Ag Today Friday, November 6, 2015

Ag Today

Friday, November 6, 2015

Sacramento Bee

California lawmakers split over big Pacific Rim trade deal

By Michael Doyle

California lawmakers are going to split over a sprawling Pacific Rim trade deal unveiled Thursday, even as the state’s major farmers and business leaders foresee a definite winner.

Buoyed by the support of groups like Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement binding 12 nations will be appealing to a fair share of the nation’s largest congressional delegation.

“I am cautiously optimistic,” said Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif.

But note the key word: “Cautiously.”

Even the state’s most reliable free-trade advocates, like House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, insist they still need to study the details spelled out across 30 chapters and accompanying documents.

“I have to make sure all the ag pieces are what they told us they were going to be,” noted Rep Devin Nunes, R-Calif., referring to the agreement’s impact on agricultural exports. He said the deal remains a question mark “until you actually see the language.”

Now chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Nunes formerly led the House trade subcommittee and has at times worked closely with Obama administration trade officials. Last June, he joined 218 other House members in narrowly approving a crucial trade procedure that will be used to “fast-track” congressional consideration of the new deal.

Other San Joaquin Valley representatives including Valadao, McCarthy, Republican Reps. Jeff Denham and Tom McClintock, and Democratic Rep. Jim Costa, also voted for the trade procedure.

The measure prohibits filibusters and congressional amendments to the negotiated trade deal, and at a certain point will start a Capitol Hill clock ticking for a vote.

Most House Democrats from the state, including Reps. Doris Matsui, John Garamendi, Jerry McNerney and Lois Capps, opposed the trade procedure. For some, but not all, this earlier vote could suggest opposition to the underlying Pacific Rim trade deal when it comes to a final vote next year

“It foreshadows it, but it doesn’t really determine it, because I look at them differently,” Capps said Thursday. “I really want to study this one carefully. These package deals need to be scrutinized.”

McNerney similarly said Thursday that, though the odds may be that he votes against trade deal, he is “going to have to look at it closely” before forming a final opinion.

The lawmakers have a point. The detailed tariff elimination schedule for just one country –Vietnam – spans 260 pages. The language of the agreement itself is a thicket, hard for a layman to penetrate.

“The agricultural safeguard trigger quantity in any year shall be determined by multiplying the in-quota quantity for the goods of Peru identified in subparagraph (g) for that year, as set out in Appendix A to the United States Schedule to Annex 2-D, by 130 %,” one typical document states.

As part of its promotional pitch, though, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office has cranked out myriad talking points that focus, for instance, on the potential benefits for California’s agricultural exports.

Currently, tariffs hinder foreign sales. Japan, for instance, imposes a tariff of up to 32 percent on fresh oranges, 17 percent on apples and 10 percent on shelled walnuts.

Under the trade deal, Vietnam, Japan and Malaysia will over time eliminate the tariffs on all tree nuts, as well as fresh and processed fruits, including citrus. Japan will eliminate tariffs on cheese, while Vietnam will eliminate tariffs more generally on dairy products.

It won’t all happen immediately. Some Japanese tariffs on fresh and processed vegetables will be phased out over a period of up to 11 years. Malaysia’s high rice tariff will take 10 years to reach zero, while the United States’ own tariffs on processed fruits will not be eliminated for another 15 years.

Other tariffs will be reduced, but not entirely eliminated. Japan’s 38.5 percent tariff on U.S. beef, for instance, will fall to 9 percent. Other barriers, like certain phytosanitary rules imposed by other countries, will also shrink. These rules have to do with the safety of agricultural products crossing borders.

All told, California in 2013 exported $70.1 billion worth of goods to the nations included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“It is my hope that after thorough review, we can verify that the agreement will provide economic benefits and support good-paying jobs in our Valley and our country,” Costa said.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association called the deal a “major win,” while the National Chicken Council says the deal “represents a major opportunity” for U.S. producers. National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson, though, called the trade pact “bad for America’s family farmers and ranchers.”

Michael Doyle: 202-383-0006, @MichaelDoyle10,



Palm Springs Desert Sun

Agriculture exports, trade deal discussed at summit

By Rosalie Murphy

Agriculture is directly responsible for nearly $1.5 billion of Riverside County’s economic activity, county supervisor John Benoit said at Wednesday’s county-hosted Exporting Agriculture International Trade Summit.

Much of that money comes from local consumers — but the county’s farms also trade with more than 50 countries, he said. And officials on Wednesday encouraged the region’s farmers to pursue more customers abroad.

“We’re going to be establishing the taste preferences of this emerging middle class” around the world, said Jeff Deiss, a regional export finance manager at the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Several speakers pointed to that “emerging middle class” as a boon for U.S. farmers. Andy Anderson, executive director of the Western U.S. Agricultural Trade Association (WUSATA), said those customers are drawn to U.S. products because of the country’s high safety standards. And as more people move to cities and work in offices and factories, the market for prepared food is growing.

Anderson’s organization placed around 1.8 billion people in that “global middle class” category in 2010. In 2020, they anticipate around 3.2 billion consumers in that category.

“Our rising middle class (in the U.S.) is not going to compete with that in any way,” Anderson said.

According to WUSATA, the top markets for U.S. processed foods in 2013 were Canada, Mexico, the European Union, Japan and China. The organization believes the global market for processed foods is as large as $2.6 trillion annually.

Anderson said processed foods — products like pre-cooked chicken, chopped nuts and dried or canned fruits — create additional jobs in manufacturing and packaging in the U.S., too.

Glenda Humiston, vice president for agriculture and natural resources at the University of California, said that by UC’s calculations, around 1.2 million California jobs are tied to natural resources — including agriculture along with fishing, mining, recreation and renewable energy. In the next five years, she believes that workforce will grow by nearly 300,000 people.

But, she cautioned, the pool of workers willing to take jobs in the fields are shrinking. Her department’s research has found that young people in Mexico and central America, who comprise much of the migrant labor force in the U.S., are increasingly able to find better paying, less taxing jobs elsewhere.

“There’s going to be massive upheavals in the system,” Humiston said.

Nearly every industry leader at Wednesday’s meeting stressed the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal involving the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations.

Negotiations ended last month, and details of the agreement became public on Wednesday. Critics of the deal object to the secrecy in which negotiations were conducted, and some say free trade deals weaken labor and environmental standards. But proponents, like many in the agriculture industry, say it will give businesses unprecedented access to international markets.

In the five years after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was implemented in the 1990s, the value of farm exports rose from $8 billion to $12 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agriculture service.

“Getting the TPP passed through Congress is vital to U.S. exports,” said Anderson of industry group WUSATA. “We can’t afford to sit idly by and let the rest of the world negotiate treaties with each other (without the U.S.).”

Rosalie Murphy covers real estate and business at The Desert Sun. Reach her at or on Twitter @rozmurph.



Salinas Californian

Valley farmers urged to better embrace new technology

By David Castellon

As fast as technology is changing, California’s agricultural industry needs to find and embrace new technology to do the work more efficiently and productively.

That was the conclusion of a panel that gathered Thursday at California State University Monterey Bay for the GreaterVision 2015 conference.

This was the eighth year for the event, which focuses on issues imporant the agricutlural industry in the Salinas Valley and the Monterey Bay area.

“We are being hit with a tsunami of technological change,” from new innovations to digitalization of industries to combining technologies, said Shyam J. Kamath, dean of the university’s College of Business, which co-sponsored the conference with the Salinas-based Grower-Shipper Association Foundation.

And anticipated advances in artificial intelligence — capable of analyzing data and making decisions — may further change the playing field, even as concerns rise that this technology may be advancing too fast, he told the crowd comprised of ag industry members, academics and students.

“Agriculture is no different,” Kamath said. “Agriculture is facing the same tsunami.”

What’s driving changes in business practices and emerging technology is the need to feed the world and its expanding population. There’s a concern, said new-age farmer and keynote speaker Tom Rolander, that in the not-too-distant future the food produced will not be enough to meet the demand.

Rolander is a former software engineer who, after selling his business three-and-a-half years ago, became software architect for Ecopia Farms in Campbell. Ecopia is a “vertical farm” where crops are grown on stacked trays in a warehouse-type building and where irrigation is closely controlled, as is the light supplied by LED bulbs instead of sunlight.

He told the crowd that farming in warehouses and on rooftops in urban areas is among the major shifts he sees coming for the agriculture industry.

“We are pushing 7 billion people” on earth, he told the crowd, adding that by 2050 that number could reach 9 billion.

Technology will have to play a role in providing more food while taxing fewer resources, and part of this involves “big data” — the growing amount of information on everything from farming methods to what products consumers are buying, Rolander said.

Other important technologies include precision agriculture, which can involve robotics; use of internet-based tools; and the development of emerging technology that can improve the industry in increments.

But “disruptive” technology also will come into play, Rolander said, generating major changes to the ways farming and other ag business is done and possibly replacing some existing methodologies.

Vertical farming is one example of this, he said, as it allows more precise control of water than land-based farming, allows the control of light the crops are exposed to and make sit possible to avoid pests without pesticides.

“The disruption is moving farming to urban areas, closer to consumers,” Rolander said. “The future is already here. It’s costly, but it will go down as it becomes more available.”

Ultimately, the cost of that technology will be paid by consumers, and industry members will have to decide whether they expect those consumers to pay those higher costs, added Bob Whitaker, chief science and technology officer for the Produce Marketing Association.

“If it tastes good, people will buy it,” added Lori Koster, chairwoman and chief executive officer for Mann Packing Co. in Salinas.

Koster and Whitaker, were on the GreatVision panel Thursday, along with Rolander and and Kevin Murphy, CEO of Driscoll’s the world-wide grower, packer and marketer of strawberries and berries based in Watsonville.

Dennis Donohue, the former Salinas mayor and president of Royal Rose LLC, a grower and distributor of specialty crops, served as moderator.

“Here in California, we’re behind, way behind, particularly in the Salinas Valley,” said Murphy. He explained that because the soil and weather have been so good here and because cheap labor was abundant, there wasn’t much urgency to innovate or adopt the technology used in other parts of the world to overcome bad weather, bad soil and other problems.

And in light of California’s fourth year of severe drought, hotter-than-average winters and farm labor shortages, “those days are over, and we have to innovate,” Murphy said. “There’s going to be a lot of innovation here that’s very disruptive.”

But not everyone agrees with Murphy.

“I think there is a lot of technology we do use,” Chris Stambach, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual, said by phone from the Central Valley. “I mean, we lead the world in food production.

“New stuff is coming out all the time to adapt and improve” farming in the state, he said. Motivation for innovation is being driven by climate, California’s high quality standards and regulations, he explained.

Those changes, Stambach said, have ranged from higher clean-air standards that have forced upgrades to the trucks that move agriculture, to developing pesticides that are “softer” to the environment.



New York Times

Scientists Study Links Between Climate Change and Extreme Weather

By John Schwartz

Did climate change cause that heat wave? That hurricane? That drought?

A new collection of studies examined extreme weather events last year, including drought, floods and storms, to look for signs that climate change was a cause or contributor — and found mixed results.

The papers are part of a broader effort to recognize the effects of climate change as the world warms, and to tease out those factors from other possible causes of extreme events.

Climate change is often discussed in terms of predictions about what may happen in the next 100 years or more as average global temperatures rise.

But an emerging field of science is dedicated to discerning whether climate change is already having effects, and what they might be. The set of 32 studies published Thursday examined 28 extreme weather events in 2014; it is the fourth in a series of annual reports, and appears in The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.

“The studies this year are pretty evenly split, about 50-50, for those that did and did not find a role for climate change in the event’s likelihood or intensity,” said Stephanie Herring, lead editor of the report and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate scientist, in a news conference. “The strength of the climate change signals that we see really varies based on the type of event being looked at.”

The papers suggest that “human-caused climate change greatly increased the likelihood and intensity of heat waves” in some regions, including Argentina, Europe, China, the Korean Peninsula, Australia, and the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The researchers also say that climate change probably had a role in the unusually large number of tropical cyclones that hit Hawaii last year.

The scientists, however, did not discern the influence of climate change in every event, nor did they see it playing a consistent role in certain types of events, like drought. According to the papers, which run to nearly 200 pages altogether, some droughts appeared to have more to do with population growth and government policies than rising levels of carbon dioxide and its effects. The researchers, however, did conclude that the Syrian drought was made worse by a lack of rainfall linked to climate change.

“It is by no means a prevailing one-story-fits-all-events type of approach to this,” said Martin Hoerling, an editor of the report and a NOAA meteorologist, at the news conference. “It does require a specific analysis of each case on its own merit.”

No strong link was established between climate change and the wildfires last year in the American West, or to the unusually tough Midwestern winter, which was tied more strongly to a pattern of unusual winds in the tropical Pacific. The authors added, however, that even where no link to climate change was detected, “The failure to find a human fingerprint could be due to insufficient data or poor models.”

The authors emphasized that they were not describing direct cause and effect, but an analysis of probabilities based on computer models and other factors.

“The analysis contains uncertainty,” said Hiroyuki Murakami, an author of the paper on Hawaiian hurricanes and an associate research scholar at Princeton who works at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at NOAA.

The analysis by Dr. Murakami and colleagues took into account many factors, including natural variability and phenomena like El Niño, that play roles in hurricane formation. But the “signal” of human-caused climate change was clearly present in the models, he said, so “we still see that global warming increased the probability of tropical cyclones in Hawaii.”

The efforts to evaluate the effects of climate change are important for planning responses to extreme weather and a changing world, said Heidi Cullen, an author of one of the studies and chief scientist for Climate Central, a news and research organization in Princeton, N.J.

“Communities, businesses and governments affected by extreme events are increasingly asking for objective assessments of the causes,” she said.

Dr. Cullen also leads the World Weather Attribution program, an international coalition formed to quickly determine climate links to extreme weather events. “In some instances, scientists are now able to quantify the relationship between an extreme event and long-term warming trends, rather than consigning the public to reliance on dueling speculations not grounded in science,” she said.

The meteorological society reports do not sit well with some climate scientists who remain wary of the focus on tying climate change to specific events rather than taking a broader view.

Michael E. Mann, a climate expert at Pennsylvania State University, said the current level of warming of about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit around the globe (and somewhat more over North America and the Arctic) “has fundamentally influenced all meteorological events,” not just those that get written up in a study.

Dr. Mann said the work and the debate about it were useful. “If anything, this particular debate underscores that the question is no longer whether there is an influence of climate change on extreme weather events. The debate is simply over the magnitude and extent of that influence.”

Nicholas St. Fleur contributed reporting.




New York Times

In the Dry West, Waiting for Congress

By Emma Marris

Klamath Falls, Ore. — DROUGHT in the West is an ugly thing. Rivers trickle away to nothing, fires rage, crops fail, ranchers go broke, tribal people watch fish die. As Westerners fight over the little water left, tempers crack, lawsuits fly and bitterness coats whole communities like fine dust.

As the climate warms, the West gets meaner.

The Klamath River begins in southern Oregon and meets the Pacific Ocean among the redwoods in Northern California, draining nearly 16,000 square miles. Until recently, who got water and how much had been deeply contentious issues. In particular, the irrigators and the Indian tribes were angry at one another, and the users in the river’s upper basin were angry with users in the lower basin.

But in recent years, something changed. Hostility gave way to compromise. Just about everybody who wants some of that precious river flow has made nice, given and taken, sat down and compromised.

Three major agreements have been wrapped up in Senate Bill 133, introduced by Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, and several colleagues. The bill is supported by tribes that want to protect the fish; ranchers who want to feed their cattle; farmers who grow alfalfa and potatoes; fly fishermen and duck hunters; ecologists; a power company; and many local politicians of various ideological stripes.

These agreements are a recipe for how to live in the arid West without bitterness: compromises devised by locals.

There was no magic trick to it, just dogged persistence and faith that it could be done. That and lots and lots of meetings, golf games, fishing trips, salmon cookouts and trips to the potato festival — a slow reconciliation chronicled in a new documentary, “A River Between Us.”

The bill, the Klamath Basin Water Recovery and Economic Restoration Act, would establish reliable water and power supplies that sustain agriculture; kick-start projects that could economically benefit tribal communities; fund ecosystem restoration; and use ratepayer money to remove four aging private hydroelectric dams that prevent salmon from reaching the upper half of the river basin. Not everyone supports the agreements, and among those who do, none find all of the provisions ideal. But that is the essential nature of a compromise.

For various reasons, the agreements require congressional approval. The bill was introduced in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in January, but it has not advanced. The more than 40 parties to these agreements can maintain their tenuous compromise for only so long. The agreements require that the legislation become law by Dec. 31 or the deal is off. A decade of negotiations will evaporate, and we could be back to protracted court battles and dry bitterness.

Perhaps the bill has been ignored in Washington because it seems unimportant — a parochial little water bill from a part of the country that few have even heard of. But that’s a mistake. The strength of this bill is as a model for the West. It shows how water scarcity and strong local leadership can actually foster increased cooperation among historic adversaries and produce healthy and productive ecosystems.

People in the Klamath Basin are fiercely independent. If we have one thing in common out here, it is that not one of us likes being told what to do. In this climate — and much of the West shares this view — an agreement worked out locally has perhaps the best chance of success. All Congress needs to do is give its blessing and authorize the agreements.

In 2009, the economist Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize for effectively solving the so-called tragedy of the commons — the chronic overuse of resources, like river water, that have too many users. She showed that in many cases the ideal regulators of a commons were the users themselves. She wrote that the key to making such systems work was that “the rights of users to devise their own institutions are not challenged by external governmental authorities.”

By letting S.B. 133 languish, Congress is effectively challenging the right of people in the Klamath Basin to manage their own water.

We’re now in our fourth consecutive year of drought, though there really hasn’t been enough water to go around for 25 years. This summer saw low flows and warm water in the basin. The heat and stagnation caused an algae bloom on Upper Klamath Lake and the upper reaches of the river that contained toxin levels so high that people were warned not to touch the water. With this agreement (as well as additional restoration work), this river has the potential to support millions of fish, even in drought years. And yes, ranching and farming can continue, too, with predictable water allocations.

As the deadline for the passage of the Klamath agreements looms, the compromise is already starting to crack. On Sept. 15, the Yurok Tribe announced that it planned to pull out, calling the agreements “unachievable.” But there is still time to put this bill through Congress — to endorse this grand and unlikely compromise between old rivals for water and let it shine as a model of local solutions for the rest of the West. Let us turn our bitterness to sweetness. Pass the bill.

Emma Marris is an environmental journalist who lives in Oregon.




Ventura County Star

Another year of risk and rewards for agriculture in Ventura County

Strawberries remained king of the crops in Ventura County in 2014, according to the latest county Crop and Livestock Report released by the office of Agricultural Commissioner Henry S. Gonzales.

Although the number of Ventura County acres planted in strawberries declined from the year before, the production per acre increased as did the value per ton, creating a $627 million crop in 2014. That’s 29 percent of the value of all Ventura County crops and livestock.

The annual report provided some interesting insight into the workings of Ventura County farms. One of the more amazing numbers was that 50 separate crops each generated gross receipts of $1 million or more in 2014. It’s always been said that the diverse Ventura County climate and soil can grow almost anything, and our farmers are proving it.

It was a tough year for avocados. While the per ton value jumped 42 percent, the production per acre fell 56 percent from the year before, resulting in a steep decline in the avocado receipts in 2014. Blueberries went the opposition direction. On the same number of acres as 2013, farmers saw a 50 increase in gross receipts as both production and price increased.

Lemons jumped back to second place on total value, on fewer acres than the year before, thanks to an increase of 52 percent in price. The number of acres of carrots doubled from the year before, and leaf lettuce showed a substantial increase in per acre production and price. Farmers planted 69 percent more acres of onions, and saw production per acre nearly triple, but the price per ton fell dramatically.

The number of acres in organic farming increased 13 percent. Livestock had a good year. But it was a very bad year in the bee and honey business.

This was all accomplished in the fourth straight year of drought. The 2015 report a year from now may paint a different picture as farmers continued to adapt to less and less available water.

And all those numbers just serve as a reminder to the rest of us of the extraordinary work, the extraordinary risk and the extraordinary contributions of the men and women who tend the fields and orchards in our county.