Friday, January 30, 2015

Nielsen: Prison cap no cause for celebration

From the office of Northern California state Sen. Jim Nielsen:
California’s prison system hit a milestone at midnight, with new figures showing Thursday that the current inmate population inside the state’s 34 adult prisons has fallen below a court-ordered cap as reported by the Sacramento Bee. Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) issued the following statement:

“There is little cause for celebration. This threshold has been met at the expense of our families’ safety and security.

“This is not an accomplishment; it is the product of releasing felons before they complete their terms including an agreement between the courts and the Brown Administration to increase credits and release second strikers early.

“Without sufficient rehabilitation, releasing a convicted person into society is a disservice to the individual and harmful to our communities.”

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Scant precip, warm temps make for weak snowpack

As expected, the California Department of Water Resources found very little in the way of snow today when officials conducted their second manual snow survey of the season.

From the DWR:
The absence of precipitation in January, normally California’s wettest month, has combined with warmer-than-average temperatures to produce a dismally meager snowpack for a drought-stricken state.

Today’s second manual snow survey of the season found a snow water equivalent of just 2.3 inches in the scant snowpack near Echo summit approximately 90 miles east of Sacramento. That is just 12 percent of the long-term average for this time of year at that particular snow course. Statewide, the snow water equivalent as measured by more than 100 sensors was 4 inches today, or 25 percent of the historical average. That’s down from December 30 when DWR conducted the winter’s first manual survey; the statewide snow water equivalent was 50 percent of that date’s long-term average.

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) has measured the winter snowpack’s water content for decades. In normal years, the snowpack supplies about 30 percent of California’s water needs as it melts in the spring and early summer. The greater the snowpack water content, the greater the likelihood California’s reservoirs will receive ample runoff to meet the state’s water demand in the summer and fall.

Unfortunately, today’s manual snow survey makes it likely that California’s drought will run through a fourth consecutive year. DWR managers said heavy precipitation and cooler temperatures in the next three months would be required for the snowpack to build and give Californians hope for beginning to recover from drought this year.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

January rainfall (or lack thereof) by the numbers

A winter that was ushered in with copious amounts of rainfall in Northern California has given way to another record-setting dry spell. A stubborn high-pressure ridge that stymied rainfall in past winters is back for a repeat performance, sending approaching storms on a detour through the Pacific Northwest.

Here are the monthly and seasonal rainfall totals and comparisons to normal for selected California cities, according to the National Weather Service.

*Redding: Month to date 0.26 inches (normal 5.06 inches); season to date 16.51 inches (normal 17.91 inches)
*Eureka: Month to date 1.36 inches (normal 5.54 inches); season to date 22.87 inches (normal 22.59 inches)
*Sacramento airport: Month to date trace inches (normal 3.04 inches); season to date 10.38 inches (normal 9.32 inches)
*Modesto: Month to date 0 inches (normal 2.17 inches); season to date 7.4 inches (normal 6.25 inches)
*Salinas: Month to date 0.01 inches (normal 2.16 inches); season to date 8.11 inches (normal 6.27 inches)
*Fresno: Month to date trace inches (normal 1.83 inches); season to date 3.19 inches (normal 5.3 inches)

Before today, Red Bluff had seen 0.04 inches of precipitation this month, a little above the trace amounts it received in January 2007.

For my complete story, check CapitalPress.com soon.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

New front emerges in battle over COOL

The epic fight over mandatory country-of-origin labeling of meat has been fought in the legal, political and diplomatic arenas for several years. Now, proponents of the law have taken the battle to the academic arena as well.

I just got off a conference call with Auburn University ag economist Robert Taylor, whose new study asserts the economic losses suffered by the Canadian and Mexican cattle industries as a direct result of COOL appear negligible. From a National FArmers Union press release:
[A]fter close examination of more robust data sources to assess the impact of COOL on market access, the study found:

--COOL has not had a significant negative effect on the price paid for imported slaughter cattle relative to comparable domestic cattle. In fact, the fed cattle price basis declined after the law went into effect. “The price basis is lower in the six years since implementation of COOL than it was the preceding four years,” the study notes;

--COOL did not negatively impact imports of slaughter cattle. “Qualitative and econometric analysis of Mandatory Price Reporting (MPR) and monthly trade and price data cast considerable doubt on assertions that COOL negatively affected imports of slaughter cattle,” says the study. Failure to recognize the effects of imported and domestic captive supplies of slaughter cattle and beef demand uncertainty, along with other factors, played a larger role in reduced import demand than acknowledged in previous studies.

--COOL did not significantly affect imports of feeder cattle. “USDA monthly data on imports of 400-700 lb. cattle did not show COOL having a significant negative effect of imports of feeder cattle from either Canada or Mexico relative to placements in U.S. feedlots,” the study points out.
Taylor's study is at odds with the Canadian government's contention the law has cost producers north of the border close to $1 billion a year. That figure is based on research by UC-Davis ag economist Dan Sumner. As I reported in November:
The problem, Sumner explained, is that American feedlots and processors must separate streams of cattle from different countries and keep track of them all. That has limited access for cattle from Canada and Mexico, as many slaughterhouses stopped accepting foreign cattle or paid a lower premium for them to offset their added costs, he said.
Taylor said his data is based on detailed mandatory price reporting by meatpackers to the Agricultural Marketing Service, while Sumner relied on private Canadian cattle industry data.

I'll be reaching out to Sumner and to the U.S. Trade Representative's office for reactions. Watch for my story at CapitalPress.com.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

LaMalfa: Obama 'missed opportunity' in SOTU

President Obama missed an opportunity to reach out to the new Republican leadership in Congress and instead kept pandering to the hard left in his State of the Union speech, the north state's Rep. Doug LaMalfa said afterward.

Here is LaMalfa's response:
This evening, the President missed an opportunity to set the tone for this new Congress to start working together across party lines to advance meaningful reforms and the solutions our country so desperately needs. Instead, we heard the same empty rhetoric that appeals exclusively to one side of the aisle to advance the exact agenda Americans voted against last November: more spending, more taxes, and more government control.

These failed and outdated policies will not solve our $18 trillion debt or encourage our uncertain economy. America already has some of the highest capital gains tax rates in the world and last year had the largest tax revenues in our history. Despite some lukewarm improvements in employment, we have a lower percentage of people working than in the Carter administration. Raising Americans’ taxes will only move investment overseas where taxes are lower and inhibit domestic job growth.

Everyone agrees we need tax reform to make taxes simpler, easier, and equitable. However, instead of working with Republicans to enact responsible, comprehensive tax reform that helps all Americans, the President proposed tax hikes that will simply pay for more spending out of Washington.

I agree that our higher education system faces significant and systemic challenges, particularly skyrocketing costs that limit access and the increasing student debt too many are facing. However, the President’s plan to provide two years of free community college fails to address the root of these problems, the growth of non-teaching administrative staff which divert resources from the classroom and inflate the costs of college.

In one breath the President speaks of making college more affordable for average Americans, yet in the next he announces new taxes on the savings middle income families have set aside pay for college.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Humane Society on rising egg prices: Relax

The Humane Society of the United States' reaction to fretting over the sharply escalating price of eggs in California reminds of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' admonition to fans after a 1-2 start. R-E-L-A-X.

From Paul Shapiro, the HSUS' vice president of farm animal protection, in an email statement forwarded to me today by his PR staff:
“Egg prices always fluctuate during the year, and always rise in winter. Egg producer Cal-Maine notes, “wholesale shell egg market prices … fluctuate widely and are outside of our control.” Egg prices go up and down based on energy costs, feed prices, and other variables. Prices for all animal products have increased this year due to high grain prices. Egg prices have increased less than prices for beef and pork, and remain one of the least expensive animal products in the marketplace.

“After Europe brought in animal welfare reforms in 2012, egg prices initially rose, only to fall a year later. If egg prices rise in California, it will be because many egg producers failed to use the six year phase-in period to prepare for the law, and prices will subsequently fall as they did in Europe as supply adjusts to demand and as egg prices fluctuate as they normally would.”
Meanwhile, the United Egg Producers cooperative, which represents more than 90 percent of egg producers in the United States, isn't saying anything. From their spokeswoman, Hinda Mitchell:
Tim, there were a number of possible scenarios that could have resulted from the California regulations, just as there are a number of possible scenarios that could be impacting prices, so we're not going to be able to speculate on what is occurring in the market, as market and pricing are not areas UEP addresses.
Attention farm groups: If you're going to let HSUS get out in front of you on issues such as this, you can't complain that their activities are hurting your image.

My story is in my editors' hands and should be up at CapitalPress.com soon.

Monday, January 19, 2015

California egg prices to rise 90 cents a dozen

California consumers could be paying as much as 90 cents a dozen more for eggs by next week, according to a USDA market report that was posted at CapitalPress.com today.

Prices right now are ranging about $2.20 to $2.60 a dozen, depending on the type, so a 90-cent increase would be steep.

Egg price hikes have been anticipated as California's Proposition 2 in 2008 was set to take effect Jan. 1. As the Capital Press' Dan Wheat has reported, Chad Gregory of United Egg Producers has predicted the larger-cage requirements could cause an egg shortage. From what I gather, many California growers are complying with the new standards by raising fewer chickens in existing cage facilities. The number of egg-laying chickens in California has dropped by 23 percent in the last two years, according to NASS. Fewer chickens means fewer eggs and higher prices.

Watch the Capital Press' website and this week's paper for my story.