September 18, 2019
A glimpse at Newsom’s Water Resilience Portfolio
The administration may soon be putting together a series of policy actions calling for a dynamic, regionalized, data-centric, interagency plan for California’s water-climate issues.
At a staff summit for the Department of Water Resources (DWR) yesterday, officials laid out some of the current strategic plans that state agencies will be incorporating into Newsom’s Water Resilience Portfolio.
Addressing aging infrastructure like that of the State Water Project is a “big ticket item,” according to DWR Deputy Director Cindy Messer. Like the Portfolio, the department is working on a Climate Action Plan that will set high-level priorities for the next three years, while aiming for climate scenarios 50 years out.
Messer added that the Portfolio must “take into consideration what the local entities have to say” and include a high level of engagement.
Amanda Montgomery, who manages water rights for the State Water Resources Control Board, agreed that climate problems tend to stem from storage issues. “In the 1800s, it might have been fine to rely on that snowmelt coming down,” she said. Now the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and other challenges are driving the need for more storage.
Stream gauges are needed to better assess flows when determining water rights, she added. This will inform the infrastructure needs, especially when accommodating peak flows for senior water rights holders. Montgomery said the Water Board will come out with a report this fall on managing water rights for climate resiliency.
The water data must be “democratized” for everyone to analyze, said Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot in a keynote speech later.
On pricing water to reflect infrastructure costs, he said it would bankrupt the Central Valley farm that is dependent on pre-1918 water rights. He also acknowledged ag is complex and not a simple drip irrigation fix, like he had worked on in the Brown administration.
Crowfoot was excited that the follow-up to California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment in 2018 will “be more robust than ever, in terms of truly funding science that can really regionalize projected impacts, go deep in certain areas and provide actionable science.”
DWR Deputy Director Cindy Messer at the Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation Summit
Key Democrat demands info on USDA spending
House Democratic leaders backed away from shutting down the Trump administration’s trade assistance payments to farmers. But a senior member of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, is demanding a briefing from USDA officials on how the money is being spent.
“The Administration’s broad and sustained use of CCC funds for agricultural programs are far beyond the size and scope of Congress’s original intent,” DeLauro says in a letter to Perdue. She said it’s “essential that Members of Congress be briefed as soon as possible as to the Administration’s future plans to continue distributing direct assistance using CCC funds.”
Keep in mind: Democratic complaints about the CCC spending could get a lot louder if Trump authorizes a third round of trade assistance in 2020, which seems a sure bet if the trade war with China continues. For now, most of the Democratic complaints seem to build off a release from the Environmental Working Group, which has tried unsuccessfully over the last few decades to modify farm policy.
Dems not yet satisfied on USMCA
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the White House still hasn’t met Democrats’ demands for stronger enforcement on labor and environmental reforms in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“It doesn’t even count if it isn’t enforceable …” Pelosi said on CNBC’s Mad Money. But she stressed that she’s optimistic the House will eventually pass the USMCA implementing bill. “We’ve been working very diligently to get to ‘yes’ in a timely way. Until we do, there is nothing to bring to the floor.”
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer delivered proposals last week to House Democrats in response to the demands they gave him in early August.
US and China prep for high-level trade talks
Chinese Vice Finance Minister Liao Min is scheduled to arrive in Washington today to begin working with U.S. trade officials on preparation for the minister-level talks tentatively planned for early October.
By the way: China continues to buy more U.S. soybeans. USDA announced Tuesday an export sale of 260,000 metric tons of U.S. soybeans for delivery in the 2019-20 marketing year. That was the third straight daily announcement of a sale to China and the total, since Friday, is 720,000 metric tons.
Agri-Pulse’s Hannah Pagel was selected by the National Press Foundation to take part in a fellowship this week on food and agriculture policy in the St. Louis area. Top: The journalists at VAST Produce, an aquaponics farm in Illinois. Bottom: Hannah chats with Lisa Safarian, president of North America Bayer.
PETA – yes, that PETA – working with EPA
EPA is working with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on a new policy to reduce pesticide testing on birds.
A key component of the draft policy is waiving requirements for toxicity studies that “offer little additional scientific information or public health protection,” EPA said.
“The draft policy represents another step toward the agency’s commitment to reduce animal testing while also ensuring that the agency receives enough information to support pesticide registration decisions that are protective of public health and the environment,” EPA said.
EPA and PETA are working together on what is called a retrospective analysis of avian dietary studies. This analysis will address whether EPA can confidently assess the risk to birds using only a single oral dose protocol.
He said it:
“In California water, there is this destructive gravitational force towards conflict – management by litigation and conflict.” – Secretary Crowfoot, after a two-hour meeting on voluntary settlement agreements (VAs) for delta river flows. He hailed the VA process as an example of “moving away from this zero-sum game.”
Bill Tomson, Steve Davies, Ben Nuelle and Hannah Pagel contributed to this report.
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September 17, 2019
CDFA: Pistachios up 150%, strawberries down 25%
Pistachios, grapes, lettuce, and more ag products experienced a big boost in sales last year according to the Department of Food and Ag, which released its cash receipt values on the state’s top 10 commodities for the 2018 crop year.
The growth: The most significant difference over 2017 was a spike in pistachio sales, which rose to $2.6 billion, up from $1 billion last year. UC Davis Professor Daniel Sumner noted earlier this year that California’s only other export competitor for pistachios, Iran, has been seeing its worst year for production. Sumner said the U.S. pistachio exports must make up for previous years plagued by low prices.
Several other commodities saw gains as well:
- Cattle and calves grew by about 23%, to $3.2 billion.
- Grapes were up by $400 million, to $6.3 billion.
- Lettuce grew by more than $600 million, to $1.8 billion
- Tomatoes were up slightly, to $1.2 billion.
- Floriculture was up by $200 million from its last report in 2015 and is now at $1.2 billion.
- Oranges grew by $200 million, to $1.1 billion.
The decline: Strawberries are down to $2.3 billion from a peak of $3.1 billion last year. In her new book, UC Santa Cruz Professor Julie Guthman says strawberry growers are bearing the brunt of climate change, while also facing steep production costs, labor shortages, increased pesticide regulation and “sky-high” land values.
Milk also took a hit this year, likely from low prices and rising compliance costs. It dropped by about $200 million but remains California’s top commodity at $6.4 billion. Almonds, heavily impacted by tariffs, also dropped by more than $200 million, and are now valued at $5.5 billion.
CDFA will release the full report, which will include ag exports, in late 2019.
The Almond Board wants to see your Mummy Shake
It’s the time of year for almond growers to shake off their mummy nuts – the cornerstone of Navel Orangeworm management, according to the Almond Board of California (ABC). By removing and destroying nuts that harbor the overwintering orangeworm, growers reduce the risk of aflatoxin contamination and prevent the pest from traveling to neighboring orchards.
To spread that message, the board has revived its video contest. ABC launched the competition last year and joined in with its own catchy music video parodying “The Monster Mash.”
The winner this year could earn a trip to Disneyland. ABC is taking submissions until Nov. 4 and will announce the winner and screen clips of all the videos at its annual conference in early December.
Experts: Environmental laws flexible enough
Congress doesn’t need to pass new laws to deal with new environmental problems, according to new research. Instead, existing laws have enough flexibility to address issues raised by a rapidly changing environment, says a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Says co-author Robin Craig of the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, “Rather than mandate that a particular protected area remain in an increasingly forced historical state of being, agency management rule changes can allow the area to adapt and evolve to changing conditions while still protecting the new productive system that emerges.”
“I think that the most important message is that we don't have to wait for Congress to act to more comprehensively engage in (needed) adaptation and transformation,” he wrote.
Keep in mind: Conservative judges, including those nominated by President Trump, are likely to limit the flexibility that regulatory agencies have.
Trump moves on Japan trade pact
President Trump has formally notified Congress that he is initiating a trade agreement with Japan “in the coming weeks.” Trump is taking the action under the Trade Promotion Authority that Congress provided in 2015.
The notification doesn’t provide any details of the agreement itself, but the pact is expected to lower tariffs for beef, pork, dairy, wheat and other U.S. commodities.
House Democrats back down on trade aid
House Democratic leaders are backing away from a fight with the White House over USDA’s authority to continue making trade assistance payments.
Democrats had been considering denying a White House request to replenish the USDA account the department is using to make payments to farmers under the Market Facilitation Program. A senior Democratic aide tells Agri-Pulse that the request is now likely to be included in a continuing resolution. But the aide says that Democratic leaders were “negotiating language to ensure accountability and transparency” for USDA’s use of the Commodity Credit Corp. account.
The turnabout came after the leadership received appeals from several rural Democrats. “We cannot and will not allow our farmers to be used as political pawns,” House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson and Jim Costa, who chairs the Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee, said in a joint statement Monday.
By the way: Steve Peterson, associate administrator for USDA’s Farm Service Agency, says FSA has been keeping Congress updated on the CCC account. “Obviously we provide technical assistance to the folks on the Hill when they ask for it. There have been preliminary estimates about what we believe the payout is going to be after Oct. 1,” he said.
China open to ag in second round of tariff exemptions
China will be accepting exemption applications for punitive tariffs on imports of U.S. goods until Oct. 18, 2019, and many U.S. ag commodities could again make the list, according to USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service.
China’s Finance Ministry announced the first list of 16 exempt U.S. goods on Wednesday last week, including whey and alfalfa. The commodities being considered for the second round include soybean oil, olive oil, ice cream, frozen strawberries, apple juice, beef, rolled oats, wheat gluten and frozen potatoes.
He said it:
“I come from the number one agriculture community in the United States, and I can tell you that our farmers are supportive of the President getting a good trade deal with China. America's farmers have his back, and more importantly, he has theirs.” – House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy
Spencer Chase, Bill Tomson, Ben Nuelle and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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September 16, 2019
Newsom promises to veto SB 1
Following a dramatic night, the state Senate wrapped up the year’s final session at 3 a.m. on Saturday. Rumors had swirled that SB 1 would be shelved as a two-year bill, until the Assembly called up the “Trump insurance” act for a floor vote.
Author Toni Atkins had said she held off on bringing up the bill as long as she could that night, buying more time for discussions with the administration.
Arguments in both houses pitched between fears of environmental degradation to fears of economic degradation in agricultural communities. In opposition, a bipartisan coalition of Central Valley legislators delivered at times desperate pleas on behalf of rural communities.
“My ancestors were Dust Bowl okies,” said Assemblymember Devon Mathis of Visalia. “Now I don't want us turned into dust bowl Californians.”
Laura Friedman of Glendale carried the bill in the Assembly. She argued the bill affects "what is there today and not agreed to over time” and would not harm voluntary agreements. The authors had undergone “hours and hours of meetings” to negotiate over amendments, she said.
Democrat Adam Gray of Merced countered that "seven years of discussions” through two gubernatorial administrations would be “destroyed" by the measure.
Notably, Assembly Ag Chair and Democrat Susan Eggman of Stockton voted in favor of SB 1, while Gray and Democrat Rudy Salas of Bakersfield voted against.
Governor Newsom was keeping a safe distance from the bill. On Saturday, however, he stepped in, issuing a statement claiming the bill “limits the state’s ability to rely upon the best available science to protect our environment.” He promised to veto the measure.
A number of ag groups immediately applauded Newsom’s decision, along with Representative Josh Harder, who had stood in opposition to SB 1 with Senator Dianne Feinstein and three other Central Valley members of Congress.
History was made under the harvest moon that Friday the 13th. An anti-vaccine protestor shut down the capitol building by throwing blood onto senators from a balcony above, turning the debate floor into a crime scene and stalling votes for hours.
Assemblymember Laura Friedman urges the house to pass SB 1.
Bills on reducing plastic packaging die in the night
SB 54 and its counterpart AB 1080 did not come up for a floor vote in the Legislature. Last-minute deals to push SB 1 through seemed to have absorbed all the momentum for the ambitious environmental measures. The bills will, however, return in January as two-year bills.
While the California Grocers Association had dropped opposition, food processors, wine makers, dairy interests, glass makers and many other groups remained opposed.
California Citrus Mutual notes the authors added more than 200 amendments during the last week. The final-hour revisions, along with logistical challenges for implementing the measures, likely contributed to the bills’ demise, writes CCM Director of Government Affairs Alyssa Houtby.
The bills would have mandated a 75% reduction in single-use plastics by 2030 through recycling, composting and alternative sources.
No cases filed to dispute chlorpyrifos cancellation
The Office of Administrative Hearings on Friday reported that no registrants have filed a request for a hearing to dispute the cancellation of chlorpyrifos. In August, Attorney General Xavier Becerra gave registrants 15 days to counter his legal claim over the harm the insecticide allegedly posed.
A hearing would have delayed the cancellation until the dispute were resolved.
Spinach recall issued over E. coli
California producer and retailer Urban Remedy issued a voluntary recall Friday over concerns of E. coli in organic salads and wraps. The 76 products in question were sold in stores, online, at Whole Foods Markets and at other retailers.
In a filing for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, CEO Paul Coletta said, “We’re taking preventative action to keep our customers safe, although no illness has been reported to date.”
Coletta reported that his company has dropped the supplier where the spinach tested positive. The use-by dates for the products also expired yesterday.
Spending bill debate extends to MFP payments
U.S. House Democratic leaders hope to pass a stopgap spending bill this week, but first they have to resolve a dispute over trade aid payments to farmers.
A continuing resolution needs to pass by Oct. 1 to keep the government funded into the new fiscal year. House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., has been considering leaving out an administration request to replenish the $30 billion Commodity Credit Corp. account that USDA uses to make the Market Facilitation Program payments.
Iowa freshman Cindy Axne, a House Democrat from Iowa, tweeted, however, that “We cannot cut a lifeline to struggling farmers. I will not support a [Continuing Resolution] that doesn’t include tariff aid.”
A key Senate appropriator, North Dakota Republican John Hoeven, vowed to ensure that the payments would continue uninterrupted. Hoeven chairs the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which controls USDA’s budget.
Read more in Washington Week Ahead on Agri-Pulse.com
FDA finds most foods don’t violate limits on pesticide residues
The vast majority of foods tested for pesticide residues were found to be well within federally prescribed limits, the Food and Drug Administration said in its latest pesticide monitoring report, which includes data for fiscal year 2017.
FDA found that 96.2% of domestic and 89.6% of imported human foods complied with federal standards. No pesticide chemical residues were found in 52.5% of the domestic and 50% of the imported samples analyzed.
FDA finished the second year of a special assignment focusing on herbicides, testing 879 samples of corn, soy, milk and eggs for glyphosate and glufosinate, and more than 1,000 samples of selected grains and root crops for acid herbicides over the two-year period.
Residues of glyphosate or glufosinate were not found in any egg or milk samples, while glyphosate and/or glufosinate residues were found in about 60% of the corn and soy grain samples. None, however, exceeded established tolerances.
FDA flagged 22 imported commodities “that may warrant special attention” because of a high number of violations. They include celery, with violations found in 38.5% of samples; carrots, with a 21.4% violation rate; and raisins, with a 29.4% violation rate.
The violation rate for imported foods, at 10.4%, was well above the 3.8% rate for domestic foods.
He said it:
"A lot of the people working in our communities – in agriculture, in hospitality, in tourism – do not earn enough to provide food for their families over the course of a month. They depend on nutritional supplement support… This is a draconian measure." – Senator Bill Monning of Carmel on the Trump administration’s recent proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
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