Thursday, May 25, 2017

Bill enables citrus industry to collect more fees for ACP

From California Citrus Mutual:
The California State Assembly approved a bill this week that will allow the citrus industry to increase spending for activities to protect residential and commercial citrus trees from the invasive insect Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) and the deadly plant disease it can carry, Huanglongbing (HLB).

SB 243 by Senator Galgiani (Stockton) allows for an additional $9.6 million in grower assessments to be spent by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) for ACP and HLB control programs.

Because assessment funds are collected by the Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Program which is managed by CDFA, the spending authority level for the program is granted by the legislature.

SB 243 was passed unanimously by the Senate last week and the State Assembly followed suit on Monday. The Governor is expected to sign the bill by the end of the month.

HLB-infected trees are being found at an alarming rate in residential areas in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. In the past 12 months, the number of detections has more than tripled. "If ACP is left unchecked and HLB is allowed to take hold, it will be a death sentence for California's $3 billion citrus industry," says California Citrus Mutual (CCM) President Joel Nelsen.

"Our Central Valley Senators and Assembly Members were instrumental in moving this legislation," says Nelsen. "In particular, CCM would like to thank Senator Galgiani and Assembly Member Mathis for championing the bill and communicating to their urban colleagues the seriousness of this issue to all citrus trees in California."

The grower-funded Citrus Pest and Disease Prevention Program was created through legislation in 2009 and authorized an assessment on growers. Growers have since invested over $100 million into the program, over 95% of which go to trapping, treatments, and surveys in urban areas in order stop ACP and HLB from devastating the California citrus industry as it has in other parts of the country and world. The program receives federal funding to augment HLB detection analyses and public communications efforts. The Governor and Legislature, however, have repeatedly denied industry requests for State funding.

"Year after year, the issue has expanded and yet the State has remained a silent partner despite the industry's investment and generous support from the federal government," comments Nelsen.

"With every new detection of HLB in the urban areas, California is one step closer to succumbing to the same fate as Florida, where their citrus industry has all but collapsed due to HLB.

"California still has an opportunity to stop HLB, but the State must be a partner if we are to be successful."

California Citrus Mutual is currently seeking a state funding in the 2017-18 budget.

"The State has until June 15th to pass its budget and we're doing everything we can to make sure funding for ACP and HLB control is included," concludes Nelsen.

Rancher calls on Congress to stop 'sue and settle' abuse

From the National Cattlemen's Beef Association:
If family ranching operations and rural economies are going to survive another generation, Congress must address the problem of so-called “sue and settle” abuse. That’s the message that Darcy Helmick, Land Manager for Simplot Land & Livestock, stressed to Congress in subcommittee testimony [Wednesday].

Helmick testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Affairs and Subcommittee on the Interior, Energy, and Environment during its hearing to examine how environmental advocacy groups and federal agencies regulate through consent decrees using citizen lawsuit provisions in environmental laws, which is known as “sue and settle.”

“In my extensive experience dealing with the federal grazing system and western land use in general, offensive litigation tactics by outside activist groups have served to totally derail business operations,” said Helmick. “While it is critical that we maintain the right of citizens to litigate when necessary, reform is needed to prevent that right from being abused or exploited.”

It is critical that permitted public lands users have a role in any settlement agreements, and that federal employees at a local level have input, Helmick said. She added that while unreasonable timelines have become the norm, once imposed during settlements, they are rarely reached.

“The repercussions of the missed timelines heavily impact the permitted public lands users and result in a level of uncertainty that is prohibitive in any business environment. Unfortunately this is often the goal of these litigants,” said Helmick.

Helmick concluded her testimony by explaining how the sue and settle tactics used by radical environmental groups also serve to limit young producers from entering the industry, which will inevitably lead to further erosion of the footprint of ranching in the West.

“As a fourth generation cattle producer it is in my blood to continue with my family business,” said Helmick. “As my parents age and need more help, my brother and I are working with financial advisors on how to transition the business. How does one budget for litigation, how does one calculate the expense of the stress and time used to work through litigation?” she asked.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

CFBF: Trump budget reduces farm and food spending

From the California Farm Bureau Federation's Food and Farm News:
Discussions of federal spending on food and agricultural initiatives has opened, with the release of the Trump administration budget proposal. The plan proposes a $228 billion reduction in federal farm and nutrition spending over 10 years. The American Farm Bureau Federation expressed concern about the proposal, and said it will ask Congress to maintain programs that are vital to farmers and rural communities.
We have a couple of reporters seeking reactions and analyses of the budget proposal. For our coverage, keep watch at CapitalPress.com.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Ag labor shortage looks more severe in California this year

This year's agricultural labor shortage in California is shaping up to be more severe than previous years, industry representatives told me this week.

While the Golden State has yet to enter its peak season for labor, growers already report as much as a 20 percent to 30 percent shortage of workers. In the central San Joaquin Valley, that number is closer to 40 percent.

"I'm telling folks it's looking like the tightest it's been in five or 10 years, at least in this area," said Ryan Jacobsen, president of the Fresno County Farm Bureau. "We're hearing some reports this early on, which is not typical.

"We're hearing early indications that some folks … are only seeing 60 percent of what they would consider to be an adequate labor force," he said. "That's substantially down."

Such shortages have been a "chronic concern" in recent years but have received significantly more attention this year because of President Donald Trump's immigration policies, noted Dave Kranz, a California Farm Bureau Federation spokesman.

In an email, Kranz writes:
The long-term, chronic shortage of employees can be traced to a number of factors, including increased border security dating back to Sept. 11, 2001; economic improvements in Mexico that have compelled fewer people to leave the country in search of work; the aging of the migrant employee population in Mexico and elsewhere; and similar economic, educational and demographic factors.

We’ve seen farmers respond to the long-term shortages in a variety of ways, including increased wages, greater use of the existing H-2A agricultural guestworker program offered by the federal government, and continued advocacy on behalf of an improved immigration system that allows people to enter the U.S. legally to take on-farm jobs. In some cases, farmers have switched crops in favor of crops that require less manpower and/or have looked for ways to mechanize additional harvest and other on-farm work. The push toward mechanization is propelled not only by employee shortages but by recent California laws that will ratchet up the minimum wage and expand agricultural overtime pay.

As the 2017 harvest season picks up, we’ll have a better idea of how farmers will do in coping with the shortage. Peak agricultural employment typically occurs in late summer/early autumn, when harvests of a number of crops overlap in Central and Northern California. Planting and development of a number of crops was delayed this spring by the aftermath of the rainy winter; as the year goes on, we’ll see how that affects harvest timing, which can either worsen or lessen the ongoing problems with employee availability.
My inquiries were part of a comprehensive project I'm doing with Capital Press reporters from Washington, Oregon and Idaho on farm labor availability in the West. Look for our centerpiece story in next week's issue and at CapitalPress.com.

Farm groups: Don't jeopardize NAFTA's benefits for ag

The Trump administration's effort to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement has farm groups' close attention. First, from the USDA:
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue issued the following statement today after U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer notified Congress that President Trump intends to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA):

"While NAFTA has been an overall positive for American agriculture, any trade deal can always be improved. As President Trump moves forward with renegotiating with Canada and Mexico, I am confident this will result in a better deal for our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers. When the rules are fair and the playing field is level, U.S. agriculture will succeed and lead the world. It's why we recently announced the creation of an undersecretary for trade at USDA, because as world markets expand, we will be an unapologetic advocate for American agriculture. As I have often said, if our people continue to grow it, USDA will be there to sell it," said Secretary Perdue.

Background:
Last week, Secretary Perdue announced the creation of an undersecretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs in the USDA, a recognition of the ever-increasing importance of international trade to American agriculture. The new undersecretary will work hand in hand with Commerce and the USTR and help open up even more markets to American products.

Agricultural trade is critical for the U.S. farm sector and the American economy as a whole. U.S. agricultural and food exports account for 20 percent of the value of production, and every dollar of these exports creates another $1.27 in business activity. Additionally, every $1 billion in U.S. agricultural exports supports approximately 8,000 American jobs across the entire American economy. As the global marketplace becomes even more competitive every day, the United States must position itself in the best way possible to retain its standing as a world leader.
From cattlemen's groups:
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association today joined its cattle-industry partners in Canada and Mexico in sending a joint letter to the presidents of those two nations and to President Trump, urging the three leaders to not “jeopardize the success we have all enjoyed as partners of the North American Free Trade Agreement.”

The letter to President Trump, President Justin Trudeau of Canada, and President Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico was signed by NCBA President Craig Uden, Dan Darling, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, and Oswaldo Chazaro Montalvo, president of the ConfederaciĆ³n Nacional de Organizaciones Ganaderas.

“Recent statements about the possible dissolution of NAFTA or potential renegotiation of NAFTA are deeply concerning to us because of the unnecessary risk it places on our producers,” the letter states. “While there may be general agreement among the countries to improve some parts of the NAFTA trade framework, we urge you to recognize that the terms of the agreement affecting cattle producers are strongly supported as they currently exist and should not be altered.”

The groups also urged Presidents Trump, Trudeau, and Nieto to “reject efforts to use NAFTA as a platform to resurrect failed policies, especially the misguided mandatory country-of-origin labeling policy that was the law of the United States for over seven years.”

“MCOOL failed to deliver its proponents’ promise to increase consumer demand or consumer confidence,” the groups said. “Instead, it created massive disruptions in live cattle trade that hurt beef producers across North America and jeopardized the jobs of American workers that depend on processing those cattle.”

NCBA has worked for years to expand access to foreign markets for America’s cattle and beef producers and in a February op-ed on CNN.com Uden called NAFTA “one of the greatest success stories in the long history of the U.S. beef industry.”

“Since NAFTA was implemented in 1993, exports of American-produced beef to Mexico have grown by more than 750%, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation,” Uden said. “In addition, exports now account for as much as 13% of overall U.S. beef production -- and it's more likely to be higher-quality cuts that bring in higher revenues for the hundreds of thousands of American families in the beef community.”

Click here to read the full letter.
Watch for our continuing coverage of this issue at CapitalPress.com.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Triple-digit heat to make its season debut next week

From the National Weather Service:
Valley heat this weekend into early next week could peak into the low 100s for the Northern Sacramento Valley. This would be the first triple digit heat event of 2017 so we encourage people to follow heat safety tips to prevent heat related illness. Avoid seeking heat relief in mountain streams and rivers as they are running cold and swift from snow melt. Hypothermia can set in very quickly and cause drownings. From Sunday into much of next week, a low pressure system will linger offshore that may trigger mountain thunderstorms.

Impacts
Increased potential for heat related illness this weekend into early next week
Snow melt will cause mountain rivers and streams to run very cold and very swift
Localized lightning, gusty winds, small hail possible if mountain thunderstorms develop

Forecast Confidence
High in temperatures
Low in thunderstorms

Timing and Strength
Saturday-Sunday

Valley highs peaking in the mid to upper 90s
Slight chance of mountain thunderstorms on Sunday
Monday-Tuesday
Valley temperatures peaking in the upper 90s to low 100s
Tuesday expected to be the hottest day for northern Sacramento valley (delta breeze may bring cooling to Sacramento Metro region)
Slight chance of mountain thunderstorms persist

Friday, May 12, 2017

Comey and New York Times just proved Trump's point

After three days of seeking out intelligent commentary on the James Comey firing and avoiding the media garbage, two main points are clear to me: 1) Comey had become a grandstanding loose cannon with his own political agenda who had appointed himself judge, jury and executioner, and his handling of the Hillary Clinton investigation last year cost the FBI the respect and trust of a majority of Americans; 2) President Trump was going to end up firing him, many (possibly including he himself) think he should have done it on Jan. 20, and the only thing that was special about this week is that now is the time he decided to take the inevitable political heat. But that heat will pass, to be replaced by the next outrage (whether faux or real).

Yesterday, Comey proved his untrustworthiness by apparently working with the New York Times to put out selected details of a private dinner with Trump. So much for being beyond reproach.

Reports Charlie Spiering at Breitbart News:
Former FBI Director James Comey is now leaking details of a private dinner with President Donald Trump to the media, through some of his close associates.

According to the New York Times, the FBI director had dinner with Trump in January after the inauguration, citing private details of the meeting that portray Comey as a martyr.

Comey’s people, “who have heard his account of the dinner” and spoke anonymously, insist that Trump asked the director to pledge his personal loyalty to him, but he declined. They added that Comey was wary about dining with the president, but believed he couldn’t turn him down.

The White House, however, disputed the report.

“We don’t believe this to be an accurate account,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy press secretary. “The integrity of our law enforcement agencies and their leadership is of the utmost importance to President Trump. He would never even suggest the expectation of personal loyalty, only loyalty to our country and its great people.”
Whatever Comey may or may not have said to Trump, U.S. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein and independent journalists have confirmed that Trump has not been a subject of the Russia investigation.

As Breitbart reports, one of the reasons Comey was fired was his inability to control leaks out of the bureau. This episode just proves he's a willing and deliberate vehicle for such leaks.

The last two years have been full of defining moments in the downfall of the major corporate news media as an institution, and this week has provided another one. Blogger Sundance details the latest examples of what would be embarrassments if any of these media folks were capable of being embarrassed:
Almost every broadcast network and print media has pushed ridiculous stories only to have them completely debunked and called nonsense within a few hours of their publication. WaPo: Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein threatened to quit. – Um, no he didn’t. NY Times: Director James Comey asked for more funds. – Um, no he didn’t.
For Trump, political fallout was going to be inevitable no matter when he chose to pull the trigger. But so far, according to Rasmussen Reports, his approval rating is still within the range it was in before the firing. Could it be that news consumers are learning to ignore or avoid the noise, making it basically irrelevant? One can only hope.