Ag Today Thursday, January 21, 2016

Ag Today
Thursday, January 21, 2016


Orange County Register

Immigration tops politically charged caseload for the Supreme Court

By Mark Sherman

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court’s decision to add immigration to its already robust list of politically charged cases means a raft of rulings in the late spring or early summer that could inject the court into the presidential campaign.

Cases involving abortion, affirmative action, labor unions and the Obama health care law have already given the high court’s term a campaign-season flavor.

A ruling on President Barack Obama’s authority to shield up to 5 million immigrants who are living in the United States illegally from deportation is expected to be one of the last cases argued in April and decided before the justices leave town in early summer.

The most politically contentious rulings probably will come in quick succession in the last half of June, as Democrats and Republicans ready for their political conventions.

The outcomes could feed campaign rhetoric that already has been heated on abortion and immigration, to name just two issues.

Adding to the potential for the court to be an issue in the campaign are the ages of the four oldest justices, three of whom will be past their 80th birthday when the next president takes office a year from now. A fourth, Justice Stephen Breyer, will be 78.

“The decisions the court makes in this potentially blockbuster term could affect who becomes president in the 2016 elections, and who becomes president in the 2016 elections could affect the Supreme Court for a generation,” said Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine.

The replacement of even one justice could alter the direction of the court in a big way, given how closely divided it is now between four conservatives and four liberals — with Justice Anthony Kennedy often providing the crucial fifth vote.

The accumulation of wrenching social issues and pointed policy disputes at the Supreme Court at this moment is mostly a matter of chance. A legal fight over the regulation of abortion clinics in Texas has been underway for two and a half years.

Obama’s immigration plan was rolled out 14 months ago and almost immediately challenged in court. Faith-based groups that say they are forced to be complicit in providing objectionable birth control to women covered under their health plans have been challenging the Obama administration for more than three years.

Republican candidates have criticized the court, and especially its decisions in support of same-sex marriage and the Obama health care overhaul. Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has said that putting Chief Justice John Roberts on the court was a mistake, even though Cruz endorsed his nomination in 2005. Both men served as law clerks to William Rehnquist. Cruz referred mainly to Roberts’ two opinions in defense of Obama’s health care overhaul. More recently, Republican rival Donald Trump has blamed Cruz for pushing to get Roberts on the court and called the chief justice “an absolute disaster.”

In the most recent Republican debate, Cruz called Justice Sonia Sotomayor a radical opponent of gun rights and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida chastised New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for his past support of Sotomayor’s nomination in 2009. Christie denied ever supporting the first Latina justice.

On the Democratic side, the talk has been tamer, with Hillary Clinton discussing the importance of high-court nominations on her social media accounts.

The court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United that led to a flood of what critics call “dark money” in political campaigns remains controversial, and Democratic candidates have pledged to try to undo it.

The attention on the court will only mount in the coming months, said UCLA law professor Adam Winkler. “It’s going to be hard for the court to stay out of the political thicket in this coming election,” Winkler said.

Yet evidence that the court itself has moved many votes in past elections is thin, said Sara Benesh, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The court and the justices are little known to the public. “It seems to me a long, drawn-out relationship between any decision the court might make and any decision an individual might make in the voting booth,” Benesh said.

The justices go to great lengths to insist that they are not, in Breyer’s words, “nine junior-varsity politicians.” Winkler said there is little evidence that the court has ducked politically sensitive issues, although liberal critics have said the conservative justices reached out aggressively and unnecessarily in recent years in campaign finance, voting rights and union cases.

But politics is not completely absent from the justices’ chambers. When the court was weighing a major abortion case early in 1992, a law clerk to Justice Harry Blackmun urged him to press his colleagues to have the case heard and decided before the 1992 presidential election.

At the time, many abortion rights groups thought the Supreme Court was on the verge of overturning the Roe v. Wade ruling. If there were to be a majority on the court to jettison Roe, “it would be better to do it this year before the election and give women the opportunity to vote their outrage,” Blackmun clerk Molly McUsic wrote in a memo to the justice. Former New York Times reporter Linda Greenhouse recounted the episode in her biography of Blackmun, “Becoming Justice Blackmun.”

As it happened, the court heard the case, surprisingly reaffirmed abortion rights and Bill Clinton won the 1992 election.



Santa Maria Sun

EPA report echoes local beekeeper concerns over pesticides’ role in colony collapse

By Brenna Swanston

Kate Griffith’s honeybee colony functioned as they all do: with near-impossible efficiency, as thousands of bees performed individually assigned tasks to keep the hive running smoothly.

Her colony’s queen produced eggs, the male drones ensured those eggs were fertilized, and the female workers took care of the rest: foraging for nectar and pollen, keeping things clean, building beeswax combs, and caring for the queen.

“Bees are very organized,” Griffith said. “They’re very structured. It’s obvious what they’re doing, and each one has a job, and they know what their job is.”

But one day, things changed.

Griffith’s bees began acting erratically, flying in aimless circles and falling on their backs. Then, in a matter of minutes, they’d roll over and die.

The deaths continued for weeks, until the once-thriving colony had entirely collapsed.

“Usually when bees die, they disappear,” Griffith said. “Bees normally don’t die in their own hives. They go away to die.”

Griffith, who had been beekeeping in Lompoc for four years, had never before experienced such a collapse.

“It was devastating,” she said. “I lost thousands and thousands of bees in a short amount of time.”

The collapse’s culprit: neonicotinoids, the most popular class of pesticides in the U.S. and an alleged force behind the nation’s declining bee health. Beekeepers in Northern Santa Barbara County constantly face the insecticide’s effects, which many beekeepers and environmentalists say are neurologically harmful and ultimately fatal to pollinators.

Neonicotinoids, or neonics, are largely banned in the European Union, and Home Depot and Lowe’s are phasing out neonics from their shelves. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been slow to confirm suspicions.

The EPA began reassessing the pesticide class in 2009 and in early January produced its first of four preliminary risk assessments. The report focused on imidacloprid, a type of neonic. The findings were generally unsurprising: In most cases, imidacloprid harms bees. The chemical’s effects include pollinator deaths and less honey produced.

Enraged by the EPA’s slow assessment, the Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit against the agency on Jan. 6 on behalf of beekeepers, farmers, and sustainable agriculture and conservation groups. The lawsuit holds the EPA responsible for neglecting to curb widespread wildlife health issues caused by neonics.

But the EPA is calling its years-long risk assessment period thorough, not neglectful. In an email to the Sun, EPA pesticides program representatives said the assessment “took this long because the pollinator risk assessment protocol did not exist until fairly recently, and the studies it requires take time to conduct.”

It continued: “Until very recently, scientific uncertainty and a lack of a standardized risk assessment for pollinators made it practically impossible to authoritatively answer questions about the degree to which bees are affected by pesticides.”

The email pointed out that the agency has halted review of new neonicotinoid applications. The EPA also proposed last year to prohibit foliar application, or direct application to crop leaves, for highly toxic pesticides, including neonics. However, this proposition is not yet in effect.

“[The] EPA is reviewing the over 100,000 comments that were submitted and plans to finalize this action by summer 2016,” the EPA’s email said of its proposed restrictions.

Most treated crops reviewed in the imidacloprid assessment showed harmful effects to individual bees with an “uncertain” impact on colonies. However, a 2012 study by the Harvard School of Public Health showed imidacloprid to cause colony collapse, and beekeepers often observe pesticide poisoning at the colony level.

Louise Larson is one such beekeeper. Larson lost a colony last summer, most likely due to neonics.

“The hive that I’d had was going on its second year and doing really well in my backyard,” she said. “All of a sudden, my husband called and said there were a bunch of dead bees out in front of the hive, and the bees seemed to be coming out there and falling off.”

Larson, who has crop fields near her Lompoc home, said her dying bees’ symptoms resembled those of neonicotinoid poisoning.

“I think this particular colony found a nectar source that was treated with pesticides and brought that back to the hive,” she said, “and it just poisoned the whole hive.”

Santa Barbara County Farm Bureau Director Paul Van Leer said the best way for farmers to safeguard nearby bee populations is by following the EPA instructions on their neonics.

“Any product you use, the label describes what you can and cannot do and what you should and should not do,” Van Leer said. “That’s how most growers and people do it. That’s how we go about our business.”

Growers are legally obligated to follow the directions on their pesticides’ labels, which will sometimes advise not to spray during bloom or times of day in which bees are particularly active. The EPA’s email confirmed that as long as a grower is following a pesticide’s label, its use is legal.

Van Leer said growers should also notify nearby beekeepers when they plan to spray their crops, giving the beekeepers time to move or cover their hives.

“It’s the good neighbor policy,” he said. “Let them know what you’re doing.”

The EPA’s email echoed Van Leer’s suggestion: “[The] EPA is encouraging beekeepers, growers, and applicators to communicate with one another about when pesticide applications are planned and the location of bees.”

On that token, Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara President Claire Wineman said there’s a reason so many growers use neonics: They are effective against unwanted pests.

“There’s certainly a need and a reason for using them, and there’s often multiple tools in the toolbox, and it’s important to have a variety of options to choose from,” Wineman said, “You wouldn’t be using a hammer when you need a screwdriver.”

cotinoid use goes beyond the farmer and the crop field. Beekeeper Griffith pointed out that systemic pesticides—which include imidacloprid—are often built into plants, soils, and plant foods used by home gardeners. For this reason, many gardeners could be unintentionally harming bee populations.

“Plants are sold as being bug-resistant, and guess why?” Griffith said. “They come this way because of the fact that they’ve got systemics already in their system.”

She added that aside from reading product labels and communicating with neighbors, beekeepers can’t do much to protect their bees from pesticide poisoning.

“You can’t control what farmers or home gardeners do,” she said. “Bees can travel several miles to gather their pollen and nectar, so it’s really hard to control the environment around, especially since we live in an area where there’s so much agriculture and gardening.”

Opinions on alternatives to bee-harming pesticides vary. Griffith recommended organic, non-toxic insecticides. However, Van Leer said such products are often less effective.

In its email to the Sun, the EPA said it’s “not recommending that growers use alternatives to imidacloprid for these particular crops at this time. Many alternatives to imidacloprid are older chemistries that are almost as risky for bees as imidacloprid, but are more risky for humans and wildlife.”

The EPA said it’s “premature to speculate on what action” the agency will take in response to its preliminary risk assessments. The imidacloprid report is available for public comment until March 15, at which point the “EPA will incorporate public comments and decide on what actions to take at that time.”

The EPA will take appropriate regulatory action only if it determines a pesticide is unreasonably risky, the agency wrote.

“At this time, the EPA has only published a preliminary pollinator risk assessment for imidacloprid,” the email said. “We have not finalized the assessment or concluded that imidacloprid is causing unreasonable risks to bees.”

Meanwhile, beekeepers suspecting pesticide poisoning can report the incident to the EPA and request an investigation by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.

Staff Writer Brenna Swanston can be reached at



Chico Enterprise-Record

Drought years tough on Sac Valley rice growers

By Heather Hacking

Richvale >> The recent rains have been great for a dry California. However California rice farmers have been through a rough few years.

Rice growers gathered in Richvale Tuesday morning for an annual Sacramento Valley update sponsored by University of California Cooperative Extension.

It wasn’t a surprise to anyone to hear that the 2015 growing season had been grim. Less acreage was planted and landowners throughout the state dipped into groundwater supplies, presenters demonstrated through charts and graphs.

UC farm adviser Cass Mutters showed local growers a map of California and pointed out how many thousands of jobs had been lost in the Central Valley.

As growers sat inside the church in Richvale, it rained steadily outside and puddles formed along the roads leading through rice fields. While rain will refill groundwater levels, some damage is permanent.


Land subsidence takes place when groundwater is taken away and the soil beneath the surface compacts. The water in the soil, and now removed, was partially responsible for holding the ground up. Once subsidence occurs, the soil no longer has the ability to hold groundwater.

Another impact of land subsidence is that shifts in land can harm infrastructure, such as bridges and roads.

In some areas of the state, subsidence is a very serious problem. Mutters showed a colored slide of the San Joaquin Valley. NASA aerial imagery shows that an area south of Merced and some land west of Tulare subsided about 12 inches last year.

One important piece of infrastructure threatened is the California aqueduct, which transports water through the Central Valley. Where land has sunken, concrete of the aqueduct has cracked, Mutters explained.

Compared to land further south, the Sacramento Valley is in much better shape. However, small subsidence shifts have occurred.

Mutters showed similar NASA imagery of the northern Sacramento Valley. “Isolated subsidence” has taken place in the Sutter Basin, he pointed out.

Other details from the rice presentation can be found here:

The impacts of the drought may linger for a while. Yet, 2016 is expected to be a better year for California rice growers.

People are talking about El Niño, hoping for a prolonged period of rain this winter.

Often, this warm ocean weather pattern is followed by La Niña, which is when the ocean cools off and excessive rain continues well into the spring, Mutters explained.

This took place in the spring of 1998, when rice growers had a “miserable” time planting in the spring, he said. It rained thr

Some growers even decided not to plant because it was wet for too long.

No one knows for sure. However Mutters advised growers that if they have a good window for planting in the spring, they might want to get busy rather than risk another rain delay.

Low rainfall year totals

The past four years of drought have been rough, but there have been other years with very little rain. During an annual meeting Tuesday in Richavale, UC farm adviser Cass Mutters shared statistics from the driest of the past 100-plus years:

Year     Inches of rain

1924     9.23 inches

1977     11.81 inches

2014     12.08 inches

2015     13.21 inches

1898     13.35 inches

1920     13.43 inches

Mutters also noted that in 2015, the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada region was a scant 5 percent of average, the lowest since 1950. Also in 2015, the average minimum temperature was 32.1 degrees in the Sierra Nevada, which is above freezing.

Contact reporter Heather Hacking at 896-7758., @HeatherHacking.



Santa Rosa Press Democrat

New California water reporting rules worry Sonoma County grape growers

By Guy Kovner

About 2,250 water rights holders in Sonoma County will be affected by new regulations requiring them to report all surface water diversions to the state and for larger diverters to measure them as well. Vineyard and winery representatives say the requirement will be costly and hard to meet by the established deadlines.

The regulations, adopted Tuesday night by the State Water Resources Control Board, apply to about 30,000 water rights holders statewide who have, historically, been subject to minimal accounting of the water they draw from rivers and creeks.

But a bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in June called for emergency regulations on reporting surface water diversions allowed under a complex system of water rights that applies primarily to farmers, ranchers and utilities.

Given the need to more closely manage the state’s water resources in an ongoing drought, officials said they need more accurate, timely information on large-scale water use.

“Knowing where, when and how much water is being used is essential to managing the system fairly for all,” Felicia Marcus, the board chairwoman, said in a news release. “We’ve historically not had a complete picture, and these past two years have made it even more essential to take this common-sense move.”

Under the new rules, all water rights holders must submit annual reports on their water diversions.

Those who divert more than 10 acre-feet of water — the equivalent of what about 15 households use in a year — also must measure their diversions. That category includes about 12,000 water rights holders statewide and about 980 in the Russian River watershed, said Tim Moran, a water board spokesman.

North Coast grape growers are concerned about the costs and their ability to meet the deadlines for installing the mandated measurement systems, said Paula Whealen, a Sacramento engineering firm partner who advises the wine industry on water rights.

The costs could run into thousands of dollars for growers, with greater expenses for larger vineyards, Whealen said. “You just don’t know (the financial impact).”

Water rights holders long have been required to measure and report diversions, but a broad loophole allowed about 70 percent of them to claim an exemption, which the new rules eliminated, the water board statement said.

The new rules require the largest diverters, with rights to take 1,000 acre-feet or more per year, to set up measuring systems capable of recording hourly water use. Those failing to comply with the regulations could be subject to a penalty of $500 per day.

“I think it’s pretty groundbreaking,” said Whealen, whose clients have included Gallo Vineyards, Fetzer Vineyards and Constellation Brands, the nation’s third-largest wine company.

Doug McIlroy, director of winegrowing at Rodney Strong Vineyards, said that in addition to the cost of compliance, vineyards and wineries may face a shortage of consultants needed to establish the measurement systems over the next two years.

“It’s a pretty high bar to get it done to the level they are requiring,” he said. “We still haven’t fully assessed what we need to do.”

Rodney Strong has meters on many of its water diversions, but most do not record data in real time, he said. The state wants to know “when it’s on and when it’s off.”

McIlroy also said he doesn’t know “how much leeway” the state will allow wineries to meet the deadlines.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or On Twitter @guykovner.



Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Report: U.S. wine market to see drop in consumption

By Bill Swindell

A report released Thursday predicts a decline in domestic per capita wine consumption after more than 20 consecutive years of growth, attributed to a continued sales drop in the budget wine market.

The study, authored by Rob McMillan, executive vice president of Silicon Valley Bank’s wine division, highlights a trend in the marketplace as vintners are rushing into the premium ($10 to $20 bottle) and fine wine ($20 and above) markets and discarding cheaper wines that produce little or no profit. The overall result is consumers will buy or consume less wine.

The report finds that bottle prices will rise 4 to 8 percent on those $10 and above, but there will be a price and volume drop for those below $8 a bottle.

McMillan’s report also found that millennials — according to the U.S. Census Bureau those born from 1982 to 2000 — are having a growing impact on the wine market and are the industry’s target for future growth. They especially buy in the $8 to $14 per bottle red blend category, but are increasingly buying more expensive wines as their income grows.

“I think the per capita consumption (drop) will be a temporary thing. I don’t know how long it’s going to be,” said McMillan, who is based in St. Helena. “I don’t expect a massive decline. There will be a duration and out of it I expect to see a resumption.”

The report, based on a survey of about 550 domestic wineries, most on the West Coast, codifies the past year in the marketplace as major wine companies bought up high-end producers in Napa and Sonoma counties, especially E&J Gallo Winery of Modesto, the largest American vintner, which bought Healdsburg-based J Vineyards and Winery and the Asti Winery.

“Gallo still has a checkbook open,” he said. “They know the market is going to premium.”

One notable example was Lodi-based The Wine Group, which is known for such budget brands as Franzia and Corbett Canyon. Last year they bought the Benziger Family Winery in Sonoma Valley, a pioneer of biodynamic farming, in which crops are grown according to certain rituals and without chemicals in an attempt to balance the farm’s ecosystem.

“Jug wine is going away,” McMillan said. The $3 to $6 bottle of wine is the most at risk.

One major ramification will be that Central Valley farmers increasingly will allow their vineyards to go fallow, given the lesser demand for grapes that go into budget wines. The report says that “tens of thousands” of such acres will be permanently removed.

At the same time, vintners have their eye on the millennial market of more than 80 million consumers. They are typically not brand loyal and face a wider array of options such as craft beer and liquor than previous generations.

The report notes that millennials are more open to European wines than baby boomers were when that demographic group was in their 30s. Imported bottled wine represents about 25 percent of the U.S. market share, McMillan said.

Given technology such as wine apps that make learning about foreign wine easier and new delivery services such as Drizly, an online liquor store that can deliver alcohol to certain cities, domestic producers will face increased competition from overseas, especially with a strong dollar that makes them a bargain, McMillan said.

“That’s a threat,” he said.

The report predicted that fine wine sales will end 2016 with growth between 9 to 13 percent, which will be a slight decline from the roughly 14 percent sales growth in 2015.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 521-5223 or On Twitter @BillSwindell.




Sacramento Bee

Will state water resources board protect the Delta?

By Jonas Minton

When a company sells tainted ice cream, we ask, “When did the FDA know about the contamination?” When a train carrying crude oil derails, we ask, “When did the NTSB know the safety equipment was not installed?”

We ask because those are the agencies that need to be held accountable for protecting us.

But agencies are made up of individuals who make conscious choices about whether they will act. Most take their responsibility very seriously. The state Air Resources Board, for instance, helped uncover the Volkswagen diesel fraud.

Now, we will find out if the five members of the State Water Resources Control Board will do their job to protect the San Francisco Bay Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast.

Every independent scientist has confirmed that too much water has been diverted from the Delta. The board’s own scientific review in 2010 confirmed that more freshwater flows were needed to bring the Delta back to health, but the board chose not to act.

California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife just completed its survey of Delta smelt, a native fish that lives only in the Delta. Only four were caught in September, none in October or November and only one in December. Because Delta smelt used to exist in the millions, scientists consider it a bellwether species for the ecological health of the entire Delta. Better-known fish such as California’s native salmon and steelhead, which also depend on adequate freshwater flows, are also in catastrophic decline that could lead to extinction.

It is not just fish in danger. The outdated water quality standards do not recognize the risk of pathogens such as microcystis, commonly known as blue green algae, which reproduce in stagnant water. With half or more of the freshwater being diverted from the Delta, the spread of this organism is a growing health concern.

Federal law requires the board to update Delta standards every three years, yet the board has not done so for more than 20 years. It has only granted exemptions from the already inadequate standards, allowing more water to be diverted.

Incredibly, the board recently announced that even though it won’t update the standards until 2018 at the earliest, it will consider approving Gov. Jerry Brown’s massive tunnel project that could divert even more fresh water from the Delta. The permitting process for the Delta tunnels is to start Jan. 28. After approving new standards, it plans to place additional conditions on the amount of water the tunnels could divert.

That does not make sense. After water contractors spend upward of $17 billion on the tunnels, they would exert overwhelming political pressure to ensure they get the water they were initially promised. Remember the saying, “Water runs uphill towards money.” That is not a joke; it is California water history.

The question for Water Resources Control Board members is whether they will do their job and establish meaningful standards to protect people and fish before considering approval of these massive tunnels.

Or will they make decisions that will lead to the extinction of salmon and other fish and potentially put people’s health at risk?

Jonas Minton, deputy director of the California Department of Water Resources from 2000 to 2004, is water policy adviser at the Planning and Conservation League. He can be contacted at