Video – Happy holidays from the California Almond Board

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Annual Food Drive Demonstrates Spirit of Giving

The annual California State Employees Food Drive, chaired by CDFA, is showing strong momentum as it aims for a goal of 800,000 pounds of food for needy Californians. CDFA employees are demonstrating the Department’s commitment this season through a series of events.

Each year CDFA joins other agencies in placing barrels in common office spaces for donations, and each year the agency hosts “Coffee with the Secretary” to help fill those barrels. This year’s event, bringing CDFA employees together with Secretary Ross in a casual holiday atmosphere, resulted in generous donations of food and cash.

Prior to Thanksgiving CDFA employees donated over 1,100 pounds of turkey to support the annual Turkey Drive. Turkeys were distributed by the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services and helped provide Thanksgiving dinner for many in the region.

CDFA employees also supported the Food Drive by participating in the annual Run to Feed the Hungry, organized by the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services. Registration fees alone raised over $500 and provided a great opportunity to get out and enjoy some exercise and fresh air before Thanksgiving celebrations.

The Food Drive kicked off on September 29 with a Certified Farmers’ Market produce donation event in downtown Sacramento. A short time later CDFA organized a benefit golf tournament that raised enough money for 8,000 pounds of food, the equivalent of 6,667 meals. The golf tournament provided an opportunity for some of CDFA’s stakeholders to participate in the Food Drive through sponsorships, including the California Strawberry Commission, the Olive Oil Commission of California, California Cherries, California Pears, and California Grain and Feed Association.  We appreciate their generosity.

The need for food in California is substantial. According to the California Association of Food Banks, 5.4 million Californians contend with food insecurity, which is defined as the occasional or constant lack of access to the food one needs for a healthy, active life. More than two-million of those people are children. That need is what motivates California state employees to commit to this effort each and every year.


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Video: Climate Smart Agriculture in action at Russow Farms

The California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) investments in irrigation technology and other advancements through its State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) are explored in this video about Russow Farms.

Through the SWEEP program, CDFA’s Office of Environmental Farming and Innovation provides financial assistance in the form of grants to implement irrigation systems that reduce greenhouse gases and save water on California farms.

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CDFA veterinarian wins prestigious national award

Dr. Kent Fowler

CDFA Animal Health branch chief Dr. Kent Fowler was honored this year by the United States Animal Health Association (USAHA) with its National Assembly Award, presented annually in recognition of outstanding, dedicated service and leadership in regulatory veterinary medicine.

Dr. Fowler was recognized for his work in preparation for potential future outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease; for his support and acceptance of an official treatment for Piroplasmosis in horses, including efforts to establish a communications infrastructure for equine diseases; and for working closely with public health and animal health officials on bovine tuberculosis issues.

“Dr. Fowler’s many years of distinguished service in California uniquely qualify him for this award,” said California State Veterinarian Dr. Annette Jones. “Besides advocating nationally for new, practical regulatory approaches to disease control, Dr. Fowler’s experience in private practice solidified his understanding of the realities of animal production and the importance of practical solutions to challenging problems.”

Before joining CDFA in 2004, Dr. Fowler practiced large-animal veterinary medicine on the central coast of California for nearly 30 years. He attended UC Davis, receiving both his B.S and Doctorate degrees there.

The USAHA works with state and federal governments, universities, veterinarians, livestock producers, national livestock and poultry organizations, research scientists, the extension service and several foreign countries to control livestock diseases in the United States. USAHA represents all 50 states, 4 foreign countries and 34 allied groups serving health, technical and consumer markets.


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Video – Meet a CDFA veterinarian in the field

Thank you to the California Association of Professional Scientists for this video.

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Holiday celebrations and food drive donations around CDFA

Cookies, cocoa and canned goods donations for the annual California State Employees Food Drive set the mood this morning at California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) offices throughout the Sacramento area as CDFA Secretary Karen Ross and Acting Undersecretary Kevin Masuhara made their annual holiday visits. Sharing a snack with staff members and seeing the cheerfully decorated trees and cubicles has become a holiday tradition at the department.

Meeting and greeting plenty of new faces at the CalCannabis office.

On a tour of CDFA’s new CalCannabis offices.

Holiday cheer filled the lobby at the CDFA’s Plant Pest Diagnostics Center.










Sharing stories with CDFA’s Pierce’s Disease Control Program and Audits Office.

CDFA Headquarters gathered in the lobby for a chat with Secretary Ross.

Snacking options were plentiful at CDFA’s Division of Measurement Standards.

When you work at the Division of Measurement Standards, this is how you set the table.

When you work at the Division of Measurement Standards, this is how you set the table.

Catching up with friends at the Center for Analytical Chemistry.

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Study: Food impacts brain differently as we age – from Morning Ag Clips


Diet and dietary practices differentially affect mental health in young adults versus older adults, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Lina Begdache, assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton University, along with fellow Binghamton researchers, conducted an anonymous internet survey, asking people around the world to complete the Food-Mood Questionnaire (FMQ), which includes questions on food groups that have been associated with neurochemistry and neurobiology. Analyzing the data, Begdache and Assistant Professor of Systems Science and Industrial Engineering Nasim Sabounchi found that mood in young adults (18-29) seems to be dependent on food that increases availability of neurotransmitter precursors and concentrations in the brain (meat). However, mood in mature adults (over 30 years) may be more reliant on food that increases availability of antioxidants (fruits) and abstinence of food that inappropriately activates the sympathetic nervous system (coffee, high glycemic index and skipping breakfast).

“One of the major findings of this paper is that diet and dietary practices differentially affect mental health in young adults versus mature adults,” said Begdache. “Another noteworthy finding is that young adult mood appears to be sensitive to build-up of brain chemicals. Regular consumption of meat leads to build-up of two brain chemicals (serotonin and dopamine) known to promote mood. Regular exercise leads to build-up of these and other neurotransmitters as well. In other words, young adults who ate meat (red or white) less than three times a week and exercised less than three times week showed a significant mental distress.”

“Conversely, mature adult mood seems to be more sensitive to regular consumption of sources of antioxidants and abstinence of food that inappropriately activates the innate fight-or-flight response (commonly known as the stress response),” added Begdache. “With aging, there is an increase in free radical formation (oxidants), so our need for antioxidants increases. Free radicals cause disturbances in the brain, which increases the risk for mental distress. Also, our ability to regulate stress decreases, so if we consume food that activates the stress response (such as coffee and too much carbohydrates), we are more likely to experience mental distress.”

Begdache and her team are interested in comparing dietary intake between men and women in relation to mental distress. There is a gender difference in brain morphology which may be also sensitive to dietary components, and may potentially explain some the documented gender-specific mental distress risk, said Begdache.

Link to Morning Ag Clips 

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Holy Cow! Methane as truck fuel? from Bloomberg

“California Regulates Cow Farts,” is how a New York Post headline put it, implying it was a wacky move by Governor Jerry Brown. In fact, California’s methane law represents a serious attempt by America’s biggest dairy state to come to grips with a potent greenhouse gas.

Methane is responsible for about a quarter of human-generated global warming. While it’s not nearly as prevalent as carbon dioxide, and it breaks down in the atmosphere faster, methane is many times more effective than CO2 at trapping heat. And avoiding a man-made climate catastrophe will require limiting emissions from farms as well as oil and gas pipelines, landfills, and other sources.

In California, most methane emissions are from cows — chiefly the state’s 1.7 million dairy cows, whose manure is typically washed into methane-spewing lagoons. This is why the state, which has pledged to reduce methane emissions by 40 percent by 2030, is looking to the big Central Valley dairy farms for substantial reductions.

Its law limiting methane emissions on dairy farms was passed last year but does not mandate any action before 2024. In the meantime, the state is trying to persuade hundreds of big dairy farms to install contraptions known as methane digesters.

These are basically heavy, lagoon-covering tarps that trap the gas. They can be expensive to install and maintain, but the state is offering grants to help defray the cost, funded with money from its cap-and-trade program. Farmers who use digesters are also allowed to sell carbon offsets or, if their methane is used in fuel, fuel credits.

California utilities are also planning pilot projects to install pipelines to transport methane from dairies and possibly turn it into truck fuel. The state is also encouraging some farmers to do more composting, and to keep manure on pastures and out of lagoons.

Of course, there is also the other end of the cow: They belch a lot of methane into the air. To reduce their output, the state is supporting research on efforts to adjust or supplement their feed — without changing the taste of the milk.

California is keeping an eye on other methane sources as well. The state has the country’s strictest regulation to monitor and repair leaks from oil and gas operations, and it is working to better measure and limit methane from landfills.

The dairy project stands out, however, for its potential to drive a widely applicable technological solution. Bovine gas will always be amusing to headline writers (and middle schoolers, for that matter). But how to reduce dairy methane emissions is a serious and neglected challenge (one that the Trump administration purposely ignores). As with its policies on forests and electric vehicles, California is showing other states how to build the necessary political will and financial commitment to make a difference in fighting climate change.

Link to article

Link to CDFA’s Dairy Digester Research and Development Program

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An interview with CDFA secretary Karen Ross on organic agriculture – from the Organic Produce Network

OPN (the Organic Produce Network) had the chance to ask the Secretary of the California Department of Food Agriculture, Karen Ross what CDFA is doing to assist California organic growers and farmers and the growth of organic agriculture throughout the state.

OPN Connect: From your perspective as a California Secretary of Agriculture what are some of the most pressing issues facing producers in California?

Karen Ross: The three that come up over and over are water availability, lack of labor and NAFTA.  A large part of agriculture trade moves across both NAFTA borders. Mexico is the top destination for California dairy products and Canada is a top market for fruits, nuts, vegetables and wine.

OPN Connect: What initiatives does CDFA have in place to help mitigate the issues producers are experiencing?

Karen Ross: We try to address the impacts with our specialty crop block grant program, in particular where people have applied for grants in the areas of innovation, ag education and training for beginning farmers. Most of the support comes from our ability to keep that program funded at the levels it has been under previous Farm Bills.

We serve as an advocate to the research community –especially on the need for automation and for vocational education to ensure the workforce skills associated with automation.

On the water side, the cap-and- trade auction funds (known as the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund) has made available on-farm water use efficiency programs.  Approximately $67 million has been allocated for the Statewide Water Efficiency Enhancement Program (SWEEP) and it’s been oversubscribed every year by about 300%.  It’s funded the investment of on-farm precision irrigation technologies – covering more than 100,000 acres with an annual reduction of 71 thousand metric tons of Green House Gas emissions,  and 86,000 acre feet of water savings.

OPN Connect: How does CDFA support organic farming in the state?

Karen Ross: We recognize organic as a fast-growing segment of agriculture. We are the first state to have a State Organic Program (SOP) and have worked closely with the organic community to streamline and modernize the program. We especially value the California Organic Products Advisory Committee (COPAC), which helps identify priorities and make sure we allocate the resources to the activities most valued by the organic sector.

We want everyone to understand the importance of organic in the overall ag picture. We try to be very responsive to the timeliest issues and are very committed to preserving the integrity of California Certified Organic.   

OPN Connect: The average age of the American farmer is 64+. What is CDFA doing to encourage our youth to enter agriculture?

Karen Ross: Wherever I go I try to include a meeting with students, from preschool to college-age, to be a champion for how exciting it can be to pursue a career in agriculture.

One of the priorities of the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program has been education and outreach for beginning farmers and ag literacy. We want to inform students who don’t have farming experience what it means to plant a seed, harvest it and prepare it as food — ag literacy, farming and nutrition in one package!

OPN Connect: The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently announced that climate change impacts may cost the U.S. agriculture sector up to $9.2 billion by 2039. What initiatives does CDFA have to help alleviate this issue?How can organic can play a part in mitigating this risk?

Karen Ross: Between 2011 and 2012 I convened a specialty crop consortium on climate change, primarily made up of farmers and ranchers, to better understand how the farming community was considering climate change and priorities for adaptation and mitigation.

That roadmap was released in 2012 and circulated broadly to make sure researchers and our sister agencies were aware of its priorities.

Part of California’s climate change program includes the ag water efficiency program (discussed earlier) which asks the applicant to calculate estimated Greenhouse Gas emission reductions.   That is possible because of the development of an on-line calculator tool developed by USDA – “Comet Planner.”

Our Healthy Soils Program (HSP) features grants for farmers who practice no till, minimal till, applications of compost and use of cover crops to build organic matter in our soils.  We consult with CAL-Recycle to divert 75 percent of organic waste that would otherwise go to landfills and could become compost.

The organic community’s focus on soil health has a huge role to play in all this. Those practices are easily transferable to all farming systems.

OPN Connect: A recent study conducted by the California Farm Bureau Federation indicated that in the past year over 50 percent of California  farmers suffered acute labor shortages. What solutions do we need to help farmers get their labor needs met?

Karen Ross: We have to make everybody believe that farming is cool and there are many career opportunities in agriculture.  If we can’t do that to attract more people then increased automation is necessary and that requires additional workforce training for different types of skills.

The only other option available is to expand the use of the existing H2A program for seasonal agricultural guest workers.  California has not traditionally been a big user of the program because it is not a great fit for specialty crops.

Immigration reform would certainly be helpful!

OPN Connect: You will be speaking at the “We are Organic: CCOF Foundation Dinner” before the Organic Grower Summit. What message do you hope to convey that will help organic producers?

Karen Ross: I am an optimistic person and I want share my enthusiasm about the future of California ag and the role organic agriculture has in our economy and our quality of life.

The leadership role Governor Brown is playing on climate change is important. California agriculture has much to lose if we don’t take this on aggressively.  It is important for food security, our rich biodiversity, and the beautiful landscapes we are blessed with in California. We must all be engaged on this journey together.

I really appreciate the work of CCOF and the leadership role of their Foundation.  The work they have done to identify the research needs of farmers and ranchers is important. They are making research a high priority in Farm Bill requests. I really commend CCOF and the entire organic community for those efforts.

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Cowboy rides to the rescue during Ventura County fires – from the San Francisco Chronicle


Horses near the fire line last week in Ventura County.

By Lizzie Johnson

When the mandatory evacuation orders came and the fire rigs blared into their neighborhoods, they stayed.

They stayed when the flames licked along fence lines, and they stayed when the sparks from the wildfires singed the bottom of their hair. They stayed until Brian Laughlin, 43, saved them.

That’s how about 25 horses across Ventura County survived the firestorms blazing across multiple fronts this week: Herded into the back of Laughlin’s trailer, three at a time, and driven to pastures far away.

It’s not their fault they stayed, confined to barns or chained in pastures, Laughlin said Thursday. He’s not sure why they were abandoned — maybe there wasn’t time for their owners to load them into the trailer or cut their lines loose — but this cowboy is willing to do it for them. He has five horses of his own, and the thought of losing them almost brings him to tears.

“What kind of person would I be if I didn’t save them?” said Laughlin, who lives in Simi Valley.

He’s one of the best-known horse rescuers in the county. His phone number is posted Facebook pages and on the Southern California Equine Evacuation group’s website. His iPhone is constantly ringing. When he gets an address, he goes. The firefighters are usually happy to see him. The police — not so much.

“How come I always see this pick-up truck places where it isn’t supposed to be?” a California Highway patrolman asked him at one stop. Laughlin shrugged. He usually doesn’t brake at the barricaded roads to talk to law enforcement. He just rolls on through.

Laughlin can placate even the most skittish of horses, coaxing them into his trailer with sugar cubes or a rope wrapped like a wedgie around their backside. He grew up riding horses in a dusty Central Valley town called Alpaugh. Now he runs a business training them on his ranch — when he’s not running into flames to rescue other people’s livestock all over the state.

Sometimes he’s too late, or just not in the right place at the right time — like in Sylmar on Tuesday, where about 30 horses were burned to death in their stalls as flames roared over them.

On Wednesday, Laughlin got stuck in traffic with a trailer of horses on his way to Burbank. That took a couple of hours, he said. “Not much sleep these days,” he added.

When there is a lull in a fire, he crashes on a mattress in the back of the trailer. He hides his matted hair with a trucking supply company baseball cap. Sometimes, if it’s convenient, he spends the night in Woodland Hills with his girlfriend.

It’s not uncommon for the horses’ owners to offer him their spare bedroom, their washing machine — he smells like horses, too — or a hot meal. If not, he eats power bars and peanut butter pretzels and wears the same singed blue flannel shirt and blue jeans.

On Thursday, he waited outside a small ranch in Ojai. The fire was still burning up in the hillsides, back where many horse corrals were. A small teddy bear — he calls it his safety bear — was tucked on his dashboard. It’s really there to stop a broken part of his dashboard from jangling, or so he says.

The sky was choked with smoke, and Laughlin checked his phone. While the bucolic city was largely spared that day by the Thomas Fire, he was expecting rescues to happen in Carpenteria as the Santa Ana winds pushed flames north.

“When horses are in danger, it’s up to me to help,” he said. “People know who I am.”

His phone rang. Another rescue. He climbed in the truck and drove away, dust barreling behind him.

Link to article

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