Ag Today May 29, 2019

Seeking more water, Silicon Valley eyes Central Valley farmland [Bay Area News Group]

The largest water agency in Silicon Valley has been secretly negotiating to purchase a sprawling cattle ranch in Merced County that sits atop billions of gallons of groundwater, a move that could create a promising new water source — or spark a political battle between the Bay Area and Central Valley farmers. The Santa Clara Valley Water District, based in San Jose, is in talks with the owners of the 4-S Ranch, a 5,257-acre property located about 15 miles northeast of Los Banos, for what would be a multi-million-dollar deal to create a huge underground water reserve. The plan, however, is likely stir anxieties and controversy from farmers, who for generations in California have been wary of selling or transferring water out of their local areas for fear it could mean the decline of farming, especially if they had to compete with wealthy, more populated urban areas.


Farmworker housing bill passes state Assembly [Santa Cruz Sentinel]

…Under a bill passed Friday by the state Assembly, qualifying farmworker housing projects would be exempt from the usual zoning requirements and subject to a streamlined review from local jurisdictions. To qualify, the farmworker housing must be managed by an approved nonprofit and meet a number of requirements aimed at ensuring it is suitable for farmworkers with families — no barrack-style housing allowed….Opponents of the bill, chief among them the state Farm Bureau, argue that few farmers would be willing to turn over management of housing built on their land to a third-party, and raise concerns about the provision preventing state funding of housing for the H-2A workers.


California growers discriminated against legal immigrants, Justice Department says [McClatchy News Service]

A California agricultural company will have to pay $4,000 in fines for engaging in what the Justice Department characterized as discriminatory practices against employees who were legal permanent residents. In an investigation into Dinuba-based WesPak Inc., which grows, packs and ships citrus, stone fruits and table grapes, the Justice Department concluded Tuesday the company made employees who were legal permanent residents consistently reprove their rights to work in ways others did not….The Justice Department found that WesPak had a system that would record the information of employees and trigger the need for reverification of work authorizations by legal permanent residents, when it didn’t do the same for citizens.


Fighting fire with fire: Should California burn its forests to protect against catastrophe? [Sacramento Bee]

…These experts say state and federal firefighting agencies should allow more fires that don’t threaten the public to run their natural course. What’s more, they say fire agencies should conduct more “prescribed” burns — fires that are deliberately set, under carefully controlled conditions, to reduce the fuels that can feed a disaster….In California, the debate over prescribed burns is complicated by a deadly history with wildfires that have grown quickly out of control, the state’s stringent environmental regulations, fear of liability lawsuits and infringement on property rights, and the huge swaths of federal forestland with their own management rules and oversight.


Editorial: Beware: Stealth water tax hike still alive in Legislature [San Diego Union-Tribune]

It’s disgraceful that 1 million residents statewide do not have regular access to safe water supplies — a problem that is concentrated in rural agricultural communities in the Central Valley and Southeast California with little or no water infrastructure. But Gov. Gavin Newsom’s push to impose a first-ever tax on water to respond to the problem was never the right answer….Unfortunately, Assembly Bill 217, by Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella, is very much alive, having passed two committee votes. It funds water improvements by adding fees on many farming operations and imposing a new tax on every water service connection….Governments can address problems without tax hikes — especially a government with the cushion California has in 2019.


Opinion: Rich farmers, not mom-and-pop farms, will collect most of Trump’s tariff bailout [Los Angeles Times]

…The vast majority of the dollars flowing to the agriculture industry via the bailouts is likely to go to farms with annual revenues of several million dollars. Most of them are major beneficiaries of federal crop support programs that steer billions in subsidies and low-priced crop insurance — including insurance that already covers some of their losses in the trade war. Consider one such recipient. He’s Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, whose family farm, run mostly by his son Robin and grandson Patrick, collected $1.6 million in government subsidies in 1995-2017, according to a database compiled by the Environmental Working Group.