Don’t bring new birds to the property
  3. Don’t let people with birds come into contact with your birds.

VND mostly travels through the movement of  infected poultry or on the hands and feet of people that came into contact with infected poultry or their droppings.

Bird owners urged to  report sick birds to CDFA’s Sick Bird Hotline, 866-922-2473.

Please visit CDFA’s VND web page for more information.

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CDFA Secretary Karen Ross and Ag Leaders meet with Governor Brown on Trade Tariffs

State Board President Don Cameron, left, next to Governor Brown and CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. Other meeting attendees included: Rob Yraceburu, Wonderful Orchards LLC; Carolyn Wasem, Jackson Family Wines; David Ahlem, Hilmar Cheese Company; Dan Sumner, UC Ag Issues Center; Mike Gallo, Joseph Gallo Farms; Aaron Lange, Lange Twins; Jonathan Hoff, Monte Vista Farming; Frank Muller, Muller Ranch; Rayne Thompson, Sunkist Growers and Fruit Growers Supply Company and Paul Wenger, Wenger Ranch.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross and State Board of Food and Agriculture President Don Cameron joined a group of agricultural leaders yesterday to discuss trade issues and tariff impacts with California Governor Jerry Brown. California is the largest agricultural producer and exporter in the nation. Recent trade actions by China and other foreign governments to increase tariffs will have a large potential trade impact on the state’s farmers, ranchers and farmworkers.

Farm leaders and the governor discussed the need for a quick federal resolution on tariff and trade negotiations given the quickly approaching shipping season for a variety of California products.  California exports 100 percent of the nation’s table grapes and tree nuts, 91 percent of wine, 56 percent of citrus and more than 31 percent of the nation’s dairy products. Tariffs are not only impacting current shipments, but also food processing and canning with increased steel costs as well as other rising on-farm expenses.

California farmers and ranchers are seeking immediate resolution to the ongoing tariff and trade re-negotiations to keep exports growing and farmers farming. Every dollar of agricultural exports stimulate another $1.28 in business activity, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture. California exports more than $20 billion in agricultural products.

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State offering $57 million in grants to food processors to improve energy efficiency – from the Sacramento Business Journal

By Mark Anderson

The state of California is offering $57 million in grants to help the food processing industry cut emissions and energy use.

“This type of support not only helps the industry reduce operating costs and greenhouse gas emissions, but it helps the industry remain competitive so jobs associated with food production remain in California,” said California Energy Commission Chairman Robert Weisenmiller, in a news release.

Food processing is one of largest users of energy in California, according to the California Energy Commission. That use included 7 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity and 500 million therms of natural gas in 2015. That scale of energy use is not surprising since agriculture is a $46 billion industry in California that generates $100 billion in related economic activity, according to the energy commission.

The grant program is the result of last year’s Assembly Bill 109, which created the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund.

“We have had a lot of interest from the industry,” said Cyrus Ghandi, energy analyst with the California Energy Commission. “We expect a good turnout.”

There are two tiers of grant money available: one for drop-in replacements and another for emerging technology. Applications are due Aug. 31.

Up to $33 million is available for tier-one grants for commercially available, energy-efficient equipment upgrades that are drop-in replacements or additions to existing equipment. The awards will range from $100,000 to $3 million, and require a minimum 35 percent match.

Up to $24 million is available in tier-two grants for emerging technologies not widely employed in California but proven elsewhere to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Those awards will range from $2 million to $8 million, and require at least a 15 percent match.

Link to Sacramento Business Journal


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How women helped save agriculture 100 years ago – from the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

By Joe Blackstock

One of World War II’s civilian heroes was the iconic Rosie the Riveter, who represented the thousands of women building planes and ships during the war.

But Rosie’s “mother” shouldered a similar, mostly forgotten role during World War I, helping to save the products of the Inland Empire’s agricultural fields.

One hundred years ago this month, the region’s farms were threatened by the loss of men away fighting the war in Europe. Wartime restrictions also meant fewer foreign workers — mostly Mexicans, Japanese and residents of India — were available.

Coming to the rescue was the little-remembered Women’s Land Army, organized groups of volunteer women — many from local colleges — assembled to work in farms to keep the flow of food going for both military and civilian needs.

The concept grew from a program in Britain where virtually every man was in uniform, forcing women to work the fields and produce food. After the U.S. entered the war in 1917,  it was tried mostly in the East that summer and expanded to other regions the following year. In all, from 15,000 to 20,000 women — called “Farmerettes” — took part in 40 states, according to the National Women’s History Museum.

School teacher Mary Coontz of Pomona was one of the first to become a Farmerette. Coontz, “a sturdy athletic, young lady,” noted the Los Angeles Times of July 3, 1918, enlisted as a truck or tractor driver for the summer but also worked in the fields near San Bernardino.

The article called her a real patriot — “She says the soldier boys need home backing, and that she can do her bit by helping with farm work, as well as by carrying a gun.”

There was no shortage of work. Twenty Occidental College students were assigned to work in the fruit orchards in Lake Elsinore on July 2, 1918, while others were sent to the Hemet area. Six came to ranches in Ontario with more expected in a few days, reported that day’s San Bernardino Sun.

In September, manager James Wolstencroft of the Walnut Fruit Growers Exchange received 10 “Land Army” women, with a matron in charge, from Los Angeles. They worked with the walnut crop in packing houses, reported the Times of Sept. 15.

The biggest impact locally came at a camp set up early in July at Cucamonga Elementary School on Archibald Avenue in Cucamonga. As many as 77 women — many from Los Angeles Normal School (the future UCLA) — were housed there. They worked during summer break packing apricots and peaches at the Golden State Canning Co., and later went nearby to pick grapes.

The women wore “khaki uniforms, combination skirts and trousers with leggings and heavy shoes. Khaki hats adorned their heads,” noted the Ontario Daily Report of July 6.

Women’s Land Army rules required an eight-hour work day “and demanded that farmers pay women the same wages as male laborers,” noted the National Women’s History Museum.

The young women caused quite a stir in Cucamonga’s otherwise quiet agricultural area. Their camp quickly became a magnet for every young man with a car.

“Archibald Avenue, near the Santa Fe spot in Cucamonga, is trembling under unaccustomed traffic,” wrote the Daily Report on July 16. “Storms of autos from Ontario, Upland and Cucamonga are burning the pavement out East Tenth Street and East A Street headed for the mecca of the Farmerettes.”

The Farmerettes had a strict 9:30 p.m. weeknight curfew which was extended to midnight on Saturdays. They were invited to “jitney dances” and other activities in Upland, usually under the watchful eye of chaperones. Some were allowed to go unaccompanied but only in groups of at least three.

“It is said the girls of Ontario and Upland are protesting because the boys all dance with the Farmerettes,” joked the Daily Report.

The young women on July 13 put on a musical show for all of Cucamonga, with a variety of instrumental solos and songs, followed, of course, by many being escorted to dances in the area.

In the latter part of 1918 — just weeks before war’s end — there was still a need for women to pick dates in Indio and grapes at Delano. Four offices were set up in San Bernardino, Ontario, Redlands and Barstow where women could sign up to work, reported the Sun on Sept. 15.

The Women’s Land Army operated through the following year but was disbanded in 1920.

Of course, just because so many women were doing hard work didn’t mean there wasn’t still a bit of sexism around, even among themselves.

An item in the Los Angeles Times of May 17, 1918, about the Women’s Land Army reported a remarkable observation about the work habits of blondes:

“Blonde women hold their own with brunettes when it comes to willingness to undertake farm work is the discovery by Mrs. M.D. Carr, chairman of the Pasadena Branch of the Women’s Land Army.”

Equality ruled, at least in the Women’s Land Army.

Link to story

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