July 15, 2020
Climate report looks to Southern California farmers
CDFA has released a report detailing the climate impacts that specialty crop growers in Southern California are likely to face in the coming years. Prepared by the Climate Science Alliance of San Diego, the report covers issues and needs for Imperial, Kern, Riverside and San Diego Counties.
Farmers in this region are dealing with some of the most extreme climate events in the nation. These range from increasing temperatures to high winds, extreme wildfires, floods and droughts. The report recognizes existing efforts to mitigate their impact and spells out the breadth of new policies, research and funding needed to maintain a viable industry.
“This is what I hope is the first of many regional efforts to listen and hear from farmers and ranchers throughout California on what we are doing now and what we need to do to prepare for and adapt to a changing climate,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross.
A more modest Sites Reservoir focuses on environment
The decades-long effort to build the Sites Reservoir in the Sacramento Valley just got a few tweaks as it steers into a new era.
“We believe we have a better project today than we did last year,” said Jerry Brown, the new executive director of the project, in a townhall meeting yesterday. “It reflects the input of the participants, NGOs, landowners and other stakeholders, like regulatory agencies and elected officials.”
The latest proposal would trim the budget by $2 billion and the storage capacity by 300,000 acre-feet, according to Brown. Sites would also use existing canals for conveyance, rather than build new pipelines.
The reservoir would deliver environmental flows to the Delta, easing the demand from Shasta and Folsom Dams. This has drawn the attention of the Bureau of Reclamation, as the agency has shown interest in funding such a multi-benefit project, according to Brown.
Report: Few states have COVID-19 farmworker protections
Most states have not issued any guidance for how to protect farmworkers from the coronavirus, according to a new analysis from the Environmental Working Group.
Only eight states, Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin, “have wide-ranging mandatory protections” for farmworkers, EWG says.
Those states require produce growers to provide personal protective equipment to farmworkers, and to require physical distancing, workplace disinfection and worker testing, the group said.
The state legislature is working on other protections, and the state has revised and funded several previously existing programs, including unemployment benefits and sick leave policies, to help farmworker families, often regardless of immigration status, EWG says.
Several major farm states, including Florida and Texas, haven’t even issued recommendations, EWG said.
Producers set to welcome NEPA changes
President Donald Trump is expected to announce policy changes today that will accelerate federal environmental reviews, a major concern for some livestock producers.
When proposed in January, cattle and sheep producers praised the Trump administration for moving to shorten the time frame to complete reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The review process is important to producers for renewals of term grazing permits, and approval of range improvements and participation in some USDA programs.
"We're really excited to hear about the final rule and are looking forward to making some progress on NEPA," said Kaitlynn Glover, executive director of the Public Lands Council. "I imagine you're going to see significant retention" of the substance in the proposal, in the final rule.
The administration proposed time limits of one year for environmental assessments and two years for environmental impact statements.
Environmentalists panned the proposal. An official with the Western Watersheds Project said it “aims to shield bad decisions from public scrutiny by narrowly defining when NEPA applies, increasing the use of categorical exclusions, eliminating opportunities for the public to weigh in on environmental assessments, and creating roadblocks to judicial review.”
Biden’s enviro plan enlists farmers
Joe Biden proposed a $2 trillion environmental plan that includes a broad proposal to provide financial assistance to farmers to carry out climate-friendly practices. The plan also calls for the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps, obviously modeled after Frank Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps.
He also wants to create a new climate research agency, whose priorities would include developing ways for “decarbonizing” U.S. agriculture.
Tucked into the plan is a promise to implement new protections for farmworkers, including “overtime, humane living conditions, and protection from pesticide and heat exposure.”
Read more about the plan here.
Supermarket prices up again in June
Grocery prices rose for the sixth straight month in June, driven in part by higher meat prices. Food costs are up by the largest amount for a 12-month period since 2011, according to the June Consumer Price Index.
But the 0.7% increase was the lowest since February and down from 1% in April and 2.6% in March. Beef prices rose 4.8% in June and are up 20.4% over the last three months. Prices for cereals and bakery products and for fruits and vegetables both rose 0.4%. Prices for dairy products fell 0.4%, the first such decline since July 2019.
Beef prices are up 25.1% over the last 12 months.
Social issues confront food companies
Racism, worker protections and other social concerns may be eclipsing environmental issues for the food industry as a result of the COVID-19 crisis and the death of George Floyd.
Companies are pivoting to social concerns as they try to “reposition themselves, attempting to show empathy and do the right thing by supporting their communities and ensuring the health and safety of their employees,” according to an analysis by Rabobank.
The analysis goes on, “For the past few years, the larger food companies have been on a mission to try to reconnect and understand their consumers better, to create a relationship and regain their trust. … Although not in a way they expected, the terrible events of 2020 provide a chance for these companies to do just that in a meaningful way (and rise above criticisms of opportunism and virtue signaling).”
He said it:
“Hopefully, COVID is a short-term issue that we're all dealing with. The project that we're talking about is a 100-year, century-long investment.” – Sites Reservoir Executive Director Jerry Brown, acknowledging the challenging time for agencies to invest in this project
Steve Davies, Bill Tomson and Ben Nuelle contributed to this report.
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