A big thank you to California state employees for 2017 food donations

The final numbers for 2017 State Employees Food Drive are in and we are very pleased to note an increase in food donations compared to 2016!

CDFA and its Office of Farm to Fork coordinated the food drive from late September to early February, along with their partners at the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services and 108 different assistance agencies statewide.

We set an ambitious goal for the year–800,000 pounds–and almost got there. The 2017 total was 783,683 pounds, the equivalent of 648,000 meals to needy families! It’s an amazing accomplishment and on behalf of Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, I want to thank all state employees for making this possible.

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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Final 2017 California Grape Crush Report

– The 2017 crush totaled 4,239,836 tons, up 0.5 percent from the 2016 crush of 4,217,154 tons. Red wine varieties accounted for the largest share of all grapes crushed, at 2,248,260 tons, down 1.4 percent from 2016. The 2017 white wine variety crush totaled 1,765,424 tons, up 0.8 percent from 2016. Tons crushed of raisin type varieties totaled 94,268, up 4.6 percent from 2016, and tons crushed of table type varieties totaled 131,884, up 38.2 percent from 2016.

The 2017 average price of all varieties was $777.90, up 1.9 percent from 2016. Average prices for the 2017 crop by type were as follows: red wine grapes, $965.54, up 5.1 percent from 2016; white wine grapes, $587.73, down 1.8 percent from 2016; raisin grapes, $252.86, up 18.4 percent; and table grapes, $178.37, up 16.5 percent.

In 2017, Chardonnay continued to account for the largest percentage of the total crush volume with 14.5 percent. Cabernet Sauvignon accounted for the second leading percentage of crush with 14.2 percent. Thompson Seedless, the leading raisin grape variety crushed for 2017, was only 1.8 percent of the total crush.

District 13, (Madera, Fresno, Alpine, Mono, Inyo Counties; and Kings and Tulare Counties north of Nevada Avenue (Avenue 192)), had the largest share of the State’s crush, at 1,403,145 tons.  The average price per ton in District 13 was $304.47.

Grapes produced in District 4 (Napa County) received the highest average price of $5,225.04 per ton, up 11.4 percent from 2016. District 3 (Sonoma and Marin counties) received the second highest return of $2,806.07, up 8.3 percent from 2016. The 2017 Chardonnay price of $923.67 was up 4.2 percent from 2016, and the Cabernet Sauvignon price of $1,552.83 was up 5.6 percent from 2016. The 2017 average price for Zinfandel was $591.05, down 2.2 percent from 2016, while the French Colombard average price was up 2.5 percent from 2016 at $267.39 per ton.

The entire Grape Crush Report is available online at www.nass.usda.gov/ca. The 2017 Census of Agriculture, going on now, will provide more data on producers and grapes at the county level when published in 2019.

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Dozer the Detector Dog Promotes Ag Day

Dozer reporting for duty

Dozer the Detector Dog made an appearance at the State Capitol yesterday to encourage legislators and staff to attend California Ag Day at the Capitol March 20, 2018.

Recently retired, Dozer spent his career protecting California and its agriculture from invasive plant pests, diseases and weeds that could otherwise become established our state and result in damaging and expensive infestations and quarantines.

A joint effort between USDA and CDFA, California’s dog teams spend their working hours nosing around package-delivery facilities, detecting parcels that contain fruits, vegetables, plants and other agricultural materials that may not be labeled correctly.

Dozer spreads goodwill among State Capitol staff





Since the program began dog teams have intercepted thousands of mislabeled or otherwise illegal packages, including shipments containing hundreds of actionable insect and weed pests.

Don’t forget to visit us at the Capitol on March 20. Tell ’em Dozer sent you.

Secretary Ross greets Dozer

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Reducing waste, delivering food

March 5-9 is Food Waste Prevention Week

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Californians throw out around 5.6 million tons of food every year, accounting for about 18 percent of the state’s waste stream. In fact, an estimated 40 percent of food in the United States goes to waste, the equivalent of tossing $165 billion into landfills each year.

But we are making progress. Governments, non-profits and private industry are working collaboratively to reduce food waste. On the forefront of this charge are California’s farmers and ranchers.  Here are some ways in which the people responsible for growing our food are helping to prevent it from going to waste:

Imperfect Produce

Having grown in popularity in recent years, the imperfect or “ugly” fruit movement continues to develop in supermarkets across the country. The concept is simple. Certain commodities must meet industry cosmetic standards. In the past, food that didn’t make the cut, despite being perfectly edible, was either recycled or tossed. Some estimates suggest that depending on the crop, anywhere from one to 30 percent of food grown by farmers doesn’t make it to the grocery store. But that is changing. Increasingly, growers in California are partnering with companies like the Bay-Area based Imperfect Produce, which aims to sell that food at a discounted price. Founded in 2015, the company now has a presence in both Northern and Southern California, and continues to expand its network by partnering with growers across the state. According to the group, their imperfect produce can cost 30 to 50 percent less than retail price, providing affordable fresh fruits and vegetables to communities’ that typically have limited access to nutritious produce.

Social media

California’s farmers and ranchers are no strangers to social media. They use these platforms to share pictures of their crops, exchange information, and–more recently–to save food.  A few years ago, Bloomfield Organics, an organic farming operation in Sonoma County figured out a way to sell its excess via social media. By sharing the availability of their remaining product with an already robust online community, the farm was able to sell produce that would have otherwise gone to waste.  These efforts ultimately evolved into the site, CropMobster, where growers can help build communities that focus on food waste prevention and resource sharing based on geographical locations.

Value-added use

California’s almond industry is finding innovative ways to make use every part of the tree fruit.  According to a 2017 report by the Almond Board of California, in addition to the 2.1 billion pounds of almonds produced in 2016, trees also produced 4.2 billion pounds of hulls and 1.5 billion pounds of shells.  The hulls and shells, along with the woody biomass of trees, serve as co-products for nutritious cattle feed, livestock bedding, and energy production. Hulls in particular, have become a valuable ingredient for livestock feed.

California’s farmers and ranchers are committed to the fight against food waste. However, the most effective way to save food begins on the individual level.  To learn more about tips and strategies to reduce food waste in your community please visit: https://www.savethefood.com.

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Saying farewell to a friend of agriculture

Secretary Ross with Dutch Counselor for Agriculture Ton Akkerman.

One person can make a difference and sometimes we don’t have the time to say goodbye. It is with great sadness we say goodbye to our dear colleague and friend from the Netherlands, Mr. Ton Akkerman who passed away suddenly last month.

Ton was Dutch Counselor for Agriculture at the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Washington D.C. He was instrumental in our first Climate Smart Agriculture mission, which was to the Netherlands in 2015. This mission was important to further our understanding of how agriculture is adapting to climate change in other regions of the world. Ton sat beside the Netherlands Minister of Agriculture during our discussions and the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding, and he guided us through every stage of our visit in the Netherlands.

Ton Akkerman (far right) during a visit to CDFA headquarters last September.

We remember Ton’s warm smile, his intellectual thinking, and how he made the delegation feel comfortable and welcome through every aspect of our trip. Since then he had continued to work with us closely to further our relationship.

Ton opened other key collaborations at the Dutch Consulate in San Francisco that we continue to develop very closely. He will be greatly missed but we know he has left us in good hands, and we will always remember him in the years to come as we continue our work to build our international collaboration. He certainly made a big difference in our lives.



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Food Waste Prevention Week Aims to Raise Awareness about Unused Food

Secretary Ross discusses Food Waste Prevention Week

CDFA, in coordination with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, the Strategic Growth Council, the California Department of Public Health, and other partners, is pleased to announce March 5-9, 2018, as “Food Waste Prevention Week” in California.

Forty percent of all food waste occurs at the individual or household level, and 90 percent of Americans throw away food too soon due to unfamiliarity with confusing expiration date labels.  According to ReFED, a nonprofit specializing in reducing food waste in the United States, 52 million tons of food is sent to landfills annually. As it sits, food decomposes and releases methane – a climate pollutant 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) over a 20-year period.

Food Waste Prevention Week aims to raise awareness and educate California consumers on how they can limit food waste in their homes, workplaces and communities.

Some solutions might include reducing portion size, seeking out imperfect produce, or asking for composting bins to be installed at an office or community center.

For more information on how to store, save and use food, please visit SaveTheFood.com

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Weights and Measures Week March 1-7 celebrates fairness in the marketplace

Each year, Weights and Measures Week is observed March 1-7 in the U.S., commemorating the signing of the first weights and measures law and celebrating the weights and measures inspectors who protect consumers and provide a level playing field for business.

A pound still equals 16 ounces, a mile still equals 5,280 feet, and a gallon still equals 231 cubic inches. The devices and systems we use to make those measurements – and to verify them – have evolved greatly since the early 20th century from mechanical, to electronic, to the proverbial black box, to cloud-based measurement systems of today.

For example, weights and measures officials have established commercial standards for new developments such as vehicles-for-hire that use GPS to measure distance traveled (Uber, Lyft and others); electric vehicle charging stations that measure in kilowatts per hour; and systems that measure hydrogen fuel by the kilogram to fuel hydrogen vehicles.

Weights and measures officials and inspectors also play a vital role in emerging issues such as credit card skimmers at gas pumps and in other consumer settings. And the industry is also gearing up for the measurement needs of products like cannabis in California, where consumers will need reliable standards to ensure fairness in this changing marketplace.

California consumers are accustomed to reliability and accountability in their day-to-day transactions. Weights and measures officials and the laws and rules they enforce are an important foundation of our marketplace. Weights and Measures Week celebrates this important work.

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross joined the department’s Division of Weights and Measures for a potluck celebration to kick off National Weights and Measures Week.

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This Robotic Wheelbarrow Will Follow Farmworkers As They Pick Berries – from Fast Company

An automated helper is designed to be a helpful companion to farm workers, so they don’t have to carry the produce they pick.

[Photo: Augean Robotics]

By Adele Peters

When farmworkers harvest table grapes in California’s Central Valley in 109-degree August weather, part of the job involves repeatedly wheeling about 80 pounds of grapes hundreds of feet down a long row of grapevines. A new robot is designed to do the job instead, leaving workers free to spend more time picking grapes.

“People spend as much as 20%-30% of their time picking in the field actually walking up and down these picked rows,” says Charlie Andersen, CEO of Augean Robotics, the startup developing the robot. For farmers, who are struggling find enough labor to pick their crops–a problem that has grown in the current state of immigration politics–the robot can make labor more productive. For workers, the robot could make a difficult job slightly less painful, and help them earn more.

[Photo: Augean Robotics]

The electrically powered robot, called Burro, is designed to either follow a farmworker around a farm or run loops down rows of grapes or berries. In the “follow” mode, it uses an algorithm to recognize a worker. “You literally approach it and it locks onto you, once you reach a certain point, and then it follows you like a dog,” Andersen says.

The startup, based in a high-density apple orchard outside Philadelphia–the closest East Coast approximation to the California berry farms it plans to serve–is currently working on the second option that allows the robot to travel up and down rows of crops on its own. “Our idea is that you’d actually turn on the machine at the beginning of the day, walk it up and down a couple of rows in a looped path to train it to a path, and then have it re-run that path autonomously throughout the day, functioning as a virtual conveyor belt,” he says.

Today, only a tiny fraction of farms use robots; most are dairies, which robotically milk cows. A growing number of startups are trying to automate harvest of produce. Half a dozen startups are working on robots designed to pick strawberries without human help. In 2017, GV (formerly Google Ventures) led a $10-million round of investment in a startup that makes a robot for picking apples. Burro is designed to work with farmworkers, rather than instantly replace them. It also may come to market sooner.

[Photo: Augean Robotics]

“When you’re in stuff like specialty crops, you have hundreds of thousands of people that are out there doing a lot of high-dexterity tasks,” Andersen says. “Our observation is that when you look at a lot of those tasks, there are consistent portions of those tasks that require shuttling back and forth, but the inconsistent stuff that requires nuance, human dexterity, judgement–some of those tasks feel like they’re very difficult to automate, especially in a full-time, robust commercial setting.”

While other companies continue to work on fully autonomous agbots, Augean Robotics hopes to fill a gap sooner, and also hopes that Burro can serve with other ongoing tasks, like carrying around potted plants or new equipment to install drip irrigation. (The robot can do the work of a wheelbarrow for miscellaneous jobs hands-free, and save labor.)

The company plans to begin field tests with large growers later this year.

See the original post on the Fast Company site.

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CDFA in Fresno for “Growing Together, Black Farmers with Urban Farmers Conference”

CDFA staff took part in the Growing Together, Black Farmers with Urban Farmers Conference in Fresno on February 28, speaking with farmers and other conference attendees about how CDFA resources can help them improve water efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet food safety standards.

In addition to a roundup of resources available from CDFA and other agencies, the event included workshops on accessing capital, bringing youth into agriculture, and other resources for growers and related businesses. An urban leadership roundtable and a panel of black farmers also shared their experience and tips for success.

CDFA staff fielded questions about the department’s programs to help farmers reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet food safety standards.

Staff with CDFA’s Office of Environmental Farming and Innovation (OEFI) also discussed opportunities for growers to use grants and other programs to help with water efficiency, soil health and other projects on their farms.

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Ag Plan strives to preserve Silicon Valley’s farming heritage – from the San Francisco Chronicle

A cherry orchard in the Silicon Valley.
Photo by Santiago Mejia, SF Chronicle

By Sam Whiting

For four generations Chris Borello’s family has been farming cherries in the Santa Clara Valley, hopscotching their orchards south as developers bought out their land for housing.

So it was no surprise when a white van came up the long dirt driveway to his orchard in early February. The visitors were interested in his 115 acres, sure enough, but not as developers or speculators. They were farm preservationists looking to buy his development rights, in what is called an agricultural conservation easement.

“We could farm it forever,” Borello said, “if we can work out an easement.”

The van carried members of the Santa Clara County Planning and Development Department and the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority. They’ve partnered up to use cap-and-trade funds earmarked for mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and loss of land to high-speed-rail to keep farmers farming. The statewide program, called the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Project, has committed $76 million, and high-speed rail $20 million, all to be disbursed through the Department of Conservation.

“This creates a huge possibility to take the southern part of our county and build an economic model that redeploys agricultural uses in a modern way,” said Dave Cortese, a third-generation San Jose apricot and prune farmer, a member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

The Santa Clara Valley Ag Plan, as it is known, is the first of its kind to merge protection of farmlands with California’s climate strategies, by replacing the incentive for growers to cash out to land speculators.

Any day now, the first deal is set to close, Fountain Oaks Ranch, a 70-acre bell pepper and sweet corn farm next to a golf course in Morgan Hill. The price was $7 million, split between the city of Morgan Hill and the state. It is probably the most expensive agricultural easement ever purchased by a public entity in California.

We have a tremendous agricultural heritage here,” Cortese said, “and we’ve lost thousands and thousands of acres and it continues to happen.”

When Cortese’s grandfather came here from Italy, the orchards and rows of crops extended from Los Altos to Gilroy. It was called the Valley of the Heart’s Delight, and the area’s canning operation was said to be the largest in the world.

Then the computer industry arrived and began its march southward from Stanford University through Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and San Jose. Today, the next area in its path is Coyote Valley, a long and narrow belt of 7,500 acres on a patchwork of borderlands between the city limits of San Jose and Morgan Hill.

One-third of this acreage was annexed by the city of San Jose decades ago, and a freeway exit off Highway 101 is already there, four lanes and an overpass at Bailey Avenue. This was the exit intended to service a 700-acre Cisco Systems campus that never got built on city land north of Bailey. It was recently one of the areas proposed to Amazon for its second headquarters, but San Jose did not make the cut.

“Bailey Avenue was built for the city that never came,” said Andrea Mackenzie, general manager of the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority. “It is zoned for industrial development, but it can be saved still.”

The acreage north of Bailey Avenue is designated for a tech campus, but for now the freeway exit leads only to farm roads to the west of Highway 101 and the Coyote Ridge Open Space Preserve to the east. Standing on the frontage road, Mackenzie looks north and west across nearly 2,000 acres. “Last Chance Valley” she likes to call it.

“Speculation has been hanging over Coyote Valley for decades,” she said. “It was supposed to be developed so many times over the years.”

The larger valley south of Bailey Avenue would appear to be safe because it has been designated an urban reserve through 2040 under the general plan of the city of San Jose. Farther south is an unincorporated greenbelt that serves as a buffer between San Jose and Morgan Hill.

But Silicon Valley was built by paving reserves and greenbelts. To further protect Coyote Valley, the Ag Plan has identified 33 growers, all but three below Bailey Avenue. They raise alfalfa, oats, wheat, grain, mushrooms, cut flowers, and a broad array of vegetables, nuts and fruit. One by one, these growers will be visited by the same white van with a county seal that visited Borello.

The county agents are not looking for a quick sale, and they are not lowballers. They will pay the full appraised value as reviewed by the state’s Department of General Services.

“We have just one tool. We will approach them and say, ‘Can we buy a conservation easement on your property?’ said Rob Eastwood, planning manager for Santa Clara County. “The goal is to get easements on thousands of acres from willing sellers.” Once the easements are in place, they last into perpetuity. If the land is sold, the easement goes with it.

The Santa Clara program is lacking a clever acronym but is otherwise a copy of MALT, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust, begun in 1980. Now a national model, MALT buys conservation easements on farms and ranchlands and assists landowners with stewardship, mostly in the remote areas of unincorporated West Marin. In late January, MALT closed on a 609-acre easement in Marshall, to take it beyond 50,000 acres total.

Last year, MALT spent $3.5 million on conservation easements, funding largely by a quarter-cent sales tax approved by Marin County voters in 2012. The Santa Clara County Ag Plan might also need a voter initiative to attain a dedicated stream of funding. A two-year study, accepted by the county Board of Supervisors in January, identified 28,391 acres of farmland at risk of development to add to 21,171 acres that have been paved over in the past 30 years. To save what is still green might cost $100 million, which will far exceed funds available from the state.

“If agriculture is to not only survive but thrive in Santa Clara County, we need a coordinated set of strategies that recognize the contribution of working lands to a resilient and sustainable region,” Mackenzie said.

The test case for the Ag Plan is Borello’s cherry orchard, which is zoned agricultural and sits 3 miles south of the San Jose border and 2 miles north of Morgan Hill.

“We are ranchers,” Borello, 36, said of his family business, “but we are also real estate developers.”

Most recently, his family went through the entitlement process for 120 acres in Morgan Hill that it then sold as Borello Ranch Estates to Toll Bros. It is being chopped into 244 homes, starting at 3,000 square feet. Borello won’t give the price he got, but flat farmland in Morgan Hill that has already been entitled goes for $1 million an acre.

In July, he and two partners then bought this mature 115-acre cherry grove in Coyote Valley from another cherry farmer. The land, which might be on the route of the high-speed rail line, is so expensive that every dollar he can pull out of his cherry crop will service the debt. The only profit is in entitling the land for residential or industrial use.

But that could take 10 to 15 years, he says, and there are no guarantees. If he could come to terms with the Ag Plan, the deal could be done in less than a year and he could get $10 million. That could keep him farming cherries, and he’d be willing to consider public access to the land, via trails.

“I love the idea of keeping the land open,” he said. “But if everybody wants to look at it, everybody should pay for it.”

Borello sits on the Board of Directors of the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau. If he sells his development rights to the agricultural easement it might persuade other growers to look at the Ag Plan.

But it might not save the 220 acres of cherries contiguous to his land. That property is owned and farmed by Chris Marchese, who has been in Coyote Valley long enough to watch all the farm infrastructure disappear. The nearest packing house for his cherries is now in Lodi, 100 miles away.

The orchard is within the San Jose city limit, though it has no city services, and he says it has long been zoned for housing. Only tradition and guilt have kept Marchese farming, but they have worn thin. In January, he filed for preliminary review to pursue development of his property into 270 homes.

It may be a long battle because the San Jose general plan designates Marchese’s land for agriculture, and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in his recent State of the City speech that he favors exploring conservation opportunities in Coyote Valley. But Marchese is adamant that his zoning supersedes the city general plan.

“We need housing, and housing can be had here,” he said. “That Ag Plan is too little too late.”

Link to story

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