Ag Today Thursday, June , 2016

Ag Today

Thursday, June , 2016


KCBX Radio, San Luis Obispo

Fear could be one reason for ongoing field worker shortage at Central Coast farms

By Geovanni Ximénez-García

California’s Central Coast is suffering from an ongoing farm worker shortage.

Undocumented workers in the Santa Maria Valley have told KCBX that fear over a recent arson incident at a Nipomo farmworker housing project and multiple immigration (ICE) raids may be contributing to the shortage.

Jose, who asked that we only use his first name, has worked in agriculture in Santa Maria for 20 of his 40 years as a field hand. He became a U.S. citizen decades ago.

He told KCBX that after the raids and rumors about increased deportations, many undocumented workers are scared and living in a climate of fear.

“Now that we have the ICE facility, there’s a lot of uncertainty among the people,” Jose said. “They’re fearful of being deported, or of losing their jobs.”

Despite this fear, some still choose to work because they have to feed themselves or their families, he said. Others, however, make a different choice.

“Well many have chosen to move somewhere else. Many people have gone to Nebraska, Texas and other states, looking to leave the uncertainty that exists here,” Jose said.

This exodus of workers has growers concerned too. Claire Wineman is the president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties.

She works with several farmers in the area and confirmed to KCBX, there is indeed a worker shortage.

“Locally, our members have consistently been reporting labor shortages particularly in harvest job opportunities in the range of 20 to 25 percent,” Wineman said.

She said that’s in line with the average in California. Because of this, some of her members reported losses last year, because crops went unharvested. In 2014, that amount was more than $11 million here on the Central Coast alone.

“When you’re growing the crops that we grow locally, they’re highly perishable and very sensitive to the timing of when they are being harvested,” said Wineman. “It’s very important to have labor available when that crop is ready to be harvested.”

In addition, Jose explained that many companies he works for have had to scale down their production because of fewer workers.

“Some farmers that I know, have had to reduce the quantity of land that they cultivate, especially with strawberries because it’s one of the crops that requires the most manual labor,” he said.

To help offset the worker problem, some farmers are turning to the guest worker program, also known as H-2A, which keeps more workers in the general labor pool for all farmers.

“We have seen a benefit in that, in a slight reduction in the labor shortage with the incorporation of the H-2A guest workers in our community,” Wineman said.

However, some don’t think this is a complete solution. Jose believes two of the challenges of this program are the time and money needed to bring and train guest workers, many of whom, he said, don’t have experience.

“It’s very demanding for them not being as productive. So at the end of the day, you need two guest workers to do the same job as someone who’s already familiar with the work,” said Jose. “In the long run, it’s more expensive.”

Another issue of the H-2A program is the current inability to quickly meet the demands of employers, especially given the crop’s high perishability, Wineman said.

She said immigration reform with a focus on agriculture might be a possible long-term solution.

“Unfortunately, we haven’t seen that labor consistently be available through the H-2A program due to a variety of factors causing delays,” Wineman said. “Certainly, in the long-term we would be looking for federal immigration reform that has a agricultural guest worker provision.”

Like Wineman, Jose says the only way to address this shortage and undocumented workers’ concerns is through a federal reform.

“One of the solutions that we want as Latinos is a comprehensive immigration reform in which these workers can have their full rights. Perhaps then they would also be subject to fewer abuses,” he said.

Hazel Davalos from Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) agrees.

“Locally, we are dealing with a labor shortage, but although this is a local problem it is very much related to national and federal policy around immigration enforcement.” Davalos said.

For local farm workers, CAUSE and allied organizations are working to pass a farm worker bill of rights in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, Davalos said.

This bill of rights addresses issues like overwork, health and safety concerns, and wage theft, she said.

“These examples of attacks on farm workers really make the case for how vulnerable they are, and how much they need increased protection as a vulnerable workforce,” Davalos said.

The organizations are still waiting for the Boards of Supervisors in both counties to put the issue on their agendas so it can be put to a vote.



Santa Maria Times

Planners approve farmworker housing project

By Kenny Lindberg

The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission unanimously approved a farmworker housing project Wednesday capable of housing up to 600 people under the federal H-2A program.

The project, which is the first of its kind in the region, faced little opposition from the commission, with questions mostly contained to limited bathroom facilities and the lack of a safety and security plan.

“I think it’s a better project than what I first read, so I’m impressed with that,” said Commissioner Cecilia Brown. “The conditions for the workers will be pretty good.”

The federal H-2A program allows employers who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign nationals to the country to fill temporary agricultural jobs, provided they file the necessary forms, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The foreign nationals are not considered undocumented.

In agricultural industry, the need for such workers is significant, as the supply of available workforce does not meet the current demand.

For Betteravia Farms, which also operates Bonipak, the need for the housing project is important, as the company faces a yearly employee shortage of up to 600 laborers, according to the applicant.

The project will house up to 600 men in 30 bunkhouses, measuring 1,443 square feet. Women will not live at the site, according to the applicant.

Each bunkhouse will include two bathrooms, satisfying both state and federal requirements.

But Commissioner Marell Brooks still expressed concern.

“I just don’t think there are adequate facilities for the number of people that are going to be there,” Brooks said.

Commissioner Daniel Blough had a different take.

“We do a lot of functions, charity functions like that, and there’s always a line to the women’s bathroom but never a line to the men’s bathroom,” Blough said. “We don’t take that long.”

The commissioners also expressed concern over public safety, since the proposal calls for only one person to manage the site. In response, staff recommended that the commission encourage the applicant to work with the Sheriff’s Office on a security plan.

Joe Leonard, representing the applicant, said Betteravia Farms has only had three instances in the last three years where H-2A workers have caused trouble.

“In that time, we’ve had three employees that we’ve had to ship back to Mexico, in essence,” Leonard said. “If they break our laws, if they cause any trouble for us, we move them back. Now it wasn’t for a crime on the community, it was for drug use.”

Hazel Davalos, organizing director for the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, or CAUSE, was one of the most vocal opponents of the project during the public comment period.

“This labor camp is being placed far away from residential areas, the way we would put a sewage plant, a landfill or a jail, but these are hundreds of human beings,” Davalos said.

“We understand the struggle of dealing with the labor shortage, but if growers want more workers and expect the children of farmworkers to want to work in the fields, they should pay and treat people better,” Davalos said. “If they’re not willing to do that, and want to bring in H-2A workers, they should provide decent housing, not farming labor camps in the middle of nowhere.”

Geographically, the project is located west of Orcutt, at 3650 Highway 1, approximately 1 mile northwest of the intersection of Highway 1 and Black Road.

The project will include a number of amenities, available only to the farmworkers, including three small soccer fields, basketball hoops, lounging areas and televisions connected to satellite TV. Internet access also will be available in the buildings.

Impressed, Commissioner Brown said the conditions were better than what she had in the U.S. Navy.

“My first career I was in the Navy and my boot camp, living in 50-year-old barracks, wasn’t as good as what these guys are going to get,” Brown said.

Each H-2A worker will be paid $11.89 per hour, significantly higher than the $6 per day wage some workers in Mexico get, according to a representative of the applicant.

Commissioner Larry Ferini, appointed by 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam, participated in the vote and discussion despite the fact that his uncle, Robert Ferini, is the owner and applicant.

Commissioner Larry Ferini, appointed by 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam, participated in the vote and discussion despite the fact that his cousin, Robert Ferini, is the owner and applicant, and his uncle is Patrick Ferini, whom Larry worked under for 20 years.

“I worked for him from 1975 until 1995, both for Betteravia Farms and Bonipak,” Larry Ferini said. “Since my departure then, I have not received any income from him or his businesses and this project will not have a financial effect on any of my financial interests.”

Bonipak laid off almost 300 employees in March, after an investigation by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services found that they did not have proper Social Security numbers.

Kenny Lindberg covers Santa Barbara County for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter.



Sacramento Bee

California officials say Delta tunnels won’t harm north state water users

By Ryan Sabalow

With months of contentious hearings ahead this summer, state and federal officials this week filed documents laying out their case that construction of two huge tunnels through the heart of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta would not harm north state water users.

In late July, the State Water Resources Control Board will begin a series of hearings to determine whether work can begin on the $15.5 billion tunnels project championed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

In the first set of hearings, focused on water rights, the state Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will aim to convince regulators that the tunnels won’t take water that belongs to north state water-rights holders, or harm the quality of Delta water.

A second series of hearings, expected to begin early next year, will address the question of whether the tunnels, as proposed, would harm fish and the environment. The hundreds of documents filed Tuesday address only the water-rights issues.

California WaterFix, as the project is formally known, has met with opposition from Delta landowners, as well as many environmental groups and Northern California elected officials who contend the tunnels would further degrade the sensitive estuary and enable south state cities and farms to pump water that doesn’t belong to them.

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, state officials said their new filing shows those concerns are unfounded.

John Laird, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, said that without the project, the Delta ecosystem will continue to degrade, and environmental restrictions that regularly slow the pumping operation will only get worse. As it stands, Delta water deliveries often are interrupted to keep fish from dying at two massive government pumping stations, even during major storms when rivers are rushing.

The two government-run plants in the south Delta pump a major share of the water supply for 3 million acres of farmland in the San Joaquin Valley and 25 million people in Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area.

“We believe that WaterFix mitigates the risk to our water supply due to climate change and earthquakes, and protects and restores the Delta ecosystem, and offers clean and secure water for much of California,” Laird said. “Without this, California and the state’s economy risk devastating losses of water supply.”

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, a group staunchly opposed to the project, said the assertions made in the documents were “borderline fraudulent.” She scoffed at the notion that the tunnels wouldn’t take water from north state farms and cities.

The state plan calls for creating three new intakes on the east bank of the Sacramento River near the north Delta town of Hood. Each of the intakes – screened to prevent fish from entering – would be able to funnel as much as 3,000 cubic feet per second out of the river, but state officials say they wouldn’t keep the intakes wide open all the time. Use would fluctuate based on river conditions and the needs of wildlife and downstream users, they said.

The gravity-fed system would channel water for 30 miles to the Clifton Court Forebay in the south Delta near Tracy. The plan calls for modifying the forebay to make pumping safer for endangered fish.

The water board hearings start July 26 in Sacramento.

Ryan Sabalow: 916-321-1264, @ryansabalow,



New York Times

Trans-Pacific Partnership Supporters Pin Hopes on Lame-Duck Vote

By Jackie Calmes

WASHINGTON — The same harsh politics that have spawned obituaries for President Obama’s signature trade agreement between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations could actually help win its ratification in Congress in a lame-duck vote late this year, advocates are hoping.

The cause of free and open trade has not faced such political toxicity in decades, with Donald J. Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders all openly hostile to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest regional trade accord in history. But supporters’ seemingly perverse calculation is this: The certainty that Mr. Obama’s successor would abandon the agreement gives new impetus for advocates to begin maneuvering toward a vote before 2017.

That dynamic, along with recent behind-the-scene developments assuaging some fence-sitters’ concerns – on Japanese pork subsidies, Mexican labor rights and financial companies’ data, notably — is keeping hope alive for advocates from the White House to the Republican-controlled Congress, and in pro-trade business and agriculture groups.

“Right now you have a president, a majority leader and a speaker who are all pro-trade,” Mr. Obama’s trade ambassador, Michael B. Froman, said in an interview, reflecting a seize-the-moment recognition of the changed lineup ahead.

He is not alone in that reckoning, although many people in both parties declined to be quoted by name given the tenuous politics of the issue. Besides a new president, the Senate could have a new majority leader next year, Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, if Democrats win control, and he is unlikely to promote an issue that so divides the union-friendly party.

“There is a pathway forward here,” Mr. Froman said. “And what we’re trying to do right now is just maximize the likelihood that we’ll be able to walk down that path successfully.”

Whether that is wishful thinking or a real prospect will have to come into focus well before November because supporters would likely need to begin congressional hearings in September to clear the path for a vote in the lame-duck session of Congress after Election Day.

Months ago, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader who is pro-trade but worried about keeping Republican seats, ruled out a vote before the election. The so-called T.P.P. would phase out thousands of tariffs, open markets and impose new trade rules, including for labor rights and environmental standards, on signatory nations that span both sides of the Pacific, including Japan, Vietnam, Australia, Canada, Chile and Mexico.

And Mrs. Clinton appears to have put her finger on the scale against a vote in the lame-duck session. Asked by an anti-T.P.P. group if she would oppose a lame-duck vote on the accord if elected, Mrs. Clinton responded, “I have said I oppose the T.P.P. agreement — and that means before and after the election.”

Representative Sander Levin of Michigan, House Democrats’ point person on trade, was blunt. “T.P.P. cannot pass this session as negotiated,” he said.

“There were always major problems as they negotiated it,” he added, “so I don’t want people to think it’s simply because of the presidential race.”

Indeed, Mr. Obama acknowledged he faced an uphill push when the agreement, in the works since the George W. Bush administration, was announced in October. The hostility toward trade agreements has built over decades as manufacturing jobs shifted overseas and middle-income wages stagnated.

Those politics have only grown more toxic, stoked by anti-trade blasts from Mr. Trump in the Republicans’ nomination contest and Mr. Sanders in his challenge to the Democrats’ front-runner, Mrs. Clinton. Pressured by Mr. Sanders, Mrs. Clinton turned on the agreement she had praised as the “gold standard” during negotiations.

Not since the Depression has a Republican nominee opposed free trade and favored high tariffs on imports, but Mr. Trump’s hard line potentially threatens Mrs. Clinton’s support in manufacturing states. He has called the Pacific agreement “the biggest betrayal in a long line of betrayals where politicians have sold out U.S. workers” — a stance that separates him from the Republican Party’s highest-ranking elected official, pro-trade Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who so far has declined to endorse Mr. Trump.

Mrs. Clinton, by her stand, has forsaken the New Democrat trade legacy that her husband as president and now Mr. Obama forged for their less-than-receptive party by introducing labor, human rights and environmental protections into trade agreements.

Trade supporters have long counted on action in a lame-duck Congress. But they did not count on Mr. Trump being the nominee. His election could likely doom the accord, T.P.P. advocates concede, by dissuading Republican leaders from advancing an issue their party’s standard-bearer so opposes. But some Republicans do not rule out a vote, because, they say, the deal deserves consideration or because Mr. Trump will not be elected.

Even a lame-duck strategy necessitates some action before the election. Under the terms of trade legislation that helped Mr. Obama complete the accord, Congress must hold public hearings on the agreement before it is voted on, and a lame-duck session would not provide enough time for committee action and House and Senate debates.

Mr. Obama, in Vietnam recently, predicted that Congress would ratify the accord. A big reason for administration confidence is that Congress a year ago narrowly voted to give the president so-called trade-promotion authority, which puts T.P.P. on a legislative fast track, ruling out amendments and requiring just 51 votes in the Senate, not 60.

And with T.P.P. in hand, supporters are pointing to potential gains for American exporters. “We think there’s some opportunity to pick up some people, given the specific benefits to their districts,” Mr. Froman said.

For example, supporters hope the strong backing of beef producers and other agriculture groups will hold down defections among House Republicans in rural districts who fear Mr. Trump’s backlash.

“T.P.P. is going to take our tariff rate from 38½ percent to 9 percent” for American beef sold in Japan, said Kent Bacus, director of international trade for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. That would erase Australia’s advantage in Japan since the two nations reached a separate trade agreement last year, costing American exporters roughly $300 million in market share.

Agriculture groups will hold pro-T.P.P. events in lawmakers’ districts this summer, Mr. Bacus said. “They’re going to listen to their constituents. We’re not going away,” he said.

Mr. Froman for months has been meeting with lawmakers to address their complaints and with other nations’ trade ministers, to goad their countries to act on their T.P.P. commitments now – on labor rights, for example – so that he can reassure Congress’s doubters.

Mexico’s president recently sent legislation to his Congress that would address American complaints about its restrictions on unions. Such reforms have been a priority of Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the pro-trade lead Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee responsible for T.P.P., although they are unlikely to satisfy most American unions.

Just last week, the administration, the financial services industry and its backers in Congress settled on a policy addressing other nations’ requirements for local storage of companies’ financial data abroad. The administration also has allayed concerns among dairy groups and among pork producers concerned about new subsidies in Japan for its industry.

That leaves one main issue to settle, supporters say, over provisions reducing American pharmaceutical companies’ monopoly control of advanced drugs known as biologics. The industry opposes the change and has a prime ally: Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah and chairman of the Finance Committee.

In a statement, Mr. Hatch said, “If the president wants T.P.P. to be approved, he will need to work with Congress to address concerns. I’m hopeful that, at the end of the day, I, along with many of my colleagues, will be able to support a strong T.P.P.”

His House counterpart, Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, in a statement extolled the agreement. But he said he would “continue to work with the administration to resolve members’ outstanding concerns.”

Find out what you need to know about the 2016 presidential race today, and get politics news updates via Facebook, Twitter and the First Draft newsletter.

Follow Jackie Calmes on Twitter @calmesnyt.



Chico News & Review

Stakeholders call for more time on countywide conservation plan

By Evan Tuchinsky

Colleen Cecil remembers when she first started learning about the Butte Resource Conservation Plan. Back in 2008, she wasn’t even Colleen Cecil; she was Colleen Aguiar—yet to be married, yet to be a mother (not once, but twice). She did have her current job, executive director of the Butte County Farm Bureau, and it was in that capacity that she regularly attended meetings conducted by the Butte County Association of Governments.

BCAG, which comprises the county and its municipalities, decided to consolidate a number of planning and permitting processes. The Butte Regional Conservation Plan (BRCP) would serve both as a federal Habitat Conservation Plan (under the Endangered Species Act) and a state Natural Community Conservation Plan (under Fish and Game Code).

Thus, once approved by all agencies, not only would the plan enable BCAG members to offer a streamlined application for construction permits, it also would establish a countywide policy for preservation encompassing myriad varieties of wildlife. The plan would span 50 years.

Obviously, crafting such an expansive document is no small feat. BCAG held 47 meetings and three community workshops before releasing a draft for public comment last fall. Cecil was a mainstay; she even attended while on maternity leave, recalling fondly how former Butte County Supervisor Jane Dolan, chairing a meeting, held her newborn.

With all the opportunities for input, BCAG Planning Manager Chris Devine expected feedback during the comment period—which ends Wednesday (see info box)—as opposed to opposition.

He got both.

The Farm Bureau, representing growers and ranchers, raised significant issues with the plan. Preservation groups weighed in with species-specific concerns.

Even the Chico Chamber of Commerce got involved—first asking for an extension of the comment period (which BCAG granted), and now requesting a more inclusive draft that would add another year or two to the approval process.

“Slow the eight-year process down,” Cecil summarized, then laughed.

Cecil doesn’t object to deeper consideration: “I think it’s now people who haven’t been as involved up to this point realizing that this is a big deal, maybe we should slow it down and really understand it. That’s great; I’m all for that.

“Our challenge [as the Farm Bureau] from the beginning has been the size and scope of the project. It has always been marketed as this great tool to benefit development … However, mitigation for development is only one-third of the project; two-thirds of the entire document’s purpose is conservation for the sake of conservation.”

Conservation itself is not the problem, Cecil continued: “We all live here and enjoy the open space that we have … Farmers are the first environmentalists; we’re the stewards of the land and always have been.” The ag community takes umbrage at “a plan that’s written that has the potential to make agriculture second to conservation in a county where farming is what we do.”

As a prime example of precedence, Cecil cites easements for giant garter snakes. The BRCP calls for 23,000 acres of rice fields set aside as habitat. Farmers agreeing to this easement still would grow rice; however, the arrangement would bind the land in perpetuity.

“Look back 50 years ago: What did agriculture look like, versus what it looks like today?” Cecil posed. “To think that in 50 years it is going to look exactly the same is naive and unfortunate.”

Devine said BRCP authors already have incorporated the rice-easement concern, reducing the initial target of 50,000 acres, and will consider all such feedback when making revisions.

“At the same time,” he added, “we’ve got these state and federal agencies we’re trying to address under the plan.” Development will be regulated “whether the plan’s in place or not.”

Devine anticipates at least six months before BCAG’s board—the five county supervisors plus one council representative per city/town—could vote on the plan. Extensive revisions will take months and also trigger a new 90-day period for public comment.

The Chico Chamber wants even more time. Chamber President Katie Simmons submitted a letter April 27, following study trips to Bay Area locales with habitat conservation plans, that calls for renewed discussion among interested parties orchestrated by an independent facilitator.

The business group has not taken a position on the BRCP’s content itself, Simmons says; rather, “this is just the chamber stepping way back, almost looking at this from the 30,000-foot level, and saying we see a lot of unrest, we see a lot of concern, we’re hearing from some of our members that there are some flaws in the plan—some of them are hiring third parties or attorneys to work through some of those technical issues—and if this passes now, it could potentially fragment stakeholders who are going to need to work together to make this plan successful.”

Natalie Carter, executive director of the Butte Environmental Council, also sees benefit from deliberation. Noting that the BRCP’s 50-year term exceeds the general plans of both Butte County and Chico, she says, “it’s smart to be cautious about these kinds of things—thoughtful and evaluative.”

On the BRCP overall, Carter said, “the concept and the core of it is a really strong thing, and wonderful. It’s a remarkable effort that should be appreciated by our community.”



Stockton Record

El Niño rains bring heavy losses to cherry growers

By Reed Fujii

Intermittent spring storms that helped bring California to near normal rain this year also caused heavy damage to the state’s valuable cherry crop, area farmers and packers reported Monday.

Richard Sambado of Prima Fruitta Packing in Linden, which shipped out the last of this year’s crop Monday, said statewide totals will be down by one-third of initial estimates.

“The state estimated 8.1 million (18-pound) boxes. It’s going to come in around 5.1 million due to multiple weather events the past six weeks,” he said.

Bill Mahan, who farms about 8 acres of cherries in Linden, said his crop came in light and he lost most of what he had to bad weather.

“It rained late and cracked the cherries,” he said. “I don’t know anybody who had a decent crop.”

Rain on ripe and near-ripe cherries causes the fruit to swell and burst their skins, making them unsalable.

“For the majority of the people, it was terrible,” said Tom Gotelli of O-G Packing outside Stockton.

“We didn’t get good pollination weather,” he said, resulting in a light fruit set. “Then the people who did have cherries, they had a lot of damage.”

He said O-G shipped about 60 percent of the volume it had initially estimated for this season.

Weather reduced the cherry harvest throughout the Central Valley, from early varieties produced in the southern San Joaquin Valley to the traditional late-season Bing variety grown though Linden, Stockton and Lodi. San Joaquin County typically leads the state in cherry production.

Sambado said the state’s Bing crop was expected to be around 2.3 million boxes.

But heavy rain and winds in early March during the cherry bloom affected pollination.

”Then you go through multiple weather events in April and capped off with rain in May …, that took that 2.3 million box estimate to around roughly 1.1 million (boxes),” he said.

Hopes had been high for a better crop when El Niño brought heavier rain and cooler weather during the winter.

“The past winter was a much better winter for chill hours,” Sambado said. “You need good chill hours to set a better crop.”

Cold weather puts deciduous crops, such as cherries, into a winter dormancy that sets up the trees for strong growth and bloom in the spring.

“We want the rain but not when it’s cherry season,” Gotelli said.

In the most recent estimates available, San Joaquin County also had a down year for cherries in 2014, when production was pegged at less than 24,000 tons, worth an estimated $86 million.

The county produced nearly 45,000 tons, worth $144 million, in 2013, the county Agricultural Commissioner’s Office reports.

— Contact reporter Reed Fujii at (209) 546-8253 or Follow him on Twitter @ReedBiznews.