CIRS Blog about Rural California
By Amy Winzer
Scott Park never set foot on a farm until he was twenty years old. At that time, a fraternity brother connected him with the manager of a tomato operation in the Sacramento Valley, and Park ended up going into business with him. Six years later, he went out on his own. “The fact that I’m doing this is pretty much a fluke,” said Park. “I don’t go generations back. I think it gives me a different perspective because I didn’t have any preconceived notions about what farming is.”
Today at Park Farming Organics, Park, joined by his wife Ulla and son Brian, farm 1,500 acres in Meridian, California. Out of that total, Park rents roughly 1,300 acres and owns about 200 acres. Almost all of the acreage has been certified organic by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Although he started out in tomatoes, Park’s crop portfolio has expanded to include rice, corn, wheat, millet, dry beans, herbs, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, lettuce, gourds, stevia, coriander, flax, snow peas, safflower, sunflowers and more.
Before 1986, Park relied heavily on synthetic fertilizers, which he now characterizes as a short-term approach to farming. He switched to a long-term approach focused on nurturing soil health after noticing a nearby field was healthier than the ground he was working. “It slapped me in the face that what I was doing was completely wrong. My ground was getting harder and harder,” recalled Park.
The Los Angeles Times reviewed the status of mechanization in various crops July 21, 2017, emphasizing the large number of prototype machines in development to replace hand workers. From apples to strawberries, tech firms are developing machines to harvest crops.
Asparagus acreage is declining, and many leafy greens are harvested mechanically with knives or water jet cutters. Urban tech firms want radical changes in farming to facilitate mechanization, while firms such as Ramsay Highlander in Salinas stress the productivity gains from incremental changes such as conveyor belts to make hand workers more productive. Machines are being used to plant lettuce so that it does not have to be thinned.
Christopher Ranch, which hires 600 workers to pack and process 90 million pounds of garlic a year at its plant in Gilroy, saw a surge in applications after raising packing shed wages from $11 to $13 an hour in 2017; the firm's minimum wage is scheduled to increase to $15 in 2018. The wages of more skilled packing shed workers rose as well. Christopher uses FLC (Farm Labor Contractor) crews and H-2A workers in the fields, where workers are paid piece rates.
The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, the state's largest, wants to delay implementation of the tighter standards on particulates required by the federal Clean Air Act. The District, which covers eight counties with four million residents from San Joaquin to Kern, is a natural bowl with mountains on three sides that has been unable to improve regional air quality.
Fresno County had 25 unhealthy air warnings in 2016. One consequence is asthma, as especially children have trouble breathing. Many children carry inhalers to school and elsewhere.
California is responsible for one percent of global emissions of greenhouse gases. Governor Jerry Brown in July 2017 persuaded the Legislature to support the extension of the state's 2012 cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 431 million metric tons in 2020 to 260 million metric tons in 2030 (AB 398). California emitted 440 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2015 and Brown warned of "mass migrations, vector diseases, forest fires, Southern California burning up" if the state failed to reduce them.
The extension of cap-and-trade could raise gas prices up to $0.75 a gallon and provide funds for the bullet train that aims to link northern and southern California. The California's Air Resources Board, which will implement AB 398, projects an increase in the number of electric cars from 250,000 in 2017 to 4.2 million in 2030. CARB is targeting manure on dairies to reduce methane emissions.
Raisin farmers and packers have settled on a price for the 2017 Natural Seedless raisin crop at $1,800 a ton, the second-highest in the industry’s history.
And while that would be great news in a normal year, this isn’t a normal year.
Raisin industry officials said the crop has been plagued with uneven growing weather and rain. A severe heat wave scorched the Fresno area in early June, damaging about 5 percent of the crop.
In September, heavy rains – two within a two-week period – further reduced the size of a crop that was already coming up short of the expected estimate of 235,000 tons.
“Despite this being the second-highest in history,” said Kalem Barserian, chief executive officer of the Raisin Bargaining Association, a grower group based in Fresno, “there will be no winners.”
Barserian said this is probably one of the four worst crops he has seen in his 52 years in the California raisin industry.
He said yields were off about 32 percent of normal.
“We ask everyone to be patient until things settle down so our growers and processors can get the product ready for market,” Barserian said.
This article published on the Fresno Bee website on Oct. 13.
By Brian Shobe
The State Legislature took an important step in September toward recognizing and remedying centuries-long injustices for people of color and women in agriculture. Both chambers passed Assembly Bill 1348 – the Farmer Equity Act – with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill, authored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), now heads to the Governor’s desk.
By building racial and gender equity priorities into the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s responsibilities, executive staff structure, advisory committees, and programs, the Farmer Equity Act moves us closer to ensuring that all of California’s farmers have equitable influence on and access to government resources, including the state’s Climate Smart Ag programs.
Approximately one in four farms in California are managed by farmers of color and approximately one in five are managed by women. California has the largest population of Asian farmers and third largest population of Latino farmers in the country.
But despite their sizable numbers, data from the 2012 Ag Census shows that farmers of color and women tend to operate on significantly smaller acreages, earn significantly less revenue from the products they sell, and receive significantly less in government funding compared to white farmers and men.
Lousy milk prices spoiled Tulare County’s chances of holding on to its title as the state’s No.1 agriculture county.
Marilyn Kinoshita, Tulare County agricultural commissioner, delivered the bad news to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. The county’s total production value for 2016 tumbled 8 percent to $6.3 billion.
That crop value wasn’t enough to keep Kern County from seizing the top spot with a total agriculture value of $7.2 billion. It was a record for Kern County and put them in the No. 1 position for the first time. Strong markets for grapes, almonds and citrus, helped push the county to the top.
Tulare County may be the leading dairy county in the state but that’s also part of the reason it slipped to No. 2, just ahead of Fresno County, which had a total crop value of $6.1 billion.
By Amy Winzer
First Generation Farmers (FGF) is a non-profit community farm located next to Discovery Bay (between Stockton and Brentwood) with the mission of increasing their community’s access to healthy, locally and sustainably grown food and educating young and old about agriculture.
The 27-acre farmland was donated to FGF by Cecchini & Cecchini, owners of a 1,176-acre family farm. The Cecchini family, with the help of Brentwood Agricultural Land Trust (BALT) and FGF, secured a grant for an agricultural easement through California’s Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALC) which is funded with cap-and-trade money.
The easement covers 520 acres of their family farm, including the FGF land. CalCAN and our partners been strong advocates for funding for this program to both preserve farmland and avoid future greenhouse gas emissions associated with urban development of valuable cropland.
To date, over $42 million has been invested in permanent agricultural easements on land at risk of development throughout California. FGF’s SALC-funded agricultural easement is under considerable development pressure, being contiguous to Discovery Bay and sandwiched between the East Bay and Stockton, both rapidly urbanizing regions of California.
This week, California launched an innovative new program aimed at lessening the climate change impact of dairy farms. The Alternative Manure Management Practices (AMMP) Program, run by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), will fund between $9 million to $16 million in dairy and livestock manure management projects that reduce methane emissions and help improve air and water quality.
Dairy and other livestock producers will be eligible for grants of up to $750,000 for projects that convert from manure lagoon systems to methods that avoid or minimize liquid anaerobic manure handling, a major source of methane emissions. This could include transitioning to pasture-based operations where manure is distributed by the livestock on grazing land rather than collected in anaerobic piles or lagoons. It could also include various techniques for separating and drying manure to be spread on pastures or made into compost. See the CDFA program page for application details. The CalCAN factsheet on the program can be found here.
Three grant application workshops are scheduled, with more workshops possible. The current workshops schedule is as follows:
Eureka, Thursday, September 7, 2017
2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Humboldt County Agricultural Commissioner
5630 S. Broadway
Eureka, CA 95501
Santa Rosa, Friday, September 8, 2017
2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner
133 Aviation Blvd., Suite 110
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Modesto, Thursday, September 14, 2017
2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Stanislaus County Agricultural Commissioner
3800 Cornucopia Way, Suite B
Modesto, CA 95358
CDFA will also host a webinar for potential AMMP applicants on September 14th. To register, see the CDFA program webpage.
This is an excerpt of an Aug. 22, 2017 article on the California Climate and Agriculture Network website
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.