Agriculture

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In recent months, the valley's agriculture industry has been thrust into the national headlines, largely over the debate over how much water farmers use to grow crops. Critics say farmers use 80 percent of the water used by people in California. However farmers say that number is misleading, pointing out they actually use only 40 percent of the state's total water supply, where about 50 percent is set aside for environmental uses.

Most conventional and organic farmers rely on insecticides to kill pests. But, new research shows that a compound in fruit may be a good natural alternative to repel bugs. Lesley McClurg in Sacramento has the story.

Anandasankar Ray is an entomology professor at UC Riverside.

He recently studied how butyl anthranilate keeps fruit flies away from blueberries.

The natural compound smells like grapes. It's found in low concentrations in several types of fruit. It’s commonly used as a flavor and fragrance additive.

The top attorney at California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board has a new job. On Wednesday Governor Jerry Brown appointed  Sylvia Torres-Guillen to a new job as special counsel in his office.

Torres-Guillen had served as general counsel for the ALRB since 2011. In recent years the board has been at the center of controversy over a case involving Fresno’s Gerawan Farming and the United Farm Workers union, including a disputed 2013 decertification election.

Is California's Animal Welfare Law Creating Better Conditions?

Jun 22, 2015
Lesley McClurg / Capital Public Radio

In 2008, Californians passed a law by a two-thirds majority to give egg-laying hens more space to move around. Farmers have had the last seven years to comply. Proposition 2 (the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act) went into effect this January. 

Farmer Frank Hilliker was against Proposition 2 from the beginning. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to stay in business when the law passed.

But, the long time egg producer has come around.

Why The Price Of Eggs Is Skyrocketing

Jun 22, 2015
Creative Commons - Flickr user geishabot

Egg prices have soared this spring for a lot of reasons. Lesley McClurg breaks down why you’re paying more. 

The cheapest price for a dozen conventional eggs is $3.50 at Raley’s in Sacramento. 

That’s about 75 cents more than the national average – which is at a record high $2.62. 

So, what’s driving the premium on California eggs?

First, there’s the drought. John Segale is with the Association for California Egg Farmers. 

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

The U.S. Supreme Court is ruling in favor of a Fresno raisin farmer that it is unconstitutional for a government-backed agricultural board to claim control of a third of his crop.

The ruling is a blow against a program that authorizes growers to join together to prop up market prices.

The justices say the scheme violates the Fifth Amendment by allowing the government to take the raisins without providing just compensation. The court ruled that, just like land, raisin growers must be compensated for any product taken by the government.

From Oranges to Grapes, California Drought Changes What's Grown

Jun 18, 2015
Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

Water scarcity is driving farmers to plant different crops. Growers are switching to more profitable -- less thirsty fruits, vegetables and nuts.

Nowhere is this more true than San Diego County where the water prices are some of the highest in the state.

Billowing orange and grapefruit trees shade Triple B Ranches winery and vineyard near Escondido. The rural setting is quaint and bucolic. The tasting room is a converted kitchen festooned with country knickknacks.

New Growing Technique Could Save Drought Stricken Avocado Farmers

Jun 9, 2015
Lesley McClurg / Capital Public Radio

Farmers are being widely criticized during the California drought because of agriculture's water use, but some farmers are cutting back by employing new techniques. Lesley McClurg visited an avocado grower who is using half as much water to yield twice as much fruit. 

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It wasn’t long ago that avocados were a luxury crop, but the fruit’s popularity has soared in recent years… demonstrated by the sandwich chain Subway.

For the last several years the featured sub has included avocados.

Feds, California Agencies Sued Over Water Management Plan

Jun 4, 2015
Amy Quinton / Capital Public Radio

A federal lawsuit claims California and federal water managers are harming several fish species with water allocations.

A coalition of four groups, including Restore the Delta, filed the lawsuit in federal court.

The lawsuit claims two federal agencies and the California State Water Resources Control Board and Department of Water Resources violated federal and state water laws.

It alleges several fish species in the Delta and Chinook salmon runs on the Sacramento River are near extinction.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla is with Restore the Delta.

Rudy Mussi is not the California farmer you've been hearing about. He is not fallowing all his fields or ripping up his orchards due to a lack irrigation water.

For Mussi and most of his neighbors in the bucolic Sacramento Delta, the water is still flowing reliably from the pumps and into the canals lining the fields.

"If you had to pick a place where you would say, 'Okay, where should I stick my farm?' You'd come to the Delta," he says.

California's drought isn't just turning green lawns brown or #droughtshaming into a trending topic. It's taking a multi-billion dollar toll on the state's agricultural industry as well.

The University of California, Davis is out with a new report, and some of the numbers are steep. The study found that in 2015 alone, the drought will cost the state's farmers industry $2.7 billion and more than 18,000 jobs, with 564,000 acres fallowed.

LA Times

California's drought isn't just a water shortage. It's also an event that has highlighted the political, cultural and economic divides that make up the Golden State in the 21st century.

The one common thread? Everyone wants to find someone to blame. Urban residents in San Francisco blame "greedy" San Joaquin Valley farmers. San Joaquin Valley farmers blame Bay Area "extreme" environmentalists. And Southern California groups blame political gridlock in Sacramento on such key issues as building more water storage and "fixing" the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta. 

California Water Regulators Agree To Cutback Program For Farmers

May 22, 2015
http://baydeltaconservationplan.com/

California water regulators are praising some Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta farmers for coming up with a program to voluntarily cut water use.

The State Water Resources Control Board today approved a deal in which farmers with some of the oldest rights to divert water from rivers would reduce use by 25-percent or fallow 25-percent of their land. The board says those farmers who participate would no longer risk future water curtailments. Felicia Marcus is Chair of the water board.

Water Board Considers Voluntary Water Cut From Delta Area Farmers

May 21, 2015
California Department of Water Resources

Some farmers in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta who hold the most senior water rights may agree to a 25-percent cut in their consumption. As Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, the proposal comes as California water regulators consider mandatory curtailments.

Under the proposal, farmers who hold rights to divert water along a river or stream would either reduce irrigation use or leave fields fallow. In exchange, they want guarantees that regulators wouldn’t restrict remaining water. Jennifer Spaletta, an attorney for a group of farmers, says it’s a practical solution.

Diana Aguilera / Valley Public Radio

A state appeals court has delivered a legal victory to a Fresno-based fruit grower in a decades old fight with the state’s ag labor relations board and the UFW. But as FM89’s Joe Moore reports, it’s likely not the final ruling.

Joe Moore / Valley Public Radio

For the second time in two months the Fresno City Council has voted down a proposal to start a farmland preservation program. FM89’s Joe Moore reports. 

Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s administration had wanted to apply for a $100,000 state grant to help start the effort, which is a key part of the city’s new general plan. 

Drought May Mean The End For Some Native Fish

May 14, 2015
Amy Quinton / Capital Public Radio

The drought in California is taking a heavy toll on native fish. Some experts fear if the drought lasts much longer, it may be a death knell for some species. As Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, the Delta smelt is likely headed toward extinction.

California Veterans Find Refuge In Farming

May 14, 2015
Lesley McClurg / Capital Public Radio

More and more military veterans are finding refuge in farming. They say digging in the dirt relieves psychological trauma, and it provides reliable work. Capital Public Radio’s Lesley McClurg visited two vets who say growing food for the nation is akin to protecting the country. 

Matt Smiley feels at home when he’s engaged in physical work. The veins on his arms swell as he digs up a green irrigation hose.

The former combat vet says farming is good for his body and his mind.

Raw Almonds Might Not Be As "Raw" As You Think

May 12, 2015

  When you’re talking about raw almonds the product may not be quite what you think. All California almonds, which would be virtually all the nuts in the country, are either heat-pasteurized, or sprayed with a fumigant. The processes are intended to prevent food-borne illness. But, some almond aficionados say the treatments change the flavor, and mislead consumers. Lesley McClurg in Sacramento has the story.

In a warehouse near Newman, California millions of almonds are heated in huge metal containers.  

The drought across much of the Western U.S. is now in its fourth year. In California — where it's the most intense — farms are not under the same strict orders to conserve as cities are.

And inside the agriculture industry, farmers are quietly debating how best to respond to the drought. Given uncertainty around pending state regulations, some say there may be an incentive to not invest in water-saving technologies right now.

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