Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Members of Congress ask delay in lemon imports
By Bartholomew Sullivan
WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of 18 members of Congress from citrus-growing districts Monday asked Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack to delay opening the U.S. market to Argentine lemons until economic and risk assessments can be conducted.
The lawmakers, including three representing parts of Ventura County where the domestic lemon industry is centered, asked for a final rule now pending to be postponed and the comment period extended.
“We are concerned that the department’s proposed rule to authorize Argentine lemon imports may be finalized without a proper economic assessment and before completing an inspection for pest and disease risk in Argentina this fall, as requested by California’s citrus industry,” the lawmakers wrote.
The full-court press follows lobbying last month on Capitol Hill by lemon growers and the U.S. Citrus Council in an effort to derail the rule. Richard Pidduck, a lemon grower from Santa Paula, told the Agriculture officials that growers are concerned that diseases already affecting Florida and Texas citrus might enter California’s groves. He also said the department’s assessment of the Argentine imports’ economic impact was understated.
The department published a proposed rule in early May that sets out a detailed production, inspection and import regimen for the Argentine exporters who have been banned from the U.S. market since 2001. The public has until July 11 to comment. The lawmakers are asking for an extension of “no less than 120 additional days.”
The rule as written would require stringent inspections for pests and diseases, picking lemons while they are still green and packing them within 24 hours of harvest. They would also have to be disinfected and waxed.
The fruit would be imported with certificates establishing it is free of certain pests and diseases, including Huanglongbing, known as citrus greening, caused by a bacteria spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, which has been destroying the citrus crops of Florida and Texas.
The lawmakers ask Vilsack to deploy technical inspectors to Argentina in the fall and to allow the California Department of Food and Agriculture and industry representatives to review their findings.
They also suggest an economic analysis be undertaken pursuant to an executive order signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 requiring review of proposed rules that would impact the economy by $100 million or more a year. The lawmakers note an industry-commissioned study estimates authorizing Argentine lemon imports could have an impact of from $183 million to $261 million.
Lemon industry representatives in Washington last month said they were surprised at the suddenness of the proposed rule so soon after President Barack Obama’s visit to Argentina in late March. Joel Nelson, president of the California Citrus Mutual, said the Agriculture Department’s risk assessment is based on data from 2007 and should be updated before imports begin flowing.
The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California and Democratic Reps. Julia Brownley of Westlake Village; Lois Capps of Santa Barbara; Sam Farr of Carmel; Jim Costa of Fresno; Mark Takano of Riverside; Raul Ruiz of Palm Springs; and Juan Vargas of El Centro; Thomas Rooney of Florida and Ann Kirkpatrick and Raul Grijalva of Arizona. California Republicans who signed the letter are Reps. Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the House majority leader; David Valadao of Hanford; Ken Calvert of Corona; Devin Nunes of Visalia; Jeff Denham of Modesto; and Steve Knight of Lancaster.
Ventura County Star
Oxnard’s Mandalay Berry Farms closing; 565 employees losing jobs
By Mike Harris
Oxnard-based Mandalay Berry Farms is closing and will lay off 565 employees.
The company informed the state Employment Development Department of the pending closure in a June 1 letter as required by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. The letter was disclosed at Tuesday’s Ventura County Board of Supervisors meeting by Supervisor John Zaragoza, whose district encompasses Oxnard.
“This letter is to inform you that Mandalay Berry Farms … will be permanently closing all of its operations effective the end of this current season,” company President John Dullam wrote.
The operations are conducted at nine ranches in Oxnard, he stated.
The employees who will be losing their jobs effective July 31 are 497 harvesters/pickers, 19 harvest machine operators, 15 foremen, 15 stackers, five irrigators, five truck drivers, four forklift drivers, three punchers and two office/administration workers, according to Dullam.
None of the employees are represented by unions, his letter stated.
Dullam did not return a call Tuesday seeking comment.
The disclosure about Mandalay follows last week’s news that three other agricultural businesses in Oxnard, vegetable grower Hiji Brothers Inc., and two associated operations — seedling nursery Seaview Growers and shippers Richview Inc. — will be closing in early August. Together, they employ about 260 people.
John Krist, CEO of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County, said he didn’t know the particulars of why Mandalay is closing.
“But what I can say is that the last three years have been extremely tough on strawberry growers in Ventura County,” he said. “It’s been a number of factors, but the bottom line is that prices have been pretty bad and berry growers have been losing money.”
“Part of it has been caused by an expansion of production in Baja, with varieties that overlap with our traditional market window here in Ventura County,” he said. “So more fruit than usual on the market. Demand hasn’t increased commensurately. Prices have fallen.”
Land and labor costs are considerably higher in Ventura County than they are in Baja, Krist said.
“The production cost equations are so different here than in Baja,” he said. “You make money growing in Baja at price levels that cause growers here to lose money.”
Still, strawberries remained the county’s biggest crop in 2014, with a reported value of almost $628 million, according to the county’s most recent annual crop report from the office of Agricultural Commissioner Henry Gonzales. Strawberries were followed by lemons, raspberries, nursery stock and celery.
Mike Harris is the Star’s Simi Valley, transportation and one of its land-use (Price of Paradise) reporters.
@mike___harris email@example.com 805-437-0323
KFSN – TV, Fresno
Air officials inspecting Fresno big rigs to curb pollution
By Reuben Contreras
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) — Nearly 1 million big rigs travel through California each year and that’s why the Air Resources Board is cracking down on trucks emitting toxic fumes.
The board cited trucks Tuesday for violations that lead to more pollutants in the Central Valley’s air as part of inspections that are part of a statewide effort to reduce smog.
The random inspections are part of an effort by the ARB to keep smog levels down and to make sure big rigs are keeping up with regulations.
“We’re also trying to provide information to the drivers about the necessary equipment and make sure they are not purchasing illegal or illegitimate equipment that could be more costly to them and it could damage their engines as well,” Eloy Flores with the California Air Resources Board.
Flores is an air pollution specialist. He says a team of inspectors are not only checking the engine of the truck but also the engine of the truck’s trailer.
Those also must meet certain emission reduction goals and must have must certain technology.
“And we see it quite common especially in agriculture areas like here in the Central Valley because fruit packers and vegetable packers they want to keep their fruit fresh as it is going to market,” he said.
Not only are state-registered trucks subject to inspection, but trucks from out of state, Mexico, and Canada must comply with California laws.
After an inspection of under of the hood, the fuel tank and the particulate matter filter a green sticker is issued to vehicle’s that passed showing that they are good to travel up and down California’s highways for that quarter.
But the inspections continue throughout the year all over the state and Flores says these checkpoints are cleaning up the air we all breath.
“It is the middle of June and you can actually see the outline of the Sierra,” Flores said. “Clear some of the efforts that we have put forwards are having an impact but we still have a long way to go but we’re definitely making improvements.”
Woodland Daily Democrat
USDA puts subsidies at risk for medical pot growers
By Lauren King
Yolo County’s medical marijuana growers may be violating federal regulations, putting the future of their farms in jeopardy.
The problem is apparently buried deep in federal USDA regulations and until recently, hasn’t even been on anyone’s radar.
To address confusion resulting from quickly evolving marijuana laws, County Ag Commissioner John Young has co-hosted outreach meetings for local residents while also working on a county ordinance regulating medicinal marijuana. Recently, it occurred to Young that there was some overlap between his traditional farmers and those growing the controversial crop — an issue because most of these farmers receive federal subsidies from national agencies such as the USDA that help them stay afloat.
Nationally, marijuana cultivation for any purpose is illegal and, as such, federal funds are not supposed to help fund its production.
“We want to get the word out to growers — you either grow marijuana or participate in USDA programs, but you can’t do both,” said Young, hoping to warn the estimated 700 medicinal marijuana growers thought to exist in the county.
The USDA has always had this policy and issued a bulletin in 2014 on the topic. “Under the Controlled Substances Act … such substances are subject to strict production quotas by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Therefore, regardless of any changes in State law, it remains illegal under Federal law for most producers to grow, sell, or possess any amount of marijuana,” it stated. “ … NRCS will not provide technical assistance or financial assistance on any field that is producing marijuana or other controlled substance in violation of Federal law, even if the requested assistance does not relate to any field or other part of the agricultural operation that is under the unlawful production of controlled substances.”
According to county USDA representative Cynthia Gillette, the USDA will terminate all assistance to farmers if medicinal marijuana is found growing on their land, although only if they are “convicted” of a controlled substance violation. In this situation, the grower would become ineligible for USDA benefits for five years and Gillette was clear that the agency has prosecuted farmers before.
Phil Hogan, another local USDA representative and president of the Woodland Chamber of Commerce added, “When a producer signs a conservation contract with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, there is language in the contract that states: ‘and to comply with the terms and conditions of this contract and all applicable Federal, State, Tribal, and local laws.’ When the producer signs this contract, he or she is supposed to have read the statement, and understand that this means laws pertaining to controlled substances.”
Though, ideally, everyone reads the fine print on all contracts, this isn’t always the case.
“I hadn’t even thought of that,” commented Paul Fullerton Jr., owner of Woodland horticulture business Lil’ Shop of Growers. “It’s another gray area that we’re going to have to take baby steps to figure out.”
Fullerton’s comments reflect the county’s ignorance, as according to Young, many are probably not violating these regulations intentionally.
“My hope is that the USDA would come out with strong enforcement provisions to make sure that if they do find somebody that is benefitting by federal funds and growing marijuana, that there is a distinct separation and ultimately a prosecution that is involved in that and make it clear to growers,” Young asserted. “It’s not just going to be a Yolo County issue, but a national issue.”
As Young and his team look for noncompliant grows to enforce the interim county ordinance, the ag commissioner isn’t sure how violators will be prosecuted if caught. Also, the state water board’s marijuana cultivation permit list can be accessed by any member of the public upon request, which could easily be compared to public USDA grant lists.
Currently, if a violation is discovered, Young plans to work with the District Attorney’s Office to do a complete investigation and then take action based on the severity and quantity of the violations found. However, what this action will entail is not yet clear.
For some, another concern is whether medical marijuana patients will have the same access to their medications if traditional farmers stop growing marijuana to protect their federal subsidies.
Hezekiah Allen of the state Growers Association doesn’t believe that this will be an issue. “It is a relatively new phenomenon seeing traditional farmers in this and I think it will be great to reduce the disparity over time to bring these two systems together,” he began. “Today, I don’t think that it is a significant share in the state — I think these two industries are still fairly segregated.”
According to Allen, the state is a well-known over-producer of medicinal marijuana, and the overall supply should actually be reduced. “The ag community is aware of the problems with overproducing a commodity,” he commented.
“In the short term, in our opinion, people need to choose the subsidies or grow cannabis,” Allen asserted — though hopeful about the lines between traditional agriculture and marijuana cultivation blurring in the future.
Local farmer and county supervisor Duane Chamberlain gave his thoughts on the issue at hand as well and marijuana generally, “You can’t get any federal money if you’re growing marijuana and that’s fine,” he began. “The problem I’ve got is people sneaking on my property and growing marijuana … I’m basically against this marijuana deal — growing it at all.”
County officials, alongside local USDA representatives, will continue working to educate the public in hopes that only those purposefully violating the law are the ones prosecuted.
Contact Lauren King 530-406-6232, ,firstname.lastname@example.org, @lkingwdd on Twitter
Superbug found in second pig sample in U.S.
By Lena H. Sun
U.S. officials have found bacteria resistant to the antibiotic of last resort in a sample from a second pig, increasing concerns about the spread of a newly discovered superbug that initially surfaced in this country in March.
The latest report involves an antibiotic-resistant strain of E. coli from a pig intestine, which was detected by scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a spokeswoman said Monday evening. The E. coli bacteria carried a gene making it resistant to the antibiotic colistin, the drug used against particularly dangerous types of superbugs that can already withstand many other antibiotics.
The sample is still undergoing analysis. The bacteria were detected May 27, nearly three months after the first discovery of the gene in a pig sample. USDA officials have provided few details, including where either animal was raised or killed.
The same gene, mcr-1, also was identified last month in an E. coli strain from a 49-year-old Pennsylvania woman with no recent travel outside the country. That marked the first time the colistin-resistant strain had been found in a person in the United States, raising alarms among health officials and infectious-disease experts tracking its appearance in Asia, Europe and Canada.
Each of the three U.S. cases involves different strains of E. coli. The latest animal case suggests the gene is already circulating through multiple routes here.
“Mounting evidence suggests the mcr-1 gene is circulating within the United States,” said Patrick McGann, one of the Defense Department researchers who identified the gene in the patient in Pennsylvania. “Our sample was in a woman with no recent travel history, the pig samples are from slaughterhouses in the USA, and [the] strains are all different.”
But the sources have yet to be identified, McGann said.
U.S. officials have been looking for the gene since its emergence in pigs and people in China was reported late last year. There have since been dozens more reports in animals and people on three continents. The number of positive cases in animals is about 20 times that in humans, so researchers say it’s not that surprising that two pig samples have tested positive in the United States.
Public health officials’ biggest fear is that the gene will spread to bacteria that are now susceptible only to colistin. In all three cases here, the gene was carried on a plasmid, a mobile piece of DNA that easily can transfer the gene to other bacteria. That would result in a kind of super-superbug, invincible to every life-saving antibiotic available.
Appearing before a congressional hearing Tuesday on antibiotic resistance, a top expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is essential to slow the spread of resistant bacteria.
“Antibiotic resistance is perhaps the single most important infectious disease threat of our time,” Beth Bell, who heads prevention and control of a wide range of infectious diseases at the CDC, said in her written statement.
“The identification of the mcr-1 gene vividly illustrates the domestic and global challenges of antibiotic resistance,” she told members of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations. The gene was first identified last November “and in less than six months, it has been found in a human and two animals in the U.S.”
According to Bell, the investigation by the agency and the Pennsylvania health department into the woman’s case is currently focused on identifying and screening contacts she had at home and while a hospital patient to determine whether any might carry bacteria with the mcr-1 gene. The patient was treated at a military outpatient facility in Pennsylvania, and the antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria was found in her urine.
The patient was treated with other types of antibiotics and is fine, officials have said. Bell said the CDC has been able to verify that the patient no longer has the bacteria in her urine.
A national surveillance system that includes the CDC, USDA and the Food and Drug Administration has analyzed more than 55,000 bacterial samples collected from food animals, retail meats and people. None has contained the gene.
As part of that effort, the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service has been looking through 2,000 intestinal samples from cattle, hogs, turkeys and chickens; about 1,300 samples have already been evaluated. That’s how scientists detected the antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the first pig sample on March 3. It took several more weeks of testing to determine its particular characteristics, the spokeswoman said.
Department officials didn’t publicly disclose their finding until May 26, the day that Defense Department researchers published a paper outlining how they found the gene in the Pennsylvania patient.
Lena H. Sun is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on health. Follow @bylenasun
Napa Valley Register
Elles leaving Napa County Farm Bureau
By Barry Eberling
Sandy Elles is ending a 15-year stint as executive director of the Napa County Farm Bureau.
Her last day on the job is Friday. On June 27, she will become executive director of the California Agricultural Commissioners and Sealers Association (CACASA).
Elles on Tuesday reflected on the highlights of her Napa County Farm Bureau tenure. She mentioned growth of sustainability in the agricultural sector, such as local farmers embracing the Napa Green environmental certification program.
Local agricultural land protection efforts stood out for her, such as the passage of Measure P in 2008. Measure P extends through 2058 voter-approved land use laws designed to keep farmland from being paved over.
Another standout for her is Napa County’s work on providing farm worker housing.
“And most of all, just working with the best growers in the world,” Elles said.
Elles joined the Farm Bureau in 2001. The nonprofit organization has more than 1,000 members, and its stated goal is to “ensure the right political, social and economic climate for the continuation of agriculture.”
On Tuesday, those in the Napa County Board of Supervisors chamber applauded Elles after she delivered some remarks on the county budget during public comments. It marked the last time she will address supervisors on behalf of Farm Bureau.
The Farm Bureau’s Board of Directors has yet to name a new executive director. The position is being advertised.
The CACASA Board of Directors unanimously selected Elles as its new executive director.
CACASA is celebrating its 135th year, Board President Cathleen Fisher said in a press release. It needs a leader who can help the association continue to grow by strengthening its membership and managing its projects.
CACASA is working with the state Department of Pesticide Regulation on systems that improve restricted materials permitting, pesticide use reporting and compliance and enforcement tracking, the press release said.
The organization represents the agricultural commissioners and sealers of weights and measures which are appointed in each California county by the various boards of supervisors. Napa County’s Agricultural Commissioner and Sealer of Weights and Measures is Greg Clark.
Prior to joining the Farm Bureau, Elles worked for 22 years with the Blue & Gold Fleet of ferries in San Francisco Bay, becoming vice president of ferry contracts and senior captain. She served on the Cotati City Council from 1990 to 1998, the CACASA press release said.