Ag Today November 11, 2019

Feds set to lock in huge water contract for well-connected Westlands Water District [Los Angeles Times]

Westlands Water District, a sprawling San Joaquin Valley farm district with ties to the Trump administration, is poised to get a permanent entitlement to a massive quantity of cheap federal irrigation supplies. Westlands is the first in line to permanently lock in its contract for Central Valley Project deliveries under a 2016 law. Other valley farm districts are expected to follow, but as the project’s biggest customer, Westlands arguably has the most to gain. The deal would entitle Westlands to annual deliveries that are roughly double what the entire city of Los Angeles uses in a year. There is no guarantee it will get that, since Westlands is low in the federal project’s pecking order and is among the first cut in times of shortage. Since 1990, it has received its full allotment in only four years.


As growers turn to Mexico for labor, workers turn to courts for wages [Los Angeles Times]

California’s nearly $50-billion agriculture industry is recruiting record numbers of seasonal farmworkers from Mexico as it confronts a years-long labor shortage exacerbated by the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigration. Recruitment of seasonal foreign workers soared to a record 20,905 so far this year — with hiring still underway for the winter desert season, according to a Times analysis of federal labor data. That’s more than double the number of workers recruited just four years ago, and an 11-fold increase across eight years. Once a minor player in the H-2A niche, California now ranks fourth among recruiting states, behind top-ranked Florida, North Carolina and Washington, respectively, according to federal records.


Despite fires, California wine is doing just fine – for now [Associated Press]

If you’re worried that wildfires might have created shortages of Northern California’s 2019 cabernet sauvignon, or even just imparted it with an undesirable smoky flavor, you can relax. The wine is just fine. For now. Despite a late October blaze that raged through one of the world’s best-known wine-growing regions. forcing evacuations in two mid-sized towns, wine production in Sonoma County escaped largely unscathed. Limerick Lane Wines, for instance, avoided serious damage despite flames that licked at two sides of its property in the Russian River Valley just south of Healdsburg. Limerick’s grapes were already harvested, crushed and stored in tanks and barrels. The winery’s sealed cellar prevented smoke damage to its inventory, said owner Jake Bilbro, although its tasting room now has an acrid smell….Overall, vintners estimate that the region lost only about five percent of its harvest to fire and smoke — not a perfect outcome, but better than in 2017, when wildfire struck with only about 90% of the harvest in.


When will it rain? Warm, dry November continues across Northern California [Sacramento Bee]

While it may feel pleasant, that’s about 10 degrees above average for this time of year across most of the Sacramento Valley. The trend should continue for a few more days, until about Thursday, forecasts show. According to the National Weather Service, numerous daily records are vulnerable Monday – including in downtown Sacramento, where the predicted maximum of 78 degrees is just 1 degree shy of the all-time high; and in Redding, where an expected high of 86 would shoot past the record mark of 84 degrees. Sacramento should cool down to the low 70s by Thursday and Friday, NWS forecasts predict, which is still a few degrees above normal for mid-November. Overnight low temperatures, meanwhile, could dip to the mid-40s. There’s no precipitation in sight for most of Northern California in the coming weeks. “The extended period of dry and warm conditions are likely to continue throughout much of November,” the NWS Sacramento office said in a tweet last Friday. The dry spell is due to a “stagnant ridge of high pressure,” which is staying parked over the West Coast, the tweet explained. Sacramento has barely cracked one-tenth of an inch of total precipitation since the end of May: 0.04 inches fell Sept. 16, followed by 0.08 inches two days later, on Sept. 18.


Farmers in crisis turn to high-interest loans as banks pull back [Wall Street Journal]

Financial stress is mounting in the Farm Belt, pushing more growers to take on high-interest loans outside traditional banks to stay in business. After his local farm bank wouldn’t lend him as much as he said he needed in 2017, Iowa farmer James Kron turned to Ag Resource Management LLC, a Texas-based financial-services firm. Now, when he takes his corn and soybeans to grain elevators near his farm, he signs the checks over to ARM until his loan is paid back in full. He is one of many farmers leaning on alternative lenders to make it through the steepest agricultural downturn in a generation. With crop prices stuck at low levels, traditional farm banks are placing stricter terms on farm loans and doling out less money, leaving cash-strapped farmers such as Mr. Kron to seek capital from more lightly regulated entities. While firms including ARM, FarmOp Capital LLC and Fora Financial LLC can be a lifeline for farmers, their loans can carry interest rates double those of traditional farm banks, said farmers, agricultural economists and lenders. The funding can require closer monitoring of how farmers spend as well as liens on each bushel of grain they produce.


Editorial: Newsom is right in saying he will oppose any raid on high-speed-rail funding [Fresno Bee]

Gov. Gavin Newsom made it clear in an interview with The Bee’s Editorial Board that he will oppose any attempts by Southern California and Bay Area legislators to take money from the high-speed-rail project and divert it to rail systems in their region. Meeting with the editorial board Friday after his keynote address at the California Economic Summit, Newsom was quick to say he would be “pushing back” on any shifting of funds out of high-speed rail to commuter systems in the metropolitan areas of the coast. That is welcome news, given that the epicenter for high-speed rail has been the central San Joaquin Valley, chiefly Madera and Fresno counties. The large bridges and other structures that are to carry the high-speed trains are under construction here, and one fear has been that if the project went unfinished, those structures would stand as a Stonehenge-like reminder to state futility on the bullet train. Newsom’s passion for the initial operating segment of the rail network shows he won’t let that happen. His vision remains what he outlined last January in his first State of the State address: a 171-mile-long segment between Merced and Bakersfield that will serve to demonstrate the project’s viability to investors and the federal government.