Ag Today July 20, 2021

Thieves are stealing California’s scarce water. Where’s it going? Illegal marijuana farms [CalMatters]

One day last spring, water pressure in pipelines suddenly crashed In the Antelope Valley, setting off alarms. Demand had inexplicably spiked, swelling to three and half times normal. Water mains broke open, and storage tanks were drawn down to dangerous levels. The emergency was so dire in the water-stressed desert area of Hi Vista, between Los Angeles and Mojave, that county health officials considered ordering residents to boil their tap water before drinking it. “We said, ‘Holy cow, what’s happening?’” said Anish Saraiya, public works deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger….As drought grips most of California, water thievery across the state has increased to record levels.

Illegal marijuana growers steal California’s scarce water | CalMatters


PG&E says it may have started the Dixie Fire burning east of Paradise [Associated Press]

…PG&E said in a report Sunday to the California Public Utilities Commission that a repair man responding to a circuit outage on July 13 spotted blown fuses in a conductor atop a pole, a tree leaning into the conductor and fire at the base of the tree. The Dixie Fire has grown to nearly 47 square miles (122 square kilometers), largely in remote wilderness. The utility said investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have collected equipment from the location….Cal Fire said PG&E caused last year’s Zogg Fire, which killed four people and burned more than 56,000 acres in Shasta and Tehama counties. The fire also destroyed 204 buildings and damaged another 27, according to Cal Fire.


California launches largest free school lunch program in US [Associated Press]

When classrooms in California reopen for the fall term, all 6.2 million public school students will have the option to eat school meals for free, regardless of their family’s income. The undertaking, made possible by an unexpected budget surplus, will be the largest free student lunch program in the country. School officials, lawmakers, anti-hunger organizations and parents are applauding it as a pioneering way to prevent the stigma of accepting free lunches and feed more hungry children. “This is so historic. It’s beyond life-changing,” said Erin Primer, director of food services for the San Luis Coastal Unified School District on California’s central coast….“We’ve completely leveled the playing field when it comes to school food,” Primer said. The extra funding will also allow her to offer tastier, better quality food such as fresh bread, produce and cheese from local producers, she said.


‘We are so unprepared’: Extreme heat fueled by climate change putting farmworkers’ lives on the line [USA Today]

Ricardo Sotelo called his wife, Lupita, three times on June 30, 2015. He repeated the same message at 10 a.m., noon and 3 p.m.: “I don’t feel good. I really don’t feel good.” They were both working Olsen Brothers Farms in eastern Washington – Lupita in the warehouse, and Ricardo picking blueberries in the scorching sun. Temperatures topped 107 degrees that day, and Lupita recalls there was no shade or water in sight. At home by 5 p.m., Ricardo clutched his chest and complained of a severe headache. Worried, his 15-year-old daughter rushed him to the hospital. By 6 p.m. he was dead. The cause: heatstroke. “I never thought, coming from Mexico, that this would happen in the United States, that my husband would die at work,” Lupita said through a translator, explaining that she and Ricardo had come to America from Sonora in 2011 in search of a better life….But farmworkers feed Americans often without any sort of protections from the American government. Just three states – California, Washington and Minnesota – have permanent rules and regulations that protect farmworkers from extreme heat.


Organic farming battle pits aquaponics, hydroponics against traditional soil farms [CBSN, Bay Area]

The global organic farming market is expected to hit $103 billion dollars this year, up 8% from last year. In the U.S., part of the growth is due to high-tech indoor farming. The growing trend is raising questions about the true meaning of organic. Organic shoppers rely on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “organic” label to buy their produce. What they likely don’t know is that more and more of it is grown hydroponically (plants grown in liquid nutrient solutions instead of soil), aquaponically (plants and fish grown in aquaculture and hydroponics system together), or in containers, all techniques that do not use soil. Paul Muller is co-owner of Full Belly Farm, a 500-acre farm northeast of Sacramento that’s been growing certified organic produce for 38 years. Eighty varieties of organic vegetables, fruits and nuts grow here, sold locally to Bay Area supermarkets and farmers markets. “There’s a whole system that we are farming, stewarding, fostering,” said Muller. “I mean, if you look out here and just stop for a bit, these plants are covered in bees who are out doing their pollinating.” Some 100 miles south in Half Moon Bay, Ken Armstrong also grows pesticide-free produce that he sells to local restaurants. He’s not certified organic, though he could be. He says it’s too much red tape. But Armstrong believes the aquaponic farming method he is using is equally natural and delicious.

Organic Farming Battle Pits Aquaponics, Hydroponics Against Traditional Soil Farms – CBS San Francisco (


Learning to love G.M.O.s [New York Times]

On a cold December day in Norwich, England, Cathie Martin met me at a laboratory inside the John Innes Centre, where she works. A plant biologist, Martin has spent almost two decades studying tomatoes, and I had traveled to see her because of a particular one she created: a lustrous, dark purple variety that is unusually high in antioxidants, with twice the amount found in blueberries….Martin has long been interested in how plants produce beneficial nutrients. The purple tomato is the first she designed to have more anthocyanin, a naturally occurring anti-inflammatory compound. “All higher plants have a mechanism for making anthocyanins,” Martin explained when we met…. “Of course, the F.D.A. is used to the bigger organizations” — global agricultural conglomerates like DowDuPont or Syngenta — “so this is where you get a bit of a problem. When they say, ‘Oh, we want a bit more data on this,’ it’s easy for a corporation. For me — it’s me that has to do it! And I can’t just throw money at it.”…It also might be the first genetically modified anything that people actually want. Since their introduction in the mid-1990s, G.M.O.s have remained wildly unpopular with consumers, who see them as dubious tools of Big Ag, with potentially sinister impacts on both people and the environment. Martin is perhaps onto something when she describes those most opposed to G.M.O.s as “the W.W.W.s”: the well, wealthy and worried, the same cohort of upper-middle-class shoppers who have turned organic food into a multibillion-dollar industry.

Learning to Love G.M.O.s – The New York Times (


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