Planting Seeds - Food & Farming News from CDFA

Ventura County approves $3.65 million in additional funding for pandemic assistance to farmworkers

From a Ventura County News Release

The (Ventura County) Board of Supervisors approved an additional $3.65 million in Federal Coronavirus Relief Funds to support the Farmworker Household Assistance Program (FHAP) bringing total support to more than $7.1 million to assist farmworkers and their families. This funding will provide financial aid of $1,000 to eligible households who were previously funded through this program and who still reside in the County.

“We appreciate the opportunity to provide assistance where it’s needed most. This program is important in supporting Farmworkers who are vital members of our community. This will help those who are struggling from the impacts of the pandemic and those who support us all through the agricultural products they provide throughout the year,” said County Executive Officer Mike Powers.

The Board of Supervisors approved the first FHAP program design in September 2020, which was a collaboration between the Board and a generous group of private donors comprised of agricultural employers, farmworker advocates and community-based organizations. The program required proof of residency, financial hardship due to COVID, and prioritized eligibility to farmworkers at very low-income levels of 50% or below the Average Median Income. It served 3,461 farmworker households with a $1,000 grant, a distribution that totaled just over $3 million in federal CARES Act funding in conjunction with about $400,000 in private donor funds collected in a Farmworker Household Assistance trust that was managed by VCCF. The Human Services Agency administered the program on behalf of the donor group and distributed all the funds before the end of last year.

Farmworkers have continued to work throughout the pandemic. Many experienced reductions in hours due to decreased demand for certain crops used primarily by restaurants. Others have needed to reduce their hours to care for school-age children, while still others have incurred unexpected expenses, all of which have impacted the ability to meet the most basic needs of housing, food and medical care.

“As the pandemic has continued and these farmworker households continue to struggle and endure financial hardships disproportionately, this funding aims to provide additional relief and stability while the challenges to meet basic needs persists,” said Melissa Livingston, Director of the Ventura County Human Services Agency, which is administering the program.

“These farmworker families who continue to struggle will be receiving a second $1,000 grant under the Farmworker Household Assistance Program,” said Ellen Brokaw from Brokaw Ranch Company. “Our county leaders have stepped up again to help these essential workers who also are our neighbors. Private donations currently being raised will provide further help to even more families. The need is huge. The Ventura County community cares.”

For every $0.50 that is donated to the Farmworker Household Assistance Program by private donors, the Ventura County Community Foundation will also donate $1.00 to the fund through a challenge match grant amount of up to $500,000. Every dollar donated will go directly to farmworker families in need. To donate to the FHAP, please visit www.vccf.org/fhap.

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Did you know? New scientific methods at CDFA

Read the report here

Learn more about CDFA’s Center for Analytical Chemistry

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Secretary Ross praises appointment of Jenny Lester Moffitt as USDA undersecretary


Jenny Lester Moffitt

Statement from CDFA Secretary Karen Ross:

I am thrilled that someone of Jenny Lester Moffitt’s caliber has been selected by President Biden to serve as USDA Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

In Jenny’s seven years at CDFA (as undersecretary and deputy secretary) she has shown herself to be a tireless advocate for agriculture and the people of California. I have deeply valued her counsel and her leadership. She is detail-oriented and a talented problem solver who brings all stakeholders together, and her experience as a farmer places her in a very strong position to understand the challenges and opportunities ahead. I have no doubt that she’ll show the same acumen and dedication on behalf of all Americans. We are a remarkable nation with the greatest agricultural story in world history, and we have people like Jenny—working in both the production and policy arenas—to thank for it.     

Jenny Lester Moffitt is a trusted colleague and a good friend, and she will be missed here in California. But I am gratified that she will be serving a larger cause. She is a shining example of the next generation of agricultural leadership.

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Secretary Ross hosts state’s FFA officers at CDFA Headquarters

California Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross (standing) hosted the state’s FFA officers for their annual visit at CDFA Headquarters this afternoon. “It was great to be able to meet in person under the circumstances, and to hear how they’ve been so adaptable over the past year,” Secretary Ross said. “I’m looking forward to speaking at the convention in a few weeks.” Officers, from left: State Secretary Mia Arisman, State Treasurer Reese Gonsalves, State Vice President Emma Thorpe, State President Dean Hill, State Reporter Taylor Sollecito, and State Sentinel Maico Ortiz.

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How dry is California? From the California Water Blog

Drought stricken lake bed

By Jay Lund, UC Davis Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

California is in the second year of a drought. Governor Newsom (last) week made his first drought declaration.  

Just how dry is this drought, so far?  What are some likely implications?  And what might State and local governments do about it?

How dry is it? 

California Data Exchange Center has some excellent collections of water data:  https://cdec.water.ca.gov/index.html

Precipitation – Northern California has received about 48% of average historical precipitation for this time of year.  This is the 3rd driest water year on record, so far.  Only 1924 and 1977 were drier in precipitation over the last 101 years.  At this time of year, there will probably be little more precipitation until fall.

Snowpack – Statewide snowpack is about 30% of average for this date.  Snowmelt will only help reservoir storage a little this year, but we will be glad to get any of it.

Temperatures – Temperatures have been warmer than historically, and we should watch how they develop over the year.  In the 2012-2016 drought, warmer temperatures increased evaporation and dried soils much more quickly, further reducing streamflows, groundwater recharge, and stressing already-dry forests and aquatic ecosystems.

Surface water runoff – With warmer temperatures, this year might develop to rank drier in streamflow than precipitation, but it is too early to tell yet.  Historically, precipitation this low would lead to Sacramento Valley annual streamflow of about 5-6 million acre-ft, compared to an average of about 18 million acre-ft., more than 2/3 loss of average surface water available. 

Reservoir storage – Statewide, reservoirs are at about 74% of their long-term average.  Last year was dry, and this year’s runoff hasn’t helped.  The table below shows the major Sacramento Valley reservoirs are all quite low.  Shasta, Oroville, Folsom, and New Bullards Bar are all lower today than they were on this date in any year of the 2012-2016 drought.  This is especially concerning remembering that in both 2014 and 2015, Shasta ran out of cold water early, killing about 95% winter run juveniles, in 2014 suburban water utilities were quite worried for their Folsom supplies, and in 2015 levels were low enough to build a salinity barrier in the Delta.  This drought seems to be off to a faster start than the 2012-2016 drought.

The Colorado River’s huge reservoirs are very low, 56% of average storage (only 41% of capacity). Colorado River drought plans are being triggered.

What are some likely implications? 

The drought could end quickly, or it could go on for several more years.  We will all hear informed (and uninformed) speculation on this.  The informed speculation will be interesting, but perhaps not useful (such as the great El Nino distraction of the previous drought).

Cities seem mostly well prepared for this drought with stored surface and groundwater, and water banking and purchase agreements with farmers. They have continued drought preparation and water conservation efforts since the last drought.  Conditions for cities might worsen with additional dry years, so more water purchases might be negotiated, given the surplus water conveyance capacities available this year.  There will likely to be calls for more water conservation, mostly to help save water for potential additional dry years and to make some water available for other uses.  Urban water use is only 20% of all water diversions, so conservation mostly tends to help cities bank water for later, but isn’t bad for others either.

Agriculture is a much greater water user and has less banked water, but still has access to considerable groundwater, which compensated for about 70% of lost irrigation water in the previous drought.  Water markets and selective fallowing will further reduce the economic impacts of remaining agricultural shortages, as they did in the previous drought.  Some farmers surprised by shortages in the 2012-2016 drought should be better prepared for this one, so far.  Droughts these days are tougher on agriculture than cities, given their relative water demands and greater difficulties preparing irrigated agriculture for drought, especially with the growing share of more profitable, but hard-to-fallow, permanent crops. Farm worker unemployment is likely in regions with more fallowing.

Groundwater always becomes a problem during drought, with less surface water inflows and much more pumping, mostly for agriculture.  Users of shallower rural wells suffer most directly from this.  This drought will make implementing the State’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) for ending groundwater overdraft much more difficult, but also provide opportunities for local Groundwater Sustainability Agencies and state regulatory agencies (DWR and SWRCB) to provide more forceful and specific guidance and motivations for implementing practical and effective local groundwater management (meaning more pumping cut-backs and less delusional recharge estimates).

Rural drinking water supplies always worsen with drought.  This process will continue in every drought until SGMA is well-implemented and better support exists for rural water systems.  A few rural water systems have been connected to more secure supplies since the last drought and quite a few deeper wells have been drilled. But we should expect to hear of rural community and household water supplies becoming scarce or dry – hopefully fewer than before.

The Delta is always dicey in drought.  Lower freshwater flows greatly reduce water availability for exports and reduce water quality in various ways (not just salinity).  These conditions are worse for native species and better for invasive species.  It seems hard to predict exactly what will happen in the Delta’s ecosystem with drought, but it is usually not good.  Although sometimes less bad than predicted, each drought seems to bring a step decline in native fishes which does not recover after the drought. 

With such low reservoir levels, calls to reduce freshwater and environmental outflows from the Delta seem likely (rhetorical outrage machines will run overtime again.)  Any reductions in Delta environmental outflows should probably be stored (not exported), to support environmental flows in future drought years if needed.  And at the end of the drought, any remaining stored environmental water in reservoirs should be sold if it results in earlier resumption or increases in Delta exports – this has not been the case in previous droughts.  Ecosystems should see some benefits from any necessary drought reductions in outflow that benefit other water users (Lund and Moyle 2015). 

Ecosystems have the greatest difficulty preparing for drought, so they are the most vulnerable.  We are the least organized to prepare ecosystems for drought, manage them in drought, and recover them after drought.  In California’s highly variable climate, no wonder our ecosystems are declining.

Forest ecosystems will be stressed by drier and warmer-drier conditions, leading to greater spread of tree diseases and insect infestations.  The previous drought killed over 100 million trees in California and increased catastrophic wildfires for several years after the drought, with wildfire damages and loss of life far greater than all traditional drought damages combined.

Native fish populations always seem to decline during drought, and fewer recover after the drought.  This drought ratcheting effect on aquatic ecosystems has been part of this ecosystem’s ongoing declines. 

Waterbirds need wetlands, which become scarcer during drought.  Fortunately, waterbirds need less water than fish, and California’s system of national, state, NGO, and private refuges, duck clubs, and rice farming has become well organized over decades to support the Pacific Flyway.  In recent droughts, these groups have collaborated, planned, and managed wetlands for migratory waterbirds quite effectively.  They show what can be done when environmental interests are effectively organized and funded.

Should the Governor have already declared a statewide drought?

The Governor declared drought emergency conditions in two counties clearly hard hit by this drought and where an emergency declaration will facilitate tangible and effective state and local actions to reduce drought impacts.  The Governor’s statement also moves forward a range of activities that prepare for additional State drought actions regionally and statewide, without yet making a statewide drought emergency declaration. 

Droughts are long disasters, and they are mismanaged by both panic and complacency.  The current measured incremental approach seems wise.  It makes clear that State government is neither complacent nor panicked, and allows limited state agency resources to focus on and emphasize particularly urgent problems early while foreshadowing that other actions are being prepared, and that others should help prepare as well.   It allows public and media attention to grow as drought conditions and needs worsen, and allows this attention to adapt as the situation evolves.  If drought conditions become truly dire and widespread, draconian changes in public behavior will be needed.  And to get such a public response, it will be necessary to maintain (and in these times build) public trust in water management institutions by acting in measured ways.

We all should prepare for a dry time, and for the likelihood of drier times.  This could be a long haul, prepare earnestly, and don’t get exhausted too soon.  And prepare to make one outcome of this drought be better preparation for the next drought.

Link to post on California Water blog

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Secretary Ross, State Board of Food and Ag President Don Cameron join US Farmers and Ranchers in Action for podcast on the future of California Ag

Listen to the podcast here

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Agriculture’s commitment to Earth Day – Op-ed in AgriPulse

Earth Day logo

By CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

As we observe Earth Day 2021 and look forward to a time in the not-so-distant future when we start to come together again after a very long year-plus apart, I want to take a moment to express my gratitude for everything that farmers and ranchers have done during this stressful period to further the causes of environmental stewardship and climate-smart agricultural practices. It’s important to understand that they have achieved this while never wavering from their essential purpose of providing food for a hungry world. 

Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, California’s Climate Smart Agriculture programs have continued to draw extensive interest from producers. CDFA’s Healthy Soils Program, which incentivizes practices to increase soil sustainability by sequestering carbon, has received $50 million in appropriations, so far, and there is another $30 million proposed in Governor Newsom’s budget for 2021-2022. The funded projects to date are estimated to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere by more than 112,000 metric tons per year. Co-benefits include increased water holding capacity for drought resilience, biodiversity enhancements, and improved nutrient cycling.

Dairy families are leaning-in on sustainability and methane reduction through our manure management programs, with the objectives of turning dairy waste streams into renewable energy and improving air and water quality. More than $318 million has been appropriated to these programs, so far, with a reduction of 2.3 million metric tons of GHGs per year – the equivalent of removing 495,000 cars from the road!

The State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP) has invested $80 million to support farmers implementation of improved irrigation practices to conserve water and energy to reduce GHG emissions – more than 800,000 metric tons over a 10 year period along with annual water savings of 107,000 acre-feet, and all that also results in improved nutrient management! Recognizing the importance of this program, Governor Newsom’s budget has proposed $40 million for it.

Natural and working lands are key assets to helping California reach its climate goals. Governor Newsom underscored the state’s commitment with an executive order last fall calling for the development of innovative strategies for California lands to address climate change as well as protect and restore biodiversity and our ecosystems. He called on CDFA to work with agricultural stakeholders to identify farmer and rancher-led solutions. We followed that up with a series of public meetings to solicit ideas and the draft report summarizing those sessions is now out for public comment, with a deadline for comments of April 30, 2021. It is important that we listen to farmers and ranchers who are agents of change and managers of the biological system of farming as we focus on balanced policy, incentives, and technical assistance that best support and reward these land stewards for the common public good.   

As we transition to a carbon-neutral economy and a more sustainable and resilient food and agriculture system, we must invest in more nature-based solutions to benefit Mother Earth. That’s why I was so excited for CDFA to join our colleagues from USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and more than 20 other farm and non-governmental organizations in the recently announced California Pollinator Coalition to focus on increasing the value working lands provide to our environment. The member organizations represent the large majority of California’s crop and rangeland, and they’re pledging to increase habitat for pollinators on working lands. Achieving this goal will increase biodiversity and sequester more carbon in soil. California is home to more than 1,600 native bees and hundreds of other species of pollinators. Globally, pollinators provide service to more than 180,000 different plant species, more than 1,200 crops, and are responsible for producing an estimated one out of every three bites of food.

And that leads us to the whole point of observing Earth Day and beyond that, treating every day like Earth Day – we must take care of our planet so it may take care of us, and our farmers and ranchers can and will lead the way.

Link to op-ed on AgriPulse web site

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Earth Day video with CDFA secretary Karen Ross

In recognition of Earth Day today, CDFA secretary Karen Ross discusses Climate Smart Agriculture programs available to California farmers and ranchers.

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Governor Newsom takes action to respond to drought conditions

Governor Newsom today in Mendocino County

With much of the West experiencing drought conditions and California squarely in a second consecutive dry year, Governor Gavin Newson today directed state agencies to take immediate action to bolster drought resilience and prepare for impacts on communities, businesses and ecosystems if dry conditions extend to a third year.

In addition, the Governor proclaimed a regional drought emergency for the Russian River watershed in Sonoma and Mendocino counties, where reservoirs are at record lows following two critically dry years and accelerated action may be needed to protect public health, safety and the environment.

“California is facing the familiar reality of drought conditions, and we know the importance of acting early to anticipate and mitigate the most severe impacts where possible,” Governor Newsom said. “Climate change is intensifying both the frequency and the severity of dry periods. This ‘new normal’ gives urgency to building drought resilience in regions across the state and preparing for what may be a prolonged drought at our doorstep.”

The text of today’s emergency proclamation can be found here.

With an extremely low Lake Mendocino as a backdrop, the Governor today announced that he is directing state agencies to work with regional and local governments – including groundwater sustainability agencies – to identify watersheds, communities, public water systems and ecosystems that may require coordinated state and local actions to address drought impacts and protect people, natural resources and economic activity.

To encourage Californians to reduce water use and conserve supplies in case drought conditions continue next year, the proclamation also directs state agencies to partner with local water suppliers to promote conservation tips and messages through the Save Our Water campaign. The campaign and website were critical resources for Californians during the 2012-2016 drought and remain a trusted information source on using water wisely.

The proclamation directs additional actions to coordinate with California Native American tribes; accelerate funding for water supply enhancement, conservation and species protection projects; work with counties to encourage and track reporting of household water shortages including dry residential wells; provide technical and financial assistance for water systems at risk of water shortages; support the agricultural economy and food security; and evaluate and take action to protect terrestrial and aquatic species.

To address acute drought impacts in the Russian River watershed, the proclamation directs the State Water Board to consider modifying requirements for reservoir releases or diversion limitations to ensure adequate supplies for critical purposes. The regional state of emergency also enables flexibilities in regulatory requirements and procurement processes to mitigate drought impacts.

Under the Governor’s direction, state agencies have been working together since November to prepare for continued dry conditions. The Governor recently formalized that coordination through the Drought Resilience Task Force, which includes the Natural Resources Agency, California Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Food and Agriculture, Department of Water Resources, Department of Fish and Wildlife, State Water Resources Control Board, Department of Finance, Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, California Health and Human Services Agency, California Public Utilities Commission and the Labor and Workforce Development Agency.

Other recent actions by state agencies to address dry conditions include:

  • The state has launched a new drought preparedness website detailing current conditions, the state’s response and informational resources for the public.   
  • The State Water Board has identified water suppliers at extreme financial risk that may need additional support due to the combined impacts of COVID and drought.
  • The Department of Water Resources (DWR) has updated its Dry Well website that tracks reports of water supply outages.
  • DWR has drafted a Drought Contingency Plan that explains how it will manage the State Water Project in a manner that protects fish and wildlife.
  • The State Water Board has issued letters to approximately 40,000 water right holders across the state, advising them to plan for potential shortages by closely managing water use.
  • Last month, DWR released a report, prepared with extensive stakeholder involvement, that evaluates the water shortage risk of more than 4,000 small water providers.
  • Informed by that report, this month the State Water Board completed its first-ever comprehensive look at California water systems that are struggling to provide safe drinking water to communities and how to help them. The assessment identifies both failing water systems and those at risk of failing, offering the most in-depth view of long-term drinking water safety the state has ever had.
  • CDFA is coordinating closely with the USDA to provide aid to growers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife is working with California Native American tribes and commercial and recreational salmon representatives to manage impacts to iconic salmon in the basin.

The 2012-2016 drought helped usher in some important water resilience policies that position the state to better handle another drought. These include:

  • Enactment in 2014 of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act to require and empower local agencies to bring overdrafted groundwater basins into sustainable conditions by 2042.
  • Enactment of legislation to establish new standards for indoor, outdoor and industrial use of water.
  • Funding for disadvantaged communities lacking access to safe drinking water through the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Act.
  • Increase in the frequency of water use reporting.
  • Expanded state authority to order failing public water systems to consolidate with better-run systems.
  • Tighter landscape efficiency standards for new developments.
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USDA seeks comments on food system supply chains

USDA News Release

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is seeking comments on a Department-wide effort to improve and reimagine the supply chains for the production, processing and distribution of agricultural commodities and food products. USDA is taking this action in response to Executive Order 14017, America’s Supply Chains, signed by President Biden on Feb. 24, 2021. The request for comments is published today in the Federal Register and the comment period will close on May 21, 2021.

The comments received will help USDA assess the critical factors, risks, and strategies needed to support resilient, diverse, and secure supply chains and ensure U.S. economic prosperity, national security, and nutrition security for all Americans. Such supply chains are needed to address conditions that can reduce critical processing and infrastructure capacity and the availability and integrity of critical goods, products, and services. Identifying food system supply chain-bottlenecks and vulnerabilities also may provide valuable insights into the competitive and fair markets landscape, effects on local and regional producers and processors, and equitable access to food and economic opportunity across diverse communities. USDA will use the comments to prepare a report required by Executive Order 14017.

“We have an opportunity to take the lessons we’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and apply those to transforming our nation’s food system from the inside out, including our supply chains,” said Vilsack. “USDA plans to tackle this supply chain assessment holistically – looking across a full range of risks and opportunities. From elevating the importance of local and regional food systems, to addressing the needs of socially disadvantaged and small to mid-size producers, to supporting sustainable practices to advance resilience and competitiveness, this top to bottom assessment will position USDA to make long-term, transformative changes for economic, national, and nutritional security.”

In addition to asking about the agricultural supply chain, USDA is interested in comments about how to target pandemic-related stimulus relief programs and spending authorized by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) and American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) toward long term, systemic change that results in food supply chain resiliency. In particular, the request for comment seeks input on—

  • bolstering local and regional food systems,
  • developing new market opportunities (including for value-added agriculture and products),
  • creating fairer and more competitive markets,
  • meeting the needs of the agricultural workforce,
  • supporting and promoting consumers’ nutrition security, particularly for low-income populations,
  • addressing the needs of socially disadvantaged and small to mid-sized producers, and
  • advancing efforts in other ways to transform the food system.

USDA is undertaking this effort to strengthen U.S. competitiveness with attention to our farmers, ranchers, producers, food processors, and other important links in the food supply chain. Under Secretary Vilsack’s leadership, USDA is helping to accelerate a transformation of our food system. Goals of this transformation include a fairer, more competitive, and transparent system where a greater share of the food dollar goes to those growing, harvesting, and preparing our food and one that promotes and strengthens the overall health and well-being of people, our land and water, and our economy. Growing consolidation in food and agriculture, the general health of our population, a growing climate crisis, and the need to ensure racial justice and equity are important factors to take into consideration as USDA looks at strengthening food and agricultural supply chains.

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