Ag Today Thursday, February 25, 2016

Ag Today

Thursday, February 25, 2016

 

Palm Springs Desert Sun

California drought: State to increase water deliveries

By Ian James

California’s water outlook has improved a little as winter storms have brought snow to the mountains and boosted the levels of reservoirs across the state.

State regulators responded on Wednesday by increasing their estimate of how much water will flow through the canals and pipelines of the State Water Project to cities and farms this year.

The Department of Water Resources boosted projected water deliveries to 30 percent of full allotments, up from 15 percent a month earlier.

State officials initially had projected 10 percent in December and have revised the number as storms have rolled in since then. They cautioned that the drought is still far from over and that the amounts of water delivered could end up being more or less, depending on how much rain and snow falls in the next two months.

“After more than four dry years, we still have a critical water shortage,” DWR Director Mark Cowin said in a statement. “We need a lot more wet weather this winter to take the edge off drought. Using water carefully and sparingly is still the quickest, most effective way to stretch supplies.”

Water districts across Southern California have been coping with minimal deliveries of water through the State Water Project for several years. Last year, they received 20 percent of full allotments. In 2014, they received just five percent. That was down from a high of 80 percent in 2011.

The pumping of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta has also been limited due to protections for fish including endangered delta smelt and Chinook salmon. Cities and water districts haven’t received 100 percent of their water allocations since 2006.

In the Coachella Valley, that has meant less imported water flowing into a series of ponds near Palm Springs that were constructed decades ago to artificially replenish the supply of groundwater. Because the State Water Project doesn’t reach the valley, the area’s water districts trade their allotments of water for equivalent amounts from the Colorado River Aqueduct.

A total of 29 public agencies receive water from the State Water Project. The water supplies about 25 million people as well as farmland.

The Current: Subscribe to The Desert Sun’s weekly energy and water newsletter.

Early winter storms blanketed the Sierra Nevada with snow, but that was followed by a very dry February. As of Wednesday, monitoring stations across the Sierra Nevada showed the snowpack at 92 percent of average for the date.

The Department of Water Resources said that while key reservoirs are rising after the El Niño-influenced storms of December and January, most reservoirs remain low.

The department said the level of Lake Oroville in Northern California, for instance, is at 51 percent of its capacity and 74 percent of its average for the date. The level of San Luis Reservoir, one of the main reservoirs south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, stands at 42 percent of its capacity and 50 percent of average for the date.

Ian James can be reached by email at ian.james@desertsun.com and on Twitter at @TDSIanJames.

 

Fresno Bee

Old tensions boil over once more in House hearing on California water

By Michael Doyle

The year’s first congressional hearing on California’s water crisis incited stern voices and familiar feuds Wednesday, but showed no sign of legislative progress.

Instead, for two hours, lawmakers largely remained in trenches dug over many years as they lobbed shells at one another and, at times, the assembled witnesses.

“It seems we’re so close to a solution today,” sarcastically mused Rep. John Fleming, R-Louisiana, the chair of the House water, power and oceans subcommittee.

In theory, the hearing on California’s water supply might have illuminated the state’s hydrological state of affairs and how it might be improved. The expert witnesses ranged from the general managers of the Westlands Water District and Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District to the Bureau of Reclamation’s regional director and the secretary of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.

Their written testimony was, in fact, highly detailed and informative.

The testimony, for instance, recounted that 2014 and 2015 were the warmest on record in California and that last April the Sierra Nevada’s snow pack was only 5 percent of average. As of Jan. 19, just before the El Niño storms hit the state, water storage in major federal reservoirs was 963,000 acre-feet less than the same time last year.

“It has been drought, far more than any other factor, that has constrained the ability of the state and federal projects to deliver full allocations of water,” said David Murillo, regional director of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Region.

Westlands’ general manager, Tom Birmingham, cited records showing the federal Central Valley Project has been pumping “significantly less” water this year despite El Niño, and Glenn-Colusa’s general manager Thaddeus Bettner noted shortcomings in how salmon populations are monitored.

But for much of the hearing, old plot lines and ancient political practices prevailed over crucial fact-finding. One panel member, Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, used four minutes and fifty seconds of his five-minute question period to read a prepared speech, looking up occasionally.

Another lawmaker took time to play a video clip of President John F. Kennedy dedicating San Luis Reservoir in 1962. One complained about that the 1992 Central Valley Project Improvement Act diverted too much water from farmers, while a witness detailed how Marin County coped with a 1977 drought.

Occasionally, the House members made time to take umbrage.

“I listened very carefully and politely while you misstated the facts,” Rep. Jared Huffman, R-San Rafael, told Birmingham at one point. “Now, you get to listen.”

Birmingham, in turn, called one of Huffman’s past statements “absolutely false,” while Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, declared that Huffman had been “disrespectful to the people of Porterville” and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, likewise asserted some members had “villainized” San Joaquin Valley residents.

“Would the gentleman yield for a correction?” Huffman asked Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove at one point.

“No. Mr. Huffman, I respected your time,” McClintock replied. “I would ask that you respect mine.”

“You don’t have to yield,” Huffman countered.

The California lawmakers are battling over water legislation that has remained stalled for several years. House Republicans, joined by Costa, have pushed the most ambitious proposals that include additional pumping of water to farms south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Adding a new twist, Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, revealed this week his plans to introduce a companion measure to one by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Garamendi described his bill as an effort “to restart the conversation in Washington about finding a solution that works for everyone.”

Michael Doyle: 202-383-0006, @MichaelDoyle10, mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com

 

 

Bakersfield Californian

Wonderful removes 10,000 almond acres from production

By John Cox

One of Kern’s largest growers said Wednesday it will immediately take 10,000 almond acres out of production in the western part of the county because of “limited water resources and market factors.“

The move by Wonderful Orchards, formerly known as Paramount Farming, idles a swath of land equal to about 5 percent of the total acreage devoted to almonds in 2014, according to county figures.

Almond prices have dropped sharply in recent months even as California continues to wrestle with the effects of at least four years of drought.

Despite that, the timing and magnitude of the company’s actions seemed almost shocking to one observer.

”That’s very surprising that they would pull 10,000 acres, especially because it’s bloom time right now,“ said Central Valley grower and economics teacher David Gill. Almonds remain one of the most profitable commodities being grown locally despite a roughly 37 percent decline in prices paid to producers, he added.

Steve Clark, a spokesman for Wonderful’s privately held Los Angeles-based parent company, declined to say what share of the company’s almond holdings the 10,000 acres represent, and he gave no indication what the company would do with the land.

He emphasized Wonderful remains ”committed to our Central Valley farming operations and will continue to look for growth opportunities.“

Almonds were Kern’s second most valuable crop after grapes in 2014, with sales estimated at $1.49 billion. Almond acreage reported by the county that year, which represents the most recent data available, totaled 208,250, an increase of almost 29 percent from the year before.

Irrigating orchards during the drought has presented a big expense for the Wonderful Co. In 2013, as Paramount Farming it paid the Buena Vista Water Storage District nearly $8 million for 7,142 acre-feet of water. That transaction took place at the relatively high price of about $1,120 per acre-foot.

Water may be getting somewhat less scarce for Central Valley almond growers.

On Wednesday, the California Department of Water Resources said water agencies that receive shipments from the State Water Project will get an estimated 30 percent of their full allocations, or twice the amount announced Jan. 26, and three times the estimate disclosed in December.

Department Director Mark Cowin was not necessarily optimistic. He noted water is still in critically low supply in California.

”We need a lot more wet weather this winter to take the edge off the drought. Using water carefully and sparingly is still the quickest, most effective way to stretch supplies,“ Cowin said in a news release.

jcox@bakersfield.com

 

CNBC

Farmland prices stabilizing: But why not in Calif.?

By Jeff Daniels

After a precipitous fall in recent years, farmland values have started stabilizing in parts of the Midwest and are even showing strength in Washington state.

But out in California, where prices for land had never stopped rising until recently, a decline in high-value crops, such as nuts, is causing the market to cool.

“From our perspective, land values have leveled out here across most of the row cropping area and found that bottom,” said Sterling Liddell, a Rabobank analyst in St. Louis. “One of the reasons we say that is we’re finding a lot more interest in the land.”

According to Liddell, farmland prices are “now where we would consider them at their fundamental value, which is the ability to produce a profit at long-term commodity prices.”

Analysts say private capital funds and institutional investors are increasingly becoming bigger players in acquiring agricultural real estate, whether high net worth individuals, pension funds, insurance companies or farmland-focused real estate investment trusts.

Farmland is good for the mix in portfolios, said Chris Morris, a manager at LandFund Partners II, a private farmland investment fund based in Nashville, Tennessee. “It provides a current yield which is pretty attractive … in a world where Treasurys are below 2 percent.”

Experts say farmland also serves as a hedge of sorts against inflation.

“All of the crops grown on row crop farmland at least are dollar denominated, so if we were to get an inflation scenario then those rents go up and therefore values would also go up,” said Morris. “So it’s kind of a very versatile asset in a portfolio for all those reasons.”

LandFund’s first two limited partnerships are fully deployed and own cultivated row crop Delta farmland in Mississippi and Arkansas. Morris said owning farmland in those two Mississippi Delta states means the fund gets real estate for “one half of what it would be for an acre in the Midwest.”

Farmland values in the Midwest fell 1 percent in the fourth quarter from the third quarter of 2015, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago survey of nearly 200 agriculture banks across the Seventh Federal Reserve District, which includes Iowa and most of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. The report also revealed that in Wisconsin, a state enjoying growth in the dairy sector, there was a small rise in the fourth-quarter ag land values compared with a year ago.

In the Corn Belt, most of the landowner investors have been traditional land accumulators that tend to lease out the land and are looking for more acres. But lower commodity prices are hurting cash rents for cropland and recent projections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture point to further moderation this year in rents along with lower farm incomes.

Overall, the USDA forecasts that the value of ag-related real estate will be down 1.2 percent in 2016. The government projects net farm income will decline by 3 percent.

In related data, some of the Mountain States (Colorado, northern New Mexico and Wyoming) experienced an 8 percent jump in ranchland values in the fourth quarter compared with the prior year, according to the Kansas City Federal Reserve Board’s Omaha Branch Ag Credit Survey. Farmland values in Oklahoma, where there’s a strong cattle market, continued to rise modestly in the fourth quarter.

In the Pacific Northwest, there’s been strength in farmland values especially in Washington state. In late 2015, heavy rains and snowfall ended the drought in major portions of the Evergreen State.

“Washington state land values are staying strong on farmland because of the demand there and influence from increased demand from investors and people wanting to diversify out of the California area into permanent crops,” said Randy Dickhut, a real estate broker at Farmers National in Omaha. “There are ones that have been steadily buying land that continue to buy land as the market goes up or goes down.”

In California, some areas have seen farmland more than double in value in the past decade. However, in recent months farmland prices have weakened noticeably in the San Joaquin Valley — a key ag region known for its high-value crops such as almonds, pistachios and walnuts.

“What’s happened since last fall is we’re seeing a sharp decrease in some of the major nut prices,” said California farm economist Vernon Crowder at Rabobank in Sacramento. “We believe that has caused a lot of sales to stop.”

There’s even unconfirmed reports of some escrows getting renegotiated for California farmland as investors rethink the profitability of the deal. Nut prices were so strong at one point that it actually made up for the higher price of water given California’s ongoing drought.

As farmland values cool in California, it could spur investors to take another look at ag real estate. “I would say the institutional investors I hear from are thinking that some of this price moderation will make things more affordable for them.”

@jeffdanielsca

 

 

Santa Maria Sun

Neonics, ag’s fallen hero: Neonicotinoid insecticides once saved the day, but now they’re under fire for potential adverse effects

By Brenna Swanston

Neonicotinoids have two stories to tell.

In the first, they’re the good guys. While acres of citrus trees across the nation are withering and dying from an incurable insect-carried disease, neonic insecticides are growers’ best shot at containing the damage.

In the second story, they’re villains. U.S. honeybees have exhibited declining health in recent years, and devastated beekeepers are blaming the pesticide class for their costly losses.

Neonics have become a true double-edged sword in the agriculture industry. On one hand, the chemicals do their job effectively, and targeted pests don’t stand a chance. But neonics can also go beyond the call of duty—where non-target insects don’t stand a chance, either.

The background

When neonics first hit California ground nearly 25 years ago, growers hoped the new class of insecticide would rescue them from its evil predecessors.

DDTs had built up in the environment for decades, poisoning water sources and causing sharp declines in predatory bird populations. Then came organophosphates, which solved the issue of environmental buildup but proved extremely toxic to humans.

In 1992, California growers found neonics, an effective insecticide that boasted low mammalian toxicity and wasn’t too persistent in the environment.

Neonics boomed into the most popular pesticide in the United States, where agricultural communities such as Santa Maria became hotspots for it. More than 1,250 pounds of neonics were applied in the city in 2010, putting Santa Maria in the 95th percentile for neonic use in California, according to pesticideresearch.com.

When neonics made their grand entrance, growers embraced them with little skepticism, according to Cal Poly horticulture and crop science assistant professor David Headrick.

“They were supposed to replace some of the harsher pesticides that are very toxic, very hard on the environment, and have a lot of residues,” Headrick said. “At least in terms of those categories, neonicotinoids were a good supplement or replacement for those older chemistries people had been trying to get rid of for a long time. It seemed like a good thing.”

But attitudes have changed.

“Suddenly,” Headrick said, “it’s a bee thing.”

In recent years, environmentalists and bee activists have noticed an unmistakable correlation between growing neonic use and declining pollinator health across the United States.

“The problem is that there’s not a lot of research out there,” Headrick said. “Nobody really looked at it. We just didn’t think it was going to be an issue, I guess. If we had more research directed on it earlier, we probably wouldn’t be where we are now. But there just wasn’t a push for that.”

Now there is. Research institutions, private companies, and government bodies have charged forward in the quest to determine exactly how neonics affect surrounding wildlife, including bees, aquatic life, and birds.

The honeybee problem

Bee protection remains at the frontlines of pushback against neonics, and so far, research backs it up.

In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) instigated a reassessment of neonics. The agency released a preliminary risk assessment report in January showing that imidacloprid, a type of neonic, can be detrimental to bees. The EPA has yet to release assessments on the remaining three types of neonics.

The research shows neonics don’t simply kill bees—they impair insects’ neurological functions. Lompoc beekeeper Kate Griffith lost two colonies last year, likely at the hands of neonic poisoning.

“They were dying in their hives, in my case, and they were showing all the symptoms of neurological damage,” Griffith said. “They’re circling around, they fall over on their backs—they’re just erratic. And then they die. It’s just a matter of minutes that they’re doing this kind of behavior, and then they basically roll over and die.”

Bee colonies typically function with meticulous efficiency and organization. Each bee tends to its own assigned tasks to keep the hive buzzing, so when neonic poisoning comes into play, Griffith said it’s painfully obvious.

“Imagine having this with thousands of bees at the same time,” she said. “It was devastating.”

Last spring, the EPA attempted to address the issue by releasing new labels for the pesticides. The labels advise users on how to apply neonics, placing restrictions such as: “Do not apply this product while bees are foraging,” or, “Do not apply this product until flowering is complete and all petals have fallen.”

Growers are legally obligated to apply neonics according to the guidelines specified on the product labels—or, as the EPA puts it, “The label is the law.”

Charlotte Fadipe, assistant director at the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), said beekeepers should register their colonies with their local County Agricultural Commissioner to receive advanced notification when nearby growers plan to apply pesticides.

“There should be communication between the beekeeper, the grower, and the applicator about the pesticide,” Fadipe said.

Jeremy Rose, beekeeper and owner of the San Luis Obispo-based California Bee Company, said once beekeepers are notified of an upcoming spray, it’s up to the them to move their bees.

Rose said the legal precautions in place aren’t enough to adequately protect nearby bee colonies. Even when growers adhere to their products’ labels, he said, it doesn’t guarantee safety for non-target insects.

And for serious beekeepers, who often pour tens of thousands of dollars into their colonies, guaranteed safety for their bees is paramount.

To protect his own bees, Rose keeps his hives in the forest.

“It’s kind of hopeless,” he said. “I’m just trying to keep my bees away from that stuff.”

Headrick, an entomologist, is slower to condemn neonics on the basis of bee deaths—especially considering some beekeepers’ practices.

“I see what goes into the beehives,” Headrick said. “I see the chemicals that they use. They’ve abused antibiotics to the point that those diseases are resistant to their antibiotics. They have to build up bee numbers. The beehives have to be just throbbing with bees to get them out for pollination services, and when you have a big colony like that and they’re all stuck together, it’s very stressful.”

Headrick said he doesn’t blame beekeepers, but pointed out that honeybees are under stress from multiple angles.

“It’s very complicated business,” he said. “I don’t intend to lay blame or make a big statement one way or another. There’s good and bad in everything, and there’s going to be so many factors at play here. I do not want to see the bees suffer, but I tend to look at the whole picture.”

He said he wants to see how current research on neonics turns out before forming an opinion.

“People tend to love bees and assume they’re all good,” Headrick said of the beekeeping industry. “You know, I’m not sure. I’m not ready to just pass that over and say they’re all good.”

Water contamination

Earlier this month, the Center for Food Safety (CFS) arranged a petition to seek more EPA protection from neonic contamination in U.S. waters, an issue that’s of particular concern in Santa Barbara County.

In a 2011 study scientists analyzed 75 surface water samples from 23 sites in the Santa Maria Valley, Salinas Valley, and Imperial Valley.

They found imidacloprid in 89 percent of those samples.

From 2014 to 2015, the City of Santa Barbara Creeks Division conducted stream testing for pesticide contamination and found imidacloprid in all of its creek sites. Water quality research coordinator Jill Murray stated in a CFS report that it’s unusual to find so much of the same pesticide in different bodies of water at the same time, suggesting imidacloprid must be particularly concentrated around Santa Barbara.

CFS Pollinator Program Director Larissa Walker added that any application of a neonic can contaminate waterways, but soil drenches are especially risky.

In a soil drench, the pesticide is introduced to the soil around the base of the plant. The chemicals are then drawn into the plant by its roots, providing longer-lasting and more effective pest resistance.

“Obviously the soil becomes contaminated,” Walker said, “so if it rains shortly after it’s been applied, it makes it easy for it to run off and potentially contaminate nearby water sources.”

She said neonic contamination has been linked to issues with honeybees, native bees, and aquatic invertebrates. This could spell danger for pollinators, water ecosystems, and migratory bird populations that depend on aquatic wildlife for food.

Though neonics are known for their low mammalian toxicity, research on how neonics affect humans is too new to know for sure, said Paul Towers, media director for the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA).

“In terms of what they do to people, that body of science is very new,” Towers said. “It’s just beginning to be understood.”

He said some initial Japanese research showed neonics could potentially affect the developing human nervous system of children, prompting their restricted use in Japan.

“But that’s just one study, and the research is very new,” Towers said. “So we’re very careful to differentiate from what the preponderant body of science says and what new studies say.”

However, the European Food Safety Authority took the 2012 Japanese study seriously, recommending further restriction of the pesticide class pending additional research on the subject.

Calls for policy change

In its water protection petition, the CFS demanded that the EPA “stop classifying neonicotinoids as ‘reduced risk’ pesticides and fast-tracking their registrations.”

Walker explained this from the beginning: When neonics first hit the market, they were considered “reduced risk” compared to the organophosphates before them.

“In the EPA’s mind, neonics came in as an alternative to a very harsh and toxic class of insecticide,” Walker said. “The EPA saw neonicotinoids as a safer alternative with respect to farmers and humans.”

But from the CFS’s perspective, neonics don’t reduce risks—they just present different ones, associated with water contamination and bee decline.

Regarding the petition’s request to stop fast-tracked registrations, Walker said that in the typical pesticide approval process, a chemical company develops a new product, tests it, and submits those tests for EPA review. The EPA then determines whether or not to register the product.

In the case of neonics, however, the EPA skipped most of the usual steps and granted them conditional registration. In other words, the agency gave temporary approval of the pesticides pending further research by their chemical companies, after which it would consider official approval.

Now, years later, Walker said many chemical companies still haven’t met the EPA’s official requirements and continue to operate under conditional registration.

“In our minds it’s a really broken approval system,” Walker said. “It’s a way to fast-track the chemicals on the market, and it’s not safe. It’s basically the complete opposite of the precautionary approach.”

On Jan. 6—the day the EPA released its imidacloprid preliminary risk assessment—the CFS filed a lawsuit against the agency regarding neonic seed coating, where seeds are treated to make the resulting plants pest-resistant.

Walker said seed coating is the most popular means of neonic application, but the EPA doesn’t regulate the method as it does other pesticide delivery systems. For this reason, treated seeds’ labels aren’t worded as clearly and strongly as labels for foliar or soil-based neonics.

Weaker labels mean fewer legal restrictions for growers, Walker said, which means fewer rights for beekeepers.

“When a beekeeper suffers a big bee-kill incident—some beekeepers have lost thousands of hives after corn planting—they can’t report it to the EPA as a regular pesticide incident,” she said.

She said the CFS lawsuit aims to bring seed coatings under the same regulation as other forms of neonics—even if the labels typically regulating neonics aren’t perfect.

“They’re not good,” Walker said of neonic labels. “They’re basically best management practices, but they’re better than nothing, I suppose.”

Towers, with PANNA, said neonics don’t discriminate between targeted insects and anything else that might feed on treated plants or seeds—including birds.

“What’s problematic for a lot of these seeds is that if a bird eats one of these kernels, they’re now ingesting a large amount of that pesticide with that corn kernel,” Towers said. “What the research shows is that if a songbird ingests just one corn kernel, that’s enough to kill the bird outright.”

Walker compared the EPA’s pesticide registration system to the European Union’s, where the EU has placed a moratorium on neonics pending research.

“For them, in order to get something onto the market, it needs to be proven safe,” Walker said. “For us, we allow something to go onto the market, and in order to have it taken off, we have to prove it harmful.”

Towers added that with U.S. pesticide regulations, the research process tends to move slower than the approval process.

“We become most aware of the impacts on bees and other pollinators and more recently birds, given that’s where some of the research has focused of late,” Towers said. “I think the larger story with pesticides is that we often don’t know what the impacts are for years after these products are introduced to the marketplace.”

This echoed Headrick’s recollection: The EPA and growers alike were quick to welcome neonics when they first hit the market, and now, decades later, research on the pesticide is revealing potential environmental repercussions.

Asian Citrus Psyllid

Neonic awareness is on the rise, just in time for a local infestation of the Asian citrus psyllid insect, which carries the citrus-killing disease Huanglongbing.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) began applying a two-phase psyllid treatment to Santa Barbara County earlier this month. The current phase of treatment involves a foliar cyfluthrin spray, and the second—which will come this fall—involves an imidacloprid soil drench.

The CDFA notifies residents whose properties fall within the treatment area 48 hours before applying the pesticide, giving them two days to opt out if they don’t want their properties treated.

Some pesticide-savvy residents say this is an inadequate method to accommodate the needs of organic growers and property owners who prefer to keep their land chemical-free.

Goleta resident Kevin Hanson said residents shouldn’t have to shoulder the opt-out burden.

“They’re intentionally doing whatever they can to shrink the number of people opting out as much as they can,” he said of the CDFA.

In response to the department’s psyllid treatment system, Hanson created a website called pesticideoptout.com, which attempts to create a permanent list of residents who wish to opt out of future pesticide sprays. Hanson intends to submit the list to the CDFA.

“It’s frustrating to me,” he said. “They’d have no problem keeping an opt-out list. It’d make it easier on everyone, except so many people would opt out, they’d have to come to grips with the fact that they need an organic option.”

In fact, Hanson’s primary goal is for the CDFA to offer an organic psyllid treatment option.

“Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to doesn’t actually want to opt out,” he said. “They just want an organic option.”

The DPR’s Fadipe said the psyllid could do serious damage to citrus trees, so it requires equally serious action. Organic treatments aren’t always as effective as chemicals, she said, though the DPR encourages non-chemical pest management first.

“We encourage people to do that, and sometimes they do and they find it doesn’t work or doesn’t work well enough,” Fadipe said. “I know people find imidacloprid very effective, and that’s why they want to use it.”

CDFA Public Affairs Officer Jay Van Rein added that eliminating the psyllid is likely impossible, even with harsh treatment, but imidacloprid gives the CDFA the best shot at containing the insect.

“We have an insect that’s very difficult to eradicate, even in the best of circumstances,” Van Rein said. “But we do have the ability to slow its spread and control its movement to protect both commercial and backyard citrus from the prospect of the disease following the insect.”

Alternative treatments

That said, alternative pest control methods are out there, and Headrick said many growers prefer them because they go easier on the surrounding environment and lower the risk of resistance.

“If we use a chemical to control a pest, we know that the populations will eventually become resistant to it,” Headrick said. “Resistance is one of the biggest issues facing ag today.”

The most viable alternative to neonics is integrated pest management (IPM), which Headrick said uses four major cornerstones to protect crops from pests:

Resistant plants use grafting to grow crops from pest-resistant stalks, building the pest repellant into the plant itself.

Biological control, which Headrick said has seen significant success in California agriculture, responsibly integrates natural predators into crop environments to curb pest populations.

Cultural control uses pheromone traps to disrupt mating processes, and it also employs crop rotations to prevent pest population build-up.

Finally, pesticides come in as a last resort.

IPM’s popularity comes in waves, but the method has been around for a long time, Headrick said. This suggests to him that agriculture won’t be moving away from chemical reliance any time soon.

“It’s just going to keep going that way, even though IPM as a concept has been around since the late ’50s,” he said. “It’s been around forever, and people still talk about it like it’s a new hip thing. No, it’s not.”

The biggest obstacle keeping agriculture from embracing IPM on a large scale, according to Headrick, is the consumer.

“A lot of this stuff just keeps coming back to the public,” he said. “If the public knew better, we would be saving so much on pesticide use. Millions, billions of dollars.”

Headrick gave the example of California citrus.

“That’s one of the big economic engines of this state,” he said. “That’s why we became the Golden State, because we grew citrus, beautiful citrus, and it was ready in the wintertime. It was just this magic thing.”

California consumers got used to the aesthetically perfect citrus fruits—until pests, specifically thrips, became an issue.

“Those pests would cause scarring on the outside of the fruit,” Headrick said. “The fruit inside is untouched, unharmed, but consumers won’t buy it.”

Thus, growers are forced to spray for thrips. If consumers were more willing to buy scarred-up fruit, it would save several pesticide sprays per year, Headrick said.

“All of that would not be an issue if you’d just buy a little rattier-looking orange,” he said. “It’s still good on the inside.”

That said, Headrick doesn’t think the agriculture industry will ever totally agree on a pest control system.

“There’s too many competing interests,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll ever find something that’s just perfectly suitable for everybody.”

Coming next

The EPA released last month’s imidacloprid report nearly six years after launching its reassessment of neonics, which is set to release three more reports in December 2016.

The remaining reports will assess the risks of neonic chemicals clothianidin, thiamethoxam, and dinotefuran. The preliminary assessments will open for a public comment period, after which the EPA will conduct official risk assessments.

Fadipe said she has a hunch about how the EPA might respond to its imidacloprid assessment, once the report’s public comment period ends in March.

“The EPA will probably be coming out with more restrictions,” she said. “That would be my guess.”

But that wouldn’t necessarily be good.

“In terms of neonicotinoids, if imidacloprid was banned, our concern is that people would turn to other chemicals like organophosphate, which is a lot more harmful to human health and toxic to bees,” Fadipe said.

In Headrick’s opinion, it’s probably too late for neonics’ reputation, regardless of how the research turns out.

“The public believes it,” he said. “And in a lot of ways, that’s all that matters. People won’t buy the stuff, because it could potentially hurt the bees.”

Contact Staff Writer Brenna Swanston at bswanston@santamariasun.com.

 

 

Chico Enterprise-Record

Local group challenges recent Butte County decisions on medical marijuana, right to farm

By Ryan Olson

Oroville – A local group is seeking a vote on recent changes to Butte County’s medical marijuana cultivation rules and right to farm ordinance.

The Inland Cannabis Farmers Association submitted about twice as many signatures as needed to challenge the Board of Supervisors’ Jan. 26 votes on the ordinances.

As a result of the petition, the ordinance changes will not go into effect as scheduled today until the matter is resolved.

County public information officer Casey Hatcher said the old rules remain in place and will be enforced.

“Stay in the box. Stay in your square footage,” Hatcher said.

The group had 30 days to gather at least 6,177 valid signatures for each petition — equal to 10 percent of the votes cast for governor in the 2014 gubernatorial election.

About 13,000 signatures were gathered in 18 days, according to Jessica MacKenzie, the group’s director. She said the petition signers were a diverse crowd, including those concerned about government overreach.

“If they want to make a significant change to it, they’ve got to take it to voters,” MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie and six supporters went to the County Administration Building in Oroville to turn in the petitions Wednesday afternoon. After the board clerk counted the petition pages, county employees loaded the seven boxes into a vehicle to drive over to the Hall of Records.

THE PROCESS

The Clerk-Recorder’s Office now has 30 business days to verify the signatures and provide the results to the Board of Supervisors at their next regular meeting.

If the petitions are deemed insufficient, the board doesn’t need to take action and the ordinances go into effect. If the petitions are sufficient, the board may either repeal the ordinances in their entirety or submit the ordinances to voters.

Supervisors may either call for a special election or schedule it for the next available general election.

Items must be scheduled at least 88 days before a general election. To qualify for the June 7 election, the board would have to act at its March 8 meeting.

Given the time constraints, it appears the matters would be placed on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, should the board choose to submit the ordinances to voters.

Hatcher said the county was committed to following the petition process.

“The county certainly wants to make sure we follow the process the public has a right to,” she said.

OLD RULES IN EFFECT

The county board had sought to make changes to the marijuana cultivation ordinance, approved as Measure A by 60 percent of voters in 2014. At its core, the ordinance sets growing area dimensions based on lot size. Outdoor grow sizes range from 50 square feet for lots between a half-acre and 5 acres to 150 square feet for properties larger than 10 acres.

At dispute are changes unanimously approved by supervisors after the first year of enforcement. Changes included clarifying allowable garden sizes, particularly for indoor gardens, and specifying that people may have smaller grow areas on larger properties if they don’t have the sufficient number of doctor’s recommendations for larger gardens.

Many of the changes were geared to combine the citation and nuisance abatement process into one. It also changed what code enforcement needed to prove at a nuisance abatement hearing and allowed administrative penalties to be recovered through a lien.

County staff issued 894 citations in 2015. There were $2.93 million in fines, but less than 6 percent had been collected as of January.

The $171,175 in collected fines was used to help offset enforcement costs totalling $375,996. The enforcement cost was 57 percent of what county officials budgeted.

RIGHT TO FARM

The group’s petition also changes the supervisors’ unanimous vote to amend the county’s right to farm ordinance to add that marijuana cultivation wasn’t an agricultural operation. The ordinance limits when proper ag operations may be deemed a nuisance under local rules.

Following the passage of three laws last year, the state deems medical cannabis as an agricultural commodity.

County Counsel Bruce Alpert has said the county made the change out of an abundance of caution. If marijuana is determined to fall under the right to farm ordinance, it could come in conflict with the cultivation ordinance — which treats violations as public nuisances.

MacKenzie reiterated the group’s position that marijuana wasn’t protected in the earlier right to farm rules because the rules respect federal laws, including those that prohibit cannabis.

“There’s no reason for them to add an exclusion to the right to farm ordinance, other than to judge us,” she said.

While the group is seeking a referendum on the two ordinance changes, MacKenzie said they were also considering a local initiative to utilize the new state laws that enact a framework regulating cultivation, processing and distribution of medical marijuana. At the same time, local jurisdictions still have the ability to add stricter rules, taxes and fees.

She said the group has offered to work with supervisors on a committee on changing county rules, but no supervisor has responded.

Reach reporter Ryan Olson at facebook.com/NorCalJustice and 896-7763.