Ag Today March 4, 2020

PG&E tells judge it can’t commit to more tree trimmers to prevent wildfires [Los Angeles Times]

Lawyers for Pacific Gas & Electric said the utility can’t commit to hiring hundreds more tree trimmers in the way that a federal judge wants to cut the risk of starting more catastrophic wildfires in California.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup ordered the utility last month to add at least 1,100 more tree trimmers to help prevent trees and branches from falling onto its power lines and igniting. The judge is overseeing PG&E’s criminal probation imposed after its natural gas lines blew up a San Francisco Bay Area neighborhood and killed eight people in 2010. He has taken a strong interest in PG&E’s safety record after the company’s power lines started a series of wildfires that killed 130 people and destroyed thousands of homes. Attorneys for PG&E said in court filings Monday that the company is unable to provide a deadline by which it will hire a set number of new contracted workers to cut trees and branches around power lines. They argued they shouldn’t be forced into hiring a set number of people for “a single part of its multi-faceted wildfire safety efforts.”


Study: Water restrictions to mean billions in lost farm revenue [Fresno Business Journal]

A new study by University of California researchers anticipates drastic economic losses in the face of future restrictions on water available for San Joaquin Valley agriculture. The study by economists David Sunding and David Roland-Holst at UC Berkeley examined the economic impact of two types of restrictions to water supplies for ag: on groundwater pumping as part of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and future reductions in surface water due to regulatory processes by the state and federal government. Up to one million acres of farmland could be fallowed over the next 20 to 30 years — about one-fifth of all acres currently under cultivation in the San Joaquin Valley. Associated farm revenue loss would be about $7.2 billion a year. On the labor side, the researchers anticipate 42,000 lost jobs, both direct farm jobs and ag service positions. Lost wages could total about $1.1 billion annually. Adding indirect impacts to sectors such as transportation and food processing, water restrictions will result in as many as 85,000 lost jobs and $2.1 billion in lost wages annually. Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties are expected to see the largest losses in employment and compensation.


South Valley farmers only get 15% of water supply [Williamsport Sun-Gazette]

Tulare County farmers and cities who rely on surface water will only get 7% of the possible water they could receive this year. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) announced last week the initial 2020 water supply allocation for contractors who receive water from the Central Valley Project (CVP), a network of dams, reservoirs, canals, hydroelectric powerplants extending 400 miles through Central California. Among those is Friant Dam at Millerton Lake near Fresno, which provides surface water to 17,000 eastside farmers through the Friant-Kern Canal. California benefited from wet weather and significant snowpack in late 2019, but precipitation and snowpack have been below average so far in 2020. The California Department of Water Resources reports that as of Feb. 24, statewide average snow water content in the Sierras was just 41% of the April 1 average. Current Northern Sierra precipitation is about 51% of the seasonal average….The USBR announced Friant Division contractors will likely only receive 120,000 of a possible supply of 2.2 million acre-feet of water per year. It also said nearly 71,000 acre-feet of water will be used to restore a salmon run as part of the San Joaquin River Restoration Project. All agricultural water contractors south of the Sacramento Delta were collectively allocated 15% of their contract supply.


Tom McCarthy named new head of Kern County Water Agency [Bakersfield Californian]

Tom McCarthy, head of the Mojave Water Agency, was named as the new general manager for the Kern County Water Agency at its board of directors meeting Thursday. Agency directors approved a five-year contract for McCarthy including total compensation “not to exceed $415,000 annually,” plus $60,000 in relocation fees. “This was a very difficult decision for me,” McCarthy said Friday. “I’m excited to lead an agency like Kern but I’ve been very happy here at Mojave.” He said he was attracted to Kern because of its size, complexity and “there are so many passionate stakeholders. That was very interesting to me.” Though he noted the agency’s most pressing challenge, like most water agencies in the state, is how to make up for the reduced reliability of the State Water Project, he wasn’t sure yet of how much of his time would be focused on statewide issues versus local….The agency has 13 “member units,” or agricultural water districts that contract through the agency for about a million acre feet of State Water Project water.


Wisconsin hosts largest technical dairy competition in world [Associated Press]

The largest technical cheese, butter and yogurt competition in the world started Tuesday in Wisconsin, with a record 3,667 entries from 26 nations. The 55 judges taste, sniff and inspect the 132 classes of dairy products during the biennial World Championship Cheese Contest. The judges include cheese graders, cheese buyers, dairy science professors, and researchers from 19 nations and 14 states. Rebekah Sweeney, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, which organizes the event, says their judges do a more detailed evaluation than other cheese competitions, with a 100-point scoring system that looks at 36 potential defects. The last time the competition was held in 2018, a hard sheep’s milk cheese called Esquirrou made in France at Mauleon Fromagerie won top honors. It is imported by Savencia Cheese USA. This year’s winner will be announced Thursday.


Sustainable farm bill a smart way to combat climate change | Guest Opinion [Tri-City Herald]

Climate change will impact all of us. Economic growth will falter, more of our tax dollars will be spent dealing with the impacts of climate change, and human beings and wildlife will suffer. The costs of inaction are already clear. The federal government is distributing an unprecedented $16 billion, mostly to southeastern states, to prepare for natural disasters worsened by climate change. The state of California is considering issuing $4.2 billion in bonds to cover some of the future impacts of climate change. Anticipating the growing frequency of extreme weather, floods and drought, insurance costs are expected to rise, making life more difficult for homeowners, farmers, and businesses. The costs are not only economic. Last fall Audubon released a groundbreaking report — Survival by Degrees — showing that if we fail to stop the rate of global warming, two-thirds of North America’s birds will be vulnerable to extinction.