Ag Today Friday, June 10, 2016

Ag Today

Friday, June 10, 2016


Bloomberg News

Dairy Farmers Say Trump’s Deportations Could Dry Up Milk Supply

By Mark Niquette

Mark Diederichs wiped a splatter of manure from his arm as four Hispanic workers guided the next 44 cows into stalls, swabbed each animal’s teats with neon-blue disinfectant and attached computer-controlled milking-machine units.

They moved quickly, repeating the thrice-daily process until the Wisconsin dairy’s 2,650 cattle had provided more than 10,000 gallons. If Donald Trump has his way, Diederichs says, the farm he runs may not have enough people to tend the herd because about two-thirds of his 35 full-time workers are immigrants.

Trump’s proposal to deport undocumented immigrants and wall off the southern U.S. border has created an unexpected bastion of resistance: dairy farmers.

Unlike farms that operate with a seasonal rhythm, milk operations function around the clock, 365 days a year, making short-term guest-worker programs ill suited. Farmers say they can’t get enough relatives or local workers, even with pay starting at $11 an hour or more — well above the minimum wage of $7.25 — with benefits that include a 401(k).

“It’s hard to get people that want to come out and do this type of work,” Diederichs, the 54-year-old general manager at Lake Breeze Dairy in Malone, said in his office after the May 31 morning shift.

Without immigrant labor, dairies would close, output would drop and consumers would pay almost twice as much for milk, according to a study funded by dairy producers that estimated the cost to the U.S. economy at $32 billion. Now that Trump is poised to claim the Republican nomination, even some dairy farmers who lean Republican are undecided or considering supporting Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton in November.

“With my group of friends, we kind of joked around and said, ‘Wow, did you ever think you’d vote for Hillary?”’ said Mitch Breunig, a Sauk City farmer who is president of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin.

One third of all U.S. dairy farms employed foreign-born workers in 2014, and half of all workers are immigrants, according to a survey by researchers at Texas A&M University commissioned by the National Milk Producers Federation in Arlington, Virginia.

A complete loss of immigrant labor could mean the elimination of more than 7,000 dairy farms and 208,000 jobs, a reduction in milk production by almost 50 billion pounds, and an increase in retail prices by 90 percent, the report found.

While dairy processors such as Dean Foods Co. won’t speculate about the impact that Trump’s proposals could have on their companies, a substantial decline in production would mean higher costs which would be passed to consumers for milk, cheese, butter and other products, said David Anderson, a livestock economist at Texas A&M who participated in the study.

“You’ve got to have milk to start with,” Anderson said.

Dairy farms already are under pressure. Wholesale prices are less than half what they were two years ago, as record U.S. production rose faster than demand. American shoppers paid $3.16 per gallon on average in April, the lowest since 2010, government data show.

Now comes the prospect of losing labor. Trump told voters in Wisconsin before its April 5 primary, which he lost to Texas Senator Ted Cruz, that he supports a visa program to allow workers to come into the U.S. legally. Yet he hasn’t offered details, and as many as 70 percent of agricultural workers are undocumented, said Kristi Boswell, immigration lobbyist with the American Farm Bureau Federation.

In Wisconsin, which is second to California in milk production, about 60 percent of immigrants on dairy farms are undocumented, said Gordon Speirs, a farmer from Brillion and president of the state’s Dairy Business Association.

Farmers say they can’t verify falsified documentation from workers. Milking robots can cost $200,000 each, and critics who say farmers should pay more to get U.S. workers don’t know the business, Speirs said.

“We’re very weary with hearing the statement, ‘Those Mexicans are taking jobs away from Americans,”’ Speirs said. “Come and show up on my door, and I’ll give you the job. But you’ve got to keep your job.”

Low wages are subsidized by taxpayers in the form of welfare, tax credits, education, housing and medical care, Trump policy adviser Stephen Miller said. The reliance on illegal labor also defers cost-reducing mechanization and lowers working conditions, he said.

“Cheap labor is not cheap,” Miller said by e-mail. “Open borders makes us all poorer in the end.”

Alvaro Ramirez, 36, said he came to the U.S. from Zacatecas, Mexico, in 2000 with the help of an uncle in Chicago and has worked in Wisconsin at a packaging plant, stone quarry, warehouse and on dairy farms. He started working for Diederichs about four years ago and now manages the milk parlor.

“To me, it’s not a tough job,” Ramirez said in an interview. He has a permanent resident card, Diederichs said.

Ramirez said while some immigrants are nervous about their futures if Trump gets elected, he doesn’t think the billionaire is serious.

Trump’s immigration stance “scares the hell out me,” said Speirs of the Dairy Business Association. Still, he plans to vote for the billionaire because his proposals aren’t likely to be realized, and he’s better than Clinton on other issues.

While Trump’s anti-immigration stance helped him secure the Republican nomination, it can work against him in a general election — especially in crucial states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania, said Charles Franklin, director of the Milwaukee-based Marquette Law School poll.

His polls show that only 28 percent of Republicans in Wisconsin favor Trump’s position of deporting all undocumented immigrants without any path to remaining, as do only 8 percent of Democrats and 20 percent of independents.

A May 10 Quinnipiac University poll showed that only 31 percent of voters in Ohio and 27 percent in Pennsylvania support Trump’s position, while a majority in both states oppose his plan to build a wall.

“Donald Trump throwing that out there, that puts a big red flag up for a whole bunch of us in agriculture,” said Matt Andreas, 37, who manages his family’s dairy farm in Sugarcreek, Ohio.


Los Angeles Times

California must set aside delays to truck pollution standards, judge rules

By Tony Barboza

California air quality regulators failed to consider the environmental and business consequences of giving some heavy-duty truck operators more time to comply with tough diesel pollution rules and must set aside the delays, a Fresno County judge has ruled.

The decision Tuesday by Fresno County Superior Court Judge Mark W. Snauffer is a victory for a contingent of trucking businesses that had complained that the California Air Resources Board created an uneven playing field by postponing deadlines for smaller firms to upgrade to cleaner engines or install better pollution controls.

The California Trucking Assn. and Fresno-based trucking company John R. Lawson Rock and Oil Inc. sued the state air board over its April 2014 vote to delay emissions rules that many larger operators had already met.

Snauffer wrote that the air quality board did not undertake “even a cursory analysis” of the financial hardship on trucking firms that already paid to comply with the new pollution standards and could be undercut by smaller, higher-polluting competitors that had failed to meet them.

In a written statement Thursday, the Air Resources Board defended the relaxation, saying it provided “badly needed flexibility to smaller fleets (three trucks or less), lower-use vehicles including those operated by small farmers, and fleets in some rural areas.”

The board said it will immediately file an appeal, “which will maintain the status quo while the case makes its way through the higher courts.”

The board in 2008 adopted the nation’s toughest diesel emissions regulations aimed at phasing out older, dirty trucks and reducing health risks from soot and smog. The board relaxed the rules in 2010 and again in 2014.

Those latest changes divided the trucking industry. While some small trucking firms pleaded for more time, they were opposed by operators of larger fleets that had paid to upgrade to cleaner engines and complained that their businesses would be put at a competitive disadvantage.

Shawn Yadon, chief executive of the California Trucking Assn., said the air board “was basically picking winners and losers —  and the losers ended up being the operators and carriers who stepped up to comply with the rules at great cost.”

Environmental groups and residents near freeways, ports and other heavy traffic corridors also argued against the delays.

Heavy-duty trucks are among the largest sources of air pollution, emitting diesel exhaust linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer and asthma. Steep pollution reductions from the trucking industry are central to California’s efforts to meet a series of upcoming deadlines to curb smog and greenhouse gas emissions., @tonybarboza



Ventura County Star

SUSTAIN VC qualifies for November ballot, elections officials say

By Kathleen Wilson

It looks like the SOAR initiatives to renew voter requirements for development of farmland and open space will have company on the November ballot.

SOAR — formally called Save Open-space and Agricultural Resources — requires voter approval for development of protected farmland and open space in Ventura County. Measures to renew SOAR in unincorporated parts of the county and assorted cities have qualified to appear on the ballot for the November presidential general election.

Growers, though, are supporting an alternative called SUSTAIN VC that would provide exceptions for agriculture in unincorporated areas. Elections officials confirmed late Thursday afternoon that a sufficient number of registered voters had signed a petition to qualify that measure, too.

SUSTAIN VC goes now to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, perhaps on June 21, county Clerk-Recorder Mark Lunn said.

The board has basically two choices: place the measure on the ballot or adopt it as an ordinance, which is highly unlikely. A third alternative allows the board to order a report that must be completed within 30 days before making one of the two choices.

Supervisors already have gone through the same process for the SOAR measure affecting unincorporated county territory. This would affect the same area.

To qualify for the ballot, the petitions for both SOAR and SUSTAIN VC needed the signatures of at least 19,987 registered voters.

SOAR proponents submitted more than 34,000 signatures for their countywide measure. Signature gatherers for SUSTAIN VC collected 30,300 signatures for theirs.

Each measure requires voter approval to develop farmland and open space in unincorporated areas. But the alternative contains more exceptions to the voter requirement. Proponents say they are needed to sustain agriculture.

Without a vote of the public, the Board of Supervisors could designate up to 225 acres for food processing plants. The board could also rezone certain farm parcels to avoid conflicts with schools.

SUSTAIN VC would expire in 2036, a timeline of 20 years that proponents say provides flexibility for the changing needs of agriculture. The initiatives to renew the various SOAR measures would end in 2050, which is 30 years after the original initiatives begin expiring in 2020.

Kathleen Wilson covers county government and does investigative projects.

@countykathleen 805-437-0271



San Luis Obispo Tribune

Study: San Luis Obispo County wine industry generated $1.9 billion in 2015

By Sarah Linn

The San Luis Obispo County wine industry had a total economic impact of $1.9 billion in 2015, according to a study released Thursday. That’s 6.5 percent of the county’s gross regional product.

The study, conducted by the University of California Agricultural Issues Center at UC Davis, found that wineries and wine grape growers generated a total of 13,627 jobs last year earning $388 million in wages. What’s more, wine-related tourism brought in expenditures of $194 million.

Christopher Taranto, communications director for the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, said the study will serve to set basic benchmarks for the local wine industry.

The UC Davis study was primarily funded and managed by the alliance, with support from the San Luis Obispo Wine Country Association, the San Luis Obispo County Agricultural Commissioner’s office, the Economic Vitality Corporation of San Luis Obispo County, Visit San Luis Obispo County and Heritage Oaks Bank, among other entities.

“For me and for others it confirms that it (wine) plays a very large role in the county,” said Michael Manchak, president and CEO of the Economic Vitality Corporation.

Chuck Davison, president and CEO of Visit San Luis Obispo County, declined to comment Thursday on the findings, saying he had not yet a chance to look at the report.

The UC Davis study looked at wineries and wine grape growers in the Paso Robles AVA (American Viticultural Area), and San Luis Obispo County as a whole, during a year when they dealt with “less-than-stellar yield” due to unusually cool and windy springtime weather as well as severe drought.

The study found that San Luis Obispo County wineries produced 20.4 million cases of wine in 2015, generating $732 million in revenue, while growers produced 127,367 tons of wine grapes valued at $297 million. (That’s contrary to annual crop statistics released in May by the San Luis Obispo County Department of Agriculture, which valued wine grapes at $146.4 million, making them the county’s second-leading crop last year.)

Local vineyards and wineries generated $54.9 million in state sales tax, 10 percent of the county total, and had total property tax assessments of $44.8 million, 28 percent of the county total, the UC Davis study found.

Meanwhile, those businesses generated 11.5 percent of the county’s jobs, findings showed. Grape growers employed 4,349 people, while 6,905 people worked in winemaking. Wine-related tourism accounted for 2,372 jobs.

Tourists made a total of 1.56 million visits to county wineries last year, the study found, resulting in 28 percent of the demand for hotel accommodations.

“When you see that wine is an economic driver to tourism, it puts into context what our assets really are,” Taranto said.

According to Taranto, researchers William A. Matthews and Josue Medellin-Azuara relied on data from a comprehensive survey given to Talley Vineyards in Arroyo Grande, Niven Family Wine Estates and Tolosa Winery in San Luis Obispo and several members of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. Taranto did not name the Paso Robles area wineries, citing confidentiality concerns, but said they represent about 24 percent of total production in Paso Robles wine country.

The last time the San Luis Obispo County wine industry was the subject of such a comprehensive economic impact study was 2007.

Napa Valley firm MKF Research LLC, which conducted the study at the behest of the Economic Vitality Corporation and Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, found that county wineries and wine grape growers had a full economic impact of $1.785 billion in 2006 — generating 8,114 full-time-equivalent jobs with $241 million in wages.

That study, which said local wineries produced 3.2 million cases in 2006, put the total retail value of San Luis Obispo County wine at $1.46 billion. Wine grapes were valued at $151 million.

The 2007 study also charted 1.2 million winery visits, generating $113 million in expenditures.

Although it’s tempting to compare the two studies, Taranto noted that they were created by two different entities using different research methods.

Still, the 2015 figures suggest that the San Luis Obispo County wine industry has successfully rebounded from the crippling recession of 2008.

“There has been some substantial growth with not only acreage but [also] wineries,” Taranto said. “It is a good time to be able to create this basis benchmark … for the county.”

Manchak agreed. “That benchmarking before and after the recession is pretty key,” he said.

Asked about the eight-year gap between the two studies, Taranto said expense played a part in the delay. He did not say how much the 2015 study cost.

Taranto was not sure when a similar economic impact study would be conducted next.

Sarah Linn: 805-781-7907, @shelikestowatch,



Bloomberg News

The Weather-Predicting Tech Behind $62 Billion Monsanto Bid

Technology is boosting farmers’ productivity—and triggering buyout bids like Bayer’s.

A self-driving John Deere tractor rumbles through Ian Pigott’s 2,000-acre farm every week or so to spray fertilizer, guided by satellite imagery and each plot’s harvesting history. The 11-ton behemoth, loaded with so many screens it looks like an airplane cockpit, relays the nutrient information to the farmer’s computer system. With weather forecasts and data on pesticide use, soil readings, and plant tissue tests pulled by various pieces of software, Pigott can keep tabs on the farm down to the square meter in real time without ever leaving his carpeted office.

“This is becoming more standard,” says Pigott, who grows a rotation of wheat, oilseed, oats, and barley on his farm in the rolling Hertfordshire countryside an hour north of London.

German chemical company Bayer cited the growth in such digitally assisted farming as a key reason for its $62 billion bid for Monsanto, which has become a leading provider of analytics used by growers. Bayer Chief Executive Officer Werner Baumann says Monsanto is at the “forefront of digital farming.” Acquiring the company would further Bayer’s goal of identifying and providing the best-suited seeds, fertilizers, and chemicals for farms around the world.

“If you get the customers’ attention by predicting what will happen on their farm, you can be closer to them to sell them the seeds and whatever other products you want to sell them,” says Bruce Erickson, a director in the agronomy department at Purdue University who tracks farming technology. “The promise is immense.”

Signs of the transformation abound: drones providing bird’s-eye views of fields; mapping software locating underground water sources; sensor- laden tractors monitoring harvests in real time. It’s happening outside the fields, too. Cows’ meal portions are adjusted automatically based on their milk output. Infrared cameras identify chickens with fevers, protecting flocks.

Adoption of digital tools comes amid concerns that food production isn’t keeping up with the world’s appetite. Crop yields have remained relatively flat in recent years, even as demand is increasing because of population growth and the rising middle class in developing nations such as China.

Sensing an opportunity, investment is pouring into digital farming. Food and agriculture technology startups attracted $4.6 billion last year, compared with $2.3 billion in 2014, according to AgFunder, an online investing platform.

Monsanto’s investment in digital agriculture took off in 2013, when it spent almost $1 billion for San Francisco-based startup Climate Corp. Founded by former Google engineers David Friedberg and Siraj Khaliq, Climate Corp. developed an algorithm that helps predict how weather affects crop output. Monsanto added its own data from seed trials and acquired soil and analytics companies. Now its software offers farmers recommendations on what to plant and where to plant it.

“Farmers are very excited about new technology if you can show them some value, that it’s not just some gimmick,” says Khaliq, who’s now a venture capitalist in London.

Monsanto invested in Blue River Technology, a California company that uses computer vision technology to weed crops. It also backed HydroBio, which produces tools that monitor water usage, and VitalFields, a maker of farm management software. Meanwhile, Planet Labs, whose satellite monitoring technology tracks changes in crops and soils, raised $120 million last year, and data company Farmers Business Network raised $15 million from investors including Google parent Alphabet.

Other large agriculture companies are also investing to add technology to their product lines. Tractor maker Deere offers autonomous driving and tools to track real-time usage of seeds, fertilizer, and chemicals. DuPont, which is merging with Dow Chemical, is expanding its Encirca farm management software unit. And Syngenta, which Monsanto tried to buy earlier this year and has agreed to be bought by ChemChina, has made several digital farming acquisitions.

Adoption of digital agriculture has been fastest in the central U.S., where industrial farms put a premium on efficiency. In central Illinois, Dale Hadden has been collecting data to improve the performance of the soybeans, corn, and wheat he grows on his almost 5,000 acres. He creates models to predict yields based on chemical use, soil types, and his land’s topography.

“We can take our data, walk right into the fields with an iPad or iPhone, pinpoint exactly where we are in the field, and see what the planting rate is, what the amount of nitrogen is, and figure out what we should be doing with each parcel of land,” Hadden says. “If we have a performance issue in a certain area, we can do something about it.”

Still, it’s early days for such technology. “Agriculture is well behind other industries that I’ve been involved with in being able to collect and synthesize data and express it as solutions to problems,” says Ron LeMay, the former president of telecommunications company Sprint, who founded FarmLink, a data company.

Many farmers, particularly outside the U.S., have taken a wait-and-see approach to find out if adopting digital tools can improve their bottom line. Such software can cost several thousand dollars per year and comes with a steep learning curve. “We’re still on the cusp of being able to demonstrate at scale the financial returns,” says Ros Harvey, the founder of Yield, an Australian startup. Her company, backed by German automotive giant Robert Bosch, uses sensors that allow oyster farmers to determine when contamination makes it unsafe to harvest.

The greatest potential may be in the developing world, where tapping into global communications networks may allow farmers to better manage climate change and other risks by bringing Big Data to the world’s most information-poor regions. “We’re starting to see the emergence of a digital revolution,” says Mick Keogh, the executive director of the Australian Farm Institute. “It’s moving from decisions based on a farmer’s skill to decisions based on objective information driven from technologies now available.”

The bottom line: Food and agriculture technology startups attracted $4.6 billion in funding last year, vs. $2.3 billion in 2014, according to AgFunder.



Lodi News-Sentinel

Farm tours educate San Joaquin County teachers

By Christina Cornejo

After a long school year, you’d think that teachers would be taking a much needed rest for the summer. However, several teachers have headed back to school on a series of tours of local farms and agricultural businesses — this time as students themselves.

Each year, the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Foundation for Agricultural Education sponsors four days of Ag in the Classroom instruction. Kindergarten through 12th grade teachers learn about various parts of the agriculture industry and how ag can be applied to classroom concepts such as math, natural sciences, language arts, history, geography and nutrition.

“We try to diversify the program and touch on as many different topics as we can, such as the amount of education and technology that go into agriculture and different job opportunities that there are,” said Rachael Fleming, agricultural education program director for the farm bureau

Thursday marked the last day of the most recent Ag in the Classroom tour, when teachers visited several places in the Lodi area, including Lima Ranch’s dairy operations.

A few cows were still munching on feed in their stanchion, though most had already been milked and moved on to a different area of the farm by the time the curious teachers had arrived.

Jack Hamm, owner of Lima Ranch, explained to the group how the lever works to lock the cows in, if a vet needs to inspect a cow and be kept stationary. They are raised from calves to become accustomed to the mechanisms so that they remain calm while in them.

He pointed to the shape of the triangular shade structure which draws more hot air up and away from the cattle and keeps a cool breeze coming through to keep them cool.

“It’s because they are big digesters. They take in 100 pounds of feed a day and have to digest it all down, so they get really hot,” Hamm said.

Hamm identified several jobs that involved in different areas of the dairy operation, such as nutritionists who meet with him twice a month to determine feeding needs of the cattle to milkers, people who manage the increasingly complex dairy equipment and those who can keep track of the necessary paperwork that has to be submitted to inspectors and government agencies. Several of these positions involve knowledge of science, lab testing, and new high-tech dairy technology, such as a handheld computer that can call up data on each cow by waving it next to collars or buttons they wear.

He also pointed to a trend of dairies who are now consolidating, turning to robots and other technology or disappearing because of the expense involved in meeting new and increasing number of regulations as well as ensuring that they are putting out good products. But there still needs to be a person behind those machines, he said.

Teachers asked if there were any jobs open at the moment at Lima Ranch, to see where he may be hiring, however, Hamm responded that they were all full at the moment.

Armed with ways of communicating to students about the dairy industry, teachers headed off in a bus to their next destinations — Sutter Home Winery in Lodi, Michael David Winery, Rivermaid Processing and Packing and Lodi Pump and Irrigation.

Some middle schoolers in Kendra Martinsen’s class at Mile Garden Elementary School in Manteca may benefit from learning of new careers they can work toward, Martinsen said.

“I was raised in an agricultural area, so I’m familiar with a lot of these things, but I’m learning things that I can take back to the classroom,” she said.

As one of the presenters in the program, Hamm enjoys being able to bring this knowledge to teachers and ultimately their students.

“I think it’s important. We show teachers, by the end, all the jobs that are available when you get into agriculture. When kids think of working on a farm, most of the time it’s a farmer on a tractor,” he said. “You don’t have to be a cow milker to work in a dairy.”

Contact reporter Christina Cornejo at