Ag Today November 20, 2018

As immigrant farmworkers become more scarce, robots replace humans [New York Times]

…Mr. Montoya is among a new generation of farmworkers here at Taylor Farms, one of the world’s largest producers and sellers of fresh-cut vegetables, which recently unveiled a fleet of robots designed to replace humans — one of the agriculture industry’s latest answers to a diminishing supply of immigrant labor….Enlisting robots made sound economic sense, Taylor Farms officials said, for a company seeking to capitalize on Americans’ insatiable appetite for healthy fare at a time when it cannot recruit enough people to work in the fields or the factory….In a 2017 survey of farmers by the California Farm Bureau Federation, 55 percent reported labor shortages, and the figure was nearly 70 percent for those who depend on seasonal workers.


San Jose student delivers air masks to farm workers [KTVU TV, Oakland]

A San Jose preschool teaching assistant bought up all the air masks she could find and delivered them to farm workers working outside when the air quality conditions were considered the worst in the world. Paulina Cortes, 22, posted about her experience, saying that while she handed out dozens of masks, there are “hundreds of people who are working in hazardous environments with no protection….On Friday, she and farm activist Luis Magana of Stockton, began handing out the masks to about 60 workers picking blueberries and grapes at various farms in Central California.


California fires: Trump administration now blames devastation on ‘radical environmentalists’ [Los Angeles Times]

The political battle between the Trump administration and California over blame for the the devastating wildfires that have killed scores and left nearly 1,000 missing continued Monday. U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke blamed the state’s fires on “radical environmentalists” who he said have prevented forest management….In an interview with Breitbart News, Zinke said he agrees with Trump’s comments about the fires being a result of poor forest management, and repeatedly said radical environmentalists were responsible for the destruction caused by the fires.


California dairies and farms collect $10 million in trade-war aid [Los Angeles Times]

California dairies collected $10.5 million in emergency federal aid for losses caused by the trade war ignited by President Trump’s tariffs on steel and other products, according to federal data. The beleaguered sector was by far the biggest recipient of U.S. Department of Agriculture “market facilitation” payments to California, according to the data, released in response to a public records request from the Environmental Working Group, a longtime critic of farm subsidies….About a third of the payments went to 50 large dairies in the state’s agricultural heartland of the San Joaquin Valley. The largest payment, $140,804, went to Verwey Farms in Hanford in rural Kings County. The average payment to California’s more than 1,000 recipients was about $10,000.


Bullet-train land acquisitions are moving so slowly a judge hearing the cases calls it a ‘lifetime job’ [Los Angeles Times]

…Eight years ago, the California High-Speed Rail Authority estimated it would cost $332 million to acquire properties for the route spanning the Central Valley’s orchards, vineyards, dairies and cities. The process, however, has proven far more legally tedious, politically painful and expensive than initially thought….There are fights about farm wells and trellises. Debates about the value of nut trees apart from the land where they grow. And tears shed over the loss of land held by families for more than a century.


Planning Commission to consider employee housing ordinance to govern H-2A housing [Santa Maria Times]

A proposed employee housing ordinance that would govern the housing of more than six H-2A farmworkers in low- and medium-density residential dwellings is slated to be considered by the Planning Commission on Wednesday….In February, city staff received several complaints about homes used to house H-2A workers and heard reports of large sums of money offered to landlords to house farmworkers….The proposed ordinance aims to balance the interests of growers and farmers that depend on H-2A workers, as well as community members who are concerned about the effect such properties can have on their neighborhoods.