Saturday, July 30, 2011

Report: Fuel prices hit farmers, consumers

From the California Farm Bureau Federation:

Just like the rest of us, farmers are finding high fuel prices taking a bite out of their incomes. Economists from the American Farm Bureau Federation report that even though farmers have been earning good prices for commodities, rising production costs raise concern. Fuel prices make it more expensive for farmers to run tractors, harvesting machinery and shipping trucks. Fuel costs for marketing crops can also affect prices consumers pay for food.

Friday, July 29, 2011

No ethanol reform in debt deal?

From the California Cattlemen's Association:

As Congress and the White House turn up the rhetoric on increasing the debt ceiling and pressure intensifies to get a deal done by Aug. 2 the hopes of seeing ethanol reform included in any potential deal is beginning to fade.

The bipartisan Thune-Klobuchar-Feinstein ethanol reform agreement may not make it into current debt limit legislation, a vehicle that was hopeful to put an end to the subsidy and save taxpayers $1.3 billion this year.

However, with Congress continuing to debate the issue and find ways to cut government there is hope that language to put an end to ethanol subsidies will find its way into the final agreement.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Herger will vote to raise debt ceiling (updated)

My question, sent today via e-mail: "Does the congressman support the Boehner bill?"

Rep. Herger spokesman Matt Lavoie's answer: "Yes. He doesn't think its the answer to all of the nation's debt woes, but its a plan that puts us on the right path."

UPDATE: His office expands today (July 29:

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Wally Herger (R-CA) today issued a statement in support of the Budget Control Act. The legislation would cut nearly $1 trillion over ten years, establish hard spending caps, and require a Balanced Budget Amendment be sent to the states for ratification before the end of the year. It would also raise the debt ceiling by an amount smaller than the cuts, and condition a possible second increase in the debt limit to the enactment of nearly $2 trillion in additional spending reductions. The United States is expected to reach the debt ceiling on August 2. Herger has consistently spoken out regarding the need to solve a debt crisis that has grown exponentially worse under President Obama’s leadership. For the third consecutive year, our national deficit will exceed one trillion dollars. Herger’s remarks on the Budget Control Act follow below:

“With only a few days left before America risks default, we have no time left for political posturing. I’m supporting the plan offered by the House of Representatives that would enact critical spending cuts and encourage job creation. We are making a U-turn on the culture of spending in Washington – instead of discussing how much more Washington will spend, we’re talking about how to live within our means, like all Americans must do. The American people made this transformation possible by raising their voices as one last November and declaring, ‘We’ve had enough.’

“I don’t believe that this bill will solve all of our economic problems, but the Budget Control Act takes a significant step toward restoring fiscal responsibility in Washington. In addition to cutting spending by nearly $1 trillion, I’m pleased that it requires a Balanced Budget Amendment be passed and sent to the states for ratification, the only sure way to get our fiscal house in order. I hope that President Obama and the Senate will take a clear look at the perilous future our economy faces without action on our debt crisis and pass the Budget Control Act without delay.”

LaMalfa speaks out on farm subsidies

Doug LaMalfa is known as one of the staunchest conservatives in the state Legislature.

The first-term Republican senator and former assemblyman is a Tea Party darling, in large part for vocally siding with farmers in far Northern California in their battles with the state over required irrigation permits.

A Richvale rice farmer, LaMalfa is a fiscal hawk in state budget matters and is a traditionalist when it comes to social issues. Yet he’s raised some eyebrows among voters – and created fodder for his critics -- for his family’s having taken nearly $4.7 million in farm subsidies since 1995.

LaMalfa defends such payments, maintaining they’re a small national expense considering the country’s food security is at stake.

“The price has to be stabilized here, and American growers have to make a profit,” LaMalfa said. “So when the world is setting the price below the cost of production for any one of those crops … you don’t have American growers very long without some structure to keep them in the black instead of the red.”

Farm subsidies are a touchy issue for LaMalfa, just as they are for many other California rice growers whose industry has relied on the benefits for decades.

I had a chance to talk at some length with the senator in preparing stories for the Capital Press' special report on farm subsidies, which will appear today on our website.

"In a bad market or bad price year, it's been a lifeline," LaMalfa said, "and so it's been the case for a lot of years, for many, many years."

Market prices for rice have been good in recent years, but we might be seeing a worldwide correction based on the supply that's out there. And any hiccup in supply makes the market nervous.

"The program is there to provide stability for the staple crops that really help fuel the country, those grain stores -- food and fiber," the senator said. "That's a key that you absolutely have to have in your country. If your country is starving or hungry, you don't have much power in your destiny or in world affairs."

LaMalfa points to the Depression era, when the Dust Bowl chased farmers off their land and out of business. Without efforts to stabilize prices or take care of the soil, "it becomes almost a third world country," he said.

"When you look at the way a country like Ethiopia treats their land, they're just living day to day," he said. "You have no power over your destiny if you don't plan for that. I think the whole reason (a rice subsidy) exists is the government realizes there's certain strategic crops that have to have stability."

Still, a decade in politics has made LaMalfa aware that the subsidies are ripe to be cut, if not discontinued entirely. They’re unpopular not only with urban lawmakers and environmentalists but also conservative rural voters who’ve read stories of payments going to large conglomerates which happened to invest in farms, he said.

"It's not a matter of if it goes away, it's a matter of probably when," he said.

If the programs are cut, growers will have to consider how many acres they want to plant, perhaps voluntarily keeping land fallow or planting other crops to keep prices up, he said.

"The self-discipline of the industry would have to be stronger to not overproduce for those that are the buyers," LaMalfa said. "Again, it's a race to the bottom on price. We see that in marketing. Marketers all race each other to the bottom."

LaMalfa's family's operation could put in a few trees and perhaps grow olives, although that market is becoming saturated, he said. Or it could grow wheat. But most of their soil is suited best for rice.

Overall, "I think we would see at best 60 percent of the rice still produced, or down on the low side, 35 or 40 percent produced," he said. "There would still be a market for it, but a lot of the acreage goes away. That's where the market will resettle."

Meanwhile, pressure will mount on federal lawmakers to enact trade policies that don’t allow foreign competitors to undercut domestic growers, he said.

“If we’re going to have an ag economy that’s decided by the world market price, you have to have something that changes the world market price or trading practices that allow them (competitors) to dump their cheap products on us,” LaMalfa said.

With urban lawmakers and environmental interests wielding their influence, Farm Bills are becoming more about conservation and food programs than about agriculture, he said. He expects changes in subsidy programs to come in the next Farm Bill "unless we have a food crisis. That would change the attitude a little bit. They'd probably just cobble something together and kick it out the congressional door.

"When you look at the amount the USDA invests in it, it keeps food substantially cheap for American buyers," he said. "The middle class and lower middle class don't really have to think about the price of food for these staple crops ... The cost is far outstripped in the stability it brings in food prices. I like to come back to the adage, 'If you like imported oil, you'll love imported food.'"

LaMalfa said his family has been farming rice for 80 years and would continue, somehow, even if the subsidy were lost.

"Most growers I know that are in it, I think everybody's grateful that we have it, that somebody cares enough to think we're important," he said. "But for most growers I know, it's just the publicity part of it that is just a thorn in the side. It does wear on you after a while. It makes you wonder, am I really this bad person growing food, providing jobs, working the hours that you do and with the margins you do?

"That said, most of them love what they do, they know they're doing a good thing and doing the right thing," he said. "You get over it. The press will do what it does, and the criticizers will do what they do. You do know they're getting cheap food that's more abundant than they could ever imagine."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

'Killer bees' reach Modesto

From Kathy Keatley Garvey in the entomology department at UC-Davis:

DAVIS--The recent confirmation of Africanized honey bees in Modesto--the first confirmed case north of Madera County—is “probably an isolated case, and there probably aren’t any more Africanized honey bee colonies in the northern San Joaquin Valley,” Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen, based at the University of California, Davis Department of Entomology, said today.

“I don’t think they moved there on their own,” Mussen said. “They probably swarmed during or just after the almond pollination season. The migratory beekeeper left but the bees didn’t.”

Unfortunately, the Africanized bees colonized in shrubbery along a well-traveled pedestrian and bicycle route and attacked a 70-year-old man and his three dogs on July 5 after one dog disturbed the nest. The man sustained as many as 60 bee stings, mostly on the face, as he ran an eighth of a mile to a residence.

A recently released laboratory report from the California Department of Food and Agriculture positively identified the bees as Africanized, known in the Hollywood movies as “killer bees.”

The Africanized bees may have come from Arizona, Texas, Florida or southern California, Mussen said. Migratory beekeepers from all over the country truck in their bees to pollinate California’s 800,000 acres of almonds, located in the Central Valley from Butte to Kern counties. Each acre requires two bee colonies for pollination.

Africanized bees swarm more often their cousins, the European honey bee, the most common bee in the United States.

“The attack is troubling but I doubt there are any more Africanized honey bee colonies swarms in that valley,” Mussen reiterated. “Otherwise, more people would have encountered them in Fresno and Merced counties before they even reached Modesto in Stanislaus County.”

“There’s no way to tell if honey bees are Africanized without DNA testing,” Mussen said. “They look about the same as the European honey bee. They tend to be a little darker than European honey bees and a little smaller. What sets them apart is their intensive defensive behavior. They’ve been known to chase their victims a quarter of a mile.”

When beekeepers find intensive defensive behavior in their hives, they kill the queen bee and “requeen” the colony. “Over four to six weeks, the original workers die of old age and the new queen replaces them with more daughters,” Mussen said.

Africanized honey bees are the result of attempts to hybridize European honey bees with an African race, Mussen said. Researchers brought Tanzanian queen bees (Apis mellifera scutella) to Brazil in the 1950s. In 1957, some of the African bee descendants escaped from the researchers and beekeepers and began expanding their territory.

The descendants reached southern Texas in 1990 and southern California in 1994. “In California, they were first found “just outside of Blythe, in Riverside County,” Mussen said.

California State Department of Food and Agriculture officials say the hybrid is now established in more than a dozen counties in the state, primarily those south of a diagonal line that runs northeast to southwest, from northern Tulare County to the southwest corner of San Luis Obispo County. They include Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Madera, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Tulare and Ventura counties. Also affected are portions of Inyo, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.

Madera is considered the most northern county to be colonized, but Mussen believes it likely isn't colonized. Only one case of Africanized honey bees has been confirmed since 2004.

“As an area becomes colonized, the Africanized bees will show their true colors—they will exhibit their intense defensive behavior,” said Mussen, a Extension apiculturist since 1976 and a worldwide authority on honey bees.

Beekeepers who collect swarms in colonized counties have a “high probability” of hiving an Africanized honey bee colony, he pointed out, and should always look for unacceptable defensive behavior.

“Massive stinging events involving Africanized honey bee (AFB) colonies have not been very numerous in the United States,” Mussen wrote in Bee Briefs, one of his two bee publications on the UC Davis Department of Entomology website. “Some of the worst incidents have involved dogs that have remained near the nesting site once the stinging commenced and received in excess of 2000 stings. In most human-stinging incidents, sting numbers have approached the hundreds at worst, but usually were less than one hundred.”

Modesto is only 68 miles from the state capital of Sacramento, but Mussen said area residents should not be worried. “They’re not moving north that fast,” Mussen said. It took the Africanized bees 37 years to reach California.

However, some individuals are highly sensitive to honey bee venom proteins and are subject to anaphylactic shock (allergic response) and can die from only one sting. Senior citizens with compromised cardio-pulmonary systems seem to be at a higher risk for bee sting-induced heart attacks, Mussen said. On the other hand, beekeepers who have been stung many times develop protective antibodies and can tolerate more stings than non-beekeepers.

Mussen recommends that anyone working or relaxing in areas known to be colonized by
Africanized bees “take precautions” by avoiding nesting areas. If the bees or wasps start to sting, cover your face with a shirt as you run for a building, vehicle or other shelter, he said. You can also carry an Army surplus gnat/mosquito veil with you to protect your face.

“Jumping into water will not help,” Mussen said. “Africanized honey bees fly around and will sting when you come up to breathe.”

The honey bees’ pheromone, resembling the scent of a banana, sounds the alarm, alerting other bees to attack.

“Africanized honey bees are not something to be feared,” Mussen said, “but they are to be respected.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Check out my podcast

We have a podcast up on our flagship Capital Press blog, called Blogriculture, in which copy editor Will Koenig can be heard interviewing me about the politics of federal ethanol subsidies and how they affect the livestock and poultry industries.

The roughly 8-minute interview can be heard here.

I haven't been blogging as much of late because we've been busy with a multi-story,. multi-reporter project dealing with U.S. farm subsidies, which is slated to go to press next week. Now that the project is wrapping up, I should be posting again soon.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Brown signs Nielsen Williamson Act bill

From the office of Assemblyman Jim Nielsen:

Assemblyman Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) released the following statement today regarding Governor Brown signing into law Assembly Bill 1265, which protects the Williamson Act.

“I want to applaud and thank Governor Brown for signing into law this important legislation,” said Nielsen. “This will provide peace of mind and hope for the future to our hard-working California farm families and their employees.

I also want to thank the co-authors of this bill, Senator Wolk, Senator LaMalfa and Assemblywoman Yamada for all their hard work in helping to preserve the Williamson Act in California.

The California Farm Bureau was a major sponsor and they worked farmer-hard to achieve this milestone. We look forward to continue working with the Farm Bureau, other Agricultural organizations, and all other individuals and groups who care about preserving a productive, profitable agricultural industry in California.”

For more information on the AB 1265 follow this link.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Herger 'disappointed' by jobs report

From Rep. Wally Herger:

Congressman Wally Herger (R-CA) today released the following statement regarding the latest unemployment report released by the U.S. Department of Labor:

“I’m deeply disappointed by today’s jobs report. The national unemployment rate has risen to 9.2%, over fourteen million people are without jobs, and job creation is virtually stagnant. Behind these troubling figures are heart-wrenching stories of Americans out of work for months, sometimes years, who are struggling to put food on the table and pay their mortgage. My heart goes out to Northern Californians and our fellow citizens across our nation who are struggling to find work.

“President Obama has chosen to steer our economy through massive spending, excessive regulations, and a consistent threat of tax increases that continue to stand in the way of job creation. Now the President is asking for an increase to our debt limit after offering a budget that ignored the debt crisis to the point that not a single Senator—Republican or Democrat alike—voted for it when it was considered on the Senate floor. Left unchecked, President Obama’s policies will only lengthen the streak of twenty-nine months with unemployment over 8%. It’s no wonder that the number one focus of the American people is jobs, jobs, jobs.

“House Republicans have been listening and I am supporting a strong, jobs driven agenda that will get America back to work and help put our economy on the right track. Now is not the time to be adding to the burdens with higher taxes and overregulation – it is time for policies that support America’s entrepreneurs and working families. Republicans have stepped up to the plate and offered solutions that will do just that. I urge the President and Congressional Democrats to join us in getting America back on the path to prosperity.”

Background: Read the statement signed by more than 150 economists that says, “An increase in the national debt limit that is not accompanied by significant spending cuts and budget reforms would harm private-sector job growth…” And learn more about the Republican blueprint for job creation at Jobs.GOP.Gov.

The following House-passed jobs bills await Senate action:

· H.R. 2, Repeal Obama Care

· H.R. 872, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act

· H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act

· H.J.Res. 37, a Resolution of disapproval regarding the FCC’s regulation of the Internet and broadband industry practices

· H.R. 1249, the America Invents Act

· H.R. 1230, Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act

· H.R. 1229, Putting the Gulf of Mexico Back to Work Act

· H.R. 1231, Reversing President Obama’s Offshore Moratorium Act

· H.R. 2021, the Jobs and Energy Permitting Act

· H.Con.Res. 34, the Republican Budget for the Fiscal Year 2012

Friday rant: A priest's fall from grace

Actually, it's not so much of a rant as it is a set of observations. The Record Searchlight's Ryan Sabalow had an interesting story this week about the misadventures of one John Corapi, the Catholic priest/televangelist who was at the center of the unnecessary-heart-surgery allegations surrounding Redding Medical Center nearly a decade ago. It seems Corapi has left the priesthood after facing some allegations himself involving the accumulation of wealth and his alleged sexting of a woman in Montana.

I always found Corapi to be an engaging but rather acerbic speaker, and very condemning of those he believed lived outside of strict interpretations of Catholic teaching. I could understand how prolonged exposure to his preaching could leave a person spiritually discouraged, as if to say, "What's the point of trying." As is often the case, the most legalistic of preachers seem to fall the hardest and loudest.

That said, critics of Corapi would do well to remember the sex-abuse allegations against cardinals Joseph Bernardin and Roger Mahony which were later found to be false. The Bernardin case turned into a cool story because he was able to minister to his accuser, who had recanted his allegation, before the two died. But the allegations made big splashes in the national media when they were made, and you didn't hear much when the clergymen were later cleared of wrongdoing. I'll be interested to see what happens with Corapi and the woman in Montana and how it is handled in the national press.

And as for accumulation of wealth, with a $2.7 million legal settlement in your hot little hand you can afford real estate, luxury cars, boats and an ATV. I suppose the correct thing for him to do would have been to give the money to the poor. But if you think EWTN and the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity haven't capitalized greatly off Corapi's popularity, I have a bridge to sell you in, well, Montana.

My prediction: The next big shoe to drop will be the announcement that Corapi has signed a multimillion-dollar contract to be an analyst for Fox News.

Young cattlemen work to promote beef

From the California Cattlemen's Association:

California ranchers can rest assured that the future of the beef industry is certainly in good hands. The California Cattlemen’s Association Young Cattlemen’s Committee consists of college-age beef enthusiasts who are excited to represent the ranching way of life and are planning to make agriculture and beef production part of their future.

As evidence of the effort YCC members are putting in to promote beef and beef production, YCC member Malorie Bankhead, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; YCC Vice Chair Shelby Rosasco, California State University, Fresno; and YCC Secretary Kelsey Markus, California State University, Chico, were featured in a column that ran today in the Hanford Sentinel. To read the article in its entirety, click here.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Egg producers laud HSUS compromise

A statement from Arnie Riebli, president of the Association of California Egg Farmers:

“While we are still in the process of reviewing today’s agreement between HSUS and the United Egg Producers, we welcome the recognition by HSUS that the enriched colony system is a suitable hen habitat. California’s egg farmers have long advocated the use of an enriched colony system as a superior living area for hens.

At the same time, we are very disappointed that California is not being treated equally as the other 49 states. While the rest of the nation’s egg producers have until 2029 to spend an estimated five billion dollars necessary to comply with this agreement, California egg farmers must comply by 2015.”

Groups pan Feinstein's ethanol plan

From the National Chicken Council:

A coalition of livestock and poultry groups released a statement today regarding the proposed “compromise” on abolition of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit and the protective tariff on imported ethanol.

“We appreciate the work done by Senator Dianne Feinstein in her effort to end the VEETC and tariff,” the coalition statement said. “However, the resulting compromise still provides new federal funds for corn-based ethanol, money that would be better spent reducing the deficit or encouraging the development of energy sources that do not compete with feed needs.”

Joining the statement were: American Meat Institute, California Dairies, Inc., National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Meat Association, National Pork Producers Council, and National Turkey Federation,

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Williamson Act bill sent to governor

From Assemblyman Jim Nielsen:

Assembly Bill 1265, The Williamson Act, introduced by Assemblyman Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), passed unanimously on the Assembly Floor yesterday. AB 1265 would allow counties to voluntarily implement new land preservation contracts that are ten percent shorter in return for a ten percent reduction in the landowner’s property tax relief.

“I am pleased that the Legislature once again has affirmed the importance of preserving and protecting California’s agricultural lands,” said Nielsen.

AB 1265 re-instates the Williamson Act subvention program that was authored by Assemblyman Nielsen last year (Senate Bill 865 and Assembly Bill 2530). The language of SB 863 and AB 2530 was eliminated with the passage of Governor Brown’s budget bill (SB 80) earlier this year.

Approximately half of California’s farmland (16.6 million acres) is under Williamson Act contracts. The Williamson Act is a three way partnership between landowners, counties, and the state. Landowners agree to forego the possibility of developing their land during the term of the 10 or 20 year Williamson Act contract in return for lower property taxes.

AB 1265 would also allow participating landowners to opt out of the new shorter contracts and lesser benefits by simply exiting the program through notice of nonrenewal. If landowners agree to enter into contracts that are 10 percent shorter than a standard Williamson Act contract, they would still save 90 percent of their property tax relief and counties would be encouraged to stay in the program. Without AB 1265, the only alternative for counties that cannot afford the loss of subventions would be mass contract non-renewals

See attached picture, which can be used for any news reporting purposes in connection with this release.

My story on the bill is here.