‘Liquidation of cows.’ How the drought creates chaos on California ranches, dairy farms [Sacramento Bee]
Jennifer Beretta has been working as a dairy farmer since she was 6 and knows some of her family’s 700 cows by name. One of her favorites, a Jersey named Harmony, has won top prizes at the Sonoma County Fair. “I raised them from when they were babies,” said Beretta, 33. “I watched them grow up to be milk cows. You get attached to them. They have personalities.” But business is business, and right now business is bad. California’s devastating drought has dried up most of the Beretta Family Dairy’s pastures, driven up the cost of feed and made milking cows unprofitable. The Beretta family has sold off more than 40 of its cows this year, and could sell more before too long.
County launches alert system to warn farmworkers of dangerous wildfire smoke [Ventura County Star]
The Ventura County Air Pollution Control District launched an alert system this week to warn farmworkers when the air becomes unhealthy because of wildfire smoke. The alert system, believed to be the first of its kind, would send text notifications in Spanish and English to farmworkers and field supervisors when the level of pollution reaches 151 on the federal air quality index, said Laki Tisopulos, the county’s air pollution control officer. The Environmental Protection Agency indexruns from 0 to 500. As the number goes up, so does the air pollution and health risk. The agency classifies 151 to 200 as “unhealthy” for the general public, a level that triggers state regulations requiring employers to provide protective gear for outdoor workers….Farmworkers are among the most exposed to dangerous smoke conditions during a wildfire, said Lucas Zucker, policy and communications director at CAUSE.
Meat giants face ire in Washington amid US beef surge [Fresno Bee]
Meatpackers are in the crosshairs of U.S. lawmakers including traditional allies as ranchers complain that beef processors are abusing market power to gain out-sized margins at their expense. Four giant companies control more than 80% of U.S. beef processing. Ranchers and cattle feeders are seething over a surge in retail beef prices this year that they say has resulted in little improvement in the prices they receive for livestock, repeating a pattern during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rural Republican senators, traditionally allies of business interests, have been criticizing meatpacking companies as farm and cattle groups demand more scrutiny of the industry. Executives from Tyson Foods Inc. and JBS USA — the two biggest U.S. beef packers — testified Wednesday at the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee….The U.S. Department of Agriculture is offering grants and loans to encourage smaller slaughter plants to open or expand in a bid to make the food system more resilient. Meanwhile, drought and rising feed prices have been hitting profits in cattle ranching, helping to bring down herds and slowly give ranchers more bargaining power.
Water shortages and drought are California’s biggest environmental concern, new poll shows [Bay Area News Group]
After the two driest consecutive years in much of California in nearly half a century, reservoir levels are dropping. Lawns are brown. Water restrictions are increasing. And Californians are getting worried….Overall, 25% of California adults named water shortages and drought as the most important environmental issue currently facing the state. Not far behind, 17% named wildfires, followed by 13% who cited climate change and 6% who named air pollution. A year ago, just 10% named water and drought as the state’s top environmental challenge. “The drought has come back with great force in California,” said Mark Baldassare, director of the PPIC Statewide Survey. “We’ve seen a big change in just one year in terms of how many people say it’s a big problem. There’s no escaping it wherever you live in California.”
3-day caravan focusing on Central Coast farmworker rights [KSBY, San Luis Obispo]
A three-day caravan focusing on farmworker rights is underway on the Central Coast. With the help of entities like the California Labor Commissioner’s Office, Cal/OSHA, and many others, local organizations like Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP) and Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) were able to get a team together to visit local fields and talk to farmworkers. “To ensure to create that opportunity that the workers understand they do have rights and we are here to help them understand what it means to actually exercise them,” said California Labor Commissioner Lilia Garcia-Brower….”Having access to their paid sick leave has been like a challenging thing for the farmworkers. We have farmworkers having a hard time getting access to those hours,” said MICOP Community Organizer Fernando Martinez. According to Martinez, farmworkers across the Central Coast feared retaliation from employers and were not aware they could get paid sick leave for COVID-19 and be protected against retaliation.
USDA again sanctions powerful hog buyer for cheating sellers [Associated Press]
For the second time in four years, an influential nationwide pork dealer has been sanctioned by federal regulators for illegal buying practices that cheated hog sellers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Lynch Livestock, based in Waucoma, Iowa, has been ordered to stop recording false weights for hogs delivered to its buying stations, to stop altering classifications of hogs delivered, and to stop creating false scale tickets. Those practices violate federal law and result in underpayments to producers. In a consent order signed this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture also ordered Lynch Livestock to pay a civil penalty of $445,626, which will be reduced for restitution paid to affected livestock sellers. The USDA had ordered Lynch Livestock to cease and desist from the same improper buying and weighing practices in October 2017 and to pay a $15,000 fine and restitution to two companies that were the primary targets.
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