To fight off a California dust bowl, the state will pay farmers to reimagine idle land [San Francisco Chronicle]
Farmer Erik Herman said he couldn’t help but feel a tinge of remorse as he looked out over the dirt field where an orchard of 8,000 fig trees stood until earlier this month, when they were uprooted by bulldozers in the name of conservation. The orchard, seven miles outside Madera in the sprawling San Joaquin Valley, is another casualty of the water shortage that is forcing farmers in the nation’s top-producing agricultural region to abandon otherwise fertile ground en masse. Farmers are being forced to fallow their fields and orchards in unprecedented numbers due to two factors exacerbating the water shortage: droughts are becoming longer and more severe due to climate change; and the state has begun to implement the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, new restrictions designed to stop growers and other users from depleting aquifers. But farmers and environmentalists worry that the solution being forced on many farmers – reverting so much land to unproductive dirt-covered lots – could create its own environmental hazards by inviting dust, invasive weeds and other pests. To mitigate such harms, Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislators set aside $50 million in this year’s state budget for a new program to help farmers repurpose fallowed lands for new uses, such as wildlife habitat or groundwater recharge basins. The state is drafting rules for the program that could launch early next year.
Conservation ethic allows Monterey Bay farmers to thrive during drought [Santa Cruz Sentinel]
Even as desperately needed rain continues to drench California, 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. 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. 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 innovative irrigation techniques cut water waste.
Consumers Trade Rib-eye for Ground Beef as Grocery Prices Rise [Wall Street Journal]
Americans are cutting back on steak as rising grocery prices squeeze spending. Supermarkets say shoppers are buying more store-brand meat products and trading down from beef to less-expensive alternatives such as chicken or pork, after prices for products such as rib-eye climbed about 40% from a year ago, according to research firm IRI. Some consumers are replacing boneless chicken breast with cheaper bone-in chicken, retailers said.Retailers are securing larger amounts of cheaper meat products as they anticipate more shoppers will seek bargains. Food makers ranging from Mondelez International Inc. to Kraft Heinz Co. have been raising prices in recent months to offset escalating costs in labor, raw materials and transportation. Manufacturers and retailers have said consumers have been willing to spend on groceries even as prices creep up because they are cooking more at home and spending less at restaurants.
3 reasons agriculture is poised for a surge of sustainable innovation [Fast Company]
While the use of sustainable agricultural practices has a multitude of environmental and production benefits, farmers face many barriers to adoption, including increased uncertainty of yields, a lack of expert technical assistance, a lack of the right equipment or technology, and most notably, the high cost of implementation. For farmers weighing the risks and benefits of transitioning to more climate-smart agricultural practices, the high costs associated with transitioning remain one of the biggest obstacles. First, costs can be hard to predict, as climate-smart farming is not one-size-fits-all; the techniques are site-specific and determined by local weather and soil. Although certain financial incentive programs and overall economic benefits can help farmers enjoy increased profitability than conventional methods, the initial challenge of investing in necessary equipment can be daunting. Yet, on-farm innovation, combined with new policy and advances in technology, offer the American agricultural sector with an array of hopeful solutions. Ag tech research and development is growing rapidly, with investment in the field growing 370% over the last six years. From seed technologies to AI to precision farming software, the industry is rife with innovation as it seeks resilient, adaptive solutions.
October’s torrential rains brought some drought relief, but California’s big picture still bleak [Los Angeles Times]
When a fierce early-season storm drenched parts of Northern California last month, some experts said it was in the nick of time. Reservoir levels were critically low. Soils were parched. Fires rampaged through dry forests. There was general consensus among climate experts that not even the record-breaking downpour would end the two-year drought plaguing the state. There was too much of a deficit, and a single storm — even of biblical proportions — would not be able to solve it in one fell swoop. When a fierce early-season storm drenched parts of Northern California last month, some experts said it was in the nick of time. Reservoir levels were critically low. Soils were parched. Fires rampaged through dry forests. There was general consensus among climate experts that not even the record-breaking downpour would end the two-year drought plaguing the state. There was too much of a deficit, and a single storm — even of biblical proportions — would not be able to solve it in one fell swoop. “It was a deposit into the bank account just before it was overdrawn,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA.
Deere Strike Sows Worry in Farm Country [Wall Street Journal]
A weekslong strike at Deere DE +2.16% & Co. has dealers bracing for delayed deliveries of new equipment, and farmers fearing higher prices ahead. Supplies of new tractors and combines across the Farm Belt have been stretched for months as manufacturers struggle with shortages of raw materials, components and semiconductor chips. Now, farmers and dealers worry that shipments from Deere, the largest seller of farm equipment in North America, will be further undermined after more than 10,000 union workers walked off their jobs Oct. 14. Members of the United Auto Workers union this past week rejected a second proposed contract, deepening uncertainty during the fall harvest season about when regular production may resume.
Moline, Ill.-based Deere declined to comment on equipment inventories and deliveries. Deere has said it would continue operating its U.S. plants with supervisors and other nonunion employees, and that the company is considering sourcing replacement parts and machinery from its overseas plants. Dealers said they have been getting some equipment from Deere factories as nonunion workers put the finishing touches on machinery that had been parked at assembly plants waiting for parts to arrive.