August 30, 2019
Gonzalez rejects ag exemptions for AB 5
The bill targeting independent contractors faces a critical vote today in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Representing trucking interests, Debbie Ferrari reports what she called a “disturbing development.” Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, has rejected proposed exemptions for truckers who are owner-operators, which includes agricultural contractors.
Remember: The bill mainly targets tech companies like Uber, adding a strict test when classifying workers as independent contractors.
Exemptions: Ferrari’s coalition asked to exempt truckers who own their vehicle outright and truckers working independently. The third exemption included trucks over 26,000 pounds, which would have separated them from Uber drivers and the Dynamex truckers involved in the original court decision the bill addresses. The coalition hoped to instead maintain the existing Borello test for independent contractors.
Seasonal ag work: Ferrari argued that “truckers must be able to work for other truckers” because there is “no other way to keep busy due to the ebb and flow of workloads.”
Pushing business out of California: If signed into law, the truckers’ coalition warns that farmers and others will likely hire out-of-state owner operators, which would be more affordable than hiring companies with regular employees.
The committee is expected to pass the bill, moving it to the Senate floor for a full vote.
Read the full report on AB 5 at Agri-Pulse.com.
Greg Hurner, with the California Truckers Guild, speaks at a rally against AB 5.
DPR ramps up air monitoring in Shafter
The Department of Pesticide Regulations proposes installing three more air monitoring sites to the small agricultural community in Kern County, adding to three existing locations. DPR shared the proposals this week during a meeting on an ambitious air quality plan for Shafter. The final decision will be determined through the state budgeting process.
The Air Resource Board is also supplying new equipment with a range of capabilities to community volunteers and environmental organizations like the Pesticide Action Network in order to enhance a community air monitoring project. One of those additions will be a mobile air monitoring van that can be driven anywhere within the seven-mile radius of Shafter that was established in the plan.
The instruments will track pesticide emissions, nitrous oxide and other “pollutants.” The next updates to the plan may specify monitoring for 1,3-D or chlorpyrifos.
DPR is also exploring options for a pesticide notification system for the area, according to program manager Edgar Vidrio. This will likely be based on a pilot system in Monterey County that notifies schools in the Pajaro Valley area of fumigant applications.
Keep in mind: Unlike the Air Resource Board, DPR did not receive any funding from the AB 617 legislation, which led to a $50 million annual budget for the Shafter project.
Environmental activist Tom Frantz countered that statement. “You can’t use lack of finding as an excuse,” he said, adding that his steering committee requested AB 617 allocations be used for the notification system. Another committee member recommended pulling more than $1 million from funding set aside for electrifying nearby dairy feed operations to pay for the system.
Next on the chopping block? Vidrio also mentioned that CalEPA will soon unveil “a regulation to reduce the exposures of 1,3-D.” DPR and the air district will hold meetings in Shafter this fall to go over the new measures.
Read the full report on the state’s air quality pilot project at Agri-Pulse.com.
Censky, second from left, tours a local winery with Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Calif., blue blazer.
Censky boosts USMCA, while downsizing California
Lauding the benefits of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, USDA Deputy Secretary Steve Censky held a townhall in Paso Robles yesterday.
For wine and dairy: He pointed out the USMCA would remove Canada’s aggressive restrictions in some provinces that essentially keep California’s wines off shelves and out of sight in stores. He said the agreement would also relax Canada’s tight restrictions on US dairy milk imports.
Next: Today Censky will hold a townhall with Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., at the Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce at 11:30 a.m.
Fact check: Ahead of the trip on Wednesday, Censky published an opinion piece on the USMCA. He wrote that ag supports 240,000 jobs in California and “creates more than $29 billion in value annually,” far undercutting the actual numbers.
According to CDFA, California ag provided 420,000 jobs last year andgenerated more than $50 billion in sales value, with at least $100 billion inrelated economic activity. The USDA ag census this year placed Iowa instead at $29 billion in sales, a distant second to California.
Censky also puts the poultry and egg industry at $8 billion, while CDFA placed it at $1.4 billion in value for last year.
On that note: President Trump has announced he will hold a 2020 campaign fundraiser in San Francisco in September. It will be his first visit to the Bay Area as president.
Compliance with veterinary feed directive widespread, FDA finds
Producers, veterinarians, feed mills and retail establishments are generally in compliance with the Veterinary Feed Directive, which requires all VFD drugs in feed be authorized by a licensed veterinarian before animals receive the medicated VFD feed.
The Food and Drug Administration released results of inspections conducted from fiscal years 2016 through 2018. About 91 percent of establishments had no significant deficiencies and required no further action. All but one of the remaining inspections resulted in the need for voluntary action, and one resulted in a warning letter.
In that case, a feed mill “adulterated and misbranded VFD feed by distributing [it] to other distributors without first receiving an acknowledgment letter, in addition to adulterating and misbranding medicated and non-medicated feed for other reasons,” FDA said.
Key senator: Japan deal would give US leverage on China
A trade deal with Japan expected to be finalized late next month would go a long way toward bolstering the U.S. position as it continues to battle with China over the country’s trade policies and its policies of appropriating US intellectual property, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley told reporters Thursday.
“Strengthening ties with Japan and other Pacific Rim nations only helps strengthen our position while we’re negotiating with China,” Grassley said.
Trump was widely criticized two years ago for pulling the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, passing on a chance to bolster the US position as a regional leader.
He said it:
“The EPA has made a monumentally stupid decision with this rule, and we have too much to lose to let it go.” – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra yesterday, blasting a proposed rule change related to methane emissions in the oil and gas sector.
Steve Davies and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.
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August 29, 2019
State: Tunnel project adds climate resilience to water supply
The administrative gears have been cranking ever since Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in February that the twin tunnels project would now be a single tunnel. Most recently, the Department of Water Resources has been working with stakeholders on the latest contract bid for construction.
The tunnel will draw water from north of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and deliver it underground to the State Water Project south of the delta, pumping it to Central and Southern California.
Yesterday Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot said at the Sacramento Press Club that “protecting conveyance through the delta in the age of climate change is essential.” He said the project adds protection from sea level rise, as well as earthquakes. A single quake could compromise the levees and leave millions without water for weeks, he explained.
Are two better than one? Jennifer Pierre, who manages the State Water Contractors, also spoke at the event. She defended the nixed twin tunnels plan, arguing that “we should move the water when we can” during high-flow events. But we have “a trust issue,” she said, citing concerns that Southern California would make a water grab.
Trump and biological opinions: Pierre said that in 2008, court-mandated endangered species protections “fundamentally changed” the way water projects were run in California. Ever since, the two projects have been spending $100 million annually to understand the science behind the federal requirements. She said the update to the biological opinions, which could come out any day, will not be “scrapping” that knowledge but adding to it, allowing more flexibility. The idea that more water protects more fish “is a really unfortunate headline,” she said.
Crowfoot added that the Bureau of Reclamation and DWR are like “sister agencies,” working closely on water supplies.
Would SB 1 “lock in” biological opinions? Jeffrey Kightlinger, who heads the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, said the federal and state pumps are so close together “that you could almost throw a rock and hit them.” They also operate closely in sync.
He argued, however, that Senate Bill 1 would have the two “operate under very different scenarios.” Both he and Pierre said the broad environmental protection bill would “lock in” outdated science. Kightlinger said two separate laws operating simultaneously “would be pretty chaotic.” SB 1 will be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee tomorrow.
Sec. Crowfoot, left, with Jennifer Pierre and LA Times Editor Stuart Leavenworth moderating.
CDFA offers grants for chlorpyrifos alternatives
The Department of Food and Ag is rolling out two new grant programs aimed at finding alternatives to chlorpyrifos, which CalEPA has cancelled.
Gov. Gavin Newsom had allocated $5.7 million in the budget towards grants and an advisory committee, which has begun meeting. CDFA is taking grant applications through October.
BIFS: Some of those grants will go to on-farm demonstration projects for biologically integrated farming systems. The aim is lower inputs, precision ag practices and integrated pest management (IPM) strategies. CDFA has $1 million available for this grant cycle and another $1 million for a second round next year.
Read how the state has supported BIFS projects in the past at Agri-Pulse.com.
IPM: CDFA is also offering $1.2 million in grants for “proactive” IPM solutions, the goal being to develop tools and strategies to rapidly deploy as soon as the next invasive pest lands in California.
On that note: CDFA plans to publish in September an economic impact report detailing the costs to the ag community of cancelling chlorpyrifos.
Censky to tout USMCA in Paso Robles
USDA Deputy Secretary Steve Censky is in Paso Robles this morning talking up the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, at a townhall with Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Calif. Afterward, Censky will hold an agriculture stakeholder roundtable with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., in Bakersfield.
USDA officials have been crisscrossing the country the last few weeks to drum up support for USMCA, especially with Democrats who are wary about voting for the agreement. Democrats still have reservations about labor, environment, and enforcement. House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said earlier this month he expected a vote to take place sometime this fall.
Feds hear Idaho case on Colorado hemp shipping
Federal appeals court judges are entertaining the idea of allowing Idaho state courts to handle a case involving the seizure of more than three tons of industrial hemp that was being transported through the state.
At arguments Wednesday in Seattle, two of the three judges wondered aloud why the case should not be tried in Idaho. Big Sky Scientific, the Colorado company challenging the seizure, would prefer to keep the dispute in federal court, arguing that it cannot raise its full range of issues in state court.
The attorney for the Idaho State Police said criminal charges against the driver, who is currently not detained, should be resolved soon.
Read more about the case at www.Agri-Pulse.com
Companies, groups warn against new tariffs
New U.S. tariffs on China, along with Chinese retaliation, are scheduled to go into effect in just a few days, and dozens of U.S. companies and groups are making a last-ditch plea to the Trump administration to back down.
“These tariff rate increases – some starting as early as Sunday – come at the worst possible time, right in the middle of the busy holiday shipping period,” says a new letter from more than 160 organizations to President Donald Trump. “Action is needed by you to protect American businesses, workers and consumers this holiday season.”
The companies and groups, like the National Grocers Association, Grocery Manufacturers Association, California Retailers Association and National Restaurant Association warned that U.S. tariffs are taxes and they impact U.S. companies and consumers, something Trump has repeatedly denied.
“With some products facing tariffs as high as 30 percent, many businesses will have no choice but to pass along those costs to consumers,” the letter stresses. “Price increases will likely hit shoppers just as they are making their holiday purchases.”
New U.S. tariffs of 15% on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods are scheduled to go into effect on Sept. 1 and Dec. 15. On Oct. 1, the U.S. will enact a 5% increase to the 25% tariff rate on another $250 billion worth of Chinese goods.
He said it: “They need that extra flexibility, that extra reliability with that, if they’re going to continue to farm, particularly with the impacts of (the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act).” - Jeffrey Kightlinger, discussing how “unfortunate” it was that Central Valley agricultural interests had pulled back from funding the former twin tunnels project due to the steep costs.
Steve Davies, Ben Nuelle and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.
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August 28, 2019
Newsom administration promises more engagement with Mexico
Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis will lead the administration's delegation to Mexico in October. She will sign new MOUs relating to trade relations, while updating old ones.
“Over the last six years, California has signed eight MOUs…with counterparts in Mexico,” said Kounalakis during an interagency trade committee hearing yesterday.
Expect the new agreements to be related to climate “resilience.” This includes: water use efficiency, wildfire management, clean energy technologies and air and water quality.
CDFA Secretary Karen Ross expects “more intense collaboration” on climate-smart ag. That includes knowledge sharing on dairy digesters and alternative manure management strategies.
Aligning food safety practices with Mexico, she said, will also lead to reduced risks for food imported into the state. Ross plans to partner with UC Cooperative Extension’s Mexico office on a number of issues, including improving conditions for aging workers. She said that type of workforce development could support the immigrant labor population coming into California.
Next countries: Ross’ staff is currently bringing a delegation of 300 representatives from the Middle East and South Korea to tour California ag. Kounalakis noted that Ross has “not wasted any time in developing other markets for our products” in this rapidly changing trade environment.
Also, a new port of entrée with Mexico will “significantly expand the capacity for the movement of people and goods,” said Transportation Secretary David Kim. This will reduce wait times, which have been reportedly lasting up to seven hours. The agency recently began construction and will open the port in three years.
CalEPA Sec. Jared Blumenfeld discusses air quality agreements with Mexico at the administration's trade committee.
California rice seen not benefitting from Japan deal
Details haven’t been released on the preliminary deal for a trade pact with Japan, but the USA Rice Federation is saying their California farmers are not expected to benefit.
"While we are certainly disappointed to hear that rice wasn't included in last week's discussions, we remain committed to working with the U.S. government to realize improved rice trade," said Charley Mathews, chair of USA Rice. "At this point, we're faced with a 700% tariff on US rice going into Japan, which translates to a lack of consumer access."
California farmers, who produce almost exclusively medium- and short-grain rice, would have gained more access to Japan under the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This would have added several measures, including a 50,000-ton duty-free quota for US rice that would rise to 70,000 tons in 13 years. But President Donald Trump pulled out of the TPP. The only rice Japan buys from the US is the medium grain variety from California.
The Japan deal hasn’t been finalized yet and rice industry officials are still holding out hope the situation could change.
"Rice remains one of the most manipulated and protected commodities around the world, and Japan is no exception," said Bobby Hanks, chair of the USA Rice International Trade Policy Committee. "A comprehensive trade deal is the avenue in which to see improved commercial access to this vital market that has demonstrated an interest in US rice."
Appeals court to hear case today on interstate transport of hemp
A case being argued today in the Ninth Circuit has big implications for the growing hemp industry – but perhaps only until USDA comes out with its regulations governing the program this fall.
Idaho State Police seized a three-ton shipment of hemp in January, claiming the product violated its law against cannabis with any amount of THC. The owner of the hemp, Colorado company Big Sky Scientific, sued to get it back. The company lost in the district court and its appeal will be heard in Seattle Wednesday morning.
As alarming as the seizure was to the hemp industry, future disputes may be forestalled by the issuance this fall of guidelines from the USDA. The department's top lawyer has already stated his opinion that states do not have the legal authority to prohibit interstate shipments of hemp.
Read more on the Agri-Pulse website.
China won’t confirm call for trade talks
China is still intent on negotiating with the U.S. to end the trade war, but it’s also not confirming President Donald Trump’s claim that it reached out in telephone calls to beseech the US for a new round of talks.
“First, I'm not aware of the two phone calls over the weekend that the US side talked about,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Tuesday. “Second, trade disputes between China and the US should be resolved through dialogue and consultation … Regrettably, however, the US recently decided to add new tariffs on Chinese goods as a measure to impose maximum pressure, which is not constructive at all, as it serves no one's interests.”
On Friday Trump, angered over China’s retaliation against new US tariffs, threatened to raise tariff rates on $550 billion worth of Chinese goods.
Another sign of discord came Tuesday when Xinhua News, a government-run media outlet, released a sharply-worded editorial:
“Playing the old tricks of bullying and maximum pressure, the US administration has escalated the trade tensions repeatedly and tried to coerce China into accepting its irrational demands. China did not and will not surrender,” it read.
USDA attempts to clear up concerns over NASS/FSA acreage data
USDA hopes new details released Tuesday regarding acreage data collection will shed light on differences between National Agricultural Statistics Service and Farm Service Agency data.
“(FSA numbers are) going to be less because it’s typically only people who are using USDA programs,” USDA Economist Ashley Hungerford tells Agri-Pulse. She says farmers who participate in USDA programs must report acres to county offices. If they don't participate, they don't have to report.
“There’s going to be about a 3-million-acre discrepancy because of that,” she said.
Earlier this month, many farmers became concerned about data collection after seeing that FSA's acreage estimate was lower than the NASS estimate.
She said it:
“They are the ordinary tools of business nowadays—and millions of farmers can’t use them because they don’t have broadband.” - Joanna Lidback, a Vermont dairy farmer and board member for the Global Farmer Network, in an opinion piece for Agri-Pulse yesterday.
Steve Davies, Ben Nuelle and Bill Tomson contributed to this report.
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August 27, 2019
Japan deal welcome news for walnut farmers
The Japanese market for California’s walnuts has been growing fast, and that pace could pick up substantially thanks to a preliminary trade deal struck with the U.S. this past weekend.
No details of the pact have been released, but if it mirrors the concessions the U.S. got in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, all Japanese tariffs would be removed, according to the California Walnut Commission. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the TPP two years ago.
“Over the last five years the Japanese market has grown 44% despite a 10% duty,” the Commission said. “The potential for duty reduction would greatly afford new opportunities for market growth for California’s (more than 4,800) walnut growers and over 90 walnut processors.”
Produce and almond growers also applaud deal
The Western Growers Association was pleased to see a trade deal in the works with Japan. Along with tariff reductions, President and CEO Tom Nassif hopes to see reforms on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) standards. He said that would result in “true market gains and much-needed economic relief for an industry that has already been caught in the crosshairs of trade wars on other fronts.”
California exports $1.5 billion-worth of agricultural products to Japan, with almonds, rice and walnuts being the top three.
According to the Almond Alliance of California, the state exports 67% of the almonds it produces, worth nearly $4.5 billion. Chairman Mike Curry called the deal “very important” for California growers, “since they rely on access to foreign markets to sell their crops and Japan is a significant destination for California almonds.”
US and China aim to resume trade talks
Top U.S. and Chinese negotiators are going to be getting back to the work of trying to end the trade war, President Donald Trump said Monday, allaying fears after the dispute escalated at a breakneck pace just three days earlier.
“We’re going to get there,” Trump told reporters during his trip to France to attend the annual G7 summit. “We’re going to have a fair deal.”
The state of talks between the countries whiplashed from dismal to optimistic after Trump said China reached out to his administration and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He suggested the negotiations resume.
“I can say we're having very meaningful talks. Much more meaningful than, I would say, at any time, frankly,” Trump said. “And I think, for the most part, it's because we are doing very well. China is a great country. I consider President Xi to be a great leader.”
Study: Labor shortage adds to on-farm food loss
A new study from Santa Clara University finds that the amount of edible produce left in California’s fields is 2.5 times more than growers had estimated. The paper says grower surveys and interviews alone “are not a reliable source.”
While rates were highly variable, losses on average totaled 34% of the potential yield.
The rates depend on a variety of factors, including crop types, prices and consumer preferences. Yet the significant rise in labor costs over the years has led to growers making fewer passes through the fields during harvest. Growers reported they were reducing the number of cuts performed on broccoli and cauliflower as a direct result.
The paper notes that varieties producing more uniform crops may lessen the impact. But the researchers note that “it seems unlikely that a simple, one-size-fits-all solution will solve the problem.”
Drought and Wildfire Bond could reduce disaster costs
More frequent and intense droughts from climate change, as well as rising temperatures could severely impact agricultural production in California in the coming years. By 2050, for example, the Central Valley will experience an additional two weeks of high-heat events. Addressing this, as well as sea level rise, flooding, wildfires and warming oceans, is a $7.9 billion bond proposal for 2020.
A new fiscal analysis by the state finds that taxpayers would pay $385 million annually for 40 years to pay off that bond. It would also cost the state $7.5 billion in interest.
But investing in disaster prevention would likely lead to overall cost savings when these disasters strike, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Exactly how much that savings would be, however, depends on how successful the bond is at mitigating those climate impacts.
Read more about the bond proposal at Agri-Pulse.com.
Herbs, spices to get their own crop groupings for tolerance setting
The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to separate herbs and spices into different crop groupings for the purpose of setting pesticide tolerances applicable to the entire groups.
Dividing the current “herbs and spices” group will benefit growers by allowing them to use pesticides not previously available for crop protection, EPA said.
Some herbs and spices “have great potential to be grown on a larger scale in some areas in the future due to their unique nutritional and medicinal values,” EPA said. “Because the demand for herbs keeps increasing in the United States, these crops may provide local market growers new revenue opportunities for fresh herbs with high returns per acre.”
The proposal is being published in today’s Federal Register and comes with a 60-day comment period.
A UC Riverside study finds that a “nasty” species of gigantic tumbleweed is expanding its territory in the U.S.
Monster tumbleweeds have arrived
It’s not uncommon to see a few tumbleweeds blowing across the open desert but how often do you see them piling up to the second story of houses? That was the case last year in the desert town of Victorville, California, where some residents called 911 to escape.
Now, UC Riverside researchers have released a new study supporting the theory that the species, Salsola ryanii, grows more vigorously because it is a hybrid with doubled pairs of its parents’ chromosomes. The parent plants can grow up to 6 feet tall. More research may lead to the ability to suppress growth.
She said it:
“They live in constant terror of being deported and having their families torn apart.” – Ann Lopez, executive director of the Center for Farmworker Families, discussing in CALmatters a growing fear of raids among farmworkers, which is leading to “clandestine” foodbanks.
Bill Tomson and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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August 26, 2019
US ag groups hail Japan trade deal
U.S. farm groups are already showing excitement about a deal struck with Japan that’s expected to increase market access for a wide variety of ag commodities, ranging from dairy to wine.
Japan “is our third-largest agricultural market,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who is in France attending a G7 summit with President Donald Trump. “They import about $14 billion worth of U.S. agricultural products. And this will open up markets to over $7 billion of those products … In the agriculture area, it will be a major benefit for beef, pork, wheat, dairy products, wine, ethanol, and a variety of other products.”
Trump said an “agreement in principle” has been reached and the two countries hope to finalize it next month. Agri-Pulse first reported the pending deal on Saturday.
“This is much-needed good news on the agricultural trade front,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. “Top U.S. agricultural exports to Japan currently include beef, corn, pork, soybeans and wheat. We appreciate the Administration’s work to secure greater access for these farm goods and others. We look forward to reviewing the details of the agreement.”
China’s retaliation to hit West Coast hard
The latest tit-for-tat on tariffs between the U.S. and China has farm groups and others dismayed that the trade war may be spiraling out of control and some of the hardest hit by the latest escalations are West Coast farmers. Friday started off with China announcing it would raise tariffs on $75 billion worth of U.S. goods by 5-10% and target scores of agricultural commodities.
While some typical Midwest crops will be impacted, many more West Coast staples will bear much of the brunt. A list published by China’s Commerce Ministry of thousands of products to be hit with higher tariffs include fruits, vegetables and tree nuts. The list includes spinach, avocados, grapes, lemons, limes, oranges, pears, apricots, peaches, plums, strawberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, tomatoes, apples, onions, garlic, lettuce, celery, carrots, turnips, olives, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, brazil nuts, cashews, macadamia nuts chestnuts and more.
The escalation to the trade war did not stop there. Later in the day, President Donald Trump announced a retaliation to China’s retaliation. He declared via twitter that the U.S. would increase rates on $550 billion worth of Chinese goods - $300 billion of which haven’t even gone into effect yet.
The Chinese tariff increases are set to be imposed on Sept. 1 and Dec. 15, the same time the U.S. had planned its tariff increases. Trump tweeted that his increase on existing tariffs will go into effect on Oct. 1.
Feinstein chides Trump as trade war escalates
California’s senior senator didn’t hold back criticizing President Donald Trump after China imposed $75 billion in tariffs on ag products and U.S. goods Friday.
“Our farmers, workers and families can’t afford to keep paying the price for the president’s ill-conceived trade policies,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said. “California, our largest agriculture state, until recently sold more than $2 billion a year in agricultural products to China including wine, nuts and berries.”
Becerra challenges EPA over advisory committee
Attorney General Xavier Becerra expressed his support Friday for environmental justice groups suing the EPA over alleged ethics violations. Becerra joined nine other attorneys general in filing an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit challenges an EPA directive prohibiting scientists receiving EPA grant money from serving on an advisory board. Becerra called it “a blatant attempt to force independent academic scientists out…and replace them with industry plants."
He said in a news release: “In California, we believe in and proudly support science.”
California’s own ethics lapses: A longtime chair of CalEPA’s own Scientific Review Panel has been considered an “activist scientist” by a number of people, including Brian Leahy, a former director of the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.
The chair, UCLA Professor Emeritus John Froines, had been arrested in 1968 for inciting a riot and making incendiary devices. Froines was a member of theChicago Seven, the group responsible for anti-war riots at the Democratic National Convention.
Froines later served nearly 30 years as chair of the review panel before resigning in 2013 after “multiple controversies,” including alleged conflicts of interest. During his tenure, the state was also sued over repeatedly failing to follow the review protocol for political appointees when delegating Froines and others to the panel. Froines was let go but returned to the panel months later. Froines was also accused of “entertaining emails from a few key anti-pesticide activists.”
Where is he now? Froines co-authored a UCLA report in March condemning county ag commissioners for issuing too many permits for “toxic pesticides.” The report’s citations include a number of fact sheets and lawsuits from anti-pesticide groups. The response from Joel Nelsen, former president of California Citrus Mutual, was: “John Froines has been anti-pesticide since he’s been a Ph.D.”
Demand for H-2A slows
Demand for farmworkers under the H-2A visa program continues to slow down relative to recent years. The Labor Department certified 82,776 H-2A positions during the third quarter of fiscal 2019, which ended June 30, a record number for a third quarter but an increase of only 2% from the same quarter in FY18, according to an analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation. That third quarter total in FY18 was up 29% from the year before.
What’s going on? Farm Bureau economists say the slowdown could be a sign that demand for H-2A has matured, but they believe there also is evidence that it may be related to poor growing conditions in key states.
Farmers in four of the top 10 states for H-2A usage - Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona and South Carolina - all requested fewer H-2A workers in the third quarter. Other top states, California, Florida and Washington saw increases in H-2A demand.
By the way: The H-2A program is drawing the attention of Democratic presidential candidates, a sign that farmworker advocates are reaching out to campaigns. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ new Green New Deal plan calls for raising H-2A wage rates and providing the workers with a path to citizenship.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee dropped out of the race last week shortly after releasing a rural economic plan that called for scrapping the Trump administration’s planned overhaul of the H-2A visa program. Inslee also endorsed proposed heat restrictions for farmworkers.
California’s water and labor issues push dairies to consolidate
California saw significant growth in milk production in the decade leading up to the recession. But it has been mostly in decline over the last 10 years. That is the “result of a combination of water availability concerns and heightened labor regulations,” according to a new report from RaboBank.
California is tied with Idaho for the greatest number of large-scale dairies. The two western states have 35 operations of more than 5,000 cows. Both Idaho and Texas, which ranks second, have seen substantial growth over the last decade.
The report, which is based on data from the USDA’s 2017 Ag Census, notes that the industry overall is shifting towards large-scale operations and to non-traditional dairy regions. It says these regions may be more favorable to larger farms “due to land value, local regulations or water availability.” California’s dairies have also been facing increasing regulatory costs to meet strict new air and water quality standards.
He said it:
“They are completely politicizing a process that is not new and is being carried out as it always has, while they claim the Federal government is doing that very thing.” - Wayne Western, Jr., a columnist for the San Joaquin Valley Sun,responding to an LA Times report that the Trump administration has been sequestering documents related to an environmental review for water flows.
Bill Tomson and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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