Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

Film ‘Living Soil’ celebrates second anniversary, surpasses one-million views

This is Healthy Soils Week 2020 in California.

From Morning Ag Clips

The Soil Health Institute, the non-profit organization charged with safeguarding and enhancing soil health, announced the 2nd anniversary of Living Soil, which has become the nation’s premier soil health documentary. Living Soil has now passed 1 million views.

“Educating consumers about the on-farm and environmental benefits of healthy soils can help create more demand for food, fiber, and fuel grown using soil health systems. The Living Soil documentary was created and produced with that goal in mind, so we can achieve the many environmental benefits of healthy soils at a much grander scale,” said Dr. Wayne Honeycutt, President and CEO of the Soil Health Institute. “We thank everyone who has viewed and especially shared the documentary. My only ask is this: Please keep it up!”

The 60-minute film captures the history – and significance – of the soil health movement, beginning with painful images of the Dust Bowl, and then transitioning to personal experiences of innovative women and men who are managing their land to enhance soil health. Living Soil features rural and urban farmers from Maryland to California, producing everything from corn to floral bouquets, united by their care for the soil.

The documentary was directed by Ms. Chelsea Myers of Tiny Attic Productions and produced by the Soil Health Institute through the generous support of The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation. It is available free of charge and is currently being translated into multiple languages.

Lesson plans are offered for high school and college faculty use. The primary learning goal is to help students develop an understanding of why soil health is important and identify ways that professionals in production agriculture work to improve the health of our nation’s soils, ultimately benefiting all members of society. Free lesson plans are designed to accompany the Living Soil film and are appropriate to classes in agriculture, natural resources, environment, ecology, biology or human nutrition and food systems.

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Fresno County tops nation in Ag production – from Western Farm Press

Nearly 25 percent of California almonds are grown in Fresno County.

By Todd Fichette

After several years of playing second or third string to neighboring counties, Fresno County, Calif. held its top spot as the leading county for gross agricultural output in the United States, though the dollar figures between the big three were probably the slimmest in history.

At just $212 million in gross agricultural output between No. 1 Fresno County and No. 3 Tulare County, the fact that all three have exceeded $7 billion in value each of the previous three reporting years – 2017 through 2019 – is a testament to the agricultural output of the region.

At over $7.71 billion in gross receipts for 2019, Fresno’s crop values were 2.3% lower than its record year of $7.9 billion in 2018, which also led all counties in gross agricultural output. Ryan Jacobsen, chief executive officer, Fresno County Farm Bureau, said a general softening of commodity prices, punctuated by a difficult year for wine grapes, may have played a part in the reduced value.

Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner Melissa Cregan said the lower figure was somewhat surprising given increases in almond acreage – Fresno County’s leading crop – and higher acreage reports from other significant crops, including Navel oranges.

“I was surprised the value dipped; it felt like 2019 was going to be better,” Cregan said. “I think our saving grace was the almond crop.”

Fresno County farmers harvested over 264,000 acres of almonds across the county in 2019. Total production that year was up 29 percent to 309,000 tons, or almost one-quarter of all the almonds produced in California.

Fresno has seen two of the commodities produced there exceed a gross value of $1 billion – almonds and grapes, though grapes did not fare as well in 2019.

By the numbers

Almond values, which include the edible nut and the hull sold for livestock feed, exceeded $1.57 billion in gross value on yields that were up 21 percent over the previous year. Growers in 2019 enjoyed an average price of $2.46 per pound on yields that averaged over 2,300 pounds per acre. Yields were up significantly from the year before at about 1,900 pounds per acre, on average.

At No. 2, grape values slipped below $1 billion on softer prices. Raisins remain the most popular type grown at over 81,000 acres. Wine grape varieties were harvested from over 53,000 acres as table varieties were picked from 29,000 acres. The annual wine grape crush in Fresno County was reported at 699,000 tons, down from 711,000 tons the previous year.

Bearing pistachio acreage was up 7 percent on the year to over 117,500, according to the report. The alternate bearing nature of the crop saw a 30 percent swing in yields from the previous year, down to just over 2,700 pounds per acre in prices that averaged just over $2 per pound to the grower.

Cregan expects pistachios to make the leap into elite value status as more planted acres move into the bearing category. The addition of these orchards is also driving a move in Fresno County to build more pistachio processing facilities to handle the larger crop, which for the first time in U.S. history surpassed one billion pounds in total production with the 2020 crop.

Other commodities

Fewer acres of cotton were grown in Fresno County in 2019 as growers across the state move away from the fiber crop to more profitable commodities. While Upland acreage was down nearly 28%, Pima acreage was up 17% to over 77,000 acres. Yields for Pima averaged just over three bales per acre while Upland yields were down significantly to under 2.5 bales. Prices averaged 87 cents for Upland cotton and $1.15 for Pima.

Wheat grown for grain saw a 14.5% increase in harvested acre. Yields there were up about 7%.

After a surprising 2018 that saw garlic yields exceed eight tons per acre on prices that more than doubled from the previous year, garlic farmers in Fresno County harvested from 1,000 fewer acres in 2019. Garlic prices remained well above $2,000 per ton on yields of over 13,700 pounds per acre.

Also of notable report in 2018, onion production was softer in 2019 as fewer acres were harvested and the price for fresh and processed onions declined significantly.

Most notable among melon crops included a significant drop in cantaloupe production and acreage with a marked increase in honeydew production and acreage.

Among citrus, which commands considerable acreage in the county, Navel oranges saw a 19 percent increase in reported acreage. Cregan attributes this to better reporting in the category, and not so much in that growers rushed to plant more Navel oranges in previous years.

Conversely, mandarins saw a slight decline in harvested acreage after several years of excitement in that sector to plant more trees and participate in positive marketing campaigns that generated positive grower returns.

Bee pollination services and honey production each saw a significant rise in production and gross income for beekeepers in 2020. On the honey side, production rose 96% as the price of honey likewise rose to an average of $5.16 per pound. Producers leasing bees for pollination services saw a 22% rise in gross income for pollination of seed, fruit, nut, melon, and vegetable crops.

Unlike some other counties that were able to include hemp values in their annual reports, Cregan said she was not able to collect good numbers because of the relative secrecy of the new industry and various other unknowns that would likely make the data incomplete.

Link to article on Western Farm Press web site

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CDFA leads California State Employee Food Drive by encouraging monetary donations during COVID

For many years the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has coordinated the annual California State Employee Food Drive during the holiday season. State employees were encouraged to place donated food items in bins located in state agency lobbies, among other activities. While COVID-19 has changed many things, including the use of bins, it has not affected employees’ desire to help, or the need of food banks to provide nourishment to the needy. In fact, COVID-19 has actually made more Californians food insecure this holiday season.

CDFA is now encouraging state employee participation through monetary donations to food banks across the state. Details may be found on the California State Employees Food Drive website, including a Video Message from CDFA Secretary Karen Ross, an interactive map where people may find a food bank in each county and information about how to volunteer.

This Giving Tuesday, CDFA encourages all Californians to consider providing assistance to the California Association of Food Banks, or visit the CalVolunteers web site to learn about local volunteer opportunities.

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CDFA secretary Karen Ross kicks off Healthy Soils Week

Today is the start of California Healthy Soils Week! In this video, CDFA Secretary Karen Ross kicks off a weeklong series of events and activities that highlight the importance of healthy soil “On the Farm and at Your Home.”

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California partners with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to enlist Earth-observing satellite data in climate change efforts

Space-Based Observations Will Help Inform Action on Sea-Level Rise, Forest Health, Biodiversity, Carbon Emissions and More 

A new partnership with Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA JPL) will help state agencies better understand climate change impacts and identify opportunities to build resilience, conserve biodiversity and use California’s natural and working lands to store and remove carbon from the atmosphere.

The California Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency and California Department of Food and Agriculture have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with JPL that will allow the state to access a growing body of data from Earth-observing satellites and other ground-based technologies. The trove of remote-sensing data – including information collected by the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite launched on November 21 – will be used to understand current conditions, predict future vulnerabilities and inform actions to boost climate resilience. (A short video about the MOU is available here.)

The MOU will support the state’s efforts under Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent executive order to advance strategies to store carbon in the natural and working lands and remove it from the atmosphere. It will also help support California’s first-in-the-nation goal to conserve 30 percent of the state’s land and coastal water by 2030 to fight species loss and ecosystem destruction.

The agencies and NASA JPL will explore opportunities to use data to better forecast and combat climate-driven impacts such as sea-level rise, extreme drought, wildfire risk, severe storms and depleted groundwater basins. They will also assess how space-based observations and models can inform actions to address impacts on agriculture and food security and to evaluate carbon emissions, stocks and sinks.

“JPL is among the world’s leaders in understanding our planet and the impacts occurring due to climate change,” California Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot said. “We’re excited to see this collaboration that will enable JPL’s remote-sensing satellites aerial imaging and ground-based monitoring to improve California’s ability to protect communities and nature and lead the world in combating climate change and species loss.”

“California is the home of innovation, whether it’s our agricultural products and practices or our scientific institutions,” California Secretary for Agriculture Karen Ross said. “Utilizing JPL’s technology to do real-time monitoring of carbon stocks and to understand what’s happening with groundwater and our surface waters is a huge step forward – both in helping us achieve our climate goals and in ensuring sustainability for the next generation of agriculture in California.”

“California’s climate agenda is a science-driven one, so the more data we have and the more granular that data is the better our decisions will be,” California Secretary for Environmental Protection Jared Blumenfeld said. “We are not playing on the margins anymore. The time for small, incremental action is over. We need to take bold actions that really reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other climate pollutants quickly. And we need bold partnerships like this.”

“With this MOU, we’re excited to further our collaboration with the state, using technology to scale up measurements to tackle the challenges of the coming decades,” JPL Director for Earth Science Jim Graf said. “JPL’s unique air- and space-based science can provide California the much-needed data to keep our ecosystems and forests healthy, manage our limited freshwater resources and aid efforts to keep our agricultural sector thriving.”

The collaborative relationship with NASA JPL will provide useful remote-sensing information in critical areas including, but not limited to the following:

  • Drought, snowpack, rising temperatures, groundwater volumes, severe storms and flooding, and other climate change augmented challenges
  • Air pollutant and GHG emissions
  • Climate exacerbated food security and agricultural production issues
  • Forest health, resilience, impacts from pests and disease
  • Harmful algal blooms, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, plastic pollution fate and transport
  • Land surface change impacts related to earthquakes, Subsidence, landslides, groundwater overdraft, fire, etc.
  • Combining remote sensing data and modeling with state collected ground-based monitoring data
  • And issues such as data management, big data model development, the use of artificial intelligence to improve modeling accuracy and precision, etc.
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A Thanksgiving message from CDFA secretary Karen Ross

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Get Ready for California Healthy Soils Week, Nov 30 – Dec 5

Next week, beginning Nov. 30, is California Healthy Soils Week, a series of events that highlights soil health and culminates on United Nations’ World Soil Day, Saturday Dec. 5. To kick off the week, CDFA Secretary Karen Ross will provide opening remarks via video next Monday.

This year’s Healthy Soils Week theme is “On the farm and at your home,” which supports the importance of soil health on farms and ranches, as well as its value in urban landscaping and home and community gardens.

More than 20 agencies and organizations are joining CDFA for this weeklong event. There will be webinars, livestreams, panel discussions, and at-home how-to activities. Healthy Soils Week partners will be posting, tweeting and sharing on social media throughout the week to reach as many people as possible with information about building soil health and fostering climate resilience.

Among the many benefits of soil health are the following:

  • Improved plant health and yields;
  • Increased water infiltration and retention;
  • Sequestered carbon and reduced greenhouse gases (GHGs);
  • Reduced sediment erosion and dust;
  • Improved water and air quality; and
  • Improved biological diversity and wildlife habitat.

Visit the Healthy Soils Week website to see the full lineup of events and partners. To follow along on social media, watch for and use the hashtags #HealthySoilsWeek2020 and #HSW2020.

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State Issues Limited Stay at Home Order to Slow Spread of COVID-19

Non-essential businesses and personal gatherings are prohibited between 10 PM and 5 AM beginning Saturday, November 21 at 10 PM

SACRAMENTO – In light of an unprecedented, rapid rise in COVID-19 cases across California, Governor Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) today announced a limited Stay at Home Order requiring generally that non-essential work, movement and gatherings stop between 10 PM and 5 AM in counties in the purple tier. The order will take effect at 10 PM Saturday, November 21 and remain in effect until 5 AM December 21. This is the same as the March Stay at Home Order, but applied only between 10 PM and 5 AM and only in purple tier counties that are seeing the highest rates of positive cases and hospitalizations.

“The virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge. We are sounding the alarm,” said Governor Newsom. “It is crucial that we act to decrease transmission and slow hospitalizations before the death count surges. We’ve done it before and we must do it again.”

This limited Stay at Home Order is designed to reduce opportunities for disease transmission. Activities conducted during 10 PM to 5 AM are often non-essential and more likely related to social activities and gatherings that have a higher likelihood of leading to reduced inhibition and reduced likelihood for adherence to safety measures like wearing a face covering and maintaining physical distance.

“We know from our stay at home order this spring, which flattened the curve in California, that reducing the movement and mixing of individuals dramatically decreases COVID-19 spread, hospitalizations, and deaths,” said California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly. “We may need to take more stringent actions if we are unable to flatten the curve quickly. Taking these hard, temporary actions now could help prevent future shutdowns.”

“We are asking Californians to change their personal behaviors to stop the surge. We must be strong together and make tough decisions to stay socially connected but physically distanced during this critical time. Letting our guard down could put thousands of lives in danger and cripple our health care system,” said Dr. Erica Pan, the state’s acting Public Health Officer. “It is especially important that we band together to protect those most vulnerable around us as well as essential workers who are continuing their critical work amidst this next wave of widespread community transmission across the state. Together we prevented a public health crisis in the spring and together we can do it again.”

COVID-19 case rates increased by approximately 50 percent in California during the first week of November. As a result, Governor Newsom and California’s public health officials have announced a list of measures to protect Californians and the state’s health care system, which could experience an unprecedented surge if cases continue their steep climb.

On Monday, the state pulled an emergency brake in the Blueprint for a Safer Economy putting more than 94 percent of California’s population in the most restrictive tier. The state will reassess data continuously and move more counties back into a more restrictive tier, if necessary. California is also strengthening its face covering guidance to require individuals to wear a mask whenever outside their home, with limited exceptions.

Late last week, the state issued a travel advisory, along with Oregon and Washington, urging people entering the state or returning home from travel outside the state to self-quarantine to slow the spread of the virus. The travel advisory urges against non-essential out-of-state travel, asks people to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving from another state or country, and encourages residents to stay local.


View the original press release from the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom here.

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FDA Partners with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, the Western Center for Food Safety, and California Agricultural Stakeholders to Enhance Food Safety

Shared from an FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) Constituent Update

California leads the world in leafy greens production and innovation. Industry and food safety officials are proud to partner on this in-depth scientific study protecting public health.”

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is announcing the launch of a multi-year study to improve food safety through enhanced understanding of the ecology of human pathogens in the environment that may cause foodborne illness outbreaks. This initiative is being launched with partners including the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), the University of California, Davis, Western Center for Food Safety (WCFS), and agricultural stakeholders in the Central Coast of California.

The launch of this study follows a series of E. coli O157:H7 outbreaks in recent years linked to California’s lettuce production regions, particularly the most recent three outbreaks in the fall of 2019 which collectively resulted in 188 people falling ill. In response, FDA launched an investigation, the findings of which are outlined in a report released in May 2020. The FDA also published a Leafy Green STEC Action Plan to address issues associated with leafy green Shiga toxin-producing E.coli (STEC) contamination. This new longitudinal study is included in the action plan, as well as the continuation of a similar study being conducting in the Yuma, Arizona, growing region.

A key component of the Leafy Green STEC Action Plan is the need to address knowledge gaps in order to advance prevention. The multi-year study will examine how pathogens survive and move through the environment and possibly contaminate produce through work with water quality, food safety, and agricultural experts from the Western Center for Food Safety, representatives from various agriculture industries, and members of the leafy greens industry.

Research teams will be collecting and examining samples from the environment including adjacent land, well and surface waters, soil inputs that include compost, dust and animal fecal samples.

The California Central Coast region grows a significant portion of the nation’s leafy greens. The findings from this study will contribute new knowledge on how various environmental factors may influence bacterial persistence and distribution in this region, and how those factors may impact the risk of leafy greens becoming contaminated. Results from this collaboration will lead to improved practices to prevent or mitigate food safety risks, and ultimately enhance the safety of leafy greens grown in California.

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CDFA Antimicrobial Use and Stewardship Program Recognizes World Antimicrobial Awareness Week

This is World Antimicrobial Awareness Week (11/18 – 11/24). In recognition of that, CDFA is highlighting California’s innovative program focused on antimicrobial use and stewardship in livestock. Antimicrobial resistance is an issue of importance to all of us – across human, animal, and environmental health sectors.

The Antimicrobial Use and Stewardship (AUS) program is proud to be the nation’s first-of-its-kind program focused on preserving the efficacy of antibiotic drugs in livestock through veterinary oversight. The program was established in 2017 through forward-thinking and collaborative legislation (SB 27 [Hill, 2015]). 

The AUS program consists of a team of veterinarians, epidemiologists, and specialists working together to achieve this. AUS is focused on innovative approaches to antimicrobial resistance and responsible antibiotic use associated with livestock in California. The program provides information for veterinarians and producers to optimize antimicrobial use and stewardship. During its first few years, AUS has produced multiple milestone reports describing program activities, including the recently published AUS 2020 Annual Report and the 2019 Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) Summary Report.

In order to promote veterinary services in those communities with limited access to large animal veterinary practitioners, the AUS program created resources to help practitioners and clients understand the requirements of a veterinarian-client-patient-relationship within a youth agricultural context. Additionally, the AUS program showcases financial grant programs designed to support food animal veterinarians, food safety, and public health in California. The most prominent programs to provide financial support in these areas are the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP), Veterinary Services Grant Program (VSGP), and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). Establishing incentives for hard-working veterinarians to expand their practice and support food safety, as well as educating future food animal producers benefits all Californians and AUS is honored to support these important agricultural sectors.

For more information on AUS, please visit the AUS website or reach out to the program at CDFA_AUS@CDFA.CA.GOV or (916) 576-0300. To receive updates from AUS, join the listserv or follow the program on Facebook.

In calling attention to this program, CDFA is emphasizing the importance of veterinary care to maintain California’s animal agriculture industry and the pursuit of reliable access to veterinary services across the state. CDFA supports the practices of existing veterinarians currently working hard to protect our food supply, and the agency encourages the expansion of veterinary practices and expertise. 

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