Why It’s Important to Celebrate Ag Day Every Day

Organization focuses on education for California youth 365 days a year RDOWater_AgDay

Author: Judy Culbertson, California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom

If you ask students where their food comes from, many will say, “From the grocery store.” Frankly, that concerns me. Far too many people are unaware of the role of California agriculture in their daily lives and what it takes to have food on their dinner tables.

We know that food and fiber doesn’t just arrive at the grocery or clothing store—or magically appear on our dinner tables or in our closets. There’s an entire industry dedicated to providing safe and plentiful food for consumption, as well as a wide range of comfortable, fashionable clothing choices.

We rely on agriculture for the very necessities of life. From beef and pork to cotton and corn, agriculture is working harder than ever to meet the needs of Californians, Americans and others around the world.

This week, the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, California Women for Agriculture and the California Department of Food and Agriculture host Ag Day 2017 at the state Capitol. It is a day to reflect and be grateful for agriculture. It is a day to share with California legislators and the public the educational programs and materials we provide to students and teachers so they can learn, for example, how each American farmer feeds more than 144 people.

Of course, it’s not just the farmer and rancher who make our food possible. The entire agriculture sector, all the way to the grocery store, comprises a chain that brings food to every citizen—and millions of people abroad.

At the Capitol event, 50 agricultural organizations gather to reinforce the appreciation people have for the role California agriculture plays in our lives. The day includes interactive displays, farm animals, dancing, farm equipment and, of course, plenty of food. Legislators join in and see the passion and commitment the agricultural community has for agricultural education.

Student authors of California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom’s Imagine this… Story Writing Contest autograph books of the stories they wrote about agriculture, receive recognition on stage during the program, and are honored by their legislators during a ceremony in the Governor’s Council Room.

Students taught by the CFAITC Outstanding Educator of the Year, Lisa Liss of Woodlake Elementary in Sacramento, take a special walk around the Capitol grounds, sponsored by United HealthCare, to promote healthy eating and lifestyles.

Elsewhere in the state, more than a dozen Farm Days take place this month, organized by county Farm Bureaus, high schools and fairs. From Siskiyou to San Benito to Fresno and Los Angeles, thousands of kids will experience agriculture for a day. Yolo County alone will reach 4,000 students this week.

Ag Day at the Capitol is one location, one day. CFAITC focuses on educating California youth 365 days of the year. Our role is not only to reach students and teachers, but also to equip volunteers and other organizations with lesson plans, hands-on activities and other educational resources that enable them to teach accurately and professionally about this critically important part of our lives.

Ag in the Classroom works to expand that first day of experiencing agriculture through projects such as our Taste and Teach program, sponsored by Raley’s supermarkets. Through this program, Raley’s supports 100 Northern California teachers by providing gift cards and a binder of lessons developed by Ag in the Classroom that focus on fruits and vegetables, their nutritional benefits, growing habits and fun facts about them.

As one of the largest procurers of California agricultural products, McDonald’s is investing in agricultural education by organizing field trips to its restaurants and teaching students that the food there comes from the same farms and ranches as the food they buy in a grocery store.

CFAITC could not do what it does without support from California farmers, ranchers and agricultural organizations. For example, the California Farm Bureau Federation has supported Ag in the Classroom since its inception in 1986. The California Dairy Council has brought dairy cows to school sites every day of the school year for years, and has been an innovator in nutrition education since 1919. The 48th District Agricultural Association features agriculture and education and an annual farm day in the Los Angeles Basin. For the past 65 years, the California CattleWomen have traveled to schools in rural and urban areas to help children experience agriculture.

Ag in the Classroom supports thousands of teachers every year. We work with hundreds of farmers, ranchers and associations who share their knowledge, time and energy in support of agricultural education.

More than 7 million students are enrolled in California public and private schools. Is it a lofty goal to reach them all? Yes, it is! Can we reach the goal? Yes, together, we can!

Not every child has an opportunity to grow up on a farm, but through efforts of farmers and ranchers, Ag in the Classroom programs and supporters of agricultural education, every child can learn about where their food and fiber comes from.

Full article shared from Ag Alert, with credit to the California Farm Bureau Federation.

What Will 2017 Mean for California Water Users?

What will 2017 mean for California water users and the farmers who need it to grow crops? california-water

Author: Todd Fitchette, Western Farm Press

Winter across California has been a tale of two seasons in the past couple years.

Last year this time we were coming off a wet December. Little did we know at the time, but the taps would largely be in the “off” position for a couple months before faucets reopened and liquid gold began falling from the skies.

Knock on wood, that hasn’t happened. At least not yet.

Let’s hope it doesn’t.

Forecasters are calling for an “atmospheric river” to pummel California this week and bring continued blessings to a state parched by several years of severe drought conditions.

All this rain and snow is a good thing for Mediterranean Climate zones that produce the volume of food as California does.

The recent December freeze that kept citrus growers up at night wasn’t the blockbuster of previous seasons. Instead, it helped growers leave fruit on the trees rather than rush to harvest them.

Now they’re rushing as I write this because heavy rain is expected later this week in the San Joaquin Valley. The rain will put a temporary halt to citrus harvest as I’m told the fruit cannot be picked when it’s wet as it damages the fruit.

Meanwhile, tree nut growers were shaking their trees as part of their winter sanitation protocols to remove “mummy” nuts, a necessary activity to rob pests like the Navel orangeworm from a place to hunker down and over-winter.

Navel orangeworms, later in the growing season, can wreak havoc and cause yield losses in almonds and pistachios.

On the flip side of the natural water blessings California is experiencing, the State Water Board is moving ahead with plans to take half the natural flows from several key rivers used to irrigate millions of acres of farmland and produce billions of dollars’ worth of crops.

The decision isn’t final and likely won’t be until later in the year. Though thousands of farmers and others reliant on waters from the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers spoke in unified opposition to the state’s plans, the looks on the faces of water board members at public hearings suggested they were simply going through the motions to do what they want, regardless of how damaging it will be to the state’s economy and the people who live here.

This certainly won’t be the only challenge farmer’s face in 2017. Regardless of whether Mother Nature calls an end to the climatic drought, regulators and lawmakers appear to be laser-focused on continuing their regulatory drought in California.

Time will tell how effective the promises of the upcoming Trump administration will be to pull back on the onerous rules, regulations and laws keeping California farmers from adequate water supplies.

Meanwhile, bring on the rain.

Full article shared from Western Farm Press website.

March Storms Prompt SWP to Boost Allocations

Season’s third upgrade since initial allocations set RDO-Water-California

Author: Tim Hearden, Capital Press

With runoff from the March storms filling Northern California reservoirs, the state Department of Water Resources has upped its anticipated deliveries to State Water Project customers to 60 percent of requested supplies.

In all, the 29 agencies that receive SWP water will get a little more than 2.5 million acre-feet of the nearly 4.2 million acre-feet they sought in 2016, marking the state project’s largest allocation since 65 percent of normal supplies were sent to districts in 2012.

The upgrade announced April 21 was the season’s third since the DWR set its initial allocation at 15 percent in January, later raising it to 30 percent and 45 percent. It’s also likely to be the last upgrade for the year, department spokesman Ted Thomas said in an email.

“Never know what nature will do,” he said, “but in the absence of significant rain and snow, (it’s) doubtful if the allocation will increase.”

The new allocation comes as the U.S. Drought Monitor issued new maps showing improved conditions in much of California, as part of the Central Sierra and San Joaquin Valley emerged from the Exceptional Drought category — the most severe category of drought.

Much of the Sacramento Valley improved from extreme to severe or even moderate drought. However, a large swath of the San Joaquin Valley and Central Coast remain in exceptional drought, according to the monitor.

Even with the wet winter in many places, state and federal officials caution anew that the drought is far from over. Cindy Matthews, a National Weather Service senior hydrologist, said in an email the D3, or extreme drought, classification still means an area is still within the worst 3 percent to 5 percent of droughts on record.

State officials said that while key reservoirs are rising from winter storms, some remain below average for this time of year. The San Luis Reservoir, a key storage body south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta for both the SWP and federal Central Valley Project, is only at half its 2 million acre-foot capacity and 55 percent of its historical average, largely because of Delta pumping restrictions to protect imperiled fish, the DWR explained.

With an expected transition to La Nina oceanic conditions by next fall, the 2017 water year is too uncertain to abandon preparations for another dry year, officials said.

“Conservation is the surest and easiest way to stretch supplies,” DWR director Mark Cowin said in a statement. “We all need to make the sparing, wise use of water a daily habit.”

Full article shared from Capital Press.

How Are Fuel Prices Benefiting Growers?

Lower fuel prices help farmers cope with other costs

Author: Ching Lee, Ag Alert RDO-Water-Agriculture

Sutter County farmer Chris Capaul puts diesel in a newer tractor that he bought when fuel prices were higher. Despite lower prices for diesel this year, Capaul says he continues to try to run his farm as efficiently as possible, to save money because of higher production costs elsewhere and reduced crop prices.

As California farmers prepare for spring planting, they say lower diesel prices have been a welcome relief, especially with other production costs soaring and crop values falling.

“I guess fuel is the one bright picture of the year,” said Chris Capaul, a Sutter County bean and rice farmer.

Despite the fuel savings, Capaul said he has not changed much of what he does on the farm and continues to do what he can to save energy and money. For example, he bought a new tractor that uses less fuel when diesel prices were higher, and that has improved his savings. He also uses additives in the fuel to make the tractor run cleaner and more efficiently. Many of his pumps now run on electricity, allowing him to reduce his diesel expense, he added.

While paying less for diesel is a blessing, Capaul said, other expenses have surged while his earnings have shrunk. The higher-value dollar has hurt his specialty bean business, most of which is exported to Japan; he has not been able to sell his bean crop from last year.

Capaul also has not been able to grow rice the last two years because of a lack of water. Although that means not having to run his pumps, which takes further pressure off his energy needs, he’s also losing income. He said he’s still unclear about his water allocation for this year, and therefore has not finalized his planting decisions.

“I’m going through a lean year because I don’t have the cash flow,” he said.

The cost of diesel may have come down, but the cost of water in California has gone up, said John Moore, who grows potatoes, citrus fruit, pistachios and almonds in Kern County. Because of that, he said he continues to prepare for what could be another drought year.

“This is nice that we’re getting some relief from diesel prices, but we haven’t changed our practices because of it,” he said. “We’re going to do what we have to do to get the job done and save as much as we can.”

Because of heavy environmental regulations on storing large quantities of fuel, Moore said he avoids that practice by filling up when he needs to, typically more often during harvest.

While farmers are getting a break from fuel prices, Moore noted that the Kern County economy depends in large part on the oil industry, and has been struggling. He said he’s seeing the negative impacts throughout his community, from reductions to the county’s general fund to cutbacks in the fire department.

“It percolates to every facet of our local economy, which is not a great thing,” he said.

For San Joaquin County sheep and cattle rancher Florence Cubiburu, the decline in fuel prices has taken some pressure off her operating expenses, mostly in the area of animal transport, but she said it hasn’t influenced any of her day-to-day decisions on where and how to move her livestock. She uses grazing grounds within about a 40-mile radius and has continued to use those same locations, opting not to travel out of state.

“(Lower fuel cost) is helping our bottom line, but our other costs are skyrocketing,” Cubiburu said, noting she’s paying more for everything from labor to insurance.

The cost of feeding her sheep also has jumped, as farmers now charge more for her animals to graze on their alfalfa fields and other after-harvest crop residue, she added.
Merced County dairy farmer Jimmy Burroughs said he’s hoping his milk hauling costs will soon come down, but so far he has not seen any reductions because he’s still on the same contract. However, he noted the drop in diesel prices has helped to lower his harvest expenses on the farm. He grows about 80 percent of his silage for feed.

“Whatever savings we’re seeing, that money is spent in other aspects of our business, because our milk price has been marginal at best lately,” he said.
Burroughs also buys all of his hay, mostly from Nevada and Oregon, and he said hauling charges have been less.

Glenn County rice farmer Lee McCorkle, who also runs a trucking business, said lower fuel costs have not influenced him to change his practices on the farm, but he has adjusted the transportation surcharges for hauls.

While farmers have found some relief at the pump, the dip in oil prices has not necessarily carried over into the fertilizer market. But that may be changing, McCorkle said. He noted the price of his last fertilizer order, which he made last week, is the lowest he’s seen in several years—but he also said his dealer warned the price may go up again closer to rice-planting time.

Bean and rice farmer Capaul observed that fertilizer prices remained elevated last year but said he thinks that market tends to lag behind changes in the oil market.

“I think we’re going to see (lower fertilizer prices) this year, which is good news, because that’s a big expense, too,” he said.

To be more strategic about when to buy fuel, Capaul said he’s been tracking diesel prices for the last three years to try to determine a pattern to the rise and fall of prices. Though he found “no rhyme or reason” to it, he said he’s comfortable with the decision he made, having purchased his fuel in December and January. Fuel prices have been climbing in recent weeks.

Ching Lee is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at clee@cfbf.com.

Full article shared from Ag Alert, with credit to the California Farm Bureau Federation.