Ag Today, October 29th, 2021

Fresno County judge rules against Westlands Water District’s deal with federal government [Fresno Bee]

A Fresno County judge has issued a tentative ruling denying a contract between the Westlands Water District — a water supplier to major farming operators on the west side — and the federal Bureau of Reclamation over water. The irrigation district failed to provide “any new or different facts, circumstances, or law” to justify renewal of its prior motion for “validation” of its contract with the federal government, Superior Court Judge D. Tyler Tharpe wrote in his ruling, issued Thursday. Although some of Westlands’ critics hailed the ruling as a blow against powerful agriculture interests, Westlands officials said the judge did not reject the substance of the contract. He had a problem with the process of validation, said Shelley Cartwright, general manager of external affairs at Westlands. “He is not saying we did not comply or did anything wrong, he is saying he doesn’t have the information he needs and he doesn’t have jurisdiction,” Cartwright said. Westlands has long operated on an interim contract basis, renewing its water deal with the federal government every two years. But a law passed at the end of the Obama administration allows contractors to convert those contracts into permanent ones, so long as they agree to pay back the federal government for the cost of the water infrastructure.


From the back to center stage: Latinos take starring role in Lodi wine scene [Sacramento Bee]

The Lodi wine scene is defined by old-money families, some with roots stretching back to California’s founding as a state. Gerardo Espinosa belongs to a wine family too, but its story is a little different. Espinosa’s maternal grandfather Victor Anaya came from the Mexican state Michoacán at age 15 to work in vineyards as part of the United States’ Bracero Program, which allowed 4.5 million temporary workers into the country from 1942 to 1964. In the next generation, Anaya’s four sons got degrees in agricultural engineering and saved enough to buy a vineyard in nearby Clements Hills, which has expanded to 180 acres over the last 32 years. As owner of Lodi Crush, Espinosa makes wine for a dozen Northern California wineries such as Grace Vineyards in Galt, Miner’s Leap in Clarksburg and Kursed Wines in Lodi. He’s also borrowed the family name for his own label, Anaya Vineyards. After decades of powering California’s wine scene from behind the scenes, Latinos — particularly Mexican Americans — are sliding into seats at the head of the table. Latino winery owners, winemakers and vineyard owners are slowly becoming more prevalent around the greater Sacramento wine scene.


In reconciliation, climate-smart agriculture and forestry is the way forward [The Hill]

From Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry: Leading scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and elsewhere now tell us that, in addition to sharply reducing our emissions from power plants and vehicles, we have to take steps to remove carbon that’s already in the air. One key solution, too often overlooked, is already here – in the land under our feet and the trees that surround us. Farmers, ranchers and foresters are uniquely positioned to address the crisis head-on through climate-smart stewardship. We must adopt a climate policy that supports nature-based solutions such as climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices. These practices are easily one of the most cost-effective and sustainable ways to simultaneously combat the climate crisis, restore our soil and water, preserve biodiversity and build a better, more resilient future for generations to come. Climate-smart farming including regenerative agriculture and other conservation practices pull carbon out of the atmosphere and store it under the soil’s surface – and have added benefits for the quality of the land.


These charts show how California’s top crops are changing [San Francisco Chronicle]

California’s top crops have changed as drought strains the state’s water resources and farmers’ ability to access them. But that does not necessarily mean farmers are choosing crops that consume less water. Drought pushes farmers to shift their scarce water resources to crops with higher payoffs, such as nuts and vegetables, said Daniel Sumner, an agricultural economics professor at the UC Agricultural Issues Center — a trend particularly noticeable this year with its uniquely severe drought. “Even in drought years, prices matter a lot,” he said. A study Sumner co-authored using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s survey data and The Chronicle’s analysis of the same data show California farmers are increasingly planting fewer acres of field crops, such as rice, wheat and cotton, and more tree nuts, such as almonds, pistachios and walnuts, which bring in more revenue per acre. Farmers are more likely to cut back on field crops, such as rice and cotton, Sumner said.


Rice is king in Butte County, crop report shows [Chico Enterprise-Record]

The annual Butte County Crop Report for 2020 was released Tuesday and showed an overall drop in gross value to the tune of almost $63 million when compared to the 2019 report. Agricultural Commissioner Louie Mendoza said the crop value was down around nine percent compared to 2019 with some values, such as walnuts, decreasing and others rising. “The largest decrease was in walnut values due to a decrease in bearing acreage, yields and price per ton that resulted in a decrease of $86 million from the previous year,” Mendoza said. “The rice industry saw a slight increase in value per ton, which resulted in a $13 million increase from the previous year. Increased yields for almonds resulted in an increase of $6.7 million. Additionally, we did see an increase of $4 million for our prune industry in 2020.” Despite the losses, Mendoza said agriculture remained the top industry in Butte County. “About one in five jobs in our area is attributed to agriculture,” Mendoza said. While products such as fruit and nut crops, livestock and vegetables saw drops in value, many products such as apiary products, field crops, organic crops and nursery stock were the highest they’ve been in five years, according to the crop report’s summary.


U.S. Drought Monitor maps show how last week’s storm affected Northern California [San Francisco Chronicle]

An atmospheric river delivered record-breaking amounts of rain across Northern California last weekend. The precipitation helped bring some northern regions out of extreme and exceptional drought conditions. Before the rains, about 46% of California’s land was under “exceptional” drought — the most severe drought category, according to data from the U.S. Drought Monitor, which is a partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This week’s data released Thursday shows that figure has shrunk to about 39%.