Ag Today September 27, 2019

Farming the sun:’ As water goes scarce, can solar farms prop up the Valley? [Sacramento Bee]

On the Changala family farm in Tulare County, the past and future are separated by a dirt road and a barbed-wire fence. “We’re still farming the sun,” he said. Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley are finding a lucrative new cash crop: solar electricity. As they struggle to cope with the Valley’s chronic water shortages, they’ve increasing turned to solar as a means of supplementing their revenue and keeping the remainder of their farming operations afloat. An estimated 13,000 acres of Valley farmland already have been converted to solar farms, said Erica Brand, the California energy program director at the Nature Conservancy. And now solar energy is about to swallow even larger patches of Valley farmland.


Southern drought deepens; 11 million affected [Associated Press]

Weeks of dry, hot weather have plunged the Deep South further into a drought that’s affecting more than 11 million people and threatening crops across the region, a new assessment showed Thursday. The latest report from U.S. Drought Monitor showed arid conditions worsening across a five-state area from Louisiana to South Carolina….Some areas have gone weeks without substantial rain. Farmers say the dry weather is hurting their crops, and Alabama has declared a statewide fire alert because of extremely dry weather. About 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Birmingham in Montevallo, sprinklers ran full tilt at a roughly 200-acre (81-hectare) commercial nursery, Green Valley Farms, that is near the most parched area in the South.


New lab looks to cure Huanglongbing disease carried by citrus psyllid [Associated Press]

In a lab southeast of Los Angeles, researchers are opening a new front in the yearslong battle against a tiny pest that has wreaked havoc on citrus groves around the world and raised fear among Ventura County growers. California citrus growers and packers and UC Riverside on Thursday marked the opening of an $8 million lab dedicated to finding a solution to the tree-killing disease known as Huanglongbing that has ravaged groves in Florida, Brazil and China. Growers have been on the concerned about the disease for years in Ventura County, where lemons at more than $244 million a year are the No. 2 crop, according to the county’s 2018 crop and livestock report. Valencia oranges at nearly $20 million a year and mandarins/tangelos at more than $17 million a year are significant, as well….Until now, scientists said they haven’t been able to take a close look at the disease in California because of strict measures aimed at preventing contagion since it hasn’t reached the state’s commercial groves. That will change with the Biosafety Level-3 lab near the campus, which was funded by growers and will let researchers study the bacteria carried by the Asian citrus psyllid in a secure environment.


High rates of under-insurance making rebuild difficult [Chico Enterprise-Record]

Nearly 11 months after the Camp Fire razed Amy McFarland’s neighborhood, two of her neighbors’ new homes look ready for move-in. She’d like to be a part of the rebuild of the town. But her family’s home was under-insured, and now they’re struggling to find solutions to fill the gap. It’s a problem she shares with most of her neighbors. The delay in insurance payout because of ongoing negotiations or a payout that is less than the cost of rebuilding is preventing thousands of people from being able to afford to rebuild. As of this week, six homes have been completely rebuilt. That’s a third of a percentage point of the nearly 19,000 structures lost in the fire. Butte County and the town of Paradise have received 490 applications to rebuild homes so far.


Opinion: California high-speed rail is making progress, gaining momentum [Inland Valley Daily Bulletin] 

The Southern California News Group’s September 23rd editorial regarding the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s land acquisition process shows they haven’t done their own homework but relied on an LA Times article that is both inaccurate and lacks context.  California high-speed rail is not only making progress, but gaining momentum. The Authority has been transparent about its challenges in acquiring land, discussing them in public with our Board of Directors and in regular reports to the Legislature. The progress we are making now and the momentum we are building is driven by applying lessons learned and facing challenges of the past head on. The News Group’s editorial asserts that we have bought too much land and not enough land.  The truth is simple.   Sometimes we buy more land than we need for the tracks alone, like when we acquire agricultural land.  In many cases, we work with the landowner to mitigate potential impacts so they can continue farming.  If the owner concludes that the remainder of their land would be not be economically viable for farming, we work with them and buy the entire property; in several cases this approach is dictated through settlement agreements. In urban areas, we will buy more land to accommodate the future station and space for rail/bus/car connections or to relocate affected businesses.


Opinion: Expand California groundwater regulation statewide [San Jose Mercury News]

We all walk on water. Not literally, but most Californians do walk over the water stored in the aquifers beneath our feet. This unseen resource is groundwater, which provides 40% of our water supply in normal years, and up to 60% of our supply in times of drought. With dry periods expected to increase in frequency and duration, groundwater is key to creating a more resilient water supply for drinking water, producing food, and sustaining our precious natural resources. Yet despite its importance, groundwater use in California has been largely unregulated. Fortunately, this is about to change. This month marks the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). Under SGMA, groundwater users must come together to understand groundwater conditions and make hard decisions about how to sustain our groundwater supply. Over the last five years, more than 250 groundwater sustainability agencies have formed to manage groundwater at the local level and dozens of groundwater sustainability plans are in progress. These plans will be implemented to achieve groundwater sustainability by 2042.