Thursday, December 27, 2012

UC prof offers beer for catching butterfly

A professor at the University of California-Davis is offering a unique prize for the first person to find a certain butterfly in the Sacramento area.

From a UC-Davis Department of Entomology news release:
A butterfly for a beer, or a beer for a butterfly.

Collect the first cabbage white butterfly of 2013 in the three-county area of Yolo, Solano or Sacramento and collect a pitcher of beer (your brand) or its cash-prize equivalent from Professor Art Shapiro of the UC Davis Department of Evolution and Ecology.

Shapiro launched the annual “Catch-a-Cabbage-White-Butterfly-Win-a-Pitcher-of-Beer” contest in 1972 to draw attention to Pieris rapae and its first flight. “It is typically one of the first butterflies to emerge in late winter,” he said. “Since 1972, the first flight has varied from Jan. 1 to Feb. 22, averaging about Jan. 20.”

Shapiro, who usually wins his own contest, snagged the first cabbage white butterfly of 2012 at 11:50 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 8 in West Sacramento, Yolo County.

“This was usually early and was due to the prolonged midwinter dry spell in the winter of 2011-2012,” he said.

He caught the first cabbage white butterfly of 2011 at 1:21 p.m., Monday, Jan. 31 in Suisun City, Solano County.

The cabbage white butterfly inhabits vacant lots, fields and gardens where its host plants, weedy mustards, grow

The butterfly must be collected outdoors in Yolo, Solano or Sacramento counties and must be delivered live to the office of the Department of Evolution and Ecology, 2320 Storer Hall, during work hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. All entries must list the exact time, date and location of the capture and the collector’s name, address, phone number and/or email.

“The receptionist will certify that it is alive and refrigerate it,” Shapiro said. “If you collect it on a weekend or holiday, hold it your refrigerator but do not freeze it. A few days in the fridge will not harm it.”

Shapiro, who is in the field more than 200 days a year, has been defeated only three times since 1972. And all were his graduate students, whom he calls “my fiercest competitors.” Adam Porter defeated him in 1983; and Sherri Graves and Rick VanBuskirk each won in the late 1990s.

When he wins, he shares the reward with his graduate students and their significant others.

All in all, the cabbage white butterfly contest “helps us understand biological responses to climate change,” he said. “The cabbage white is now emerging a week or so earlier on average than it did 30 years ago here.”

Shapiro maintains a website on butterflies at, where he records the population trends he monitors in Central California. He has surveyed fixed routes at 10 sites since as early as 1972. They range from the Sacramento River Delta, through the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains, to the high desert of the western Great Basin. The sites, he said, represent the great biological, geological, and climatological diversity of central California.

Shapiro and biologist/writer/photographer Tim Manolis co-authored "A Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions," published in 2007 by the University of California Press.

Shapiro, a distinguished professor, is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Royal Entomological Society, and the California Academy of Sciences.

For more information on the beer-for-a-butterfly contest, contact Art Shapiro at, (530) 752-2176.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

FB attorney would 'invite' state to appeal

I just spoke with Darrin Mercier, the attorney for the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau.

"Obviously we're excited about the ruling" in the case against the Department of Fish and Game, he said.

He praised the judge for showing "intellectual honesty" in laying out arguments against what the DFG was doing. He said he expected the state to appeal.

"It's what they've been saying from the beginning, but they've said a lot of things," he said. "In a way we would invite it."

Siskiyou ruling sets 'important precedent'

The Christmas Eve ruling in the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau's favor sets an "important, statewide precedent" for future water rights cases, an organization official says.

From a California Farm Bureau Federation news release:
In an important decision that protects private water rights while maintaining environmental protections, a Siskiyou County Superior Court judge ruled that a state agency had overstepped its authority in trying to regulate farmers’ water use.

The ruling by Judge Karen L. Dixon determined that the California Department of Fish and Game had exceeded its authority by requiring farmers and ranchers to obtain a permit from DFG before they irrigate their crops. The Siskiyou County Farm Bureau filed suit against DFG last year, on behalf of members who farm along the Scott and Shasta rivers.

“This ruling establishes an important, statewide precedent,” Siskiyou County Farm Bureau President Jeff Fowle said. “There is no doubt that if DFG had been able to expand its authority here, it would have tried to regulate water rights elsewhere in the state. This decision reaffirms that water rights are administered by the courts and State Water Resources Control Board. Now, we can turn our attention to finding collaborative ways to improve conditions for fish while maintaining the sustainability of our farms and ranches.”

The case centered on Section 1602 of the Fish and Game Code, which requires individuals to notify DFG and potentially obtain a Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreement before conducting certain activities that alter a streambed. Permits have been required under the section for gravel mining, construction of push-up dams and other projects that physically alter streambeds—but DFG began notifying landowners along the Scott and Shasta that they would need to obtain permits simply to open an existing headgate or activate an existing pump in order to irrigate their crops.

In its lawsuit, the county Farm Bureau said the requirement would have been a “fundamental change” in the application of the code that would have jeopardized both water rights and property rights for farmers and ranchers.

“We understand that DFG wants to protect salmon in the rivers, but it has many other ways to do that already,” said Rex Houghton, the immediate past president of the county Farm Bureau. “Farmers will continue to work collaboratively with the agency to improve conditions for fish. The outcome does not change the notification requirement for activity that physically alters a streambed, but it is important to establish that DFG can’t require a permit for farmers simply to exercise their water rights.”

Because of the statewide implications of the case, the Siskiyou County Farm Bureau received support for the lawsuit from the California Farm Bureau Federation and county Farm Bureaus throughout the state. Attorney Darrin Mercier of Yreka argued the case on behalf of the county Farm Bureau.

The Siskiyou County Farm Bureau is a voluntary membership organization that works to protect and promote agricultural interests throughout Siskiyou County and to protect and improve the availability of food and fiber through responsible stewardship of natural resources.

California leads in winter farmers markets

With its milder weather and year-round production of crops, California leads the nation in winter farmers markets with 284, according to a USDA directory.

The figure is nearly double last year's total, the California Farm Bureau Federation noted. The increase comes as the National Farmers Market Directory has seen a 52 percent spike in winter listings nationwide.

New York is second with 156 winter farmers markets and Florida is third with 105.

The USDA's directory of farmers markets can be found at

Monday, December 24, 2012

Siskiyou farmers win suit against DFG

A Yreka judge has handed down a Christmas Eve ruling that the state Department of Fish and Game overstepped its authority by requiring ranchers to obtain special permits for irrigation.

The Siskiyou County Farm Bureau filed suit earlier this year asking Superior Court Judge Karen Dixon to block the DFG from enforcing what ranchers have called its “new” interpretation of Fish and Game Code Section 1602, which deals with water diversions from rivers and streams.

The suit asserted that farmers holding diversion rights on the Shasta and Scott rivers needed declaratory relief or they could face misdemeanor charges and civil and criminal penalties of more than $25,000 per violation.

Farm Bureau members announced the suit's outcome as soon as it was issued. Their attorney, Darrin Mercier, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The farmers' suit was filed after San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith invalidated a much cheaper watershed-wide permit the DFG offered to landowners in the Scott and Shasta valleys in 2010. Goldsmith ruled the agency didn't prepare the permits in accordance with environmental laws.

During testimony in the Siskiyou Farm Bureau case in May, a trio of farmers said the DFG's actions would add a new layer of requirements they'd have to meet to irrigate their crops, and a legislative history expert told the court the section in question had more to do with lake and stream alterations than water use.

For more details, check back at in the coming days.

A Christmas greeting

Fred Kelly Grant, an Idaho consultant and noted Sagebrush rebel, recently sent out Christmas greetings to tea party folks, including the Redding area's own Erin Ryan. He said he was about ready to "fly apart into a million pieces" after a day of conflict and regained perspective by going to a local church to pray.

He concludes:
I hope that God blesses you with some such sign of peace during this season. I offer my prayers for all you, my friends and family, that you may enjoy His peace as we celebrate the birth of His only Son. Whether in good or bad health, whether in a solid or estranged relationship, whether facing work problems or high success, we can have His peace if we only let it in.

Sad though it is that we have lost loved ones through the years, I still get peace from remembering the old songs that they sang. Sometimes I can imagine that I am still at New Market Methodist Church just up the road from Pond Hollow, South Carolina, as I was on one Christmas Eve when I remember my mother and grandmother and my great aunt Genie singing together their favorite carol, “O Holy Night”. I can still hear the lyrics and the tune, just as I did many years later in Corpus Christi Catholic church in Baltimore as Lodice held my first born son Andrew at his first Christmas and sang with his Godparents Peg and Foxie Winchester:
O Holy Night,
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Til he appear’d and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine
God bless you and keep you! Merry Christmas!
I concur. As another Tim says in a famous story, God bless us, everyone!

UC unveils cost studies for beef, prunes, others

New studies have been unveiled by the University of California Cooperative Extension that examine the costs of producing beef, alfalfa hay, corn silage, rice, prunes, raspberries and avocados.

Each analysis is based on hypothetical farm operations using practices common to the region, according to a UC news release. Information for the studies was provided by farm advisors, researchers, growers, farm accountants, pest control advisors, consultants and other professionals.

Tables and analyses spell out such details as material inputs, cash and non-cash overhead and profits over a range of prices and yields.

The studies are available at extension offices, online at or by calling (530) 752-3589.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Livestock rule 'less onerous than govt. wanted'

The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Network, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF) says the livestock tracing rule introduced yesterday by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack ended up being "less onerous" than what the government wanted.

From an R-CALF news release:
On Dec. 28, 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will publish its final national animal identification rule, known as the Traceability for Livestock Moving Interstate (final rule). The final rule will take effect 60 days later, on Feb. 26, 2013.

"The final rule is far less onerous when compared to what the government has been pushing for years: premises registration, mandatory electronic eartags, centralized database of producer information, inclusion of all cattle regardless of age, and the removal of hot-iron brands as official identification devices, " said R-CALF USA Animal ID Committee Chair Kenny Fox.

R-CALF USA's membership took an uncompromising position against the USDA's early attempts to implement the final rule's precursor - the previously proposed National Animal Identification System or NAIS - and successfully defeated USDA's efforts to require independent cattle producers to register their farms and ranches as official "premises" and to identify every animal with a costly electronic ear tag.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the death of NAIS in early 2010, citing widespread opposition from independent cattle producers and the need to reverse producer mistrust for the USDA as grounds for his decision.

Early in the controversy over NAIS, R-CALF USA in 2009 provided USDA with an 8-point alternative to improve animal disease traceability. That plan called for the restoration of the identification components of the nation's preexisting brucellosis eradication program, which used a metal eartag to trace breeding-aged livestock.

In 2011, however, USDA proposed a rule to allow the brucellosis-type eartag, but it also attempted to include cattle of all ages, such as those younger cattle shipped to feedlots or to a meatpacker, and it removed the hot-iron brand from USDA's list of official animal identification devices.

R-CALF USA and its membership called foul.

"We viewed USDA's proposed rule as a broken promise," said Fox adding, "Our membership immediately rallied to denounce USDA's plan to delist the hot-iron brand and to add feeder cattle to any new rule."

In the final rule, feeder cattle are no longer included, meaning only cattle 18 months of age or older that are shipped across state lines will be required to be identified after February 26. The final rule makes exceptions for rodeo and show cattle and sexually intact dairy cattle, which will be subject to identification requirements regardless of their age.

In addition, the final rule restores the hot-iron brand as an official identification device, though it makes its use contingent upon the approval of both the shipping and receiving state. The final rule also allows for the continued use of backtags for cattle destined for slaughter.

"The final rule looks more like the sensible rules that some states have already adopted - such as South Dakota's rule that subjects only older cattle to identification requirements - and less like USDA's previous plans to impose unworkable regulations on independent cattle producers," said Fox.

"The fact that some states already have sensible rules shows that the federal government's involvement in animal identification is really unnecessary," he added.

Fox said he remains concerned about the contingency associated with hot-iron brands, particularly since the final rule effectively demotes the hot-iron brand as a less acceptable means of identifying cattle than is a government eartag. He also cautioned that USDA intends to undertake yet another rulemaking in the near future to impose identification requirements on feeder cattle.

"But, for this round, at least, our efforts have clearly minimized the huge burden the government has tried for years to place on independent cattle producers," Fox concluded.

U.S. Cattlemen praise new livestock ID rule

Another national cattlemen's group has weighed in on the new animal tracing rule that will be finalized next week.

From the U.S. Cattlemen's Association:
The United States Cattlemen's Association (USCA) has released the following statement regarding the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) release of the National Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) final rule today. USCA applauds the agency for the release of this long-awaited policy and the open and transparent process by which USDA promulgated the rule.

Dr. Dick Bowman, USCA Animal ID Chairman and veterinarian who participated in the public rule-making process through the Cattle ID Group said, "This administration has invested considerable time and effort in this process. USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Under Secretary Edward Avalos, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Deputy Administrator Dr. John Clifford and APHIS staff have worked diligently to engage industry stakeholders and a plan has emerged from these discussions that is responsive to the livestock industry's needs while providing efficient and effective methods for disease traceability. We appreciate the agency's work on this controversial but much-needed program, which will enhance animal disease traceability."

USCA Animal Health Committee Chairman, Chuck Kiker, Beaumont, TX said he is pleased that the plan accepts the use of brands, tattoos and brand registration as official identification when accepted by shipping and receiving states or tribes. "This rule provides individual states and tribes with a remarkable amount of flexibility. While the final rule addresses significant gaps in the nation's overall disease response efforts, under this plan states and tribes will be able to design systems for tracing animals that best fits their needs. Back tags will be permanently maintained as an alternative to official ear tags, which is something many producers made reference to in the public comment period. Certain classes of cattle are exempt under this final rule, including cattle under 18 months of age. The agency has indicated that it will address these classes of cattle under a separate rule-making due to the sheer volume of animals affected. We congratulate USDA-APHIS for its work," added Kiker. "This is a prime example of what can happen when industry groups come together to work in a positive manner with a regulating agency like USDA."

USCA President Jon Wooster said the final ADT rule is the result of a collaborative process that establishes a national system of tools and safeguards for effective disease response. "We expect this rule to be published in the December 28 Federal Register, and it will become effective on February 26 in terms of implementation and compliance education. The enforcement phase will likely not be implemented for six to twelve months after the rule is implemented, which gives USDA time to work with states and tribes to develop their own policies and systems. We applaud USDA for its work on this rule and we look forward to working with the agency and with the Cattle ID Group as we move ahead."

Thursday, December 20, 2012

NCBA 'encouraged' by animal tracing rule

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is giving mostly positive marks -- at least so far -- to the federal government's new livestock traceability rule, which was announced today.

From an NCBA news release:
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Chief Veterinarian Kathy Simmons issued the following statement regarding the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) final animal disease traceability (ADT) rule, which was announced by Secretary Vilsack this afternoon.

“NCBA has been an industry leader in working diligently with USDA APHIS to ensure cattlemen’s concerns are addressed in this new animal disease traceability program. We are encouraged by today’s comments from Secretary Vilsack, and we are in the process of thoroughly reviewing the rule and sharing this information with our members.

“From the Secretary’s comments, NCBA is encouraged that many of the priorities of cattlemen and women have been considered in this final rule. Cattlemen and women are looking for a rule that does not come with additional costs and does not hinder the speed of commerce. Brands will be recognized when accompanied by an official brand inspection certificate as means of official identification for cattle. The rule will also allow flexibility in tagging procedures and paperwork. Most important to cattle producers is the Secretary’s announcement of separate rulemaking for beef cattle under 18 months of age.

“Raising healthy cattle is a top priority for cattlemen. NCBA remains supportive of an animal disease traceability program for cattle health purposes. We commend APHIS for its efforts to listen to concerns of America’s cattlemen in developing this traceability program. NCBA encourages the agency to continue working with industry leaders on this and all animal health issues.”

USDA finalizes animal traceability rule

I'm on a conference call now with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and chief veterinarian John Clifford, who are announcing the government has finalized its animal traceability rule.

Here is the USDA's press release:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced a final rule establishing general regulations for improving the traceability of U.S. livestock moving interstate.

"With the final rule announced today, the United States now has a flexible, effective animal disease traceability system for livestock moving interstate, without undue burdens for ranchers and U.S. livestock businesses," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "The final rule meets the diverse needs of the countryside where states and tribes can develop systems for tracking animals that work best for them and their producers, while addressing any gaps in our overall disease response efforts. Over the past several years, USDA has listened carefully to America's farmers and ranchers, working collaboratively to establish a system of tools and safeguards that will help us target when and where animal diseases occur, and help us respond quickly."

Under the final rule, unless specifically exempted, livestock moved interstate would have to be officially identified and accompanied by an interstate certificate of veterinary inspection or other documentation, such as owner-shipper statements or brand certificates.

After considering the public comments received, the final rule has several differences from the proposed rule issued in August 2011. These include:

Accepting the use of brands, tattoos and brand registration as official identification when accepted by the shipping and receiving States or Tribes
Permanently maintaining the use of backtags as an alternative to official eartags for cattle and bison moved directly to slaughter
Accepting movement documentation other than an Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (ICVI) for all ages and classes of cattle when accepted by the shipping and receiving States or Tribes
Clarifying that all livestock moved interstate to a custom slaughter facility are exempt from the regulations
Exempting chicks moved interstate from a hatchery from the official identification requirements

Beef cattle under 18 months of age, unless they are moved interstate for shows, exhibitions, rodeos, or recreational events, are exempt from the official identification requirement in this rule. These specific traceability requirements for this group will be addressed in separate rulemaking, allowing APHIS to work closely with industry to ensure the effective implementation of the identification requirements.

For more specific details about the regulation and how it will affect producers, visit

Animal disease traceability, or knowing where diseased and at-risk animals are, where they've been, and when, is very important to ensure a rapid response when animal disease events take place. An efficient and accurate animal disease traceability system helps reduce the number of animals involved in an investigation, reduces the time needed to respond, and decreases the cost to producers and the government.

This notice is expected to be published in the December 28 Federal Register.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

North state orchards weather freezing temps

In the photos, Red Bluff farmer Tyler Christensen checks the leaves of his young walnut trees for burning from fost, and workers Santiago Acencio (left) and Martin Jimenez take advantage of today's break in the weather to inspect flats at Christensen's prune drying plant.

Despite some low snow levels and valley temperatures down in the low 30s and high 20s, there have been no reports of significant tree damage from frost, at least yet. Christensen said he applied water to his orchards as a frost-prevention measure once in November, and since then cold temperatures have only caused a few minor instances of leaf burn.

For my story on what growers do to protect their orchards from frost, check soon.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tribes agree to Klamath project extension

As support for the project continues to languish in Congress, the Klamath Tribes are among the first signatories of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement to agree to extend certain deadlines for completion.

From a news release:
On December 17, 2012 the Klamath Tribes, by referendum vote of 508 in favor and 77 oppose, reaffirmed their commitment to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) by directing the Klamath Tribal Chairman to sign the First Amendment to the KBRA.

The amendments extend the time for passage of federal legislation, resolve tribal funding matters and clarify the federal partnership between the Tribes and United States envisioned under the KBRA. In addition the amendments clarify various provisions and update schedules for a number of actions in the KBRA.

“I am very pleased that our membership voted in support of the amendments. Though we still have much to do to pass legislation in Congress, the KBRA and its sister agreement the Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement provide the greatest opportunity to restore our tribal fisheries and achieve the goals of the Klamath Tribes” said Vice-chairman Don Gentry.

“The KBRA amendment process itself is a reminder that the KBRA is an effective, flexible, adaptive and efficient tool to address Klamath Basin water matters and an example of how things are working under the KBRA” said Councilman and lead negotiator, Jeff Mitchell. “We look forward to working with our partners and members of Congress in forging a path forward to resolve the Klamath Basin water issues and implement the KBRA and KHSA.”

The amendments will become effective when they are approved by all the parties that signed the KBRA.
Watch for my update on the Klamath project at in the coming days.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Rainfall doing wonders for rangelands

All the rain we've been getting in Northern California is really helping boost the quality of rangelands. For one thing, it's deepened soil moisture and replenished aquifers so the ground should have at least enough water to get through the winter, said Josh Davy, livestock advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension in Red Bluff. The cold temperatures we've been seeing will slow top growth, he said.

"We'll still get some root development, which is a good thing," he said.

This past weekend's deluge in the north state merely added to what have been some impressive seasonal rainfall totals. Redding recorded 1.17 inches of rain over the weekend, bringing this month's total to 4.29 inches, according to the National Weather Service. The average for December here is 3.03 inches. Since July 1, Redding has received 13.41 inches of rainfall, well above the 10.52 inches normally registered by this time of year.

In Red Bluff, 0.68 inches of rain fell on Saturday and Sunday, bringing this month's total to 3.45 inches, according to the weather service.

For the complete picture, check late tomorrow morning.

Tehama District Fair ponders date change

The Tehama District Fair in Red Bluff has been seeking locals' opinion as to whether to change its dates from late September.

Reports Julie Zeeb at the Daily News:
The Tehama District Fair board discussed initial results of community outreach to decide whether to move the September fair to an earlier month.

Surveys were posted on the Tehama District Fair Facebook page in November, on the Red Bluff is My Town Facebook page, Twitter and homepage of the Daily News website

The results were split almost evenly on the Tehama District Fair page, Fair CEO Mark Eidman said. While 569 people viewed the survey, only 27 participated through leaving comments, he said.

Red Bluff is My Town put forth two comments wanting a later fair date and Twitter only yielded one comment for summer.

The Daily News survey had about 92 viewers of which 35 percent said to leave the fair as is while 64 percent said move it to summer.
Remember the Tehama fair used to be held in July but they moved it to September because they thought it wouldn't be as hot. To avoid losing fairgoers because kids are in school, thwy started doing an education day, which the Capital Press has covered.

For what it's worth, I kind of like having the fair in late September. It's sort of the last big event of the summer around these parts. But I'm just one fairgoer, and I didn't vote in their survey.

Stop school shootings -- ban media outlets?

During a recent speech in Sacramento, Bill Clinton reportedly said (according to my mother, who was there) that when natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy hit, people first tune to CNN to find out "what really happened" then turn back to Fox News or MSNBC, depending on their political persuasion. But the self-proclaimed "most trusted name in news" apparently isn't as reliable when it comes to mass shootings at schools.

So opines John Hinderaker of Power Line. He writes:
Desperate to profit by satisfying the public’s thirst for information about the Sandy Hook murders, news outlets–just about all of them, as far as I can tell–rushed to publicize “facts” that turned out to be largely wrong. They reported that Ryan Lanza was a mass murderer, when in fact he is a respectable accountant who learned of the murders–and his own alleged responsibility–via CNN, while working in his office in Times Square.

They reported that the killer’s younger brother was found in the woods after the murders, and was hauled out while protesting his innocence. Adam Lanza didn’t have a younger brother, and we have heard nothing further about this second person who supposedly had something to do with the killings. They told us that Nancy Lanza was a kindergarten teacher at Sandy Hook and was murdered in her classroom, along with her students. It turned out that she had no connection to Sandy Hook and was shot at home as she lay in her bed, likely asleep. They reported, entirely falsely, that Lanza had murdered his father in New Jersey. On fact after fact, the news media turned out to be wrong. Likely more errors will emerge over time.

The broader and more important question relates to the news media’s responsibility for Sandy Hook and similar incidents. As I wrote here, it seems rather obvious that mass murderers like Adam Lanza are inspired in part by a desire for fame, which our news media are happy to supply. That is why these incidents feed off one another, as we have seen in recent weeks. Newspaper editorialists demand that we engage in “soul-searching” after a mass murder like Sandy Hook, but why? You and I could search our souls forever and come up with no connection to the crime. But our newspapers and television stations really ought to search their souls and consider whether they are encouraging spectacular, deadly crimes, and if so, how they can reform their own conduct.
Apparently CNN was far from the only offender. According to Hinderaker, one of the most egregious accounts came from the Associated Press (imagine that), which spared no breathless hysteria in declaring the shooter could have killed "just about every student in the school" had the cops not shown up.

Look, if you want my two cents, I think incidents like Friday's shooting are the best arguments for homeschooling there ever were. School violence aside, most parents have no clue the kind of environment they're subjecting their children to when they drop them off at a public school. I heard about one first-grader a couple of years ago here in the Redding area who suffered through an asthma attack for nearly an hour because the school secretary was "too busy" to give him a puff of his own inhaler.

But I think it's rich when I hear about TV networks going all self-righteous on us over gun violence when as many people get killed in one episode of "Revolution" as were targeted on Friday. If we're going to start banning certain classes of firearms because of school shootings, let's be fair; perhaps we should ban certain classes of media, too. Fortunately we have a Constitution (at least for now) that prevents the government from doing such a thing, so we'll have to do it ourselves as consumers.

Friday, December 14, 2012

This just in: Farm dust rule still dead

At least for now. From the National Cattlemen's Beef Association:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that it would retain the coarse particulate matter (PM) National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS), eliciting a positive response from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) on behalf of cattle producers across the country.

“NCBA is pleased that EPA has decided to retain the current coarse PM standard and did not make a bad situation worse,” said NCBA Deputy Environmental Counsel Ashley McDonald. “Unfortunately, cattle producers did not get the permanent certainty they were seeking in the form of legislation and will again face a review of this standard within five years. But for today, NCBA is relieved that EPA listened to rural America and realized that further tightening the dust standard would have disastrous effects on America’s agricultural economy.”

The PM standard, commonly known as the dust standard, remains one of the most important environmental issues facing cattle producers. Under the Clean Air Act (CAA), EPA is required to review the dust standard every five years to evaluate its protection of public health. Despite the lack of any scientific evidence finding any harm to human health from rural dust at ambient levels, agricultural operations in arid parts of the country have a difficult time attaining compliance with the dust standard at its current level, and must implement costly practices in order to mitigate dust.

Under the current review of the dust standard, EPA proposed in June of this year to retain the coarse PM standard, and NCBA, state cattlemen’s associations and members submitted comments encouraging EPA to make that proposal final. McDonald made it clear that if the PM standard had been tightened, it would have been virtually impossible for current agricultural operations to demonstrate compliance, subjecting them to fines under the CAA of up to $37,500 per day.

“A stricter PM standard would have an impact that would cause most of cattle country, including the entire Midwest, West and Southwest, to be out of compliance or at the brink,” McDonald said. “For now, 15 mile–per-hour speed limits on dirt roads, paving dirt and gravel roads and a prohibition on harvesting or tilling during the day are not regulatory requirements in most states, but could easily become a reality if EPA continues to regulate farm dust.”

McDonald added that until legislation is passed by Congress giving cattle producers permanent relief from dust regulations, NCBA will continue to fight EPA’s dust standard.
The timing of the announcement is, of course, interesting, considering the discussion we've been having in the past week.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

EcoFarm conference coming in January

If you're looking for an excuse to drive to the Central Coast this winter, the Ecological Farming Association's annual conference is taking place next month at the Asilomar conference center in Pacific Grove.

From the organization:
The agricultural community is facing a huge shift: seven out of ten farms in the United States are set to change hands by the year 2030 and forty-percent of farmers are age 55 or older. The Ecological Farming Association (EFA) is preparing for this transition by educating and inspiring beginning farmers and ranchers at the 33rd Annual EcoFarm Conference, Feed the World You Want to Live In, at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, California, January 23 through 26, 2013. As the oldest and largest ecological agricultural gathering in the West, the EcoFarm Conference offers more than sixty workshops featuring an array of educational sessions for beginning and seasoned farmers, ranchers, distributors, retailers, activists, consumers, students, and educators. Through a beginning farmer workshop track, office hours with nonprofit experts, and endless networking opportunities, beginning farmers will be provided the opportunity to learn, participate, and join the large organic and sustainable farming community at the EcoFarm Conference.

The Ecological Farming Association (EFA), along with the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS), the Community Alliance for Family Farmers (CAFF), and the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), received a $665,000 grant from the USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) for a project titled “Building a Foundation for New Farmers: Training, Resources, and Networks." Part of the grant provides for eight fellowships for beginning, central coast farmers. The fellowships feature complimentary registration, lodging, and meals for all four days of the EcoFarm Conference, plus providing an ongoing support network to help their farms and businesses thrive.

The EcoFarm Conference- supported in part by Clif Bar & Company, Full Belly Farm, Nutiva, Driscoll’s, and Veritable Vegetable - will feature pre-conference farm tours and a butchery skills seminar and workshops on production, marketing, business, ecological conservation, finance techniques, and much more. Some of the workshops in the Beginning Farmer workshop track include business planning, organic marketing, introduction to biodynamic agriculture, finding your niche market, starting your CSA, and wise words from well-seasoned farmers. EcoFarm offers single and multi-day passes with lodging and meal options featuring products from the EcoFarm community’s own food producers.

New this year, EcoFarm will be offering a chance to speak one-on-one with nonprofit experts during office hours. Representatives from The Xerces Society will meet with farmers to talk about pollinator and beneficial insect habitat restoration. California FarmLink staff will discuss farm financing or accessing land. Community Alliance for Family Farmers will be there to discuss Food Safety issues. Jim Leap, the farmer mentor funded through the USDA BFRDP, will be providing consultations regarding a range of topics related to small-scale organic vegetable production.

Bringing over 1,500 participants to Asilomar, the EcoFarm Conference will host artisanal food tastings, live entertainment, an Exhibitor Marketplace showcasing over fifty organic and ecologically-based businesses and organizations, farmer mixers, an awards ceremony, and farmer roundtable discussions.

The Ecological Farming Association, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, nurtures healthy and just farms, food systems, communities and environment by bringing people together for education, alliance building, and celebration. Over the past 32 years, the EcoFarm Conference and EFA’s education programs have reached more than 76,000 participants, supporting grassroots leadership and regional solutions to increase and promote healthy, sustainable farms and food systems.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Did Obama tell Vilsack to make that speech?

You know, the contentious one the U.S. agriculture secretary made last week about rural America's loss of relevance?

From Dale Moore, the American Farm Bureau Federation's deputy director for public policy and a former USDA chief of staff during the Bush administration:

"We respect the secretary's opinion, but as our members make clear to us, these (regulatory issues) are still priority issues for us and we will keep pushing on them. At one point when the cards are all laid on the table and it's clear we have prevailed in our policy thinking ... we will thank them very kindly and move on to the next priority issue.

"We do respect the fact that Secretary Vilsack is the secretary of agriculture and was appointed by the president. As secretary, he does have a boss, and there may be occasions when the president suggests he needs to share some thoughts that may not be the most popular things out there."

Moore said he had no idea whether President Obama had input on Secretary Vilsack's remarks, but he remembers then-President Bush sent then-ag secretary Mike Johanns out to sell a budget proposal that was unpopular with some farm groups.

As Drudge likes to say, developing ...

CFBF cheers LaMalfa ag committee nod

The California Farm Bureau Federation is cheering the appointment of Rep.-elect Doug LaMalfa and two other Californians to the House of Representatives' agriculture committee for the next Congress.

From the CFBF:
The committee announced that Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, and Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, would become new members, joining Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno. Costa, a senior member of the committee, serves as the ranking member on its Rural Development, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee.

"It is very good news for California farmers and ranchers that we now have greater representation on the Agriculture Committee," California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger said. "All four members understand the challenges California agriculture faces."

In the previous Congress, California had three representatives among the 46 members of the Agriculture Committee. Wenger said he hopes the four Californians on the new committee will continue its longstanding tradition of working in a bipartisan manner.

"The House Agriculture Committee plays a vital role in creating policy that helps farmers and ranchers survive in a highly competitive world market," Wenger said. "We look forward to working with the four California members in particular on initiatives that protect against invasive pests and diseases, encourage agricultural research and help farmers maintain their stewardship of the environment."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Some final thoughts on the Vilsack meeting

To sum up my thoughts on U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's town hall meeting in Weaverville last night, which I report on here, here, here and here:

I can definitely say he struck a mostly conciliatory tone last night than what was reported out of his DC speech last week, although one gets the sense that a few of these issues like farm dust really got under his skin. As I told the RS' Bruce Ross on Facebook, I saw an irony in the three issues that he chose to complain about as evidence that rural areas are losing credibility, since it was the public outcry and political pressure from rural areas that led to those proposals' demise. And I haven't even mentioned the GIPSA rule, which was scaled back dramatically after they received 61,000 written comments. I don't imagine too many of those came from San Francisco or New York City.

One does get the impression that Vilsack perhaps suffers from a little bit of insulation. He at least feigned to not even have heard of the UN's Agenda 21, which has been a favorite conspiracy theory among tea party supporters for several years now. Not that all of their arguments necessarily have merit; in fact I think that's an area that maybe one can argue Vilsack is right about people in rural areas wasting time and political capital on issues that most average folks can't relate to. But you'd think if he spent much time outside of Washington he'd at least hear enough about it to debunk it.

My editors have their own take on the secretary's Washington speech. You can look for their editorial at on Thursday afternoon.

Vilsack: Legalizing industrial hemp has merit

Several of us thought it was funny, or maybe even fitting in a cynical kind of way, that the first question U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack got in his Weaverville town hall meeting last night was about cannabis and hemp production. But Vilsack treated the question quite seriously.

The secretary indicated he believes there's merit to allowing production of industrial hemp, noting that Canada and other competing nations are doing so. He said he's raised the issue with Attorney General Eric Holder and hasn't received much of a response.

As much as it's tried to advance into the mainstream, the whole weed issue still elicits giggles from some of us who can't resist. But hemp industry representatives cringe when their product is lumped in with marijuana. Here's a story I did on hemp in 2010, in which a Chico businesswoman stressed that the two are not the same.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Vilsack engages rural folks in Weaverville

If tonight was to be the start of the "adult conversation" that U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wanted to have with rural America, he found himself on the receiving end of much of the discussion.

Many of the 200-plus people in a standing-room-only crowd at the veterans' hall in Weaverville lamented the loss of timber jobs in Trinity County because of Endangered Species Act protections for the Northern spotted owl and urged the U.S. Forest Service to expedite the thinning of fire fuels from forest floors.

The secretary reiterated his call for unity and focus among folks in the country as the number of rural Americans has dwindled to 16 percent of the nation's total population. He also said the federal government has a lot of work to do to repair relations with rural dwellers who've grown distrustful of its motives.

During a press conference afterward, in response to my question about his comments about "wedge issues" during a speech last week in Washington, D.C., Vilsack said he had no objections to people remaining politically engaged on regulations that could affect their livelihoods.

But he objected to what he said was continued harping by farmers and ranchers on proposals that had been rescinded.

"The dust rule was never going to happen, and that was still the focus of conversations," he said. "My view is what we ought to be having is sort of what we had here tonight -- people coming in with ideas. Let's not worry so much about regulation but (asking), 'What is the solution to the problem?'"

Vilsack will remain in Weaverville for a roundtable discussion tomorrow morning with forestry "stakeholders" at a local mill and then will head to Sacramento for the Almond Board of California's annual conference, where he will speak on Wednesday.

Look for my full coverage of tonight's meeting at early tomorrow.

Critical habitat identified for Klamath suckers

The federal government has issued a final rule identifying critical habitat areas in the Klamath Basin for a couple of species of sucker fish.

From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that it has designated critical habitat for the endangered Lost River sucker and shortnose sucker. Critical habitat was first proposed for these species in 1994, but was never completed due to higher conservation priorities for the listed suckers.

Approximately 282 miles of streams, and 241,438 acres of lakes and reservoirs are included in the final critical habitat designation in Klamath and Lake Counties in Oregon, and in Modoc County, California.

The final rule and related materials, including maps, are available at Critical habitat designation does not impose restrictions on private lands, unless they involve Federal funds, permits, or activities. Critical habitat is a tool to identify areas that are important to the recovery of a listed species. Designation of critical habitat can help focus conservation activities for a listed species by identifying areas that contain the physical and biological features that are essential for the conservation of the species.

In the final rule, the Service is not designating ditches or canal systems where these species may occur because these areas do not provide the physical and biological features essential to the conservation of these species.

The final critical habitat designation includes significantly less area than what was proposed in 1994 mostly because of modern mapping tools and methods.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Vilsack: Rural America is 'less relevant'

On the eve of U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's planned town hall meeting Monday night in Weaverville, there's this (reliably pro-administration) gem from the Associated Press:
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has some harsh words for rural America: It's "becoming less and less relevant," he says.

A month after an election that Democrats won even as rural parts of the country voted overwhelmingly Republican, the former Democratic governor of Iowa told farm belt leaders this past week that he's frustrated with their internecine squabbles and says they need to be more strategic in picking their political fights.

"It's time for us to have an adult conversation with folks in rural America," Vilsack said in a speech at a forum sponsored by the Farm Journal. "It's time for a different thought process here, in my view."

He said rural America's biggest assets - the food supply, recreational areas and energy, for example - can be overlooked by people elsewhere as the U.S. population shifts more to cities, their suburbs and exurbs.

"Why is it that we don't have a farm bill?" said Vilsack. "It isn't just the differences of policy. It's the fact that rural America with a shrinking population is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country, and we had better recognize that and we better begin to reverse it."

For the first time in recent memory, farm-state lawmakers were not able to push a farm bill through Congress in an election year, evidence of lost clout in farm states.

The Agriculture Department says about 50 percent of rural counties have lost population in the past four years and poverty rates are higher there than in metropolitan areas, despite the booming agricultural economy.
All of these are valid points. And if he was looking for a venue that has become "less relevant", he'd be hard-pressed to find a better place than Weaverville, whose economy has been decimated over the last 20 years by the decline of the timber industry.

But if residents there are looking for some relief, they might do well to consider these little tidbits from the AP story (emphasis and relevant links added):
Vilsack criticized farmers who have embraced wedge issues such as regulation, citing the uproar over the idea that the Environmental Protection Agency was going to start regulating farm dust after the Obama administration said repeatedly it had no so such intention.

In his Washington speech, he also cited criticism of a proposed Labor Department regulation, later dropped, that was intended to keep younger children away from the most dangerous farm jobs, and criticism of egg producers for dealing with the Humane Society on increasing the space that hens have in their coops. Livestock producers fearing they will be the next target of animal rights advocates have tried to undo that agreement.
So in other words, shut up and take your Washington-imposed regulatory medicine? That'll go over really well in spotted owl-weary Trinity County, some areas of which are sort of California's answer to Northern Idaho.

Monday night could be interesting.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Houser says he didn't want protracted fight

Paul Houser, the former U.S. Bureau of Reclamation scientific integrity officer who resolved his whistleblower complaint against the government this week, told me this morning he didn't want a protracted investigation.

"I wasn't all that excited about spending the next three years or longer in a protracted investigation and I'll bet they weren't, either," he said.

He had the option of going through a formal investigation or going to mediation through the Office of Special Council. He said it recently took eight years for a fired National Park Service employee to resolve her case.

"I guess I'm grateful this was resolved in record time," he said. "I'm hoping the science part gets resolved because I really am concerned about that."

Tehama FB prez learns about leadership

The president of the Tehama County Farm Bureau was one of 10 professionals in ag-related industries statewide who graduated this week from a leadership course offered by the California Farm Bureau Federation.

From the CFBF:
Ten Farm Bureau members from throughout California have earned recognition for completing a year of intensive training in the Leadership Farm Bureau program. The Leadership Farm Bureau Class of 2012 graduated during an event held at the Pasadena Convention Center today during the 94th California Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting.

“The Leadership Farm Bureau program has served as a foundation for many of our organization’s leaders,” CFBF President Paul Wenger said. “I want to congratulate these individuals on their hard work and dedication. I look forward to watching them take their experiences and new knowledge back to their communities and make a difference for California’s farming and ranching community.”

The graduates completed 250 hours of specialized training focused on leadership skills and current affairs, plus insight into how Farm Bureau operates and its priorities in working to protect family farms and ranches. The 2012 Leadership Farm Bureau class included:

Tara Brocker, Nicolaus, a rice farmer;
Jack Hamm, Lodi, manager at Lima Ranch, a 1600-cow dairy, farmer of corn, alfalfa and forage, and first vice president of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation;
Eric Heinrich, Modesto, almond and walnut farmer and a member of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau Board of Directors;
Kristen Krohn, Kelseyville, administrative assistant at the Lake County Farm Bureau and market manager for;
Daniel Meza, Lodi, commercial lender at Farmers and Merchants Bank;
Sam Mudd, Red Bluff, co-owner of AG-LAND Investment Brokers, walnut grower and president of the Tehama County Farm Bureau;
Jennifer Scheer, San Jose, executive director of the Santa Clara County Farm Bureau and a rice and walnut farmer;
Antoinette "Toni" Scott, Chico, agribusiness consultant with Morrison and Co.;
Mindy Sotelo, Hollister, executive director of the San Benito County Farm Bureau;
Jake Wenger, Modesto, walnut and almond farmer and a member of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau Board of Directors.

As part of its training, the Leadership Farm Bureau class traveled throughout the San Joaquin Valley to speak with family farmers and ranchers, as well as to Sacramento and Washington, D.C., to learn about key issues and meet with legislators, members of Congress and government agency leaders. The group also visited Texas to discuss common issues with farmers and agricultural leaders there.

The 2012 class marks the 13th group of leaders to complete the Leadership Farm Bureau program since it began in 2000. For more information, see

The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of more than 74,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 6.2 million Farm Bureau members.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ag Secretary Vilsack to visit Weaverville

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will discuss the future of forestry and other issues during a town-hall meeting in Weaverville Monday night

Vilsack will talk about economic opportunities for rural areas through forestry, farming and ranching, the biobased economy and more, according to a USDA news release.

The secretary will seek suggestions from attendees on how the federal government can work with rural communities, the release stated.

The 5:30 p.m. meeting will be held at the Veterans Memorial Hall, 100 Memorial Drive.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Corning event covers irrigation, tree nutrition

Today I covered a workshop hosted by the University of California Cooperative Extension in Tehama County, focusing mainly on irrigation tips while also covering the anticipated regulation of nitrates in groundwater and how orchardists can prepare for them.

In the photos, Larry Schwankl (top) of the UCCE's Kearney Agriculture Center near Fresno talks with a grower; and (at bottom) UC-Davis plant sciences professor Patrick Brown talks with Almond Board of California official Gabriele Ludwig during a break.

I never cease to be amazed at how resilient agriculture is, adapting to whatever the anti-ag forces throw at it. California is arguably the most oppressive state in the union, and its ag sector remains one of the nation's most profitable. Water cutbacks? Heck, they're figuring out exactly how much water each tree needs and when and applying the water directly to the roots. Ditto for nitrogen applications, which should greatly lessen the much-dreaded chemical load in the groundwater supply.

Watch for my stories at in the coming days.

Updated: Shasta, Tehama can get farm loans

Tehama, Alameda and Marin counties and their neighbors have been named as eligible for USDA emergency farm loans because of losses from drought damage this year.

The contiguous counties also receiving aid are Butte, Contra Costa, Glenn, Mendocino, Plumas, San Joaquin, Santa Clara, Shasta, Sonoma, Stanislaus and Trinity counties.

Farmers in those counties have eight months to apply for the loans to help cover part of their actual losses, a news release explains. Various eligibility requirements apply, such as whether the farm as suffered at least a 30 percent loss and whether the farm was unable to find credit elsewhere. Applicants must complete certifications of disaster losses.

Applications can be filed at FSA service centers.

Here is the press release from the USDA's Farm Service Agency:
Pursuant to the Secretary of Agriculture’s designation of an emergency in the state of California on
May 31 , 2012, Tehama, Alameda and Marin Counties has been named eligible for USDA emergency farm loans because of physical and production losses based on damages and losses caused by drought covering the 2012 crop year.

In addition, the following contiguous counties are eligible:

Contra Costa
San Joaquin
Santa Clara

Farmers in all fourteen (14) counties have eight months to apply for the loans to help cover part of their actual losses. Some of the eligibility requirements are listed below:

Have suffered at least 30 percent loss of normal production directly related to the above-cited cause,
Be able to repay the loan and any other loans,
Be Unable to obtain credit elsewhere,
Have adequate security,
Have multi-peril crop insurance, if available, and
Meet other eligibility criteria.

All applicants must complete a certification of disaster losses, which reflects the exact date(s) and nature of the designated disaster and how it caused the loss or damage. Crop insurance field reports may be a source for documenting losses directly related to the cited cause.

The authorization from Farm Service Agency (FSA) to accept Emergency loans under this authorization expires on January 31, 2013. Applications should be filed with your FSA Service Center at:
2 Sutter Street, Suite C, Red Bluff, CA 96080.

Almond growers to gather next week

Hundreds of almond growers will gather next week for their annual conference Dec. 11-13.

The Almond Board of California-sponsored event at the Sacramento Convention Center will include numerous workshops on growing tips and regulations and a gala dinner with entertainers Penn and Teller.

The event was moved north this year from its previous home, Modesto.

“In Sacramento, we've got more exhibits and more room,” said Robert Curtis, the almond board's associate director of agricultural services.

The conference will include a symposium on nitrogen management and an opportunity for growers to talk one-on-one with researchers, Curtis said.


Monday, December 3, 2012

CFBF chief renews call for activism

The leader of the Golden State's largest farm organization renewed his call for more political activism Dec. 3 in opening remarks at the group's annual meeting in Pasadena.

California Farm Bureau Federation president Paul Wenger urged growers to help shape the future of agriculture through the same “dogged determination” with which they produce crops.

The almond grower from Modesto reiterated that farm productivity has made California the nation's No. 1 agricultural state while acknowledging that growers' input costs have also gone up.

“While we have been so successful at producing more crops and more valuable crops and doing so on a sustainable, renewable basis, it doesn't always translate that our bottom lines have gone up,” Wenger said in prepared remarks to meeting delegates at the Pasadena Convention Center.

That's why there's never been a time that is so critical to work together through Farm Bureau and other allied organizations to advocate for our industry,” he said.

Wenger noted that immigration reform and the implementation of health care reform will be key issues that farmers and ranchers will need to weigh in on in 2013, according to a CFBF news release. Even before then, negotiations on avoiding the so-called “fiscal cliff” could have a big impact on growers when it comes to the estate tax, he argued.

For my complete story, check soon.

November rainfall, reservoirs by the numbers

California's reservoirs are in good shape after a series of storms that were expected to raise Shasta Lake by more than 10 feet in the course of a week.

November rainfall
Here are the November and seasonal rainfall totals and comparisons to normal for selected California cities, according to the National Weather Service. Totals are as of Nov. 30:
Redding: Month to date 6.77 inches (normal 4.48 inches); season to date 9.12 inches (normal 7.49 inches)
Eureka: Month to date 6.36 inches (normal 5.61 inches); season to date 9.86 inches (normal 8.93 inches)
Sacramento: Month to date 3.97 inches (normal 2.08 inches); season to date 5.14 inches (normal 3.37 inches)
Modesto: Month to date 1.73 inches (normal 1.36 inches); season to date 1.85 inches (normal 2.32 inches)
Salinas: Month to date 3.13 inches (normal 1.4 inches); season to date 3.32 inches (normal 2.18 inches)
Fresno: Month to date 1.11 inches (normal 1.07 inches); season to date 1.36 inches (normal 1.89 inches)

Reservoir levels
Here are the percentages of capacity for California reservoirs and comparisons to their seasonal averages as of midnight Dec. 2, according to the Department of Water Resources California Data Exchange Center:
Trinity Lake: 75 percent of capacity; 114 percent of average
Shasta Lake: 61 percent; 100 percent
Lake Oroville: 59 percent; 95 percent
New Bullards Bar Reservoir: 72 percent; 133 percent
Folsom Lake: 50 percent; 104 percent
New Melones Reservoir: 63 percent; 115 percent
Millerton Lake: 51 percent; 119 percent
Pine Flat Reservoir: 22 percent; 58 percent
Lake Isabella: 15 percent; 56 percent
San Luis Reservoir: 41 percent; 66 percent

For my story on the storms and what lies ahead, check soon

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dairy meeting yields little progress

The state dairy task force meeting that was set for Wednesday apparently yielded little progress in getting short-term relief to struggling farmers.

From Jay Van Rein at the California Department of Food and Agriculture:
Statement by Secretary Karen Ross:

The Dairy Future Task Force is made up of dairy producers, processors and cooperatives asked to come together to find common ground upon which they can build a new, more stable and contemporary path for the dairy industry. The first session, held October 23-24, provided an opportunity to agree on a common fact base and develop a sense of what the group wants to accomplish in the coming months. The task force achieved alignment around a shared vision for the future of the California dairy industry which is a significant accomplishment and a key step toward long-term success. The initial session was designed to set the stage for the group to identify and build strategic pillars that will result in a robust, profitable, demand-driven dairy industry. I was impressed by the progress made and look forward to continuing this important work. I commend the group’s members for embracing their task and the difficult but critical discussions it entails.

Based on the discussion of concepts for potential short-term solutions, CDFA anticipates receiving a petition shortly and will evaluate it on an expedited basis. I very much look forward to working with the talented and passionate producers and processors who are willing to provide leadership to this very important sector of the agricultural community.


The California Department of Food and Agriculture and the entire dairy industry remain very concerned about the current crisis affecting many of our state's dairy families. The drought has resulted in extremely high feed prices at a time when dairies were already receiving low prices due to falling demand and over supply of milk. Many dairies are still trying to recover from the 2009 crisis which saw record losses in the industry and they simply didn't have enough equity to see them through this crisis.

Where possible, the Department has used the limited discretion it is given by law to provide appropriate adjustments, such as modifying the whey factor scale up to 50 cents per hundredweight based on commodity prices. Moreover, fluid milk prices have been rising to meet market conditions. The minimum price has increased approximately 30 percent since June 2012 and is now among the highest prices on record. Class 4b milk, which is used to make cheese, is also up in recent months by about 30 percent.

Looking ahead, members of the industry agree the path forward must include reforms to our pricing structure as a key step towards a better future. The Dairy Future Task Force will tackle these and other important issues by facilitating open, honest conversations between people personally invested in dairy farms and processing plants. Task force members were invited as individuals - not as representatives of associations or other organizations. There will be significant public vetting of various stages of the task force's work, which will strive to create consensus around short- and long-term solutions.

The deliberations of this group will proceed under the administrative oversight of the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) in a private setting that we hope will eliminate public posturing, hyperbole, and positioning for political gain. The task force is the first and probably most important step the industry can take to find agreement on a shared vision for the future and create an action plan for making that vision a reality.

Several years ago, CMAB showed leadership and took a bold step in commissioning a study which provided concepts for long-term sustainability and industry growth over a 20-year period. This kind of intense industry self-evaluation and critical analysis will set a firm foundation upon which the task force can build. The Department is confident the industry will seize this opportunity, find consensus and create the momentum necessary to implement meaningful changes that will ensure a more stable and healthy California dairy industry.

Dairy Future Task Force members:
David Ahlem, Hilmar
Joey Airoso, Tipton
Joe Augusto, Visalia
Tom Barcellos, Tipton
Marcus Benedetti, Petaluma
Ben Curti, Tulare
Rochelle De Groot, Hanford
Joe DeHoog, Ontario
Lucas Deniz, Petaluma
Eric Erba, Visalia
Frank Fereira, Red Bluff
Mike Gallo, Atwater
Dino Giacomazzi, Hanford
Dominic Grossi, Novato
Scott Hofferber, San Bernardino
Dennis Leonardi, Ferndale
Steve Maddox, Riverdale
J.T. Maldonado, Hanford
Tony Mendes, Riverdale
George Mertens, Sonoma
Rick Michel, Waterford
John Oostdam, San Jacinto
Brian Pacheco, Kerman
Ray Souza, Turlock
Sue Taylor, Denver
Arlan Van Leeuwen, Oakdale
Sybrand Vander Dussen, Chino
Simon Vander Woude, Merced

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fire fee opponents: Pay bills under protest

In the photos, from the top: Legislative aides Brenda Haynes (left) and Ashley Adishian prepare a sign to display; Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association legislative director Davie Wolfe speaks to reporters; and former state Sen. Doug LaMalfa shows a protest petition to a reporter.

Wolfe, LaMalfa and Assemblyman Jim Nielsen held a press conference today to discuss next steps on the controversial fire fees that are going out to rural landowners in the north state this month. They say property owners should pay their bills even though the fees are being challenged in court, so they don't incur fines.

You can find my complete story here. Affected residents are encouraged to attend a meeting with Wolfe and others at the Redding library, 1100 Parkview Ave., tonight beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Photo gallery: Sacramento dairy rally

On Thursday I went to Sacramento to cover dairy producers' rally on the steps of the state Capitol for fairer milk pricing, which you can read about here.

In the photos, from the top: Corey Schortzmann, Brittany Day, Jami Lady, Julia Lady and Allison Inlow of the Dairy Club at Fresno State University talk before the rally; dairy producers Corey Vanderham of Hanford, Calif., and Willemina and Rob Van Grouw of Visalia, Calif., stand with signs; Van Grouw uses a sign to shield herself from the sun; People stand with signs; and Gary Van Ryn of Visalia talks about the struggles his dairy is having.

California's milk price regulation system and its shortcomings are a complicated issue, and the Capital Press' Carol Ryan Dumas does an excellent job of laying it out here, as does the AP's Gosia Wozniacka with this story. The dairy rally website is here. For the state's explanation of how milk pricing works, go here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

4-Hers show the public their charitable side

In the photos, from the top: 13-year-old Travis Brunelle of Corning 4-H decorates water bottles that will be given out to the homeless; Westside 4-H member Nicky Parks, 9, and others try their hand at the craft; and 6-year-old Raven Osborne of Red Bluff decorates a dress that will be sent to a young girl in Africa.

The activity was one of many at the Tehama District Fair grounds on Saturday as 4-H held an open house, showing the public that the organization isn't just about raising animals. It was almost as busy as fair time at the grounds, as a children's resources day and a St. Elizabeth hospital-sponsored health fair were also being held.

For my full story on the 4-H open house, check later today.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Veep hopefuls sound off after debate

As the reporter who's covering the presidential race for the Capital Press, I thought it would be useful (or at least interesting) to sign up for the memos and e-mails the two campaigns send out to their supporters. Occasionally I've had second thoughts, as my inbox is often inundated by both camps.

But here is what vice-presidential combatants Joe Biden and Paul Ryan had to say "to me" after last night's debate.

From Biden, in a message simply titled, "Hey":

I did my best to make you proud tonight.

But I hope you remember one thing: This debate wasn't about me, or Congressman Ryan.

It was about you, and what we're fighting for together.

So if you're standing with Barack and me, like we're standing with you, please chip in $5 or more to show it [...]
From Ryan, in an e-mail titled "Our fight":


America is at a crossroads. We have a choice -- four more years of the same hardship and decline, or a new path. That choice was abundantly clear at last night's debate.

The American people want jobs. They want leadership they can believe in. They want our great nation to prosper again.

And they want leaders who'll fight for them -- and alongside them.

Mitt Romney and I, along with Republicans across the country, are fighting for America's comeback. And we're willing to fight for it -- because we believe our nation is at its best when individuals are allowed to pursue their dreams.

Mitt Romney and I believe that on November 6th, Americans will rise to the occasion. America will fix what needs fixing.
Both candidates ended by asking for donations.

Much has already been said and written about Biden's behavior during the debate. My take is that it pretty much summed up this administration's whole approach to governing. The way Biden responded to Ryan is how the EPA responds to us when we ask questions. It's how Deputy Ag Secretary Kathleen Merrigan reacts to people who criticize the new school lunch menu. In a milder form, it's how Merrigan responded to me when I asked her if the business roundtable she attended in May was an effort to improve a lackluster poll standing for President Obama on the economy. One sometimes gets the impression that these people wish they could just declare themselves dictators so they could dispense with all this pesky facing-us-ordinary-citizens stuff.

Incredibly, though, Biden wasn't the most obnoxious Democrat to step onto a debate stage last night.

Study: grape consumers keep healthy diets

A new study by a Northern California research group suggests that those who regularly consume fresh grapes, raisins or grape juice gravitate toward healthier overall eating habits.

The study, presented Tuesday at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food and Nutrition Conference and Exposition in Philadelphia, examined federal data on the diets of more than 21,800 children and adults.

Researchers funded by the Sacramento-based National Grape and Wine Initiative found that consumers of non-alcoholic grape products had increased intakes of total and whole fruit as well as dietary fiber, calcium, magnesium, potassium and vitamins A, C and B6, according to a news release.

“I think it shows that not only do people who consume grapes and grape products tend to have larger consumption of other food items that are important to the diet, but they also show a tendency to consume less of those things they shouldn't eat,” said Jean-Mari Peltier, the Grape and Wine Initiative president.

For my complete story, check soon.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Moisture in air slows valley rice harvest

In the photos, from the top: Larry Maben, a rice farmer near Willows, says he is about halfway through with harvest; he checks to see whether whole kernels made it through the combine and back onto the ground (not an outcome you would want); and his son, Russel Maben, operates the combine as a bankout keeps pace.

The harvest started a little later than growers expected because moisture in the air in the past few weeks has kept a higher-than-desired level of moisture in the rice. They expect to keep going into November; fortunately (for them, at least), there isn't any rain to speak of on the horizon.

Look for my full story at tomorrow.

Chico State slaps HSUS over 'Meatless' claim

The Humane Society of the United States has reportedly been forced to take down a press release claiming that California State University-Chico had embraced its "Meatless Mondays" vegetarian campaign.

From the blog
Since just 1 percent of the money the Humane Society of the U.S. raises is sent to pet shelters, people often ask us where the money does go. It goes to pay lobbyists and lawyers, to fund a wealthy pension plan, and to bankroll fundraising mills. It also goes to PETA-like anti-agriculture propaganda. One such campaign is Meatless Monday. Granted, HSUS wants meatless Monday through Sunday, but it will take anything that moves the goalposts in that direction bit by bit.

Last week, HSUS put out a press release claiming that California State University, Chico, was joining the ranks of schools using the Meatless Monday program. But students and alumni of Chico—which has a significant agriculture program—quickly revolted at the idea of their school becoming a pawn in the HSUS’s anti-meat crusade, and the school was quick to react.

The College of Agriculture ripped HSUS on Facebook:
While we fully support offering students plenty of options on the menu, including vegetarian, we object to the use of a political tactic like “meatless Monday,” used by HSUS to advance its anti-agriculture agenda, which is the opposite of what we teach students every day about land stewardship, humane animal handling, and the importance of a healthy, balanced diet.
Meanwhile, the University had this to say:
To respond to a number of posts on our site: A news release from the Humane Society of the United States about Chico State joining the “Meatless Mondays” program was inaccurate – this was an action taken by the Associated Students’ Dining Services, not the University. The AS has asked the HSUS to take the news release down, and the AS is currently reevaluating the decision to join the program. To be clear, what AS Dining Services has been planning for the Sutter Hall dining facility is 1 of 5 food stations offering vegetarian options on Mondays. The other stations all serve meat on Monday.
Last but not least, the dining services’ Director of Business and Finance added, “We were co-opted into this movement, and that was not our intent.”

It seems clear to us that HSUS is so obsessed with veganism and attacking meat that it will use just about any pretext for pushing the “meat-free” narrative, even when it’s totally false. Chico’s dining services was apparently always going to still offer meat on Mondays, but simply increase the number of vegetarian options on that day. Nothing wrong with offering more options, but there is something wrong with HSUS making it into something to fit its agenda of taking away options.

While the hacks over at “This Dish is Veg” still haven’t apparently gotten the memo, HSUS has. The press release is no longer on HSUS’s website, and its PETA-esque activists now have fake egg on their faces.