Thursday, December 23, 2010

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes

... but little lord Jesus, no crying he makes ...

To me one of the coolest things about the Nativity story is how Jesus was born to feel right at home amongst the herd.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Vilsack on the GIPSA rule

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack discussed his recent call for a detailed economic analysis of the proposed GIPSA rule on the radio program Agritalk this week.

The link to the audio is here.

Klamath PR campaign sparks debate

My story this week about the communications campaign the Klamath Basin Coordinating Council may undertake was the subject of a blog entry by Felice Pace, a Klamath Glen, Ore., environmentalist who's long been involved in the Klamath issue.

Pace writes:

KlamBlog is skeptical. If this group really wanted feedback it would have released for comment the draft Drought Plan they have negotiated behind closed doors; or better still, they would develop that plan from scratch in public.

In the same interview in which he called for better communication, Tucker labeled those who do not support the Deal as opposed to compromise. That is precisely the sort of “gotcha” rhetoric which alienates those who honestly do not believe the Water Deal and the restoration arrangements embedded within it provide a real or durable solution to the Basin’s water conflicts. This is not new; for years now Tucker has been attacking anyone who does not fall into line with the Water Deal he supports.

If those agencies and interests pushing the KBRA really want to engage their critics, they should reach out one to one – not rely on a PR campaign. Tucker’s sound bite claiming that those who support the Water Deal represent the “radical center” of Klamath politics is yet another roadblock to real dialogue.

Pace also takes issue with the location of the council's latest meeting -- Redding, Calif., which he suspects was chosen "apparently to accommodate agency bureaucrats and others from places like Sacramento, Portland and Eugene." (He makes no mention that the council's last meeting was in Klamath Falls.)

The post sparked a response from Glen Spain, northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, who helped plan the communications effort. Spain replies:

There is a huge disconnect in this posting’s undeserved condemnation of the Klamath Basin Coordinating Council’s (KBCC) efforts to both inform and engage the public. Would it be preferable for the KBCC to have NO public outreach plan, and NO communications plan to inform the public about what it is and what it is doing?


So the fact that the KBCC members – myself included – are working to better inform the public on what the KBCC is, and how the Klamath Settlement Agreement is being implemented, should be cause for rejoicing, not concern. What you dismissively call a “public relations offensive” in this article is merely the KBCC’s Draft Communications Plan. KBCC members have an obligation to present the FACTS (as opposed to much misinformation already available) about the Klamath Settlement, as well as to actively engage the public in helping us all shape the 50-year Klamath Basin restoration effort the Settlement has begun. No one should doubt the need.

Spain goes on to explain that KBCC meetings are currently being rotated between Redding, Klamath Falls and Eureka, Calif., which offer facilities with adequate seating and proximity to an airport. And as for the drought plan, he says it's coming.

For the record, 1) most of the comments attributed to Tucker were said in a public meeting, and I did not see Pace in the room; 2) the importance of public participation doesn't appear to be lost on Spain, who admonished his fellow council members about transparency during a discussion about how or whether to hold teleconferences; and 3) the council had planned on spending a good portion of the Redding meeting on the draft drought plan but it wasn't ready. Once it is, it will be presented and debated in public.

But I could understand how Pace could feel uncomfortable about Tucker's reference to extremes, since one could make the argument that Pace resides at one of them.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

NCBA 'disappointed' over food safety bill

From the National Cattlemen's Beef Association:

WASHINGTON (Dec. 22, 2010) – The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Executive Director of Legislative Affairs Kristina Butts issued the following statement after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. The legislation has been passed by the House and Senate, and President Obama is expected to sign it into law soon.

“We are extremely disappointed the House passed the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act. Food safety knows no size, and exempting some small producers and processors from the legislation, as the Tester/Hagan amendment will do, sets a dangerous precedent for the future our nation’s food safety system. Instead of including the Tester/Hagan language, Congress should have passed legislation to set appropriate standards for all products in the marketplace, no matter the size of the producing entity. Going forward, NCBA will continue supporting improvements to our nation’s food safety system that are based on sound science, focused on industry application and have a strong research foundation.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

California's big group shower: breaking it down

The storms that have been pelting California in the past few days have begun to rack up some impressive rainfall and snowpack numbers.

As of today, the water content in snowpack statewide is 204 percent of normal for this time of year, including 274 percent of normal for the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The abundance follows nearly a week of virtually nonstop precipitation throughout the state – particularly in usually-parched Central California. About 40 residents of the San Joaquin Valley farming community of McFarland were briefly evacuated Monday for fear of flooding.

From Friday through today, Visalia sopped up 4.29 inches of rain, while 3.92 inches fell on Bakersfield, 4.41 inches were recorded in Delano and 3.25 inches fell in Hanford, according to the National Weather Service.

Fresno has received 3.19 inches of rain so far in December – a big leap from its normal 0.8 inches.

“I haven’t seen this much (rain) at one time in quite a while,” said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for the Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual. “It’s pretty much shut us down for the week, although we’ve gotten a break today (Tuesday) which may allow some packing houses to get in if they’ve got some sandier soil and the fruit dries off.”

A breakdown of all things rain and snow:

December rainfall
Here are the December and seasonal rainfall totals and comparisons to normal for selected California cities, according to the National Weather Service. Totals are as of Monday, Dec. 20:
Redding: month to date 4.97 inches (normal 2.84); season to date 12.35 inches (normal 9.80)
Sacramento: month to date 4.08 inches (normal 1.47 inches); season to date 7.91 inches (normal 5.02 inches)
Stockton: month to date 2.53 inches (normal 1.12 inches); season to date 6.34 inches normal 4.14 inches
Modesto: month to date 1.97 inches (normal 1 inch); season to date 4.80 inches (normal 3.61 inches)
Salinas: month to date 1.36 inches (normal 1 inch); season to date 4.06 inches (normal 3.44 inches)
Fresno: month to date 3.19 inches (normal 0.80 inches); season to date 5.43 inches (normal 2.83 inches)

Reservoir levels
Here are the percentages of capacity for California reservoirs as of midnight Dec. 20, according to the Department of Water Resources California Data Exchange Center:
Trinity Lake: 67 percent
Shasta Lake: 73 percent
Lake Oroville: 55 percent
New Bullards Bar Reservoir: 78 percent
Folsom Lake: 52 percent
New Melones Reservoir: 58 percent
Lake McClure: 72 percent
Millerton Lake: 73 percent
Pine Flat Reservoir: 54 percent
Lake Isabella: 37 percent
San Luis Reservoir: 67 percent

Here are average snow water equivalents and comparisons to normal for the date in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, according to the Department of Water Resources California Data Exchange Center. Totals are as of Tuesday, Dec. 21:
North: 13 inches, 164 percent of normal
Central: 17 inches, 197 percent of normal
South: 26 inches, 274 percent of normal
Statewide: 16 inches, 204 percent of normal

For my complete story, check soon.

Monday, December 20, 2010

No stress the 'sweet spot' for walnuts

With walnuts, stress begins to affect tree growth and other processes before the leaves start to wilt. So explained Ken Shackel, a UC-Davis plant biologist, during a University of California Cooperative Extension short course on walnut irrigation held Friday at the Red Bluff Elks Lodge. The course was attended by about 60 local farmers.

Shackel said it's important to use pressure chambers and other devices to monitor moisture levels, much like with a blood pressure monitor for humans.

In some walnut orchards, researchers tried moderate deficit irrigation, which has helped improve the quality of almonds and prunes and saves water and pruning costs.

But the practice resulted in bit yield losses by the third year, as walnuts are much more vulnerable to low to mild stress than are almonds or prunes, Shackel said.

"This would argue that no stress is the sweet spot for walnuts," he said.

For my complete story, check later this week.

Farm Bureau: Tax bill good for ag

From the California Farm Bureau Federation:

Final passage of legislation extending current tax laws will benefit family farmers and ranchers—and give them time to seek longer-term reforms, according to the California Farm Bureau Federation.

“The tax package is critical to promote growth in the economy. That benefits everyone, including farmers and ranchers,” CFBF President Paul Wenger said, “and parts of the package will be especially critical on the farm.”

Wenger pointed to extension of tax rules for capital gains, gifts, income and small businesses. In particular, he said, family farmers and ranchers will benefit from revised rules regarding the federal estate tax.

“The estate tax forces farming families to take extensive and expensive actions to avoid having their farms broken apart when a family member dies,” he said. “Even then, farmers are often forced to sell land and other assets to pay estate taxes. That’s particularly true in California, where land values are so high. The tax package gives farm and ranch families two more years of certainty, but they still need a longer-term solution.”

Farm organizations including CFBF have co-sponsored legislation by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, that would defer estate taxes on family farm property as long as the farm remains in operation and stays in the family.

“We will continue to fight for this reform,” Wenger said, “which will assure that farms and ranches can remain family businesses. The two-year extension that Congress just approved will pass quickly. We won’t rest until family farmers and ranchers have permanent relief from the burdens of the estate tax.”

The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of approximately 76,500 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of nearly 6.3 million Farm Bureau members.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

USMEF: China destined for top 10

The U.S. Meat Export Federation issued this statement on the series of new U.S.-China trade agreements announced Wednesday:

The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) is pleased to learn of the progress made during the recent session of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade (JCCT) on several significant trade issues. In particular, the announcement that technical discussions on re-opening the Chinese market to U.S. beef will resume early next year is very encouraging news for the nation's beef industry.

When the market closed in 2003, China was just beginning to show its potential as a major destination for U.S. beef. Obviously, China's economy has grown remarkably since that time and so have the opportunities for high-quality beef products. If the United States regains access to the Chinese market early next year, we estimate that 2011 beef exports will be in the range of $200 million. This would rank China among the top ten global markets for U.S. beef, with tremendous potential for future growth.

USMEF is appreciative of the efforts put forth by all U.S. agencies on this matter, and we look forward to working closely with the U.S. government and other beef industry groups to secure the prompt resumption of exports to this critical market.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Klamath panel talks dam removal

The Klamath Basin Coordinating Council -- which was created to implement the massive water-sharing and dam-removal agreement on the Klamath River announced earlier this year -- met today in Redding, Calif.

In the second photo, council facilitator Ed Sheets (left) talks with Greg Addington of the Klamathh Water Users Association during a break. In the third, Tim Hemstreet of PacifiCorp (center) talks with other attendees.

As I reported this morning, Hemstreet told the council that preparations to remove the dams are proceeding.

For more on the meeting, check the Capital Press Web site soon.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

PLF: Judge calls out 'junk science'

From the Pacific Legal Foundation:

This afternoon, Federal Judge Oliver Wanger of the Eastern District of California issued his long-awaited ruling in the The Consolidated Delta Smelt Cases, a legal challenge to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Delta smelt biological opinion.

Judge Wanger held the Delta smelt "biop" to be invalid, violating the Endangered Species Act and Administrative Procedure Act. He also held that certain specific water pumping restrictions are arbitrary and capricious.

In this challenge to the Delta smelt biop, Pacific Legal Foundation attorneys represent three San Joaquin Valley farmers who have been significantly impacted by the water cutbacks that resulted from the Delta smelt biological opinion.

In response to today's ruling by Judge Wanger, PLF attorney Damien Schiff issued this statement:

"Judge Wanger was correct to recognize that the feds' Delta smelt biological opinion involved a lot of junk science. The feds claimed that the pumps harm the smelt population, but they didn't provide any meaningful measurement to back up that assertion. He also blasted the government for failing to consider the devastating economic impacts created by draconian water cutbacks. With the economy struggling and unemployment still soaring, it is welcome to see a judge refusing to rubber stamp extreme, destructive, and unjustified environmental regulations."

Monday, December 13, 2010

Arnold's tenure 'a flop'

Opines Redding Record Searchlight editor Silas Lyons:

Arnold Schwarzenegger is an actor whose primary thespian talent was appearing brave and invincible when he was ridiculously overmatched.

Of all his traits, this is probably the one that served him best as governor of Kahli-four-nya, and he’s not about to give it up now.

Expect him to leave the smoldering capital with his head held high. On a motorcycle, in a black leather jacket, would be a nice touch.

But like the fight scenes in Schwarzenegger’s movies, this act is hard to buy.

More here.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Ag lender: GIPSA not good for financing

Add Mark Greenwood, vice president of agribusiness capital at AgStar Financial Services in Mankato, Minn., to the list of industry representatives who've come out against the U.S. Grain Inspection, Packyards and Stockyards Administration's proposed rule.

The American Meat Institute picks up on Greenwood's recent op-ed with this press release:

In the op-ed, which appeared recently in the St. Cloud Times, Greenwood provided a unique perspective on the proposed GIPSA livestock and poultry marketing rule, noting that the livestock industry has seen historic volatility in recent years, making difficult for ag lenders like himself to provide critical operating capital to these farmers. Marketing agreements, he said, make it possible to do business.

"Without these agreements, the livestock market is simply too volatile for most lending organizations to risk financing. Current use of marketing agreements actually helps new farmers build the credit they need to become long-term contributors to the industry and their local economy," Greenwood wrote.

"Like the broader U.S. economy, access to capital is a critical factor that will determine how the food and agriculture industry will emerge from this recession. Limiting the ability of the nation's livestock producers to use a proven risk-management tool to secure operating capital will limit the ag industry's expansion potential at a time when our country desperately needs more opportunities," Greenwood added.

Greenwood pointed to the recent study conducted by John Dunham and Associates for the American Meat Institute which estimates 104,000 jobs will be lost if the proposed USDA rule is finalized.

"As American consumers, I urge you to contact your lawmakers and the USDA and push for the USDA to evaluate the impacts of this proposed policy, conduct due diligence and make the right decision for the ag economy and the overall U.S. economy," Greenwood concluded.

To view the op-ed, click here:

Monday, December 06, 2010

Farm leader: Advocacy needed

From the California Farm Bureau Federation:

To succeed in advocating for their members, farm organizations must work together and be aggressive and strategic, according to the leader of the state’s largest farm group. California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger says the coming change in administrations in Sacramento underscores the need for farm groups to enhance their political activity.

In an address to the organization’s 92nd Annual Meeting in Monterey, Wenger noted that cooperation among farm groups has allowed California farmers and ranchers to pass legislation that supports their businesses, and to head off potentially damaging bills. With a new administration and many new legislators taking office in Sacramento, Wenger said farm organizations must step up their commitment to political engagement.

“It has to be that if you cut a farmer, we all bleed,” he said. “We have to pull together and make sure we work for the common good of our industry, because every one of our industries is so dependent upon the other.”

Wenger said farm organizations must focus in particular on assuring reliable water supplies for California. He noted that Farm Bureau supported the water bond originally scheduled for last month’s ballot, which has been postponed until the November 2012 election.

“We cannot grow in this state without new water infrastructure,” he said, adding that forecasts about the impact of global climate change include less snow and more rain for California.

“If that holds true, we need more reservoirs and we need them to be on streams, so we can slow the water so we have less flood damage and we have more water to be used not only for environmental purposes, but also for hydroelectric generation, for municipal and industrial use, and for the production of fresh food for a growing population,” Wenger said.

To achieve the policies that will protect California agriculture, he said, the state’s 45,000 commercial farmers and ranchers must commit their “time, talents or treasure” to political action.

“Because we are so diverse, we need to pull together,” he said. “We need to arm our folks who use their talents on our behalf. We can do better and we must do more.”

The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of 81,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 6.2 million Farm Bureau members.

Grandin: 'Open up' to the public

From the California Farm Bureau Federation:

Renowned animal scientist Temple Grandin told livestock ranchers today to “open up the door” to the public, to show how ranchers care for their animals. Grandin, a professor at Colorado State University who has become famous for her animal welfare research and her personal history of autism, spoke to the California Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting in Monterey.

Grandin described Americans as “hungry for information” about what happens on farms and ranches. She urged farmers and ranchers to fill that information gap, and to use the Internet as a tool for demonstrating their animal-care practices. For example, she commended a California egg farm that has begun streaming live video of its chickens online.

“Most of the public is just curious,” Grandin said. “We need to be opening up the door and showing the things that we do.”

That includes, she said, showing everyday farm activities such as dishing up feed or putting out bedding for dairy cows.

“What you would consider mundane, normal stuff, the public wants to look at that,” Grandin said. “Put it up and show it. It doesn’t have to be some fancy thing. If you don’t know how to put it up on YouTube, your kids will know how to put it up.”

Grandin has developed animal-welfare auditing programs for restaurants and food retailers including McDonald’s, Burger King and Whole Foods, and has created animal-handling systems designed from the animal’s point of view, to help them remain calm as they’re being moved to market.

“When I first started, I thought I could fix everything with engineering,” she said. “What I’ve found is I can only fix half of things with engineering; the other half is management.”

Grandin encouraged farmers and ranchers to observe their animals carefully, adding that “good stockmanship pays” in improved animal health, milk production and meat quality.

The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of 81,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 6.2 million Farm Bureau members.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Long-awaited Korea deal hailed

The U.S. Meat Export Federation is one -- but by no means the only -- agriculture-related group that's elated over the long-awaited U.S. free trade agreement with South Korea that was announced today.

From a USMEF news release:

Today's announcement by President Obama that negotiators for the United States and South Korea have reached consensus on their free trade agreement (FTA) is very welcome news for U.S. red meat producers, processors and exporters. The U.S. red meat industry will reap significant benefits under the FTA from the gradual elimination of duties on pork and beef exports to Korea.

"I would like to take this opportunity to personally congratulate the U.S. negotiators for their dedication and commitment to pursuing these discussions to a successful conclusion," said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng.

Seng also acknowledged the leadership of Montana Sen. Max Baucus in achieving the resumption of beef exports to Korea in 2008. Noting the strong recovery that has occurred in beef exports since 2008, Seng said that Senator Baucus's continued commitment to expanding access to the Korean market has been critical to the success the beef industry has experienced there over the past two years.

USMEF looks forward to working closely with Korean importers, food service and retailers as well as consumers to provide the high quality products they enjoy from the United States. This agreement provides a good opportunity for U.S. agriculture and is great news for Korea's consumers.

Through the first nine months of 2010, the United States has exported 81,866 metric tons (180.5 million pounds) of beef valued at $383.8 million to South Korea - an increase of 136 percent in volume and 181 percent in value versus the same period in 2009. Pork exports to Korea are down about 17 percent year-over-year, but still total 64,209 metric tons (141.6 million pounds) valued at $136.5 million.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Ag groups: Pass 'meaningful, permanent' death tax reform

From the National Cattlemen's Beef Association's legislative newsletter, out today:

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) and the Public Lands Council (PLC) joined forces with other agricultural organizations representing farmers and ranchers to call on Congress to pass estate tax reform and to ensure President Obama understands the detrimental effect the estate tax has on family-owned farms and ranches. If Congress does nothing, the estate tax will revert to the pre-2001 levels of a $1 million exemption at a 55 percent tax rate. NCBA's Vice President of Government Affairs Colin Woodall said it doesn't take a big cattle operation to have assets in excess of $1 million.

On Tues. Nov. 29, NCBA, PLC and 29 other agricultural organizations sent a letter to President Obama urging him to take a leadership role in reforming the estate tax. The letter said, "This action will strengthen the business climate for farm and ranch families while ensuring agricultural businesses can be passed to future generations. Allowing estate taxes to be reinstated without an exemption and rate that protects family farms puts many operations at risk and threatens succession to the next generation of farmers."

In addition to sending the letter to the President, NCBA hosted a press conference with PLC and eight other agricultural organizations to call on Congress to pass meaningful, permanent estate tax reform. Scott Bennett, a junior at Virginia Tech University and an active participant in his family's ranch, spoke on behalf of NCBA. He said, "With a $1 million exemption and a 55 percent tax, we would need to sell most of our assets just to keep part of the operation in the family." Click here to watch the entire press conference, or click here to view photos from the press conference.

NCBA supports a full and permanent repeal of the estate tax but understands that in the current climate that is not "doable." NCBA supports legislation introduced in the Senate by Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and in the House by Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Kevin Brady (R-Texas) to increase the exemption level to $5 million and reduce the rate to 35 percent. The proposals also ensure that any relief related to the exemption is tied to inflation and that a stepped-up basis is included. NCBA also supports proposals for an estate tax exemption for agriculture.

"There are only 27 days until the estate tax returns at levels that many family-owned operations won't be able to bear," NCBA President Steve Foglesong said. "Congress can't continue sitting on its hands not acting. The return of the estate tax will not only impact family-owned farms and ranches, it will have a rippling effect throughout our entire economy. This should not be a political issue. It's time to do what's right and pass permanent, meaningful estate tax reform."

Ag in the West social media watch

Capital Press videos on YouTube

Our most popular videos