April 22, 2020
Friant water allocation goes up another 15%
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation doubled the water allocation for the Friant Water Authority earlier this month and yesterday again revised it to now be 55% of the contracted amount.
Reclamation pointed to April storm events that put the Central Sierra Nevada in even better condition than the north end of the state.
Keep in mind: The Class 2 allocation remains at 0%, however. Friant fears this will lead to more subsidence around critical conveyance infrastructure due to those farmers relying more on groundwater this year.
More on that later: Reclamation may have more news on Friday, as it is renegotiating Friant’s contract over the crippled Friant-Kern Canal.
On that note: The large water district representing the Los Angeles region is pushing back on the governor’s water plan for Delta pumping. In a letter to the administration this week, the Metropolitan Water District argues the new plan for the State Water Project is “not scientifically justified.”
General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger also counters that the state’s new approach is actually no more protective of endangered species than the federal biological opinions.
Remember: The district has also filed a lawsuit over the plan.
State files for injunction to halt biological opinions
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra yesterday requested a preliminary injunction to immediately stop federal agencies from implementing the new biological opinions.
The state is seeking to stall the pumping plan as it pursues a lawsuit against the Trump administration.
Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said "jeopardizing" the water supply will directly hurt more than 25 million Californians. "At no other time in modern history has the State of California taken such ill-founded actions," she added.
Remember: Becerra and the Newsom administration filed the lawsuit in February, arguing the actions violate state and federal Endangered Species Acts by harming vulnerable fish populations in the Delta.
Keep in mind: Two weeks ago, a federal judge denied a similar request by environmental groups in a separate lawsuit.
Supply disruptions are ‘little reason for alarm,’ say UC economists
Professor Dan Sumner and other economists with the UC Agricultural Issues Center write in a new paper that “despite worrisome but understandable disruptions” due to COVID-19, the nation’s food system is resilient.
They looked at the immediate challenges on the supply side of the food chain. This means switching from restaurants to retail, maintaining worker health and ramping up production for high-demand items. While sectors like canned fruits and vegetables can make the switch quickly, adapting the supply chain for in-shell eggs can take months.
COVID-19 outbreaks among farmworkers could be devastating as well, the economists warn. Localized outbreaks could “shut down farms and regions, as they have for some meat-processing facilities.” This will be a challenge for processing lines that run through summer and fall. They point to new bills in the Legislature as potentially protecting and incentivizing farmworkers.
The coming months will see more uncertainty, they find. “But, nothing in the data or the underlying economics suggests that there will be a lack of healthy, safe food available,” they conclude.
AND IN NATIONAL NEWS…
Trump reassures farmers on H-2A
President Donald Trump is reassuring farmers that his temporary ban on immigration won’t affect their access to labor.
The White House hasn’t officially confirmed that H-2A is exempt from the ban, but at the White House coronavirus briefing Tuesday evening, Trump said "the farmers will not be affected by this at all.”
More PPP funding may not last long
A fresh round of assistance from the Small Business Administration should soon be available to farmers.
On Thursday, the House is expected to clear an agreement to provide the Paycheck Protection Program with another $320 billion. Farms also will be made eligible for SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans. EIDL provides recipients with what are essentially $10,000-grants, and businesses also can borrow up to $2 million.
The Senate passed the $484 billion bill by unanimous consent on Tuesday.
Keep in mind: The Farm Credit System is concerned the new funding for the PPP’s forgivable loans won’t last long. “The expectation around that is it will be maybe 72 hours – I don’t see it lasting four days at this point,” said Todd Van Hoose, CEO of the Farm Credit Council.
Read a summary of the bill here.
USDA aims to quickly deliver household-size food boxes
USDA is pursuing an ambitious and novel plan to deliver household-size boxes of food around the country starting next month to deal with the surplus of meat, milk and produce on the market.
Under the plan, which has hallmarks of Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue’s “Harvest Box” proposal, the boxes would be delivered to food banks and other non-profits and handed directly to needy recipients. Food banks often don’t have refrigeration and are now short of volunteers due to the COVID-19 crisis. Delivering the boxes directly to recipients is a way of dealing with those challenges.
“We’re only going to purchase 100% domestically grown and processed products. … Our goal is to help the American farmer,” Dave Tuckwiller of the Agricultural Marketing Service said on a webinar about the program Tuesday. Some 3,800 people participated in the webinar.
Delivery of boxes will start May 15 and run through the end of the year.
Take note: Harvest Boxes were supposed to substitute for part of a family’s cash SNAP benefits. The new food boxes won’t do that.
Appeals court questions EPA’s dicamba oversight
Two members of a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals seemed receptive to arguments that EPA had not properly evaluated dicamba when it renewed its registration for two years at the end of 2018.
In a hearing Tuesday, the judges closely questioned attorneys for both sides in the dispute but made clear they were aware of the extent of damage to crops, mostly soybeans, in 2017 and 2018.
Circuit Judge William Fletcher, for example, mentioned “huge amounts of off-field damage” caused by the herbicide, approved for use in soybeans and cotton in 34 states. And Judge Margaret McKeown said, “there’s a lot of evidence in the record that you can’t follow the label, even.”
Plaintiffs in the case, including the Center for Food Safety, argued EPA had not sufficiently characterized the risk of dicamba to crops, trees and shrubs, or on endangered species.
Attorneys for EPA and Monsanto argued that EPA sufficiently studied the risks of the herbicide. Monsanto attorney Richard Bress warned that blocking the registration would create “chaos” in agriculture this year.
He said it:
“I’m eating as much ice cream as I can to help, but admittedly that’s creating some challenges for me personally.” – Chris Voell, referring to his goal of helping struggling dairies.
Voell is a Danish trade advisor for biogas and waste stationed in Washington, D.C., and was speaking in a CDFA webinar yesterday about dairy methane reduction.
Ben Nuelle, Spencer Chase, Bill Tomson and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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