California Department of Food and Agriculture

Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA -

Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

Famous in France – CDFA citrus survey crew attracts attention of French news agency

Agence France-Presse producer Sebastien Vuagnat (R) captures video of CDFA environmental scientist Patty Tran (L) and pest prevention assistant Sam Duran surveying a citrus tree in Whittier.

CDFA’s citrus health program is hard at work in Southern California, surveying thousands of trees for signs of huanglongbing (HLB), or citrus greening, in areas where the disease has already been detected. The objective is to try to contain HLB before it decimates residential citrus trees and threatens commercial groves. A detection of the disease is a death sentence for  a citrus tree – there is no cure for HLB.

A producer for Agence France-Presse, a French news agency, recently caught up with a survey crew in Whittier, Los Angeles County. The European Union, which includes France, is a popular destination for California lemon exports.

In this short video, CDFA environmental scientist Patty Tran demonstrates a part of the survey process that utilizes an effective tool for detecting Asian citrus psyllids, the carriers of the bacteria that cause HLB.

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Kids+Cows: Dairy Council’s new exhibit at the Cal Expo Farm

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross and State Fair CEO Rick Pickering joined Dairy Council of California leaders and volunteers at Cal Expo in Sacramento this morning to welcome two busloads of students from nearby Elk Grove to tour a fresh, new exhibit and learn about dairy farms, cows, milk and nutrition. Secretary Ross also did a quick, live interview and walk-thru for local television.

The Dairy Council of California developed the dairy unit at the California State Fair Kaiser Permanente Farm thanks to a grant from the CalAgPlate Grant Program, which dedicates funds from the sale of specialized agriculture-themed license plates to promote agricultural education and leadership activities for students at the kindergarten through 12th grade, post-secondary and adult education levels. Visit for details.


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Reflections on Earth Day and the role of farmers and ranchers

Secretary Ross’ father, Howard Barrett, and her stepmother, Shirley Barrett, on the family farm in western Nebraska.

As Earth Day was celebrated this weekend, I couldn’t help but think about how lucky I am to have grown up on a farm with a dad who inspired me with his love for the land.  His life-long curiosity led him to constantly look at new and innovative practices to steward natural resources and improve the care of his cow-calf herd.  His particular passion for the soil led to decades of work with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS, which was still called Soil Conservation Service at that time). It came from his growing up in western Nebraska during the Depression and the Great Dust Bowl years.  He often described the curtains of dirt that darkened the skies and drove people and animals to shelter.  He watched too much precious top soil blow away.

My dad, like his father and grandfather before him, wanted to leave the land – pastures and cropland – better than he found it for his children and the generations to follow. That commitment lives on in my brother, Dan Barrett, the current steward of our family farm. Dan is the fourth generation.  A farmer’s farmer.  He has worked hard to bring the farm into agronomic balance, and he has been in the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program for about ten years. He was identified as a leader for his soil health and wildlife-friendly practices. He has successfully incorporated conservation rotational grazing and cover crops to bring what he terms “liveliness to the soil”. He is also one of the kindest people I know!!

That long-term generational view held by our family, a passion for stewardship of the land and its natural resources, is what it means to be in farming and ranching.  I see it every day in California agriculture.  That love of the land fuels my passion  to connect the stewardship actions of our 76,000-plus family farmers and ranchers to the public benefits created for the forty million Californians who make this special place their home.  That care for the land, in addition to the nutritious bounty that we grow in California, makes our state a better place to live!  It has never been more important to understand and support the potential of working landscapes to address climate change, and the essential role of private landowners in making it happen.

While California agriculture is already being impacted by climate change, Ag is also key to mitigating climate change. California’s Climate Change Investments have resulted in multiple incentive programs to facilitate climate adaptation strategies and the implementation of practices to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and sequester carbon.  Significant investments are being made on farms and ranches to improve manure management and reduce methane emissions; to increase water, fertilizer and energy efficiency; to replace older equipment and dirty engines; to protect croplands and rangelands at risk of conversion and the generation of more GHG emissions; to utilize waste biomass to generate renewable energy; and to sequester carbon to reduce GHG emissions and improve soil health, thus enhancing climate and drought resiliency and productivity.   Ultimately, these climate smart agriculture investments will ensure the continued economic viability of California agriculture and its role in sustaining food security.

As recent coverage of how soil can be managed to sequester carbon and be a solution to climate change creates a buzz for what is possible on working landscapes, I want to thank my Dad and honor his memory for his love of the land.  Truly, he and generations of farmers and ranchers are important caretakers of our planet Earth.

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Sustainable beef, social media and the environment – from Forbes

By Neil Yeoh

Christine Su, the millennial co-founder and CEO of PastureMap, a San Francisco-based social venture, is building a technology platform for the meat industry to help reward producers for regenerative practices. PastureMap’s ranch management software is making regenerative grazing easier for over 9,000 livestock producers in 40 countries with grazing planning, soil, and rainfall tools.

PastureMap seeks to provide consumers and supply chains with new levels of traceability: every day and pasture that an animal spent on grass can be traced, as well as every ton of carbon sequestered on a specific plot of land. Data like this is necessary for consumers to make informed decisions on the food we purchase.

To help achieve PastureMap’s mission of improving rancher profits by building healthy grasslands, the company partners with Point Blue, a science-focused nonprofit conservation organization. Together with Point Blue’s Rangeland Monitoring Network of 70 ranches in California, PastureMap is developing soil and ecological monitoring for livestock producers managing their land.

Most recently, PastureMap received grant funding from Elemental Excelerator, a growth accelerator focused on community impact. This grant funds PastureMap to build the first region-wide soil data sharing platform in California’s San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys enabling ranchers to compare their soil data regionally, and learn from each other on how to improve grazing practices to drive soil health.

Agricultural counties in San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of multiple pollutants, including nitrogen runoff, pesticides, and greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, ranchers are uniquely able to drive local, place-based impact by building soil health and reducing emissions in farming communities. A 1% increase in soil organic matter can hold 20,000 gallons more water per acre when it rains. This makes the entire land more resistant and fertile in drought-prone California. “PastureMap is working to bring needed innovation to communities that are often left behind,” says Su.

Regenerative agriculture and soil building provides clean water and air to surrounding communities, and prevents droughts and floods—all critical to farmer livelihoods and to the health and safety of surrounding communities. Su summarizes it well for conscious everyday consumers, mentioning that she’d “rather eat food that actively drew carbon back into the ground, restored streams and rivers, and prevented droughts in [her] local communities,” than food that was grown in a lab. So no need to necessarily give up your burgers, but do seek out the information you need to purchase meat from farmers and ranchers that sequester carbon and build healthy grasslands.

Link to story


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Can dirt save the Earth? From the New York Times Magazine

By Moises Velasquez-Manoff


When John Wick and his wife, Peggy Rathmann, bought their ranch in Marin County, Calif., in 1998, it was mostly because they needed more space. Rathmann is an acclaimed children’s book author — “Officer Buckle and Gloria” won a Caldecott Medal in 1996 — and their apartment in San Francisco had become cluttered with her illustrations. They picked out the 540-acre ranch in Nicasio mostly for its large barn, which they planned to remake into a spacious studio. Wick, a former construction foreman — they met when he oversaw a renovation of her bathroom — was eager to tackle the project. He knew the area well, having grown up one town away, in Woodacre, where he had what he describes as a “free-range” childhood: little supervision and lots of biking, rope-swinging and playing in the area’s fields and glens.

The couple quickly settled into their bucolic new surroundings. Wick began fixing leaks in the barn. Rathmann loved watching the many animals, including ravens, deer and the occasional gopher, from the large porch. She even trained the resident towhees, small brown birds, to eat seed from her hand. So smitten were they with the wildlife, in fact, that they decided to return their ranch to a wilder state. For nearly a century, this had been dairy country, and the rounded, coastal hills were terraced from decades of grazing. Wick and Rathmann would often come home and find, to their annoyance, cows standing on their porch. The first step they took toward what they imagined would be a more pristine state was to revoke the access enjoyed by the rancher whose cows wandered their property.

Within months of the herd’s departure, the landscape began to change. Brush encroached on meadow. Dried-out, uneaten grass hindered new growth. A mysterious disease struck their oak trees. The land seemed to be losing its vitality. “Our vision of wilderness was failing,” Wick told me recently. “Our naïve idea was not working out so well.”

Wick was especially bothered by the advance of a prickly, yellow-flowered invasive weed called the woolly distaff thistle. He pulled it, mowed it, doused it with herbicides. But the distaff kept moving into what had been pasture. He thought about renting goats to eat the weeds and brush, but they were too expensive. He even considered introducing wild elk, but the bureaucratic hurdles seemed too onerous.

Then Wick and Rathmann met a rangeland ecologist named Jeff Creque. Instead of fighting against what you dislike, Creque suggested, focus on cultivating what you want. Squeeze out weeds by fostering conditions that favor grasses. Creque, who spent 25 years as an organic-pear-and-apple farmer in Northern California before earning a Ph.D. in rangeland ecology, also recommended that they bring back the cows. Grasslands and grazing animals, he pointed out, had evolved together. Unlike trees, grasses don’t shed their leaves at the end of the growing season; they depend on animals for defoliation and the recycling of nutrients. The manure and urine from grazing animals fuels healthy growth. If done right, Creque said, grazing could be restorative.

This view ran counter to a lot of conservationist thought, as well as a great deal of evidence. Grazing has been blamed for turning vast swaths of the world into deserts. But from Creque’s perspective, how you graze makes all the difference. If the ruminants move like wild buffalo, in dense herds, never staying in one place for too long, the land benefits from the momentary disturbance. If you simply let them loose and then round them up a few months later — often called the “Columbus method” — your land is more likely to end up hard-packed and barren.

Wick was persuaded. He began preparing for the cows’ return. He dug wells for water, pounded in steel posts and strung nonbarbed wire. He even bought a molasses lick to supplement the animals’ diet of dry thatch. He didn’t want medicated livestock excreting drugs that might harm the worms and insects living in his soil — most cows are routinely dewormed — so he tracked down a herd of untreated cows and borrowed them for the summer of 2005.

The cows beat back the encroaching brush. Within weeks of their arrival, new and different kinds of grass began sprouting. Shallow-rooted annuals, which die once they’re chewed on, gave way to deep-rooted perennials, which can recover after moderate grazing. By summer’s end, the cows, which had arrived shaggy and wild-eyed after a winter spent near the sea, were fat with shiny coats. When Wick returned the herd to its owner that fall, collectively it had gained about 50,000 pounds. Wick needed to take an extra trip with his trailer to cart the cows away. That struck him as remarkable. The land seemed richer than before, the grass lusher. Meadowlarks and other animals were more abundant. Where had that additional truckload of animal flesh come from?

Creque had an answer for him. The carbohydrates that fattened the cows had come from the atmosphere, by way of the grass they ate. Grasses, he liked to say, were like straws sipping carbon from the air, bringing it back to earth. Creque’s quiet observation stuck with Wick and Rathmann. It clearly illustrated a concept that Creque had repeatedly tried to explain to them: Carbon, the building block of life, was constantly flowing from atmosphere to plants into animals and then back into the atmosphere. And it hinted at something that Wick and Rathmann had yet to consider: Plants could be deliberately used to pull carbon out of the sky.

Link to rest of story

Link to CDFA’s Healthy Soils Program

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California and Chile to co-host webinar on climate adaptation strategies

Prolonged droughts. Erratic rainfall. Fluctuating temperatures. These extreme weather events are just some of the many ways climate change is exacerbating existing challenges faced by farmers and ranchers across the globe.  According to the United Nations, more than 80 percent of the damage and losses caused by drought is to agriculture, especially livestock and crop production

But instead of sitting idly by, farmers – in California and around the world – are adapting to these changes. They are implementing new technologies, forming partnerships and exploring innovative solutions that will better prepare them for climate induced extreme weather events.

To better explore these strategies and solutions, the California Department of Food and Agriculture will host a webinar titled, “Chile and California: Exploring on-farm climate change adaptation strategies.”

This free webinar brings together farmers, research scientists and government representatives from Chile and California to discuss strategies and practices to help growers around the world adapt to the impacts of climate change. The event will be held on April 25, 2018 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Registration information can be found at:

California continues to work in collaboration with international partners to foster knowledge-sharing partnerships to address climate change impacts on agriculture. This webinar is the tenth in a series of international discussions focusing on climate smart agriculture. For more information, contact Jaydeep Singh at

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Farm exports key to agriculture’s profitability – from Agri-Pulse

By Ed Maixner


Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue likes to tell people that he’s a “grow it and sell it kind of guy” who is always on the lookout for opportunities to do so. Increasingly, that means understanding world population and demand growth – outside of U.S. borders.

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CDFA fertilization guidelines offer insight on a number of crops

California grows over 400 commodities that account for one-third of the country’s vegetable production and two-thirds of the country’s fruit and nut production. For many of these crops, there are various research and technical articles available that provide fertilization information. However, this information is often hard to find and can take hours of searching the web.

It was clear that California needed a comprehensive overview of current research-based knowledge of crop fertilization. That led to the development and production of the  California Fertilization Guidelines, produced in association with UC Davis. The guidelines address this need by providing a summary of relevant nutrient management research on major California crops.

The guidelines were first published in the summer of 2013 and covered 16 crops.  An additional 12 crops have recently been added. Nutrient management quizzes for many of the crops have also been added to the website.

The guidelines provide growers and crop advisors with an important decision-making tool to help determine the right time, place, rate and source of fertilizers. They show fertilizer needs based on uptake curves for different crops, so that uptake into the plant is optimized and environmental impacts are minimized.

With the addition of these 12 crops, the guidelines now provide nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium fertilization information for 28 crops covering 75 percent of irrigated agriculture in California.

CDFA’s Fertilizer Research and Education Program (FREP) publishes nitrogen management brochures based on these guidelines. High-quality PDFs and a limited number of printed brochures are available from FREP upon request. PDFs of the brochures are also available on the FREP Resources page

FREP was established in 1990 to provide funding for research and education regarding the agronomically safe and environmentally sound use of fertilizer in California.

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California Grown goes to Disneyland

Secretary Ross at the Disney Food and Wine Festival this month with Visit California CEO Caroline Beteta (R) and California Grown Chair Cher Watte,

When it comes to featuring nutritious California-grown foods, two of the best built-in ambassadors we have are in Anaheim – Disneyland and the California Adventure park. They host millions of visitors from around the world every year, providing an excellent opportunity to showcase our state’s agriculture.

Disney embraced that this year with its 2018 Food and Wine Festival, featuring sustainably-grown California wines and California-grown  asparagus, avocados, citrus, berries, greens, cucumbers, strawberries, chicken, beef and olive oil, among other foods.

The festival is an innovative way to foster agritourism in California, and Visit California has found that millions of visitors travel here because of the state’s well-deserved reputation for food and wine. Studies show that spending in the food and beverage sector amounts to 20 percent of direct tourism revenue – billions of dollars.

We know that travelers seek culinary experiences in California beyond wine tasting, from farm tours and farm-to-fork dinners, to artisan purveyors, and culinary tours, and we know they like to visit places like Napa and Sonoma, to name our most famous agritourism regions, and also places like Temecula, the Sierra Nevada foothills, the Central Coast, Lodi and the Central Valley.

Recognizing that, CDFA started working with Visit California and the California Grown marketing agreement in 2013 to produce “California: Always in Season,” a program designed to market California’s agricultural abundance and highlight the pioneering and innovative spirit of the state’s chefs, farmers and ranchers. The focus is the relationship between California farmers and their collaboration with local chefs, the diversity and abundance of specialty crops throughout the state as well as stories that demonstrate that California’s culinary pioneers are part of the fabric that makes the state an iconic destination.

The Disney Food and Wine Festival is a natural extension of that campaign, and we all hope that vacationers who experience the festival will choose to travel more widely in our food and farming regions.

I attended a California Sustainable Wine Growers Alliance/Wine Institute spotlight event connected to the festival earlier this month, and it underscored the strong value of public-private partnerships in promoting agriculture. CDFA joined with its faithful partners California Grown, Visit California and–of course–Disney in supporting this great event. It was part of ‘Down to Earth Month,’ organized by the Wine Institute to educate consumers, policy leaders, media and the wine trade on the benefits of sustainability and its widespread practice.

California is a global leader in sustainable winegrowing practices in terms of wine acreage and case production. As of November 2017, 127 wineries producing over 74 percent (211 million cases) of California’s total wine production and 1099 vineyards farming 134,000 acres (22 percent of statewide wine acreage) are “certified sustainable.”

Sustainability is the key to our future. A hungry state, nation and world are depending on it.


Visit California Food and Wine Page 


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The focus on recycling organic waste

Note – CDFA’s Healthy Soils Initiative includes a partnership with CalRecycle.  The composting of organic waste has important benefits – improving soil health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

From the CalRecycle blog

The effects of global climate change are now upon us. It’s threatening lives, impacting our economy, and jeopardizing future generations. The question is now, what are we doing about it?

In California, slowing and eventually reversing the effects of climate change demands a collaborative effort to transform the state’s waste and recycling sector. It demands nothing short of an organics revolution.

Fortunately, that revolution is underway.

In 2016, Governor Edmund G. Brown signed legislation (Senate Bill 1383, Lara, Chapter 395, Statutes of 2016) that targets reduction of short-lived climate pollutants, including methane. The law directs CalRecycle to adopt regulations and requirements to achieve a 50 percent reduction in organic waste disposal by 2020 and a 75 percent reduction by 2025. The law further requires that 20 percent of the amount of edible food currently disposed be recovered for human consumption by 2025. By calling for a significant reduction in the current levels of organics disposal, this law signals a definitive shift in California’s approach to organic waste management.

The Scope

Right now, California recycles roughly 10 million tons of organic waste each year through composting, chip and grind, biomass energy, and anaerobic digestion facilities. California’s existing organics recycling infrastructure consists of 179 composting facilities (of which 50 handle nearly all of the green waste and food waste sent to composting), 162 chip-and-grind operations, approximately 20 biomass conversion facilities, and 15 anaerobic digestion facilities. At full capacity, these facilities could process perhaps an additional 1 million tons of organic material per year.

To achieve the targets outlined in SB 1383, California must recycle at least 20 million tons of organic waste. Depending on facility size, CalRecycle estimates the state will need 50 to 100 new or expanded composting and anaerobic digestion facilities. The roughly $2 billion capital infrastructure investment required to meet SB 1383 goals is significant, but California is uniquely positioned to meet this challenge. Our businesses innovate, our industries adapt, and our local communities find solutions.

Community Support, Local Siting, and Permitting

It’s important to remember compost operations and anaerobic digestion facilities are located in real communities, where people live. While smart regulations will be instrumental to achieving California’s organic waste and methane emissions reduction targets, the success of SB 1383 also hinges on support from our local communities. There’s no question these organics recycling infrastructure projects help diversify our local economies and create durable green jobs that can’t be outsourced.

At the same time, communities have legitimate concerns about having such facilities as neighbors, among them increased traffic and road wear and potential odor issues. To that end, SB 1383 regulations must require that cities, counties, project proponents, and local enforcement agencies conduct community outreach when new projects are proposed, particularly in disadvantaged communities, to hear local concerns and discuss mitigation of potentially negative effects.

Food Waste Prevention and Food Rescue

Achieving the edible food waste reduction targets outlined in SB 1383 will not only help reduce methane emissions from organic waste disposal, but food rescue has the added benefit of feeding Californians in need. Food waste alone accounts for roughly 18 percent of total landfill disposal (5 to 6 million tons) each year.

CalRecycle must work with local leaders and organizations to identify points in the food distribution chain where edible food is disposed and figure out ways to recover that food for the roughly 1 in 8 Californians who are food insecure.

In 2018, CalRecycle awarded $9.4 million in Food Waste Prevention and Rescue grants to 31 projects throughout the state that:

  • Decrease the estimated 6 million tons of food waste landfilled in California each year, and
  • Increase the state’s capacity to collect, transport, store, and distribute more food to Californians in need.

Looking Forward

The organic waste reduction and edible food recovery targets California has established in SB 1383 are bold and historic next steps. Like most achievements, we know progress in this effort must be built locally and from the ground up. Through a shared commitment from the public, the waste and recycling industry, local governments, and the state, we can show the world—once again—how California’s core values of environmental protection, public health and safety, and economic vitality can not only coexist, but collectively bolster California’s next revolution in sustainable waste management.

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