Ag Today April 3, 2019

California adopts new wetland protections as Trump administration eases them [San Francisco Chronicle]

California water regulators adopted a far-reaching plan Tuesday to prevent more of the state’s creeks, ponds and wetlands from being plowed or paved over, a move that comes as the Trump administration scales back protections under the federal Clean Water Act….The new policy is a culmination of about a dozen years of back-and-forth between state regulators pushing for restrictions and critics trying to fight them off….“There were some things that we weren’t able to reach agreement on, but for the most part they were able to address our top concerns,” said Kari Fisher, an attorney for the California Farm Bureau Federation, which supported the state plan.


If Trump closes the border, there could be severe farm labor shortage, California growers say [Palm Springs Desert Sun]

If President Donald Trump follows through on his threats to seal the United States’ border with Mexico, agricultural operations throughout California and the west could suffer a serious labor shortage, leading to unpicked fruits and vegetables and higher prices for U.S. consumers. Across the country, more growers, citing a shortage in the domestic farm labor force, are relying on guest workers hired through the federal H-2A visa program to harvest fruits and vegetables….If immigration officials don’t process workers’ visas and allow them to enter the country, growers and their advocates say there won’t be enough workers to harvest lettuce and strawberries on the Central Coast, cherries in the San Joaquin Valley and pears in the Sacramento Delta.


Short of workers, U.S. builders and farmers crave more immigrants [New York Times]

…The need for labor has set off a scramble for bodies that is spilling across industries and driving up wages….Consider agriculture, where seven in 10 workers were born in Mexico, and only one in four was born in the United States. Last year, the United States issued nearly 200,000 H-2A visas for agricultural workers, three times as many as in 2012, as farmers tried to make up for the decline in the undocumented work force. Growers complain about the bureaucracy and costs associated with the visa program and worry that a government hostile toward immigrant work might decide to curtail it.


Final snow survey looks promising for Valley farmers [KFSN-TV, Fresno]

…Statewide the snowpack is 162% of average….Many canals are running full right now, so the water outlook for Valley farmers is good, especially if they rely on the irrigation deliveries out of both Pine Flat Dam and Friant Dam….”Here in the Valley we obviously live or die on what’s going with the Sierra snowpack so right now things look extraordinarily good for this year. We should see lots of surface deliveries,” said Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Jacobsen….Not all farmers are happy. Federal water users in the Westlands Water District on the western part of the Valley will receive 55% of their water allocation.


Interior Dept. watchdog reviewing allegations that acting secretary violated Trump ethics pledge [Washington Post]

The Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General is reviewing allegations that acting secretary David Bernhardt may have violated his ethics pledge by weighing in on issues affecting a former client, the office confirmed Tuesday. The move comes as the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is preparing to vote Thursday on whether to confirm Bernhardt as the next interior secretary, after which his nomination is expected to advance to the Senate floor. At least two outside groups and two Democratic senators asked the agency watchdog to look into Bernhardt’s effort to weaken protections for imperiled fish species and to expand California farmers’ access to water, even though he once lobbied on behalf of a massive agricultural water district that stood to benefit from the changes.


Sonoma County bans hemp cultivation, citing need for tighter regulation [Santa Rosa Press Democrat]

Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday narrowly approved an immediate ban on the cultivation of hemp, a move aimed at preventing the proliferation of a minimally regulated crop, a close relative of marijuana that lacks the psychoactive punch but can be far more profitable than wine grapes….The 2,000-member Sonoma County Farm Bureau said in a letter to the supervisors it was “adamantly opposed” to the moratorium, noting the 2018 federal farm bill authorized hemp cultivation. Hemp “may be what keeps some of our longtime food-producing farmers in business” by adding a highly profitable crop to support lower-priced commodities such as vegetable and milk, said the letter signed by Jeff Carlton, the Farm Bureau president.