Ag Today Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ag Today

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


Sacramento Bee

California farmworker families await Supreme Court immigration ruling

By Peter Hecht

UC Davis student Lizbeth Cuevas stood outside the highest court in the land on Monday as the Supreme Court examined whether President Barack Obama can protect as many as 5 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation.

Excited and anxious, Cuevas showed up in Washington, D.C., on behalf of two of those people: her parents, both farmworkers in California.

“My drive and my motivation and my work ethic come from my parents,” said Cuevas, 24, by telephone. She’s due to graduate from UC Davis in June with a degree in human development and has aspirations to work in education, mental health or immigration policy.

Acting on a legal challenge brought by 26 states, the high court is deciding whether parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents can legally stay in the United States and obtain work permits under an executive order signed by Obama. Cuevas appeared outside the court as part of a chanting crowd of farmworker families from California with the hope that her hard-toiling parents will be allowed to stay.

Cuevas’ mother and father will be in the clear if the court upholds Obama’s program, known as Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA. They became eligible for the program because their youngest child, Cueva’s 13-year-old brother, Carlos, is a U.S.-born citizen.

Lizbeth Cuevas, who arrived in California from Michoacán, Mexico, as a small child, was able to work and go to college under a previous Obama executive action, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. She said in a telephone interview from outside the court: “I don’t want anything more than for my parents to have the same opportunities, to not have the fear of being deported.”

Cuevas said her 44-year-old dad was a farmworker in California for 25 years, harvesting lemons, peaches, grapes, strawberries and cherries from Oxnard to Stockton before finding employment in construction. Her mother has moved from farm work to house cleaning. Cuevas doesn’t want their names publicized until they can emerge from the shadows without fear of deportation.

“There is a lot of emotion, a lot of excitement,” she said about the Supreme Court taking up the case.

Obama’s DAPA action has been blocked by a federal district court in Texas as well as the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

As a result, Sacramento immigration lawyer Marien Sorensen said many families that stand to benefit under the Obama executive order are gripped with “anxiety and fear.”

“There is anxiety because time is running out,” Sorensen said. “Obama is on his way out of office. So there is fear, even if there is a positive decision from the court, that there won’t be time to implement” the Obama order. “We don’t know who the next president will be, and there is so much anti-immigrant rhetoric from particular candidates.”

Outside the Supreme Court, Alvaro Martinez, a 28-year-old farmworker from McFarland, said he and his farmworker wife hope for a ruling that will let them stay in California with their American-born daughter, Zuleykha Martinez, 5.

Martinez earns $9 to $10 an hour picking tangerines, grapes, almonds and blueberries in California. He hopes to be able to legally travel back and forth from Mexico so he can visit his father, whom he hasn’t seen in 10 years.

“The president has done a good thing for farmworkers,” Martinez said of the Obama order. “It won’t just benefit me, but thousands of farmworkers. It will give us security and a chance to help our children here and our parents there.”

Also traveling to Washington as part of the gathering organized by the United Farm Workers was Adrian Barajas, 19, of Bakersfield. A U.S.-born citizen, Barajas used to work in the fields. Now he is planning to go to Bakersfield College and then San Diego State University to study economics.

Barajas’ father, Marcelino Barajas, 45, was deported to Mexico a decade ago after being picked up on unpaid traffic tickets. Now the younger Barajas hopes his mom, Maria, 42, an unauthorized immigrant who harvests grapes and prunes vines in Kern County vineyards, can visit her husband in Mexico and also stay in California to see her oldest son succeed.

“I have faith,” said Adrian Barajas, who has three younger siblings, all U.S. citizens.

He said his mom was proud that he went to the rally outside the Supreme Court – but didn’t want to be there herself.

“She was afraid of being deported,” he said.

Peter Hecht: 916-326-5539, @phecht_sacbee,



Fresno Bee

Gerawan Farming asks judges to open ag labor mediation hearings

By Robert Rodriguez

The closed-door process for dealing with disputed labor contracts could be open to the public if a Fresno County farmer, farmworker and several media groups can convince the Fifth District Court of Appeal it’s a First Amendment issue.

A panel of judges will hear the case, Gerawan Farming vs. California Agricultural Labor Relations Board, on Wednesday in Fresno.

The farming company, one of Fresno County’s largest tree and grape growers, has been tangled in a four-year fight with the United Farm Workers union over representing Gerawan workers.

The union won the right to bargain for some of the workers more than 20 years ago, but the ensuing effort to hammer out an agreement has resulted in multiple lawsuits, a months-long administrative hearing and charges of unfair labor practices.

At issue before the court is whether the state process known as mandatory mediation and conciliation should be open to the public. Under state regulations, a hearing is called when an employer and union can’t agree on a contract and a mediator is brought in to settle the dispute. But the hearings that function much like a court hearing are closed to the public.

Gerawan employee Lupe Garcia tried to attend one of the hearings involving the union and the farming company, but was not allowed.

Gerawan officials and media members say it isn’t fair and that excluding the public from the hearing is a violation of the First Amendment.

“The concern is that government is making decisions that affect the public, but without public observation,” said attorney Eugene Volokh, who represents a trio of organizations, including the California Newspaper Publisher’s Association. “Right of access is a huge issue for everyone.”

Volokh, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, has filed a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of the CNPA, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the First Amendment Coalition.

Volokh said in his brief that opening the hearings would help the public understand how the process works and how unions and employers are using the process.

“Such a public presence would also enhance the fairness and quality of MMC fact finding, since the very people whose working conditions are being discussed and altered would be present,” Volokh said in court documents.

Gerawan’s attorney David Schwarz said the public’s interest is not served by keeping the hearings closed.

“The board’s secrecy policy erodes and corrodes worker confidence in the ability of the state of California to do what the ALRA promised – to protect their rights,” Schwarz said.

  1. Antonio Barbosa, executive secretary of the ALRB, declined to comment on the upcoming hearing, saying it does not talk about pending litigation.

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


Fresno Bee

Water flows in Fresno, Visalia for recharge

By Lewis Griswold

For the first time in more than two years, water is flowing inside the Friant-Kern and Madera canals for groundwater recharge and farm irrigation.

But the shimmering liquid that is being shunted from the canals into local ditches does not signal an end to the California drought.

“We’re a long way from the drought being over,” said Gary Serrato, general manager of Fresno Irrigation District. “The snowpack is not even at average. We’re at 75 to 80 percent of average snowpack.”

San Joaquin River water became available to eastside water contractors because the federal Bureau of Reclamation has been releasing water from Millerton Lake into the canals to make room for spring snowmelt.

The flows began mid-March – in bureau parlance, the delivery is composed of 100,000 acre-feet of Class 2 water and 85,000 acre-feet of unreleased restoration flows – and will end by mid-May.

But it’s not the end of San Joaquin River water in local waterways this season.

After two years of no water from the river, the Central Valley Project’s Friant Division contractors are being promised 40 percent of contract amounts, so water will continue to flow for at least a while.

Water managers hope for a boost to the allocation and are closely watching the San Joaquin Delta to see whether the exchange contractors on the lower San Joaquin River will get their Delta water. That would allow eastside farmers and others to get more river water than expected.

“Although the amount of water being stored behind the dam would support a much larger Class 1 allocation, the bureau has chosen to hold off on a larger allocation until it is clear that the exchange contractors can be fully supplied with Delta water,” said Thomas Esqueda, Fresno director of public utilities.

While that drama plays out, water contractors, including Fresno Irrigation District and the city of Fresno, have been putting the early flows to use.

Together, Fresno Irrigation District and the city are receiving 17,400 acre-feet of water, the district said. (That’s enough to fill 174 football fields to a depth of about one foot each.)

Some of the water is going to Fresno’s groundwater recharge basins and water treatment plant, and the rest to farmers for irrigation.

It’s the first time since February 2014 that more than a tiny amount of San Joaquin River water has been sent to Friant contractors, said Steve Ottemoeller, water resources manager for the Friant Water Authority.

“That’s a welcome change from the last two years,” he said.

In Visalia, 500 acre-feet of Friant-Kern water is being run in Packwood Creek, which has not had water for five years.

Tulare Irrigation District gave the water to Visalia for its groundwater-recharge efforts under a city-irrigation district exchange agreement. The run started Thursday and ends Wednesday.

“We get it that we have to recharge our groundwater,” Visalia Mayor Steve Nelsen said.

Starting next year, water being discharged from the city’s wastewater treatment plant that is near drinking-water quality will be given to Tulare Irrigation District for crop irrigation and groundwater recharge, and in turn the district will give water from the Friant-Kern canal to Visalia to use for recharge.

To get the water into the ground, the city and Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District built four check structures on Packwood Creek, upgraded a fifth and expanded a recharge pond.

The project was paid for by a groundwater fee on water bills in Visalia and a grant Kaweah Delta obtained.

Meanwhile, Lower Tule River Irrigation District west of Porterville just finished a 30,000- to 40,000-acre-feet run of Friant-Kern water, general manager Dan Vink said.

“It is sweet” that some of the water came from the unreleased restoration flows, he said. “But we still need the 100 percent allocation.”

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold,



Redding Record Searchlight

BLM gathers information on land-use values

By Damon Arthur

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management wanted to hear from people like Mike Ruffell, so he was glad to oblige them Monday.

Ruffell, an avid mountain bike rider, likes the trails the BLM has built over the past decade or so in the Redding area.

But he prefers the National Park Service trails around Whiskeytown Lake because they are more difficult. He would like to see the same types of trails on BLM land.

“I’d like to see more advanced trails,” Ruffell said.

So like many of the other 60 or so people who turned out at the BLM’s meeting Monday to update its Northwest California Integrated Resource Management Plan, Ruffell filled out a workbook that asks people about how they would like to see BLM lands used.

The workbook consists of a series of maps showing the BLM land in the Arcata and Redding field offices. On a page opposite detailed maps, people are asked to write down comments on their values in that portion of the planning area.

The plan covers the Arcata and Redding field offices, which includes 396,000 acres in eight counties, including Shasta, Tehama and Trinity counties.

Redding Field Office Manager Jennifer Mata said the meeting was the first time she had used that type of meeting format to gather public comment. The information collected will be used to direct decisions on updating the resource management plan, which was last completed in the early 1990s, she said.

The earlier management plan set in motion construction of what became miles of trails on the west side of Redding and in the Swasey Drive and Keswick areas, Mata said.

The BLM will hold “scoping meetings” in the fall to ask more specific questions of those who use BLM land, such as where they would like to see new trails built or whether the BLM should purchase certain pieces of property.

While many at Monday’s meeting, held at the Redding City Hall Community Room, were there to pitch their interest in recreation, Mata said there was a wide range of interests represented at the meeting, including mining and grazing.

Cathy Scott, president of the Horsetown Clear Creek Preserve, said she had heard the BLM was considering allowing dredge mining on some streams on land it manages. So she was there to tell BLM officials she did not want any dredge mining on Clear Creek, where the preserve is located.

Scott said there is no dredge mining proposed on Clear Creek southwest of Redding, but she wanted to make sure the BLM knew her private nonprofit group would be against it.

She also wanted BLM officials to know that she and others with the organization that runs the preserve want to continue to promote environmental education in the Clear Creek area.

“We want to continue the preservation of the creek and continue to use it for nature-related education,” Scott said.

For those who were unable to attend Monday’s meeting, another meeting is planned at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Veterans Memorial Hall, 101 Memorial Drive in Weaverville. The workbooks are also available at the Redding BLM Field Office, 355 Hemsted Drive in Redding.

For more information, contact Lisa Grudzinski, management plan project leader, at 224-2140 or by email at

Damon Arthur covers resources, environment and the outdoors for the Record Searchlight and Facebook @damonarthur_RS 530-225-8226



Monterey County Herald

Salinas Valley farming industry icon George Tanimura dies at 100

By Jim Johnson

Salinas >> An agricultural industry icon and family patriarch who rose from humble beginnings to help build a lettuce-producing and produce shipping giant, George Minoru Tanimura died on Friday at the age of 100.

According to a news release from Tanimura & Antle, the centenarian passed away peacefully at his Salinas home, a few farm fields away from the headquarters of the company he helped found and lead to national prominence. He is survived by his wife of more than 71 years, Masaye, a son, Glenn Tanimura, a daughter, Leslie Morishita, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He is also survived by a brother, Tommy Tanimura, a sister, Rose Yuki, and a sister-in-law, Sachi Tanimura.

A successful grower even before co-founding and helping build the Tanimura & Antle empire, Mr. Tanimura was known for his self-effacing manner, famously calling himself “just a farmer” despite his status in the industry and helping develop innovations such as drip irrigation, vacuum cooling and mechanization. He also earned kudos for his involvement with a range of charities, community organizations, and philanthropy including millions of dollars for the Tanimura & Antle Memorial Library at CSU Monterey Bay.

Tanimura & Antle executive vice president Gary Tanimura, a nephew, remembered the family progenitor as a groundbreaker.

“Our Uncle George was a fearless leader and innovator. We will all miss his profound presence but we know his legacy will live on for generations to come.”

Tanimura & Antle president and CEO Rick Antle praised Mr. Tanimura as a driven but personally engaged man.

“George was an inspiration for all of us at T&A and will be greatly missed,” Antle said. “His life was a series of challenges and victories but that is what gave George his drive to constantly improve and succeed. He took a personal interest in all he met and was happiest when those he mentored advanced their lives.”

Born in San Juan Bautista on July 2, 1915, the eldest of what would be a dozen siblngs, Mr. Tanimura began working in his family’s Castroville iceberg lettuce fields as a grade schooler, took over as the head of his family and its business as a teenager when his father died in the midst of the Great Depression. He and his brothers built a thriving concern before losing everything when he and other family members were sent to an Arizona internment camp during World War II, even as his brothers fought for the U.S. overseas. It was there that he met and married his wife.

Following the war, Mr. Tanimura and his brothers rebuilt the family business from scratch, starting as field laborers on small plots of land in Gilroy before saving up enough to buy an acre of land and steadily building their business. By the late 1940s, Mr. Tanimura and his brothers began working with grower-shipper Bud Antle, and eventually began growing exclusively for the company.

After Tanimura & Antle was founded in 1982, Mr. Tanimura served in a variety of capacities for the company, including co-chairman of the board with Bob Antle, and remained intimately involved in the operation for the rest of his life, including regular visits to Tres Pico Ranch in Huron in the San Joaquin Valley.

In July 2014, Mr. Tanimura celebrated the beginning of his 100th year with a centennial party with more than 600 family, friends and partners outside the company’s headquarters. Later that same year, Tanimura & Antle introduced a lettuce product named George T.’s Special Colossal Romaine Heart after him. Last year, he marked his 100th birthday with a smaller family party.

A viewing will be held on Saturday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Struve & Laporte Funeral Chapel, 41 W. San Luis Street in Salinas, and the funeral will be held on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Buddhist Temple of Salinas, 14 California Street in Salinas.

The family has asked that anyone wishing to honor George Tanimura with a donation should do so with the Tanimura Foundation, P.O. Box 4070, Salinas, 93912.

Jim Johnson can be reached at 831-726-4348.

Jim Johnson covers Monterey County government and water issues for the Monterey Herald. Reach the author at or follow Jim on Twitter: @JimJohnson_MCH.



Wall Street Journal

Farmers Reap New Tools From Their Own High-Tech Tinkering

Robotic machinery, soil-monitoring apps are among homegrown inventions cropping up in the fields

By Jacob Bunge

The green tractor trundling across a Manitoba field with an empty cab looks like it’s on a collision course with Matt Reimer’s combine—until it neatly turns to pull alongside so he can pour freshly harvested wheat into its trailer.

The robot tractor isn’t a prototype or top-of-the-line showpiece. It’s an eight-year-old John Deere that the 30-year-old Mr. Reimer modified with drone parts, open-source software and a Microsoft Corp. tablet. All told, those items cost him around $8,000. He said that’s about how much he saved on wages for drivers helping with last year’s harvest.

Mr. Reimer’s alterations, which he hopes to replicate for other farmers this year, are part of a technology revolution sweeping North America’s breadbasket. Farmers, many of them self-taught, are building their own robotic equipment, satellite-navigation networks and mobile applications, moving their tinkering projects out of machine sheds and behind a computer screen.

This homespun hacking—which sometimes leapfrogs innovations by big equipment companies like Deere & Co. and navigation specialists like Trimble Navigation Ltd.—reflects dwindling farm incomes, the low price of electronic hardware and, sometimes, off-season boredom. Such projects could eventually compete for farmers’ dollars in the farm-technology market, which generates an estimated $2 billion in annual sales, according to data and research firm IBISWorld.

“Even if they release [autonomous tractors] next year, it’s probably going to be 15 years before that technology trickles down to every farm,” said Mr. Reimer, referring to the big farm-equipment companies. What’s more, his version would be “a lot cheaper than if somebody’s got five to 10 engineers working full-time on something like this,” he said. He added that his system doesn’t require altering Deere’s own software or coding.

The engineering-school dropout says he picked up programming from online forums and coursework archived on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s website, though he said he didn’t complete that program either.

Technology is already firmly rooted in modern farming, allowing a shrinking number of farmers to oversee more acres. Advances like auto-steering tractors have freed some farmers to trade futures contracts and gripe about the weather on their smartphones from inside a tractor cab, pausing only to turn and stop their machines. Defectors from Silicon Valley powerhouses like Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. are building software to analyze soil and manage fertilizer use.

A three-year slump in major crop prices, however, threatens the big bet on farm technology by companies like Deere, Monsanto Co. and DuPont Co., which have sunk hundreds of millions of dollars into precision-guided planters and algorithm-powered advice on managing crops—plus cloud-based systems to manage the data. Sliding prices for everything from meat to melons has U.S. net farm income on pace to fall to $54.8 billion this year, down 56% from 2013 and the lowest level since 2002, according to government forecasters.

Kinze Manufacturing Inc., an Iowa-based farm-equipment maker, is working on driverless tractors, including a system that allows several to load grain on the same field. Kinze continues to invest in the research, but Phil Jennings, service manager at the company, said turning a profit from such cutting-edge machinery gets harder when the price of corn, the most widely grown U.S. crop, is at less than half its summer 2012 peak.

With less money to spend, some farmers say they can build their own tools, suited to their farms, at a lower cost.

“Poverty is the mother of invention,” said Jim Poyzer, 65, who returned to farming six years ago after a few decades in computer programming. During the winter months four years ago Mr. Poyzer began tinkering with a microprocessor, eventually developing a system to monitor and adjust how many seeds his planter places in his fields near Boone, Iowa. The system tailors the flow of seeds to the soil’s ability to produce healthy crops.

He estimates the system’s cost at about $750, versus commercial versions that retail for around $5,000, and says it helped him save about $1,000 a year on seeds. “That’s not much, but farmers are trying to optimize everything,” he said.

Now, Mr. Poyzer is working on other projects, like a solar-powered sensor to monitor soil temperature that he says could help him get a jump on planting.

Some companies, including Deere, have taken steps to prevent anyone from modifying the software that runs their equipment, and also warn that altering a tractor’s systems could put farmers and workers at risk. Deere uses copyrights and other intellectual-property measures to protect its software.

“We always have producers wanting to build on top of those solutions. I think it’s a great thing,” said Cory Reed, head of Deere’s intelligent solutions group. But when it comes to Deere’s software, Mr. Reed said, “there has to be a limit, both for regulatory safety and for proprietary reasons.

Deere doesn’t object if farmers create their own systems to work with Deere equipment, without altering the company’s embedded software, so long as these meet industry standards, he said.

Some farmers-turned-techies aim to reap profits on their innovations. Dirt Tech, a startup run by two farmers and two software engineers, is developing a range of mobile applications that help map soil fertility across farmers’ fields, or mark rocks to avoid damage to machinery or allow for yanking them out. The Elbow Lake, Minn., company’s apps have been downloaded more than 4,500 times.

“We really enjoy solving these problems,” said Ben Brutlag, a co-founder of the company who raises corn, soybeans and sugar beets near Wendell, Minn. But, he said, “we’re definitely trying to make some better money at it.”