#CDFACentennial – Centennial Reflections video series with Merry Cardoza (Wells)

The California Department of Food and Agriculture is celebrating its 100th anniversary as a state agency in 2019. Throughout the year this blog will feature a number of items to commemorate this milestone. Today we continue with the Centennial Reflections video series, featuring CDFA employees remembering their histories, and the agency’s.

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California supplies a quarter of the world’s sunflower seeds – from Capital Press

By Padma Nagappan

The majority of California’s sunflower crop is grown in the Sacramento Valley, mostly for seed production.

The state accounts for 95 percent of the U.S supply and 25 percent of the world’s supply of sunflower seeds.

Planted acreage tends to vary greatly year-to-year, because most of it is used as planting seed for farmers that grow it for cooking oil, so the commodity markets dictate demand. Sunflower acreage was at 45,000 acres in 2016 and went up to 54,000 acres in 2017, according to the U.S Department of Agriculture’s estimate in 2018.

Khaled Bali is a University of California Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources statewide water and irrigation specialist who has been working since 2016 on a four-year trial on sunflower varieties.

He was asked by the University of Georgia to help ascertain which varieties were drought resistant. He chose to conduct his trial in the low desert region of the Imperial Valley, since it gets little rain during the growing season between February when it’s planted, and June when it’s harvested. This would make it easier to control and measure the actual water applied to the crop varieties.

“We’re looking at 285 varieties of sunflowers, to see which ones do well under stress,” Bali said. He has tested different plantings each growing season for the past three years, and will finish the trial this year.

Although he had not worked with sunflowers before, he found it was an easy crop to grow. The season can range from 120 to 140 days, but if the crop is planted later in the season, it cuts short the growing period.

He used subsurface drip irrigation to test the crops at different water levels, ranging from 60 to 100 percent. Bali explained that drip works better than furrow irrigation, since it offers better control and precision.

At the end of Year One, they found little difference between the stressed plants and the ones that got ample water, so they switched gears for Year Two. His team tested the stress group with 10 percent of water requirements, supplementing with 50 percent additional water from ground water sources.

For this current last round of trials, they will select the varieties that did well under stress conditions and plant them again, but spread out the planting timeframe from February through March, to see the impact this has on yield.

He will have conclusive findings at the end of the growing season this year. Some varieties yielded 100 grams of seed while others gave 300 grams.

This is a relatively new crop for the low desert region in California, with about 1,700 acres planted, half for seed production and half for cut flowers. But Bali said it’s a good crop given it has low water use.

Link to story

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One week until Ag Day 2019!

Make plans to join us next Wednesday, March 20 at the State Capitol for Ag Day 2019! Our theme this year is 100 years of agriculture leadership – a centennial celebration! The grounds will be open to the public from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm.

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California agriculture ready to scale-up climate solutions – from Agri-Pulse

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

Op-ed by CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

A farm is a great teacher.  

Like so many rural kids, my education was augmented and illustrated on my family’s farm in western Nebraska. Bottle-feeding calves to ensure proper nutrition, timing wheat-planting around rainfall, rotating fields for soil health, and knowing all too well that we were at the mercy of weather and drought. These are lessons that last a lifetime, lessons that I carry with me as Secretary of the largest ag state in the country; and lessons that remind me, at a time when our farmers and ranchers are affected by climate change, that we in agriculture have the power to help restore balance to our changing climate.  

That’s why I’m heartened by the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi on this pre-eminent issue – by creating a new House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. In announcing the panel members Speaker Pelosi said, “I want everybody to be in on the act because this is deadly serious from the standpoint of health, security, economics and morality.”  She understands that time is short, and that action is needed by all of us – in urban and rural communities. 

Yes, this is an opportunity to shift the national conversation away from its focus on the “rural-urban divide” to instead recognize our strong rural-urban connection to each other and the critical role that our natural lands, forests, and working lands on farms and ranches can play in drawing down carbon. And by drawing down carbon in our soils, trees, grasses and shrubs, we also provide food, fiber and timber; and we enhance biodiversity and open space for recreation and tourism.  

The impacts of climate change are already being felt in agriculture. In California we have experienced loss of winter chill – crucial hours needed for our orchards and vineyards to maintain winter dormancy. The most recent drought of 2011-17 in California resulted in more than a half-million of acres of farmland fallowed in some years. And changes in precipitation affect grass growth for livestock. These all affect our $50-billion industry.  

Yet in California and around the county, farmers and ranchers are innovating climate-smart solutions. My friend Jimmy Emmons in Oklahoma has been trailblazing healthy soils practices on his farm by planting cover crops to revitalize soil; corn growers in the Midwest are practicing conservation and no-till; and, and here in California ranchers like the Stone Family in Yolo County have been applying compost and practicing prescribed grazing to build perennial grasses that build soil health and drought resiliency. I take great joy in talking with my brother, who farms our family land in western Nebraska, as he has adopted these kinds of practices over the last decade.

Agriculture and natural and working lands across rural America are an important part of our climate solution. California took bold action by setting a goal for carbon sequestration as part of our climate portfolio and just last month released a Natural and Working Lands Strategy to store carbon in our trees, shrubs, grasses and soils.  

Why are soils so important? They are the largest storage source for terrestrial carbon. They can store water to help mitigate drought and reduce erosion.  

California is supporting farmers in sequestering carbon as part of a comprehensive program to foster healthy soils, which are essential to sustainability. At the Global Climate Action Summit in September 2018, California launched a Global Soil Health Challenge in partnership with France, the Netherlands and Baja California. The good news is that California is not alone. Maryland, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Utah, and other states are moving forward in this arena, and we need increased public and private financing to help our rural communities and farmers scale-up as fast as possible. Practices that build healthy soils to sequester carbon also help conserve water, improve yields, protect pollinators, and generate new jobs for rural economies.  

The possibilities at-hand can act as a bridge to the urban and rural divide and issue an “all hands-on deck” invitation to all Americans to join together to restore our land, our communities, and our hope.  

Even as children, we inherently understand that healthy soil is a powerful, life-giving element in our world. Let’s take this opportunity to restore it, and to let it restore us.  

Karen Ross is Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Ross grew up on the family farm in western Nebraska where she was an active 4-H member. Her brother is now the fourth-generation to farm this ground in Western Nebraska. During her time spent in California, Ross has advocated for farmer owned cooperatives, served as president of CA Winegrape Growers of America and was chief of staff to U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack. Ross was appointed CA Ag Secretary by Governor Jerry Brown in January 2011 and re-appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom in January 2019.

Link to op-ed

Link to CDFA climate programs

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Ventura County helps keep farming alive in Southern California – from the UC Food Observer

Citrus in Ventura County.

By Teresa O’Connor

As you drive north on the U.S. Highway 101 Freeway from downtown Los Angeles, you probably don’t realize those picturesque open spaces about an hour away are some of the most productive farmland in the nation.

In fact, Ventura County is the nation’s eleventh largest county in crop value, despite its close location to the country’s second most populous city. Ventura County’s agricultural sector earned an estimated gross value of more than $2 billion dollars in 2017, according to the Ventura County Crop and Livestock Report 2017. That’s despite the fact that the United States Census Bureau reported there were more than 854 thousand Ventura County residents in 2017. How do they do it?

A Little History

It helps to understand that farming has a long heritage in Ventura County. When the Mission San Buenaventura was established in 1782, livestock and crops were introduced. Grain, cattle, fruit and vegetables were brought in to support the settlement.

However, it wasn’t until the Civil War that large-scale farming began in earnest, reports the Farm Bureau of Ventura County. By 1880, there were already 573 farms with more than 81,000 tilled acres. Just 10 years later, those numbers would jump to 764 farms with more than 137,000 acres of mostly grains like wheat and barley.

By 1914, the Ventura County Farm Bureau began operating with 300 members, thanks to several legislative acts that established the nation’s land-grant colleges, agricultural field stations and the creation of the University of California Agricultural Extension Service and Farm Advisors. At that time, the top crops were walnuts, apricots, lima beans, oranges and lemons.

Today’s Ventura County Farms

More than a century later, you’ll find those crops still growing at Ventura County farms. About $259 million worth of lemons were sold in 2017, making them the number-two crop for the county. The top spot belongs to strawberries at $654 million. Celery, nursery stock, raspberries, avocados, cut flowers, tomatoes, peppers and cabbage round out the rest of top ten crops. Ventura County boasts 20 additional million-dollar crops, ranging from kale, blueberries, Asian vegetables and oranges to cucumbers, spinach and lettuce.

The Thomas Fire in December 2017 — which was the largest fire in California’s history at the time — caused more than $170 million in agricultural damages, primarily with the avocado, citrus and cattle industries. All 7,000 acres of rangeland that RA Atmore & Sons and Rancho Ventura Conservation Trust steward were impacted by the fire.

Saving Southern California Farms

The fact that Ventura County farms continue to prosper despite natural disasters, encroaching housing developments, drought conditions and global competition is impressive.

Many local residents want the farms to stay. For example, a county-wide grassroots initiative called SOAR (Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources) led to legislation that “requires a majority vote of the people in order to rezone unincorporated open space, agricultural or rural land for development,” explains its website.

Voter-approved SOAR initiatives have been passed by the cities of Camarillo, Fillmore, Moorpark, Oxnard, Santa Paula, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks and Ventura. They were renewed in November 2016, extending their expiration date to 2050.

Read more here

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#CDFACentennial – Centennial Reflections video series with Baldo Villegas

The California Department of Food and Agriculture is celebrating its 100th anniversary as a state agency in 2019. Throughout the year this blog will feature a number of items to commemorate this milestone. Today we continue with Centennial Reflections video series, featuring CDFA employees remembering their histories, and the agency’s.

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Secretary Ross meets California FFA leaders

Secretary Ross today at CDFA headquarters with Caifornia FFA leaders.
FFA is a high school youth leadership and career development organization that
serves over 80,000 student members in over 320 high schools, from urban schools in Los Angeles and the Bay Area to rural schools all across the state. The California FFA Association is dedicated to making a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through Agricultural Education.  “This was a fun visit with the State FFA officer leadership team,” said Secretary Ross. “I want to thank them for coming to see me – they are the best!”  

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Sea Urchin Commission to move forward

Following a referendum among producers, or divers, CDFA is announcing a continuation of the Sea Urchin Commission for the next five years.

The Commission is a California marketing program overseen by CDFA and authorized to conduct promotion and public relations, scientific research, governmental affairs, and educational activities relating to California’s sea urchin industry. These activities are funded by mandatory assessments levied upon all commercial sea urchin divers and handlers in the state.

Sea urchins are harvested in California by divers working relatively close to the coastline, generally in an area between Santa Barbara and San Diego, with some diving occurring near Fort Bragg in Northern California. Divers spend as long as eight-hours at a time underwater in search of sea urchins. Many of them have diversified into other fisheries that are similar, such as the sea cucumber and the spiny lobster.

Divers and handlers will revisit the question of whether or not to continue the Sea Urchin Commission in 2024.

CDFA oversees a total of 51 marketing programs that provide agricultural producers and handlers with an organizational structure, operating under government sanction, that allows them to solve production and marketing problems collectively that they could not address individually. 

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Secretary Ross joins Ag Council for 100th anniversary recognition, receives honor

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross (R) with Emily Rooney and Carl Hoff of the California Agricultural Council at an event this week celebrating the organization’s 100th anniversary. Secretary Ross received the Ag Council’s California Cultivator Award. CDFA is also recognizing its centennial this year, and the theme “100 years of agriculture leadership” will be the focus of this year’s Ag Day celebration, scheduled for March 20 at the State Capitol.
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Secretary Ross named California Agriculturalist of the Year

CDFA Secretary Karen Ross

News Release from the California State Fair

In celebrating the tradition and innovation of the State’s number one industry, agriculture, the California State Fair Board of Directors, upon the recommendation of the Agricultural Advisory Council, selects Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) as Agriculturalist of the Year.

The Agriculturalist of the Year award is presented to an individual who has contributed extensively, in a professional capacity, to California’s agricultural industry. Award criteria stipulates this individual must have demonstrated leadership and clearly represented the industry over a number of years in one or more of the following areas: finance, government, production agriculture, education, labor, research, communications, trade and public service. Through her passion and advocacy for farmers and ranchers, Secretary Ross is held in high regards by industry leaders and her peers

Secretary Ross: “There is a wealth of education and real-world experience to be learned on a farm, like the one where I grew up. Every day is a reminder of that when I meet with farmers and ranchers, speak to a group of FFA and 4-H students, or attend a fair.  I count myself fortunate to have lived this experience, as so many past recipients of this award have done – and that list is humbling.  One of the greatest blessings in my life is to serve the people of California and its great innovators:  our farmers and ranchers – the stewards of our land.  It is a true labor of love and I am honored and grateful to the California State Fair Board for this recognition.”

Initially appointed as Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture in 2011 by former Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Ross was re-appointed on January 9, 2019 by Governor Gavin Newsom. Governor Newsom cited her unmatched leadership experience in agricultural issues nationally, internationally, and here in California; including environmental stewardship, climate change adaptation, and trade. 

During Secretary Ross’ tenure, the Department has focused on core functions to protect and promote California agriculture, investing in the Department’s employees to provide the best service to farmers, ranchers and consumers and fostering an agricultural industry that embraces its role as a global leader on everything from the most technical aspects of farming to the broadest environmental imperatives.

Secretary Ross has strengthened partnerships across government, academia and the non-profit sector in the drive to maintain and improve environmental stewardship and to develop adaptation strategies for the specific impacts of climate change. She has initiated programs to provide greater opportunities for farmers and ranchers to engage in sustainable environmental stewardship practices through water conservation, energy efficiency, nutrient management, and ecosystem services; and she has worked to provide greater access to farm-fresh foods at school cafeterias through CDFA’s Farm to Fork Program. Secretary Ross is passionate about fostering the reconnection of consumers to the land and the people who produce their food, and improving the access of all California citizens to healthy, nutritious California-grown agricultural products, celebrated for their diversity and abundance in serving local, national and global markets.

Secretary Ross grew up as a 4-H kid on a farm in western Nebraska. She and her husband, Barry, own 800 acres of the family farm where her younger brother, a fourth-generation farmer, grows no-till wheat and feed grains, incorporating cover crops and rotational grazing for beef production. The Secretary has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is a graduate of the Nebraska Ag Leadership Program. She has served on numerous boards and committees in California agriculture and with various academic institutions.

Secretary Ross will be publically recognized at the California Agriculture Day on the west steps of the State Capitol on Wednesday, March 20, 2019. She will formally be honored at the California State Fair Gala benefitting the youth scholarship programs of the Friends of the California State Fair on Thursday, June 27, 2019.

Link to State Fair web site

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