Ag Today Friday, February 13, 2015

Congress pressures both sides in ports dispute [Sacramento Bee]

Congressional Republicans and Democrats are working together to reach a rapid resolution of a labor dispute that’s clogging West Coast ports. With crop exports from regions like the Pacific Northwest and California’s Central Valley particularly at risk, more than a dozen lawmakers united Thursday in support of port peace. If nothing else, the rare show of bipartisanship underscored the enduring importance of maritime trade….By some estimates, U.S. agricultural exports through the West Coast ports have fallen by some 50 percent as a result of the ports’ slowdown.
High-speed rail agency behind schedule in buying land [Associated Press]
California’s $68 billion high-speed rail project is as much as a year behind schedule in buying the land needed to start construction on the first 29-mile stretch in the Central Valley, rail officials say. The state has bought 122 of the 540 parcels it needs for construction from Madera to Fresno, putting it well behind its own 2012 plan to buy up land and turn it over to contractors, even though officials held a high-profile groundbreaking in Fresno last month with Gov. Jerry Brown. The High-Speed Rail Authority provided the figure as rail officials prepared to go before a state panel Friday seeking approval to start eminent domain proceedings for another 31 properties in Fresno and Madera counties….Stan Felipe, a third-generation farmer in Kings County, south of Fresno, is among those in talks with rail officials about the 10 to 15 acres the state has offered to buy from the 200-acre farm where he grows pistachios, corn and cotton. He said the high-speed rail plans call for a 30-foot vehicle overpass that will slice across his land, cutting off water and access to half his farm.
After receiving what he believes is a below-value appraisal and hundreds of pages of paperwork, the 65-year-old and his wife, Beverly, hired an attorney. Felipe declined to discuss how much he has been offered or how much he is seeking.
Southwest and Great Plains at risk of 21st century ‘mega-drought’ [Los Angeles Times]
Global warming will bring the “unprecedented” risk of a decades-long mega-drought in the American Southwest and Great Plains during the second half of the century, researchers claim. The forecast, which was published online Thursday in the new journal Science Advances, contrasts sharply with other recent assessments that report greater uncertainty about future droughts, according to study authors. The researchers used historic tree ring data and three drought measures to conclude that there was at least an 80% chance of a 35-year-long drought occurring by the end of this century….Although many scientists agree that California’s current drought is the result of natural climate variability, and not the result of global warming, Cook and his colleagues said human-produced greenhouse gasses were increasing the likelihood of future droughts.
Opinion: Old water conflicts open again [Sacramento Bee]
Exactly six months ago, the Capitol’s politicians were hailing a new era of bipartisan comity and cooperation with the overwhelming passage of $7.5 billion in bonds to improve the state’s water supply. Voters, motivated by a severe drought, added their voices three months later with an overwhelming approval of the bond measure, Proposition 1. Now, however, the money must be spent and some of the state’s age-old conflicts over how water should be managed are re-emerging, along with the Capitol’s perennial jousting over who will control the allocation of funds.
Ag labor shortage fuels tech innovation [Salinas Californian]
Any venture investor will tell you problems drive innovation, and nowhere is that more apparent than with the shortage of field workers fueling new automation ideas. Be it low-tech or high-tech, companies are increasingly looking for ways to alleviate the effects of a dwindling supply of farm workers, and the future looks even bleaker….It’s a fear shared by many and echoed by farmers and equipment suppliers visiting this year’s World Ag Expo in Tulare….Farmers in the Salinas Valley have a long history of working with fabricators to build their own harvesters, lettuce thinners and other equipment to save on labor. And over in the Central Valley, dairy operators, nut growers and citrus farmers had a keen interest in mechanized labor-saving innovations.
Mexico and Wal-Mart launch initiative to improve lives of farmworkers [Los Angeles Times]
The Mexican government and Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, have announced steps to improve the lives of the nation’s farmworkers, two months after a Los Angeles Times investigation detailed labor abuses at Mexican agribusinesses that supply major U.S. supermarket chains and restaurants. Mexico’s secretary of agriculture, Enrique Martinez y Martinez, announced the creation Thursday of a “historic” alliance of produce industry groups that will focus on enforcing wage laws and improving housing, schools and healthcare for the more than 1 million laborers at export farms. The group represents growers and distributors that handle 90% of Mexico’s produce exports to the United States, which have tripled over the last decade and now exceed $7.5 billion a year. Separately, Wal-Mart said it is taking action to ensure that workers are treated with “respect and dignity,” reminding its in-house buyers that they should buy produce only from farms that meet the company’s standards for decent treatment of workers.
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