Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kawamura to speak at AB 32 conference

The University of California-Davis says state Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura will be the lunch speaker at a Monday conference on AB 32, California's 2006 greenhouse gas law.

With polling showing voters divided on Prop 23, it remains a strong possibility that AB 32 will remain in place. That means prices for farm inputs could rise, as capped industries pass on the costs of complying with new rules.

It also means a state cap-and-trade system could arrive by 2012, even if California goes it alone — Congress has pulled back from a similar national effort, and other western states are looking shaky on the issue.

Under cap-and-trade, some producers could sell carbon offsets to help compensate for costs. But the offset opportunities for specialty-crop growers remain limited.

The conference is being staged in downtown Sacramento by UC's Giannini Foundation, which focuses on farm economics, and the UC Agricultural Issues Center.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Biotech beets: seed production still embattled

Federal Judge Jeffrey White has declined to rule on whether to disrupt the current cultivation of stecklings for biotech sugar beets. The problem, he said in court papers filed late Tuesday, is that the stecklings were already in the ground by the time plaintiffs asked for a restraining order.

But the court could still disrupt cultivation this year. White gave the plaintiffs — enviros and organic producers — another crack at it. He pointed out court papers in which they had asked, upon learning the stecklings had been planted, that they be torn up.

Furthermore, White showed suspicion of USDA, suggesting the agency held back in announcing it had permitted the planting (which was otherwise prohibited under a previous White decision). He ordered the agency to "state under penalty of perjury exactly when and where it made the information public that the permits had been granted."

All of which suggests that White will consider ripping up the stecklings — if plaintiffs again request it when they file new arguments in the next few days. Which means production of Roundup Ready beet seed for the 2012 crop remains uncertain.

Check back for more details.

Monday, September 27, 2010

CFWC: Pacific Institute water report flawed

The California Farm Water Coalition today called a Pacific Institute report on water conservation "misleading," "fanciful" and "nutty."

The September report said the state can save a milion acre-feet annually by increasing usage of current practices and technology.

The group said discrepancies in numbers between the new report and a previous one prove PI is making up numbers. In a letter to legislators, CFWC called out PI numbers that say a switch from flood (60-percent efficient) to drip (90 percent) can shrink water usage by 30 percent.

"(I)n last year’s report, the institute said flood was 70 percent efficient vs. 89 percent for drip," CFWC's letter said. " PRESTO! A 19(-percent) improvement is boosted to 30 (percent)."

CFWC threw out often-heard numbers that say usage of computer technology has allowed the state to nearly double its crop production in 40 years while expanding water usage by only 2 percent.

Feds want venue change for biotech beets

USDA today asked a federal court to transfer a lawsuit over biotech sugar beets to Washington, D.C.

The case is proceeding in California's Northern District court in San Francisco, as did its predecessor. The original case wrapped up in August, when Judge Jeffrey White re-regulated the beets and their seeds pending two years' worth of environmental work.

USDA says the case has nothing to do with California. The nation's capital, on the other hand, contains the headquarters of both defendants and plaintiffs, the agency argued. As a second choice, either Oregon or Arizona would make an appropriate venue because seed is produced in those states, USDA says.

Meanwhile, White is expected to rule shortly on a restraining order that could impact this fall's production of seed stecklings.

Check back for updates.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Seed companies join new battle over biotech beets

Seed developer Monsanto and two seed companies officially entered the legal fray over Roundup Ready sugar beets today by submitting arguments on behalf of USDA.

Environmentalists and organic producers have sued the agency's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service for the second time over Monsanto's Roundup Ready seeds.

The most immediate issue involves their request for a restraining order blocking the production of seed stecklings — basically, root stock for future seed plants.

The companies echoed previous arguments by USDA that blocking the order isn't warranted because the stecklings never flower, and therefore pose no cross-pollination danger to other crops.

Moreover, the stecklings were already in the ground by the time plaintiffs requested the order, so it's a moot point, the companies argued.

Federal Judge Jeffrey White is expected to decide on the restraining order after both sides finish submitting arguments. Their final deadline is Monday morning.

Environmental Working Group doesn't like federal pesticides grant

A federal grant to help soften public perceptions of pesticides on fresh produce has drawn fire from the Environmental Working Group.

The grant — $180,000 delivered through USDA's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program — supports efforts by the Alliance for Food and Farming to counter "the misconception that some fresh produce items contain excessive amounts of pesticide residues," according to the Alliance's project description.

"Claims by activist groups about unsafe levels of pesticides have been widely reported in the media for many years, but have largely gone uncontested," the Alliance says.

EWG says the money will help stall the growth of organics in the marketplace.

“This grant is a slap in the face of California’s rapidly-advancing organic agriculture sector,” said EWG President Ken Cook in a statement. “The state should think twice about using U.S. taxpayers’ money to attempt to give chemical-dependent industrial farming a competitive edge over organics.”

USDA's program also awarded over $800,000 to three projects that involve integrated pest management, which seeks to reduce pesticide use.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The green police are here

Whatever happened to due process?

From Fox News:

Beware the green police. They don't carry guns and there's no police academy to train them, but if you don't recycle your trash properly, they can walk up your driveway and give you a $100 ticket.

They know what's in your trash, they know what you eat, they know how often you bring your recycles to the curb -- and they may be coming to your town soon. That is, if they're not already there.

In a growing number of cities across the U.S., local governments are placing computer chips in recycling bins to collect data on refuse disposal, and then fining residents who don't participate in recycling efforts and forcing others into educational programs meant to instill respect for the environment.

From Charlotte, N.C., to Cleveland, Ohio, from Boise, Idaho, to Flint, Mich., the green police are spreading out. And that alarms some privacy advocates who are asking: Should local governments have the right to monitor how you divide your paper cups from your plastic forks? Is that really the role of government?

In Dayton, Ohio, chips placed in recycle bins transmit information to garbage trucks to keep track of whether residents are recycling -- a program that incensed Arizona Sen. John McCain, who pointed out that the city was awarded half a million dollars in stimulus money for it.

More here.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

APHIS: expect new sugar beet regs by year's end

USDA said today it will finalize by year's end the conditions under which it will deregulate Roundup Ready sugar beets for the next two years.

The agency also said it's issuing permits immediately to seed producers, who are ready to start growing the seed that will be used in 2012.

Check back for updates.

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