December 19, 2019

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Editor’s note: Because of the holidays, Daybreak West will not be publishing the weeks of Dec. 23 and Dec. 30. Daybreak will return Jan. 6.
H-2A wages set to rise in 2020
Higher wage rates for H-2A workers are set to take effect Jan. 2. The Labor Department is publishing the new rates in the Federal Register today. The rates are set to rise by an average 6%, including in California. But rates in some states will be up as much as 9% to 10%. Read more in our article here.

Mechanizing winegrape production cuts costs by 17%
Four new studies show that fully implemented mechanization in winegrape vineyards reduces costs by $500 per acre. The UC Agricultural Issues Center released the studies yesterday.
“With farming labor becoming more scarce and expensive, growers will opt to transition into more mechanization," said George Zhuang, a UC Cooperative Extension viticulture advisor in Fresno County.
Other UC studies have shown mechanization also improves grape and wine quality.
Remember: The costs for labor, materials, equipment and services were based on October figures for the studies. The state’s rising minimum wage and ag overtime law, along with a new H-2A rate, may expedite the transition for many vineyards.
On that note: UC Davis has released five new winegrape varieties with resistance to Pierce’s disease. Spread by the glassy winged sharpshooter, the disease threatened to destroy California’s wine industry in the 1990s. UC Davis research into grapestocks helped stall the infestation. Still, Pierce’s disease costs the sector more than $100 million a year.
New trade director for Fresh Fruit escapes PG&E
Caroline Stringer will be coordinating trade efforts starting next month for the California Fresh Fruit Association. Stringer has in the past covered global and regulatory affairs for the Almond Board. Most recently, however, she was at the tip of the spear for PG&E, serving in public affairs for the downtrodden utility company.

Advisers needed for studying wildfire costs to agriculture
The California Council on Science and Technology is taking nominations for experts who can help with a comprehensive study on the costs of the state’s wildfires.
The study will cover losses ranging from human lives to structures and firefighting efforts. Direct losses to agriculture and natural resources will also be included. One of the billion-dollar expenses for preventing wildfires is vegetation management, which includes grazing and herbicide use. The deadline is Friday.
USMCA to be the bipartisan crown of 2019
Fresh off Wednesday night’s historic impeachment votes, the House is set today to approve the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement by a landslide margin.
If Democrats needed any encouragement to vote for the USMCA implementing bill, the AFL-CIO sent out a legislative alert Wednesday urging them to vote for the pact.
Senate consideration will have to wait until January, but Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, says he hopes the panel can vote on the USMCA implementing bill before the Senate impeachment trial is finished. But floor action won’t come until the trial is over.
“I want to get it done fast,” Grassley told reporters on Wednesday.
By the way: While in Michigan Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence sought to ensure that Trump gets the credit for updating NAFTA, even if Democrats are now supporting USMCA. “Make no mistake, Michigan, President Trump got it done,” Pence said.
USDA allows more input on hemp rule
USDA is extending to Jan. 29 the public comment period on its new regulations for hemp production. The interim final rule took effect Oct. 31, and the original deadline for comments was Dec. 30.
Among other things, the rule imposes testing requirements for THC, the psychoactive compound found in higher amounts in marijuana.
Roundup lawyer charged with attempted extortion
A Virginia lawyer facing charges of extortion and conspiracy for allegedly trying to shake down Monsanto and Bayer for $200 million had legal problems before the Justice Department announcement of his arrest this week.
Timothy Litzenburg was sued by his former law firm for allegedly trying to steal clients before he set up his own law firm late last year. Litzenburg and The Miller Firm reached a confidential settlement.
As a lawyer at Miller, Litzenburg was on the trial team for the first major Roundup cancer trial, which resulted in a $289 million verdict for school groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson. The verdict was reduced to $78 million and is on appeal.
Litzenburg could not be reached for comment.
Farmers face Friday deadlines
Friday is the deadline for farmers to sign up for the 2019 Market Facilitation Program and Dairy Margin Coverage.
So far, about 600,000 producers have signed up for MFP, said Bill Northey, the USDA undersecretary for farm and conservation programs. As of this week, payments to farmers total $10.65 billion.
Some $8.6 billion went to 560,000 producers under the 2018 version of MFP, which is supposed to compensate farmers harmed by President Trump’s trade wars.
The 2020 signup for DMC continues to be sluggish despite an extension of the deadline. As of Monday, 10,840 dairy producers had enrolled out of the 37,500 farms nationwide. More than 23,000 enrolled for 2019.
They said it:
“Countless children are being routinely exposed to an unnecessary risk, while the nation waits for someone — anyone — to take a stronger stand.” – The New York Times Editorial Board, arguing for the country to follow California’s lead in banning the insecticide chlorpyrifos.
Bill Tomson, Ben Nuelle and Steve Davies contributed to this report.

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