Ag Today Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Ag Today

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


Sacramento Bee

Southern California water agency signs $175 million deal to buy Delta islands

By Dale Kasler and Ryan Sabalow

Already viewed with suspicion and hostility in the north state water community, the powerful Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is broadening its reach by purchasing $175 million worth of real estate in the very hub of California’s water delivery network: the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Metropolitan said Monday it has signed a 103-page contract to buy five agricultural Delta islands from Delta Wetlands Properties, a company controlled by Swiss financial services conglomerate Zurich Insurance Group. It represents the most concrete step to date in a controversial deal that has been in the works since fall.

The purchase, which has been approved by Metropolitan’s board of directors, will give the agency a vital asset in the ongoing skirmishes over California’s water as the state struggles to emerge from a four-year drought. The Delta is the estuary through which the State Water Project and the federal government’s Central Valley Project pump billions of gallons of Sacramento Valley water each year to the farmlands of the San Joaquin Valley and the urban residents of Southern California.

Metropolitan has parachuted into enemy territory. Despite denials from Metropolitan, Delta interests have said the south state agency would use the property to execute a “water grab.” George Hartmann, a lawyer for Delta landowners, said he’s prepared to sue if Metropolitan doesn’t honor a slew of land-use restrictions approved by Zurich in 2013.

“It may not be comfortable to have your opponent owning the land next door, but that’s what it is,” Hartmann said.

Even as it’s agreed to make such a hefty investment, Metropolitan still hasn’t finalized its plans for the islands, said Steve Arakawa, the agency’s director of Bay Delta initiatives. It might use at least one of the islands to store dirt and construction equipment for California WaterFix, Gov. Jerry Brown’s controversial $15.5 billion plan to re-engineer the Delta’s plumbing system by building a pair of underground tunnels. Metropolitan is a leading proponent of the tunnels, which are designed to improve the flow of water to the south state.

“We have some good business concepts,” Arakawa said.

The big Southern California agency also is formulating plans to restore some of the islands’ wildlife habitat, on the theory that anything that helps the Delta’s ragged ecosystem will improve the lives of the estuary’s fish and enable the pump operators to ship water more reliably. “Enlightened self interest,” is how Metropolitan General Manager Jeff Kightlinger has described it.

Whatever Metropolitan’s intentions, the land purchase isn’t sitting well with some Delta landowners and Northern California officials, many of whom fear the agency will use the properties to help itself to more water from the Sacramento Valley.

With a $1.8 billion annual budget, Metropolitan has shown the knack for procuring water from all corners of the state. Since 2005 Metropolitan has spent millions of dollars a year paying farmers in the Palo Verde Valley, near the Arizona border, to fallow their land and ship Colorado River water they control to Metropolitan. Rural Californians often invoke the city of Los Angeles’ ability to wrestle water away from the Owens Valley in 1913, a move that was fictionalized in the movie “Chinatown.”

For their part, Delta residents already blame Metropolitan for many of the Delta’s environmental ills, including the alarming drop in fish population, and are skeptical about having the Los Angeles agency owning land in the neighborhood.

“Met is one of the actors that’s responsible for the current destruction and degradation of the Delta ecosystem, through too many years of pumping,” said Hartmann. “They’ve killed a lot of fish….They claim to care about the Delta, but I don’t see how they can get anybody to believe that.”

The suspicions ran deep at Rosa’s at Tower Park, a riverside pizzeria near Bouldin Island, one of the properties being purchased. Melvin Love, who lives on a houseboat nearby, said he worries about the possibility of more water moving south.

“I think the water should stay with the land, it shouldn’t be shipped out,” he said.

Hartmann said he would try to block the deal if Metropolitan doesn’t explicitly agree to honor a lengthy series of legal settlements Zurich Insurance made in 2013 with San Joaquin County and a host of landowner groups in the Delta. There’s no such agreement in Metropolitan’s purchase contract, he said.

Zurich bought Delta Wetlands 20 years ago with the notion of converting the islands, some of which sit below sea level, into giant reservoirs that would store water in wet years and ship it to Southern California when supplies run low. The plan fizzled amid opposition from neighboring Delta landowners and elected officials, and the properties have remained agricultural.

Metropolitan officials said they won’t use the islands as reservoirs. Because of that, the agency believes it isn’t governed by the 2013 settlements made by Zurich, according to Arakawa.

The 2013 settlement put limits on how the Delta islands can be used. Among other things, Hartmann said, the settlement might prohibit Metropolitan from storing “hundreds of thousands and millions of cubic feet” of soil that would get excavated in order to build Brown’s tunnels.

The tunnels would divert a big portion of the Sacramento River’s flow near Courtland and send it about 40 miles south to the state and federal pumping stations near Tracy. Brown administration officials said the diversion would remedy one of the major problems caused by the pumps: They are so powerful they literally can reverse the natural flow in a crucial part of the Delta, killing fish by drawing them toward predators and into the pumps themselves.

Fish problems, and other woes, occasionally force the pumps to reduce or shut down operations. The pumps have been throttled back again in recent weeks to safeguard the Delta smelt, steelhead and other species, to the considerable irritation of water agencies south of the Delta.

The Delta tunnels plan has sparked protests from Delta landowners and Northern California elected officials. The project appeared to hit another hiccup Monday. The U.S. Interior Department’s inspector general said it will “conduct a review” into allegations lodged by a group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which contends the state and federal governments improperly diverted millions of dollars from a habitat restoration project and used the money for environmental studies on the tunnels.

Spokesmen for the federal Bureau of Reclamation and the California Natural Resources Agency said they will cooperate with the review, but declined further comment.

The five islands Metropolitan is buying– Bouldin, Bacon Island, Webb Tract, most of Holland Tract and a small slice of Chipps Island – cover a total of 20,000 acres in San Joaquin, Contra Costa and Solano counties.

Metropolitan previously discussed buying the islands in partnership with a group of agricultural water agencies at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. Kightlinger said recently that Metropolitan continues to talk with those agencies, but the purchase agreement released Monday lists only Metropolitan as the purchaser.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler,



Associated Press

Feds to review if funds mishandled for California tunnels

By Ellen Knickmeyer

SAN FRANCISCO – The federal government will investigate allegations that the state and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation improperly used federal funds for a $15.7 billion tunnel project that would bring water from Northern to Southern California.

The inspector general of the U.S. Interior Department will look into accusations that California took $60 million meant for fish habitat to spend on preliminary work for Gov. Jerry Brown’s project and otherwise mishandled federal funds.

Washington, D.C.-based Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility requested the review on behalf of an unidentified federal employee who raised the allegations.

Press officers for the California Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said Monday that their agencies would cooperate with the inspector general’s review. They declined to comment on the allegations.

Brown’s administration wants to build 30 miles of 40-foot-wide tunnels to carry water from the Sacramento River south to Central and Southern California.

Water districts that would receive the water would pay for the giant tunnels. But key water districts already have paid at least $250 million total on preliminary work for the project and have recently balked at spending more until and unless the project wins full state and federal approval.

Brown’s administration says the tunnels will ensure a more reliable water supply in the drought-stricken state. Opponents fear the tunnels will take too much water out the Sacramento River’s delta with the San Joaquin River.

Opponents and supporters disagree whether the project will further harm dozens of native fish and wildlife in the delta that are protected by endangered-species laws.

The review of the spending would begin this month, Mary Kendall, deputy inspector general for the Interior Department, said Friday.

Six California members of Congress wrote the Bureau of Reclamation in February asking for answers about use of federal funds for the tunnels project. The bureau had not yet responded to the congressional members’ questions but would, spokesman Daniel DuBray said.

If authorities were using money meant for imperiled wildlife on the tunnels project, “that would be a real breach of faith with Congress, and with anyone’s idea of good stewardship,” said U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, a Democrat from the San Francisco Bay Area.



New York Times

Sierra Nevada Snow Won’t End California’s Thirst

By Henry Fountain

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. — Thanks in part to El Niño, snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is greater than it has been in years. With the winter snowfall season winding down, California officials said that the pack peaked two weeks ago at 87 percent of the long-term average.

That’s far better than last year, when it was just 5 percent of normal and Gov. Jerry Brown announced restrictions on water use after four years of severe drought. But the drought is still far from over, especially in Southern California, where El Niño did not bring many major storms.

Despite the better news this year, there are plenty of worrying signs about the Sierra snowpack, which provides about 30 percent of the water Californians use after it melts and flows into rivers and reservoirs, according to the state Department of Water Resources.

Many of those concerns stem from the effects of climate change and the structure of Sierra forests, which can influence how the snowpack accumulates and melts. Because the snow, in effect, serves as a reservoir that is released over time, any changes can affect how much water is available for people, industry and agriculture, and when.

“We’ll be getting more rain and less snow here,” said Roger C. Bales, a professor at the University of California, Merced, and a principal investigator with the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory, which studies snowpack and other water-related issues. “That means less snowpack storage and faster runoff.”

Dr. Bales was standing on a snowy slope in Yosemite last Thursday, at about 7,000 feet elevation, just off a 19th-century wagon road that is used by hikers and snowshoers. Nearby, amid car-size granite boulders and close to a soaring Ponderosa pine, were instruments that he and his fellow researchers use to obtain detailed information about the snowpack in several spots throughout the southern Sierra.

The effects of warmer temperatures can already be seen here, Dr. Bales said.

“Historically, this has been the reliable snow zone, where it accumulates till late March or early April and then melts,” he said. But now the snowpack here is more like that at lower elevations, “where it will accumulate, melt, accumulate, melt,” he said.

Proof was close at hand, as well. Until the last quarter-mile of a two-mile hike here from 6,300 feet, snowshoes were not needed. What snow remained was in small patches.

Similar effects of climate change have been seen throughout the Sierra, including at the Central Sierra Snow Laboratory, which is operated by the University of California at Berkeley near the Donner Pass, about 120 miles to the north. Researchers there still make some measurements the way they have since the lab started in the 1940s, by inserting special metal tubes into the snow.

“We are seeing an ever-increasing percentage of annual and winter precipitation in liquid rather than solid form,” said Randall Osterhuber, who spends winters at the lab. The altitude above which snow accumulates is becoming higher as temperatures warm. “That change in elevation means a lot less terrain is covered in snow.”

Climate change is also expected to increase precipitation in some areas, because warmer air can hold more moisture. But it is not yet clear if that will be the case in the Sierra Nevada.

Snowpack is measured in “snow water equivalent,” or how much water would result if the snow were melted. When snow first falls in the Sierra, it is usually dry and powdery, with about 10 to 12 percent moisture by volume, but as it accumulates and compresses, the moisture content rises to about 40 percent. So 30 inches of snow on March 30 would be equivalent to about 12 inches of water.

The data from Dr. Bales’s instruments will not be downloaded until later in the spring, but just up the slope, other instruments set up by the Department of Water Resources send data continuously to state offices in Sacramento. Last Thursday, they recorded a water equivalent of 18.36 inches. With warm spring temperatures, the snowpack here was past its peak, with the water equivalent declining by more than three inches in less than two weeks.

The Department of Water Resources instruments are set up in a relatively open part of the forest. The observatory’s instruments, by contrast, are near the Ponderosa pine, and there are three of them: one next to the trunk, one a little farther away where water drips from the tips of the branches, and one in the open, about 20 feet away. Other sensors, which are buried, detect how much water is in the ground.

The goal is to gather a complete picture of the snowpack, which is far from a uniform blanket of white. A tree, for example can affect snow cover in several ways, Dr. Bales said. Some snow is caught by the branches and turns directly to vapor. Other flakes melt and the water drips to the ground. The tree trunk itself absorbs sunlight and re-emits it as heat, melting the snow around it. Boulders do the same thing. Even the tiniest pieces of forest litter — needles or bits of pine cones — can heat up in the sunlight and cause melting.

“We’re strategically sampling the landscape,” Dr. Bales said. “We pretty much know what topographic features affect snowpack.” That will give water managers a truer understanding of how much water the snowpack will generate.

Trees also affect the amount of water stored in the mountains simply by growing, sucking up water from the ground. Some of it is used in photosynthesis, but much of it is lost through evaporation and transpiration through the leaves and stems. Dr. Bales and his colleagues study this, too, with instruments atop towers that measure the flow of water vapor from the tree canopy.

The scientists learned that a lot of water was lost through the trees — more than was even thought to be there in some cases. “That told us the precipitation estimates that people had for higher elevations were just plain wrong,” Dr. Bales said.

Warmer temperatures also mean that trees grow faster, and don’t necessarily shut down for the winter. Thus they use more of the melting snow, and over a longer period. That leaves less water to flow into streams and down to reservoirs.

Less snow, earlier melting and faster growth mean that more trees are running out of water in the summer. Mohammad Safeeq, a colleague of Dr. Bales at the university, said that, in general, water was flowing off the mountains two weeks earlier than in the past. “Two weeks in a three-month summer window is significant,” he said.

Water-stressed trees are more susceptible to pests and disease, so one result of the changes is more tree deaths. This is readily apparent at Yosemite in the drive from the valley floor, where the green hillsides are dotted — in some cases in large numbers — with the brown of dead pines and firs.

Contributing to the problem is the fact that there are many more trees here than there used to be. A century ago, Dr. Safeeq said, Yosemite had perhaps 20 trees an acre; now the number is closer to 100. That means more of the melting snowpack never gets off the mountain to the valley below, he said. The greater number of trees is due in part to years of forest agency policies under which small natural fires were quickly extinguished to protect homes and other property in the mountains.

But smaller, less intense fires are nature’s way of thinning the forest, culling trees that are less fire-resistant, said Martha H. Conklin, a Merced professor and another principal investigator with the observatory. Paradoxically, because fire suppression leaves so much timber on the mountains, it can lead to much bigger and hotter fires, like the Rim Fire that burned 250,000 acres in and around Yosemite and destroyed more than 100 structures in 2013.

Fire suppression is a controversial subject in California. But thinning the forest by letting small fires run their course would increase snowpack because more of the snow would reach the ground, and less of the water would be taken up by the trees. That could be, in effect, like adding an entire new reservoir of water in the mountains, rather than building a new billion-dollar reservoir down in the valley.

If small fires were allowed to burn, Dr. Conklin said, “you’d have a forest of a very different structure.” Even the types of trees would eventually change, she said, as species that are better able to resist fire replaced others. “I don’t know if we can ever go back to a forest that has a natural fire regime,” Dr. Conklin said. “It’s very difficult to let a fire burn if you have houses dispersed in the forest.”

But with climate change affecting how much water is available from the mountains, she added, “we have to think about how we’re going to manage these forests.”

Correction: April 12, 2016

An earlier version of this article paraphrased incorrectly what Mohammad Safeeq, a researcher at the University of California, Merced, said about the density of trees in the Sierra Nevada now compared with a century ago. Sierra forests now average about 100 trees an acre, not 250, he said; and a century ago they had about 20 trees an acre, not 80.



Palm Springs Desert Sun

A California farmer who is preparing for climate change

By Ian James

Don Cameron expects farmers will see some of the biggest effects as the climate changes, and he says growers need to take proactive steps to prepare.

For 35 years, he has been the vice president and general manager of Terranova Ranch near Fresno, and he has noticed rising temperatures are starting to push up the times of plantings near the end of the winter. He expects that in the future, climate change will mean less reliable water supplies for farms in California and elsewhere.

Cameron, who is also a board member of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, manages more than 7,000 acres of farmland growing a variety of crops from tomatoes and peppers to wine grapes and almonds. He is one of several featured speakers at the upcoming One Nation: Climate Change forum at the Sunnylands Center and Gardens in Rancho Mirage.

The April 20 event, hosted by The Desert Sun and the USA TODAY NETWORK, will bring together scientists, policymakers, artists and others to discuss climate change and what can be done to address it. Other speakers will include Steve Beissinger, a professor of conservation biology at the University of California, Berkeley; Kelly Sanders, a water and energy expert from the University of Southern California; and Jeff Grubbe, chairman of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

To set the stage for the event, The Desert Sun posed several questions to Cameron by email about climate change and what he thinks can be done to prepare for the impacts on agriculture.

Q: In your experience managing a farm in the Central Valley, how is the warming climate starting to affect agriculture? And in what ways do you think climate change will impact the country’s farms in the future?

A: In managing a farm in Fresno County, one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world, I have seen firsthand the effects of climate change. In 2015, the chilling hours needed for dormancy for pistachios was lacking. In other words, the winter was too warm for the trees to adequately rest during the winter, which disrupted pollination of the trees. The result was that yields were off 35-40% from expected yield. We have also taken advantage of longer, warmer weather in the fall by planting peppers that are not harvested until late October and early November – something unheard of before.

Q:What do you think are the most important steps that should be taken to prepare for the effects of climate change on agriculture?

A: As farmers, we need to be aware of the changes and shift our selections to varieties that are more tolerant to warmer temperatures. There is a wide genetic variety within species and new varieties within crops each year. We need to be looking for varieties that perform well in warmer climates. The selection of crops may have to change as well.

Q: What have you done on your farm to try to prepare for the additional strains that climate change will place on water supplies?

A: In 2011 we initiated a trial for “on-farm recharge” to capture floodwater and place it on actively farmed land with the intent of recharging our underground aquifer. We followed up on the successful trial and now are engaged in a project that when complete will bring up to 1,000 acre-feet of floodwater per day to farmland for recharge of the aquifer. We know that we will see more flood and drought and less snowpack in future years, and that will make our project key to replenishment of groundwater in our basin.

Q: Farms are major water users, and in many areas of the country overpumping of groundwater has led to declining aquifers. What sorts of changes in farming practices or policies do you think hold the greatest potential for helping make agriculture more sustainable in the long run?

A: When we talk about the overpumping of groundwater in California, in 2014 the state legislature passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. What SGMA does is to require local agencies to formulate long-term plans that will be monitored by the California Department of Water Resources to ensure sustainability of their underground water supplies. Simply put, farmers will not be able to pump more water out of an aquifer than can be replaced by either natural recharge or some sort of direct recharge. Replacement of underground pumping with surface water also is possible if surface water is available. However, new sources of surface water are extremely difficult at best to find and have been extremely expensive.

Ian James writes about water and the environment for The Desert Sun. Email: ian.james@desertsun.comTwitter: @TDSIanJames.



Washington Post

Critics say Farm Credit System needs to be reined in

By Thomas Heath

When the federal government created a national group of lenders in 1916 to help U.S. farmers, there was no Cracker Barrel restaurant, no Verizon Communications, no Kluge Estate Winery and nary a car wash in sight. U.S. Cellular was not a blip on the horizon.

A century later, those are just a few of the recipients of cash from the Farm Credit System, a network of banks that was designed to help rural America. Critics charge the cooperative is making some loans that have almost nothing to do with farming.

“They are giving a loan to Cracker Barrel,” said Steve Daggett, chief executive of a small community bank in Minnesota that competes with Farm Credit. “Does anybody really think when Congress set up Farm Credit, it was to make loans to Cracker Barrel?”

Farm Credit has blossomed into a nationwide network of banks with $303 billion in assets and 14,000 employees. Its loans include farmland mortgages, harvest equipment and telephone systems.

Farm Credit and the tax break it receives on its mortgage loan interest has become the target of the private banking industry, whose members say the government-sanctioned rival has crept outside its scope by providing loans for vacation homes, restaurants, car washes and even casinos.

It is also squeezing community banks, the once-lucrative institutions that have seen profits pressured by regulations since the 2008 financial crisis. Community banks want Farm Credit reined in.

Farm Credit’s defenders say it should be judged on its wider accomplishments and not on a few loans cited by critics.

“The mission of the Farm Credit System is much broader than financing production agriculture, just as the future of our rural communities depends on more than agriculture,” said Bob Engel, chief executive of CoBank, one of the biggest banks in the system. “Farmers and ranchers across the country rely heavily on Farm Credit in their business operations, but so do many other businesses that deliver vital services to rural communities.”

As of the end of last year, Farm Credit banks had a loan portfolio of $236 billion, two thirds of which — $157 billion — was money loaned directly to farmers. The rest was various loans to finance rural infrastructure such as power and water, real estate, exports and others loans.

If it were a single bank, it would be the ninth largest financial institution — measured by assets — in the United States.

Armed with a 24-page research paper, the American Bankers Association is calling on the federal government to reduce or eliminate Farm Credit banks’ tax exemption and to narrow the definition of its loans to hew closer to agriculture.

“Farm Credit needs to focus on farmers, and its regulators need to make sure Farm Credit is doing its job,” said Ed Elfmann, vice president at the American Bankers Association.

Congress established the Farm Credit System as a government-sponsored enterprise when it enacted the Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916. In the years since, Congress gradually expanded the system’s portfolio to include businesses related to agriculture, including vehicles, grain elevators and processing plants, and rural infrastructure such as power generators, water systems and telecommunications.

Many of the foods on dinner tables across the United States have benefited from Farm Credit. Land O’Lakes butter, Sunkist oranges, Blue Diamond almonds, even Welch’s grape juice are all food co-operatives financed by Farm Credit.

Farm Credit doesn’t dispute that some of its recipients are not directly related to the farm. But the institution argues that farmers benefit from its loans directly and indirectly.

One of those credits, a $725 million loan to Verizon from a variety of banks, is often cited as being beyond the scope of Farm Credit.

“Does anybody in their right mind think Verizon is a rural co-op,” asked Daggett, the Minnesota banker.

Proponents of Farm Credit point out that communications firms large and small, including Verizon and Frontier, provide land-line voice service, Internet, wireless and other services to rural areas. CoBank said it was actually invited into the deal by the commercial banking industry, with more than 20 U.S. and international banks participating in the loan.

“It is unfortunate that trade associations for the banking industry often ignore the extremely positive and long-standing working relationship that Farm Credit has with commercial banks when they are lobbying Congress or communicating with their members,” said CoBank’s Engel.

To spur loans for farmers who could not get bank credit, the federal government gave Farm Credit banks an exemption on the interest they earn on mortgage loans. Community banks said that puts them at a disadvantage: The interest on other loans is taxed at the federal corporate rate of 28.5 percent.

“We pay a 38.5 percent tax rate in Kansas,” said Leonard Wolfe, president and largest shareholder of United Bank & Trust of Marysville, Kan., a $600 million community bank that goes head-to-head with Farm Credit. “That’s federal and state. They pay neither of those taxes. We work through the first week of July just to pay our tax bill. That is a huge advantage for them. It’s not fair that our third largest expense at a bank is something they really don’t have.”

In 2012, according to the ABA research paper, Farm Credit banks saved about $600 million in taxes out of the $4 billion in earnings as a result of the exemption.

The income earned by the 80 or so Farm Credit banks goes a couple of places. It is either plowed back into the institution or paid to loan customers in the form of a dividend, just like any other cooperative.

Wolfe said his bank will make loans as small as $20,000, while Farm Credit competitors will not make loans less than $1 million.

“They only compete on the big end,” he said.

As a rancher and a banker, John Gross of Wyoming sees both sides of the Farm Credit controversy.

In his role as a fifth-generation cattle rancher, Gross borrows from Farm Credit banks “all the time” because of their favorable interest rates. As chairman of Farmers State Bank in Pine Bluffs, he competes with Farm Credit, which he said he finds discouraging because “those guys don’t pay the taxes the bankers do.”

Farm Credit said the bankers’ gripes are nothing new.

“For 100 years bankers have been trying to put us out of business so they can have the market to themselves,” said Todd Van Hoose, chief executive of the Farm Credit Council, the organization’s lobbying arm.

And for 100 years, the bankers have not succeeded.

But a new assault has started. At a December House Agriculture hearing, Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) expressed concern “about expansion beyond the charter like a loan for a car wash, a vacation home on the Gulf Coast for a farmer, a loan to acquire an exotic hobby farm, and even one for a local restaurant chain.”

One example, according to the ABA, is a Farm Credit bank’s financing in 2012 of a 6,500-square-foot home, situated on 55 acres in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The home, which was purchased by a television producer in California, had a copper fireplace, gourmet kitchen, guest house and equestrian center.

Unfortunately for the lender, the house ended up in foreclosure.



Fresno Bee

Valley ag employers trained to prevent heat illness

By Robert Rodriguez

State labor officials were in Easton on Monday to remind agriculture employers about the dangers of heat illness and how to prevent it.

The Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA, and 12 agriculture groups sponsored the annual training session on the state’s heat-illness regulations.

The training is aimed at farm labor contractors, supervisors and growers. It focuses on how to comply with the law, along with recognizing heat illness and how to respond.

Training is taking place statewide and is being done in English and Spanish.

“Employers at outdoor work sites must know the steps to take to prevent heat-illness injuries on the job,” said Juliann Sum, chief of Cal/OSHA. “Cal/OSHA continues to focus on training and outreach combined with enforcement targeting those employers who put their workers’ safety at risk.”

California’s heat-illness regulations were enacted in 2006 after a series of farmworker deaths because of heat illness.

As part of the law, employers of outdoor workers are responsible for training their employees and supervisors on heat-illness prevention. They also must provide fresh water; access to shade; closely observe employees during heat spikes; and have written procedures for complying with the regulations.

Cal/OSHA officials said the most frequent violation is failure to have a proper written heat-illness plan.

Among the agriculture groups involved in the training sessions are the Nisei Farmers League, the California Fresh Fruit Association and the Fresno County Farm Bureau.

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob,