Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

Resilient food system post COVID – we must build back better – from Farm Journal Ag Web

By Melissa D. Ho, World Wildlife Fund; John Piotti, American Farmland Trust; and Joel Berg, Hunger Free America

The COVID-19 crisis has exposed weaknesses in our nation’s food system—something so fundamental that most people take it for granted. Most of us don’t think about how and where we get our food. We simply expect supermarkets to be fully stocked, and we hope those in need will be able to turn to food banks and federal food assistance programs for help. But as schools and businesses shuttered their doors, more than 38 million people have since lost their jobs, and one in three U.S children are now going hungry, making the gaps in the system evident.

These gaps have always existed—for too long we have prioritized low-cost and most efficient over fair-priced, local and regional—but now the gaps are magnified. Dairy farms have dumped thousands of gallons of milk; perishable fruits and vegetables have been plowed over or left to rot; and fishermen can’t sell their catch. All this while food banks and social service agencies face unprecedented demand, and child hunger is five times the rate it was before this crisis. Our food system isn’t just cracked; it’s broken.

We’re thankful that government programs are being expanded, while volunteers, religious groups, chefs, not-for-profits, private donors and aid organizations are stepping in, trying to get food to the people who need it and supporting our local and regional producers. But these patchwork solutions aren’t nearly enough in the short-term, or sustainable in the long-term.

Many organizations, ours included, are turning to solutions that address the root causes. With additional public support and leadership from the private and public sectors, we have the potential to emerge from this crisis stronger. Here are four actions that need to be taken.

First, we must act immediately to protect farmers and ranchers, especially small- and medium-sized producers of specialty crops, livestock and dairy. The Farmer Relief Fund and state and local emergency mini-grant programs are providing some immediate assistance, but much more is needed. As part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program funded largely through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES), the USDA announced that it will provide $16 billion in direct payments to farmers and ranchers, plus an additional $3 billion in purchases of agriculture products, including meat, dairy and produce. The USDA must act quickly to distribute this funding to impacted farmers and ranchers who need help the most, prioritizing small- and medium-sized operators and those most negatively affected from the closure of direct to market sales.

Second, we need to increase income, food purchasing power and safety nets for Americans in poverty. There should be immediate revisions in the eligibility restrictions on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and future incentives for the purchase of fresh, locally grown foods. States and cities should allow for farmers markets to operate in low-income communities with safe social distancing, and there should be future investment in new markets to provide these communities with affordable, nutritious food. Federal and state regulations must also be relaxed so idling assets can be mobilized and food can be redirected not wasted. For thousands of school districts, more flexibility will allow for efficient execution of emergency feeding plans, which may need to continue through the summer. USDA should be taking additional steps to ensure farmers and ranchers can expand existing partnerships to respond to urgent needs.

Third, we must build resilience and sustainability in our food system. We need to rethink how and where we grow, process, distribute and access healthy and affordable food. We need to develop business models and financial tools for farmers to produce more food for their local and regional markets so that supply chains will be adaptable and resilient to future shocks. We need to protect farmland and water resources. Future farm bills and policies should include a safety net for smaller, more diversified producers and specialty crop farmers; reform commodity, price support and insurance programs to level the playing field across all commodities; and incorporate incentives for conservation and regenerative and sustainable practices for all producers. Policies must also place fundamental value on farmland, not just for growing food but for safeguarding the natural resources that provide habitat for wildlife, clean water and resilience to extreme weather.

Finally, in all these measures we must value people—those who produce our food and those who consume it. It’s important that once we’re on the other side of this pandemic we don’t become complacent and relegate these issues and communities to the back burner. As a society, we have the means, motive and opportunity. Our response now will help shape the resilient and just food system we so desperately need.

Link to item on Farm Journal web site

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Important information for farmworkers about COVID-19 – videos in English and Spanish from the California Department of Industrial Relations

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Full Statistics now available for crop year 2018

In 2018 California’s farms and ranches received almost $50 billion for their output. This represents a slight increase compared to 2017. California remains the leading US state in cash farm receipts.

California’s agricultural abundance includes more than 400 commodities. Over a third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts are grown in California. California’s top-10 valued commodities for 2018 are:

  • Dairy Products, Milk — $6.37 billion
  • Grapes — $6.25 billion
  • Almonds — $5.47 billion
  • Cattle and Calves — $3.19 billion
  • Pistachios — $2.62 billion
  • Strawberries — $2.34 billion
  • Lettuce — $1.81 billion
  • Floriculture — $1.22 billion
  • Tomatoes — $1.20 billion
  • Oranges — $1.12 billion

We would like to note that, for the first time, the Agricultural Statistics Review includes summary data about organic production, a significant segment of California agriculture.

California agricultural statistics derive primarily from the United States Department of Agriculture/National Agricultural Statistics Services (USDA/NASS) reports. CDFA collaborates with the University of California at Davis to produce statistics for California agricultural exports. For county-level reporting please see the CDFA County Liaison site.

Initial crop statistics for 2019 are expected later this year.

Link to full 2018 crop report

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Video Update: Virulent Newcastle Disease Quarantine Lifted (English and Spanish)

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NRCS partnership to enhance San Joaquin Valley water efficiency – from AgNetWest

Water control gate on an irrigation ditch in California
From AgNetWest

By Brian German

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is working with American Farmland Trust (AFT) to help enhance San Joaquin Valley water efficiency.   The San Joaquin Valley Land and Water Conservation Collaboration is being made possible through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program from NRCS, in coordination with state and local partners.

“We’re going to over the next five years, have some pretty sizable achievements,” said AFT California Regional Director Kara Heckert. “To protect our agricultural land in the valley to ensure resilience to climate change through healthy soils, high-quality surface and groundwater supplies, and environmentally sound habitats for fish and wildlife.”

NRCS has made $10 million available for the project, which is being matched with $14.2 million from multiple project partners. Some of the key elements of the initiative include data analysis, developing conservation plans, and working to implement on-farm conservation practices. “We are going to be protecting farmland through conservation easements as part of this as well,” Heckert noted.

The plan includes assisting in the development of conservation plans to increase groundwater recharge potential and water conservation on at least 100,000 acres, working with 150 to 200 producers. The five-year project will also assist with the implementation of best practices to increase water infiltration and water conservation on at least 23,565 acres of land with at least 80 producers. Heckert noted that the fundamental goal is to improve San Joaquin Valley water efficiency through a variety of hands-on approaches working with producers.

“That can be things like soil, it can be things like cover cropping, it can be things like flooding farm fields. All of those practices are things that are much more cost-effective in the long term, which is really important for the farmers’ bottom line if we’re going to expect the scale-up of adoption of these practices,” said Heckert. “We need to make them economically viable for the farmers.”

Link to item on AgNetWest web site.

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California State Collection of Arthropods at CDFA’s Plant Pest Diagnostics Center – from the Notes from Nature blog

Insects in CDFA’s collection

California agriculture feeds the world. Entomologists with the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s (CDFA) Plant Pest Diagnostics Center are tasked with protecting the state’s food supply against native and foreign pest insects. This includes hunting for insects at home and abroad that pose potential environmental threats and identifying specimens submitted by various agents and the general public across the state. These specimens make up the California State Collection of Arthropods (CSCA) and are available for future studies.

The CSCA is also part of the CalBug consortium – a collaboration of California’s eight largest arthropod collections – which provides a broader view in time and space than any single institution alone. California has the greatest biodiversity of all states in the US, but at the same time it is not very well known compared to the eastern states. It is important to know what species are native to California, to better understand and detect the invasive species. By analyzing changing distributions of insects over time with respect to land use (agriculture, urbanization, water ways, etc.) and our changing climate, we can better predict and prevent pest outbreaks, know where and when to look for new invaders, and encourage beneficial insects to aid in pollination, pest control, and nutrient cycling.

Our latest expedition series, “California Food and Agriculture”, includes species from several insect families that are important to agriculture and forestry. The often colorful Tephritidae or “fruit flies” include some of the most important agricultural pest species, as well as a diverse set of native Californian species that do not pose pest problems, but are a crucial part in the complex web of life. Bombyliidae (bee flies) are important pollinators, while Asilidae (robber flies) are predators as adults and in the larval stage on other insects. Buprestidae (metallic wood-boring beetles or round-headed borers) typically infest dead or dying trees and accelerate the recycling of nutrition in the ecosystem. California has great diversity of native species, although some non-native pests in this family attack and kill live trees. Understanding and documenting the native fauna is critical to help combat pest species. By helping us capture data in our newest CalBug expedition, you will be helping to protect California’s Food and Agriculture as well as California’s extraordinary biodiversity!

Link to item on the Notes from Nature Blog

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Collaborating to build healthier communities – from Agri-Pulse

By Tammy Anderson-Wise, CEO of the Dairy Council of California

Schools provide children with the opportunity to learn and develop essential skills, and for many children, a chance to eat nutritious foods. For our most vulnerable children, school meals are a reliable meal source and provide a vital source of nourishment, playing a central role in combatting childhood food insecurity.

Since March, schools throughout the nation have shuttered their classrooms and cafeterias to slow the spread of COVID-19. Although sheltering in place is important to keep communities safe, school closures remove an essential safety net for children who rely on free and reduced-cost school breakfasts and lunches as their primary source of nourishment. Collaboration is needed at all levels to ensure all children haveaccess to nutritious foods, especially milk, vegetables, fruits and whole grains, which is important for their optimal growth and development, academic success and long-term health. 

Connecting Families to Meals and Other Resources

School communities in California and throughout the nation have innovated how they connect students with healthy meals, quickly establishing drive-thru service at school sites with the highest need. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued nationwide waivers for child nutrition programs, such as the National School Lunch Program and the Summer Food Service Program, temporarily loosening restrictions on how meals are served to support local efforts to feed students.

In California, Dairy Council of California partnered with the California Milk Processor Board to launch HealthyEating.org/SchoolMeals as part of a statewide public awareness campaign to help families find school meal program sites near them. The food access campaign is supported by State Senator Dr. Richard Pan, California Association of Food Banks, school districts and local wellness collaboratives throughout the state. 

HealthyEating.org/SchoolMeals is a dedicated landing page that comprehensively aggregates participating school meal service sites throughout the state. The landing page focuses on school meal service sites but also provides information to support families, including links to locate nearby food banks and free online nutrition resources to support distance learning. Also available in Spanish, the landing pages have supported 413,000 site visits since their launch in late March, including 371,000 unique views, proving they are a valued resource to California communities.

Dairy Council of California is also using technology and innovation to help students learn while schools are closed. In partnership with the California Milk Advisory Board, students can now take part in Farm to You Virtual Field Trips where they can learn about dairy farming, including how milk and dairy foods are produced and the nutritional benefits of dairy foods. Dairy Council of California is also offering a roundup of free online nutrition resources, including games, activities and curriculum, as well as a variety of resources to teach agricultural literacy at home.  

An Opportunity to Make a Difference

The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges that affect everyone, and while these are trying times, there is also opportunity to make a difference and create solutions to address these challenges. Policy makers and leaders are looking to experts in ag, health and food access to help adopt innovative approaches to keep communities healthy. At Dairy Council of California, we are committed to doing our part to supporting children, families and communities and keeping them healthy by adopting innovative and creative approaches to support food access and distance learning. We are also collaborating with industry partners to ensure nutrition and agriculture’s role in nourishing communities is top of mind, and pursuing multi-disciplinary partnerships at all levels to extend our reach.

The new environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic has also created opportunities to re-affirm the vital role agriculture plays in supporting community health, and we invite collaboration from all agriculture partners. We believe that through leadership, collaboration and ongoing support to provide communities with nourishment, resources and information, we can emerge from the pandemic strong and intact.

Link to article on Agri-Pulse web site

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USDA to provide $1 billion in loan guarantees for rural businesses and Ag producers

USDA News Release

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced that the Department is making available up to $1 billion in loan guarantees to help rural businesses meet their working capital needs during the coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, agricultural producers that are not eligible for USDA Farm Service Agency loans may receive funding under USDA Business & Industry (B&I) CARES Act Program provisions included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“Under the leadership of President Trump, USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural businesses and agricultural producers and being a strong supporter of all aspects of the rural economy,” Secretary Perdue said. “Ensuring more rural agricultural producers are able to gain access to much-needed capital in these unprecedented times is a cornerstone of that commitment.”

In addition to expanding eligibility to certain agricultural producers, the changes Secretary Perdue announced today allow USDA to:

  • Provide 90 percent guarantees on B&I CARES Act Program loans;
  • Set the application and guarantee fee at two percent of the loan;
  • Accept appraisals completed within two years of the loan application date;
  • Not require discounting of collateral for working capital loans, and
  • Extend the maximum term for working capital loans to 10 years.

B&I CARES Act Program loans must be used as working capital to prevent, prepare for or respond to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The loans may be used only to support rural businesses, including agricultural producers, that were in operation on Feb. 15, 2020.

USDA intends to consider applications in the order they are received. However, the Department may assign priority points to projects if the demand for funds exceeds availability.

USDA announced the expanded B&I CARES Act Program authorities in a notice published in the May 21 Federal Register (PDF, 217 KB). Program funding expires Sept. 30, 2021.

Eligible applicants may contact their local USDA Rural Development State Office in the state where the project is located.

USDA is developing application guides for lenders and borrowers on the B&I CARES Act Program. The Agency also will host two webinars to provide an overview of program requirements.

To register for the webinar on Wednesday, May 27 at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time, visit globalmeet.webcasts.com/starthere.jsp?ei=1322642&tp_key=7a700acddd.

To register for the webinar on Wednesday, June 3 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time, visit globalmeetwebinar.webcasts.com/starthere.jsp?ei=1324161&tp_key=6067315417.

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.

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Farming to Support States Act responds to unmet needs of agriculture

News release from the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA)

Today, U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME) along with Representatives Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM) and Dusty Johnson (R-SD) introduced the Farming Support to States Act, to provide state departments of agriculture with access to immediate, flexible funding to aid in responding to urgent and emerging issues in the food and agriculture supply chain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) President and North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring voiced support for the bill, which would provide $1 billion for food and agriculture aid to the states.

“The Farming Support to States Act will provide states with the funds they need to foster a more resilient food system,” said Commissioner Goehring. “We thank Senators Baldwin, Collins, and King, and Representatives Torres Small and Johnson, for their collaborative work to provide much needed aid that will meet the unique needs of agriculture and rural communities in America. NASDA Members are uniquely qualified to provide long-term recovery for their agricultural communities.”

(NOTE – California and CDFA are NASDA members)

State departments of agriculture are using existing resources to triage the needs of their producers. States have proven their ability to effectively respond to the unique needs of food and agriculture producers in their communities. A few examples of how funding from the Farming Support to States Act could be used include:

  1. Ensuring our agricultural workforce and our food supply stays safe,  
  2. Supporting market development for local and regional food systems, 
  3. Expanding and diversifying food processing and distribution,  
  4. Expanding farmer mental health services,  
  5. Funding job workshops, critical food safety training and more. 

“The Farming Support to States Act is an excellent example of the smart policymaking needed to ensure COVID-19 recovery efforts reach the nooks and crannies of rural America,” said NASDA CEO Dr. Barb Glenn. “NASDA Members are using existing resources to keep our producers afloat. While we don’t yet know every long-term solution needed, state departments of agriculture are ready to work for their agricultural producers.”

NASDA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit association which represents the elected and appointed commissioners, secretaries and directors of the departments of agriculture in all fifty states and four U.S. territories. NASDA grows and enhances agriculture by forging partnerships and creating consensus to achieve sound policy outcomes between state departments of agriculture, the federal government and stakeholders.

Learn more about the Farming Support to States Act at www.nasda.org/farmingsupportostates

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USDA announces details of direct assistance program to farmers

USDA News Release

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue today announced details of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP), which will provide up to $16 billion in direct payments to deliver relief to America’s farmers and ranchers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. In addition to this direct support to farmers and ranchers, USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program is partnering with regional and local distributors, whose workforces have been significantly impacted by the closure of many restaurants, hotels, and other food service entities, to purchase $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy, and meat and deliver boxes to Americans in need.

“America’s farming community is facing an unprecedented situation as our nation tackles the coronavirus. President Trump has authorized USDA to ensure our patriotic farmers, ranchers, and producers are supported and we are moving quickly to open applications to get payments out the door and into the pockets of farmers,” said Secretary Perdue. “These payments will help keep farmers afloat while market demand returns as our nation reopens and recovers. America’s farmers are resilient and will get through this challenge just like they always do with faith, hard work, and determination.”

Beginning May 26, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), through the Farm Service Agency (FSA), will be accepting applications from agricultural producers who have suffered losses.

Background:

CFAP provides vital financial assistance to producers of agricultural commodities who have suffered a five-percent-or-greater price decline due to COVID-19 and face additional significant marketing costs as a result of lower demand, surplus production, and disruptions to shipping patterns and the orderly marketing of commodities.

Farmers and ranchers will receive direct support, drawn from two possible funding sources. The first source of funding is $9.5 billion in appropriated funding provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Stability (CARES) Act to compensate farmers for losses due to price declines that occurred between mid-January 2020, and mid-April 2020 and provides support for specialty crops for product that had been shipped from the farm between the same time period but subsequently spoiled due to loss of marketing channels. The second funding source uses the Commodity Credit Corporation Charter Act to compensate producers for $6.5 billion in losses due to on-going market disruptions.

Non-Specialty Crops and Wool

Non-specialty crops eligible for CFAP payments include malting barley, canola, corn, upland cotton, millet, oats, soybeans, sorghum, sunflowers, durum wheat, and hard red spring wheat. Wool is also eligible. Producers will be paid based on inventory subject to price risk held as of January 15, 2020. A payment will be made based 50 percent of a producer’s 2019 total production or the 2019 inventory as of January 15, 2020, whichever is smaller, multiplied by the commodity’s applicable payment rates.

Livestock

Livestock eligible for CFAP include cattle, lambs, yearlings and hogs. The total payment will be calculated using the sum of the producer’s number of livestock sold between January 15 and April 15, 2020, multiplied by the payment rates per head, and the highest inventory number of livestock between April 16 and May 14, 2020, multiplied by the payment rate per head.

Dairy

For dairy, the total payment will be calculated based on a producer’s certification of milk production for the first quarter of calendar year 2020 multiplied by a national price decline during the same quarter. The second part of the payment is based a national adjustment to each producer’s production in the first quarter. 

Specialty Crops

For eligible specialty crops, the total payment will be based on the volume of production sold between January 15 and April 15, 2020; the volume of production shipped, but unpaid; and the number of acres for which harvested production did not leave the farm or mature product destroyed or not harvested during that same time period, and which have not and will not be sold. Specialty crops include, but are not limited to, almonds, beans, broccoli, sweet corn, lemons, iceberg lettuce, spinach, squash, strawberries and tomatoes. A full list of eligible crops can be found on farmers.gov/cfap. Additional crops may be deemed eligible at a later date.

Eligibility

There is a payment limitation of $250,000 per person or entity for all commodities combined. Applicants who are corporations, limited liability companies or limited partnerships may qualify for additional payment limits where members actively provide personal labor or personal management for the farming operation. Producers will also have to certify they meet the Adjusted Gross Income limitation of $900,000 unless at least 75 percent or more of their income is derived from farming, ranching or forestry-related activities. Producers must also be in compliance with Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation provisions.

Applying for Assistance

Producers can apply for assistance beginning on May 26, 2020. Additional information and application forms can be found at farmers.gov/cfap. Producers of all eligible commodities will apply through their local FSA office. Documentation to support the producer’s application and certification may be requested. FSA has streamlined the signup process to not require an acreage report at the time of application and a USDA farm number may not be immediately needed. Applications will be accepted through August 28, 2020.

Payment Structure

To ensure the availability of funding throughout the application period, producers will receive 80 percent of their maximum total payment upon approval of the application. The remaining portion of the payment, not to exceed the payment limit, will be paid at a later date as funds remain available. USDA Service Centers are open for business by phone appointment only, and field work will continue with appropriate social distancing. While program delivery staff will continue to come into the office, they will be working with producers by phone and using online tools whenever possible. All Service Center visitors wishing to conduct business with the FSA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, or any other Service Center agency are required to call their Service Center to schedule a phone appointment. More information can be found at farmers.gov/coronavirus

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