Friday, October 29, 2010

California's air board releases cap-and-trade proposal

California's Air Resources Board today published its proposal for a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A public-comment period starts Monday and lasts through Dec. 15. The board will consider adopting the plan at a hearing on Dec. 16.

The board has continued aiming for an early-2012 implementation of the plan as polls have shown wavering public opinion on Proposition 23. Prop 23 would suspend AB 32, the state's 2006 greenhouse gas-reduction law, for the foreseeable future. Cap-and-trade is the centerpiece of the air board's efforts at reaching AB 32's emissions mandates.

After polls in September showed Prop 23 pulling even among voters, surveys this month show it trailing by double digits.

The California Farm Bureau Federation, Western Growers and other farm groups support freezing AB 32. While the air board predicts minimal business impacts from cap-and-trade, farmers say it will hurt their operations as farm-input manufacturers mitigate the impacts of new emissions caps by raising prices.

Farmers argue that, unlike those manufacturers, they can't pass on new costs.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Many ways to tell ag's story

Cyndie Sirekis, the American Farm Bureau Federation's director of news services, writes:

As an increasing number of farmers and ranchers recognize the value of forging connections with their non-farming customers, many are changing the way they communicate. With millions of Americans using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media platforms as their primary source of information about the food they eat and how it’s produced, farmers are proving wise to dive in and join them.

But social media are just one of many tools farmers use to connect with consumers. With more than 2,800 county Farm Bureaus across the nation, it’s likely most of us have the opportunity to learn about agriculture in a more tactile way.

Farm tours, school field trips, mobile agricultural science labs and virtual combines that simulate harvesting crops remain popular, according to Farm Bureau members.

More of her commentary is here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Two more countries approve methyl iodide

Arysta LifeScience announced today that Mexico and Morocco have approved the chemical methyl iodide for commercial use as a soil fumigant.

That brings to six the number of countries allowing the chemical.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency registered it in 2007. But some states conduct their own investigations of new chemicals before allowing them. Among them are Washington, New York and California, the only states still holding out.

Growers are counting on methyl iodide to replace methyl bromide, which has been phased out under international agreement to reduce ozone-depleting emissions.

California's approval process is considered the most rigorous of all. The state's Department of Pesticide Regulation said last month it expects to make its final decision by December.

The agency said early this year it would decide on the chemical by spring, but later said the case's high profile has slowed the process. The agency published a proposed deregulation earlier this year, and is now sifting some 53,000 public comments.

Are legendary chupacabras just victims of a tiny mite?

An article in Science Daily suggests that they are. (Hat tip: Bruce Ross)

As Halloween approaches, tales of monsters and creepy crawlies abound. Among the most fearsome is the legendary beast known as the chupacabras.

But the real fiend is not the hairless, fanged animal purported to attack and drink the blood of livestock; it's a tiny, eight-legged creature that turns a healthy, wild animal into a chupacabras, says University of Michigan biologist Barry OConnor.

The existence of the chupacabras, also known as the goatsucker, was first surmised from livestock attacks in Puerto Rico, where dead sheep were discovered with puncture wounds, completely drained of blood. Similar reports began accumulating from other locations in Latin America and the U.S. Then came sightings of evil-looking animals, variously described as dog-like, rodent-like or reptile-like, with long snouts, large fangs, leathery or scaly greenish-gray skin and a nasty odor. Locals put two and two together and assumed the ugly varmints were responsible for the killings.

Scientists studied some of the chupacabras carcasses and concluded that the dreaded monsters actually were coyotes with extreme cases of mange -- a skin condition caused by mites burrowing under the skin. OConnor, who studies the mites that cause mange, concurs and has an idea why the tiny assailants affect wild coyotes so severely, turning them into atrocities.

So why do these animals attack livestock? The article explains:

Do mite infestations also alter the animals' behavior, turning them into bloodthirsty killers? Not exactly, but there is an explanation for why they may be particularly likely to prey on small livestock such as sheep and goats.

"Because these animals are greatly weakened, they're going to have a hard time hunting," OConnor said. "So they may be forced into attacking livestock because it's easier than running down a rabbit or a deer."

Judge sets hearing on beet stecklings

Federal Judge Jeffrey White has scheduled a three-day hearing next week for litigants to argue whether this year's root stock for biotech sugar beets should be plowed under.

White laid out a schedule by which plaintiffs, led by the Center for Food Safety, defendant USDA and the intervening seed companies will call witnesses and lay out arguments.

Plaintiffs say USDA's permitting of seed stecklings in September violated White's August ruling revoking the crop's federal deregulation.

Check back for more details.

NCBA: Vilsack ignoring the concerns of Congress

From the National Cattlemen's Beef Association:

In responding to calls from 115 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and several U.S. Senators, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack ignored requests for a comprehensive economic analysis of the USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration’s (GIPSA) proposed rule on livestock and poultry marketing under the Packers and Stockyards Act.

The proposed GIPSA rule was written in response to a directive made by Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill. However, as the 115 House members cited, “GIPSA also included additional proposed regulations that greatly exceed the mandate of the Farm Bill.” The members also stated that “the analysis contained the proposed rule fails to demonstrate the need for the rule, assess the impact of its implementation on the marketplace, or establish how the implementation of the rule would address the demonstrated need.”

The Vilsack response stated, “Beyond the cost-benefit analysis we have conducted for the proposed rule, we look forward to reviewing the public comments to inform the Department if all factors have been properly considered, if or how changes should be incorporated, and to aid more rigorous cost-benefit and related analyses pursuant to the rulemaking process.”

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Steve Foglesong said Secretary Vilsack, the entire Obama Administration and the proponents of the proposed rule continue to ignore the needs of rural America.

“Secretary Vilsack’s response may work for bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., but for those of us out in the countryside, he has done nothing more than ignore the pleas of thousands of cattle producers. His refusal leaves my fellow cattle producers and me asking, “What are they trying to hide?,” said Foglesong. “The GIPSA rule will further inject the federal government into the market and could very likely result in financial devastation to a critical part of our country’s economy and in thousands of lost jobs at the time when economic growth and job creation are what we need the most.”

Foglesong said it is irresponsible governing on the Administration’s part to advance this rule without providing all stakeholders, including those supporting this proposal, a clear and comprehensive analysis defining how it would affect the marketplace.

“There is bipartisan concern for the proposed GIPSA rule, and rather than ignoring reality, it’s time for Secretary Vilsack and the entire Administration to put partisan ideology aside and listen to the calls of cattle producers and lawmakers across the country,” he said.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fight over beet stecklings to draw out longer

Federal Judge Jeffrey White told litigants this morning to prepare arguments for a court hearing over whether to uproot sugar beet stecklings.

White agreed with plaintiffs in deciding to pursue the steckling issue as a preliminary injunction request, rather than a request for a temporary restraining order. That means a longer process that could drag out through year's end.

Attorneys — for organic growers and environmentalists on the plaintiffs' side, USDA and the industry on the defense — have already made arguments over a restraining order, which could have uprooted the stecklings more quickly.

But since the stecklings were already in the ground by the time the order was requested in early September, White decided at today's hearing to slow the process down.

Check back for more details.

California's pot prop is losing

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Californians are souring on a ballot measure to legalize adult recreational use and cultivation of marijuana, according to a new poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California.

The poll found that 44 percent of likely voters support Proposition 19, the marijuana ballot measure, while 49 percent are opposed. The results are a significant decline from last month, when the same survey found Prop. 19 leading 52 to 41 percent.

Prop. 23, which would suspend the state's greenhouse gas law, lost support in the latest poll as did Prop. 24, which would overturn corporate tax breaks. Prop. 25, which would allow the Legislature to pass a budget with a simple majority vote, gained slightly, and is the only measure of those polled that is winning. Five other measures on the ballot were not polled.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

CDFA schedules organics listening sessions

California's Department of Food and Agriculture has scheduled public sessions to collect input on improving its three-decade-old Certified Farmers Market Program.

The sessions are scheduled for:

• Oct. 27 at the State Board of Food and Agriculture's monthly meeting, CDFA Auditorium, 1220 N St. Sacramento, 12:30 p.m. - 3 p.m.;

• Nov. 1 at the Santa Monica Main Public Library, 601 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.;

• Nov. 3 at Fresno City Hall Chambers, 2600 Fresno Street, Fresno, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.;

• Nov. 8 at the Berkeley Unified School District Administration Building, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Berkeley, 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

CDFA is also taking written comments through November 22. They can be emailed to, or sent to CDFA's Inspection and Compliance Branch, 1220 N St. Sacramento, CA 95814, (Attention CFM comments).

Life restored to Williamson Act, at least for now

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a budget trailer bill that puts $10 million into the Williamson Act.

That means the popular farmland-preservation program will get a virtual $30 million of its funding restored for next year — at last as far as counties are concerned.

A recent legislative alteration of the Act is expected to restore around $20 million to state coffers. But in order for counties to receive that revenue, landowners have stepped up: counties can alter Williamson Act contracts to slightly raise property taxes on a temporary basis, thereby increasing their own revenue.

But that's better than counties exiting the program altogether, as some have threatened to do since Schwarzenegger cut Williamson Act funding from the last year's state budget.

"It means the difference of life and death for many family farms and ranches,” said Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, R-Ceres, in a statement.

Check back for more details on how it all breaks down.

Is California's pot crop worth more than its wine industry?

So asserts NBC Bay Area:

The most persuasive argument for legalizing pot might just be a dollar sign.

California's pot crop is worth $14 billion, according to a state report. The Press Democrat points out that crushes the wine crop which comes in at $2 billion.

Legalization would be a huge shot in the arm for plenty of ancillary industries, such as banking and construction.

But even a vote to legalize pot likely wouldn't give it the kind of respectability that wine has, acknowledges the report.

Of course, there's always the possibility that the federal government would crack down. That risk might make investors too skittish to get involved. Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the government would continue its dangerous raids.

If Eric Holder is going to come after pot plantings, think of what a Republican AG will do in 2013, if there is to be one.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Capital Press adds daily video updates

We have added a new feature this week to Editor Joe Beach is posting daily video updates to highlight some of the news stories you can — or will be able to — find on and in the print edition of the newspaper.

We just posted the third daily installment online. So far, the video updates have been 2 minutes or less. You can play them from the home page of our website or from our YouTube channel at We are also making them available through our Facebook page at So if you want a quick capsule of the day's ag news, Monday through Friday, look for the daily video updates to be posted by noon each day. You can watch them on your computer, netbook or even your smart phone.

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