Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Drought impacts feed availability, orchard plantings

I'm posting remotely today as I continue to work on our big drought package. The California Farm Bureau Federation offers some reports on the situation this morning:
Animal feed suffers from drought

The California drought will have “serious impacts” to production of animal feed, according to University of California specialists. They describe oat hay as “a disaster” due to lack of rain, and predict diminished supplies of alfalfa hay, as well. At the same time, livestock owners need to buy more hay, because drought has parched rangeland on which animals would normally feed. That will lead to short supplies and high prices for animal feed this year.

Water situation could affect orchard plantings

With demand for almonds, walnuts and pistachios remaining strong, farmers continue to plant new orchards. But nurseries that supply young trees say the ongoing drought could reduce interest in new orchard plantings. The nurseries say they continue to take orders for trees, but have heard from some farmers who are waiting to commit until they see how much water they will have available. At this time of year, nurseries begin delivering bare-root trees to farmers for planting.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Wall Street advisor: True unemployment is 37.2%

A noted Wall Street investment advisor is saying the true number of Americans who are out of work is much higher than government officials (and by extension, many in the media) are reporting.

Writes Paul Bedard in the Washington Examiner:
Don't believe the happy talk coming out of the White House, Federal Reserve and Treasury Department when it comes to the real unemployment rate and the true “Misery Index.” Because, according to an influential Wall Street advisor, the figures are a fraud.

In a memo to clients provided to Secrets, David John Marotta calculates the actual unemployment rate of those not working at a sky-high 37.2 percent, not the 6.7 percent advertised by the Fed, and the Misery Index at over 14, not the 8 claimed by the government.

Marotta, who recently advised those worried about an imploding economy to get a gun, said that the government isn't being honest in how it calculates those out of the workforce or inflation, the two numbers used to get the Misery Index figure.

“The unemployment rate only describes people who are currently working or looking for work,” he said. That leaves out a ton more.

“Unemployment in its truest definition, meaning the portion of people who do not have any job, is 37.2 percent. This number obviously includes some people who are not or never plan to seek employment. But it does describe how many people are not able to, do not want to or cannot find a way to work. Policies that remove the barriers to employment, thus decreasing this number, are obviously beneficial,” he and colleague Megan Russell [write] in their new investors note from their offices in Charlottesville, Va.

Monday, January 20, 2014

North state farmers, ranchers not taking a holiday


Government workers are taking the day off, as are many of their ideological soulmates in the progressive media. But farmers and ranchers are working today, and so is the Capital Press.

This morning I went on a short tour of drought-impacted farms with one-time Western Innovator Michael Vasey, now president of the Tehama County Farm Bureau, then swung over to the Tehama District Fair grounds to catch set-up activities for next week's Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale.

In the photos, from the top: Vasey, manager of Lindauer River Ranch, digs up some soil in an orchard that hasn't been irrigated yet to show how dry it is; Brian Burt uses a forklift to move some livestock gates at the fairgrounds; Chad Heitman of Red Bluff puts up a screen to protect animals from weather; and workers carry a gate into one of the barns to be put in place.

The dry weather is the big topic of both casual and serious conversations in California agriculture today. Not only is the lack of water a problem, but tree growers are concerned that the balmy weather we're experiencing may trigger an early bloom, which is more susceptible to frost damage.

Watch for my advance on the bull sale at CapitalPress.com, and keep checking the website for our wall-to-wall drought coverage in the weeks and months ahead.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Bill to strip federal funding from rail project

California's Republican delegation in Congress has introduced a bill to strip federal funding from the state's high-speed rail project after court decisions stalled the project in the fall.

From the north state's Rep. Doug LaMalfa:
Representative Doug LaMalfa testified this week at a hearing of the House Transportation & Infrastructure’s Rail Subcommittee on the financial risk to federal and state budgets posed by California’s high-speed rail plan. Following the hearing, LaMalfa joined every Republican member of California’s Congressional delegation in introducing a bill to suspend federal funding for the project, H.R. 3893.

“After a state court ruled what anyone paying attention has known for years, that the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s plan violated voter-approved law, it’s time for Congress to end the gravy train," said LaMalfa. "We need to ask ourselves, as a federal body, whether we are being good stewards of Americans’ tax dollars, particularly now that California is prohibited from using state bonds to build the project. At a time when every aspect of federal spending is being scrutinized, is it appropriate to use borrowed federal dollars for this project?”

“From a price tag that has doubled and wildly exaggerated employment claims to false ridership and ticket price figures, the High-Speed Rail Authority has never been truthful with Californians or the federal government,” added LaMalfa. “The claims made in attempts to prop it up have reached the level of farce. Governor Jerry Brown has proposed using funds meant for carbon reduction to prop up the plan, even as the Authority itself admits that it plans to plant thousands of trees to offset the system’s massive emissions.”
Video footage of LaMalfa's testimony is here. In signing on as a sponsor, LaMalfa makes good on a promise he made in November, when he called the project "dead in the water" as a result of the court rulings.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A 'conservative case' for universal health care?

It's starting. Obamacare's problems are getting so bad that at least one self-described conservative is advocating for universal health care.

Avik Roy writes at the National Review Online:
There’s been a lot of talk on the right about the importance of having a policy agenda that addresses the challenges of poverty and economic mobility. A neglected aspect of that discussion, however, is the degree to which access to health coverage is a part of the problem facing lower-income and middle-class Americans today. Medicaid is a basketcase of a program that leaves poor people no healthier than they were before — though it spends trillions on their behalf. And, thanks to Obamacare, one of the biggest economic challenges facing the middle class — the rising cost of health insurance — is getting significantly worse.

While “repealing and replacing” Obamacare is one way to address this problem, its political viability in 2017 — when tens of millions of Americans will be on Obamacare-sponsored coverage — is far from guaranteed. What will repealers-and-replacers say to Americans who like their Obamacare plans, and want to keep them?

The good news is there is an alternative approach, one that would achieve similar – if not better – fiscal results to repeal-and-replace, but with less disruption to existing coverage arrangements. I’ve discussed that approach previously in these pages, and I have a new article discussing the idea today in the Washington Examiner.

In today’s piece, I argue that no Republican health-reform plan will get anywhere until Republicans come to agree that it’s a legitimate goal of public policy to ensure that all Americans have access to quality health care, just as we agree that all Americans should have access to a quality education[.]
Really? Really? You call Medicaid a "basketcase" and yet you would impose it on the entire country? And you'd compare that system to public education, which is, to borrow a phrase, a shredded mess. If I had kids, I wouldn't send them anywhere near a government school, for reasons I've already discussed. And now you want to build a health care system I wouldn't want to send my loved ones to?

Interestingly, if you look at the comments, he isn't getting many takers. But you wait. Insurance under Obamacare will get so unaffordable that the hue and cry for taxpayer-funded care will reach a crescendo just as Hillary is taking office -- and that was the plan all along.

CFBF: Drought declaration draws attention to water

Gov. Jerry Brown's declaration of a statewide drought today will draw the public's attention to the state's water problems, California Farm Bureau Federation leaders observe.

From the state Farm Bureau:
In welcoming Gov. Brown’s declaration of a drought emergency today, California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said he hopes the action will give state agencies increased flexibility to act in people’s best interest, and said the federal government should follow the governor’s lead in taking immediate action to provide flexibility in regulations that could hinder water transfers.

“Given the unprecedented dry weather we have endured for the past 13 months, it’s entirely appropriate for the governor to declare a drought emergency and we appreciate his timely action,” Wenger said.

“Farmers across California face wrenching decisions today, as well as in coming months. Will they have enough water to plant crops, to water their livestock, and keep trees and vines alive? An additional concern is how many people they may have to lay off as a result of water shortages. Any way the state and federal governments can provide assistance in adding water to the system will help,” he said.

Wenger said he also hopes the governor’s action will bring increased attention to the longer-term water supply crisis California faces, which is compounded by population growth, environmental regulations and now, by drought.

“We don’t know if this is Year 3 of a three-year drought or Year 3 of a longer drought,” he said. “We do know that long droughts can be a feature of the California climate—and we know one way to insulate ourselves from droughts is to store more water when we can.

“While he leads California through this drought, we urge Governor Brown to lead the campaign for new water storage,” Wenger said. “California has continued to improve its water efficiency, both on the farm and at home, but conservation alone won’t solve our chronic water supply problems. California must commit to improve its water system—and new storage, both aboveground and underground, provides more flexibility to respond to more volatile weather patterns.”

Wenger noted that California has an opportunity to invest in new supply by recrafting a water bond scheduled for the ballot this year.

“Farm Bureau looks forward to working with the governor and the Legislature to enhance future water supplies and cushion California from future droughts,” he said.
Here is the governor's press release. The AP story is up at Redding.com. Watch for our continuing coverage of this development and of the drought as a whole at CapitalPress.com.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Chico State report highlights Farm Bureau dinner

Tonight we attended the Tehama County Farm Bureau's 96th annual meeting and dinner at the Corning veterans' hall, at which Chico State advancement director Sarah DeForest updated guests on the remarkable growth the university's College of Agriculture has seen in recent years.

Since 2005, the university's number of agriculture students has risen from 370 to 720, she said.

In the photos, from the top: DeForest is seen asking for a show of hands from alumni attending the dinner; and California Farm Bureau Federation second vice president Jamie Johansson, an Oroville almond grower, talks about various issues, including the drought.

Congratulations goes to Red Bluff prune producer Tyler Christensen, a one-time Western Innovator and one of my frequent sources, for being named member of the year. A special tribute was also given to Ken Lindauer of Lindauer River Ranch in Red Bluff, who retired from the Farm Bureau's board after 52 years of service.

For more coverage of the meeting, check CapitalPress.com soon.

North state tribes win national conservation award

The Karuk, Yurok, Hoopa Valley and other north state tribes were among 20 public-private partnerships that received Partners in Conservation Awards today from U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in Washington, D.C.

From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which also supplied the photo:
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today presented the Department of the Interior’s 2013 Partners in Conservation Awards to 20 public-private partnerships, including the Klamath Tribal Leadership Development Program for Integrative Science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge.

At the awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., Secretary Jewell thanked the Klamath team and others who collaborated on important conservation projects and programs in 2013. For information all of the award recipients please visit: http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/secretary-jewell-presents-2013-partners-in-conservation-awards.cfm

“The Department of the Interior is proud to recognize the accomplishments of those who are innovating and collaborating in ways that address today’s complex conservation and stewardship challenges,” said Secretary Jewell. “These partnerships represent the gold standard for how Interior is doing business across the nation to power our future, strengthen tribal nations, conserve and enhance America’s great outdoors and engage the next generation.”

The Klamath tribal youth education program was launched last summer and connected scientists and college students to Klamath Basin restoration projects. The program brought together youth representing the Yurok Tribe, Hoopa Valley Tribe, Karuk Tribe, Quartz Valley Indian Reservation and the Klamath Tribes with scientists from the NASA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Forest Service.

The Partners in Conservation Awards recognize outstanding examples of conservation legacies achieved when the Department of the Interior engages groups and individuals representing a wide range of backgrounds, ages and interests to work collaboratively to renew lands and resources.

Over the course of the 10-week program, the students and scientists worked on habitat restoration projects, developed models and collected data in the Sycan River in Oregon and Shasta Big Springs Creek in California – two important tributaries in the Klamath watershed that support tribal fisheries.

A unique focal point of the program is how it utilized both traditional ecological knowledge and cultural traditions with today’s leading technological approaches. The program is also helping tribal youth in the Klamath Basin by equipping them with essential job skills that will allow them to become future conservation leaders while also contributing to the current management of culturally and ecologically important fish species.

Additional partners of the Klamath tribal youth program are The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Humboldt State University (HSU), Southern Oregon University, and the Oregon Institute of Technology.
In the photo, from left to right: Kagat McQuillen, student and Yurok Tribal member; Harold Bennett, Chairman of Quartz Valley Indian Reservation; Darrell Aubrey, student, Karuk Tribe; Trevor Super, US Fish and Wildlife Service Klamath Basin Tribal Youth Program coordinator; Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell; David Wooten, Bureau of Indian Affairs; and Steve Gurten, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Deputy Director.

Obamacare goes after heirs for medical bills

Toss this into your succession-planning basket. Under Obamacare, there's a greater chance you could be held liable for your deceased parents' medical bills.

Reports Newsmax:
Millions of new enrollees are signing up for Medicaid due to its expansion under Obamacare, but many will be shocked to learn that their estates can be held liable for the costs of their healthcare.

As part of the 1993 budget reconciliation bill, Congress required states to implement the Medicaid Estate Recovery Program (MERP) to seek reimbursement of payments for nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

Obamacare, officially known as The Affordable Care Act, greatly expanded the services for which reimbursement can be pursued, and states can now use liens to recover money spent by Medicaid for services beyond long-term care.

States have discretion in how to implement the law, with some seeking to collect nearly all medical expenses.
So think about this. Your elderly parent falls a handful of times, pushes the MedicAlert button, gets taken to the emergency room to be checked over and racks up thousands of dollars in ambulance and hospital bills. He or she later dies, and all of the sudden you're being sued by the government for said thousands.

Mercy Medical Center is holding a seminar tonight on the new health care law, so perhaps someone will ask about this consequence of the law.

I won't be able to attend because we're going to the Tehama County Farm Bureau's 96th annual meeting in Corning. But perhaps another news organization will attend, and then we might see something that's been rare of late -- a locally generated story about the impacts of Obamacare.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

LaMalfa, McClintock oppose latest budget bill

Northern California's Reps. Doug LaMalfa and Tom McClintock both opposed the more than $1 trillion spending bill that passed the House of Representatives today.

From LaMalfa's office:
Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) today voted against the omnibus appropriations bill passed by the House today, H.R. 3547, which allocates funding approved in the budget agreement passed last month. LaMalfa supported the December budget agreement that set federal spending at $1.012 trillion, $115 billion less than the government was spending when he was sworn in, but stated that today’s measure should have repaired some of the problems within the budget agreement.

“I supported the bipartisan budget agreement last month to end the practice of passing continuing resolutions, which simply rubber-stamp the President’s priorities,” said LaMalfa. “I’m pleased with many of the steps forward this bill included, but there are spending increases in some areas that should be reformed. This measure should have gone through the full appropriations process so that each program and expenditure received an up or down vote, and that wasn’t the case.”
McClintock said in floor testimony:
This is not the “regular order” promised to the American people, in which each of the 12 appropriations bills is painstakingly vetted. It is all 12 bills rolled into one, with no opportunity for meaningful debate or amendment.

True, it adheres to the budget passed in December – but that is nothing to boast about. That budget destroyed the only meaningful constraint on federal spending.

One member said that he is “surprised” by opposition because – quote – “this bill, for the fourth year in a row, cuts discretionary spending.”

Only by Washington math. Last year, the discretionary spending of the United States government was $986 billion. This measure appropriates $1,012 billion. That’s an increase. And it is $45 billion more than the sequester would have allowed.
No doubt the two lawmakers have been hearing from their conservative supporters, many of whom have blasted the budget deal.

CFBF: Drought will reduce plantings of row crops

Strawberries aren't the only commodity for which planted acres are expected to decrease this year because of the drought. The conditions will likely force row crop producers to leave some land unplanted, reports the California Farm Bureau Federation.

From the organization's Food and Farm News:
Another dry winter in California will likely cause farmers to leave more land unplanted. That will mean less business for the people who provide seed for row crops such as cotton and processing tomatoes. Seed producers say it’s still hard to know how deep the reductions will be. Several weeks of rainy season remain, and farmers will likely wait as long as they can to finalize their plans. Planting of some crops could shift to areas with more secure water supplies.
As I reported over a week ago, cow-calf producers in the north state and beyond are trimming their herds to cut down on the cost of supplemental feeding. And other farmers say they’re deciding what crops not to plant to save water for other crops, such as trees and vines.

Several of us are working on a centerpiece story that will take an all-encompassing look at how the drought is affecting ag in the West. Look for our package at CapitalPress.com later this month.

LaMalfa: O'care numbers show program isn't viable

The north state's Rep. Doug LaMalfa asserted late yesterday that reports that most of the roughly 2.2 million people who signed up for Obamacare are older proves the program won't be financially viable.

From his office:
Today, Rep. Doug LaMalfa released the following statement regarding the latest health care enrollment report that 2.153 million Americans selected a plan through the Obamacare exchanges, a number significantly below the administration’s target of 3.3 million. According to the report, 79% of those who did fully sign up qualify for financial assistance from the government, indicating that the program will not be financially viable.

“The latest report released by the administration, which fails to disclose the number of individuals included who have actually enrolled in a plan, is especially upsetting when you take into account the 4.7 million Americans who lost coverage. This means that over 2.5 million more Americans are left uninsured today due to Obamacare and its mandates. Even more alarming, the dismal numbers of healthy, young adults included in the report put the law on track to what the Kaiser Family Foundation described as the “worst-case scenario,” rate increases that result in fewer options for Americans to get coverage at an affordable rate. Already Washington Insiders are looking for a bailout of insurance companies with taxpayer money,” stated Representative LaMalfa. “Americans deserve access to affordable, quality health care that addresses their needs, not a law full of failed and broken promises. Today’s numbers make it even clearer that this law must at a minimum be delayed and taxpayer bailouts must be off the table.”
Meanwhile, insurance companies say not even close to 2.2 million have really enrolled in Obamacare since you don't become enrolled until you've paid a premium. The White House isn't saying how many are actually participating in the program, and its allies in the media aren't pushing the issue, notes John Nolte of Breitbart News.

Just for fun, I went to Covered California's website and clicked on the "shop and compare" link. I entered all of the information they asked for (city, income, adults in household, etc.), and clicked for a list of available plans. The only option that came up was to have someone get back to me.

As more and more employers discontinue their health plans in the coming months, a big issue that will arise is the lack of affordable plans for working professionals in rural areas. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the news organizations that cover those rural areas will care or even notice.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Could America's hunters make up an army?

A pro-gun-rights missive floating around the Internet makes the case that licensed hunters, if you put them all together, would make up a pretty impressive army.

From the email, which found its way into my "in" box this morning:
A blogger added up the deer license sales in just a handful of states and arrived at a striking conclusion:

There were over 600,000 hunters this season in the state of Wisconsin ... Allow me to restate that number: 600,000! Over the last several months, Wisconsin 's hunters became the eighth largest army in the world.

These men, deployed to the woods of a single American state, Wisconsin, to hunt with firearms, and NO ONE WAS KILLED.

That number pales in comparison to the 750,000 who hunted the woods of Pennsylvania and Michigan's 700,000 hunters, ALL OF WHOM HAVE RETURNED HOME SAFELY.

Toss in a quarter million hunters in West Virginia and it literally establishes the fact that the hunters of those four states alone would comprise the largest army in the world. And then add in the total number of hunters in the other 46 states. It's millions more.

The point? America will forever be safe from foreign invasion with that kind of home-grown firepower!

Hunting... not just a way to fill the freezer.

It's a matter of national security!
Of course, the realist would come along and say a bunch of weekend-warrior hunters would be no match for a professional, standing army. But I take this as more of a food-for-thought/"fun facts" type of posting, as opposed to any kind of serious proposal.

At any rate, however, these hunters have a weapon that truly does have the establishment quaking in its collective boots. It's a weapon with which some politicians in Colorado became personally familiar recently. It's called their vote. And it explains why so many rural Democrats are unwilling to go along with President Obama's dictates when it comes to gun control.

Tehama resource agency wins $300,000 grant

The Tehama County Resource Conservation District has received $300,000 in federal funds for water conservation along the Sacramento River as part of the Natural Resource Conservation Service's Bay Delta Initiative.

From an NRCS news release:
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in California has approved four proposed project areas to be added to its three-year old Bay Delta Initiative, bringing the total number of project areas to 15. Farm and conservation groups in the approved areas work with farmers from Colusa to Bakersfield on voluntary projects to conserve and protect water and wildlife habitat. Farmers who wish to apply for contracts within these project areas must do so by March 21, 2014, to insure consideration for funding in 2014. [...]

Eighteen million dollars is available for farmers in the approved areas, through the Farm Bill-funded program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). In addition, four of the continuing projects also received funding from the Bureau of Reclamation to improve water delivery infrastructure. NRCS funding then complements that investment by funding needed on-farm irrigation improvements. For example, pressurizing a system for more efficient delivery could be funded by the Bureau while delivering the newly pressurized water to fields with leak-resistant pipes and systems, may be funded by NRCS. The result is a more efficient water delivery system where all the opportunities for water savings are more fully realized.

In addition to farmers and consumers, water birds in the Sacramento Valley are also benefiting from the Initiative. Farmers of rice and other irrigated crops are continuing work on a BDI project that extends the time water is available on fields to enhance agricultural land for wildlife.

BDI project sponsors are required to outline strategies to address one or more of the Initiative's three priority resource goals: 1) Water conservation and irrigation management on irrigated cropland; 2) Water quality improvements including nutrient management and erosion control on irrigated cropland, dairies, and associated areas; 3) Ecosystem restoration for aquatic and wetland habitat.

Since 2012, the NRCS BDI initiative has brought not only $48 million in farmland conservation infrastructure and management improvements to the Bay Delta ecosystem, but also increased conservation planning and technical assistance. Additionally, $32.5 million has been invested in easements to protect historic wetlands in the area. The California Bay-Delta watershed is remarkable for its agricultural productivity, ecological diversity, and complexity. It is home to a water delivery system which is one of the largest and most complex in the nation. Water for an estimated $400 billion of annual economic activity is delivered through the Bay-Delta system, including $28 billion in the agricultural industry. The watershed encompasses over 38 million acres, and within this area six counties produce more food than any other comparably sized area in the world.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Brown's budget boosts agriculture-related agencies

State agencies that work with farmers and ranchers would get a boost under Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture would receive an extra $20 million in cap-and-trade revenue for nitrogen and dairy digester research and development of renewable fuels, Secretary Karen Ross explained on the agency's website.

And the governor's $142.2 million funding increase for the University of California should help the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, although officials don't know yet exactly how the new money would be distributed.

"We're very pleased with the governor's proposed budget and encouraged by the show of support for the university," division vice president Barbara Allen-Diaz said in an email. "UC has always been supportive of UC Cooperative Extension as its representative in communities throughout California."

Allen-Diaz said her office is "committed to rebuilding" the extension and hiring more advisors.

For my complete story, check CapitalPress.com soon.

Friday, January 10, 2014

New channel marks sea change in media

In another sign that the old model of bundled cable is dying, a channel that's destined to become one of the hottest on television is bypassing the cable and satellite cartel and going directly to online distribution.

From Breitbart News:
World Wrestling Entertainment announced on Wednesday that it would launch the first-ever 24/7 streaming WWE Network channel on February 24. The sports entertainment franchise collaborated with MLB Advanced Media on the channel.

Many thought WWE would launch the WWE Network on cable television, but WWE opted to go with the digital option. According to WWE, fans will pay $9.99 a month with a 6-month commitment and will gain access to all of WWE's Pay-Per-View events, normally valued at $600 per year. Fans will be able to "subscribe to WWE Network beginning at 9:00 a.m. ET on Monday, February 24, at WWE.com, and for a limited time will be offered a free one week trial." Consumers can access the channel on a variety of mobile devices as well.
Now I'm not a fan of WWE in the least, but there are plenty of Americans who are, and this is another moment of clarity for the media industry.

In my house, we are slowly phasing out cable/satellite service and moving to our two Roku devices and a couple of old laptop computers as our main sources of TV content. Oh, and we do receive our local channels over the air, which means no waiting for some three-piece suit back East to decide whether they want to show me channels 7 and 20. The WWE, for one, recognizes there are plenty of people like me, and that the number of "cord-cutters" is growing.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Runner offers mixed reaction to Brown's budget

George Runner, the north state's representative on the state Board of Equalization, says Gov. Jerry Brown is right to advocate for fiscal restraint but adds the governor's continued spending on high-speed rail means his priorities "are off track."

Here is his statement:
“A budget that demonstrates fiscal restraint is essential for California to stay on track. The Governor’s high speed rail funding plan shows at least some of his funding priorities are off track.

“Increased revenues are primarily the result of temporary tax increases that will soon expire. California cannot solve its long-term budget problems by relying on temporary solutions that undermine job creation and economic growth.

“A comprehensive plan must prepare for the ending of the temporary tax increases Californians imposed on themselves to get out of the fiscal hole of overspending and recession.

“It is vital to set aside reserves for future shortfalls, or the Legislature may push to make temporary tax increases permanent. A strong rainy day fund is an important part of ensuring our state’s fiscal stability.

“California’s budget challenges will only be truly solved when a strong and healthy private sector is able to create jobs and opportunity for more Californians.”
The photo is of Runner talking to a Sacramento TV reporter, courtesy of his office.

Nielsen to help lead Senate budget panel

As Gov. Jerry Brown has just unveiled his proposed 2015-2015 budget, one of the lawmakers who will be going over it with the proverbial fine-tooth comb will be the north state's Sen. Jim Nielsen.

From his office:
California Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) recommended and the Rules Committee unanimously confirmed Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) to serve as Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review.

Experienced and knowledgeable in the state’s convoluted budget process, Senator Nielsen will be an assertive steward as decisions are made on the spending of taxpayers’ monies.

In response to the Governor’s budget proposal, Senator Nielsen expressed his appreciation that the Governor advocated for fiscal restraint in presenting many of the same recommendations Republicans have made for the past decade.

“I appreciate the Governor’s efforts; however, this budget proposal doesn’t adequately address the structural deficit that continues to plague the state treasury. It also continues to fund the Governor’s 'dream' of the High Speed Rail that California taxpayers don’t want and can’t afford.”

Senator Nielsen added, “The state recently received more tax dollars than state financial experts predicted. These monies should either be returned to taxpayers or used to pay down the state’s debt.”

Citing cost-of-living adjustments and other automatic increases in the state’s budgets, Nielsen vowed to push for reforms in the budget process.

“California’s financial problems have not been erased by this temporary financial windfall created by a ‘temporary tax increase’ (Proposition 30) last year. We continue to be plagued by expensive on-going costs like the High Speed Rail project, and the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare.”

Senator Nielsen continued, “The state has a massive $355 billion ‘wall of debt’ that must be paid down so our economy can grow. Our state’s economy is not recovering like the rest of the country. We must address the need to create more jobs for Californians who want to work.”

Brown releases 2014-2015 budget proposal

Gov. Jerry Brown has unveiled his proposed 2014-2015 budget this morning. Here is his opening message to the Legislature:
To the Members of the Senate and the Assembly of the California Legislature:

With a decade of intractable deficits behind us, California is poised to take advantage of the recovering economy
and the tens of thousands of jobs now being created each month. Each of you can be rightfully proud of the
role you played in helping to make this happen. In 2012, of course, the voters completed our task by approving
Proposition 30 and its seven years of increased tax revenues.

The 2014‑15 Budget continues our investment in schools by providing $10 billion this year alone to give
California students a much better chance to succeed. The Budget also provides new money for our colleges
and universities with a focus on getting students their degrees in a timely manner. It also funds the expansion of
health care coverage to millions of Californians and avoids the early release of serious and violent offenders, while
taking important steps to reduce future crime.

Given the vagaries of the business cycle, and particularly the volatility of capital gains income, we must be
ever vigilant in the commitment of public funds. In addition, past budgetary borrowing, unfunded retirement
obligations, bond costs, and deferred maintenance have created a mountain of long‑term liabilities that
totals hundreds of billions of dollars. In the face of such liabilities, our current budget surplus is rather modest.
That is why wisdom and prudence should be the order of the day.
The summary document is here. I'm checking with folks in agriculture-related departments about impacts. Look for my story at CapitalPress.com soon.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dry winter leads to hard choices for farmers, too

Ranchers aren't the only ones who will be facing some tough decisions in the next few weeks because of the dry winter. From the California Farm Bureau Federation:
Livestock ranchers are feeling it first, but farmers across California say continued dry weather will soon force them to make difficult choices. Dried-out pastures mean cattle and sheep ranchers must find other feed for their animals, or consider selling them before they reach market weight. Farmers who expect water shortages say they’re deciding what crops not to plant in order to save water for other crops, such as trees and vines.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Drought taking its toll on winter pasture

In the photo, taken yesterday, Bryce Borror of Tehama Angus Ranch in Gerber stands in front of a dry creek bed on leased land just outside of Red Bluff. The ranch usually winters cattle on the property but isn't doing so this year because of a lack of water and usable grass.

With conditions as bad as this, any hint of rain is a welcome sight. But Borror wasn't getting his hopes up about this week's mini-weather system.

"We need inches of rain," he said.

The photo was for a story I'm doing on how the drought is affecting ranches. In the meantime, I'm looking in on today's big state Board of Food and Agriculture meeting on how agencies plan to respond to the drought. You'll find both of these stories at CapitalPress.com soon.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Shasta, Tehama Farm Bureaus win statewide awards

The local Farm Bureau offices in Shasta and Tehama counties came away with awards during the California Farm Bureau Federation's recent convention in Monterey.

The Tehama office in Red Bluff won County of the Year honors for Farm Bureaus with 651 to 1,000 members. From a news release:
Among its activities, the county Farm Bureau conducted a bus tour of local agriculture for local and state leaders, worked to create a county ordinance to deter walnut theft, sponsored successful educational events for fourth grade and sixth grade students, purchased a portable milking machine for use at educational events, co-sponsored a giant pumpkin weigh-off and promoted agricultural tourism in Tehama County.
The Shasta County Farm Bureau was one of 14 local organizations statewide to be given County Activities of Excellence Awards. The Redding-based organization has embarked on some innovative projects over the last couple of years, including a ranch rodeo in the Intermountain area.

Other north state award recipients included Modoc County, which received the Innovator Award for sponsoring a survey of the wild horse population in the Modoc National Forest.

For the complete list of winners, click here.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Cattlemen's event raises thousands for scholarships

Hundreds of ranchers and other businesspeople packed the banquet room at the Red Bluff fairgrounds tonight for the annual Tehama County Cattlemen's and CattleWomen's winter dinner and auction, which raises nearly $20,000 each year for scholarships for young people preparing for careers in agriculture.

In the photos, from the top: People mingle and look at silent auction items during a social hour before the dinner began; the north state's Rep. Doug LaMalfa talks with Vina rancher Darrell Wood; and California Cattlemen's Association president Tim Koopmann (left) talks with Steve Zane, the outgoing president of the Tehama County Cattlemen's Association.

Among the stories I gathered in the course of the evening:

*This drought is (figuratively) killing the ranchers. Koopmann compares it to the drought of the mid-1970s, when some ranches were forced out of business. He said cattle producers are already trimming their herds.

*LaMalfa tells me he's made a "pivot" with regard to immigration reform and believes it's something that needs to be done this year. He thinks there finally may be enough political will in Congress to make it happen.

*The CCA will have a full plate in 2014, staging a full-court press against state and federal regulations, endangered-species listings and other things that could make it more difficult for producers to do business.

Watch for these stories in the coming days at CapitalPress.com.

Friday, January 3, 2014

CNRA chief: Survey shows need for Bay-Delta plan

The head of the state's Natural Resources Agency says the snow survey released today is further evidence that California needs to make elements of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan a reality.

Here is the statement from Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird:
“California has just ended one of the driest years in recorded history in many areas. Today’s snowpack measurement was an abysmal 20 percent of normal. This is a clear call for all of us to cut back on the amount of water we use watering lawns and landscaping. We have to keep our showers short, and run our washing machines and dishwashers only when we have a full load.

Because we rely on just a few big winter storms in December, January, and February to build our snowpack and refill our reservoirs and groundwater basins, there is still some potential for relief. However, at the Governor’s direction, a drought task force is meeting regularly to monitor dry conditions and determine the most appropriate action moving forward.

In the long-term, California must continue to focus on actions to modernize our water delivery system by completing the environmental planning process for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. Right now, we cannot move water in a way that is safe for fish, but is also necessary to ride out these dry periods without significant economic disruption. With the conveyance proposed in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan in place, the Central Valley this year would have an extra 800,000 acre-feet of water in the San Luis Reservoir. This effort to restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem and greatly enhance the water system’s reliability is the best investment we can make right now in our water future.”

Little snow seen in state's first survey of 2014

As we all could have predicted, a California agency's first snow survey of the New Year didn't find much snow.

From the state Department of Water Resources:
As California’s dry weather pushes into the new year, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) today announced that its first snow survey of the winter found more bare ground than snow.

Manual and electronic readings record the snowpack’s statewide water content at about 20 percent of average for this
time of year. That is a mere 7 percent of the average April 1 measurement, when the snowpack normally is at its peak
before melting into streams and reservoirs to provide a third of the water used by California’s cities and farms.

“While we hope conditions improve, we are fully mobilized to streamline water transfers and take every
action possible to ease the effects of dry weather on farms, homes and businesses as we face a possible
third consecutive dry year,” said DWR Director Mark Cowin. “And every Californian can help by making water
conservation a daily habit.”

The last time California’s statewide snowpack was this dry was in 2012 when it also was 20 percent of the historical
average. The readings today and in 2012 are the driest on record.

Today’s electronic readings indicate that water content in the northern mountains is 11 percent of normal for the
date and 4 percent of the April 1 average. Electronic readings in the central Sierra show 21 percent of normal for
the date and 8 percent of the April 1 average. The numbers for the southern Sierra are 30 percent of average for
the date and 10 percent of the April 1 average.

In addition to the sparse snowpack, many areas of California ended calendar year 2013 with the lowest rainfall amounts
on record. Normally one of California’s wettest spots with an average annual rainfall of nearly 100 inches, Gasquet
Ranger Station in Del Norte County ended the year with only 43.46 inches. Sacramento, which normally gets about 18
inches, ended up with 5.74 inches of precipitation. And downtown Los Angeles, which since 1906 has averaged 14.74
inches of rain, ended the year with 3.4 inches, beating the previous low of 4.08 inches recorded in 1953.

DWR and cooperating agencies conduct manual snow surveys around the first of the month from January to May. The
manual measurements supplement and check the accuracy of real-time electronic readings.

Californians unsure if they're covered by Obamacare

At least a few local news outlets in California aren't afraid to delve into problems surrounding the state's Obamacare exchange and how they're impacting people in their communities.

Breitbart News' Tony Lee reports:
Californians who applied for health insurance on the state's Obamacare exchange are uncertain if they actually have insurance plans as the new year begins. Others have still not even been able to successfully submit their applications because of website problems. [...]

A report from KUSI in California detailed the Californians who have signed up on Covered California but are not certain they have coverage because health networks have to approve the applications. Because of the website malfunctions, insurance companies have often received applications with incomplete or faulty data, which has made it impossible for them to enroll some Californians in their plans. Insurance brokers are being swamped with phone calls from nervous Californians, but they have been unable to provide answers.

The director of Covered California claimed that everything is going well for the "vast majority" of Californians, but KUSI reported that the numbers prove otherwise, as a million Californians have accessed the website but only 400,000 have signed up.

In a KMAX news broadcast, one Californian who has been unable to access the website to finish his health insurance application, Stacy Clark, expressed his frustration. "I can't do anything until they call me," Clark said, adding that he could not finish his application because he could not access the website. He said he has been unable to get help from the various hotlines. He is now "stuck" without health insurance and a finished application.
Meanwhile, London's Daily Mail continues to go where few American news organizations will dare to tread, reporting that hospitals are turning away patients without treatment if they can't prove they're covered under Obamacare.
Patients in a close-in DC suburb who think they've signed up for new insurance plans are struggling to show their December enrollments are in force, and health care administrators aren't taking their word for it.

In place of quick service and painless billing, these Virginians are now facing the threat of sticker-shock that comes with bills they can't afford.

'They had no idea if my insurance was active or not!' a coughing Maria Galvez told MailOnline outside the Inova Healthplex facility in the town of Springfield.

She was leaving the building without getting a needed chest x-ray.

'The people in there told me that since I didn't have an insurance card, I would be billed for the whole cost of the x-ray,' Galvez said, her young daughter in tow. 'It's not fair – you know, I signed up last week like I was supposed to.'

The x-ray's cost, she was told, would likely be more than $500.
For any local news outlet that's even a bit curious about how the new health care legislation is impacting their readers and viewers, sources shouldn't be too hard to find. According to a new Gallup poll, six in 10 respondents say they've had negative experiences with the new health care law, and nearly three in 10 say their experiences have been "very negative."

But hey, they've got to cover that controlled burn up in the hills, and one of the nearby universities is renovating one of its lecture halls. Priorities, don'tcha know.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tehama cattlemen to hold annual dinner, auction

It's that time of year again -- time to enjoy a real meat-and-potatoes dinner with hundreds of ranchers and watch them auction off scores of donated items for scholarships for students who dream of careers in agriculture.

The 62nd annual Tehama County Cattlemen's Association Winter Dinner will be held Saturday night at the fairgrounds in Red Bluff. My wife and I have been attending this event each year since my Tehama Today stint, as it's a chance to enjoy some great food and good conversation with true red-blooded Americans.

The Daily News has the details. In the photo, taken last year, Chico rancher Wally Roney (right) accepts a Man of the Year award from the Tehama County Cattlemen's Association's Dick O'Sullivan (left) and Danielle Zane of the Tehama County CattleWomen.

For those of you who are going, we'll see you there.

Big drought meeting to include top state officials

Signs of drought were ubiquitous during my short visit to the Bay Area and Central Coast this week. The normally luscious and green trees that shroud Highway 101 north of Monterey were spindly and brown. At one golf course near San Jose, players were hitting on a brown fairway. And hotels displayed signs begging their guests to conserve water.

As much of California is staring down the barrel of a virtually rainless winter, top state officials are scrambling to get ready. Many of them will be attending a five-hour session Tuesday of the Board of Food and Agriculture, which meets in Sacramento just across from the state Capitol.

From the CDFA:
The California State Board of Food and Agriculture will be joined by representatives from the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) and State Water Resources Control Board to discuss water transfers and drought preparedness. This meeting will be held on Tuesday, January 7th from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the California Department of Food and Agriculture, 1220 ‘N’ Street – Main Auditorium, Sacramento, CA 95814.

“California’s farmers and ranchers need to prepare for a potentially significant drought year,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “We are looking at scenarios in which considerable land fallowing and unsustainable groundwater overdraft will occur – leading to direct impacts within our rural farming communities. CDFA is partnering with federal and state government agencies to provide further information on drought preparedness for the agricultural sector.”

In November, initial allocation levels were released for the State Water Project providing a five percent allocation for water contractors. This initial allocation is among the lowest on record, duplicating the initial allocation level following California’s most recent drought (2007-2009). In addition, nine of California‘s 12 major reservoirs are below 50 percent capacity – including Lake Shasta (37 percent), Lake Orville (37 percent), San Luis(29 percent), and Folsom Lake (20 percent). DWR reports that about half of California’s statewide precipitation occurs December through February, with three-quarters occurring November through March.

Invited speakers include: Bill Croyle, California Department of Water Resources; Tom Howard, State Water Resources Control Board; Paul Fujitani, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Mid-Pacific Region; David Guy, Northern California Water Association; Jason Peltier, Westlands Water District; Luana Kiger, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; Navdeep Dhillon, USDA Farm Service Agency; Randy Fiorini, Delta Stewardship Council and Thad Bettner, Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District.

“We are sounding the alarm on behalf of the agricultural industry,” said Craig McNamara, president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture. “With the strong potential that California is entering its third dry year, we need to start planning now to minimize long-term impacts. I remain hopefully that the next few months will bring much-needed precipitation, but planning for the future must begin today.”

The California State Board of Food and Agriculture advises the governor and the CDFA secretary on agricultural issues and consumer needs. The state board conducts forums that bring together local, state and federal government officials, agricultural representative and citizens to discuss current issues of concern to California agriculture.

This meeting will be streamed online at: www.cdfa.ca.gov/LiveMediaStream.html

Follow the board on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/Cafood_agboard
The Colusa County Sun-Herald -- where I got my start more than 20 years ago -- offers this comprehensive piece on how the drought is affecting ranchers in the central Sacramento Valley. They're reporting the same thing that ranchers have been telling me: that they're supplemental-feeding like crazy, and eventually they'll have to decide whether to trim their herds as the drought progresses.

For our coverage of the meeting and this issue, keep an eye on CapitalPress.com.

Hawes to serve on new credit firm's board

Former Shasta County Supervisor Glenn Hawes, who I featured in October, will serve on the board of directors for the new Golden State Farm Credit, which was created via a merger on New Year's Day.

From the association's press release:
The Board of Directors of Northern California Farm Credit, ACA (NCFC), and the Federal Land Bank Association of Kingsburg, FLCA (KFLBA) have announced the merger of the two associations to form Golden State Farm Credit, ACA effective Jan. 1, 2014. This new partnership brings together two well-capitalized California Farm Credit associations with more than $1.1 billion in total loans.

To maintain continuity in governance, the new association’s board is made up of directors from each region. Tom Martin (Durham) was elected chairman of Golden State Farm Credit at the December board meeting, and James Oliver (Fowler) was elected vice chairman. Other board members include:

Stephen Brown (Riverdale)
Michael Chambers (Gridley)
Harry (Rick) Cinquini (Chico)
Michael Fry (Kingsburg)
Glenn Hawes (Palo Cedro)
James Holt (Chico) – outside director
Gregory Long (Corning)
Sandra Mansfield (Davis) – outside director
George Nicolaus (Chico)
Robert Reimer (Dinuba)
George Swaner (Glenn)
John Tos (Hanford)

After the 2015 election cycle, each region will be represented by five elected director positions.

All current office locations (Chico, Red Bluff, Willows, Kingsburg and Hanford) will remain open and all staff members will stay in place with the exception of Bruce Strickler, President and CEO of Northern California Farm Credit. Strickler’s retirement after more than 27 years in his current position will coincide with the merger.

Scott Anderson, will serve as the President and CEO of the new association after serving in that capacity at Kingsburg Land Bank since 2004.