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CIRS Blog about Rural California

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With California’s final cap-and-trade budget including funding for agricultural land conservation, it is increasingly important to understand the dynamics of farmland trends in the state. The more we know about land use trends, the more we can work to ensure that threatened farmland is adequately protected through the most appropriate tools and policies.

The Farmland Conservation Strategy Act, AB 1961, aimed to do just that. Co-sponsored by CalCAN, the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, and American Farmland Trust, the bill would have required counties with significant agricultural resources to inventory their farmland, define their goals and policies to conserve farmland and mitigate for its loss, and publish that information on the county website. However, heavy opposition from the California Building Industry Association led to AB 1961’s failure to get out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

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in Climate Change 2072 0
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California’s drought will deal a severe blow to Central Valley irrigated agriculture and farm communities this year, and could cost the industry $1.7 billion and cause more than 14,500 workers to lose their jobs, according to preliminary results of a new study by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.

Researchers estimated that Central Valley irrigators would receive only two-thirds of their normal river water deliveries this year because of the drought.

The preliminary analysis represents the first socio-economic forecast of this year’s drought, said lead author Richard Howitt, a UC Davis professor emeritus of agricultural and resource economics.

“We wanted to provide a foundation for state agricultural and water policymakers to understand the impacts of the drought on farmers and farm communities,” Howitt said.

The Central Valley is the richest food-producing region in the world. Much of the nation’s fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables are grown on the region’s 7 million acres of irrigated farmland.

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in Water 1839 0
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By Dru Marion and Adam Kotin, California Climate & Agriculture Network (CalCAN)

Drought image 2

Growers across California are among the first to feel the effects of the worst drought the state has seen in almost four decades. Mandated cutbacks in water distributions, along with depletions in available surface water and groundwater, are forcing farmers to dig deeper into their pockets while making tough decisions about crop planting and livestock management.

Generally, California relies on a few infrequent yet significant storms that make their way south from the Pacific Northwest during the winter months. This year, however, a warm and dry high-pressure system has lingered above the California coast since November, blocking storms that typically drop early winter precipitation across the state.

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in Water 2216 0
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California had farm sales of $44.7 billion in 2012, led by $6.6 billion Fresno county, $6.2 billion in Kern county, and $6.2 billion in Tulare county.

The leading commodities were milk, worth $6.9 billion in 2012, grapes worth $4.4 billion, almonds worth $4.3 billion, greenhouse and nursery commodities worth $3.5 billion, cattle worth $3.3 billion, strawberries worth $1.9 billion, lettuce worth $1.4 billion, walnuts worth $1.3 billion, and hay and tomatoes each worth $1.2 billion.

Lettuce growers thin fields to ensure full heads of lettuce. Blue River Technology has developed a so-called Lettuce Bot that kills unwanted plants with a squirt of concentrated fertilizer.

The Fresno-based Raisin Bargaining Association, which represents 3,000 growers who produce 90 percent of US raisins, is negotiating a 2013 price with raisin processors. Growers produced 311,000 tons of raisins in 2012 and received $1,900 a ton, up from $1,700 a ton in 2010. The 2013 raisin crop is expected to be larger than in 2012, which has prompted the RBA to propose a lower grower price of $1,700 if the 2013 crop is more than 350,000 tons.

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in Agriculture 1883 0
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By Marty Graham

The 14-acre certified organic farm at the south edge of the San Pasqual Academy is surrounded by commercial farms, orange and grape trees on three sides.

It’s a rich metaphor for the academy itself, an organic local effort that’s meant to anchor its community to healthy food, one that’s grown jobs and centered the way the students live.

And it has been more than a farm. According to San Diego organic farmer Scott Murray, who helped launch the farm, it is a hands on part of what the academy tries to teach its residents, teenagers in the county foster care system who have run out of housing options and are within a few years of aging out of the system.

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in Rural California 1549 0
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By Leslie Griffy

Agricultural businesses and the insurance companies that serve them are scrambling to prepare for the changes that health care reform will bring over the next few years.

Many smaller farmers struggle with the details of the Affordable Care Act, such as how to count seasonal farmworkers to determine who they must insure. Employers of more than 50 will face fines if they don’t insure eligible workers.

Meanwhile, three of California’s agricultural-focused health insurance providers required waivers from ACA rules to continue operation. Those waivers expire next year.

“There is a lot of confusion,” said Norm Groot, president of Monterey County Farm Bureau. “I think everyone is really put off with the amount of complexity, particularly for agriculture.”

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in Rural Health 2457 0
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Cover crops don’t look like much. To the untrained eye, these vast fields of green grasses, clovers, and legumes might be reminiscent of a long-neglected lawn gone to seed. For acres. On the contrary, these in-between crops are anything but the product of neglect.  And they’re growing in popularity as a relatively easy way for farmers raising commodity crops at an industrial scale to show some care for the environment. In fact, the rapid growth in their use can be seen as one of the more hopeful things to come along in the world of big commodity corn and soy farming in a long time.

An important report released last month by the USDA North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program found that the 750 Midwestern farmers surveyed planted 350 percent more cover crops in 2012 than they had just four years earlier. And SARE expects even more of these crops will be put in the ground this fall.

Why do these numbers matter? As Rob Myers, one of the University of Missouri scientists behind the SARE survey, sees it: “From a sustainability standpoint, one of the best things a farmer can do is plant cover crops.”

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in Agriculture 1704 0
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EEOC

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Washington apple grower Evans Fruit in June 2010 for allowing a ranch manager to sexually harass female workers, and obtained a temporary restraining order to protect class members and potential witnesses from retaliation. After 12 days of testimony, a federal jury in 2013 found no sexually hostile work environment at Evans.

The case against Evans, which employs 1,200 to 1,300 seasonal farm workers, began with a complaint by three women who alleged that they were constructively discharged after supervisors subjected them to "ongoing sexual comments, propositioning, and physical groping." Evans and the ranch manager denied the allegations. A federal judge in April 2013 dismissed a September 2011 EEOC suit against Evans that alleged Evans retaliated against 10 farm workers who attended a meeting at a public library where EEOC representatives explained sexual harassment and the remedies.

PBS's Frontline aired an associated documentary, Rape in the Fields, in June 2013 that profiled the women and the ranch manager in the Evans case.

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in Farm Labor 2036 0
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By Kate Moser
California Health Report

California has some of the nation’s toughest laws meant to ensure equal health care services for people who aren’t fluent in English.

But many limited English-speaking patients still lack the interpreters necessary to have meaningful communication with medical providers, particularly in emergency scenarios. The problem is acute for the communities of indigenous Mexican immigrants in California, advocates and practitioners say.

“The root of the problem is that until fairly recently, the huge indigenous population in California was under the radar,” said Sandra Young, a family nurse practitioner at a clinic in Oxnard and the president of the Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project.

Many indigenous Mexican immigrants are farmworkers, the most recent arrivals in the state’s agricultural labor market, according to the Indigenous Farmworker Study, a California Endowment-funded study completed in 2010.

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in Indigenous Farmworkers 2611 0
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Starting in childhood, we are encouraged to make wishes during the holidays. As kids, these are usually for gifts. As an adult, I find myself wishing for more substantive things. OK, every once in a while I wouldn't mind seeing a new pair of hiking boots waiting to be unwrapped. But at this time of year, my wishes are not necessarily for myself.

After all, I've got more-than-adequate food and shelter. And I also have a great job. As the vice president of strategy for Bon Appetit Management Company -- a food service provider committed to a sustainable future for us all -- I get to work on issues that are important to me and to make changes that I think are meaningful.

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in Farm Labor 2971 0
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Although Aunt Mabel’s Christmas trifle might top your list of current food concerns, there are a few other things about U.S. food and agriculture worth considering as you look back on 2012, and forward to 2013:

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in Agriculture 4426 0
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As agriculture faces the task of doubling production by 2050, one of the major challenges is developing a workforce for the 21st century. Many of us who grew up on farms in the last century remember a day when most farm work was done by family members. Indeed, it wasn’t so long ago that more than 60% of the U.S. agricultural labor force was comprised of family labor. Today 60% of farm labor is hired. Of that hired work force 75% are foreign-born and best estimates suggest that half are undocumented.

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in Agriculture 7241 0
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The future outlook for agriculture is bright. Food production will have to roughly double by 2050 in order to meet population projections. And if we look where much of that growth is expected to occur–Asia–we know that California farmers and ranchers will have an excellent opportunity to meet the new demand. But there will be challenges, too, as increased food production will have to occur with diminishing arable land suitable for farming, pressures on water quality and availability, potential shortages of mineral inputs, and climate change.

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in Agriculture 6856 0
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In November, the California Roundtable on Water and Food Supply released a report entitled From Storage to Retention: Expanding California’s Options for Meeting Its Water Needs. The report argues for an expansion of approaches to storing water that increase supply reliability for specialty crop agricultural production and other beneficial uses while protecting ecosystem health.

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in Water 6657 0
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For anyone who follows what goes on (or what doesn’t) in Washington, it’s a well-known fact that significant pressure on members to act is a major ingredient for the success of any legislation, regardless of merits. Now, with the number of legislative days quickly waning for the 112th Congress, agriculture leaders are facing internal and external pressures that are driving their recent efforts to finalize a bill, which also gives more shape to the potential fates of a 2012 farm bill.

First, agriculture leaders understand the need to act. They have heard the increasingly concerned calls to action from many constituents in the food and agriculture system, and share those concerns. After the 2008 farm bill was allowed to expire on October 1, without current authority, agriculture programs are set to revert back to permanent law which includes a portfolio of outdated and impractical commodity pricing and subsidy programs. The fact that the farm bill was allowed to expire was never because any of the agriculture leaders thought this was in itself a good idea, but rather that it could lead to significant and necessary pressure on congress to act and achieve a bicameral compromise before any real consequences are realized. That time is quickly approaching. With the expired dairy provisions, consumers would start to see a spike in milk prices in the new year. This is important. While only a fraction of legislators include agriculture as a major priority for their legislative decisions, every legislator cares about the price for a gallon of milk just as they care about the prices their constituents are paying for a gallon of gas.

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in Farm Bill 7708 0
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This post is from Rural Migration News, a publication of rural issues at the University of California at Davis. Rural Migration News summarizes and analyzes the most important migration-related issues affecting immigrant farm workers in the California and the United States during the preceding quarter. This post focuses on labor shortages, and is from the October 2012 issue.

California farmers reported labor shortages in summer and fall 2012. FLC Brad Goehring in San Joaquin county said 2012 is "the worst year that I've ever experienced in labor," with 40 percent fewer workers than desired. Some coastal strawberry growers reported that workers who can earn more harvesting tree fruit are leaving for the San Joaquin Valley, forcing them to scramble for pickers who are quick to jump to other growers who offer higher piece rates or better yields.

Farmer comments demonstrated weak links to seasonal workers. Peach farmers around Marysville, California in July 2012 said: "Usually, each year the migrant workers show up. This year we keep thinking maybe they'll show up tonight, maybe they'll be here tomorrow morning. Nobody's really showing up yet." Growers of cling peaches that are often canned typically pay $16 to $20 per 1,000 pound bin to pick peaches, and say that a "good worker" can pick five to seven bins a day.

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in Farm Labor 6720 0
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Dissident raisin farmers from California’s San Joaquin Valley and their ideological allies will get a shot at attacking a federal farm program, under a case that the U.S. Supreme Court accepted Tuesday.

Bucking the odds, Fresno-area farmers Marvin and Laura Horne succeeded in convincing the high court to hear their challenge to federal handling of the raisin industry. Though the legal questions are complicated, the real-world stakes add up.

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in Agriculture 6761 0
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The view a PDF of the report with figures and additional information please click here.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June 2012 upheld the show-me-your-papers provision of Arizona’s SB 1070 law while reaffirming the federal government’s authority over immigration policy making. The Court, which in May 2011 upheld another Arizona law that required all employers to use the Internet-based E-Verify to check the legal status of new hires, may have opened the door for more states to enact laws to crack down on unauthorized foreigners. There is unlikely to be significant federal legislation immigration legislation in 2012 and perhaps not in 2013–14.

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in Immigration 7183 0
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Interviews with female farm workers were conducted by Vallerye Mosquera and Luis Magana in 2011. The stories below were excerpted from three of these interviews and edited by Gail Wadsworth for posting here.

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in Farm Labor 7716 0
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By Julia Freedgood of American Farmland Trust and Christine Fry of ChangeLab Solutions. Cross-posted from the Healthy Farms, Healthy People Coalition.

We’ve all heard the drumbeat from nutrition experts: Eat more fruits and vegetables. We know this advice is good for our health. But what does it mean for our land—and for the farmers who grow food on our land?

With obesity rates at epidemic levels, easier access to fruits and vegetables is important, especially in low-income neighborhoods where healthy options can be hard to find. But ramping up demand for affordable produce means stepping up production, which means more demand on land and water.

How we use these resources will affect our environment and communities for years to come. We need to find new ways to protect both human health and the health of our land long into the future.

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in Agriculture 7842 0
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