Ag Today Monday, November 30, 2015

Ag Today

Monday, November 30, 2015

 

Sacramento Bee

More California farmland could vanish as water shortages loom beyond drought

By Dale Kasler

FIREBAUGH – His almond trees have turned a ghostly gray, and his grapevines are shriveling.

After two years without water, Garrett Rajkovich’s farm in western Fresno County is dying. It might never be farmed again. Approximately 1,200 acres face the prospect of permanent retirement.

“This was a beautiful, thriving orchard five years ago,” Rajkovich said during a recent stroll through his almond grove.

Rajkovich’s troubles represent an extreme case, even by the standards of California’s epic drought. Unlike many farmers, he didn’t have groundwater as a backup when deliveries of surface water from the federal government dried up. But what he’s going through represents a taste of things to come.

Land retirement is coming to California agriculture. The drought will end someday, maybe even this winter, but farmers will still face long-term shortages of water. The driving force: a new state law regulating the extraction of groundwater.

The relentless groundwater pumping that has kept hundreds of farms going the past four years is coming to an end. California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, set to take effect in 2020, will limit how much groundwater can be extracted over the long haul. While details of what constitutes “sustainable” pumping are still being fleshed out, water policy experts say many farmers will gradually have their water supplies curtailed – and the nation’s leading agricultural state will farm fewer acres.

“It’s not a question of if – it’s a question of how much and where,” said Chris Scheuring, a lawyer and water expert at the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Many of the state’s farmers are already feeling long-term water problems. Westlands Water District, which serves farmers over a vast swath of land in Fresno and Kings counties, plans to retire tens of thousands of acres as part of a tentative deal with the U.S. government over issues related to drainage problems that have degraded the soil.

The new groundwater law is expected to further shrink agriculture’s presence. As many as 300,000 acres could permanently disappear from agriculture, said farm economist Vernon Crowder, a senior vice president at agricultural lender Rabobank.

That’s not a huge amount in a state with nearly 9 million irrigated acres of farmland. But it’s not trivial, either. It’s enough acres to grow the entire $1.2 billion California tomato crop. The concept is unsettling to people such as Don Cameron, a member of the state Board of Food and Agriculture and a champion of water-conservation efforts.

“It’s the topic people don’t want to talk about,” said Cameron, who raises tomatoes, pistachios and grapes in the Fresno County community of Helm.

The subject is particularly touchy in the San Joaquin Valley, the heart of California’s $54 billion-a-year agricultural industry. Experts at UC Davis estimated that farmers have been draining the valley’s underground water reserves by as much as 5 million acre-feet per year during the drought to help compensate for staggering shortfalls in water deliveries from the State Water Project and the federal government’s Central Valley Project.

What’s more striking, perhaps: Even before the drought began four years ago, the valley’s aquifers were being depleted by 1 million to 2 million acre-feet per year, according to data compiled by the state Department of Water Resources. An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons.

Pumping has been so extensive that portions of the valley floor are literally sinking, a phenomenon known as subsidence. As land subsides, the aquifers gradually lose much of their ability to be replenished by rain.

In other words, this is a deep, systemic problem that will squeeze farmers long after the drought ends.

“When the drought is over, we’re going to be looking at places that don’t have much water in their wells,” said Ellen Hanak, an analyst at the Public Policy Institute of California. “People are doing the math and reading the writing on the wall.”

Farmers feel misunderstood

Some experts say the groundwater restrictions will be especially rough on small farms, which won’t have the financial cushion to keep going. Jim Verboon, who grows walnuts on 100 acres of land in Kings County, looks at his larger neighbors and wonders how he’ll make it.

“I don’t know if this groundwater law, the way it’s crafted, is in my best interest or in any small grower’s best interest,” said Verboon, a third-generation grower. “There’s a certain amount of land in the San Joaquin Valley that’s not going to be farmed, except in very wet years.”

Land retirement isn’t a new concept. Farmland has been disappearing in California for decades, usually giving way to urban development. An estimated 765,000 acres of irrigated farmland vanished between 2000 and 2012, about half of it in the San Joaquin Valley, according to the state Department of Conservation. That represented about 8 percent of the valley’s agricultural base.

Nonetheless, farmers get angry about land going idle, either permanently or temporarily, because of water problems.

They generally accept the idea that groundwater pumping needs to be reined in. But they argue the problem wouldn’t be nearly as bad if the Endangered Species Act were relaxed, less water were set aside for fish, and more surface water were delivered to the valley from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

“We are not understood. We grow a lot of the nation’s food,” said Mark Sorensen, a raisin and blueberry grower in Caruthers and president of the Fresno County Farm Bureau. “I’m not sure those on the coast, in the Bay Area, Los Angeles understand that concept. The surface water is key.”

If the land-retirement process isn’t managed properly, Hanak said, the valley could be left with vast stretches of land simply going to dust. That would compound the region’s air pollution problem, already among the most severe in California, she said.

And unless some other uses are found for the land, there could be economic impacts throughout rural California. Although farm employment has held up surprisingly well in the drought, UC Davis economists say the temporary idling of 540,000 acres this year erased 10,000 farm jobs that would have been created if water were plentiful.

Take land out of production for good, and the job losses likely will mount.

“When we’re out of business, guess what? They’re not getting a paycheck here,” said Rajkovich, who employed two dozen full-time employees when his Firebaugh farm was fully active.

UC Davis farm economist Richard Howitt said the farm economy won’t collapse, however. Most growers have survived the drought and kept revenue strong by concentrating their water supplies on high-dollar crops such as almonds and pistachios.

That trend will intensify in the coming years, Howitt said. Between groundwater restrictions and climate change – which is expected to shrink the Sierra snowpack – farmers will be pressed into progressively harder choices about what to plant and how many acres to leave idle.

“We’re going to have to live within a smaller water footprint, which means we’ll have to learn to live with a smaller farming footprint,” Howitt said.

Solar energy farms starting to bloom

What will that look like?

Farmers hope they can keep as many acres in agriculture as possible. They’re working on projects to capture winter stormwater more effectively, and to recycle the water they put on their crops. Some believe they can cope with the groundwater legislation by fallowing more fields in dry years and minimizing the amount of land that gets permanently retired.

Not far from Rajkovich’s dying orchards, the Panoche Water and Drainage District is working on pilot projects to desalinate and reuse the water drained off its fields. The goal is to reduce dependence on groundwater.

District general manager Dennis Falaschi envisions a string of desalination plants up and down the valley. The plants might not generate enough water to produce a crop, but they could prevent someone’s almond orchards from dying of thirst.

“That can keep 300,000 acres of trees alive,” Falaschi said.

But land retirement is already a reality in some parts of the valley, where farming has given way to new uses. On West California Avenue outside Mendota, on land that used to produce tomatoes and cotton, sit a pair of solar energy farms and a medium-security federal prison.

The newest of the facilities, a 626-acre solar farm built by First Solar Inc. of Tempe, Ariz., opened in June. Made up of 750,000 photovoltaic cells, the plant has a 61-megawatt capacity and generates enough juice to light up 10,000 homes.

“You’re going to see more,” said Jose Gutierrez, a deputy general manager at Westlands Water District.

Westlands retired these lands more than a decade ago, although not because of water shortages. Rather, the land had been rendered increasingly useless for agriculture because of an incessant buildup in the soil of salt and other minerals linked to drainage problems in the clay soil.

For decades, irrigation water delivered by the U.S. government’s Central Valley Project hasn’t drained properly on much of the land served by Westlands. After a group of farmers sued, claiming the federal government reneged on a pledge to fix the problem, a settlement was reached in 2002. Part of the deal called for Westlands to buy 70,000 damaged acres and retire the land, including the parcels in Mendota.

It’s taken a while, but some of the land is sprouting new uses. More than 2,400 acres of land within Westlands’ territory has been converted to solar farms in recent years. Gutierrez said another 2,600 acres will go solar in the next year or two.

Beyond that, a company called Westside Holdings wants to build a 20,000-acre solar energy park, billed as the largest in the country, on retired farmland near the Lemoore Naval Air Station in Kings County. Its financial backers include CIM Group, a glitzy real estate developer from Los Angeles whose credits include the Hollywood theater that hosts the Oscars.

Solar’s surge has the approval of community leaders such as Mendota Mayor Robert Silva. Although most of the jobs are temporary, the installation of solar farms has boosted employment in a depressed part of the state.

“Farming is good, farming is great, but we need other jobs for this community,” Silva said. “There’s a lot of sun here and we’ve got to take advantage of it.”

Tens of thousands of additional acres of farmland would be retired by Westlands under yet another settlement the district signed with the federal government in August over persistent drainage issues. The agreement doesn’t take effect until it’s ratified by Congress, and approval isn’t a sure thing.

Rajkovich’s farm near Firebaugh is among those due to be retired. The district would buy him out at a price to be determined, and the 1,200 acres wouldn’t get any more Central Valley Project water. “It would be capped off and that water supply would be redistributed to the rest of the district,” said Westlands spokeswoman Gayle Holman.

Neither side is thrilled at the prospect. Rajkovich isn’t sure whether he’ll recoup the millions he spent planting almond trees, installing irrigation lines and making other improvements to the land. While his family maintains a smaller farm near Stockton, he called the situation in Firebaugh “financially and emotionally draining.”

As far as Westlands is concerned, shutting off the tap to a piece of farmland violates every principle the district holds dear.

“We are in the business of agriculture, farming, delivering water to farmers to produce,” said Johnny Amaral, a Westlands deputy general manager. “This whole area is getting strangled.”

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler The Bee’s Ryan Sabalow contributed to this report.

dkasler@sacbee.com

 

 

Modesto Bee

MID to seek more water income for higher-tech meters

Whether Modesto-area farmers are willing to cover the cost of fancy water delivery meters – about $4.5 million – will be seen next year in a vote of Modesto Irrigation District growers.

Particulars, including how much farmers might expect to see water bills rise, are unknown. They are bracing for a separate rate hike, probably in January.

State laws enacted before and during the drought require higher-tech measuring. MID this year tested several models at various spots on its canals, and the district is developing a strategy to make sure the district doesn’t get in trouble with California water enforcers.

The strategy, including a voting procedure asking customers to weigh in, is expected out in three or four months. Its framework became public when MID released a draft update of the district’s Agricultural Water Management Plan, with a public hearing scheduled for Dec. 15.

Farmers have been expecting this since a groundswell of opposition killed a proposal for selling MID water to San Francisco in 2012, said Jake Wenger, who farms west of Modesto. He was among critics then and since has been elected to the MID board.

“The threat at the time was, ‘If we don’t sell this water, your rates are going to go up.’ Growers said they would gladly pay for improvements if they kept the water here,” Wenger said. So the upcoming vote has been “on growers’ radar since,” he said.

MID relies on ditchtenders’ estimates for measuring water being delivered from district canals to private canals or pipelines and on to fields or orchards. It’s an imperfect science, partly because calculations have a manually noted time component and no instrument verifies ditchtenders’ records.

The Water Conservation Act of 2009 allows a margin of error of up to 12 percent for existing meters and 5 percent for new, and “the current measurement methods may not comply with regulated accuracy requirements in all circumstances,” MID’s ag-water management plan says.

The district this year tested various devices made by different companies at eight locations to get a sense for which work best. Upgrades are needed at 300 points, and staff came up with a strategy for installing about 60 a year over five years.

If most MID growers agree, the district could float bonds and use money collected from higher water rates to repay that debt, the ag-water management plan says. If not, “the district may not have sufficient funding” for new devices, the document says.

Board member Nick Blom said growers won’t be surprised because most are aware of similar upgrades introduced a year or two ago by the neighboring Turlock Irrigation District, costing about $11 million. TID is roughly twice the size of MID.

“This shouldn’t be a stunner,” said Blom, who farms land in both districts.

In unrelated news, he is curious about the emerging idea for a future small reservoir in his district holding canal water that could be pumped back upstream through a pipeline 3 or 4 miles in something akin to recycling. That would be expensive, but the high value of water could justify the expense, Blom and Wenger said.

The ag-water management plan is meant to satisfy Gov. Jerry Brown’s April edict for coping with the drought, as well as previous water conservation legislation. It mentions that MID is conducting environmental studies needed for a separate Comprehensive Water Resources Management Plan, which would outline a schedule for replacing aging parts of MID’s system, among other things.

The ag-water management plan says growers have been converting from flood irrigation to micro-drip and sprinklers at a rate of about 130 acres a year. That trend could produce an unspecified “negative impact” on groundwater as flood irrigating, which is best for replenishing aquifers, declines, the report says.

Of the 66,451 acres served by MID in 2012, more than one third – 23,758 acres – were almond orchards, and other non-row crops such as vineyards brought permanent-crop acreage to 36,266, the report says.

The document also quotes a San Francisco climate change study predicting that snow-free portions of the mountain basin draining into the Tuolumne River watershed will rise from 13 percent in 2000 to 57 percent by 2100. Fruit crops such as apples, cherries and pears could suffer from not having enough winter chill as temperatures rise, the study says.

A public hearing for MID’s draft ag-water management plan is expected at 9 a.m. Dec. 15 in the chamber at 1231 11th St., Modesto.

147       Miles of concrete-lined MID canals

15         Miles of unlined MID canals

42         Miles of MID pipelines

Garth Stapley: 209-578-2390

 

 

Sacramento Bee

Drought squeezes duck hunters – that could be bad news for fowl

By Ryan Sabalow

RICHVALE – At 5 a.m. on a recent Tuesday in Northern California’s rice country, headlamps and pickup lights illuminated a flurry of movement off a turnout along a rural Butte County highway.

A half dozen men tugged on camouflage chest waders, coats and caps, and loaded shotguns and equipment onto waiting ATVs. Around them, a couple of Labrador retrievers bounded around the group with excitement.

Greg Galli, the owner of River Valley Outfitters, directed the flow, readying his clients for a windy morning of duck and goose hunting. Galli would lead the men into rice fields that have been flooded post-harvest, in part to serve as resting ground for the mass migration of birds making their annual winter trek south along the Pacific Flyway. Galli, who leases hunting blinds from Sacramento Valley farmers, has had a busy fall.

“Our day-shoot blinds are doing triple what they normally do,” Galli said, “because most people don’t have water in their duck clubs.”

Largely lost in the statewide discussion about fallowed crops, depleted reservoirs and brown lawns, is the impact of California’s drought on hunting. The succession of four dry years has dried up many of the natural marshes and rice fields used by the estimated 55,000 people who hunt waterfowl in California. While the number of duck hunters has stayed relatively steady overall in recent years, some of the state’s larger refuges have seen a marked decline in hunter usage.

As land available to hunters shrinks, there’s more at stake than increased competition for access to remaining wetlands. State officials point to implications for the state’s rural economy – and ultimately for waterfowl.

Duck hunting is a tradition ingrained in California’s Central Valley and northeastern reaches. In these rural areas, hunters provide a seasonal economic boost to gas stations, motels and diners during waterfowl season, which generally runs from October through January. Because rice farmers often lease hunting blinds to duck hunters, they also receive a financial benefit – one that helps motivate them to flood their fields, creating tens of thousands of acres of surrogate waterfowl habitat.

That’s part of the reason that some conservationists say a decline in duck hunting actually could spell bad news for the ducks.

Waterfowl hunters are a critical source of habitat funding, said Dan Yparraguirre, a deputy director at the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“It’s the hunters that are paying the freight,” he said.

Yparraguirre said duck hunters have funded many of the conservation efforts that have helped California’s waterfowl thrive. Since 1971, revenue generated by the specialty duck stamps hunters must purchase to legally bag ducks in California contributed close to $30 million to a dedicated fund for habitat restoration and research.

Plus, Yparraguirre said, their licenses, fees, federal stamps and equipment taxes help cover the costs of managing the dozens of public wildlife refuges that open up a portion of their properties to waterfowl hunting each year.

It’s not just the state doing this work. The hunter-funded California Waterfowl Association boasts on its website of completing more than 1,240 projects to protect, restore and enhance more than 454,000 acres of private and public wetlands and other habitat that host a range of wildlife.

California hunters each year kill more than 1 million ducks and geese during the season, according to federal data. But Yparraguirre is among those who argue that those numbers are small compared to the total populations, which are healthier because of hunter dollars.

Even with California having some of the longest waterfowl hunting seasons in the country, the Pacific Flyway’s overall waterfowl populations have grown in recent decades, Yparraguirre said. And that is despite the surge of roads, farms and subdivisions that supplanted much of the state’s seasonal marshland.

The shrinking supply of suitable hunting ground is a direct reflection of the state’s drought-strained water supply. Much like farms and cities, many of the waterfowl refuges are dependent on deliveries from the complex state and federal plumbing networks that move water north to south in California. As the state’s reservoirs shrink, the amount of water made available to some public refuges has been severely curtailed.

Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, a critical staging area for millions of birds in the Pacific Flyway, is an extreme example. The 50,092-acre refuge along the Oregon border in Siskiyou County has suffered water cutbacks for more than a decade. This year, the refuge didn’t start receiving water to flood most of its fields and marshes until just a couple of weeks ago, after the migration – and hunting – seasons were underway.

Further south, two popular public hunting areas, Sutter and Kern national wildlife refuges, remain closed to hunting because there’s not enough water to provide both bird sanctuary and hunting grounds. Most refuges allow hunting on only a limited percentage of the property.

55,000  Number of people who hunt waterfowl in California

At some public hunting refuges that did receive water, daily hunter quotas have gotten tighter because the refuges received only a percentage of their normal allotment. On most days, the only hunters allowed to enter the more popular areas are those lucky enough to be selected in competitive lotteries run by the state.

The water situation is not much better on the private lands used by the bulk of California’s hunters. About two thirds of California’s remaining wetlands are on private property, and most are maintained as duck clubs, said Mark Hennelly, a California Waterfowl Association vice president. Many won’t receive water this year until late in the season, if at all.

Hunters pay an annual membership fee to access these private lands. Another common option is for groups to pay rice farmers to allow them to access the fields they have flooded to break down the post-harvest straw.

But the amount of acreage devoted to rice also has shrunk in the drought. Many Sacramento Valley rice farmers have chosen to fallow fields in response to curtailed government water deliveries. And some have sold their remaining allotments to farmers further south, cashing in on sky-high water market prices.

Last year, 434,000 acres of rice were planted statewide, down from 567,000 in 2013, according to the California Rice Commission. This year, that fell to 375,000 acres.

In a normal water year, rice farmers typically flood up to 300,000 acres to decompose straw, said Paul Buttner, the rice commission’s manager of environmental affairs. This year, farmers will flood fewer than 100,000 acres.

Galli, the hunting guide, said – with demand high and acreage limited – some rice farmers are asking much more this year to lease a blind. Typically, he said, a four-person pit blind on a rice field in his area would lease for between $6,500 and $7,500 a season. This year, he said, some farmers are charging up to $10,000 to help pay for the water that needed to be pumped in.

Galli said many clients hiring him this season are frustrated with the quotas on public grounds and the lack of access on private grounds. Avoiding the rigamarole can make his $275 fee for a morning of hunting seem like a deal. Plus, his clients know his blinds will be on flooded fields, so they’ll usually get some shooting.

“We’ve actually done pretty well this year so far,” Galli said, sitting in his truck as flocks of squawking snow geese passed overhead. “I can’t complain.”

Ryan Sabalow: 916-321-1264, @ryansabalow. rsabalow@sacbee.com

 

 

Fresno Bee

Valley chilled by sub-freezing overnight temperatures, citrus growers brace for frost

By Rory Appleton

Parts of the central San Joaquin Valley cooled down below freezing for as long as five hours Saturday morning, and more below-average temperatures are on the way, the National Weather Service in Hanford said.

Meteorologist David Spector said Merced and Madera counties took the brunt of the chill early Saturday morning. It’s expected to be slightly colder Saturday night and into Sunday morning.

Lows are predicted to stay in the upper 20s and lower 30s in the coming week, with daytime highs in the mid-50s. The next chance of rain comes Thursday.

Carlos Gutierrez grows citrus on 150 acres in Orosi, Lindsay and Porterville. He was prepared for the freezing temperatures, which typically start after Thanksgiving.

“It’s most important to watch things at night,” he said. “It can cost you your whole crop.”

Gutierrez and other citrus growers use wind machines to battle overnight frost. These 40-feet-tall machines blow warmer air down on the fruit, which helps keep any humidity from forming into damaging ice crystals.

Some wind machines automatically turn on once the thermometer reaches 28 or 29 degrees, but most are manually operated. Farmers have to constantly check the temperatures overnight and into the early morning, making citrus farming a 24-hour-a-day job during the cold season.

The frost watch continues into late January or early February, depending on the crop, Gutierrez said. Mandarins, for example, are more susceptible to frost and have to be monitored longer.

Gutierrez begins to harvest his oranges in November and won’t be finished until April or May.

Rory Appleton: 559-441-6015, @RoryDoesPhonics,

 

 

Los Angeles Times

Foodie culture is spurring degree programs at U.S. colleges

By Larry Gordon

Before he ever knew they might be topics to study in college, food business and farming played an important part in Charlie James’ life.

At Hamilton High School in Los Angeles, he sold home-made rice balls and sushi to classmates and earned about $40 a day for a college fund. Then he was deeply affected by visiting his grandmother’s organic vegetable farm in Japan, learning about pesticide-free and locally-grown produce.

This fall, James took a step closer to his career goal of helping to run and innovate urban farms and rooftop gardens. A business major at UC Berkeley, he also enrolled in a newly established academic minor in food systems, a set of classes that include such topics as nutrition, the effect of climate change on agriculture, farm labor practices, food marketing, water resources and world hunger.

James is part of widening trend at American colleges and universities to channel students’ foodie passions into classrooms, labs and campus gardens. An estimated 30 U.S. colleges and universities have formal interdisciplinary food studies programs that offer degrees or minors. New ones opened this fall at UC Berkeley, the University of the Pacific and Syracuse University. Hundreds of other more traditional degrees in agriculture, nutrition and the environment are attracting new food-focused interest.

James’ program includes a hands-in-the-dirt internship at UC Berkeley’s Gill Tract Community Farm in nearby Albany. Recently, as he tied green bean plants to posts beneath netting, he recounted his family’s emphasis on fresh food.

“It’s ingrained in me that there is a lot of food out there that is harmful to people and the environment. I want to address that in my studies here and try to fix some of the injustices,” said James, 21. “A lot of people can’t afford organic food. I want to make it more accessible.”

More colleges are responding to those types of concerns. The current crop of college students swap restaurant tips, discuss gluten-free and paleo diets and post photos of vegan meals on social media with great frequency. Along with their interest in food, many also are committed to social justice and activism around issues of hunger, food safety and pollution, analysts say. Industry exposes in such books as “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” by Michael Pollan and “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser, and films “Super Size Me” and “Food, Inc.” are cited as significant influences.

Many college students are deeply involved in “what they eat and don’t eat” but in different ways than older gourmands only seeking fine dining, said professor Krishnendu Ray, president of the Assn. for the Study of Food and Society. Many students plan food-oriented careers, whether in start-ups, nonprofits or government, said Ray, who chairs the nutrition, food studies and public health department at New York University, which has one of the nation’s oldest food studies master’s program and enrolls about 175 students.

Food culture is now “a legitimate” topic for scholarship, and schools use such programs to gain status and attract tuition-paying students, Ray said.

“Universities try to elbow into a crowded marketplace. They are seeking to do something new and make a mark in a field of knowledge not dominated by someone else,” he said.

The University of the Pacific, which has its main campus in Stockton, established its food studies master’s program in restaurant-obsessed San Francisco and enrolled 14 students this fall. Colleges are catching up to public interest in food, said program director Ken Albala, a historian. “You can talk about food from an intellectual standpoint and not just what tastes good,” he said. Courses include: “food and literature” and “business of food.”

Miranda Rosso, 26, is taking some of those night classes while working as a behavioral therapist in an elementary school. She hopes to shift careers to a food-tech start-up or a nonprofit organization in the field. Foodie culture “is so much a part of our lives now, it makes sense that it is becoming part of college programs,” she said, adding that it especially makes sense in a state where agriculture, wine and restaurants are so prominent.

Across the bay, the 3-year-old Berkeley Food Institute think tank at the UC campus brings together scholars and speakers on scientific and policy research. That work was bolstered last year when the UC system launched the UC Global Food Initiative, which draws together and funds food scholarship in agriculture, medicine, nutrition, climate science, social science and the humanities.

At the UC Berkeley campus recently, a lot was cooking in the food systems field. A public policy class learned about environmental damage from large-scale hog farms. In a nutrition course, a professor lectured about fermentation and students presented research about production and consumption of canned tuna; later a lab section worked in a test kitchen comparing the starch content of different potato varieties. About 50 students attended an evening discussion about food industry careers, with alumni discussing their jobs in the food stamps program and in farmers market organizations. Influential chefs Alice Waters and Claus Meyer spoke at a forum on sustainable food entrepreneurship.

Changes are apparent in campus dining facilities too. The popular Brown’s cafe, in the genetics and plant biology building, switched its menu recently to mainly foods grown or processed within 250 miles of campus.

During an interview there, Ann Thrupp, executive director of the Berkeley Food Institute, which helped develop the new food systems minor, said that about 45 preexisting courses across many departments were included in the program. Those include “environmental plant biology,” “human food practices” and “economics of water resources.” The goal is education about the chain “from production and distribution to consumption and impact,” Thrupp said.

So far, 15 students have signed up and many more are about to. Ramji Pasricha of Cerritos, a pre-med student majoring in environmental sciences, said she added the food systems minor to better counsel future patients about their diets. She said she wants to bolster any advice about “choosing an apple over a Coca-Cola.” In addition, like many students, Pasricha has a personal stake, seeing relatives suffer from diabetes.

Other UC campuses are joining the trend. UCLA has a new food studies graduate certificate program, a freshman science and environmental survey course centered on food and a “food justice” class emphasizing field work at community gardens and kitchens. UC Davis established a World Food Center research facility and a major in sustainable agriculture and food systems, while UC Santa Cruz offers a concentration in “agroecology & sustainable food systems,” and both campuses have extensive farm projects.

At the UCLA freshman class recently, environmental studies professor Cully Nordby lectured to 160 students about endangered species, detailing the debate over shark tail soup in Asian cuisine. Later she explained how food links such topics as pollution, water resources, biology, poverty and healthy diets.

“Everyone eats,” she said. “So using food as the lens makes it relatable and personal to the students.”

larry.gordon@latimes.com, Twitter: @larrygordonlat

 

 

Opinion

Los Angeles Times

Op-Ed Mexican migrants are heading back home — and that’s bad news for the U.S. economy

By Karthick Ramakrishnan

The Pew Research Center released a report this month on Mexican migration to the United States that should give us pause. It did not address Donald Trump’s claims that Mexico is mostly sending violent criminals to the United States; other studies, including a comprehensive report by the National Academy of Sciences, have systematically shown lower crime rates among immigrants than the general population. Instead, the Pew report focused on a phenomenon that most of us have not seen in our lifetimes: net outflow. In lay terms: More Mexican immigrants are leaving the United States than coming to work here.

The net outflow of Mexican immigrants follows a decade of “net zero” migration from Mexico, and also includes a significant reduction in unauthorized migration from Mexico. These trends show how dangerously outdated our political conversations about immigration have become. Just three years ago, several Republican governors and presidential candidates were calling for the “self-deportation” of undocumented immigrants. This year, some are calling for mass roundups, forced deportations and a gigantic, no-doubt-costly wall along the southern border. Setting aside humanitarian concerns, such measures amount to fighting old battles.

In Mexico, pressures to migrate have declined over the last decade as fertility rates have dropped and young adults have found more job opportunities at home than were available before. U.S. policies have also played a significant role in contributing to the net outflow of Mexican immigrants. Immigration enforcement and country caps on visas have made it more difficult for Mexican immigrants to bring family members to the United States or to keep them together. Indeed, according to recent surveys in Mexico, the desire for family reunification and immigration enforcement are by far the biggest drivers of Mexican return migration, with lack of job opportunities in the United States playing a considerably smaller role.

While some may cheer the net outflow of Mexican migrants, they should be careful what they wish for. We have long known that a growing U.S. economy depends critically on immigrant workers in various sectors. Mexican immigrants contribute heavily to our state and local economies, especially in construction, agriculture and various service sector jobs. With the wave of baby boom retirements growing each year, demand for immigrant workers will only increase.

Of course, immigration from other countries may pick up the slack for declining migration from Mexico. Indeed, Asian migration to the United States has outpaced migration from Latin America in the last decade, and, more recently, China and India have displaced Mexico as the top sending countries.

Yet there are reasons to be skeptical that Asian migration can substitute for Mexican migration, especially in industries such as construction and agriculture. Most Asian immigrants are considered “high-skilled” and make their way to this country either on employer-sponsored or family-based visas. While the number of undocumented immigrants from Asia has also grown significantly, tripling from half a million in 2000 to more than 1.5 million today, there is little evidence to suggest that these undocumented immigrants are involved in the kinds of jobs that Mexican immigrants are leaving behind.

Immigration to the United States has changed considerably over the last several years, and our policy conversations need to reflect these new realities. Mass migration from Mexico is a thing of the past, while migration from Asia is growing in importance, but the net effects of these changes are not well understood. It is imperative that we pay attention to these new realities and make the necessary policy changes to ensure the continued health of our state and local economies.

Karthick Ramakrishnan is a professor of public policy at UC Riverside and a global fellow at the Wilson Center.

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