September 8, 2020
Wildfires are likely to exacerbate winegrape losses
Along with the pandemic, wildfire smoke is now impacting winegrape harvests in critical ways. Many wineries are not taking contracted deliveries until lab tests have cleared the grapes, according to the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG).
The few industry labs available are now backlogged, with wait times of more than weeks. Other wineries are running small batches to analyze the grapes before delivery.
“These delays — in addition to wineries demanding test results — mean many growers face the prospect of significant crop losses and economic injury,” said CAWG President John Aguirre. “This is unacceptable.”
He pointed out that buyers cannot reject deliveries without evidence, and the presence of smoke alone does not mean grapes are damaged.
State sends 20,000 more food boxes to seniors
CDFA has partnered with the California Association of Food Banks to administer a USDA nutrition program intended for seniors who must shelter in place during the pandemic. From the start of August through the end of September, seven food banks will have delivered more than 20,000 additional food boxes to seniors.
“We salute the perseverance and ingenuity of CDFA staff, the operational wizardry and flexibility of our member food banks, the resilience of California farmers, and all involved who worked to ensure that this vital program would rise above the pandemic,” wrote Laurie Loftus Galvagna, development director for the food banks association, in a recent blog post.
On that note: Newsom has extended his executive order on price gouging through March 2021. The state attorney general has been pursuing any farms or distributors who appear to violate that order.
Ag, food unions use Labor Day to push for Biden
Union leaders are looking to Joe Biden to lead the way for new protections for employees in the ag and food sector, including overtime for farmworkers.
Biden is “going to prioritize everyone’s health and safety,” United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero said Monday on a webinar organized by the Biden campaign. She said farmworkers are too often “excluded from basic rights like overtime, hazard pay, the right to organize.”
Keep in mind: Biden has called for making farmworkers eligible for overtime nationwide and promised to increase protections from pesticide and heat exposure. He also has pledged to push for providing legal status to undocumented farmworkers.
Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International, supports Biden’s call for a national mask mandate and praised his running mate, Kamala Harris, for backing hazard pay for essential workers.
Biden and Harris “would stand in support of those workers and they would stand in support of making sure that people were safe at work,” Perrone said.
By the way: The National Milk Producers Federation posted a statement on Monday noting the industry’s essential workers couldn’t take Labor Day off. "Wholesome nutrition is a never-ending need. Cows don’t stop producing milk because it’s a holiday. Dairy never stops, and neither will its workforce,” the statement said.
Hemp industry hopes for delay of regs
The hemp industry is hoping USDA’s request for comments on multiple aspects of its pending hemp regulations is a signal that the department will suspend the requirements before they become effective Oct. 31.
The Agricultural Marketing Service is opening a 30-day comment period today asking for input on how plants are destroyed, hemp research, and allowable THC levels and testing — both the methods used and the requirement that plants be harvested for testing in a 15-day harvest window. Many have recommended a 30-day window.
Patrick Atagi, board chairman of the National Industrial Hemp Council, said he hoped the comment extension means USDA is leaning toward extending the hemp pilot program from the 2014 farm bill for another year. That’s something NIHC and the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture asked USDA to do last month.
Twenty-two states and 34 tribes have received approval for plans to implement the department’s 2019 rule, but the industry argues that the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed other states’ efforts to submit plans.
Advanced energy grant going toward soil health
The Soil Health Institute will use $3.25 million from the Energy Department to develop “an integrated soil carbon measurement and monitoring system” that will provide “standardized carbon sequestration monitoring needs for carbon markets in agriculture,” the institute said Thursday.
The technology will reduce both the time and cost of obtaining soil carbon measurements, enabling farmers to more easily participate in carbon markets.
“The integrated DeepC System combines sampling design, proximal sensing, and machine learning to obtain rapid, non-destructive measurements of soil carbon stock and flux," SHI Chief Scientific Officer Cristine Morgan said.
The funds come from the department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).
New round of US-UK trade kicks off
U.S. and British negotiators are due to restart trade talks today as the Dec. 31 deadline for the U.K. to break away from the European Union approaches.
British trade minister and lawmaker Greg Hands confirmed the resumption of talks, but he also suggested agricultural trade issues will continue to be a divide between negotiators. “As (British International Trade Secretary Elizabeth Truss) and I said … the government is absolutely committed to no compromise on our food safety, animal welfare and the environment when it comes to trade agreements,” he said in a Friday tweet.
British claims that U.S. food is unsafe or unsanitary because of beef, pork and poultry production methods continue to chafe U.S. negotiators and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer recently called the criticisms thinly-veiled protectionism.
“We will have agricultural problems in negotiations, I can guarantee you. I’m hopeful that we’ll work our way through them,” Lighthizer said in a June hearing on Capitol Hill.
He said it:
“The working Californians who harvest our crops, respond to our emergencies, heal our loved ones and care for our children are keeping our state running during this pandemic.” — Gov. Gavin Newsom in a statement on Labor Day.
Bill Tomson and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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