Ag Today Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Ag Today

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


Del Norte Triplicate

Water regulations: California monitoring mandate draws fire

By David Anderson

While the rest of California may still be struggling with drought, Del Norte County is not. And, that has some local officials questioning why the state wants to apply the same tighter water regulations here as elsewhere.

A new regulation requiring water diversion permit holders to monitor withdrawal beyond what they are currently doing — down to the acre-feet-per minute — is drawing fire from Del Norte County Supervisor Chris Howard and other stakeholders because new monitoring systems could cost thousands of dollars to install.

“Is it really necessary in a community where there has never been a drought?” asked Howard during a recent interview from his office at Alexandre Dairy.

Howard said Alexandre’s pumps their water from the Smith River. The farm boasts the oldest water diversion system on the river with a “pre-1914 water right,” he said.

Howard said currently the farm measures its water diversion by a device inside the intake pipe that spins like a propeller, measuring the water pumped in acre feet.

“It records the amount of water mechanically like an odometer,” Howard said. “We read it at the start of the year and then at the end. Then we report to the state how much we diverted.

“What the state has said… depending on the acre feet used, we want your device to measure by the day, the hour and the minute.”

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown, in reaction to the unprecedented drought, signed Senate Bill 88 into law. The bill, called the Emergency Regulation for Measuring and Reporting the Diversion of Water requires license and permit holders who divert more than 10 acre-feet — approximately 3.2 million gallons — of surface water annually to install measurement devices or establish some means of tracking their diversion.

The bill also authorizes the State Water Board to adopt regulations on how diversions are measured, said Charles R. Delgado, assistant legislative director for the Water Resources Control Board.

In Del Norte County, there are currently 290 water rights permits that meet this criteria. About 167 are active.

Delgado said the water board subsequently adopted the new regulations in January and they went into effect in March.

California’s unprecedented four-year drought continues in some parts of the state, but not in Del Norte County.

Yet, the state’s Water Resource Control Board emergency drought regulations remain in force carrying mandatory water use reductions and stiff fines for failing to conform.

Howard said Alexandre’s measuring system works perfectly and they have never had an issue. Installing a new device would cost several thousand dollars and they would have to run electricity out to the sight of the diversion. He said he has no idea how much that could cost.

Last April, a letter from the Del Norte Resource Conservation District, a group created by local stakeholders to represent the water rights of the North Coast, was sent to John O’Hagan, deputy director of the Water Resources Control Board asking for special considerations because of the unique conditions in this region.

The letter said in part, “the Del Norte Resource Conservation District understands SB88 gives the Board authority to determine feasibility, to exercise good judgment in dealing with remote areas and accept valid alternate methods of compliance…. for these reasons, the Del Norte Resource Conservation District requests that the Board allow the County and its 167 active diverters to continue reporting as they have prior to the implementation of SB88, by considering, current annual reporting standards and methodologies in use to provide accurate measurement within an acceptable range of error.”

The letter ads, “Del Norte County is one of the few areas in California with an adequate water supply. Droughts, while severe climatically, have not resulted in the level of water supply shortfalls in Del Norte County that other areas of California routinely experience. For these reasons, the Del Norte Resource Conservation District wishes to explore meaningful options with the Board and staff in recognizing our unique area and allowing diverters to continue monitoring and reporting as provided prior to SB88.”

Crescent City Public Works Director Eric Weir backs the efforts of the Del Norte Resource Conservation District. Weir said, “We want to make our voices heard at the state level. Northern California has a very different weather pattern from Southern California. In 2015, we have been well above normal. Everything is getting recharged. Shasta (Lake) is almost full. And there is a good snow pack.

“Our argument is this,” Weir said. “If we are really dry, then we’ll reduce water usage. But to have the regulation across California when here in Del Norte and Humboldt counties we’re not in a drought doesn’t make sense. We shouldn’t have to adhere to any unnecessary regulation.”

State officials said they are aware of the need to take another look.

George Kostyrko, public information officer for the Water Control Board, said the state plans to re-evaluate the regulations at the end of the “water year.”

“Most of the precipitation has fallen by the end of April,” Kostyrko said. “The board has made a commitment to take action,” in the spring.

Howard said, “To my knowledge we (the Del Norte Resource Conservation District) have not yet been contacted,” since sending the letter.

Reach David Anderson at



Santa Maria Times

Planners to review farmworker housing plan

By Kenny Lindberg

Betteravia Farms may get its wish Wednesday when the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission considers its application for a farmworker project capable of housing 600 people under the federal H-2A program.

The project, which, according to county staff is by far the largest of its kind, consists of 30 bunkhouses at full build-out, capable of providing sleeping quarters and bathing facilities for 20 laborers each.

County staff recommends that the project be approved.

While a maximum of 600 workers could live at the site, also known as the Curletti Farm Employee Housing Project, a representative for the owner predicts that the average occupancy will be 450 workers, according to a staff report.

The project is certainly one the company needs, according to Joe Leonard, chief executive officer of Betteravia Farms.

“Depending on crop production, the shortage of employees ranges from 200 to 600 per harvest,” Leonard said in a letter to county staff.

Betteravia Farms, which also operates under the name Bonipak, is one of the North County’s largest agricultural producers with approximately 8,500 acres under production and annual revenues close to $100 million, according to Leonard.

“In order to ensure a successful harvest, alternatives for a secure source of labor is needed,” he said.

The 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 on behalf of a prospective worker, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

H-2A workers are not considered undocumented.

While not within Santa Maria’s city limits, City Manager Rick Haydon weighed in on the project.

“The city supports the H-2A guest worker program, however, H-2A guest worker housing makes more sense when located on farms near where the farmworkers are employed,” he said.

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.

Claire Wineman, president of the Grower-Shipper Association, also supports the project.

“This project helps to address a tremendous need for agricultural guest workers to perform essential and time- sensitive job functions,” she said. “The project will improve the ongoing agricultural labor shortage not only for the project applicant, but will also indirectly benefit others by expanding the labor force.”

In accordance with the H-2A program, the applicant and owner Robert Ferini will provide farmworkers with the necessary transportation needed to get to and from the workplace.

In a recent development, the applicant through his agent, identified changes to the project, which include recreational amenities available only to the farmworkers.

The amenities include three small soccer fields, the installation of basketball hoops, lounging areas and televisions connected to cable. Internet access will also be available in the buildings.

Each bunkhouse is 1,443 square feet in size and includes four lavatories, two toilets and two showers. Three common houses, providing cooking and laundry areas for 200 laborers each, also are included in the proposal.

The project will require one manager to live on site, which a representative from the county’s Sheriff’s Office argued might not be enough.

“We are concerned that the applicant has not properly addressed the project’s potential impacts upon public safety resources, said Craig Bonner, commander of the North County Operations Division. “We are further troubled by the submitted plan’s indication that a single on-site manager will be responsible for maintaining oversight and control of the high-density housing facility that may be occupied by 600 persons.”

To mitigate the impacts, Bonner suggested that the applicant submit a safety and security plan for the Sheriff’s Office to review and approve prior to zoning clearance.

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.

The Planning Commission meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. in Santa Barbara.

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



KCBS Radio, San Francisco

Big Agriculture Adopting Technology To Increase Efficiency

By Margie Shafer

EMERYVILLE (KCBS) — Agriculture is embracing technology to become more efficient, and startups are interacting with industry leaders to develop the best tools.

The California State Board of Food and Agriculture met in Emeryville to discuss the evolution.

The Western Growers Association, a trade organization of agricultural producers, has established the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology based in Salinas.

“It’s an incubator essentially, and it’s set up for startups and entrepreneurs to come in and have desk space, and conference space, and to be able to connect with the industry,” Hank Giclas of the Western Growers Association said.

The center, which opened in December currently has 16 startups involved, but is poised to have 25 by the end of July.

“I think there’s a great need to embrace technology,” Giclas said.

Among the startups at the center is Heavy Connect, which allows farmers to use existing mobile devices.

“We collect information for timecard information for field-based employees; work scheduling, and what tasks, and where they’re supposed to be, and what tools they’re supposed to use,” Heavy Connect Founder Patrick Zelaya said.



The Guardian

Why matching fish farming with crop irrigation is a win for parched Southwest

Farmers in the Southwest are turning a harsh, dry climate to their advantage by raising fish

By Leah Messinger

East of Lake Tahoe, an organic farmer and his son are putting the finishing touches on what is perhaps a counterintuitive approach to water conservation in a dry climate: a 32,000-sq ft greenhouse that will grow tomatoes, peppers and fish in the heart of the Nevada desert.

Mark O’Farrell, the owner of Hungry Mother Organics in Minden, Nevada, plans to have his desert fish farm operational by August, when he’ll begin to produce an estimated 36,000 to 50,000 tilapia per year.

O’Farrell is one of a growing group of aquaculturists in the American Southwest turning a harsh, dry climate to their advantage by growing fresh food in areas where it has traditionally been difficult to farm. Although fish require copious amounts of water, the same water can be used multiple times to irrigate crops and in some cases, even improve soil quality with the addition of nitrogen and potassium from fish waste.

In O’Farrell’s case, he’s combining aquaculture with hydroponics in an operation that allows him to grow plants directly above his fish tanks. After tinkering with a series of fish tanks and worm digesters to extract the fish waste solids and make them available to fertilize his young plants, O’Farrell realized his setup was saving him $12,000 a year and cutting his water use by 80%.

Kevin Fitzsimmons, a professor at the University of Arizona, has been leading a similar push across Arizona to draw conventional farmers into aquaculture, either to raise fish on their own or to partner with fish farmers and share water. The number of farms producing fish in Arizona nearly doubled between 2005 and 2013, according to the 2013 Census of Aquaculture.

“My hope is that people recognize that integrating aquaculture and agriculture would really encourage everybody to use water twice and be super efficient with it,” says Fitzsimmons. Desert Springs Tilapia, a Dateland, Arizona-based operation managed by one of Fitzsimmons’s former students, uses water once for raising tilapia and again to grow alfalfa, Bermuda grass, hay, barley, oats and olive trees.

“A drier climate is going to make irrigated farming that much more difficult,” Fitzsimmons said. For O’Farrell, the move to fish farming came after years of trying other approaches. “I’ve tried everything you can to grow crops [in Nevada] and you can’t do it profitably,” he says.

It would seem that finding more efficient uses of water in the Southwest could not come at a better time. The number of dry, hot days in the region is believed to be increasing in frequency. A recent study in Geophysical Research Letters found the Southwest, including parts of California, has entered a “drier climate state”, and is not just experiencing isolated, temporary periods of drought.

Fitzsimmons says the silver lining is a forced shift towards practices such as aquaculture that address two significant regional and national problems at the same time: limited water and an intense domestic dependence on imported fish.

Although data collection on US fish production is often sparse and out of date, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch estimated in 2012 that 95% of tilapia consumed in the US is imported. The National Marine Fisheries Service says the US is the largest global importer of fish, half of which is raised through aquaculture practices in other countries. In 2015 alone, the US imported approximately 500m lbs of tilapia from China, Indonesia, and Central and South America, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Until recently, growing tilapia in the Southwest has largely been a business for Arizona, southern California and parts of Texas. In fact, the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game only began issuing permits for would-be aquaculturists in October of last year.

Most aquaculturists do not raise other livestock. Fitzsimmons initially tried to encourage traditional ranchers to set up fish farms, but has found it easier to get people interested in aquaculture to team up with and lease land from traditional farmers and share water pumping costs. “We kind of hoped that we could get farmers who had cows, horses, goats, sheep, whatever, to think of fish as another livestock. It’s more complicated than keeping horses or cows,” Fitzsimmons says.

One thriving aquaculture operation is Sterling Caviar, which has been growing sturgeon and selling caviar since 1993 around Sacramento, California. The company maintains 30 to 40 employees and produces 10-12 tons of caviar and 300 tons of meat each year, according to managing director Shaoching Bishop. The company’s deputy general manager, Bobby Renschler, is also a fish biologist, who says the company’s four farm sites recirculate their water as many as six times.

Sterling’s largest farm is in Elverta. It discharges 3.7m gallons of water each day, flowing first to artificial wetlands at the Natomas Basin Conservancy, and then into an irrigation canal, where the water flows mostly to local rice farmers. In the case of Sterling, the water released has been filtered of all fish waste and the company simply disposes of it. Sterling’s other sites release water to cattle farms, wetlands and other agricultural land.

Israeli company Microdel, which recently built its AquaTech Fisheries in Israel’s Negev Desert, is currently in negotiations to secure $65m for a similar project in Nevada. It hopes to begin construction in the first quarter of 2017, according to Microdel CEO Gabi Wolkinson.

Randy Lovell, state aquaculture coordinator at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, says he would like aquaculture in the US to go one step further – to the coast. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), marine aquaculture around the US is currently limited to around 11 types of seafood including oysters, clams, salmon and cod. NOAA is currently offering grants and other funding programs to encourage the expansion of marine aquaculture. “I would submit that there’s a whole other realm of food production that we have not fully supported in the US that has tremendous potential,” Lovell says.



Wall Street Journal

EU to Propose Temporary Extension for Glyphosate Use

EU needs more time to assess whether the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup causes cancer

BRUSSELS—The European Union’s executive arm said Wednesday it will propose to temporarily extend the authorization of glyphosate for 12 to 18 months to allow further assessments of whether the active ingredient in Monsanto Co.’s popular weedkiller Roundup causes cancer.

Glyphosate’s EU authorization runs out on June 30. The commission initially wanted to extend the sales license for 15 years, but has failed to garner the necessary majority among EU member states. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said in spring last year that glyphosate “probably” has the potential to cause cancer in humans-—a claim disputed by other public-health agencies, including a study produced for the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA.

The temporary extension should give the EU’s Agency for Chemical Products sufficient time to come up with an opinion on glyphosate’s impact on human health, said the bloc’s health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis.

Experts from the EU’s 28 governments are expected to vote on the temporary authorization on Monday, he said.

The troubles faced by glyphosate—whose reauthorization has been blocked by the governments of some of the EU’s largest countries, including France and Italy—underlines widespread skepticism in the bloc over the use of chemicals in agriculture and the broader environment. Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, have faced similar resistance.

Glyphosate is a major profit driver for Missouri-based Monsanto, which Germany’s Bayer AG is currently trying to take over. But it is also a key ingredient for other widely used weed killers.

Along with the temporary extension, the commission will propose restrictions on when and how to use glyphosate. Among those are a ban on a common coformulant of glyphosate, known as POE-tallowamine, and recommendations to minimize its use on public playgrounds, parks and gardens as well as directly before harvest.

Mr. Andriukaitis stressed that an EU-wide sales authorization for glyphosate doesn’t prevent national governments from further limiting its use.

“The member states who wish not to use glyphosate-based products have the possibility to restrict their use,” said Mr. Andriukaitis. “They do not need to hide behind the commission’s decision

Write to Gabriele Steinhauser at




Ventura County Star

House bill to revamp school meal program is tough to swallow

The federal government has its finger in many pies — way too many, conservatives would argue — but you wouldn’t expect much dispute over Washington’s role in making sure low-income kids get a healthy school lunch. Unless, of course, you’re on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

The Republican-controlled committee recently voted 20-14 to approve the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016, which would lead to fewer students receiving free or reduced-price meals at school and possibly lower nutritional standards for those meals.

Republicans want to reduce what they see as an oversized federal role in school meals, Education Week reported. But we think the health and education of our children demand a strong federal role, not a bad piece of ideology-driven legislation. That’s not a radical, new idea — the National School Lunch Act was signed by President Harry Truman in 1946.

In Ventura County alone, 66,884 students were eligible for free or reduced-price school meals in 2014-15 — about half of all the children aged 6 to 17 in the county — according to California Food Policy Advocates. Of those 66,884, 69 percent received school lunches and 36 percent breakfast under the federal program.

It’s not clear how many, if any, of our students would lose their meals under the House proposal for reauthorizing the expired Child Nutrition Act. And it probably won’t clear the Senate, which passed a more reasonable bill this year, or President Obama. But all that could change in November.

The bill would raise the threshold for participating in the meal program under the “community eligibility” provision, which allows schools in low-income areas to provide free lunches and breakfast to all students without requiring income verification from individual families. Currently for a school to qualify, at least 40 percent of its students must be eligible for other government assistance, be homeless or in foster care. The House bill would raise the requirement to 60 percent and toughen income verification.

That would end the program for 7,000 of the 18,000 schools currently participating under community eligibility, say opponents that include the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Heart Association and School Nutrition Association.

The legislation also would provide block grants to three yet-undetermined states so they could basically fund their own meal programs and ignore federal nutrition standards championed by first lady Michelle Obama. And it would allow a wider variety of foods to be sold in lunch lines.

Supporters say the bill would save the meal program $1 billion over 10 years and give kids food they actually like and will eat.

The bill has some worthy provisions, including higher federal reimbursements for school breakfast, and allowing the return of bake sales by exempting student fundraisers from federal nutrition standards. But the downside is potentially much greater.

Nationally, 30 million children depend on school nutrition programs because their families are too poor to provide a healthy breakfast and/or lunch. Local, state and federal officials join to provide those meals because they know a hungry child will learn less in the classroom.

Numerous studies have shown that nutrition affects students’ thinking skills, behavior and health. Diets high in trans and saturated fats — junk food — can harm memory skills. Poor nutrition can mean more illness resulting in school absences. A healthy meal, especially breakfast, can improve a student’s mental well-being and reduce aggression and discipline problems, studies have shown.

Come to think of it, maybe we should create a new meal program for the House cafeteria.