Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

Delta Week — Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta spotlighted as central to California’s water system and an important farming region

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

This week (Sept 25-30) has been designated as Delta Week, according to a Senate Concurrent Resolution introduced by State Senator Bill Dodd of Napa.

California’s Delta is formed by the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and supports more than 750 species of plants (including agriculture) and wildlife, as well as more than 55 species of fish. The Delta hosts more than 12 million visitors a year.

According to a report prepared for the Delta Protection Commission, more than 70 crops are harvested from 415,000 farmed acres in the Delta, including wine grapes, almonds, asparagus, corn, alfalfa and rice.

Speaking of rice, CDFA’s Healthy Soils Program is introducing a new eligible practice for grant funding in the Demonstration Projects category — taking land in the Delta previously used for non-rice annual crops and re-saturating it for rice cultivation, with the purpose of reducing organic matter oxidation and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. Learn more about this practice.

CDFA joins in the recognition of the Delta as a treasured resource in our state and is honored to share in the celebration of Delta Week!

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CDFA at Native American Day at State Capitol

CDFA staff members today joined partners from the state Department of Pesticide Regulation and the University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources division to discuss invasive species at the 56th annual Native American Day at the State Capitol. Topics of interest included citrus health, the state’s Sustainable Pest Management Roadmap, and best practices for handling firewood.

CDFA is committed to building partnerships with California Native American Tribes and ensuring that agency programs and policies are reflective of tribal priorities. In 2023, CDFA has partnered with the Intertribal Ag Council to conduct four listening sessions statewide to understand priorities and barriers to accessing CDFA grant funds and technical assistance programs.

Note the cockroaches in the third photo are plastic.

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National Hispanic Heritage Month — meet a young farmer

With National Hispanic Heritage Month underway (Sept 15 — Oct 15), CDFA wishes to acknowledge the extensive contributions of Hispanics in California.

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, California has a total of 14,597 Hispanic producers. CDFA recognizes that diversity in agriculture is a critical strength and is committed to working with underserved farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers in meeting the challenges ahead to help ensure a more equitable and prosperous future. 

In this video, we meet a teenager from Newcastle (Placer County) who farms with her mother and plans to stay in agriculture as a profession.

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Climate Week highlight — California enlists governments around the world in pledge to reduce methane emissions

News release from Office of the Governor

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: California is taking its climate action around the world and launching a new pledge to cut global methane emissions.

NEW YORK – Governor Gavin Newsom today announced California is launching a new pledge for governments around the world to commit to cutting global methane emissions, one of the worst climate pollutants. The pledge is aimed at subnational governments – like California – and builds on the Global Methane Hub’s Global Methane Pledge that focuses on countries.  

Nine jurisdictions from across the globe have signed on so far, including signatories from Mexico and South Africa. 

“The climate crisis knows no borders.

We’re partnering with governments around the world to tackle methane emissions, a dangerous pollutant that has 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide.

By working together on strategies informed by science, like deploying methane detection satellites, we can help address this global threat.“

Governor Gavin Newsom

How We’re Fighting Dangerous Methane Emissions 

California set a goal to reduce 40% of its methane emissions by 2030 compared to 2013 levels, and is leading the country with innovative solutions, including $100 million in funding to support a constellation of satellites that can monitor for large methane plumes. 

Last year, the Governor initiated new efforts to aggressively plug idle oil wells at risk of leaking methane and launch a network of satellites that would provide near real-time data on large scale methane leaks, leaks from oil and gas infrastructure, landfills, and other sources to track upwards of 40% of global methane emissions.

Why Methane? 

Tackling methane emissions is key. While the impacts of other emissions reductions may not be felt until later, it only takes a decade for methane to break down. That means methane reductions can dampen the effects of climate change in the short term, and are critical for helping put the world on a path to 1.5°C – the amount that scientists estimate would avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Read more about CDFA’s dairy digester and alternative manure management methane reduction programs

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Climate Week highlight — CDFA’s recent trip to Mexico shows benefits of climate collaboration

The CDFA team and friends in Mexico City. From left, Michael Wolff, Carolyn Cook, Tawny Mata, Cristina Lazcano of UC Davis, Kevi Mace, CDFA Undersecretary Christine Birdsong, and Josue Medellin-Azuara of UC Merced

The annual Climate Week NYC is occurring this week in New York

Earlier this month several members of CDFA’s Office of Environmental Farming and Innovation (OEFI) traveled to Mexico City for meetings and informational exchanges on strategies to adapt to a changing climate.

Scientists Tawny Mata, Kevi Mace, Carolyn Cook and Michael Wolff each participated and helped show the many ways OEFI and CDFA are helping farmers and ranchers adapt.

The subjects included irrigation, drought, and CDFA’s SWEEP program; incentives for farmers and ranchers to embrace the agency’s Healthy Soils Program; sustainable pest management and biodiversity, including California’s Sustainable Pest Management Roadmap; the increasing importance of natural and working lands, a discussion that included greenhouse gas reductions guided by the California Air Resources Board’s Scoping Plan; and the continuing development of technical assistance programs as a key resource.

“Technical assistance is essential for agriculture to effectively adapt to our changing climate,” said Tawny Mata, chief of OEFI. “I was very impressed with how Mexico’s Soil Doctors program trains local farmers in soil health practices and soil health testing so they can share information in their communities and become local resources. I hope we can take this example to heart as we evaluate what we do in California.”

A climate-smart ag workshop brought together researchers, government representatives and academia to focus on opportunities related to water-use efficiency, healthy soils and sustainable pest management. The CDFA team was joined by representatives from UC Merced and UC Davis. The workshop was a follow-up to a Memorandum of Agreement CDFA signed with SADER, Mexico’s agriculture agency, in 2019.

CDFA continues international collaboration and engagement on climate smart agricultural policies and practices to strengthen connections between academia, government and farmers on climate resilience. Partnerships such as the one with SADER strengthen research collaboration and ag tech innovations while furthering the adoption of on-farm practices to advance sustainability and soil health.

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Climate Week highlight — California electric vehicle chargers installed well ahead of schedule, with CDFA’s help

The annual Climate Week NYC is underway. Each year, climate leaders from all over the world gather to spur progress and champion change that is already occurring.

Governor Gavin Newsom and other state officials are in New York City, calling attention to California initiatives like a faster-than-scheduled installation of electric vehicle charging stations.

CDFA’s Division of Measurement Standards (DMS) is part of a team of state agencies working to accelerate the introduction of zero-emission vehicles and necessary infrastructure while avoiding redundancies in the regulatory structure. DMS tests and approves all commercial charging stations to ensure accuracy and fairness in the marketplace.

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Soil health — national study finds cover crops, reduced tillage boost farmers’ bottom lines

From Agri-Pulse

By Steve Davies

A new study of 30 geographically diverse farms suggests growers who consistently employ soil health management practices such as cover crops and reduced tillage can spend less on inputs and make more money.

The numbers generated by the study led by the Soil Health Institute and National Association of Conservation Districts are not trivial: On average, soil health management systems, or SHMS, boosted net farm income by $65 per acre across 29 farms. One organic farm was not included in the average because its relatively high revenue from organic price premiums would have skewed the results. 

“Yield increases due to SHMS were reported for 42% of farms growing corn, 32% of farms growing soybean, and 35% of farms growing other crops,” the two organizations said. The groups collaborated with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in the study.

The 30 farms were located in 20 states: Three each in Iowa and Alabama, two in Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi and South Carolina, and one in California, Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

Other studies have detailed the benefits to farmers’ bottom lines of managing for soil health, but the latest one is unusual because it includes farms from all over the U.S. planting a wide variety of crops and incorporates video narratives of the producers discussing their experiences.

“You don’t need to be afraid of trying things,” Minnesota producer Richard Cunningham said in one of those videos. Cunningham and his father, Ian, raise beef cattle and grow corn, soybeans and alfalfa on their land in the state’s Lower Big Sioux River Watershed. The operation has been in the family for 134 years.

“Whenever you can get more production with less input costs, whenever you can plant and timely harvest your crop, or better yet to have animals harvest the crop and spread the manure, that’s money in the bank,” Ian Cunningham says.

The fact sheet accompanying the video says that on the Cunningham farm, “methods of reduced tillage have been applied for approximately 70 years with no-till soybean and strip-till corn production for 20 years. The farm has planted cover crops for 10 years.”

“We try to incorporate cover crops on our land at least once a year on every acre,” Ian said. They also try to have the cattle graze cover crops annually.

The Cunninghams reduced their nitrogen costs for corn by about $22 an acre, applied less potassium and phosphorus, and they eliminated the use of a residual herbicide in a post-plant tank mix for corn. They also no longer had to use one herbicide in a pre-plant spray and one post-plant spray trip for soybeans. “Total reduced expenses were $55.94/acre for corn and $56.58/acre for soybean,” the fact sheet says.

“We’re using less fertilizer and consistently getting higher yields than other systems,” Ian says in the video.

There have been other benefits — less soil compaction and better water infiltration, for example.

“When we look at our neighbors having difficulty getting equipment stuck [because of wet fields], we don’t have those issues,” Ian says.

Other farmers claim similar results.

Average savings from implementing soil health management systems were $14 an acre for corn and $7 an acre for soybeans. The cost to grow all other crops went down by $16 an acre.

SHI experts who worked on the study said it stands out because of the farms’ locations, their crops, and the farmers’ on-camera explanations.

The individual stories are important, said SHI Chief of Staff Emily Bruner. “It’s really helpful to have those kinds of individual stories, because every farm is different in their journey,” she said.

SHI’s reports often aggregate data, she said, while the latest report offers testimonials from the farmers themselves.

“We hear time and time again from farmers that one of the best ways that they were able to stick with something is that they found colleagues, neighbors, farmers, technical assistance right in their area,” Bruner said. “So I think that’s a piece of this study that’s really, really interesting, of having that kind of narrative piece attached.”

Besides corn and soybeans, farmers in the study grow canola, chickpea, cotton, dried bean, grain sorghum, millet, pea, peanut, rye, sunflower, walnut, and wheat.

While there are long-standing concerns in dry regions of the country about cover crops, SHI ag economist Archie Flanders said the researchers found no areas where it wasn’t possible to carry out the practice. “Even some of the drier areas, they were able to use cover crops,” he said. 

“The issue that comes up [from farmers] is, it’s too dry here, I don’t want to suck up all the moisture with a cover crop,” Flanders said. He added, “We have farmers tell us that actually, cover crops would protect the limited soil moisture that they had.”

While the ability to grow cover crops is “totally on an individual case-by-case basis,” Flanders said “farmers are able to figure it out when they can. So we can’t really say, it’s just not possible to do cover crops, it may not be possible to do every year, but in our work, it is demonstrated to be feasible in every geographical area.”

Cover crops are most commonly employed in states along the Atlantic seaboard, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture. “The 11 states with cover crops as the highest share of cropland all border the Atlantic Ocean,” according to a paper by two ag economists who examined that data: Maryland (29%), Delaware (20%), Connecticut (15%), New Jersey (14%), Virginia (13%), Rhode Island (13%); Pennsylvania (13%), Georgia (12%), Maine (12%), Massachusetts (10%), and North Carolina (10%).

The six states with the smallest share are in the northern U.S., economists Carl Zulauf and Ben Brown said in their 2019 paper. “With the exception of Alaska, (they) are associated with drier climates during the growing season: Montana (1%); Alaska (1%), Colorado (1%), South Dakota (1%), North Dakota (1%), and Wyoming (2%).”

Overall, the 2017 census showed that cover crop adoption had increased from 10.3 million acres in 2012 to 15.4 million acres in 2017, a nearly 50% jump.

Learn more about soil health at CDFA’s Healthy Soils Program web page

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CDFA celebrates partnerships, advancements in food safety initiatives during Food Safety Education Month

CDFA joins the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other state and federal partners in recognizing September as National Food Safety Education Month. CDFA also celebrates FDA’s recent announcement to form a new, unified Human Foods Program, with James “Jim” Jones as its first Deputy Commissioner.

“We are happy to see Jim Jones accept this position,” CDFA Secretary Karen Ross said. “We look forward to his work in FDA’s new Human Foods Program continuing to elevate the importance of food safety and nutrition in all things that we know and do across our food programs – from field work to providing healthful, nutritional accessibility for all.”

The agriculture industry also has been helping lead advancements in food safety, including through the California Leafy Greens Products Handler Marketing Agreement (LGMA) and Western Growers.

“Our California agriculture community is leading the way for food safety like no other place worldwide,” said De Ann Davis, Western Growers, Sr. Vice President, Science. “We owe this to our consumers because of how much of an agricultural state we are. Through continued strategic planning with CDFA, FDA, CA LGMA, the California Department of Public Health, and many others, we look forward to continued progress in food safety.”

As California partners continue to look ahead and collectively advance food safety, highlights include:

California Agricultural Neighbors Action Report and Subcommittee Work

  • A collaborative effort since 2021 between California farmers, ranchers, shippers, handlers, composters, regulators, academia and more to reduce outbreaks of pathogenic Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157:H7 associated with leafy greens in the Salinas Valley resulted in the publication of California Agricultural Neighbors: Neighbor-to-neighbor best practices to help enhance localized food safety efforts in June 2022. In the past year, work groups have been meeting on each of the report’s action steps, including: Action 1. Foster Neighbor-to-Neighbor Interactions and Conversations; Action 2. Build a Research Roadmap for the Salinas Valley; Action 3. Create a Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment (QMRA) Framework; and Action 4. Build and Maintain Capacity to Transfer Knowledge from Research into Applied Practice.

California Longitudinal Study

  • Underway since 2020, the California Longitudinal Study (CALS) is focused on addressing outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 along California’s coastal growing region, including the Salinas Valley. It is a partnership between California’s leafy greens, cattle, viticulture and compost producers, the UC Davis Western Center for Food Safety, and state and federal partners, including FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. CALS is the first study in the Salinas Valley region focused on metagenomics, a genomic sequencing tool that can examine changes in entire microbial communities to identify environmental factors that significantly contribute to the introduction, persistence, growth (or die-off) and spread of foodborne pathogens. The findings from this multi-year study will contribute to a better understanding of the impact various environmental factors, including drought and climate change, can have on food safety, which can be used to refine best practices for growers so they may continually improve the safety of their products.

CDFA Technical Assistance Program

  • The CDFA Technical Assistance Program (TAP) is continuing to partner with University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources (UCANR) UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Specialists to conduct food safety workshops in various languages and locations throughout California to help all small farmers understand and comply with the federal Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Rule.

New Era of Smarter Food Safety

  • CDFA is working to align efforts with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in its New Era of Smarter Food Safety that leverages technology and other tools and approaches to create a safer and more digital, traceable food system. In June, CDFA received funding from the California Department of Technology’s Technology Modernization Fund to develop a database for the CDFA Produce Safety Program to be more efficient in scheduling FSMA Produce Safety Rule inspections and organizing farm information.
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Keeping the Supply Chain Flowing — Recommendations to Ensure a Steady Labor Force of Agricultural Truck Drivers

A new report released by the UC Berkeley Labor Center finds that record trucking costs in 2021 were not due to a long-term shortage of truck drivers in California.

The report, Ensuring the Supply of Agricultural Truck Drivers: What the State of California Can Do, found that, while there is not a shortage of people interested in truck driving, the industry faces challenges with retaining drivers, with turnover being especially high for long-haul drivers.

The report – the first in-depth look at the labor market for agricultural truck drivers in California and the first study of this workforce anywhere in the U.S. in almost 30 years – found that the disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic, along with already reduced seasonal driver capacity, were responsible for the rate hikes that were seen in agricultural shipping. Employers were slashing workforces just as the pandemic was hitting and then struggled to rehire drivers and add equipment as the economy restarted, demand surged, and labor markets tightened as part of broader supply chain disruptions.

Report co-author Steve Viscelli, an economic sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, looked at a wide range of statistical data from state and federal sources and interviewed drivers, shippers, industry associations, and other stakeholders. He said better efforts in recruiting and training drivers would ease turnover and improve job satisfaction, particularly for agricultural trucking, which is critical to California’s economy but can often be seasonal or require specialized equipment.

“Safe and experienced truck drivers are the foundation of U.S. supply chains,” said Viscelli. “I hope this research helps to bring their perspective more fully into the conversation about how to better retain experienced drivers and create successful career paths for the next generation.”

New drivers are likely to attend training school for several weeks and then spend weeks or months out on the road with a trainer. Drivers are often required to sign a training contract that indebts them to the employer unless they stay with the employer for a year.

“Our training system is organized backward,” Viscelli said. “Drivers should be trained locally and employed locally at the start of their careers. Difficult, dangerous long-haul work should then be the well-paid choice of safe and experienced drivers.”

Report recommendations include:

  • The state should work with agricultural trucking companies, local training programs, and community colleges to expand and create opportunities for local training that can lead to local jobs that give workers more time behind the wheel in local environments. These programs should be modeled as apprenticeships rather than the “boot camp” style of many current programs.
  • California should review the safety impacts of split speed limits for cars and trucks. Truck drivers complained that having to drive more slowly than the cars with which they share the road creates a safety issue.
  • The state should also consider adding new public rest areas or expanding existing facilities to allow truckers to find safe places to park and take breaks more easily.

Viscellli suggests that better tracking of where training dollars are going, and fostering partnerships between successful trainers and good employers would maximize the return on those dollars and benefit workers.

The report also found that almost a year since AB-5–the law governing job classification for employees and contractors–went into effect, there are no obvious signs of the negative impact feared by some shipping companies. In fact, rather than discouraging small business trucking, indications are that the law may be fostering an increase in small business formation.

The report includes profiles and quotes from in-depth interviews with truckers throughout California and is released during this week’s “Truckdriver Appreciation Week.” Read the full report.

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Secretary Ross joins ag leaders to meet with US Trade Representative in Sacramento

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross (R) confers with United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai (L) and Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development director Dee Dee Myers today at a meeting at Blue Diamond Growers in Sacramento. The event included a tour of company facilities and a discussion with ag leaders about trade. California leads the nation in agricultural exports, with a total value of $22.5 billion in 2021.
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