CIRS Blog about Rural California

California's minimum wage rose from $9 to $10 an hour January 1, 2016.

AB 20, which would have required the state to initiate discussions with the federal government to seek a waiver that would allow the state's Employment Development Department to issue work permits to unauthorized farm workers if there are not enough U.S. workers to fill available jobs, stalled in the Legislature in 2015 and was not approved. Under AB 20, the immediate family members of workers with permits could have received permits to reside legally in California.

Kansas, Utah and Colorado tried to create similar state-facilitated guest worker programs, but the federal government did not grant required waivers, so these states wound up with state-run programs to help farm employers to apply for guest workers under the H-2A program.

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California endured its fourth year of drought in 2015, but farm sales appear headed for another record. Water was shifted from low-value crops such as alfalfa to higher-value nuts, and prices for many farm commodities were strong.

California agriculture "normally" uses about 33 million acre feet of water. In 2015, agriculture used 30 million acre feet. Two-thirds of the nine million fewer acre feet of surface water available in 2015 was replaced with groundwater pumped from underground aquifers. Groundwater is normally 40 percent of the water used by agriculture, and 60 percent in dry years.

The water in underground aquifers accumulated over centuries, and cannot be replaced quickly. California in 2014 became the last western state to regulate groundwater pumping, enacting laws that created local groundwater sustainability agencies to register private wells, monitor the water-measuring devices that must be attached to pumps, and regulate groundwater pumping. The agencies are financed by fees charged to farmers and other water users.

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Washington -- The now-distant December of 1988 was a big month for California water lawsuits that would last a generation and eventually land in Congress’ lap, where their ripples linger to this day.

Each of the two major lawsuits, introduced within weeks of each other 27 years ago, offers enduring lessons – in law, in politics and in the long, long time it takes to get things done in Washington.

“Nothing is easy around here,” Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said Jan. 13. “Not even a motherhood resolution is easy.”

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Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation Center

Soil health management is key to solving the climate change problems attributable to farming systems. One way to improve soil health is through adopting sustainable conservation systems that include conservation tillage (CT), cover cropping and other practices. CT describes a variety of cropping methods that involve leaving the previous year’s crop residue on top of the soil and planting the next crop right into it. To increase organic matter both above and below the soil surface, cover crops of a single or multiple plant species can also be grown between major crop rotations. Since crop residues are left on the soil surface and not tilled under, CT reduces the number of tractor passes needed, thereby cutting labor and fuel costs. Minimizing mechanical disturbance to the soil reduces erosion and runoff, increases water infiltration rate and retention, and increases carbon sequestration—all important strategies in climate change mitigation. Precision irrigation is another conservation practice that seeks to increase the efficiency of irrigation systems, by reducing pumping time and energy use.

Starting in 1998, Dr. Jeff Mitchell of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) and a group of farmers, researchers, and agriculture professionals have been collaborating in California’s San Joaquin Valley to optimize the techniques and benefits of CT. Together, they formed the Conservation Agriculture Systems Innovation (CASI) Center with the goal of increasing the adoption of conservation farming systems to over 50 percent of California’s cropping acreage by 2028. CASI conducts research, demonstrations, and outreach to growers, agencies, and environmental and consumer groups.

CASI’s mission is twofold: improve the livelihoods of California farmers while conserving and improving natural resources. Working directly with growers and public agency representatives allows CASI researchers to develop projects that reflect an understanding of whole-farm systems and the importance of combining conservation practices to optimize climate benefits.

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This International Year of Soil resulted in some serious action that has brought the soils beneath our feet into the limelight.

 

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Kingsburg cherry farmer Allen Jackson laments last season’s paltry harvest. Dry and warmer than normal temperatures contributed to fewer cherries and less revenue. 

 

“There were some areas where there wasn’t enough fruit on the tree to even try picking it,” said Jackson, who grows 11 varieties of cherries. “But things are looking much better now.”

 

Jackson and other tree fruit farmers are welcoming the return of cooler daytime temperatures and foggy weather – staples of San Joaquin Valley winters and two factors needed for good fruit development.

 

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Farmers are no strangers to struggle or drought. But this four-year drought is different than others, they say. It’s more widespread, touching nearly everyone who turns on the tap or starts an irrigation pump.

This past summer, wells dried up and farmland sat idle. The drought also came to mean that life on the farm has likely changed forever.

“In the early years when we went through a drought, we tended to say that this too shall pass,” said Richard Waycott, president of the Almond Board of California in Modesto. “But there is a different consciousness now. People are looking at the future very differently.”

Farmers talk of a new reality – one in which droughts are more of the rule than the exception, and water availability, both above and below ground, becomes less certain.

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At California Institute for Rural Studies we believe:

•Farmers and farmworkers should be able to support their families in a healthy environment and with dignity.

•There is power in independent scientific research.

•Farming is essential to civilization.

•All members of our communities have valuable knowledge.

•Collaboration for the common good is essential.

For 38 years we have acted on these values by conducting sound independent research. Below you will see what we did in 2015 and what we plan to do in 2016. 

We hope it motivates you to support our work today  Your donations keep us independent!

“The California Institute for Rural is our go-to institution for rigorous research, trenchant analysis and timely information on the situation of farmworkers in California. Their empirical work is deeply rooted in the realities of California agriculture and the human rights of the men and women who do the heavy lifting of picking our crops and processing our food.”

Eric Holt-Giménez, Executive Director, Food First

We did a lot in 2015

We've been concerned about farmworker housing for decades and in 2015, we commissioned Dr. Don Villarejo, to write a summary on the current status of farmworker housing and health.  Our work on housing in the Eastern Coachella Valley is generating results with the completion of community-wide surveys in Coachella, Mecca and Thermal.  We are currently working in North Shore, on the troubled Salton Sea.

We helped other advocates understand the importance of scientific sampling methods with a presentation on our methods to housing advocates in Washington, DC.


"CIRS successfully brings the much-needed voice of disenfranchised men and women working in the food industry to the attention to those who would otherwise not hear about these stories. I appreciate Gail and Sarah's attention to including the various diverse missing narratives that make up the rural food movement.   As a new filmmaker working with African American farmers, CIRS invited me to participate in screening the film trailer of my upcoming documentary.  Since that initial screening two years ago at a CIRS program, the organization has continued to support my work and the work of farmers of color. Thank you and keep up this important work!”  

Dr. Gail Meyers, Co-Founder, Farms to Grow


We took a look at the Agricultural Labor Relations Act on its 40th anniversary.  What we found is that farm workers are actually making less money now than they did in 1974. The legacy of the ALRA is unfortunately, farm workers living in poverty. 


We are proud to have CIRS as a member of the Food Chain Workers Alliance. CIRS' research in partnership with farmworkers organizations is a model for everyone everywhere - they conduct research with, not just about, farmworkers. That is so important in lifting up the challenges facing farmworkers and the solutions that they want.

Joann Lo, Co-Director, Food Chain Workers Alliance


Our new project, Cal Ag Roots, spearheaded by Ildi Carlisle- Cummins, is unearthing stories of California agricultural history to help food movement leaders craft informed change strategies. The project launched this fall, producing a series of three stories that focused on three pivotal moments in California farming: the end of the Bracero Program, the battle to enforce acreage limitations in the Central Valley, and the invention of the mechanical tomato harvester. 


“Historically, the California Institute for Rural Studies took on research questions that were too politically controversial for traditional universities in the state to even consider.  Today, CIRS continues this work through programs like the Cal Ag Roots project and as a location for critical studies of food and agriculture in California.”   

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Daniel O’Connell, PhD, Co-Director of Food Commons Fresno


 Our sold-out Docks to Delta event on the Capitol Corridor Amtrak train featured live podcasts of all three stories, performed for 90 riders.  Two of our stories have made an impact in traditional media as well--  the National Land for People story was recently featured in the Fresno Bee,  and both Civil Eats and Davis Enterprise published the tomato harvester story.


"For young farmers and food advocates looking ahead to the future, understanding the past and the broader context in which they work is  crucial. The California Institute for Rural Studies brings that, with a cultural, historical and social perspective desperately needed for a more holistic conversation about how we in California feed ourselves." 

Evan Wiig, Executive Director, The Farmers Guild


     2015 was the International Year of Soil!  We responded by posting a series of articles on the Rural California Report on soils: why they’re important, how to care for them and what we lose when we lose them. These posts will be compiled into a folio for easy access.

Man with Hoe

In Merced County, we worked with a group of growers to help them focus on their needs.  We found out that there are currently mechanisms available to them for cooperative marketing but that there are still many needs to help promote their products. 

Keeping in line with our past work on farmworker food security, we completed a study of Yolo County. 

Look for the results soon!

“CIRS has been a valuable and unique resource in addressing the health of farmworkers since I arrived at Davis over 30 years ago. Much of my work would not have been possible without the knowledge, contacts and experience of CIRS. It provides not only valuable experience, but it bridges the divide between academia and the communities affected. Thank you CIRS, and keep up the good work.”

Marc Schenker, MD, MPH

Distinguished Professor and Director

Center for Occupational and Environmental Health

Migration and Health Research Center

University of California at Davis School of Medicine, Department of Public Health Sciences

Our continued participation in the California Heat Illness Prevention Study (CHIPS) with UC Davis will help inform future workplace practices to better prevent heat stress, and protect farmworker health. We have completed focus groups with over 100 farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley since beginning the study in 2012. Through our continued research, we have gained a more complex understanding of how current regulatory policy and workplace practices inhibit or advance farmworker health.  Our preliminary findings will be presented in the forthcoming winter edition of the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development.


"One time I got sick from overheating. I felt like I was suffocating, not really dizzy, but desperate to get out of the fields. It was in the blueberry fields. I went to find shade, drank water, and put water on my face, and I felt better after that. I put cold water on a paper towel, put it under my hat, and went back into the field. I didn't ask for any help, because I wanted to work and make money."   

Farmworker woman in Stockton, from “The Story of Fruit”


Our plan for 2016

We’re in the process of looking at promising practices in farmworker housing.  We will complete a review of these in 2016 and post a paper.  We think it’s important to look toward improvements using examples of successes.

Our review of data on farm worker wages and the ALRA has spurred us to envision a farm worker wage initiative. Linking to the work of our colleagues at the Food Chain Workers Alliance and the Fight for 15, we will be working on increasing wages to $15 an hour for farm laborers in one region of the state.  If we are successful, we will replicate our work in other agricultural regions.

“CIRS is an invaluable grass-roots organization dedicated to supporting sustainable agriculture that benefits all, from farm workers to consumers.” 

Philip Martin, UC-Davis Professor Emeritus

Agricultural and Resource Economics

Editor Migration News and Rural Migration News

Chair UC Comparative Immigration & Integration Program

In 2016, all current Cal Ag Roots stories will be available as podcasts for download through the Cal Ag Roots Story Hub, which also features short articles on the stories. We will be performing our first three-part story series in Davis, Merced, Sonoma and Santa Cruz and will be working on a second set of Cal Ag Roots stories. Look out for these dates in upcoming e-newsletters.

In Merced County, as our next step, we will be working with growers to develop educational tools for outreach to their local community members. We think Merced residents should know about these remarkable growers.

And finally, in 2016 we hope to launch our Women in Agriculture project. Through several events (including the “Celebrating Women in Agriculture” event at Full Belly Farm, pictured right) we heard from women growers that they would like a forum for discussing challenges they face that are unique  to them.  We plan to hold a series of regional roundtables in rural California that bring together women employers and women farmworkers.  We think these groups of women will be powerful in addressing barriers to success and in developing solutions  together.

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 But we

 need your support


"There is so much interest in food these days and much talk about sustainability in agriculture, but mostly from an environmental vantage. Sustainable agriculture is not possible without a sustainable pool of labor - one that is treated well and paid fairly. Too few of our policy makers seem to understand this but, thankfully, CIRS is working assiduously to change this. 

Social justice and food security go hand in hand. Thanks to CIRS, more and more influencers are realizing this. CIRS plays an absolutely critical role in linking the massive food supply chain to those on whose backs this system rests. If you eat, you should support CIRS."

Sanjay Rawal, Director of “Food Chains” documentary film


This all costs money and while we are able to secure funding for our large projects, some of our work goes unfunded.  We especially need funds to complete our Promising Practices in Farm Labor Housing work, our collaboration with Merced growers and our Women in Agriculture initiative.

How to give

Since we don’t have members, we need people like you, all across the state to work with us.  We’re looking for supporters who have an interest in seeing social justice for rural residents.  Each of you is an important partner for our work. We need your donations to help us expand our work and conduct research that is responsive to the needs of rural communities and rural workers.

To ensure all that we do and all that we hope to do, please donate  to CIRS.  Help us empower rural residents, educate all sectors of the state about rural California, and improve policies related to rural regions.

Together we can affect real change.

 

Thank You and Happy Holidays

From All of Us,

Gail, Michael, Ildi, Sarah & Jaime

at California Institute for Rural Studies

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Council Votes to Expand Funding, New Program Guidelines 

This week, the state of California greatly expanded funding for the country’s first climate change and farmland conservation program. The Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALCP) funds conservation easements on agricultural lands to permanently protect them and reduce sprawl development. The program also funds efforts by local governments to improve their land use planning and policy development to support long-term conservation of agricultural lands in their region.

photo credit: CAFF

photo credit: CAFF

The Strategic Growth Council (Council), made up of members of Governor Jerry Brown’s cabinet and appointed public members, voted to increase SALCP funding to $40 million, up from $5 million last year. The SALCP funding of $40 million represents nearly half of what the state has invested in farmland conservation in the past 18 years through its California Farmland Conservancy Program.

This significant new funding for farmland conservation in the state should help address the on-going significant loss of agricultural land in California, which averages 50,000 acres annually.

SALCP brings together farmland conservation with climate change by focusing on reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with the conversion of agricultural lands to urban, suburban and rural ranchette development. The program was created following research at UC Davis by Louise Jackson, Stephen Wheeler and others that found that an acre of urban land in Yolo County emitted 70 times more greenhouse gas emissions compared to an acre of irrigated cropland. The climate benefits of farmland, including its ability to capture and store atmospheric carbon, are lost when the land is converted to urban or other non-agricultural uses.

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WASHINGTON -- Angry California Republicans threw in the towel late Thursday, conceding that a California water bill that had divided the state was dead for the year.

 

In a remarkably acrimonious ending to negotiations that once seemed close to bearing fruit, GOP House members acknowledged the bill’s failure while putting the blame squarely on California’s two Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

“It’s dead, unfortunately,” Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, said in an interview Thursday afternoon, adding in a later statement that “our good faith negotiations came to naught.”

The utter collapse of negotiations means a California water package that in its latest manifestation spanned 92 pages will not be slipped into a much larger, much-pass omnibus federal spending package needed to keep the federal government open. If legislative efforts are revived, they will come in the new year.

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“That land is so rich you could eat it with a spoon!” exclaimed Tom Willey, a pioneering organic farmer in Madera, referring to the swath of land on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley that makes up the Westlands Water District. Willey would know. He has farmed for a stint in Westlands and has farmed in the Valley for decades. 

He went on: “They used to say that any idiot could be a good farmer out there because the soil was just so fertile. It was true, absolutely true. And there’s no question that, under a different set of circumstances, 160-acre farms could have been successful out there.” 

That figure, 160 acres, is significant. Until 1982, there was a law on the books – the 1902 Reclamation Act – that limited the size of farms allowed to use government-subsidized irrigation water across the western U.S. to just 160 acres. That’s much, much smaller than the kind of massive-scale agricultural development that characterizes California farming in general and the Valley in particular.

What may sound to modern readers like a quaint rule was actually meant to be an important safeguard against consolidation of land, power and wealth in the developing West.

Most people understand that California agriculture is big, but unless you have spent time in the Valley it’s hard to imagine how vast the industry really is. Farms stretch for uninterrupted miles, sprawling across tens of thousands of acres.

The Westlands Water District spans 600,000 acres (the size of Rhode Island) with fewer than 600 landowners. And farmland values are sky-high in California – the USDA’s 2015 Land Values Summary lists California’s average cropland price at $10,690 per acre. 

This makes it nearly impossible for aspiring farmers, whether they’re young folks or former farmworkers, to become farm owners. Had the 160-acre rule been enforced, the situation would be much different; California agriculture, at least in places using subsidized irrigation water, would have been dominated by family-scale farms. 

So what happened?

In the late 1970s, a group of Fresno-based activists trained a laser focus on this rule and on enforcement of Reclamation Law to promote small farm development, stirring up a surprising – if forgotten – amount of dust.

National Land for People was founded in 1964 by a journalist, photographer and energetic, populist visionary from Wisconsin named George Ballis. NLP’s goal was straightforward: They wanted small farmers and farmworkers to own the 160-acre parcels that the Reclamation Act promised. They drew their motto – La tierra pertenece al que la trabaja/Land belongs to those who work it – from Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.

Ballis teamed with a group of people who were committed to bringing attention to the fact that water law was not being enforced in California – and that a small collection of large landowners were getting rich off of government water subsidy.

There was Berge Bulbulian, Armenian raisin-grape grower and self-described “farmer front-man” with a sharp wit and socialist politics; Marc Lasher, a social worker from New York who wanted to work for justice in the “belly of the monster”; Mary Louise Frampton, a young civil rights lawyer with a novel (and successful) approach to suing for enforcement of the law; Eddie Nolan, organizer of African American farmers in the Valley, and Jessie De La Cruz, one of the first female organizers for the United Farm Workers who would go on to put together an important farming cooperative in the Valley. And there was Maia Ballis, George’s “collaborator in life,” joyful co-conspirator and talented graphic artist.

NLP ReunionSMALLER

A July 2015 reunion of NLP members. L to R: Mark Lasher, Berge Bulbulian, Maia Ballas, Mary Louise Frampton. Photo Ildi Carlisle-Cummins

Fired up about what they saw as a wave of “water crimes” being committed in the Valley, the small, volunteer NLP team pieced together detailed records of “questionable land deals” in the Westlands Water District. 

From a house-turned-organizing-office in Fresno, the group created maps, graphics and a fiery newsletter sharing their findings with thousands of supporters. George Ballis pulled no punches. In the newsletter, he called corporate farming businesses “the biggies.” He further propagandized NLP’s work with a graphic of an oversized dollar bill that read “Westlands Water District” on the top and “2 Billion Dollar Boondoggle” on the bottom, with the line “Paid for by U.S. Taxpayers” running up the side.

Despite their straight-no-chaser rhetoric, NLP made friends in high places, earning the respect of congressmen like George Miller and officials in the Department of the Interior, who oversaw Reclamation Act projects.

In addition to speaking truth to power in the Valley, the group also made many trips to Washington, D.C. NLP members squeezed into a tiny van to drive across the country to testify at congressional hearings, staying at the YMCA on their no-salary budget. Despite Bulbulian’s urging that NLP buy Ballis a three-piece suit to wear for these occasions, he insisted on sporting a long beard and “hippie” clothes to the hearing. Ballis didn’t soften his argument when he was before Congress, either, exclaiming things like, “This isn’t a hearing, it’s a pep rally!” 

However, building key political allies was not enough to force the government to stop the existing illegal actions in the Westlands. Scraping together a little money, the NLP hired Mary Louise Frampton in 1974 to sue the Department of Interior for not enforcing the Reclamation Act. Fresh out of law school and 24 years old, Frampton devised a unique strategy for the suit. Against all odds she won a court order halting land deals across the West. The NLP won appeal after appeal – all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1979. 

The Valley buzzed with controversy. NLP members were labeled “communists.” Even as Valley newspapers wrote of “the biggies” preparing for battle, Maia Ballis reported that, “It looked like we had won!”

When the Department of the Interior held hearings on the proposed rules and regulations that they would then use to enforce the law, members of the NLP received death threats. Frampton remembers an FBI agent standing guard outside her motel room in El Centro as protection while she prepared to testify.

Growers went to outrageous lengths to silence the NLP. According to Frampton, they flew helicopters over the outdoor hearings to drown out testimony and pulled in huge farm equipment to kick up clouds of dust over the grandstands.

And then, in 1980, former California Gov. Ronald Reagan strode into the White House, bringing with him a whole new administration – and Department of the Interior leadership. Some activists speculate that promises to overhaul the Reclamation Act helped him get elected. 

Whether or not it was a campaign promise, Reagan’s administration worked with Congress to pass the Reclamation Reform Act. Defenders of the new law claimed Reagan’s changes “modernized” the act, updating it to reflect the costs of farming in the 1980s. From the NLP point of view, the law was gutted, with the acreage limitation raised to 960 and the residency requirement eliminated.

Bulbulian read this as a classic capitalist maneuver. “You gamble on breaking the law to make as much profit as possible and then when the law is being enforced you use the profits you made to sway political interests to change the law so your crimes are legal.”

In 1982, NLP admitted defeat on the water issue. Ballis wrote in an NLP newsletter, “We lost not just because of biggie bucks. We lost because what we advocated is against the warp of our time.”

But, he insisted, their work was not over: “The struggle to create a democratic, responsible and sustainable food system goes on. … Now we turn our full attention to creating new cultural, social, economic realities on a small scale.”

In what could be seen as a tactical shift, or possibly as retreat, the Ballises and Lasher uprooted NLP from the Valley, planting it again on 40 acres they called Sun Mountain, east of Fresno at the base of the Sierra Nevada. Here National Land for People morphed into the People Food and Land Foundation, and George poured his boundless energy into building a passive solar house, creating perennial gardens and demonstrating what sustainable living could look like – outside of the reach of “the biggies.”

NLP didn’t win its battle. California farming continued to consolidate, and corporate land holdings ballooned. It’s easy to superimpose 2015 cynicism onto this National Land for People story and wonder whether their Reclamation Act enforcement fervor was foolish.

What is striking about Bulbulian, Maia and George Ballis, Lasher, Frampton and all the other NLP crusaders is the tremendous optimism and idealism that they brought to their work. NLP’s heyday was 30 years ago, not 100, and yet they held an entirely different vision for the Valley – one that would have broken down massive landholdings held by white landowners and transferred them to small farmers and farmworkers of color. They looked at the stark, mostly unpopulated land of Westlands and imagined a string of thriving communities and a base for democracy in the Valley. Their optimism, it seems, was the ultimate political act.

Today, with water on everyone’s mind, Californians have a rare opportunity to rethink how we want to use this precious, and highly subsidized, resource. Is it to deliver profit into the hands of a few? Or is there another possibility? 

Tom Willey wistfully reflected, “I once wished to hell I’da had 160 acres out there, really.” For many activists in the California food movement, it’s hard not to agree.

Ildi Carlisle-Cummins is the Director of Cal Ag Roots, a project of California Institute for Rural Studies. This article was originally published on the Fresno Bee website on Nov. 30 as an op-ed.

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Don Villarejo, a leading farm labor researcher, highlighted 40 years of continuity and change in California agriculture and farm labor. The continuities include low incomes and poverty for many seasonal workers, while the changes include fewer and larger growers, more intermediaries who bring workers to farms, and fewer union contracts.

There have been important regulatory changes aimed at protecting farm workers, from the federal MSPA (1974) to the state ALRA (1975), but they have not prevented declining earnings. In 1974, California farm employers reported an average $2.60 per hour, which BLS says is $12.49 in 2014 (http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl), when reported earnings were $11.33. California farm worker earnings were 52 percent of manufacturing worker earnings in both 1974 and 2014 despite a raft of federal and state laws that aimed to protect and empower farm workers.

The shift to hiring workers via farm labor contractors (FLCs) and other intermediaries is also associated with fewer benefits, from housing to health insurance. There were 9,300 farm labor contractors registered with DOL in May 2015, including 4,100 or 43 percent in California.

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It’s been a quarter century since government regulations limiting emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides from coal-fired power plants began to neutralize the problem of acid rain, but lakes in the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada have been sluggish to recover.

Scientists have linked the delayed comeback to a lack of acid-buffering calcium in surrounding soils, which continued to acidify despite cuts in pollutants. Now, however, a study shows for the first time that soil acidification has begun to reverse across a broad swath from western Ontario to Maine (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2015, DOI:10.1021/acs.est.5b02904). Researchers hope improvements to forest health and lake water quality will follow.

To read the remainder of the article that originally appeared on the Chemical & Engineering News website Nov. 6. visit: http://cen.acs.org/articles/93/web/2015/11/Soils-Damaged-Acid-Rain-Begin.html

 

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Every year, on the fourth Thursday of November, many of us celebrate a traditional Thanksgiving. We load our tables with foods that were said to have been eaten by the Pilgrims and the Native Americans back at the birth of our country. In reality, our Thanksgiving became a national holiday in 1863 under Abraham Lincoln.

 

There is a lot to be said for traditions but not all of it is good.

 

The European tradition in the United States is one of colonialism, as it is in many parts of the world. Colonial influences and outcomes include extraction of natural resources, genocide, and the subsuming of indigenous cultures. Many Native American cultures do not celebrate Thanksgiving as a holiday based on the coming together of colonists and native residents. In fact, many feel a sense of loss on this day and spend the day in remembrance of the past lost generations.

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WASHINGTON -- Winemakers from northwestern Idaho to the foothills of California’s Fresno County produce distinct vintages but share a common dream of seeing benefits flow from federal recognition.

 

In what’s become a rite of passage, the different groups of winemakers have sought designation of their respective regions as viticultural areas. It can be a years-long ordeal that proponents hope will result in marketing fizz.

 

“This area has a lot of viticultural history,” Karl Umiker, co-owner of the Lewiston, Idaho-based Clearwater Canyon Cellars, said in an interview Nov. 12, “and this will be a way we can draw people’s attention to it.”

 

If approved, the proposed 306,650-acre Lewis-Clark Valley Viticultural Area at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers would be Idaho’s second federally recognized winemaking region. An existing Snake River Valley area, straddling southwestern Idaho and parts of Oregon, was established in 2007.

 

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The 2015 legislative year in California started off with a bang, climate policy-wise.

Speaking before the assembled members of the Legislature at his January inaugural address, Governor Jerry Brown outlined several bold objectives for the year 2030, including goals to produce 50 percent of our electricity from renewable sources, reduce petroleum use by 50 percent, and double the energy efficiency of existing buildings.

Perhaps most radical was the Governor’s declaration that “we must manage farm and rangelands, forests and wetlands so they can store carbon.” By this he meant agricultural practices—including many in the organic toolkit—that can draw down and hold atmospheric carbon in soils, perennial crops and conservation plantings.

Furthermore, in his budget proposal, Governor Brown included a new program called the Healthy Soils Initiative that “ensures that our agricultural soils have adequate soil organic matter (SOM). Increasing the amount of SOM from its current levels in soils can provide multiple benefits.” Existing and transitioning organic producers should be among those to benefit from this initiative since soil organic matter is a cornerstone of good organic practices.

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Rose Marie Burroughs, along with her husband Ward and three of their children, organically farm in Merced County. Their products are branded under Burroughs Family Farms, and include the ABC’s of organics: almonds, beef, chickens, dairy, eggs…and olive oil, as well as artisan gouda cheese. Rosie and Ward serve as members of CalCAN’s Farmer Advisory Council.

Rosie attended a recent hearing on Central Valley climate adaptation held at UC Merced. We produced this summary of the proceedings.

How will drought, higher temperatures and extreme weather associated with climate change have an impact on our region in the coming decades? And how can we adapt to these challenges?

State Senator Bob Wieckowski (Fremont) and the Senate Environmental Quality Committee brought these questions to a legislative hearing at UC Merced on September 22nd. Farm Bureau member Rosie Burroughs attended and provided public testimony to the Committee, suggesting some ways to help growers adapt to climate change impacts.

We heard from panelists and scientists representing several state agencies and regional authorities. Significant shifts to the water cycle due to changing climate trends could have a sizable impact unless we rethink how we store and manage water, they said. More extreme heat days could have health impacts on outdoor workers and low-income communities. Central Valley agriculture may bear the brunt of the changes unless we have the tools we need to adapt.

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Commodities

Almonds are irrigated with 3.5 acre feet or 42 inches of water, and the typical 124 almond trees per acre yield an average 2,270 pounds of nuts. One cubic foot of water is 7.5 gallons, and one acre is 43,560 square feet, so 502 gallons of water are used to produce a pound of almonds: (7.48 x 3.5 x 43,560 )/2,270 = 502. With about 380 almonds per pound, each almond requires about 1.3 gallons of water.

California's acreage of long-staple Pima cotton declined as more farmers switched to almonds. California had over 300,000 acres of Pima cotton in 2011, and fewer than 100,000 acres in 2015. Despite cotton yields of over 1,200 pounds per acre, nuts and processing tomatoes require less water per dollar of revenue.

Over 70 percent of California grapes and almonds are irrigated with drip or a similar low-water technology. However, less than 10 percent of the alfalfa and corn used to feed dairy cows uses water-saving technologies; flood irrigation is typical.

A Fresno State study (www.fresnostate.edu/academics/drought/) focused on the effects of the drought in the eight-county San Joaquin Valley, emphasizing that areas most dependent on surface water suffered most. The report called for water budgeting, that is, recognizing the true value of water and pricing it accordingly.

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Drought 

 

The drought was the major farming story during summer 2015.

 

An estimated 542,000 acres were fallowed in 2015, up from 490,00 acres in 2014, as farmers used about 10 percent less water than in non-drought years. In 2010, agriculture consumed 33 million acre feet of irrigation water, while urban uses, including landscaping, consumed 8.3 million acre feet. One acre foot is 326,000 gallons.

 

In 2015, agriculture was expected to use about 30 million acre feet of water. The rain deficit between 2012 and 2015 is equivalent to one year's rain, which averages 20 inches across the state.

 

Senior holders of water rights were required to report how much water they were withdrawing from rivers and streams, and faced fines for taking excess water set at $1,000 a day and $2,500 an acre foot.

 

Forecasters are predicting record rainfall in California in 2015, as conditions for a wet El Nino rainy season in 2015-16 are apparent in the Pacific Ocean. Most of California's rain is from atmospheric rivers that bring water from the Pacific Ocean inland.

 

In recent years, fewer winter air currents reduced these so-called Pineapple Expresses, which are like hurricanes without wind. The last major El Nino was in 1997-98. 

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By Lily Dayton

Some days, Celia Díaz doesn’t want to get out of bed. But, since she’s the major wage earner in her household, she doesn’t have much choice. Six days a week, she drags herself to the Santa Cruz restaurant where she works 10- and 12-hour days as head prep cook. She rarely gets a break and often goes the entire shift without sitting down. She’s developed arthritis in her fingers.

“There are times I want to quit,” she says in Spanish, speaking while she eats tortillas and frijoles for breakfast in the dim light of her tiny kitchen. “But I can’t because many jobs pay less for more work.”

Díaz, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, has to work more than 60 hours a week in order to make ends meet on her $11.50-an-hour wages. Still, her paycheck—which never includes overtime pay (she’s paid in cash for anything above 40 hours)—doesn’t come close to covering the cost of living in this coastal California town. So she, her husband and their two small children share a cramped two-bedroom apartment with four other adults. Their living room is dominated by a metal-framed bunk bed. The other adults in the house earn less money per hour than Díaz.

They are all members of Santa Cruz county’s “working poor”—the population of low-wage earners that was the focus of a recent UC Santa Cruz study, “Working for Dignity,” led by sociology professor Steve McKay. Based on interviews with more than 1,300 people, the study looked at working conditions of the county’s lowest-paid workers, at the same time putting human faces on the unseen labor force that supports the base of the Central Coast’s economy. The final report was released in August.

“This was a ‘census of the invisible,’” says McKay, who directs the UC Santa Cruz Center for Labor Studies. “Our goal was to look at the numbers, but also tell the stories of low-wage workers in Santa Cruz County.”

The report’s release is timely. While the nation debates raising the federal minimum wage in response to the “Fight for 15” movement that has mobilized low-wage workers in cities throughout the U.S., the Santa Cruz City Council recently commissioned a study looking at the impacts of a local minimum wage increase. Other California cities have already began raising their local minimum wage incrementally, with San Francisco planning to reach $15 an hour by 2018 and Los Angeles planning to do the same by 2020.

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