December 2, 2019
Hemp, chlorpyrifos and water policy on agenda for Ag Board
The California State Food and Ag Board meets tomorrow and is taking on some of the biggest policies going into 2020.
The board will hear an update on industrial hemp policies. Uncertainties have followed the USDA’s interim rule last month issuing a narrow 15-day testing window ahead of harvest. Growers have struggled to meet CDFA’s own 30-day window, due to hemp being a labor-intensive crop and no mechanical harvesters are sold commercially.
The board will also provide feedback to the Alternatives to Chlorpyrifos Work Group organized by the Department of Pesticide Regulation and CDFA. Joseph McIntyre of Ag Innovations will present to the board. McIntyre is a private consultant the state hired to facilitate the work group. Three public workshops are also scheduled for January. One of the key questions for the group is whether DPR has the ability to expedite the review process for new products.
The board will also hear updates from Nancy Vogel, head of the governor’s Water Resilience Portfolio. The administration will release a draft of the policy report this month. The centerpiece of the portfolio will be the administration’s approach to the Voluntary Agreements over Bay-Delta flows now that a lawsuit and a contentious state environmental report are underway.
Don Cameron, president of the State Board of Food and Agriculture
CDFA touts Healthy Soils achievements
CDFA is hosting a ribbon-cutting ceremony today to kick off its celebrations for Healthy Soils Week. CDFA Secretary Karen Ross will speak at the event, along with Assembly Ag Chair Susan Eggman and USDA State Conservationist Carlos Suarez of the Natural Resource Conservation Service.
The ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. inside the capitol and is timed to coincide with World Soils Day on Thursday.
Ross said CDFA’s conservation program “continues a statewide commitment to sustainability, improved air and water quality, as well as enhanced biological diversity and habitat.”
Analysts from CDFA’s Healthy Soils Program will also present updates to the Food and Ag Board tomorrow. The program has been oversubscribed and Governor Newsom nearly doubled the cap-and-trade funding for the program this year, though he also slashed budgets for other climate programs.
Board President Don Cameron said in an interview that buy-in from farmers for Healthy Soils has been slower than other programs, but “you're going to see that become more prominent as we look forward.”
H-2A demand slows sharply
Farm demand for the H-2A program continues to slow off the double-digit pace of recent years, according to an analysis by the American Farm Bureau Federation.
During the fourth quarter of fiscal 2019 that ended Sept. 30, there was a 6% increase in the number of certified H-2A positions compared to the same quarter of FY19. That is the smallest increase for a fourth quarter since the Labor Department started releasing quarterly H-2A data in 2012, the Farm Bureau says.
There was only a 2% increase in H-2A positions for the third quarter of FY19.
According to the Farm Bureau analysis, the slowing demand for H-2A could be due to poor weather but also could be indicative of “diminishing returns to labor on horticultural operations.”
By the way: The minimum H-2A wage rate continues to grow. Regional wage requirements vary sharply by region. But for 2020, the national average wage rate is estimated to be $13.99 an hour, up from $13.25 in 2019 and $12.47 in 2018.
The national wage in 2019 was 17% higher than the 2015 wage and 31% above the 2010 wage of $10.12.
USMCA: ‘On our way’ to deal
Lawmakers return from their Thanksgiving break this week with a full slate of issues to deal with, ranging from impeachment to a Dec. 20 deadline for keeping the government funded.
The chances for a House vote on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement appear to be getting better after a meeting last week between U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and his Mexican counterpart, Jesus Seade. “Every single issue that has made me lose my sleep is off the table,” Seade told reporters. “We are on our way to a resolution.”
He did caution that the group has some way to go. House Democrats are pressing Mexico to follow through with enforcement mechanisms with labor standards. Seade said Mexico would only agree with enforcement mechanisms that are within World Trade Organization rules.
The Senate is back in session today, while the House returns to action Tuesday.
For more on this week’s agenda in D.C., read our Washington Week Ahead.
MFP, insurance shore up farm economy
The latest farm income forecast from USDA affirms the huge role that trade mitigation payments and crop insurance are playing in the farm economy this year.
Direct government payments and crop insurance benefits (indemnities less premiums) will account for 31% of the $92.5 billion in net farm income expected this year, according to Carrie Litkowski, an economist for the Economic Research Service.
The orange-shaded bars represent direct government payments (darker orange), including the Market Facilitation Program, and crop insurance benefits (lighter orange).
Earnings for production ag soar
The numbers are even more striking when looking only at farms with more than $350,000 in sales or smaller operations where the operator’s principal occupation is farming. There are 950,000 of those operations, and their average farm income will increase sharply this year after declining in the previous four years.
The largest of those operations are classified as “commercial farms" and have sales of at least $350,000. Their median farm income is projected at $178,292 this year, an increase of nearly 26% over 2018.
Take note: Overall numbers on the farm economy also reflect what USDA classifies as smaller “residential farms,” which bring the total number of U.S. farms to about 2 million.
Bottom line: Most sectors except for poultry are seeing higher earnings this year.
Farms where corn is the primary crop are projected to have average net cash farm income of $206,400 this year, an increase of 20% from 2018.
She said it:
“Misinformation and rhetoric surrounding these critical infrastructure projects have facilitated a false narrative that only a handful of agricultural interests will benefit at the expense of our environment. This couldn’t be more untrue.” – U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, in an op-ed for the Fresno Bee arguing for raising Shasta Dam to add more storage capacity.
Ben Nuelle and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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