CIRS Blog about Rural California
By Brian Shobe
California’s much anticipated Healthy Soils Program officially launched Tuesday with the release of the first Request for Grant Applications (RGA) by the California Department of Agriculture (CDFA). The deadline for applications is 5pm on September 19th.
The first of its kind in the country, the program will provide grants to farmers and ranchers for implementing on-farm practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and/or store carbon in soil, trees and shrubs. Types of practices that will be eligible include the addition of mulch and compost, cover cropping, reduced tillage, and the planting of herbaceous and woody plants such as windbreaks, hedgerows, riparian plantings, filter strips, silvopasture and more.
Three types of grants will be available:
- Direct farmer grants: Incentives of up to $50,000 per farm or ranch for the implementation of one or more new soil and conservation management practices.
- Outreach and Education/Demonstration grants: Demonstration projects funded with grants of up to $100,000 for soil improvement practices that reduce GHGs and increase soil health, and also have an outreach and demonstration component to showcase the healthy soils practices and promote their widespread adoption throughout the state. These will likely involve partnerships between producers and non-profits, Resource Conservation Districts and/or academic or extension departments.
- Research/Demonstration grants: Demonstration projects funded with grants of up to $250,000. These are similar to the prior category of demonstration project, but in addition to outreach and education on healthy soils practices, these projects must include measurement and data collection on GHG emissions and carbon sequestration.
For more information on the program and links to resources to assist growers in applying, visit the California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN) website. This is a condensed version of an article published on August 9, 2017.
Noé Montes has photographed and interviewed people in the Eastern Coachella Valley for two and a half years as part of a photo documentary project (which can be found at https://coachellafarmworkers.com). Recently, he answered the Rural California Report's questions about what the work.
Rural California Report: What is the Coachella Valley Farm Workers project and how long have you been working on it?
Noé Montes: It is a photo documentary project about the community of farmworkers in the Eastern Coachella Valley. It focuses on the individuals that are working in various capacities to address the many social justice issues and issues of inequality that exist in the community. Most of the people photographed and interviewed have been farmworkers themselves or are the children of farmworkers. It is comprised of photography, writing and audio interviews. I started working on this in January of 2015.
Photo of Castulo Estrada by Noé Montes
RCR: What inspired you to pick the Coachella Valley? Why did you want to photograph farmworkers and other community members there?
NM: One of the main reasons I wanted to photograph and interview farmworkers is that I myself come from family of farmworkers and I know that there is a lot of value on the community. There is a lot to learn from about how to develop our communities in a positive way. A lot of the previous work done about farmworkers focuses on the problems in the community and often farmworkers are depicted very simply, either as examples of inequality or to illustrate some social justice issue. I wanted to add to the conversation and our understanding of this community and see what we can all learn from them.
I picked the Coachella Valley because it is a good representative example of a rural farmworker community in California. It is a microcosm that contains all the elements present in many rural American communities. Logistically it also worked in that it is close enough to where I live (Los Angeles) that I was able to travel there regularly and often.
The number of Braceros admitted to the U.S. between 1942 and 1964 was almost five million. Many Mexicans returned year after year, so one to two million individuals accounted for the five million Bracero admissions.
During the peak year of 1956, over 445,000 Braceros were admitted to work on U.S. crop farms. Many Braceros were in the U.S. only for several months, so that an estimated 126,000 full-time equivalent jobs were filled by Braceros in 1956, a ratio of 3.5 Braceros per FTE job, suggesting that Braceros worked an average 3.4 months each. This average duration of three to four months was stable throughout the 1950s.
The average employment of hired workers on U.S. farms in 1956 was two million, suggesting that 126,000 FTE Braceros were six percent of the average hired farm workforce. Braceros were concentrated in California and other Pacific states, where there were an average of only 300,000 hired workers, making Braceros a third or more of average employment.
BY MICHAEL DOYLE AND SEAN COCKERHAM
WASHINGTON —California loses big time in President Donald Trump’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget, made public to scathing political reviews Tuesday.
Some Central Valley farm spending would fall. Nutrition programs would shrink. Certain school grants would be handcuffed, University of California research would be curtailed and reimbursements ended for the state’s incarceration of law-breaking unauthorized immigrants.
While slashing social safety nets, Trump wants a 10 percent increase in military spending and $1.6 billion in funding for a wall on the border with Mexico – a small amount for a massive project estimated to cost between $22 billion and nearly $70 billion to construct.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, defended the plans. “The White House has produced a strong, conservative budget,” he said. “While I continue to review the details, it’s obvious that the White House sticks to what is right by prioritizing defense and balancing the budget in 10 years.”
Deemed dead on arrival by congressional Democrats, Trump’s $4.1 trillion budget proposal for the new year that starts Oct. 1 disheartened some Republican lawmakers, as well. Everyone agrees it’s only a starting point for negotiations, albeit one with particular consequences for the state that Trump lost by 4.3 million votes last November.
Earlier this month, on behalf of the California Climate & Agriculture Network (CalCAN), I attended two unique and thought-provoking international conferences in Paris, France. The following is a report back on the two events.
The by-invitation conferences were loosely coordinated and overlapping, and both were the first of their kind. They were attended by approximately 350 people from at least 40 countries and every continent. Several CalCAN partners attended, as did Jenny Lester-Moffitt, Deputy Secretary with CDFA.
The Future of Food in a Changing World was organized by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, a collaboration of philanthropic foundations. The first conference brought together 250 experts and leaders from the local to the global to gain deeper insights into the connections between climate change and food systems, to craft visions of the food systems we need today and tomorrow, and to chart potential pathways to get there.
The second conference was titled Sequestering Carbon in Soil: Addressing the Climate Threat and was organized by Breakthrough Strategies & Solutions, philanthropic consultants. I served as a conference planning committee member along with others from Canada, Germany, France, Ghana and California. We met for six months leading up to the conference to provide input on the conference objectives, structure, content, speakers and participants.
California, which had one of its wettest years ever in 2016-17, declared a drought emergency in January 2014 and ended it in April 2017. Over 30 inches of rain fell in parts of the Central Valley that normally receive less than 20 inches, and some Sierra mountain areas received over 60 feet of snow.
Instead of worrying about whether there would be enough water for summer irrigation, many water managers worried about having enough room in dams and reservoirs to prevent flooding. The water content of the Sierra snowpack, which normally peaks in April, was over 160 percent of average in April 2017, compared to five percent of average in April 2015. In 1983, the April Sierra snowpack had a water content that was over 200 percent of average.
California normally uses about 33 million acre feet of water, including 26 million acre feet for farming and nine million acre feet for consumers and industry. Among urban residents, half of water is used for lawns and landscaping.
In normal rain years, about 38 percent of the water used for agricultural irrigation is groundwater. During drought years, less surface water is conveyed via dams and canals, and groundwater is 60 percent of agricultural irrigation water. Land often subsides as water is pumped from underground, falling 50 feet or more in many areas of the San Joaquin Valley during the 2012-16 drought.
WASHINGTON —Organic growers in California and other farm states appear split over an industry promotion proposal that’s blossomed into a heated dispute.
Some growers want aseparate program that touts organic products in much the same way that other programs promote cotton, beef or eggs. Others want no part of generic advertising for organics funded by industry “check-off” fees.
With a Wednesday public comment deadline imminent, more than 11,000 public responses had flooded the Agriculture Department as of Friday. The volume and pace of the organic program commentaries led the “What’s Trending” section of the entire federal regulatory website, and they reflect wildly different perspectives.
On the one hand:
“The check-off model provides a tried and true vehicle for the organic sector to invest our own dollars in our collective continued growth at no cost to the taxpayer,” Steven Nichols, a certified organic egg producer in San Bernardino County, stated on April 6.
On the other:
“I have been an organic farmer in California for the past 10 years and the last thing I need is another layer of burdensome, time consuming and costly overhead to my already very busy life,” Fresno County farmer Eldon Thiesen wrote the Agriculture Department on March 23.
Agriculture has two major sectors, crops and livestock. Crops require the most hired workers, many of whom work seasonally, while livestock employs a higher share of year-round workers. Total crop labor expenditures were $23 billion in 2012, and livestock labor expenditures were $10 billion.
All data sources agree that California has about 30 percent of U.S. crop worker employment, followed by three states with 5 to 6 percent, Washington, Florida and Texas. Two more states have about 3 percent of crop worker employment, Michigan and Oregon, so that over half of crop worker employment is in six states.
The distribution of hours worked in livestock is different. Texas and California each have 10 percent of livestock hours worked, followed by Wisconsin with 6 percent and Iowa and New York with almost 4 percent each, so that one third of livestock hours worked are in the five leading states. Livestock hours are less concentrated than crop hours because there is no California among livestock states.
WASHINGTON — The political terrain appears favorable for a mega-million-dollar irrigation drainage deal, with Congress still fully in Republican hands and California’s sprawling Westlands Water District with influential allies.
But there are complications. One is a legal cloud over a neighboring water district. The other comes with the state’s two Democratic senators, who remain uncommitted.
Legislation putting the drainage deal into effect could be introduced at any time.
“I think I have the support of leadership,” Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, said in an interview.
But with that legislation will come a Capitol Hill fight.
California's farm sales fell from $54 billion in 2014 to $47 billion in 2015, largely because of the declining price of milk, whose value fell from $9.4 billion to $6.3 billion. The value of almonds fell by $0.5 billion, and the value of walnuts by almost $1 billion.
However, farmers are continue to plant more nuts. Bearing almond acreage has more than doubled from 418,000 acres in 1995 to 900,000 in 2016, and yields rose even faster from 370 million pounds to over two billion pounds. Walnut acreage rose from 177,000 in 1988 to 315,000 in 2016, and production more than doubled to 670,000 tons. California has 310,000 acres of pistachios expected to generate 555 million pounds in 2016.
Most nut farmers generate profits of $1,000 to $2,000 an acre, with pistachios the most profitable nut crop.
More acres of nuts are expected to come into production, including 220,000 acres of almonds, 70,000 acres of pistachios, and 65,000 acres of walnuts. The cost of establishing an acre of walnuts is estimated to be $3,800, an acre of almonds $2,300, and an acre of pistachios $1,900. Much of the new nut acreage is being developed by pension and hedge funds seeking current returns and capital gains as land prices rise.
California enacted a law in 2016 (SB 3) raising the minimum wage from $10 to $15 an hour by 2022 and requiring farmers to pay 8/40 overtime (AB 1066), that is, 1.5 times normal wages after eight hours a day and 40 hours a week by 2022 (employers with 25 or fewer employees have extra time to comply). The state's minimum wage went to $10.50 an hour on January 1, 2017.
Western Growers surveyed its members in November 2016, and 150 growers reported that they plan to increase mechanization (77 percent) and reduce production of labor-intensive crops in California (33 percent), including 60 growers who hired fewer than 100 workers at peak.
Responding growers reported that their employees worked an average 9.6 hours a day and 56 hours a week at $12.40 an hour, suggesting 5.5 day workweeks. Instead of paying overtime wages, most farms said they will reduce hours to 8/40, so that workers would be employed 16 fewer hours a week. A third of respondents said they would reduce benefits provided to farmworkers because of higher minimum wages and 8/40 overtime by having employees contribute more for heath insurance or reduce employer 401K and retirement contributions.
Washington — Northern California and Oregon irrigation districts have won a key round in a long-running legal battle as they seek compensation for their loss of water in the Klamath River Basin.
In a 53-page opinion, U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Marilyn Blank Horn concluded the federal government’s 2001 diversion of Klamath River Basin water amounted to a “physical taking” of the irrigation districts’ property. Horn’s ruling Dec. 21 rejected the government’s argument that the diversion instead amounted to a “regulatory taking.”
The technical-sounding difference could shape the final dollar-and-cents’ outcome. As attorney Josh Patashnik put it in a Santa Clara Law Review article, a judge’s determination of a physical rather than regulatory taking “often plays a central role in determining whether property owners are paid compensation.”
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Friday quietly signed and bequeathed to President-elect Donald Trump a massive infrastructure bill designed to control floods, fund dams and deliver more water to farmers in California's Central Valley.
While attempting to mollify critics’ concerns over potential harm to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Obama signed the $12 billion bill in a distinctly low-key act. The still-controversial California provisions were wrapped inside a package stuffed with politically popular projects, ranging from Sacramento-area levees to clean-water aid for beleaguered Flint, Michigan.
“It authorizes vital water projects across the country to restore watersheds, improve waterways and flood control, and improve drinking water infrastructure,” Obama stated, adding that “help for Flint is a priority for this administration.”
Dubbed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, the bill passed both House and Senate by veto-proof margins following years of maneuvering and debate. Obama’s signature was never really in doubt, though administration officials had previously resisted some of the specific California provisions.
Fresno was the leading U.S. farm county until 2013, when the drought reduced irrigation water available to large farmers on the western side of the county. Fresno's farm sales for 2015 were $6.6 billion, down from $7 billion in 2014, and led by $1.2 billion worth of almonds from 186,000 acres and followed by $900 million for grapes from 195,000 acres. Fruit and nut crops worth $3.3 billion were half the value of Fresno farm sales.
Tulare county's farm sales dropped from $8.1 billion in 2014 to $6.9 billion in 2015, with lower milk prices for the county's 285 dairies explaining the drop.
There were many commodity stories in summer 2016. California's 900,000 acres of almonds are expected to produce a record two billion pound crop in 2016. Grower prices are expected to be about $2.50 a pound.
Table grape acreage is expanding to over 83,000 bearing acres. Workers in the San Joaquin Valley were being paid $10 to $10.50 an hour in summer 2016, plus $0.30 to $0.50 per 22-pound box, with a trio of two pickers and one packer sharing the piece rate. A trio picking 12 boxes an hour would share $3.60 to $6, or earn $11 to $13 an hour or $100 a day. Working six-day weeks for 18 weeks or 108 days, grape pickers could earn $10,800 or more a season.
Table olives have declined to 15,000 acres and 63,000 tons in 2016, in part because of the $500-a-ton cost of getting olives picked by hand. Many growers are shifting to nuts, which can be harvested mechanically.
WASHINGTON —Numerous California raisin growers are seeking federal compensation for crops surrendered years ago as part of an old supply management system.
Three new court decisions could help them.
In two lawsuits that seek to become a large class-action, and a separate suit filed by a single Fresno County farm, growers seek government payments to offset what’s been deemed a government “taking” of their property. A federal judge this week kept all three lawsuits alive, rejecting Justice Department efforts to dismiss them.
“At this point, the government should just settle and write the checks,” said attorney James A. Moody, who represents the Fresno County based Lion Farms. “In my view, the case is over at this point.”
By Gail Wadsworth and Elizabeth Henderson
The goal of fair labor standards is to achieve decent and humane working conditions for all employees. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law which establishes minimum wage, overtime pay eligibility, recordkeeping, and child labor standards affecting full-time and part-time workers in the private sector and in federal, state, and local governments. Agriculture in the U.S. is exempt from several of the FSLA requirements, such as overtime pay and child labor laws.
Many consumers are not aware of these legal exemptions but are aware of poor working conditions for workers on farms. Several organizations are working within the U.S. to improve standards on farms for laborers.
The Fair World Project recently examined some of the key challenges facing farmworkers and analyzed seven of the eco-social certifications that appear on our food. They found two programs with strong standards and good enforcement to help ensure workers are well treated: the Fair Food Program and the Agricultural Justice Project.
Only one of these recommended certifiers actively operates in California, the Agricultural Justice Project (AJP). We recently contacted AJP to get some questions answered for consumers in California who are interested in eco-social justice certification.
There is not enough farmworker housing. A combination of economic incentives, stricter regulation of housing quality, and worker preferences suggests there will continue be a shortage of affordable and decent housing for seasonal farmworkers.
Until the 1960s, many farmers housed seasonal workers on their farms in a bid to attract them and to have workers available when they were needed. On-farm housing was often offered at little or no cost, and workers did not incur costs to commute to work.
Unionization and tenant rights, as well as tougher regulations and enforcement, encouraged many farmers to eliminate on-farm housing, which they could do in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and continue to attract workers because unauthorized migrants flooded into the United States. Today, most farmworkers live in farmworker cities, often crowded into single family homes, and many commute in car- and van-pools to work.
Federal and state governments operate farmworker housing centers, most of which give preference to families and offer a range of health, education and other services to workers and their children. Solo males generally live off of the farm and away from subsidized centers, especially when they work in short-season crops, such as the three-month table grape harvest in the Coachella Valley.
California needs more housing, but zoning laws that require developers to "maintain neighborhood character" and limit how many unrelated people can live together raise housing prices and slow the migration of poorer people to boom areas such as San Francisco. Many of the tech workers in San Francisco earn $150,000 to $200,000 a year, and the city's median house price in summer 2016 was $1.1 million.
By some estimates, United States GDP could be increased by 10 percent if zoning restrictions were eased so that poor people could move to richer areas and enjoy higher wages without spending their extra earnings on housing. A state law supported by Governor Jerry Brown would make it harder for cities to saddle developers with open-ended design, permit and environmental reviews. Many people in desirable places want to pull up the drawbridge, arguing that allowing more people into their cities would degrade the quality of life.
Seasonality is a characteristic of agriculture. Some seasons are busy, others less so. Busy times mean more employees — and less busy times – well, seasonality in farming is why it has always been hard for farmworkers to find year-round steady work. Most people still think of farmworkers as migrants, moving from one part of the country to the next, following the harvest as crops mature. For migrant farmworkers from time immemorial, there have always been periods of time when work is scarce. This is unlike almost any other profession. Sure, teachers have traditionally had time off in the summer. Landscaping and construction are also kind-of seasonal. But I think not to the extent that is built into the very nature of farming. Harvest time is fraught with urgency — the crop must be in the barn and out of the rain, or at the processing plant and out of the field, in a short window of time, or it will be lost. All the effort of keeping the crop safe, growing it from a seed to a grain, or from a bud to a fruit, can be for naught, if the harvest fails for one reason or another.