May 22, 2020
Due to the Memorial Day holiday, Daybreak will return on Tuesday, May 26.
Clues in romaine outbreak point to grazing
Cattle grazing next to or near romaine lettuce fields is “the most likely contributing factor associated with” E. coli outbreaks last fall, the Food and Drug Administration said in a report released Thursday.
The three outbreaks, traced to lettuce from the Salinas Valley, sickened 188 people.
The agency said it could not confirm definitively the “source or route(s) of contamination of the romaine fields.”
However, possible routes of contamination include “indirect transmission of fecal material from adjacent and nearby lands from water run-off, wind, animals or vehicles to the romaine fields, or to the agricultural water sources used to grow the romaine.”
FDA also said: “The number of cattle we observed on nearby lands during the 2019 investigations was far lower than the volume of what is considered a large concentrated animal feeding operation, offering a useful reminder that high-density animal operations are not the only factor to consider.”
CARB hits several barriers on path to reducing dairy emissions
The Air Resources Board is racing to meet emissions reduction deadlines set out for dairy and livestock sector. Senate Bill 1383 (2016) charged the state with reducing methane emissions to 40% below 2013 levels by 2030.
CARB is facing the now-typical delays all agencies are confronting due to the pandemic. Yet the dairy sector was already plagued by “poor economics” before COVID-19, with high production costs and low prices, according to staff scientists in a webinar yesterday.
Incentives programs have also been oversubscribed and state funding is drying up. Cap-and-trade revenues feeding into the program were already expected to slow this year. With the economic downturn and people driving less during the pandemic, “it is quite possible that cap-and-trade revenues will be lower than assumed in the May Revision,” according to a report yesterday from the Legislative Analyst’s Office.
To make up for the shortfall, more private investment is needed, with the state matching some of those dollars. Another $85 million will be needed each year until 2028.
Also, the markets have yet to develop for the “value-added” manure products produced by the dairy digesters and alternative management projects. Meanwhile, the health impacts on animals from feed additives (think seaweed) that promise to reduce enteric emissions – or cow belches – are not well understood. And those additives will not be readily available for at least another three years.
Staff plan to release a deeper analysis on the progress to date later this summer.
Sen. Feinstein (AP)
Feinstein’s bill puts $800 million to fixing canals
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill yesterday proposing $800 million for repairing critical conveyance canals in the San Joaquin Valley. She coordinated with Reps. Jim Costa and TJ Cox, who have a similar measure in the House.
“We have to find better ways to use the water we have,” said Senator Feinstein in a statement.
She pointed to the urgent need to increase capacity as groundwater pumping draws down under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. The money would be equally divided among the California Aqueduct, the Friant-Kern Canal, the Delta Mendota Canal and the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement for salmon populations.
Ten-year EU plan would slash farm inputs
Agriculture in Europe and the United States may be diverging even more sharply in coming years. The European Union has adopted a series of sweeping goals for slashing the use of pesticides, antibiotics and fertilizer – and converting at least 25% of EU agriculture to organic over the next decade.
The 2030 goals are to cut in half the nutrient losses from farmland, the use of more hazardous pesticides and the use of antibiotics in farm animals.
Keep in mind: Less than 8% of EU farmland was organic as of 2018.
Why it matters: USDA this year launched an initiative to halve the "environmental footprint" of U.S. agriculture by 2050 - 20 years later than the EU targets - while increasing production by 40%.
The USDA effort is focused on reducing carbon emissions and improving water quality and is guided by the concept of “sustainable intensification.” That broadly means producing more food without using more land and other resources, and that will require increased use of technology and precision agriculture.
He notes studies suggest organic agriculture has higher carbon emissions when measured by unit of production. “It seems the politically popular actions are prioritized over those that are actually most sustainable according to scientific outcome measurement,” he said.
Take note: The EU policy also calls for all rural areas to have high-speed internet service by 2025.
Kudlow: China ‘phase one’ deal in good shape
The Chinese are importing U.S. ag and other goods a bit slower than originally hoped for, but the “phase one” trade pact is still being successfully implemented, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said Thursday.
“I guess the Chinese purchases are a little behind, but I think that’s more because of poor economic and market conditions … and China has every intent of implementing (phase one),” Kudlow said in a live-streamed Washington Post interview.
Kudlow also addressed recent speculation that China is looking to renegotiate the trade pact, saying that’s not happening. “At the present time … there’s no renegotiating at all,” he said. “We’re looking for steady implementation and we’ll be monitoring it very closely.”
Keep in mind: The U.S. Trade Representative and USDA released a statement the same day, listing recent implementation successes such as China’s agreement to lift import bans on U.S. blueberries and barley.
China also has opened up to almond meal pellets and cubes. Producers are grateful, says Julie Adams, a vice president for the Almond Board of California, but it won’t make up for overall losses in trade due to Chinese tariffs on the nuts. Almond shipments to China fell by 25% last year and are down 20% so far this year, she tells Agri-Pulse.
Pressure builds to ease PPP
Lawmakers are moving toward a deal to provide some relief to small businesses, including farms, that are using the Paycheck Protection Program.
Under existing rules, PPP loans are forgivable only if 75% of the funds are used to pay workers over an eight-week period. House Democrats have agreed to consider a standalone bill that would extend that period and also ease the 75% payroll requirement.
Some fruit and vegetable growers are among the employers who are seeking an extension of the wage period. Sean Gilbert, a Washington fruit grower, said the eight-week period on his PPP loan will end just as he starts harvesting cherries.
The PPP “time limit is very restrictive,” Gilbert said on a Farm Credit webinar Thursday. Some 60% of his orchard expenses are labor and half of his packing expenses.
USDA provides relief on farm loans
Farmers with USDA farm loans will be eligible to skip their payment this year if they’ve been affected by the COVID-19 crisis. The Farm Service Agency is invoking a Disaster Set-Aside provision normally reserved for natural disasters.
The skipped payment will get tacked to the end of an ownership loan, and an operating loan can be extended for a year, says Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which advocated for the FSA action.
USDA praised for Food Box oversight pledge
The United Fresh Produce Association is applauding USDA’s “serious commitment to oversight” of its Farmers to Families Food Box program, which has been hit with criticism for some of the awards it has given out.
Responding to a letter from USDA that answered a series of questions from United Fresh about the program, President and CEO Tom Stenzel said “we should all now focus on how wonderfully the program is proceeding in many cities and rural areas of the country.
“Produce companies and their partners are bringing fresh fruits and vegetables to those in need and making a difference in people’s lives.”
Take note: The Agricultural Marketing Service has terminated a $40 million contract to California Avocados Direct, which was working to assemble produce boxes, ProduceBlueBook.com reported. The company didn’t immediately respond to Agri-Pulse on Thursday.
She said it:
“People need to eat, and with this pandemic it’s made people realize that it is good to buy local and to buy American product, because that’s what’s going to be there to help people through.” - New Mexico onion grower Savannah Gillis Turner, speaking on the Farm Credit webinar.
Bill Tomson and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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