A look at a grocery store of the future – from FastCompany.com

By Adele Peters

In Shanghai, a prototype of a new 24-hour convenience store has no staff, no registers, and the whole thing is on wheels, designed to eventually drive itself to a warehouse to restock, or to a customer to make a delivery.

The startup behind it believes that it’s the model for the grocery store of the future–and because it’s both mobile and far cheaper to build and operate than a typical store, it could also help bring better access to groceries to food deserts and rural areas.

For consumers, it’s designed to be an easier way to shop. To use the store, called Moby, you download an app and use your phone to open the door. A hologram-like AI greets you, and, as you shop, you scan what you want to buy or place it in a smart basket that tracks your purchases. Then you walk out the door; instead of waiting in line, the store automatically charges your card when you leave (Amazon is testing a similar system).

The tiny shop will stock fresh food and other daily supplies, and if you want something else you can order it using the store’s artificial intelligence. The packages will be waiting when you return to shop the next time. When autonomous vehicles are allowed on roads, the store could also show up at your home, and the company is also testing a set of drones to make small deliveries.

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Kern County makes a run at top Ag producer in California – from the Fresno Bee

By Robert Rodriguez

Can Kern County, home of Buck Owens, oil wells and tumbleweeds, dethrone Tulare County as the No. 1 agriculture county in the state, and possibly the nation?

It could happen. And if it does, it will be a first for the south San Joaquin Valley county.

Who becomes the undisputed agriculture champion will be revealed on Tuesday. That’s the day Marilyn Kinoshita, Tulare County’s agricultural commissioner, delivers the 2016 crop report to her board of supervisors.

Tulare County will have to do better than Kern County’s $7.2 billion to keep its No. 1 ranking.

As the nation’s leading milk producer, Tulare County has led the state in overall crop values for the last several years, stripping that title from Fresno County, the one-time ag champ.

For years, the two counties shared a friendly rivalry over who would come out on top. But California’s four-year drought took a heavy toll on Fresno County as farmers fallowed thousands of acres or shifted production to counties with more reliable water supplies.

Last year Tulare was on top with a total value of $6.9 billion.

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California Citrus Outpaces Florida But Risk From Bacterial Disease Remains – Capital Public Radio

By Julia Mitric

The Asian citrus psyllid spreads the deadly bacterial disease known as huanglongbing to citrus trees.

That disease cut Florida’s citrus crop in half over the past decade according to Bob Blakely with industry group California Citrus Mutual.

A recent USDA citrus report finds California produced nearly four million tons of citrus over the 2016-17 season. Florida produced three and a half million tons over the same period.

“This is a case where it’s not nice to be number one,” says Blakely ruefully.

“It’s unfortunate when you think about where they’ve come from and how devastating that disease has been in Florida.”

Florida’s experience with huanglongbing or “citrus greening” provided a powerful cautionary tale for California farmers.

While the pest has been found in many California counties, the disease is far more limited.

Blakely says cooperative spraying is one strategy used to limit the psyllid.

“We encourage growers to coordinate their sprays over wide areas with their neighbors to control the pest,” explains Blakely.

The idea is to prevent the psyllid from moving out of the treated area and re-populating nearby.

The Asian citrus psyllid feeds on citrus foliage.

Blakely says growers are now required to tarp citrus loads before they leave the field to keep the psyllid from hopping off trucks and spreading to citrus trees along the highway.

Citrus growers are looking for ways to limit the spread of the pest until researchers find a cure for huanglongbing.

The original post and the audio link are on the Capital Public Radio site here.

More information about the Asian citrus psyllid and huanglongbing is available on CDFA’s website here.

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3rd annual Latino Farmer Conference to be hosted November 7 in Palm Desert

The third annual Growing Together Latino Farmer Conference will be held Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, in Palm Desert, California. This annual conference brings together the Latino farming community, industry representatives, and advocates for sustainability and agribusinesses for a day of workshops, networking, and learning from fellow farmers.

Hosted by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the conference is open to all farmers and ranchers and uniquely tailored towards Spanish-speaking growers. The program will be translated into English via translation headsets.

Over the past two years, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), an agency of the USDA, has worked to reach and better understand California’s historically underserved agricultural communities.

“Together we can use our perspectives and skills so that employees and customers alike are aware of our appreciation for California’s rich cultural diversity and our commitment to bring quality conservation assistance to all our farmers and ranchers,” said Carlos Suarez, State Conservationist with NRCS.

The conference will feature a series of panels, a keynote address, networking opportunities and eight educational breakout sessions. Similar to last year’s event, the courses will be held in two 90-minute blocks. This allows each attendee to choose two different subjects of interest throughout the day. The topics will cover: farm financing, irrigation water and soil management, direct marketing, labor laws, food safety, and access to conservation programs. The day will conclude with a beginning farmer panel discussion.

The 2017 conference will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the UC Riverside Palm Desert Center, located at 75080 Frank Sinatra Drive, Palm Desert, CA. The event is free to all attendees and will include breakfast, lunch and light appetizers. Please contact Victor Hernandez at (530) 792-5628 and Christine Chavez at (530) 792-5695 with any questions pertaining to the conference.Attendees must register in advance, as space is limited. Please visit https://latinofarmerconference.ncat.org/register.php to register.

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SWEEP program among solutions for California’s small farms facing water challenges – from UC’s California Institute for Water Resources

Michael Yang, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Antonio Piña, AgriValley, meet with a Hmong farmer to plan a new irrigation system. Photo by Ruth Dahlquist-Willard.

By Faith Kearns

Small farmers were hit hard by California’s drought. Perhaps none as hard as the Hmong and other Southeast Asian farmers that lease small plots of land, often with declining groundwater levels, shallow wells, and outdated irrigation systems. Yet, many of these small farmers persist, growing an incredible variety of tropical and subtropical crops in California’s temperate climate.

According to a 2007 survey, around 900 out of a total of 1400 Southeast Asian farms in Fresno County in California’s Central Valley are Hmong. The Hmong largely arrived as refugees from Laos after government upheaval in the 1970’s. For many, farming is part of who they are, despite the challenges.

And, the list of challenges for these small farmers can be long: not owning the land they farm, decreasing acres of land to lease due to urbanization and the potential for growing higher value crops than the Hmong specialize in, language and cultural barriers, and competition for groundwater.

During the middle of California’s long drought, the community had a brush with crisis as wells began to go dry and pumping costs increased. Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, small farms and specialty crops advisor with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, was brand new to her position. She quickly began to work with Michael Yang, a Hmong agricultural assistant also with cooperative extension, to figure out how best to offer support.

As a first step, Dahlquist-Willard, Yang, and Jennifer Sowerwine, a cooperative extension specialist at UC Berkeley, organized a team to survey Hmong farmers. They found that many Hmong farmers could save money on their energy bills by switching electricity rate plans. Xai Chang, a young Hmong farmer working with cooperative extension, then took the lead giving growers tools they needed to find the best utility rate for their irrigation pumping practices. The team also found that the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s new State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) could be a resource for tenant farmers, and began helping small farmers fill out the extensive forms needed to apply for the program.

“We held workshops to inform the growers of the SWEEP process and get them started on their applications, then offered one-on-one assistance for completing the application and getting all the required documents together,” Dahlquist-Willard explains. She organized a group that included collaborators from Fresno State and the Fresno Regional Workforce Investment Board to assist growers. While county extension offices do not usually offer this type of assistance, the drought was a crisis that required a concentrated effort.

Preliminary results indicate that growers that received SWEEP assistance reduced the water and energy used by their irrigation equipment, with one grower decreasing energy use by 47 percent. “Reducing energy costs can go a long way towards improving the bottom line of a small farm,” says Dahlquist-Willard.

An old irrigation pump with oil leaks and general worn condition (left) was replaced with the new one (right) with support from the SWEEP program. Photos by Ruth Dahlquist-Willard.

Although the drought is largely considered to be over, there are still looming challenges for small farms. For example, says Dahlquist-Willard, “The suite of regulatory requirements can be difficult for small farms, even without cultural and language barriers. The paperwork and associated costs can be extremely burdensome. This is not to say the regulations are wrong, just that the reality of small farms needs to be better addressed.”

Groundwater in particular is a looming area of concern. While groundwater levels rose slightly in Fresno County with winter rains, water availability continues to be an issue given current pumping rates. California’s new groundwater regulation (the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, SGMA), while intended to eventually lead to more sustainable groundwater use, means a lot of uncertainty for small farms today.

Dahlquist-Willard says, “There are a lot of open questions with SGMA and small farms. Will they be required to measure their water use with flow meters? What fees will they have to pay for groundwater pumping and membership in their local groundwater sustainability agency? Will the landowner or the tenant be responsible for regulatory compliance? All of these questions have consequences for the viability of small farms, especially in concert with other new regulations such as the Food Safety Modernization Act and the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program.” 

Sugar cane thrived during the recent wet California winter. Photo by Michael Yang.

This year, at least, the wet winter brought some relief. “Especially for Hmong farmers, water is crucial to grow crops like lemongrass, luffa, long beans, and sugar cane. It was wonderful to see crops grow lush and green because we had water,” says Michael Yang.

Ruth Dahlquist-Willard (center) with a variable frequency drive installed through the SWEEP program. VFDs can increase pump efficiency and lower energy costs. Photo by Jacob Roberson.

As for the future, Dahlquist-Willard says that despite the challenges, Southeast Asian farmers are “tenacious and creative – they have already overcome incredible challenges in adapting to a new culture and environment.” At the same time, as groundwater and other new regulations take effect over the next few years, Hmong farmers will need all the support they can get to continue to meet these challenges.

See the original post on the California Institute for Water Resources blog here.

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CDFA and agricultural stakeholders invite federal trade officials to California

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross and number of California agricultural organizations submitted the following invitation letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lightizer inviting them to visit California for trade discussions.

As the nation’s largest agricultural producer and exporter, California’s farmers and ranchers are an important constituency for the promotion and expansion of free and fair trade for the United States. Our unique agricultural diversity, representing more than 400 different agricultural products, makes market access issues along with sanitary and phytosanitary measures key priorities for our growers and manufacturers.

In working collaboratively with the Administration to enhance and expand our global trade ties, California’s agricultural community would like to extend an invitation to you, or an appropriate designee, to visit our state and meet with our agricultural representatives. This trip will allow the opportunity to visit farming operations as well as discuss trade priorities with California’s agricultural trade stakeholders – representing more than 30 agricultural boards, commissions, marketing orders, cooperatives and associations.

We look forward to working with you in expanding the nation’s agricultural trade outlook while also protecting our farmers, ranchers and farmworkers from unfair and non-reciprocal trade relationships.

We, the undersigned, are hopeful for the opportunity to share our outlook and priorities for the nation’s trade agenda with you in the coming months.

A copy of the letter is available here.


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Farmers, environmental leaders come together to urge Legislature to support safe drinking water bill – from Valley Public Radio

A news conference to announce support for clean water legislation, SB 623. Photo by Ezra David Romero, Valley Public Radio.

By Ezra David Romero

California farmers and environmental justice leaders are joining forces to support a bill that would help fund a clean drinking water program.

The coalition, which includes the Community Water Center, is urging California Assembly leaders to bring  SB623, the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to a vote, instead of tabling it until the next legislative session. If passed, the law would fund long-term operations and maintenance of water systems for the 300 plus California communities dealing with water contamination.

Alyssa Houtby, with the trade association California Citrus Mutual, says the ag world realizes farming practices have tainted water supplies with contaminants like nitrates.

“Although the farming practices of today significantly reduce or eliminate the potential for nitrates to reach groundwater, the problem still exists and it must be addressed in an equitable and balanced manner,” Houtby says.

Capital for the fund would be collected by placing a fee on fertilizer, dairies and on monthly water bills. Chris Valadez, with the California Fresh Fruit Association, says the bill is important because it focuses on all Californians – including farmers – taking responsibility for drinking water issues in the state. “This overcomes long-running obstacles of what has been a limited focus onto small regions and maybe one industry,” says Valdez. “I think this bill does it . . . by expanding this to a statewide issue and a statewide generation of resources.”

Virginia Gurrola, former mayor of the City of Porterville, says she has a message for legislators deciding on whether to vote on the bill this legislative session. She says they need to think about the children that live in disadvantaged communities with contaminated water.

“These children deserve to go to their homes, to their schools, to their churches and turn on their water and have clean tap water,” says Gurola. “That’s what it’s about.”

The bill now sits in the Assembly and if it isn’t passed by Sept 15, it will have to sit idle until the legislature reconvenes in January.

Link to article

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Central Coast produce growers contend with labor challenges – from the Santa Ynez Valley News

A Brussels sprouts harvest near Santa Maria. From the Santa Ynez Valley News

By Jennifer Best


Pesticides, herbicides, organics and technology are all hot topics in the agriculture community, but labor issues, particularly a lack of available workers, are the chief concerns this year for large-scale operations on the Central Coast.

“Labor is pretty much front and center right now. I was just talking to our general manager about H-2A workers we’re trying to bring in, but they’ve been delayed since May 1,” said Philip Adam, operations manager at Santa Maria-based Innovative Produce.

The H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers Program grants temporary visas to non-citizen workers specifically employed in agriculture.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 160,084 H-2A Temporary Agricultural Labor Visas have been certified nationwide. At 18,886, Georgia received the greatest percentage of those visas. California came in fifth at 12,292 behind North Carolina, Florida and Washington. Louisiana, Kentucky, Arizona, Michigan, and South Carolina rounded out the top 10.

The temporary work visas are granted when, among other things, employers can “demonstrate that there are not enough U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to do the temporary work,” according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Workers granted the H-2A visa may remain in the United States for up to three years before they are required to return to their home country. They may bring their spouses and children, but spouse visas preclude them from working. H-2A visa holders must leave the U.S. after three years, but may reapply for temporary worker status again after three months away.

“H-2A workers are going to be the big solution for the foreseeable and near future. We’re trying to find ways to sustainably house, bring in, and train these workers to bring them into the community and add a lot to it,” Adam said.

The seventh-generation Santa Maria Valley farmer works with his father, Innovative Produce owner George Adam, other family members and a host of employees to cultivate 1,800 acres of conventionally and organically grown fruits and vegetables including lettuces, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, cilantro, Brussels sprouts, kale, strawberries, blackberries, peppers and squash.

“California agriculture is very different from agriculture in other parts of the country because our productivity rates, because our climate and soils are so much better than other places in the country. That security our climate gives us allows us to make big investments with some certainty,” Philip said.

Technology a possible solution

Investment in technology has further advanced California farmers, and may ultimately serve as a solution to the worker shortage.

“To ease the labor crunch, we’re doing everything we can to automate, from weeding to thinning. You’ll see limited thinning crews in the next five years. A lot of those jobs are going to be replaced by machine,” Philip said.

Meanwhile, Innovative Produce has leveraged its most experienced workers to turn out both higher production through the incentive of piece-work. The result has been greater production in spite of limited employees, and increased pay for the workers.

“Instead of paying by the hour, we pay by the carton. It’s worked out really well. It’s given a lot of people a chance to make a lot more money in a shorter amount of time. It’s allowed us to control costs,” Philip said.

Piece-work an incentive

Some of Innovative Produce’s better crews now paid by the carton can turn out 1.6 to 1.7 times the amount of product as they did when they worked for hourly pay. They are also earning more.

“It’s really just a marginal cost/benefit decision,” Philip explained.

He sees farmers making tough decisions about employment in the future as well.

“If minimum wage goes to $15 and 9-hour days, and we have to go to overtime to complete the work, that makes the machines more attractive. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. The tougher rules that are in place on California farmers have forced us to innovate a lot more than other places in the country,” he said.

Precision agriculture has become a keystone to successful operations.

“We’re getting everything dialed in with fertilizers and water application. Planting technology has gotten better. Technology really is driving progress in our industry now. Those that aren’t taking advantage of technology aren’t going to last. If you don’t have great production, don’t have great piecework setting all your ducks in a row from beginning to end, you’re not doing business in California agriculture in the future,” Adam said.

Link to article

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Sudden Oak Death study to expand – from the Point Reyes Light

By Anna Guth

The infection arrives with the rains, splashing down from a neighbor’s thick leaves. It takes hold one winter and persists silently for a year or two. Ambrosia beetles and bark beetles colonize the weakened tanoak, and the bark oozes and spots with dark-red liquid. Then, in a matter of weeks, the leaves brown and decay, and the tree dies.

Sudden oak death, a disease caused by the pathogen phyophthora ramorum, first appeared in an area near Mount Tamalpais in 1995. Though today it has devastated many parts of coastal California and Oregon, Marin County was one of the first places to receive attention from academic institutions studying the disease.

Since 2015, the University of California, Davis, the Marin Municipal Water District and the United States Forest Service have collaborated on a study of management strategies that contain the disease. The effort, called the Resilient Forests Project, has been focused on around 25 acres at three sites along the Bolinas Ridge, Laurel Dell and the San Geronimo Ridge.

This fall, the study will expand onto 10 to 30 new acres near the intersection of the Bolinas-Fairfax Road, Bolinas Ridge Road and Skyline Boulevard, with some new goals in mind.

“The severity of the disease is unfortunately exceptional on Bolinas Ridge, which has one of the highest mortality rates of tanoaks in the state,” Susan Frankel, a biologist from the forest service, said.

Richard Cobb, a researcher who began work on the project while at Davis and who now works at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, explained the process. “The disease causes the tanoaks to die above ground, but then they regrow from the roots, leaving behind smaller, infected trees that then also die. The resulting dense understory is a fire threat, and also depletes the soil-water reservoir,” he said.

Mr. Cobb said collaboration with local land managers to find a working solution is critical.

Marin Municipal is funding the water retention aspect of the study and supplying the crew for the vegetation work, which is primarily focused on clearing tanoaks with excavators and pulverizing them with chippers.

U.C. Davis researchers have received funding through the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection from a greenhouse gas reduction fund—which is generated by California’s cap and trade program—to focus on research related to the effect of carbon storage in the diseased forests. In preliminary findings, they’ve seen carbon storage levels diminish as the forest converts from older-growth, healthy trees to constantly dying, small undergrowth.

“Our hope is to identify techniques that are optimal in terms of suppressing the pathogen and also increasing carbon sequestration. We are still collecting data about the short-term trade-offs between, for example, reducing fuel levels and increasing the total amount of carbon stored,” Mr. Cobb said.

Before it was logged at the turn of the 20th century, the Bolinas Ridge consisted primarily of redwoods. Douglas firs, tanoaks and second-growth redwoods replaced the native habitat. But today, there are acre-wide gaps in the canopy, where hundreds of thousands of smaller tanoaks have sprung up.

Though the disease kills coast live oaks, California black oaks, Shreve’s oaks and canyon live oaks, among other tree species, tanoaks are especially susceptible. Sudden oak is known to spread through spores carried by air or water.

“It’s basically a brush field out there,” Janet Klein, Marin Municipal Water District’s natural resource program manager, said. An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 acres of the district’s total 22,000 acres are infected by the disease.

Ms. Klein said about 2,000 acres of the infected area are readily accessible. The district hopes to address about 100 acres per year, funding permitting. So far, the project has been expensive, with management costs at around $12,000 per acre. The next year is funded, Ms. Klein said, but she is still looking for support for two to three years out.

The team has some new goals for the Bolinas Ridge site, including testing the success of more efficient and cheaper methods. In the past, they “saw an increase in carbon sequestration and soil moisture, and also improved fire safety, but it was really expensive,” Ms. Klein said. “Our next attempt will focus on working faster and more cheaply. We are hoping, for instance, to not chip the wood so finely. We’re hoping we can still realize the same benefits but leave coarser material behind.”

New data also shows that native species such as redwoods were not regrowing in the areas cleared of tanoaks, as was hoped would happen. The next phase of the project will include both re-vegetation efforts and controlled burns.

Link to article 

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September is fairs month! Find a fair near you


Gold Country Fair

9/7/2017 to 9/10/2017
Auburn, CA

Kern County Fair

9/20/2017 to 10/1/2017
Bakersfield, CA

Lodi Grape Festival

9/14/2017 to 9/17/2017
Lodi, CA

Los Angeles County Fair

9/1/2017 to 9/25/2017
Pomona, CA

Madera District Fair

9/7/2017 to 9/10/2017
Madera, CA

Mariposa County Fair & Homecoming

9/1/2017 to 9/4/2017
Mariposa, CA

Mendocino County Fair & Apple Show

9/15/2017 to 9/17/2017
Boonville, CA

San Benito County Fair

9/28/2017 to 10/1/2017
Tres Pinos, CA

Santa Cruz County Fair

9/13/2017 to 9/17/2017
Watsonville, CA

Tulare County Fair

9/13/2017 to 9/17/2017
Tulare, CA

Tulelake-Butte Valley Fair

9/7/2017 to 9/10/2017
Tulelake, CA

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