Ag Today January 17, 2019

Trump and Democrats are far apart on immigration. Can they work together for California farms? [McClatchy News Service]

…Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Zoe Lofgren of San Jose are preparing to introduce legislation that would provide a one-time opportunity for experienced agricultural workers to apply for legal status, aides confirmed. The bill, expected to be unveiled later this week, is largely modeled after a provision of the bipartisan immigration overhaul that passed the Senate in 2013….The proposal does not attempt to amend the existing H-2A visa system for temporary farm workers, which both agriculture employers and workers advocates complain is dysfunctional, albeit for different reasons.


Central Valley farmworker wins $1 million settlement in groundbreaking labor retaliation case [KQED, San Francisco]

A Central Valley farmworker was recently awarded a $1 million settlement after suing his former employer’s attorney for reporting him to immigration authorities as retaliation for a wage complaint. José Arias, a Mexican farmworker working in Fresno County, won the settlement in December, and the U.S. District Court on Monday dismissed the case, ending a roughly 12-year court battle involving two separate lawsuits. Attorneys with two nonprofits, California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) and Legal Aid at Work, which represented Arias, say the outcome of the case could have far-reaching impacts for workers nationwide, regardless of immigration status, who refrain from exercising their workplace rights due to fear of retaliation.


California’s most famous butterfly nearing death spiral [San Francisco Chronicle]

An alarming, precipitous drop in the western monarch butterfly population in California this winter could spell doom for the species, a scenario that biologists say could also plunge bug-eating birds and other species into similar death spirals. Only 28,429 of the striking orange-and-black butterflies were counted at 213 sites in California, an 86 percent drop from a year ago, according to the final tally of the annual Thanksgiving count to be released Thursday by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation….The group recommends that Californians begin growing milkweed and other native plants that produce nectar, especially flowers that bloom in early spring. People should stop using pesticides, especially neonicotinoids, and herbicides, Xerces officials said.


U.S. shutdown taking toll on FDA, USDA inspection roles: Experts [Reuters]

The partial government shutdown is taking a toll on key safety inspection duties performed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture, food safety experts said on Wednesday.

Workers in public health laboratories are reporting disruptions in the analysis of DNA from food samples involved in foodborne outbreaks, and have raised concerns about a USDA program that tests agricultural commodities for unsafe levels of pesticides, they said….The FDA has furloughed 41 percent of its workforce of more than 17,000 employees, Thomas Gremillion of the Consumer Federation of America told the briefing. About 90 percent of the USDA’s 9,500 Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) employees remain on the job but are working without pay, he said.


Groundwater pumping restrictions expected to further dampen once-hot market for local farmland [Bakersfield Californian]

A new report on Kern’s agricultural real estate market suggests upcoming restrictions on groundwater pumping could drag down farmland values that have only recently stabilized after coming off peaks a few years ago. The data and forecast by Bakersfield’s Alliance Ag Services LLC reflect broad expectations that local farming will slow overall as a result of the state’s ongoing efforts to bring rampant groundwater pumping under control. The numbers make clear the county’s market for farmland is no longer the hot commodity it was as recently as 2015, when farmers and investors were paying top dollar for ag property across the Central Valley.


Northern California storms signal good news for agriculture, farmers say [KXTV, Sacramento]

For growers in the San Joaquin Valley who need water to grow their crops, a series of powerful winter storms is more than welcome….”Well, it’s a good thing for most of agriculture,” said San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation Executive Director Bruce Blodgett….But while the rain water is wanted, it isn’t all the area needs….He says California needs to provide more water storage to capture rain water “rather than seeing it get flushed out to the ocean.”