USDA to Expand Investment in Water Conservation, Resilience across Drought-Stricken States

Targeted drought funding builds on substantial drought relief efforts

From the USDA:

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) will invest approximately $21 million in additional Farm Bill dollars to help farmers and ranchers apply science-based solutions to mitigate the short and long term effects of drought.  These investments will focus financial and technical assistance in the most severely drought-stricken areas in eight states to help crop and livestock producers apply conservation practices that increase irrigation efficiency, improve soil health and productivity, and ensure reliable water sources for livestock operations.

“Since the historic drought of 2012, dry conditions have persisted in many parts of the country, particularly in the West,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “Every day, NRCS conservationists work side-by-side with agricultural producers and help them conserve water and increase resilience in their operations. Today’s investment will provide additional resources in drought-stricken areas to help farmers and ranchers implement solutions to mitigate the impacts of sustained drought.”

This announcement expands on the substantial efforts already underway to help producers conserve water, improve soil health and build long term agricultural resilience into their operations.  Already this year, NRCS state offices have targeted significant portions of their fiscal year Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) allocations to address water conservation, soil health, and resilience.  In California, for example, more than $27 million of fiscal year 2015 EQIP funding is directed towards beneficial drought management practices.

With this announcement, NRCS will provide an additional $21 million in technical and financial assistance through EQIP to target areas that are experiencing either exceptional or extreme drought conditions as of the May 5, 2015 U.S. Drought Monitor, which includes parts of California, Kansas, Idaho, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Utah.  The EQIP funding will allow NRCS to help producers apply selected conservation practices to better deal with the effects of drought in their operations, including prescribed grazing, livestock watering facilities, cover crops, nutrient management, irrigation systems, and other water conservation practices.   On average, farmers and ranchers contribute half the cost of implementing conservation practices.

View the original news release on USDA’s site here.

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Another example of how Ag is always looking for ways to save water: “hullsplit strategic deficit irrigation” in almonds

California almond blossoms at leaf break.

California almond blossoms at leaf break.

Tucked away in the Almond Board of California’s Outlook newsletter for growers last week was a gem of an article about something called “hullsplit strategic deficit irrigation.” The upshot of the piece is: “A five-year study found that well-timed deficit irrigation can significantly reduce hull rot and potentially result in seasonal water savings of 10 to 15 percent without long-term impacts on yields.”

For those of us who don’t grow almonds, we don’t need to dig into the details – “maintaining tree stress levels of -14 to -18 bars” and so forth. The takeaway for the rest of us is the fact that this work is going on in the first place, and that the almond industry is just one of many examples.

Growers across the state, across many crops and regions and watersheds, are finding ways to save water. They’re investing in five-year studies that started before the drought. They’re inventing and creating and imagining and innovating. And they’ve been doing it all along.

This drought is serious – in many ways, it’s unprecedented. We’re in this together, California. And our farmers and ranchers are part of the solution.

See the full article online here.


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Water Wisdom – from the Growing California video series

The latest segment in the Growing California video series, a partnership with California Grown, is “Water Wisdom,” a profile of Central California farmer Don Cameron and his innovative water management to lessen the pain of the drought.


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Study: California dairy industry contributes $21 billion to state’s economy, stimulates ripple effect of $65 billion

From the California Milk Advisory Board:

New study conducted by University of California Agricultural Issues Center shows significant impact of state’s leading agricultural commodity

2015_EIR Infographic_Revised Draft_051115.pdf

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Cementing its place as California’s most important agricultural commodity by farm revenue, California farms sold about $9.4 billion worth of milk while the dairy industry contributed approximately $21 billion in value added to the gross state product in 2014, according to a California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) study conducted by the University of California Agricultural Issues Center (AIC). Including sales of inputs to dairy farms and milk processors along with raw milk and wholesale milk product sales, the dairy industry contributed $65 billion in total sales to the California economy in 2014. The growing demand for dairy products like cheese and yogurt as well as strong dairy exports accounted for 189,000 jobs that are dependent on the state’s milk production and processing.

“The dairy industry’s contributions are vital to California’s economy, from creating jobs to stimulating local and regional economies to providing nutritious and enjoyable products to consumers everywhere,” said John Talbot, CEO at the California Milk Advisory Board. “A large number of California residents depend on the dairy industry for employment and these jobs would not exist without it.”

The $21 billion to California’s gross state product included $7.4 billion as income to industry workers and owners and $13.4 billion through related, outside industries such as feed, veterinary and accounting services used for dairy production and electricity, packaging, equipment and trucking services used by processors. The tax revenue generated from these jobs supported important statewide initiatives to improve education, healthcare, roads, community services and the environment.

Overall, 189,000 jobs in California are associated with the dairy industry. Of this amount, approximately 30,000 jobs are on the farm and 20,000 jobs represent dairy processing. For every dairy farm job, there are several more jobs that are tied to the business and create a linked chain of economic impacts.

Additionally, the induced effect of the dairy industry also creates jobs in the community to support the area’s dairy workers and their families, such as school teachers and local bus drivers.

California Holds Rank as Nation’s Dairy Leader

California leads the nation in dairy production and dairy continues as the top commodity in the country’s top agricultural state. It has been the nation’s largest milk producer since 1993 and is also the country’s leading producer of butter, ice cream, nonfat dry milk and whey protein concentrate. California is also the second largest producer of cheese and yogurt.

Farm milk sales generated $9.4 billion gross revenue in 2014. Wholesale dairy product (cheese, fluid milk, ice cream, butter and other dairy) sales hit $25 billion in 2014.

Dairy Farmers Improve Business Performance

As an essential part of California’s farming heritage, dairy farmers understand the importance of protecting the land, water and air for their families, their communities and future generations. In 2014, California dairy farmers produced more milk with fewer resources. Talbot credits “improved dairy practices and management adopted by farmers” for the increased business efficiencies. The pounds of milk produced per cow increased to 24,000 pounds in 2014 from 15,000 in 1984. Farmers are applying 23 percent less water to their fields than they did in the early 1980s and have seen their average crop yields increase by more than 40 percent despite using less water.

Beyond the economic impacts calculated in the report, California dairy farmers and employees are active participants in their communities and contribute to social, environmental and other broad public goals.

 Study Leaders and Methodology

The study was conducted by a team of researchers at the University of California Agricultural Issues Center (AIC). Daniel A. Sumner, the director of AIC who holds the Frank H. Buck, Jr. Chair Professorship in the department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, UC Davis, led the study. Josué Medellín-Azuara, a project scientist at the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, and Eric Coughlin, a junior research specialist at AIC, were part of the research team. They measured myriad impacts using dairy-specific data for 2012 and projections for 2014 and a database and model of economic linkages (IMPLAN).

About the California Milk Advisory Board                                                  

The California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB), an instrumentality of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, is funded by the state’s more than 1450 dairy families. With headquarters in South San Francisco and Modesto, the CMAB is one of the largest U.S. commodity boards. It executes advertising, public relations, research and promotions on behalf of California dairy products, including Real California Milk and Real California Cheese. For more, visit

See the original press release on CMAB’s site here.

A summary and links to the full report are available here.

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Food hubs a valuable tool for farmers and consumers – from the Sacramento Bee


By Edward Ortiz, Sacramento Bee

When employees at technology giant Oracle sit down to lunch, they often eat produce grown in Yolo County’s Capay Valley.

The fruits and veggies come from the Capay Valley Farm Shop, which buys from more than 40 farmers in the valley and delivers to chefs that work in restaurants and institutional cafeterias, primarily in the Bay Area.

The Farm Shop is one of a growing number of food hubs that are giving farmers a new avenue to sell their wares – and allowing stores, restaurants and institutions to buy locally grown, fresh produce in bulk.

Farmer participation in food hubs is skyrocketing. U.S. Department of Agriculture data show the number of hubs in the United States has risen 288 percent since 2006 – to 302.

That increase outpaced the growth of farmers markets, which saw dramatic increases between 1996 and 2012. From 2013 to 2014, the number of farmers markets only grew 1.5 percent. In 2012-13, the increase rate was 3.6 percent.

So many farmers markets have been added, they may have reached a saturation point, said David Shabazian, project manager at the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. Shabazian recently co-authored a SACOG feasibility study for a larger regional food hub.

Food hubs appeal to farmers because they offer the opportunity to sell much larger quantities compared with farmers markets. That’s because food hubs typically sell to corporations and institutions, not consumers. Large food-distribution companies typically don’t buy from individual farmers, so food hubs present a new opportunity to crack the commercial market.

Schools, for example, are increasingly embracing the idea of buying locally grown produce. In 2014, trustees for the California State University system approved a policy that at least 20 percent of all campus food spending by 2020 will go to local farms and businesses. The University of California system last year announced the UC Global Food Initiative, which will explore ways to allow local growers to become campus suppliers.

Shabazian said he believes the food hub is a good vehicle to make sales to such entities possible.

Thomas Nelson agrees. He is the president and co-founder of the Capay Valley Farm Shop. “Getting product to market five days a week can be a challenge for most farms,” said Nelson, whose trucks travel daily to the Bay Area and weekly to Sacramento.

Participation in the Capay food hub has proved a market expander for the 350-acre Full Belly Farm in Guinda, said co-owner Judith Redmond. Full Belly employs 70 people and operates year-round, growing vegetables, fruits, flowers, herbs and meat.

Each day the farm accepts orders from 30 to 40 restaurants, stores and wholesale distributors, and delivers them through the food hub. Full Belly products have ended up at institutions like Oracle and the food-delivery website Good Eggs.

To reach such customers on its own, Full Belly would have to drive trucks into San Francisco, which would be costly and time-consuming, Redmond said.

At Cafe 300, which is located in Oracle’s large campus in Redwood City, chef Armando Maes has been making good use of Full Belly products.

“The Capay Valley Food Hub is great because it allows me to buy unique ethnic items that you would not be able to get otherwise, such as as okra, hops, rare heirloom vegetables native to those areas that dot the Capay Valley,” Maes said.

In Sacramento, the Capay Valley food hub delivers to restaurants like Mulvaney’s B&L and also to institutions like the California Department of Public Health.

At the moment, there is no established food hub in Sacramento. But SACOG’s feasibility study concluded the idea could work here.

“This is not a leap of faith. The analysis found a food hub will be a profitable venture, but it will take some time to get there,” Shabazian said. “In 10 years, it should be making about $2 million a year,”

He said he thinks the region is well positioned for a hub given that there is a port, rail and four major highways that traverse the region.

SACOG envisions an operation that would be much larger than the one in the Capay Valley and would cost $6.9 million to build. The regional government body is working to line up financing.

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Governor’s May Revise budget doubles-down on CDFA drought and climate change programs

Governor Brown’s revised budget for May, released today, makes great strides in helping agriculture adapt to the ongoing drought and climate change. The Governor proposes to provide substantial assistance to farmers to increase their water efficiency, reduce greenhouse gases, build dairy digesters and increase soil resilience.

The State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) would receive $40 million in the Governor’s plan. The program has already made $20 million available in grants to financially assist farmers who want to invest in water distribution and irrigation systems that save water and greenhouse gases. So far, 156 projects have been funded, drawing additional matching funds of $7 million. The projected water savings from those projects is 317,000 acre-feet, and the estimated greenhouse gas reduction is 2.1 million metric tons. We’ll be able to leverage that success impressively with this new funding.

CDFA’s Dairy Digester Research and Development Program would receive $20 million in the revised budget. This is an increase of $8 million from the January budget proposal and is in addition to $12 million allocated to the program last year.  This program provides grants to assist with the installation of dairy digesters in California. It’s a great start to what I hope will eventually become a much larger effort to invest in agriculture’s integration with the environment while maintaining or increasing productivity.

The Healthy Soils Initiative, assigned to CDFA in the Governor’s January budget, is appropriated $20 million in the May Revise. This will fund demonstration projects and incentives for growers using practices that can decrease the CO2 in the atmosphere by increasing soil’s ability to sequester carbon.  These practices also increase water retention in soils.

These proposals demonstrate the Governor’s understanding of the important role agriculture plays in our efforts to adapt to drought and climate change, and they also stress the need to invest in and partner with our farmers and ranchers to make sure California continues to be a leading worldwide agricultural producer into the 21st Century and beyond.


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CDFA’s Drought Resources web page a useful tool for farmers, ranchers and farmworkers


CDFA’s Drought Resources web page stands as a valuable tool for farmers, ranchers and farmworkers seeking information about the drought in California and assistance programs.

The page features links to the USDA’s Risk Management Agency, the Farm Services Agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Rural Development. There is also a link to the US Small Business Administration. All of these groups have programs that could be of help to farmers and ranchers harmed by the drought.

Additionally, there is a link to the California Department of Community Services and Development, which partners with private, non-profit, government and community-based organizations working to help low-income individuals and families. The partners include four regional migrant and seasonal farmworker agencies that can help with rental assistance, employment services, and food and nutrition services.

Information will be added and updated as it becomes available.


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Agriculture to benefit from new water and energy-saving research programs – from the California Energy Commission

The California Energy Commission has approved more than $16 million in grants to demonstrate water and energy-saving technologies that promise to make the water, industrial, and agricultural sectors more efficient.

“In response to the drought and the Governor’s Executive Order, the Energy Commission today has invested in water-saving innovative technologies,” said California Energy Commission Chair Robert B. Weisenmiller. “These projects will increase energy efficiency at water-related facilities and enable the use of recycled water to provide better management in sectors that are typically large water users.”

The Energy Commission approved five Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) grants which lay a foundation for the Water Energy Technology (WET) program—one of the four Energy Commission responsibilities in Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s April 1 drought-related Executive Order. The approved grants are:

  • University of California, Riverside to provide more efficient information sharing between water systems. Most equipment at water and wastewater systems in California does not easily integrate with other systems. The $3 million grant will deploy a system consisting of hardware sensors and customized software that will be overlaid onto an existing energy management system without disrupting treatment plant operations in three water districts in Southern California.
  • Porifera, Inc. for wastewater treatment in San Diego, Sonoma, and Fresno counties. The $3 million grant will demonstrate wastewater treatment in industrial facilities with Porifera’s Forward Osmosis Recycle technology. The technology uses an innovative membrane system to concentrate wastewater and generate pure water for onsite reuse. The project will determine emission reductions, energy and maintenance savings, and amount of water generated for reuse.
  • Porifera, Inc. for water and energy savings in making food and beverage concentrates in Fresno, Solano, and Alameda counties. The more than $2 million grant will demonstrate the energy savings, reliability and commercial viability of Porifera’s Forward Osmosis Concentrator. The system can also provide high quality water for on-site reuse.
  • Wexus Technologies, Inc. for commercialization of a cloud-based software platform in the agricultural industry. Wexus reports farmers can spend up to 50 percent more on energy than needed. The $4 million grant will demonstrate software that leverages existing utility meter data and helps growers access on-farm electricity and water information from any mobile device. Based on this information, growers can quickly adjust equipment to reduce energy costs.
  • Kennedy/Jenks Consultants, Inc. to increase the removal of organic materials through a cloth filtration system at wastewater treatment plants. This filtration method can streamline the treatment process and reduce electricity costs. Kennedy/Jenks estimates this process accounts for 40 percent to 60 percent of total electricity use in these facilities. The use of cloth filtration removes more organic material from wastewater than the conventional processes. The $3.5 million grant will demonstrate this technology at three wastewater treatment plants.

“Water conservation and reuse play important roles in helping farmers and ranchers adapt to the drought,” said California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. “Public and private partnerships move innovation and agricultural diversity forward. Funding these projects allows farmers and ranchers to save water through efficiency without sacrificing their livelihoods.”

The Energy Commission also approved Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program (ARFVTP) projects, which must demonstrate the viability of bringing advanced fuels technology to the marketplace. As part of the Energy Commission’s continuing diversity and outreach policy, scoring preferences were provided to fuels and transportation projects located or demonstrated in disadvantaged communities in the state. The approved alternative fuels and transportation grants include:

  • North American Repower LLC to demonstrate the efficiency and viability of six armored security trucks converted from diesel fuel to plug-in hybrid electric-renewable natural gas. Security protocols typically require armored vehicles to leave their engines running during each scheduled stop, which burns fuel and emits pollutants. The demonstration vehicles, which have near-zero emissions, will operate in an all-electric mode during stop-and-go usage and in hybrid-mode during continuous vehicle operation. North American Repower received $3 million and will operate in Orange County and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
  • Transportation Power, Inc., for three separate projects totaling nearly $9 million: a heavy-duty electric garbage truck in the Sacramento region; an advanced batter-electric truck in San Diego County; and a heavy-duty electric yard tractor in the Central Valley.
  • Motiv Power Systems, Inc., to demonstrate an electric refuse and loader truck. Motiv Power Systems received nearly $3 million and will operate in the Sacramento region.


Link to news release

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Healthy Soils Initiative: A foundation for agricultural sustainability and climate change resilience

Photo of a newly sprouted field of cauliflower.Ask a shopper where their food comes from, and the answer might be “the supermarket” or “the farmers’ market,” or maybe even “a farm” or “a farmer.” Those are all true, but of course they aren’t the whole story. Ask a farmer the same question, and you’re likely to hear “the soil.” Ah, now we’re getting somewhere…

In his recent budget proposal, Governor Brown included a Healthy Soils Initiative, saying: “Increased carbon in soils is responsible for numerous benefits including increased water-holding capacity, increased crop yields and decreased sediment erosion. In the upcoming year, the Administration will work on several new initiatives to increase carbon in soil and establish long term goals for carbon levels in all of California’s agricultural soils. CDFA will coordinate this initiative under its existing authority provided by the Environmental Farming Act.”

The first step of this new initiative was for CDFA to gather key agencies including CalEPA, CalRecycle, the Water Boards, the Air Resources Board, the Resources Agency, the Department of Conservation, the Department of Water Resources and others to take stock of current programs to improve the health of our soils, and to gauge research efforts, additional opportunities and barriers.

The group has identified five action measures that the state should pursue:

  • Action 1 – Protect and Restore Soil Organic Matter (Soil Carbon) in soils to Ensure Climate Change Mitigation and Food and Economic Security
  • Action 2 – Identify Sustainable and Integrated Financing Opportunities to Facilitate Healthy Soils
  • Action 3 – Research, Education and Technical Support to Facilitate Healthy Soils
  • Action 4 – Increase Governmental Efficiencies to Facilitate Healthy Soils
  • Action 5 – Ensure Long Term Interagency Coordination and Collaboration

For each of these measures, the group has prescribed specific activities – meaningful actions such as “develop incentive programs to promote cover crops, crop rotation and organic amendments, such as compost” and “implement demonstration projects for growers on a range of crops to highlight management practices that offer multiple benefits including building soil carbon, improving water retention and addressing climate change resilience while optimizing productivity.”

The California Healthy Soils Initiative makes it clear just how important these actions will be: “it is critical to ensure the soil system, which is the fundamental growing medium for our food production, is sustainable long into the future, resilient to potential climate change impacts such as droughts, and able to produce crop yields to sustain a growing population.”

To sign up to receive email updates regarding the Healthy Soils Initiative, click here.









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USDA announces $30 Million for food entrepreneurs and agricultural producers to develop new products

The USDA is making $30 million available to farmers, ranchers and food entrepreneurs to develop new product lines. Funding will be made available through the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program.

More information on how to apply is in the Federal Register. The deadline to submit paper applications is July 7. Electronic applications submitted through are due July 2.

VAPG grants can be used to develop new product lines from raw agricultural products or additional uses for already developed product lines. Military veterans, socially disadvantaged, and beginning farmers and ranchers; operators of small- and medium-sized family farms and ranches; farmer and rancher cooperatives; and applicants that propose mid-tier value chain projects are given special priority in applying for VAPGs. Additional priority is given to group applicants who seek funding for projects that “best contribute” to creating or increasing marketing opportunities for these type of operators.

Since 2009, USDA has awarded 853 Value-Added Producer Grants totaling $104.5 million. Approximately 19 percent of the grants and 13 percent of total funding has been awarded to beginning farmers and ranchers. During the 2013-2014 funding cycle, nearly half of VAPG awards went to farmers and ranchers developing products for the local food sector. Value-Added Producer Grants are a key element of the USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, which coordinates the Department’s work on local and regional food systems.

Congress increased funding for the VAPG program when it passed the 2014 Farm Bill. That law builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past six years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers.

Link to news release


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