October 21, 2020
Sonoma County winegrowers hit hard by 2020
A new survey by Sonoma County Winegrowers (SCW) identifies about $150 million in losses to its members due to pandemic closures and catastrophic wildfires.
More than 70% of the county’s winegrowers expect to leave grapes unpicked or see them rejected by wineries as a result of smoke taint. This adds up to as much as 30% of Sonoma’s total harvest—more than 50,000 tons of unpicked grapes—and will have a ripple effect on the local economy.
The silver lining: About 15% of Sonoma grapes were picked before the start of the LNU Complex Fire and 90% before the Glass Fire. A local grape growers foundation also raised nearly $100,000 to help 240 farmworkers impacted by fires or COVID-19.
“We are hoping for a long, boring 2021 season,” said SCW President Karissa Kruse.
Report: Environmental justice plays a leading role at CalEPA
A new CalEPA report details how the agency has hired environmental justice (EJ) liaisons to elevate the representation of community advocacy groups in the decision-making process for regulations.
“California has developed some of the most advanced and ambitious environmental regulations in the country, including regulatory requirements to address environmental injustice,” writes CalEPA Secretary Jared Blumenfeld in the report.
In listing accomplishments, Blumenfeld added that the Newsom administration has begun “to transition away from some of the state’s more harmful pesticide products, and toward less harmful alternatives.”
The Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) has been working with county agricultural commissioners to address EJ issues as well. “Children’s bodies are more susceptible and sensitive to the impacts of pesticide exposure,” the report notes. It explains how DPR has added new restrictions around schools and is planning to add regulations regarding notifications when applying pesticides.
“CalEPA looks forward to supporting even more high-level representation of EJ interests in the years to come,” the report reads.
‘We know we need to do more’
Sen. John Boozman, who is set to take over as the top Republican on the Senate Ag Committee, next year is optimistic that Congress will provide more aid to farmers for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The question is when a new aid package will pass, and that looks unlikely before the election.
“I don’t think we’re going to have a lot of partisanship in getting” additional ag funding, Boozman, R-Ark., said. Both Democrats and Republicans support providing about $20 billion in additional aid to the ag sector.
State of play: Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell is reportedly urging the White House not to reach a deal on an aid package before the election, but talks continued yesterday between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and are scheduled to take place again today.
Senate GOP Whip John Thune, R-S.D., expressed confidence to reporters that a new aid package would eventually get enacted. “It's not a question of if, it's a question of when. We have to do more. We know that,” he said.
For more on the aid talks, plus looks at U.S.-Brazil trade issues and upcoming rural broadband funding auction, read our Agri-Pulse newsletter.
DEA under fire for hemp proposal
The Drug Enforcement Administration is getting an earful from the hemp industry for its interim final rule implementing the 2018 farm bill’s hemp provisions.
The Hemp Industries Association says in formal comments to DEA the IFR “improperly purports to criminalize hemp extracts in direct contravention of the 2018 Farm Bill, threatening lawful American businesses.” The U.S. Hemp Roundtable says, “In effect, the IFR could criminalize the initial stages of hemp extract processing, which is wholly inconsistent with the intent of the 2018 Farm Bill hemp provisions.”
The National Industrial Hemp Council is encouraging DEA to take an approach similar to USDA’s, whose own interim final rule includes a “safe harbor” provision specifying that “hemp producers do not commit a negligent violation if they use reasonable efforts to grow hemp and the plant does not have a THC concentration of more than 0.5% on a dry weight basis.”
Yesterday was the deadline for filing comments on the IFR.
By the way: DEA is facing lawsuits over the rule. HIA and RE Botanicals have filed a petition for review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and followed that with a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, seeking to stop DEA from classifying intermediate and waste hemp material as Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act.
Indoor farming set to expand
BrightFarms, an indoor farming company producing packaged salad greens, says it has secured more than $100 million in debt and new equity capital to support expansion of its regional hydroponic greenhouses across the U.S.
The company said Tuesday the Series E round of funding was led by Cox Enterprises, which now owns a majority stake in the company, and includes a follow-on investment from growth equity firm Catalyst Investors.
BrightFarms distributes its products to more than 2,000 U.S. stores and expects to expand to more than 15,000 by 2025. The firm has indoor farming operations in Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, with three new farms currently under development in North Carolina, Massachusetts and Texas.
Steve Davies, Bill Tomson and Steve Davies contributed to this report.
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