September 6, 2019
While California exports decline, ag exports see gains
Exports overall for California manufactured and non-manufactured goods dropped by 3.4% compared to the previous July, according to the latest analysis by Beacon Economics. Yet shipments of non-manufactured goods (chiefly agricultural products and raw materials) rose by 8.4%, to $3 billion. Exports of food and kindred products inched up by 4.0% to $2.35 billion from $2.26 billion
The state’s overall exports to China declined by 6.3%, falling to $4.03 billion. East Asia as a whole saw a decline of 4.6%, while the European Union ticked up by 6.5%.
“It must be increasingly frustrating for California exporters who have the capacity to sell more of their merchandise abroad but are inhibited from doing so,” said economist Robert Kleinhenz, in the Beacon report.
Image: Beacon Economics
Facts on California’s water management
The Public Policy Institute of California released updated reports on water infrastructure and management in the state. Some key facts to remember, according to the institute:
Two-thirds of California’s dams are at least 50 years old. More than 90 need major upgrades.
Groundwater recharge has potential. But agencies must provide better incentives and water accounting. The state should give water managers and growers guidelines for on-farm recharge practices that protect water quality.
Upgrading water conveyance infrastructure is essential for increasing groundwater storage.
Building Sites and Temperance Flat reservoirs, while expanding Pacheco and Los Vaqueros and raising Shasta Dam would boost California’s storage by about 9%. But annual deliveries would increase by only about 1% of annual water use statewide.
Water users would pay for the bulk of those investments. Water and sewer bills and local taxes account for about 85% of the more than $30 billion spent annually on the state’s water management, according to PPIC.
The San Joaquin Valley is ground zero for expanding groundwater recharge, according to PPIC. (Image: PPIC)
Maddy Institute is offering legislative internships
The deadline is today for college students to apply for an internship in Sacramento, D.C. or San Joaquin Valley government offices.
The Maddy Institute selects 30 students each and helps prepare them as leaders for the San Joaquin Valley, where the policy institute is based. It supplies a $1,500-scholarship and places interns in Congressional offices, state legislative offices and the governor’s office.
Apply online at the institute’s website.
USTR confirms: China talks back on track
Negotiations to end the U.S.-China trade war are back on track and preparations are being made for high-level officials to meet for the next round of face-to-face talks, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Trade Representative.
USTR Bob Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin “spoke with Vice Premier Liu He of China on Wednesday night regarding U.S.-China trade talks,” the spokesperson told Agri-Pulse. “They agreed to hold meetings at the ministerial level in Washington in the coming weeks. In advance of these discussions, deputy-level meetings will take place in mid-September to lay the groundwork for meaningful progress.”
The confirmation comes after the Chinese state-run media outlet Xinhua News announced Thursday the Liu was planning to meet with Lighthizer and Mnuchin in October.
Pence presses new UK prime minister for trade pact
Britain remains ensnarled in the uncertain process of exiting the European Union, but that didn’t stop Vice President Mike Pence from pressing new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for a trade agreement with the U.S. as soon as possible.
“The minute the U.K. is out, America is in,” said Pence, who was in London Thursday to meet with Johnson. Furthermore, Pence added that the U.S. is “ready, willing, and able to immediately negotiate a free trade agreement with the U.K.”
Johnson said that was “fantastic,” but he also brought up a potential problem, warning that British aren’t “keen on that chlorinated chicken.”
The U.S.-accepted practice of using sanitary washes to control the spread of pathogens isn’t permitted by the EU, including Britain. It’s just one of the regulatory changes that the U.S. hopes the U.K. will drop once Brexit is complete.
By the way: The U.S. also hopes the U.K. will abandon European restrictions like a ban on pork from swine treated with ractopamine.
GAO: USDA broke law during shutdown
US dairy offers China help on swine fever
American dairy producers continue to lose export business as the U.S.-China trade war rages on, but the U.S. Dairy Export Council wants to maintain its ties with the country by helping it recover from African swine fever, a disease that is devastating pork production there, says USDEC President and CEO Tom Vilsack.
USDEC will be holding several seminars over the coming month to share with the Chinese results of research showing how whey products can help.
The research shows that feeding “whey protein to lactating sows can accelerate the repopulation of (China’s) hog industry,” Vilsack said.
It’s a “good faith effort during the trade talks,” said Vilsack, who also stressed that U.S. exports to China were on track to break new records in the first half of 2018, before the trade war erupted and tariffs were levied.
Agencies sued for antibiotic data
An environmental group is suing the Trump administration to gain records on the use of antibiotics as pesticides. The Center for Biological Diversity filed a Freedom of Information
Act lawsuit Wednesday against EPA and FDA in a D.C. federal court.
“Overuse of antibiotics essential for treating human diseases poses a public health threat because it can lead to ‘superbugs’ — bacteria that have developed antibiotic resistance,” the group says.
He said it: “From using a straw to eating a burger, am I part of the problem? In a certain way ‘yes.’ But the most exciting thing is that we can all be part of the solution.” - Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, interviewed on CNN about the climate issue.
Bill Tomson and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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September 5, 2019
SB 1 would now unwind a critical compromise over wetlands
Before passing the Appropriations Committee last Friday, the “Trump Insurance” bill was amended to include language on dredge and fill activities.
Keep in mind: Senate Bill 1 seeks to codify into California law federal environmental protections, like the Clean Water Act and the Waters of the U.S. rule. Yet the bill would apply the rules as they were written before President Trump took office.
Erasing the past: In April, the State Water Resources Control Board approved an updated definition of wetlands. The California Rice Commission and other interests had steered those negotiations toward a definition that exempts routine agricultural practices. Environmental groups said the final definition allowed too many exclusions that could be exploited.
SB 1 as a law would order the Water Board to enforce the original definition from the Obama era.
Family Winemakers of California: “This is classic legislative overreach, with which you are all too familiar.” FWC adds that it would “subject your vineyard and routine farming activities to a lengthy, costly, and uncertain state permitting process.”
Irony? Yesterday, the California Office of Administrative Law announced it hasapproved the state wetland definition and procedures, which will take effect in May 2020.
Newsom’s task force on water talks with Fresno farmers today
The Fresno County Farm Bureau is hosting the State Board of Food and Ag this afternoon. The meeting will serve as a listening session for Governor Newsom’s upcoming Water Resilience Portfolio.
The administration has held dozens of listening sessions with local and state agencies across California, in an effort to survey the entirety of challenges ahead for the governor. The administration will present its findings alongside a number of policy actions next month.
The public forum will take place at 1 p.m. at the bureau’s headquarters on 1274 W. Hedges Ave.
Legislature passes fur trapping ban, bird protections and updates to ag codes
California is now the first state to ban the trapping of animals for fur products. Yesterday, Governor Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 273. The Legislature is also considering a ban on the sale of fur products.
AB 454 would enshrine the Migratory Bird Treaty Act into California law to protect it from changes at the federal level. The bill has passed the Legislature and is at the governor’s desk. Amendments have removed opposition from ag and timber groups
On the ag front, AB 590 would help California comply with the federal milk marketing order. AB 1801 is an industry-sponsored bill proposing to increase fees for cattle inspections. AB 657 would extend a tax on commercial feed and “ensure your poultry and livestock remain healthy for the next five years” according to Assemblymember Susan Eggman. All three bills now reside at the governor’s desk.
Candidates eye ag, electric vehicles for climate fixes
Several Democratic candidates used last night’s televised town hall on climate change to call for changes in agriculture or measures that could reduce meat production. One candidate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, said food labels should be required to disclose the environmental impact of the ingredients.
There was widespread agreement among the candidates that electric vehicles should replace the internal combustion engine as quickly as possible, an idea that’s problematic to say the least for the future of biofuels. There was also broad support for imposing some kind of tax on the use of fossil fuels.
Dems demanding changes to USMCA text
Some key Democrats aren’t waiting for the end of the congressional recess to underscore demands that the Trump administration agree to changes in the core text of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that would require approval from all three countries.
Democratic Reps. Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut are stressing that side letters tacked on to USMCA won’t be good enough, but both lawmakers also say they want to eventually approve the pact. Kind is a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade policy, and DeLauro is a member of a special working group assigned by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to negotiate with the White House on the trade pact.
No one, Kind said, “is talking about a wholesale renegotiation. We’re talking about some minor changes and reforms within the text.”
Kind said he believes it’s possible to ratify USMCA by the end of the year, but only if U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer delivers meaningful changes and a lot of work is accomplished quickly. Democrats, Kind said, “are working hard to get to yes on USMCA … I think there’s a window of opportunity this fall before the 2020 election cycle overwhelms everything.”
Trump: Chinese desperate for trade deal
China is on the ropes and growing more desperate for an end to the trade war, but it’s still unclear if negotiators will be able to reach a deal, President Donald Trump told reporters Wednesday.
“China has now had the worst year that they've had in 57 years,” Trump said. “This is the worst year they've had in 57 years. And they want to make a deal. We'll see what happens.”
But China is pushing back on the notion that it can be forced to concede to U.S. demands: “The U.S. may be good at fighting a ‘trade blitzkrieg,’ but when it comes to a protracted trade war, Chinese society has an obvious advantage digesting problems caused by the trade war,” says a new message from Global Times, a government-controlled media outlet. “The escalated trade war will certainly lead to greater losses, but Chinese society has already made it clear that this confrontation concerns the country's future. We are willing and able to bear these losses.”
SNAP eligibility cut falls hardest on 20 states
A new study out today estimates that more than 10% of the households receiving food stamps in 20 states would lose eligibility under a rule proposed by the Trump administration. The proposed rule, released in July, would tighten a process called categorical eligibility that allows people to receive SNAP benefits in some states with incomes above the federal limit.
The study by the consulting firm Mathematica estimates that 1.9 million households and 3.6 million people nationwide would lose eligibility under the proposal.
Some 18% of SNAP households in Wisconsin would be cut off, along with 17% of those in North Dakota, 16% in Delaware, Iowa, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, the study says. Some 233,195 SNAP households in Texas would be affected, 15% of the state’s caseload and the largest number of any state.
USDA officials say that categorical eligibility has allowed people to game the system. Critics say the higher income limits encourage poor people to get jobs.
Keep in mind: The report comes as USDA is reporting significant progress in reducing hunger nationwide. The rate of food insecurity fell to 11.1% in 2018, the lowest level since 2007, before the last recession. Anti-hunger advocates welcome the progress but raised concerns that the SNAP rule could reverse it.
Read our report on the latest food security numbers here.
She said it. “I love cheeseburgers from time to time. I just do.” – Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., when asked whether the government should take steps to reduce meat consumption.
Bill Tomson and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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September 4, 2019
DPR offers grants for alternatives to chlorpyrifos
Following the administration’s decision to cancel the insecticide chlorpyrifos, the Department of Pesticide Regulation has launched a grant program to fund research into alternatives.
DPR began taking applications yesterday. The department has set aside $2.1 million for “safer, practical and sustainable” alternatives. It is also putting $500,000 towards integrated pest management projects that reduce the health risks for existing pesticide products “of high regulatory concern.”
The grant funding was part of the General Fund obligations in Governor Newsom’s July budget. The Department of Food and Ag is also allocating more than $3 million in grants for IPM strategies.
Candidates face questions on climate policy
The presidential campaign will be squarely focused today on the issue of climate change and what to do about it. Ten of the Democratic candidates will be interviewed successively over seven hours starting this afternoon during a “town hall” hosted by CNN.
We’ll be watching to see how much the candidates talk about agriculture, how they plan to get their proposals implemented, and how they would address the impacts of higher energy prices on businesses and consumers. That last issue killed the 2009 “cap and trade” proposal.
Keep in mind: The candidates have been rolling out one sweeping plan after another, many of which would have far-reaching impacts on agriculture. Bernie Sanders’ Green New Deal plan, which calls for wholesale change in farming, includes a $160-billion proposal to pay farmers for keeping carbon in the soil through conservation practices.
On that note: The California Assembly yesterday passed a resolution urging Congress to pass the Green New Deal.
Booker’s plan: New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker released his plan on Tuesday. Like many of the other candidates, he wants to dramatically increase spending on conservation programs.
He would expand the Conservation Reserve Program to 40 million acres and provide $7 billion a year to both the Environmental Quality Incentive Program and Conservation Stewardship Program. The 2018 farm bill authorized $1.75 billion for EQIP and $700 million for CSP in 2019.
California billionaire Tom Steyer was not invited to the debate. But his climate policies on agriculture have a distinctly Californian flavor and are visible on his ranch outside of San Francisco. Steyer and wife Kat Taylor have long been outspoken environmental activists through their hedge fund management. In 2006, they also purchased an 1,800-acre cattle ranch as “a learning laboratory” for studying and promoting sustainable ag practices. Dubbed TomKat Ranch, the operation served as the backdrop for Steyer’s video announcing his candidacy in July.
Kat Taylor also sits on the board for the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute and is often invited to campus to deliver keynotes on environmental justice. Their non-profit charity and their educational foundation have funded UC climate-smart ag research as well as policy papers advocating for organic and regenerative agriculture. The couple also finances an academic fellowship for sustainable groundwater policy research.
Taylor recently shared her thoughts on food sustainability in a podcast for a Bay Area slow food advocacy group.
Tom Steyer at TomKat Ranch in Pescadero, Calif.
Dems still waiting for USTR proposal on USMCA
House Democrats gave the Trump administration a list of demanded changes to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement before Congress left town for its August recess, but the lawmakers still have not heard back with a formal response from U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, says House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal.
“Democrats are committed to a renegotiated deal with strong enforcement mechanisms that helps working families, protects the environment, and preserves access to affordable medicines now and in the future,” Neal said in a statement after discussing USMCA progress with fellow Democrats on a teleconference Tuesday. “We are eager to continue making progress on the new NAFTA, and we await a full, formal response to our proposals from the Trump Administration.”
Approval in the Democrat-controlled House could “seep into next year,” according to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. She’s part of a nine-member working group that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi assigned to work with the White House on the trade pact.
“When we get to where we need to get to, we will move,” DeLauro told The Middletown Press for a story published Tuesday. “We’re not there yet. And that’s critically important to understand.”
Trump vacillates on China
Trump again tweeted on Tuesday that the U.S. “is doing very well in our negotiations with China.” He then repeated a previous prediction that the country would prefer to hold off on a deal in the hopes of a different president after the 2020 election.
Trump also pushed back against increasing criticism that the U.S. should be confronting China together with allies, such as the European Union.
For more on the trade war and a rising chorus of criticism from Democratic presidential candidates, check out this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter.
Producer sentiment drops amid trade impasse
The Trump administration’s latest round of trade aid payments couldn’t be coming at a better time, given the mood in farm country. Purdue University’s measure of producer sentiment dropped significantly in August, falling 29 points to a reading of 124.
Over two-thirds of respondents, or 71%, said the 2019 MFP program will either “completely or somewhat relieve” their concerns about the impact of the trade war with China on 2019 farm income. And nearly 60% expect USDA to provide yet another round of Market Facilitation Program payments in 2020, according to the Ag Economy Barometer.
‘Impossible Burger’ oversight questioned
FDA’s review of soy leghemoglobin (SL), a key ingredient in the Impossible Burger, was inadequate, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer research and advocacy group.
CSPI said FDA ignored its guidance on recommended toxicity testing for food additives in the agency’s Aug. 1 decision. That guidance “recommends long-term safety testing for additives like soy leghemoglobin, which fall in the agency’s highest ‘concern level’ category due to the extent of exposure,’ CSPI said.
SL contains heme, a compound also found in red meat and blood. “According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, there is ‘strong evidence’ that heme ‘contributes to the carcinogenic mechanisms associated with red and processed meats,’” CSPI said.
According to the Oakland-based Impossible Foods company, heme is “what makes meat taste like meat.”
He said it:
“My administration will work in partnership with the labor movement to continue this conversation to build paths for workers in our state who want to join a union.” – Governor Gavin Newsom, in a Labor Day op-ed supporting Assembly Bill 5 and its proposal to reclassify independent truckers as employees.
Bill Tomson and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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September 3, 2019
Committees advance Trump insurance bill and others to final votes
While the votes were decided ahead of time, the two appropriations committees ran through a head-spinning number of measures on Friday.
This took place in the Assembly as a group of anti-vaxxers chanted loudlythroughout the hearing in an unprecedented move to shut down the vote on Senator Pan’s controversial vaccine bill.
The legislature has until the end of this week to amend bills and until September 13 to pass them.
The "Cardiff Cook" statue in Encinitas is dressed up in support of AB 5 for Labor Day. Photo by Asm. Lorena Gonzalez.
Assembly Bill 5 on independent contractors passed committee with new amendments. Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez added exemptions for fishermen and other industries from the proposed worker classification standards. Yet she “cemented” in provisions that would “put trucking firms that hire owner-operators out of business,” according to Debbie Ferrari, who represents truckers. Ferrari added that it “disregards agriculture, levy repairs and fire cleanup.”
The specific amendments will be unveiled later this week as the bill goes to print.
Uber and Lyft did not receive exemptions either. But the two tech companies vowed last week to invest $90 million into a 2020 ballot initiative to advance those exemptions.
In a Labor Day tweet on her bill, Gonzalez, herself a former labor organizer, said “taxpayers subsidize multibillion-dollar corporations so they can pay workers poverty wages.”
Supporting the bill are U.S. Senators and presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, according to CALmatters.
On that note: Ahead of the AB 5 vote, the UC Berkeley Labor Center published a study last week implicating independent truckers for holding back California’s climate goals. The paper said the group has the lowest compliance rate for clean truck standards, at 61%.
SB 1, the “Trump insurance” bill, passed committee with several amendments. Senator Toni Atkins offered “some flexibility” in her bill when it comes to the biological opinions that dictate flows from the federal water project.
Atkins would also allow for future updates to the California Endangered Species Act in relation to listings and takes. Other changes were related to potential updates for drinking water and air quality standards.
The California Water Alliance, a non-partisan group advocating for farmers, immediately objected to the passage. Chairman William Bourdeau said in a statement: “Our environmental laws and regulations should be defined by current, sound science, not petty politics.”
A bill allocating $400 million toward fixing the Friant-Kern Canal was held in committee. SB 559 will return next year as a two-year bill.
California Citrus Mutual noted that the bill faced “an uphill battle” due to its high price tag. The citrus trade group added: “There is a greater chance of success in next year’s budget now that a strong foundation of support has been created.”
Casting the final legislative votes, the Legislature also passed several bills on the floor Friday, sending them to the governor:
- AB 417 would create a California rural development agency and a CDFA economist to report on impacts from the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act
- AB 450 adds technical updates to last year’s Apiary Protection Act
- ACR 22 marks August as Valley Fever Awareness Month
New tariff volley in China-US trade war
The U.S. hit China with new tariffs on Sunday, and China returned fire with higher tariffs on U.S. goods, including a wide range of farm goods. But President Donald Trump was upbeat, claiming a September negotiating round is still going to happen.
“We are talking to China,” Trump told reporters Sunday. “The meeting is still on, as you know, in September. That hasn’t changed. They haven’t changed and we haven’t. We’ll see what happens.”
Meanwhile, Trump said farmers, who are losing Chinese customers, are doing well thanks to the two trade assistance packages worth a combined $28 billion that include direct payments, commodity purchases and foreign marketing funds.
“I’m making the farmers more than whole,” Trump said. “The farmers are doing better than if China, frankly, were buying.”
On that note: NPR’s Planet Money podcast offers an explainer on how China once offered to buy US rice but never followed through. (It finally did last month, however, beginning with California’s Calrose variety.)
Income up, but debt continues to increase for farmers
The farm income forecast released by USDA’s Economic Research Service Friday was a classic case of good news tempered by some ominous signs.
Farm profits are expected to rise $4 billion to $88 billion, a 4.8% increase, but when adjusted for inflation the numbers are more modest: An increase of $2.5 billion to $86.5 billion, which is a 2.9% bump.
Most of that increase is due to direct government payments of $19.5 billion, including about $13 billion in trade mitigation payments. And without insurance indemnities of about $6 billion, farm income would be at about $62 billion — less than half its 2013 peak of $136.5 billion.
ERS also highlighted the increase in Chapter 12 bankruptcies, which it said have been “trending upwards” since 2016. The American Farm Bureau Federation has reported that Chapter 12 filings have gone from 467 from July 2017 through June 2018, to 514 over the next year.
California maintains the lead in most of the farm income categories. Last year, the state had more than $51 billion in receipts, making up 12% of the total US share.
Maui County panel to look at settlement of wastewater case
A Maui County Council committee will discuss a possible settlement of its Clean Water Act case before the Supreme Court at a meeting today.
The closely watched litigation, scheduled for November arguments, involves a treatment plant on the island that discharges wastewater into injection wells, where it then travels through groundwater to the Pacific Ocean.
Agricultural interests are concerned that if, as the Ninth Circuit ruled, indirect discharges are covered by permit requirements, then ag facilities’ use of lagoons, basins and pits could be targeted.
It appears unlikely that a settlement, which could involve the county’s reuse of the wastewater, could be worked out before the Supreme Court hears the case. The attorney for environmental groups that sued the county told the Maui Newshe was suspicious of Mayor Michael Victorino’s offer.
Glyphosate comments due today
Today is the deadline for interested parties to submit comments on EPA’s proposed interim registration of glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup. So far, the agency has received over 300,000 comments, but only about 7,000 are posted online, where the usual fault lines are on display.
Ag groups are supporting continued registration of the herbicide, arguing that it is vital to continued no-till and low-tillage efforts that lead to better soil conservation. Environmental groups are seeking to have its registration canceled, contending that there’s enough evidence to show that it causes cancer.
The agency expects to have an interim decision by next spring.
Correction: Last week, Agri-Pulse reported in Daybreak West the Department of Pesticide Regulations is supplying volunteers, including environmental organizations, with new air monitoring equipment in the city of Shafter. Instead, it’s the Air Resource Board supplying the equipment. Also, DPR is proposing to install three more air monitoring sites, but the final decision will be determined through the state budgeting process. We regret the errors.
Read the full report on the air monitoring program at Agri-Pulse.com.
She said it:
“While there are things that I don't agree with our president on, this is something that will help the California economy, specifically in the area of agricultural production.” - Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, expressing her support forSenate Joint Resolution 12, which encourages the passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. SJR 12 passed the Senate floor last week.
Bill Tomson and Philip Brasher contributed to this report.
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