Ag Today, November 22, 2021

La Niña: Is California heading into another dry winter? [San Jose Mercury News]

You may have seen it on social media or heard it while talking to a friend: This is a La Niña year, so California won’t get any rain this winter and the severe drought is only going to get worse. Right? Maybe not. Although that’s a common belief, it’s not supported by past history. The reality is that a lot depends on where you live. “The message most people get about La Niña seems to be biased by Southern California,” said Jan Null, a meteorologist with Golden Gate Weather Services in Half Moon Bay. “There is a really good connection between La Niña and drier-than-normal weather in Southern California. But in Northern California, it’s a coin flip.” La Niña conditions occur when Pacific Ocean waters off South America are cooler than normal. They are the opposite of El Niño, the atmospheric trend when waters there are warmer than average. Null, a former lead forecaster with the National Weather Service, has spent years tracking the amount of rainfall California receives every winter and looking for trends. Since 1950, there have been 23 winters with La Niña conditions, his records show. Although some were dry, like last year or 1976-77, some also were very wet, such as the winter of 2016-17, when relentless atmospheric river storms caused the near-failure of Oroville Dam. The average rainfall over those 23 years was 93% of normal.


For poor farmworkers, there is no escape from heat, high prices of California [Los Angeles Times]

For 24 years, Jaime Villegas left his mobile home in the Central Valley every summer to follow a path paved by generations of California farmworkers. He would get into a car packed with duffel bags of clothes and coolers with food and embark on a 14-hour journey through acres of agriculture fields, past giant sequoias and unmarked dirt roads to their final destination: Oregon’s blueberry harvest in a town called Boring. But that ritual has been upended. Fewer and fewer Californians are now showing up for the blueberry harvest. Experts and farmers say economics and a lack of affordable housing are largely to blame. But it’s not the only reason. A place Villegas and Ventura and so many other farmworkers considered relatively pleasant to pick is no longer the same. Summers in the Pacific Northwest are getting hotter and drier. Oregon’s temperatures have skyrocketed to triple digits in recent years. Edward Taylor, distinguished professor at UC Davis’ Agriculture and Resource Economics department, said to his knowledge there isn’t a study that statistically links harvest migration to extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest. But he found it interesting and worth studying because whatever makes migration less attractive makes people migrate less. “I can imagine in this context that anything would make farm work less pleasant than it already is,” said Taylor, who also serves as director of the Center on Rural Economies of the Americas and Pacific Rim at UC Davis. “It would simply compound this big picture we see happening out there. Fewer farmworkers. Less and less are willing to migrate to follow the crop.”


Conservation ethic allows Monterey Bay farmers to thrive during drought [Monterey Herald]

Despite October’s record-setting rains, Central Valley farmers are still reeling from having their water supplies drastically reduced when the drought intensified last spring. Many farmers have been forced to rip out crops that can no longer be irrigated. Some have doubled or tripled their groundwater pumping as wells dry up before their eyes. In the Monterey Bay area, however, crops reach toward the sun with thirst-quenched leaves. Well levels aren’t raising any alarms and the threat of losing water supplies has mostly subsided. “I don’t know anybody having water issues right now,” said Joe Schirmer, owner of Dirty Girl Produce, a 40-acre organic farm in Watsonville. “We know how important (water) is and that’s why we were so proactive to get ahead and manage the resource,” said Dick Peixoto of Lakeside Organic Gardens, a family-owned Pajaro Valley farm that grows a wide palate of organic vegetables. Motivated by a need to keep seawater from seeping into the region’s aquifers, Monterey Bay water agencies and both small farms and large corporate farms have been aggressively protecting water basins from saltwater intrusion for a quarter of a century. Expensive water-recycling projects have allowed farmers to reduce their reliance on groundwater, as conservation-minded growing practices and cutting-edge irrigation techniques cut water waste.


Loan program promotes resiliency for Santa Barbara County farmers, food businesses [Santa Maria Times]

Two Santa Barbara County organizations have teamed up to connect local farmers, ranchers, fishers and food artisans with equitable loans to promote resiliency among food businesses and address gaps in the system. The Food System Resilience Loan Program was launched in early November by Santa Barbara County Food Action Network and the Economic Development Collaborative, and has since helped to institute around six different food system projects, according to SBCFAN spokeswoman Katie Hershfelt. The loan program was created as an alternative to the traditional financing options for food businesses, which often include extensive barriers and do not cover owners’ unique needs, according to Hershfelt. The funding is more accessible to local businesses and can be adjusted to fulfill their need for working capital, inventory, staffing or equipment. By meeting the needs of those in the local food industry, the idea is that the region as a whole also will benefit from increased access to sustainable food, according to SBCFAN Executive Director Shakira Miracle.


Wildfires killed thousands of sequoias in southern Sierra Nevada [Los Angeles Times]

As many as 3,600 giant sequoias perished in the flames of the twin wildfires that ignited during a lightning storm in early September and rampaged through 27 groves of the behemoths in the southern Sierra Nevada, National Park Service officials said Friday. More than two dozen groves of the towering trees were scorched as the KNP Complex and Windy fires exploded through parched vegetation, exacerbated at times by fierce winds and thunderstorms. It’s a stunning loss that equates to 3% to 5% of the world’s giant sequoia population — arriving on the heels of even greater devastation. Last year’s Castle fire killed up to 14% of the global population of giant sequoias. Among the three fires, officials estimate nearly 20% of all sequoias may have perished in the last 14 months. The somber news was delivered at a briefing in the Grant Grove of Kings Canyon National Park, in the shadow of the General Grant Tree — considered the second largest tree on Earth. Last month, the massive tree, which rises more than 260 feet, was surrounded by sprinklers to protect it from the still-active KNP Complex fire that has torched more than 88,300 acres in rugged country in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.


Deere’s strike is over, but order backlog, higher costs remain [Wall Street Journal]

The financial toll of a 35-day worker strike at Deere DE +1.77% & Co. will become clearer this week as the farm and construction equipment manufacturer reports quarterly results and its profit outlook for next year. The company accelerated toward full production as soon as the strike ended late Wednesday. Some workers reported for overnight shifts hours after the United Auto Workers Union announced that the company’s third offer had been accepted by union-represented employees. Deere resolved the strike as it heads into what is traditionally the high season for farm equipment sales, as farmers make purchases ahead of the growing season. With many corn and soybean producers flush with cash from higher commodity prices, dealers are anticipating heavy business by year’s end. Deere started its early-ordering program in August for next year’s equipment models. “In the next 45 days, there will be lots of equipment swapped,” said Rob Shelton, an account manager for Greenway Equipment Inc., a Deere dealer in Arkansas. “Two of our busiest months are in December and January.” Continued strong demand for farm and construction machinery should help Deere backfill lost production and sales caused by the walkout. The U.S. Department of Agriculture in September projected net farm income would surge 20% this year to $113 billion, the highest since 2013. Farmers typically spend extra income on equipment, because they can deduct those purchases from their federal income taxes as business investments.


Ag Today is distributed by the California Farm Bureau Marketing/Communications Division to county Farm Bureaus, California Farm Bureau directors and staff, for information purposes only; stories may not be republished without permission. Some story links may require site registration. Opinions expressed in stories, commentaries or editorials included in Ag Today do not necessarily represent the views of the California Farm Bureau. To be removed from this mailing list, reply to this message and please provide your name and email address. For more information about Ag Today, contact 916-561-5550 or