Ag Today, September 23, 2021

Without federal aid for wildfires, California’s wine industry could collapse, vintners say [San Francisco Chronicle]

As the Caldor Fire continues to pump smoke into California’s Sierra foothills, endangering yet another year’s worth of wine there, more farmers and winemakers are clamoring for government assistance. This week, they got news that some help could be on the way, after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a disaster-relief package that would allocate $10 billion to compensate farmers who have lost crops due to natural disasters. The bill’s text explicitly pointed to smoke-tainted wine grapes as an example of such a crop loss. The severity of the smoke-taint issue has reached a level of national attention. This isn’t simply about some fancy Napa Cabernets having more-pronounced-than-usual notes of grilled ribeye. It’s about the very survival of a $40 billion statewide industry that employs 325,000 Californians, according to the Wine Institute, including about 6,000 farmers. If megafires are indeed the new normal in California, small businesses can’t continue to shoulder the cost of a ruined product year after year, they argue.


Lawmakers laud bill for repurposing farmland [Bakersfield Californian]

A bill that would create a program to help farmers find new life for farmland idled by coming groundwater restrictions had its own phoenix moment earlier this month when it was killed and almost simultaneously reborn — this time with money. AB 252, authored by Assembly members Robert Rivas, D-Salinas, and Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, died in the state Senate Sept. 7. But much of its content was brought back to life Sept. 9 in a budget bill with $50 million attached. That second bill, SB 170, was passed and sent Sept. 15 to Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose signature it awaits. Salas and Rivas, along with state Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, hosted an event Wednesday at the Kern Water Bank to extol the benefits of the farmland repurposing program. The original bill would have created a program under the California Department of Conservation to use grant money to find other uses for ag land in critically over-drafted water basins. New groundwater pumping restrictions are expected to force up to 1 million acres of farmland in the Central Valley to be fallowed.


California farm worker union marching to the French Laundry after Newsom vetoes labor bill [Sacramento Bee]

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday vetoed a bill that would have allowed farm workers to vote by mail in union elections, a change the United Farm Workers pressed for after the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year dealt a setback to its organizing practices. Assembly Bill 616 would have allowed agricultural workers to select their collective bargaining representative through a ballot card election by voting at a physical location or mail or dropping off a ballot to the Agricultural Labor Relations Board office. The UFW, which supported Newsom over the past several months has fought the campaign to recall him from office, had been a planning a 260-mile march this week from Tulare County to Sacramento to advocate for the bill. Instead, UFW issued a statement over Twitter saying it would redirect the march to the French Laundry restaurant in Napa County, a reference to the pricey meal Newsom had with lobbyists during the coronavirus pandemic. In a veto message, Newsom said the bill contained “various inconsistencies and procedural issues related to the collection and review of ballot cards.” California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson applauded Newsom’s decision to veto the bill. “The firm action taken today by Gov. Newsom in vetoing 616 protects the sanctity of the secret ballot election,” he said. “It means that strong-arm organizing tactics and coercion have no place in California agriculture.”


Drought, high labor costs challenging California farmers as fall harvest begins [ABC-10 Sacramento]

As the harvest of fall fruits and vegetables begins, the drought and high labor costs have combined to put the squeeze on California farmers. Farmer David Vierra on Wednesday could be seen prepping his pumpkin patch for visitors when it opens over the weekend. Vierra said his crop of pumpkins needed roughly twice as much water as usual this year. “Everybody is cutting acres next year. As far as the fresh produce is concerned, that’s the talk,” Vierra said. Though Vierra says he is fortunate to have the water he needs to continue producing, what’s putting the squeeze on his operation is the high cost of labor. “Farmers look at their bottom line and say, ‘I don’t see how this pencils out with high costs of labor,” said UC Davis professor and agricultural economist Daniel Sumner. Sumner said farmers across the state are not just struggling to pay increasing wages, but to find workers in the first place.


US projections on drought-hit Colorado River grow more dire [The Associated Press]

The U.S. government released projections Wednesday that indicate an even more troubling outlook for a river that serves 40 million people in the American West. The Bureau of Reclamation recently declared the first-ever shortage on the Colorado River, which means Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will get less water than normal next year. By 2025, there’s a 66% chance Lake Mead, a barometer for how much river water some states get, will reach a level where California would be in its second phase of cuts. The nation’s most populated state has the most senior rights to river water. Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoirs in the U.S., largely rely on melted snow. They have been hard hit by persistent drought amid climate change, characterized by a warming and drying trend in the past 30 years. Both have dipped to historic lows.


A 7.1 earthquake couldn’t kill this Mojave Desert town. But a water war just might [Los Angeles Times]

On the northern edge of the Mojave Desert, a new trauma has awakened old concerns: What happens if a town’s water gets shut off? Perched on the edge of a mostly dry salt lake, Trona has no source of clean water and for at least 70 years has relied on groundwater pumped from wells 30 miles away in the Indian Wells Valley. Two pipelines snake through a dry-wash canyon delivering water to the town’s historic mineral plant, where it is used in the production of soda ash, boron and salt. Any surplus is then treated and sold for residential use. That source of water, however, is in jeopardy due to legislation passed seven years ago in Sacramento to protect aquifers throughout the state. Protection in the desert isn’t cheap, and a local water agency is ordering the mineral plant to help by contributing roughly $30 million over five years. Or stop pumping. Lawyers are arguing the matter in court.



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