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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. 

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By Alyssa Morones

Maria Castro * has worked in Kern County’s fields for 14 years, since her family moved to Delano, Calif., from Mexico when she was 16 years old. She started working as a grape harvester two days after her arrival.

She soon noticed a weird scent on her clothes that wouldn’t come off, even after washing. Her brother-in-law told her it was sulfur that growers applied to fields to help the grapes grow faster.

“They never really tell us the names of the pesticides,” said Castro, “or their dangers.”

But Castro learned first-hand about the health issues that come with exposure to pesticides.

She’s noticed that soon after chemical applications on or near where she’s working, she feels nauseous and dizzy. Sometimes she vomits. She said she’s seen co-workers faint.

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in Rural Health 111 0
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Water

The California Department of Water Resources reported in April 2017 that 90 inches of precipitation fell in the northern Sierra mountains, breaking the previous record set in 1982-83. California has one of the most variable climates in North America.

Most precipitation occurs during the winter months, and melting snow is moved from mountains in the north to farmers and urban consumers in the center and southern parts of the state via a system of dams and canals. The Sierra Nevada snowpack usually provides a third of the state's water supply.

Governor Jerry Brown proposed to move water around the environmentally sensitive Delta where the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers empty into the San Francisco Bay by building twin tunnels expected to cost $16 billion. The California WaterFix is controversial, generally opposed by Delta residents and farmers. The water agencies south of the Delta are expected to decide by September 2017 whether they will help to pay for the project to move water around the Delta to pumps near Tracy.

Cadiz Inc owns about 50 square miles of land above a major aquifer in the Cadiz Valley, and wants to sell the water to southern California cities. The Mojave Desert Land Trust and most environmentalists oppose the project, but the Trump administration appears to favor allowing Cadiz to pump 50,000 acre feet of water a year from the aquifer.

California's fire season began in July 2017, with major fires around the state burning the grasses and shrubs that resulted from the record rainfall of 2016-17.

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in Rural California 336 0
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By Derek Walter

On a recent Tuesday morning, a bustling health care clinic is filled with the sounds you’d expect to hear from children who need to see the doctor. Coughing, sneezing and sighs from an upset stomach fill the air.

But this isn’t a doctor’s office or emergency room. Instead it’s at Gaston Middle School in Fresno. While the enhanced services are a welcome addition for students, faculty and staff members who are trying to keep everyone well, there’s another purpose that it serves — helping kids stay in school or make a more rapid return.

The clinic, which is run by health provider company Clinica Sierra Vista, isn’t just a larger school nurse’s office. It’s a full-blown clinic, which features primary-care services, pediatric care and immunizations. The school district said during a board meeting last year that the free clinics would be paid for by health providers and federal subsidies.

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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.

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WASHINGTON—Fresno resident and folklorist Amy Kitchener will help tend the nation’s collective memories as a trustee of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

The co-founder and executive director of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts, with offices in Fresno, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles, Kitchener has been tapped for a six-year term on the American Folklife Center’s board of trustees. The position will put her atop a world-class archive and expose her to a wide array of cultural movers and shakers.

“We’re the stewards, guiding the center,” Kitchener said in an interview March 7. “It’s an exciting prospect.”

Congress established the American Folklife Center in 1976 to “preserve and present American folklife” through research, documentation, archival preservation, live performance and more. The center, among other efforts, hosts the Veterans History Project, which stores the personal accounts of American war veterans, as well as the Civil Rights History Project.

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in Rural California 368 0
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WASHINGTON —California Republican Rep. David Valadao of Hanford is pushing for an immigration overhaul, placing himself in the middle of the very issue that’s ripping both parties apart. 

Through public statements, legislation and now an earnestly worded plea to President Donald Trump, Valadao has positioned himself as one of the few congressional Republicans daring to support a comprehensive package that includes a pathway to legal status for immigrants who are already in this country illegally.

“For too long, extremes on either side of the aisle have discouraged constructive discussion regarding immigration,” Valadao said in the two-page letter sent to Trump on Tuesday, “but I believe with new executive leadership, now is the time to enact meaningful reform.”

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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.

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Labor 

California's labor force in summer 2016 was 19.1 million, including 18.1 million who were employed. Los Angeles County has a labor force of five million, followed by 1.6 million each in Orange and San Diego counties, and almost one million each in Riverside and San Bernardino countries, that is, the five major southern California counties have almost 55 percent of the state's labor force.

About 16.5 million California workers are employed in nonfarm wage and salary jobs; there are 430,000 hired farm workers. Four sectors include two-thirds of the state's wage and salary workers: trade, three million, followed by professional and business services, education and health services, and government, which each employ 2.5 million.

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Washington, D.C. — San Joaquin Valley officials picture a world in which:

State Route 99 grows wider in Merced, Madera and Tulare counties. Stronger roads support the region’s heavy dairy tankers. New reservoirs get built. And, not least, some bipartisan cooperation blossoms on Capitol Hill.

Farfetched? Maybe. But this week, elected representatives and staffers from eight Valley counties are making their collective case to an often-fitful Congress. They’re following the adage, sometimes applicable in lobbying as in life, that fortune favors the bold.

“We’re bringing attention to the needs of the Valley, and making sure that all of our legislators know where we stand,” Stanislaus County Supervisor Bill O’Brien said Wednesday, adding that “we also get different audiences than we normally get with just the congressmen.”

O’Brien, for instance, was speaking in the Cannon House Office Building, where three House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee staffers were briefing the visitors. In the afternoon, the Valley officials talked about clean air rules at the Environmental Protection Agency.

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in Rural California 658 0
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The 2015-16 water year was close to normal; the state's 154 major reservoirs held almost 22 million acre-feet of water on April 1, 2016, more than 85 percent of normal. Federal and state farm water contractors are likely to get half or more of the water that they want. Each water district contracts for a specific share of the surface water available to the federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, and CVP and SWP managers provide a percentage of each district's contracted water based on availability.

The California water system accumulates water as snow in northern California mountains and moves the water south via the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta as the snow melts in summer. However, pumping water from the delta into the aqueduct that moves water south is often restricted to preserve juvenile fish that can be sucked into the pumps.

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in Water 847 0
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By Derek Walter

The Central Valley has long been plagued with some of the dirtiest air in the nation. It usually hits those with the most vulnerable lungs the hardest, including elementary school-age kids with asthma.

While the Valley’s air is trending in the right direction, it’s still a challenge for schools to facilitate physical education and outdoor sports, especially with the pressure to fight childhood obesity by keeping kids active.

Schools are turning to a number of solutions that leverage a real-time air-quality monitoring network with creative ways to keep kids moving even when they need to head indoors. As we inch towards the summer months and the temperature rises, schools are working on their alternative physical education plans.

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in Rural Youth 757 0
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California's minimum wage went to $10 an hour January 1, 2016.

California in April 2016 approved SB 3 to raise the state's $10 an hour minimum wage to $15 by 2022 for large employers, and by 2023 for employers with 25 or fewer workers. The minimum wage will rise by $1 an hour in January each year beginning in 2017, and increase with inflation from 2024. The governor can suspend minimum wage increases for a year in recessions or if there are serious budget crises.

SB 3 was enacted to head off a $15 an hour union-sponsored initiative on the November 2016 ballot that was expected to be approved by voters.

The minimum wage increase is expected to affect 5.4 million of California's 15.1 million workers, raising their wages by an average $2.20 an hour or $3,700 a year. The University of California, Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education estimates that almost 40 percent of those affected by the $15 minimum wage are 20 to 29, and that over half have a high school education or less. Over 55 percent of those expected to benefit from the rising minimum wage are Latino. A third of California workers affected are in retail trade and food services; less than five percent are in agriculture.

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WASHINGTON - Northern California lawmakers are turning up the heat on the Westlands Water District, with coordinated calls for congressional hearings and tougher Obama administration scrutiny.

Citing recent enforcement action by the Securities and Exchange Commission, House Democrats from outside the San Joaquin Valley on Thursday initiated what one lawmaker termed “an investigation” into the district and its proposed irrigation drainage deal with the administration.

“The Westlands Water District plays by its own rules, and trusting them with an agreement of this magnitude should give every member of Congress serious pause,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

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Westside farmers got dismal news April 1 when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced a 5 percent water allocation for 2016.

Farmers say the paltry allocation will mean thousands of acres in one of the nation’s most productive farming regions will continue to be fallowed.

“This is going to hurt,” said Sal Parra, a westside grower who farms various crops. “We have already fallowed about 5,000 acres and cut back our workers’ hours. It’s like we can’t get ahead.”

The San Joaquin Valley, especially the westside, has been hit especially hard by a four-year drought. In the sprawling Westlands Water District, officials say at least 200,000 acres will not be farmed because of a lack of water.

Over the last two years, farmers in Westlands have received a zero water allocation from the Central Valley Project – the system that supplies water to farmers from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

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in Water 852 0
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WASHINGTON —The White House on Tuesday unveiled several billion dollars’ worth of corporate commitments to water research and development during a high-level summit.

Pegged to World Water Day, the summit was intended to draw attention to specific state and corporate pledges as well as new Obama administration initiatives prompted in part by Western states’ drought and the Flint, Michigan, drinking water scandal.

The corporate promises include a commitment by GE to invest $500 million over the next decade on water and reuse technologies, and a pledge by San Francisco-based Ultra Capital to invest $1.5 billion in decentralized “water management solutions.”

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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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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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in Agriculture 1116 0
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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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