Ag Today, November 12, 2021

In a disastrous drought, a grim milestone: California could see its first big reservoir run dry [San Francisco Chronicle]

Lake Mendocino, once a plentiful reservoir nourishing the vines and villas of Sonoma and Mendocino counties, today is little more than a large pond, cowering beneath the coastal hills. … Tens of thousands of people who rely on the reservoir, between Healdsburg and the Ukiah Valley, in the upper Russian River watershed, have endured months of painful water restrictions. Households have been forced to cut back as much as 50%, while grape growers have sometimes gotten no water at all. The hardship may soon get worse. State officials warn that Lake Mendocino could be the first major reservoir in modern times to go dry. While rain over the past few weeks has lifted the lake above its October low, the reservoir, a few miles northeast of Ukiah, remains at less than 20% capacity. … Martha Barra, whose family owns Redwood Valley Cellars and the labels Barra of Mendocino and Girasole Vineyards, has turned to pond water as well as some trucked-in supplies to irrigate. But between what little runoff has filled her ponds and the dry weather, she produced only about half the typical yield of her nine varietals this year. Nearby grape growers have reported similar losses, generally between 20% and 60%, according to the Mendocino County Farm Bureau.


Farmworkers plan picket at Healdsburg winery [Santa Rosa Press Democrat]

At least 50 people plan to picket Healdsburg’s Simi Winery Saturday evening as part of an ongoing campaign to ensure protections and boost wages for Sonoma County grape-pickers who work during wildfires. … Protesters plan to bring signs and play drums in hopes of drawing attention to North Bay Jobs with Justice’s five demands for farmworker protections during wildfires, priorities the nonprofit says were culled from a survey of about 100 laborers who pick Sonoma County’s vines. The demands were mailed out over the summer to about 100 companies in Sonoma County’s wine industry. They seek hazard pay for farmworkers who work even when smoke fills the skies, as well as access to fire safety and evacuation information in workers’ primary languages, including Indigenous dialects. … Saturday’s picket will coincide with a $145-per-plate “harvest dinner” at the winery’s tasting room, which is advertised on the Simi Winery website for that same evening. … Sonoma County Winegrowers President Karissa Kruse has said that the 1,800 grape growers in Sonoma and Marin counties her organization represents already follow state-mandated wildfire safety regulations. She contends wineries should not be required to pay wages for work that is not completed, which is one of the demands North Bay Jobs with Justice is making that refers to the wages farmworkers lose due to wildfire smoke or fire damage.


J&P Cosentino Family Farm remains one of Santa Clara County’s last links to agricultural heritage [San Jose Inside]

If you’ve never considered how essential J&P Cosentino Family Farm is to the very identity of the South Bay, you’re not alone. In fact, the history of the farm—now just a tiny two acres surrounded on all sides by the sprawling metropolis that is Silicon Valley—is one of being under-appreciated, unloved and counted out. And yet, this oasis of some of the world’s most exquisite fruit, this orchard that provides one of the last remaining links to Santa Clara County’s history as the agricultural mecca dubbed the “Valley of the Heart’s Delight” by John Muir, continues to survive and thrive after three-quarters of a century. It has outlasted the development-driven government officials who plowed Highway 85 through the plot in 1994, cutting it down to less than a quarter of its size. The farm has weathered decades of tech development that brought shiny high-rises to San Jose and ag-land-swallowing, condominium-building fever to the suburbs. And generation by generation, it’s won over each member of the Cosentino family that owns and stewards it—despite the fact that they all started out resenting and even flat-out rejecting the farm at the heart of their family’s legacy.


Fight over U.S. wolf protections heads to federal courtroom [The Associated Press]

U.S. government attorneys will appear before a federal judge Friday to defend a decision from the waning days of the Trump administration that lifted protections for gray wolves across most of the country, as Republican-led states have sought to drive down wolf numbers through aggressive hunting and trapping. Wildlife advocates argue that the state-sponsored hunts could quickly reverse the gray wolf’s recovery over the past several decades in large areas of the West and Midwest. They want U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in Oakland to put wolves back under the legal shield of the Endangered Species Act, which is meant to protect animals from extinction. But government attorneys contend that wolves are resilient enough to bounce back even if their numbers drop sharply. There’s no need to put them back under federal jurisdiction, U.S. Justice Department attorneys said in court documents filed in advance of the hearing.


How Belcampo’s sudden downfall rippled through the sustainable meat industry [San Francisco Chronicle]

When Belcampo came on the scene in 2012, many Bay Area butchers were excited about the promise of an ambitious, well-funded company that would champion environmentally sustainable meat. They hoped it could pull off its founding promise: to build a company that had total control over every step of production, from raising and butchering animals to selling the meat at their own restaurants. Doing so would, in theory, create a new model for the meat industry. So when Belcampo admitted earlier this year to mislabeling meat and then suddenly closed all of its butcher shops and restaurants last month, it sent a shock wave through the sustainable meat world. … Now, they worry that Belcampo’s story will erode hard-won trust with customers. The company’s closure isn’t just an isolated issue, butchers say: It could be a setback for an industry that’s still working to convince the American public to pay more for higher quality, well-sourced meat rather than cheaper options from factory farms.


Editorial: State needs leadership on groundwater [Southern California News Group]

In 2014, the California Farm Federation [sic] warned of “huge long-term economic impacts” if Gov. Jerry Brown signed the package of bills that comprised the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and put groundwater under state regulation for the first time in California history. Five years later, the Public Policy Institute of California released an analysis that said the new limits on groundwater pumping could force the farmers of the San Joaquin Valley to take up to 750,000 acres out of production. It’s happening now. Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are idling so many thousands of acres that the region is now facing an issue of dust control. … Throughout the state’s history, land ownership came with groundwater rights; no regulatory agency could prevent a farmer from drilling into an aquifer. During the drought that began in 2011, aquifers became overdrawn as farmers pumped groundwater to save trees and protect crops, making up for the loss of surface water that regulators were directing toward environmental uses such as the protection of species. Now, under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, more than 250 groundwater sustainability agencies manage California’s hundreds of underground basins, and groundwater pumping is strictly regulated and limited. … The loss of farmland means the loss of jobs. There are also environmental hazards associated with this new dust bowl, including pests, invasive weeds and health effects from particulate matter in the air.


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