Ag Today Friday, June 17, 2016

Ag Today

Friday, June 17, 2016


Capital Public Radio

No Easy Path To Implementing California Groundwater Law

By Amy Quinton

The state’s new groundwater management laws mean Californians no longer have unfettered use of water underground.

State law will require the creation of local agencies with sweeping powers to meter wells, tax, and penalize anyone who overuses groundwater.

If agencies aren’t created by next year, state regulators can take over.

The wine region of Paso Robles is among the 21 groundwater basins the state has deemed critically overdrafted. That means more water is pumped out than can be replenished.

“There is just a lot more demand,” says Sue Luft, a homeowner who grows a few acres of Zinfandel grapes just outside of Paso Robles. She’s seen water levels in her well drop more than 100 feet.

“The wine industry, which has been wonderful and drove a lot of us to come here, the vineyard growth, has just been tremendous,” says Luft.

But blaming the wine industry for all the groundwater problems in the Paso Robles basin would be an oversimplification, says Mark Hutchinson with the San Luis Obispo County Public Works Department.

“The city of Paso Robles has grown substantially in the last 20 years. I think since 1970 it’s more than doubled in size,” says Hutchinson.

Population growth and predicted future demand helped drive the critical designation for the basin. In 2013, homeowners like Sue Luft and large vineyard owners began an effort to create a groundwater management district. But when it finally came to a vote this spring, Paso Robles voters overwhelmingly rejected it.

“I think the experience in the Paso Robles area has demonstrated that that’s not going to be an uncontroversial or easy process,” says Rick Frank, Professor of Environmental Practice at UC Davis School of Law.

“The authority that these new groundwater sustainability agencies have, is quite broad in terms of the ability to tax and to regulate,” says Frank. “Just the fact that they have the potential sweeping political and fiscal authority that they have is going to be very controversial.”

Voters in Paso Robles didn’t want a new layer of government, didn’t want to fund it, didn’t believe the groundwater was overdrafted. Many property owners over the basin want to stick with the historic way of managing groundwater and get a judge to decide who has a right to the water. But Frank says going through the courts can take too long.

“Those adjudications take many years and lots of lawyers and lots of dollars to get done,” says Frank.

Meanwhile, the new state law dictates if no agency is created to manage basins like Paso Robles, the county should manage it.

“It’s not a one-time cost,” says Frank Meacham, with the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors. He says it may be too expensive for the county. “You have to establish the plan and then you have to implement that plan. Then you have to manage this basin over time. So that means there’s a cost every year.”

County officials say it could cost $950,000 a year. That cost could be shared by cities and districts within the county. But it’s complicated because five other groundwater basins in the county also have to be managed.

Rick Frank says Paso Robles sets an example of just how hard it will be to create local agencies. He says it’s likely not all overdrafted basins will have them in place by next year.

“I think there will be pressure on the state to step in if the statutory deadlines are not observed and local groundwater sustainability agencies are not created on time,” says Frank. “The current overdrafted groundwater basins are in my opinion a clear and present danger for California’s environment.”

No one knows how much water is available in California’s aquifers. But there have been grim accounts of dried up wells around the state and sinking land in the Central Valley. The thought of the state taking over groundwater management is exactly what worries former vineyard owner Jerry Reaugh, who led the effort to keep the basin under local control.

“I hope they don’t make a poster child out of us because that would be the worst thing that could happen,” says Reaugh. “In five years, I think people are going to say ‘Geez, we had a chance to be in control of our future and we turned it down.’”

The state’s groundwater law requires the creation of new local management agencies in 127 basins around the state. Then, the battle to come up with a plan to manage the basins will begin.

groundwaterCalifornia droughtWater Supplygroundwater sustainabilityPaso RoblesSustainable Groundwater Management Act




Fresno Business Journal

Dairy industry shrinking as cows leave California

By John Lindt

Peter Belezzuoli has seen the good times and bad times for the Tulare and Kings County dairy industry. His family bought Hanford’s Overland Stockyard in 1959, and Peter has been there through all of it. The auction yard, one of the world’s largest, hosts cattle sales that offer a glimpse inside the region’s No. 1 business.

Right now there is “some serious concern” over what he sees out there.

In the past month the yard has hosted four large dairy dispersals — longtime family-owned dairies throwing in the towel. That includes the Simoes Dairy west of Tulare, which will sell 1,200 Jersey cows June 22.

“Recently I have noticed that about 50 percent of the cows sold at these auctions are bought and shipped out of state,” Belezzuoli said.

That’s a far cry for when the local dairy business was healthy and a neighbor would more often than not buy the surplus cows to help restock their own herd. The cows stayed local even if the operators changed.

In another sign all is not well,  “about 30 percent of those cows sold will likely go to slaughter, sold for meat instead of a typical 10 percent ratio,” Belezzuoli said.

Between the loss of cows that “get a new address” and those that go to slaughter, there is no doubt about it, “our local industry is shrinking,” he added.

This is also happening with young replacement animal sales since “there is no expansion going on here.” Tougher regulations are another factor, he adds — one more reason not to add cows.

Driving the trend is rising land values. In the past five years land has gone from $5,000 an acre to $20,000 an acre, too valuable to grow feed that traditionally supports the area’s dairy industry. Instead everyone is planting nut trees. The economics have hit smaller, older dairies with less land equity hardest, Belezzuoli said.

And here is the bottom line. “Milk prices right now are around $12 per hundredweight and it takes $15 to 16 to break even,” he said. Another sign of the times — cows are going for about $500 less than a year ago.

So where are all these cows going? Belezzuoli said Texas and New Mexico have had some tough weather in recent months and they lost a lot of cows.

Industry sources say since 2006, more than 600 dairies have gone out of business throughout California, leaving less than 1,438 dairies across the state.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture reported Kings County had 114 dairies and 180,000 milk cows in 2015.

That is down from 140 dairies and 188,000 cows in 2011.

In 2008 thoe number was 156 dairies and 183,000 cows.



Imperial Valley Press

Citrus pest target of treatment campaign in Calexico

By Julio Morales

CALEXICO — Treatment efforts aimed at reducing the local presence of the Asian citrus psyllid, which poses a major threat to the local citrus industry if left unchecked, are scheduled to soon begin in Calexico along the international border.

Although local monitoring and treatment efforts have been in place for several years now, the pending treatment efforts are in response to a countywide “infestation” of the ACP population, the California Department of Food and Agriculture reported.

Efforts to reduce ACP populations are critical to helping prevent the introduction and spread of ACP-borne citrus diseases, namely huanglongbing (HLB), which is considered one of the most devastating diseases of citrus in the world, stated CDFA Secretary Karen Ross in a press release.

“HLB would have severe consequences to both the citrus industry and the urban landscape via the decline and the death of citrus trees,” Ross stated.

The treatment efforts, which will involve the application of two separate insecticides targeting the foliage and soil of host trees, will focus on residential properties found within a 400-meter radius of existing detection sites located within five miles of the border, the CFDA press release stated.

The majority of the city’s residential areas appear to fall within the proposed treatment boundary, according to a map provided by the CFDA.

“We’re focusing on the border area as a firewall,” said Mark McBroom, chairman of the Imperial County Citrus Pest Control District 1. “HLB has currently been found in Ensenada.”

On Thursday, McBroom had attended a meeting in Coachella attended by citrus growers and stakeholders to find out more about ongoing efforts across the state and nation to manage ACP populations.

As important as monitoring and treatment efforts are for ensuring the health of commercial citrus groves, the general public also needs to be reminded of the role they can play in helping reduce ACP populations, by monitoring and treating residential citrus trees.

“That’s why we need our communities, and especially our cities, to really be on the watch,” he said.

In spite of the prevalence of ACP in the county, no confirmed cases of HLB have been reported locally, although two confirmed cases have been reported in Los Angeles County, said county Agricultural Commissioner Connie Valenzuela.

“The key to not spreading the disease is controlling the insect that spreads it,” Valenzuela said. “Without controlling the insect and the disease, the citrus industry is dead.”

The Asian citrus psyllid was first detected in Imperial County in 2008, McBroom said. It had also been detected in in San Diego County at about the same time.

The ACP injures host plants by sucking its sap and secreting honeydew, often encouraging the growth of sooty mold, which in turn blocks the ability of leaves to absorb sunlight, the CFDA reported.

More troubling is HLB, which causes the tree to produce inedible fruit and eventually results in the death of the tree. The disease itself is difficult to detect, and can infect other trees before it is even detected.

California is the nation’s top-producing citrus grower, accounting for a $2.2 billion industry, the CFDA reported. Locally, citrus growers planted about 7,000 acres of groves and generated more than $50 million in crops in 2014, according to the 2014 county Agricultural Crop & Livestock Report.

“It’s a big part of what we do down here,” McBroom said. “We’d hate to lose it because of a bug.”

As part of a statewide initiative, the state’s citrus industry has collected $15 million a year to go toward community outreach efforts, including billboard ads, TV and radio commercials, said McBroom, who also sits on the board of the statewide Citrus Pest & Disease Prevention Program.

The citrus industry also largely funds treatment efforts in residential areas, he said.

Public meetings in Calexico are expected to be scheduled in advance of any treatment applications in order to answer questions and address any concerns. Likewise, impacted residents are typically notified 48 hours in advance of any treatment, as well as after treatments are completed, so that they are aware of any precaution that should be taken in regard to harvesting treated fruit, the CFDA reported.

Further information about ACP and HLB can be found at and

Staff Writer Julio Morales can be reached at 760-337-3415 or at

Staff Writer Julio Morales can be reached at or 760-337-3415.


Monterey County Herald

New Salinas Valley groundwater agency could need $4 million annual budget

By Jim Johnson

Salinas >> A new Salinas Valley groundwater sustainability agency could cost water users and other stakeholders as much as $4 million per year, a preliminary estimate shows.

The estimate included a nine-member staff led by an executive director whose pay and benefits would exceed $500,000. The estimate covers an initial five-year period starting in 2017, when the agency is expected to be in start-up mode. The cost estimate assumes the agency’s staff would be capable of everything from overseeing development of a groundwater model and a groundwater sustainability plan by 2020 to managing a future assessment process to pay for the state-mandated work.

The agency’s direct costs could vary based on whether it contracts with existing agencies, which could cut expenses, although it was also acknowledged the estimated legal costs could be low.

Start-up costs could be paid by agency members with the promise of being paid back through passage of a user assessment.

Johnson said the estimate was simply an exercise to give stakeholders a sense of the magnitude of potential initial costs, and pointed out it does not include any long-range basin management costs. He said there are state grants available to defray some start-up costs.

The state Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which requires balancing withdrawals with recharge in the state’s groundwater basins, has set a summer 2017 deadline for identifying or creating an agency or series of agencies to manage the efforts. The act also requires development of the groundwater management plan by summer 2020. Missing either deadline could risk the state assuming oversight of a groundwater basin such as the Salinas Valley’s.

A group of Salinas Valley stakeholders representing area agencies and interest groups have been meeting since March with the help of the consulting firm Consensus Building Institute in an effort to develop a groundwater agency proposal by the end of this year or early next year.

Johnson, who serves on the working group, said he believes progress is being made “as fast as we can given the issues.”

“It makes sense to do it right the first time because if we don’t do it right it won’t function right,” Johnson said.

On Thursday, the discussion focused heavily on the agency board’s membership, which stakeholders have generally agreed should be a manageable size with 11 to 15 members representing the county, the basin’s cities, area agencies, and beneficial users and interest groups ranging from agriculture, regulated water providers and mutual water systems to environmental and social justice groups.

A brief exchange over who should pay for the agency’s work pitted competing visions from Monterey County Farm Bureau executive director Norm Groot, who said groups besides agriculture should step up and share the costs if they expect representation on the agency board, while The Otter Project executive director Steve Shimek rejected the notion of “pay to play” influencing agency board membership.

The working group is expected to continue meeting this summer with sessions set for 1 to 3 p.m. Aug. 5 and 3 to 5 p.m. Aug. 18 in the Monterey Room, followed by a Stakeholder Forum from 5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 8 at Sherwood Hall in Salinas.

Jim Johnson can be reached at 831-726-4348.




Washington Post

Will indoor, vertical farming help us feed the planet — or hurt it?

By Tamar Haspel

How can we feed a population that’s growing on a planet that isn’t? Grow up!

Outdoors, an acre of land can grow an acre of lettuce. Indoors, an acre of building with plants stacked floor to ceiling can grow many acres of lettuce. Which is why, in cities around the country, entrepreneurs are turning warehouses into vertical farms. They promise local produce, responsibly grown. Do they deliver?

There are big pluses to vertical farming, the most fundamental of which is its verticality. Traditional horizontal farming is limited by its two dimensions. But if you stack plants 10 or 100 high, that acre can do the work of 10 or 100 farmed acres. On top of that, the plants grow faster: You’re not limited to the hours of daily light the sun delivers, so you get even more lettuce per square foot.

Less land is a win.

Because indoor plants are fed by fertilizer either delivered through water (hydroponic) or misted directly onto dry roots (aeroponic), they get only what they need. There’s no extra, and there’s no runoff, which translates to no algae blooms in rivers, lakes and estuaries.

Less fertilizer is a win.

Then there’s less water. As that commodity is in increasingly short supply in many parts of the world, a system that can cut water use by up to 95 percent should command our attention.

Less water is a win.

Because the climate is controlled, and there’s no soil to harbor pests or disease, indoor farming requires few pesticides. Workers are exposed to fewer toxic substances, and there are no threats to honeybees or other desirable plants or animals.

Fewer chemicals is a win.

Lettuce grown indoors can also be fine-tuned nutritionally by adjusting the fertilizer, but studies comparing indoor and outdoor lettuce nutrition find little difference, so I’ll call that a wash.

Still, that’s four non-trivial wins, and they are part of the reason vertical farming seems to have captured the imagination of urban food growers and consumers.

But before you shell out for the microgreens, there are a couple of disadvantages. The first is that you’ll have to shell out a lot, and the second gets at the heart of the inevitable trade-off between planet and people: the carbon footprint.

If you farm the old-fashioned way, you take advantage of a reliable, eternal, gloriously free source of energy: the sun. Take your plants inside, and you have to provide that energy yourself.

In the world of agriculture, there are opinions about every kind of system for growing every kind of crop, so it’s refreshing that the pivotal issue of vertical farming — energy use — boils down to something more reliable: math.

There’s no getting around the fact that plants need a certain minimum amount of light. In vertical farms, that light generally is provided efficiently, but, even so, replacing the sun is an energy-intensive business. Louis Albright, director of Cornell University’s Controlled Environment Agriculture program, has run the numbers: Each kilogram of indoor lettuce has a climate cost of four kilograms of carbon dioxide. And that’s just for the lighting. Indoor farms often need humidity control, ventilation, heating, cooling or all of the above.

Let’s compare that with field-grown lettuce. Climate cost varies according to conditions, but the estimates I found indicate that indoor lettuce production has a carbon footprint some 7 to 20 times greater than that of outdoor lettuce production. Indoor lettuce is a carbon Sasquatch.

But wait! There are ways to make up some of that. Shipping lettuce (usually from California) also has a climate cost. If your lettuce is grown in a warehouse in a nearby city, you cut that way down. But transport savings aren’t even close to bridging the gap, unless your field-grown lettuce is being flown in. The carbon cost of air freight is so high that indoor farms would be a fine substitute.

We’re not done yet.

Lighting is getting more efficient, and that will help, but there are significant limits to improvement. A spokesman for Philips Lighting said the company expects that eventually its LEDs will become 10 percent more efficient, but not much more. Albright theorizes that something like 50 percent more is possible. The theoretical maximum is that all electricity flowing to the bulb is converted to light; right now, the best bulbs convert only half of it.

There’s another way to make lighting more efficient: Pump carbon dioxide into the air. Plants photosynthesize CO2, so if there’s more of it in the atmosphere, plants can grow better with the same amount of light. According to Albright, that’s another 20 percent savings.

Combine the lighting and CO2 savings, and you’re looking at something like a 40 percent efficiency improvement in the near term. Substantial, but not enough to make indoor farms climate-competitive.

For that, we need to look at the source of the energy. Not the source at the farm; even with perfect efficiency, solar panels on the roof of a warehouse can’t come anywhere near providing enough energy for stacks and stacks of plants. It’s the source at the power plant that matters.

The carbon footprint of your lettuce depends almost entirely on the carbon footprint of your electricity. If your farm is in coal country, the carbon cost is high. Natural gas, it’s lower. About a fifth of the electricity in this country is generated by nuclear plants, which have a carbon footprint close to zero, making indoor farms a clear win. And, as renewable energy sources such as solar and wind start to contribute more to the grid, the carbon cost of vertical farms will go down.

Nate Laurell thinks about that a lot. He’s the chief executive of FarmedHere, one of the nation’s largest vertical farms, growing organic basil, microgreens, arugula, kale and more in a warehouse outside Chicago. From a climate standpoint, going vertical is making a bet that renewable energy is coming. Laurell acknowledges the high carbon cost of his products today, but says that “reducing the carbon footprint of the grid is a solvable problem over time.” In the long run, he says, “electrifying agriculture” will be a climate win because the grid will go green faster than the farm.

I can see a future where the carbon cost of indoor lettuce comes down. Whether the dollar cost comes down commensurately is hard to predict. One of the problems with vertical farming is that it’s expensive. Maintaining a building, setting up hydroponic infrastructure and paying big-city rent or real estate taxes is a wallet-thinning enterprise. To date, all the vertical farms I’m familiar with grow herbs and greens, high-value crops that they sell to well-heeled urban consumers.

I asked Laurell whether that kind of farming can break out of the basil-for-rich-people model, and he said he’s confident that it can. Although his products are now priced to be competitive with other organic greens and herbs, he’s working to reduce that price point. “Our intent is to get to a point where you have cleaner food with less chemicals that gets to the grocery store within 24 hours at a price point that isn’t just for Whole Foods,” he says. He’s aiming to be competitive with conventionally grown lettuce and expects to get there within three to five years. “A high-priced organic product that’s sold to rich consumers isn’t that interesting of a business,” he says. “To me, the interesting business solves the problem of feeding people.” Laurell was unwilling to share details of his cost-cutting plan — understandable in a competitive industry — but I wish him luck.

The bottom line on vertical farms is that today, indoor lettuce has a huge climate cost, but it’s not hard to envision a world where a transformed energy grid changes that equation. For so many reasons, let’s hope that world comes soon