California Department of Food and Agriculture

Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA -

Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

Bakersfield dairy farmers embrace climate smart technology

Photo: From left to right: Ross Buckenham, CEO, CalBio and Felix Echeverria, Carlos Echeverria & Sons Dairy

For second generation dairy farmer Felix Echeverria, dairy farming is a family affair. His father, an immigrant from Spain’s Basque country, began milking cows in Southern California in the early 1950’s. Since then, Mr. Echeverria and his brother Johnny, have spent most of their mornings on dairy farms, waking early to milk the cows, put out the feed and check the water.

Yet for the next generation of Echeverria dairy farmers, there will be a new addition to the sights and sounds of an early morning on the farm – the humming of a dairy digester producing electricity.

Located outside Bakersfield, California, the Carlos Echeverria and Sons (CE&S) Dairy Biogas project will use anaerobic digester technology to produce energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, comply with environmental regulations and increase nutrient availability to crops. The project is funded through CDFA’s Dairy Digester Research and Development Program (DDRDP) and the California Energy Commission.

The CE&S digester will work by using a high-density synthetic cover to capture methane from the dairy’s manure lagoon. The captured methane will be stored and then combusted in a high-efficiency generator, producing renewable electricity. By using this system, the CE&S Dairy Biogas is expected to cut its methane emissions by approximately 75 percent and reduce energy costs by 15-20 percent.

Although initially cautious of digesters, Mr. Echeverria says he was ultimately convinced by his trust in neighboring farmers already embracing digesters and the partnership developed with California Bioenergy (Cal Bio), who will own, operate and maintain the digester system.

“At first, we were very skeptical because this is something we knew very little about,” said Mr. Echeverria. “But having trust in my neighbors and seeing the changes that digesters bring led us to building our own.”

Alongside reducing emissions, the CE&S Dairy Biogas project also advances California’s efforts to connect energy providers and fuel created by state supported incentive programs. In this case, the CE&S digester will deliver approximately 7.6 million kWh of renewable electricity annually to PG&E, enough energy to fully power 705 homes.

The CE&S project is also part of the Kern County Dairy Biogas cluster, a group of sixteen dairies with approximately 100,000 cows, that would collectively produce 2.5- 3 million cubic feet of biogas per day and 1.5- 2.5 million diesel gallon equivalents per year. The renewable energy created through the cluster would support the state’s sustainable transportation efforts and generate enough fuel to power 100,000 cars across the country every year.

Mr. Echeverria applauds the state’s desire to work collaboratively with industry in developing digester projects. To date, the DDRDP has helped fund 24 projects across California, capturing an estimated 5.7 million metrics tons of CO2e over ten years.

“I am truly delighted about the partnership between industry and government.” said Mr. Echeverria. “It’s a huge step in the right direction.”

Click here to learn more about the DDRDP.

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California-grown coffee generating a buzz – from NPR

Coffee cherries from a farm in Goleta, CA

By Jodi Helmer

In most coffee shops, you can choose a cup of joe brewed with beans from countries like Ethiopia, Colombia, Costa Rica and Yemen. Now, a new crop of coffee growers is working to get coffee brewed from California-grown beans included on those menus.

When Mark Gaskell moved to California after working in coffee-growing regions in Central America, he noticed coffee plants growing in gardens and wondered if large-scale production was an option.

In 2001, Gaskell, farm advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension, established transplants and discovered that the sub-tropical plants could thrive in the Golden State. He recruited Jay Ruskey of Good Land Organics to help with trials, hoping coffee could be a valuable niche crop to help sustain small farms.

Ruskey started growing coffee in 2002 on his Santa Barbara, Calif., farm and quickly became a passionate coffee farmer.

“We learned that we had the ability to grow very good coffee with a very unique flavor,” Ruskey explains. “There is a misconception that you can’t grow coffee outside the Tropic of Cancer.”

Local farmers embraced the idea of California coffee and started planting their own crops. The burgeoning state industry now boasts 30 farms growing more than 30,000 coffee trees, according to the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

At least two dozen more farms are expected to begin growing coffee in 2018.

Although coffee farms are scattered throughout California, the biggest concentrations are in Santa Barbara and San Diego counties. Most of the farms are fewer than five years old and their beans are just starting to mature. As that happens, Gaskell expects production to double year over year.

“The California coffee industry is growing very quickly,” he says.

Ruskey founded Frinj Coffee to supply plant materials, provide post-harvest processing and manage sales of California coffee. Last year, the 24-member coffee cooperative harvested 250 pounds of beans. Blue Bottle Coffee purchased the entire crop.

Blue Bottle coffee buyer Charlie Habegger paid a premium for the beans — $60 per pound compared with $20 per pound for Hawaiian-grown beans and $5 per pound (or less) for coffee beans imported from Ethiopia — and introduced it in cafes in California, New York, Boston, Miami and Washington, D.C.

A single cup sold for $18. The coffee sold out within two weeks.

Ruskey visited four different Blue Bottle cafes before finding a location where California coffee was still available.

“Curiosity was the number one factor that made people want to try it,” Habegger says. “Having coffee produced in [mainland] America is almost too good to believe.”

The price might seem steep — especially given that a tall Pike Place Roast at Starbucks retails for $1.50 — but it’s not the most expensive coffee on the market.

Hacienda La Esmeralda made headlines last year when it sold for $601 per pound at auction, the highest price ever paid for green coffee. Klatch Coffee in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., sold the record-breaking coffee for $55 per cup.

Even Starbucks has introduced premium-priced coffees. Some brews from Starbucks Reserve, a collection of rare, small-batch coffees served in its special reserve stores in Seattle, New York, Chicago, Milan, Tokyo and Shanghai, reportedly retail for $10 per cup.

Thanks to higher costs for land and labor in California, Habegger notes that the profit margins on a pound of coffee are the same in California as conventional coffee-growing regions like Ethiopia and Mexico, where production costs are much lower. The rationale doesn’t prevent sticker shock.

“To people that are used to drinking cheap coffee, it might seem like an abomination,” he says. “But, relative to all of the other things we’re willing to spend $18 on — like a glass of wine or small-batch bourbon — investing in the memorable flavor experience of a great cup of coffee is worth it.”

The California farmers growing coffee think it’s worth it, too.

Avocado growers like Andy Mullins of Mullins Family Farm in Temecula are among the most enthusiastic coffee farmers.

Mullins planted 1,000 coffee trees under the canopies of the avocado trees on his 4-acre farm. The fertilizer and irrigation needs of both crops are the same, but coffee produces a superior profit. Farmers earn about 37 cents per pound of avocados, according to the California Avocado Commission.

“Specialty coffee sells for $60 to $600 per pound; there is not another specialty crop that produces that kind of result,” he explains. “The market has embraced a retail price that has allowed coffee production in California.”

Even though the number of California coffee growers is expanding rapidly, Gaskell is confident that the drink’s continued status as a specialty crop will keep prices stable for farmers.

“The market is so huge compared to the volume we have,” he says. “It’s going to be a very long time before we can even begin to meet the demand.”

Link to story

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Nine ways millennials are changing the way we eat – from the Washington Post

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CDFA Secretary Karen Ross meets with Canadian Minister of Agriculture Lawrence MacAulay

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross with Minister Lawrence MacAulay, Canadian Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

Today, Secretary Ross met with Minister Lawrence MacAulay,  Canadian Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, reaffirming the strong and collaborative trade relationship between the two governments. Canada is California’s second largest export destination for agriculture products, valued at more than $3.4 billion.

As NAFTA renegotiation occurs at the federal level, underscoring the importance of California-Canadian trade is important. It is estimated that California agricultural exports to NAFTA countries supports more the 36,000 jobs.

In her meeting with Minister MacAulay, Secretary Ross highlighted some priority California issues related to wine, dairy and produce and thanked Canada for their ongoing friendship and continued engagement on the issues.

Over the last 15 years, California agricultural exports to the NAFTA region have expanded  from $1.5 billion (2000) to $4.52 billion (2015). Approximately 16 percent ($3.4 billion) of total California agricultural exports are destined for Canada. Canada is one of the most diversified markets for California agricultural products.

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Beginning Farmer Training Program moves forward – from AgNetWest

Photo courtesy of AgNetWest

NoteThis beginning farmer training program received funding from CDFA’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

A recently developed beginning farmer training program has officially been approved by the California State Division of Apprenticeship Standards.  The California Farm Academy Beginning Farm and Ranch Manager Apprenticeship Program has been established by the Center for Land-Based Learning (CLBL) as a means to increase the number of young people who are prepared to take on managerial roles on the farm.

There is an increasing need to further develop the next generation of farmers and ranchers to become skilled farming professionals.  As older farmers begin contemplating retirement, those management positions will need someone to step in and take over.  There have also been other efforts in recent years aimed at enabling young and beginning farmers to start their own operations.

“Having an accredited apprenticeship like this for agriculture in California is a big milestone,” said CLBL Executive Director Mary Kimball. “California is facing a shortage of qualified farm managers and operators, as an entire generation is on the cusp of retirement. This is also incredibly helpful to beginning farmers in the state, who finally have a legal, formal apprenticeship program approved by the State that trains to one standard,” Kimball noted.

The Beginning Farm and Ranch Manager Apprenticeship provides professional training for producing specialty crops.  The program requires 250 hours of coursework and another 3,000 hours of paid on-the-job training on a farming operation.  Participants will receive hands-on experience under the mentorship of a seasoned farmer.  After completing the program, apprentices will have the necessary education and business management skills to advance their professional agricultural career.

The effort to get the beginning farmer training program approved was a collaboration between CLBL, Soil Born Farms and the Division of Apprenticeship Standards. The California Department of Food and Agriculture was also integral to the two-year process with grant funding provided by their Specialty Crop Block Grant Program.

Link to story


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Citrus Biological Control Task Force wins integrated pest management award

Joint ACP Biocontrol Task Force honorees this month at the Department of Pesticide Regulation’s annual integrated pest management awards ceremony. From left, Dr. Mark Hoddle of UC Riverside, Dr. Gregory Simmons of USDA, Dr. David Morgan of CDFA, Department of Pesticide Regulation director Brian Leahy, and Jim Gorden, chair of the task force.

From a California Department of Pesticide Regulation news release

The California Citrus Research Board (CRB) has received an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Achievement Award for its work in establishing biological controls for the Asian citrus psyllid.

The awards, bestowed annually by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), recognize organizations that use IPM to address the diverse pest management needs throughout California. IPM is a tool that allows the management of pests by using natural and preventative strategies, and thus reducing the use of chemical pesticides.

In 2010, the CRB established a task force to help control an invasive insect pest called Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), a serious threat to the citrus industry. Psyllids can infect citrus trees with a bacteria that causes huanglongbing (HLB), or citrus greening disease. There is no cure for HLB and it is fatal to trees. The CRB Joint Agency Biological Control Task Force is comprised of CDFA, the University of California-Riverside, the USDA and Cal Poly-Pomona.

Instead of relying solely on conventional pesticides to fight the psyllid, the task force developed a program using natural predators as a means of reducing ACP populations. The task force imported, reared and studied parasitic wasps from Pakistan that kill ACPs. These wasps are a key part of the first biocontrol program that successfully targeted and reduced ACP populations in urban areas and citrus orchards, in some cases replacing pesticide applications at sensitive urban sites. The project has been successfully implemented in eight counties – San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, and Santa Barbara.

The CRB officially received recognition from DPR earlier this month at an awards ceremony in Sacramento.


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Jenny Lester Moffitt appointed CDFA Undersecretary

Jenny Lester Moffitt, who has served as deputy secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) since 2015, was sworn in as the agency’s undersecretary today by CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. Moffitt was managing director at Dixon Ridge Farms from 2005 to 2015. She was an education, outreach and research specialist at the American Farmland Trust from 2004 to 2005, where she was a land projects coordinator from 2002 to 2004. Moffitt is also a member of the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation. Congratulations!


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How dairy farmers are helping us meet our climate goals

Each time I drive through California’s Central Valley I am in awe of how much food it produces. The Valley is responsible for almost 10 percent of the country’s agriculture value and is home to many of California’s most productive dairies. In fact, 90 percent of California’s milk is produced in eight counties – all located in the center of our great state. California is the country’s number-one milk producer and our dairy farmers work diligently to provide the highest quality milk for America’s families.

A great many of these dairies are family run. They have been passed from one generation to the next and have become a staple of the Valley’s landscape. But along with milk, Central Valley dairy farmers are increasingly producing something they never have before – renewable energy – and are doing it using manure from cows.

Earlier this month I joined hundreds of dairy farmers, industry representatives, public officials and academics for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the Lakeview Dairy Digester and two other digester facilities in Kern County.  The mood was electric (although that might have been the electricity buzzing through the digester system!)

As I spoke with our partners who helped make this project a reality, I could not help but appreciate a genuine synergy.  When we were developing the Dairy Digester Research and Development and Program that helped fund the project, we knew that sister agencies like the California Energy Commission, the Air Resources Board, and the California Public Utilities Commission as well as private partners like California Bio Energy would be integral in bringing these projects to life and having them stay operational for many years to come. It was refreshing and energizing to see dairy families working with public and private partners to create something that produces benefits for all Californians.

Digesters work by capturing methane released by manure in covered lagoons. The captured methane is then broken down in a high-efficiency generator, where it produces renewable electricity. By using this system, the Lakeview Dairy Project is expected to cut methane emissions by approximately 75 percent and produce 6.7 million kWh of electricity annually – enough to power 757 homes for one year!

Along with energy production, these three projects will collectively reduce an estimated 503,990 metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent over 10 years, which is equal to taking 107,921 passenger vehicles off the road. In total, the 24 projects supported by the DDRDP will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent.

The Lakeview project also serves as an excellent example of California’s innovative “hub and spoke” model for meeting our low carbon fuel standards, reducing emissions, and upgrading California’s transportation infrastructure. The concept is simple. One centrally located operation (the hub – in this case Lakeview) collects raw dairy biogas through low pressure PVC pipelines (spokes), from a group of existing dairies. The hub then serves as focal point for cleaning, conditioning and upgrading the gas to be used as fuel for transportation.  Not only does this model significantly reduce construction costs and environmental impacts, but also demonstrates how cooperation and collective action helps us modernize transportation to meet our climate goals.

I am particularly proud of the environmental rigor in these projects. These digesters have met the strictest water and air quality requirements by double-lining their lagoons to meet the San Joaquin Valley’s strict NOx air quality limits and ensure protection of groundwater from nitrates. These technologies also help reduce odors and reduce overall dairy operating costs.

It was heartening to hear the experience of Cal Bio Energy’s management team explain their appreciation and positive experience in meeting the new requirement for community outreach. According to them, this turned into a great opportunity to understand any existing concerns, answer questions, and explain to employees, neighbors and other local community stakeholders how the project operates.

I want to applaud the leadership of all the parties involved in making these projects possible. Achieving our ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals will require cooperation between industry, government agencies and the public.  To quote Governor Jerry Brown, “Taking significant amounts of carbon out of our economy without harming its vibrancy is exactly the sort of challenge at which California excels.”

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Farming, a family tradition – from the Visalia Times-Delta

Photo courtesy of Cultivate California

By Danielle A. Martin

Rick Borges knew at a young age that he was going to be a farmer.

It was something his great grandfather, grandfather and father did before him.

“As I grew up, raised on the farm, every weekend all summer I spent it out in the open, on the farm helping my dad and my grandfather,” Borges said. “When I went to school, going though classes and being indoors made me realize I don’t like being indoors. I do not want to be in an office, I want to be out in the open and that is what solidified my role in life.”

Borges now continues the legacy generations before him started with his son, Greg. The family farms cotton on the west side of Tulare.

“We are two years away from being on the same piece of property for 100 years,” Borges said, “It makes me so proud having him here and wanting to continue this on. He had different aspirations when he was away in college but when he came back he realized, as I did early on, out on the ranch back home is the best place to be.”

Whether it’s the memories Borges creates with his son or the nostalgia he gets from farming with his father and grandfather, he truly appreciates the simple joys farming gives him.

“…going back old school, going back to when I grew up, in the open air, with the smell of fresh cut hay, fresh-tilled soil and sitting on a tractor with no radio, alone with your thoughts, just makes me feel great,” Borges said. “That’s why my heart drew me to stay in agriculture.”

Each member of the Borges family was at the World Ag Expo Show (earlier this week) either as volunteers or exhibitors.

The Borges family is also part of the 97 percent of farming operations owned by families. Farmers agree it’s the tradition and the bond that has kept businesses in the family generation after generation.

“Those of us who have been in agriculture, especially here in Central California, are some of the luckiest people in the world,” said Steve Malanca, creator of My Job Depends On Ag campaign. “We would like people to realize that agriculture is family farms.”

But, keeping a family farm alive is becoming another challenge farmers are facing. Individuals in the agriculture industry are also fighting battles with regulations, foreign competitors, trade and in California, water.

Young adults born into a family farming operation or the agriculture industry are seeking careers with fewer hurdles, Malanca said.

“I can tell you that the generation that created these millennials today have a perception that agriculture things are so tough, especially in this state and the thing that we deal with is almost insurmountable,” Malanca said.

For those interested in a career in agriculture, Malaca compared opportunities in the Central Valley to tech opportunities in Silicon Valley.  He argued because of its diversity, the Valley is a great place for first time farmers.

Programs such as Future Farmers of America and universities with agriculture programs encourage students that the industry can be just as rewarding and is filled with opportunity.

Genevieve Regli, California FFA state officer, is a fifth-generation dairy farmer.

“The day after I was born I was dragged home to the farm and since then part of my daily routine was feeding calves, getting up at 6 a.m., moving irrigation, milking cows, you name it, we did it,” Regli said. “Ever since then, I’ve had such a passion for agriculture and that background really helped foster that.”

She used her story as a dairy farmer and student to educated and promote the industry to young people at the farm show.

“The actual average age of a farmer is 58 years old. And while you see young students interested in agriculture, it’s not the actual production side of things,” she said. “It could be ag marketing or ag lobbying.”

Her family motto is simple.

“Faith, family and agriculture was our way of life,” Regli said. “…97 percent of the world’s agriculture is family-owned and operated and that plays such a huge factor in making sure the youth know, maybe they aren’t a fifth-generation farmer, but they can be a first-generation farmer.”

Link to article


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USDA, dairy industry in partnership to promote and enhance environmental sustainability

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue (r) shakes hands with dairy farmer Paul Rovey after signing a Memorandum of Understanding between the United States Department of Agriculture and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy .

USDA News Release

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy to jointly promote and enhance environmental sustainability in the dairy industry. The pact extends and builds upon a MOU originally signed in 2009.

Secretary Perdue signed the MOU yesterday with Arizona dairy farmer Paul Rovey, chairman of Dairy Management Inc. and an Innovation Center board member, at DeGroot Dairies in Hanford, CA.

“USDA and the Innovation Center will continue to work together to accelerate the adoption of innovative technologies and increase energy efficiency improvements on U.S. dairy farms,” Secretary Perdue said. “These improvements will help producers diversify revenues and reduce utility expenses, while they strive to support their families and local communities by operating economically, environmentally sustainable dairy farms.”

“USDA has resources that can help the dairy industry be successful but in many cases they are difficult to find because they are spread out through various agencies,” Secretary Perdue continued. “This MOU hopefully will be a potential navigator to the Innovation Center and give a ‘green light’ to interact with our agencies and centralize our various research and voluntary conservation efforts to reach their goals.”

USDA’s support for agricultural and waste-to-energy research has played a key role in the agreement’s success to date. USDA will continue to work on enhancing the application and approval process for Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) programs, to make the process more efficient and tailored for producer convenience. USDA will also continue to examine ways to expand the award of conservation grants for sustainability initiatives by producers, cooperatives, non-governmental organizations and state and local governments.

The Innovation Center agrees to work with its member companies to partner with USDA in communicating and educating producers on the value of sustainable practices while encouraging them to take advantage of conservation program opportunities.

“Over the years, we have pursued creative and common-sense ways to work together that have allowed us to develop research, technologies, and on-the-ground practices that move us closer to our collective goals,” said Barb O’Brien, president of the Innovation Center. “The Innovation Center is proud of the synergy that has resulted from our collaboration with USDA, and we have no question that this public/private partnership works in the best interest of farmers, our dairy community and, most importantly, consumers of dairy who trust us to produce nutritious products they can feel good about feeding to their families.”

USDA’s national and locally-based teams of subject matter experts and portfolio of programs help improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers, and the quality of life in rural America.

“This MOU allows the dairy industry to continue to build on all of the good work we have done for years with USDA,” Rovey said. “It allows our industry to have a voice and work within a structure where we can continue making progress toward our shared goals and priorities. We are thankful to have USDA at the table with us.”

Previous and current collaborations have resulted in research, resources and a variety of programs that have advanced sustainability within the dairy community, including anaerobic digesters on farms, food waste reduction and the development of nutrient recovery technologies through NRCS and dairy’s Newtrient company.  Additionally, the Farm Smart Project led to the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) Environmental Stewardship module. This voluntary tool empowers farmers to identify opportunities for sustainability improvements on their farm as detailed within the FARM program. Ninety-eight percent of the U.S. milk supply participates in FARM.

NoteCDFA’s Dairy Digester Research and Development Program is also working for enhanced environmental sustainability on dairies. 

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