Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , , ,

Water crisis slams tomatoes

Kim Chipman, WASHINGTON POST

Tomatoes are getting squeezed.

California leads the world in production of processing tomatoes – the variety that gets canned and used in commercial kitchens to make some of the most popular foods. The problem is the worst drought in 1,200 years is forcing farmers to grapple with a water crisis that’s undermining the crop, threatening to further push up prices from salsa to spaghetti sauce.

“We desperately need rain,” Mike Montna, head of the California Tomato Growers Association, said in an interview. “We are getting to a point where we don’t have inventory left to keep fulfilling the market demand.”

Lack of water is shrinking production in a region responsible for a quarter of the world’s output, which is having an impact on prices of tomato-based products. Gains in tomato sauce and ketchup are outpacing the rise in U.S. food inflation, which is at its highest in 43 years, with drought and higher agricultural inputs to blame. With California climate-change forecasts calling for hotter and drier conditions, the outlook for farmers is uncertain.

“It’s real tough to grow a tomato crop right now,” Montna said. “On one side you have the drought impacting costs because you don’t have enough water to grow all your acres, and then you have the farm inflation side of it with fuel and fertilizer costs shooting up.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/business/spaghetti-sauce-is-under-threat-as-water-crisis-slams-tomatoes/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

Salamander protection tied to permit streamlining in Sonoma County vineyards

Jeff Quackenbush, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL

The origins of a new public-private solution for the longstanding environmental quandary facing Sonoma County grape growers operating in critical habitat for the endangered California tiger salamander can be traced to recent reforms of county permits for erosion control on vineyard projects.

Under an agreement with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the North Bay Water District will oversee a program in which owners of participating vineyards that have adopted and implemented best practices to preserve or add salamander habitat can avoid being sued by third parties for “incidental take” of the rare amphibian under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The deal also offers participating growers assurance that vineyard operations can continue without additional permits.

The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Sonoma County population of the salamander as endangered in March 2003. Shortly after, the agency designated a wide swath of the Santa Rosa Plain as critical habitat. That put in place a regulatory system requiring costly studies and special permits for farming and many other activities in the area.

The most affected properties were near the species’ breeding grounds in seasonal wetlands and existing ponds or reservoirs, along with surrounding areas at higher elevations.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/industrynews/deal-for-salamander-protection-in-sonoma-county-vineyards-builds-on-permit/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable Living, WaterTags , , , ,

Balancing protein in your diet could improve water quality

Kat Kerlin, UC DAVIS NEWS

Eating Too Much Protein Adds to Nitrogen Pollution in U.S. Waters

…when a body takes in more protein than it needs, excess amino acids break it down into nitrogen, which is excreted mostly through urine and released through the wastewater system. This brings additional nitrogen into waterways, which can result in toxic algal blooms, oxygen-starved “dead zones” and polluted drinking water.

Balancing how much protein you eat with the amount your body needs could reduce nitrogen releases to aquatic systems in the U.S. by 12% and overall nitrogen losses to air and water by 4%, according to a study from the University of California, Davis.

Protein consumption in the United States, from both plant and animal sources, ranks among the highest in the world. The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, said that if Americans ate protein at recommended amounts, projected nitrogen excretion rates in 2055 would be 27% less than they are today despite population growth.

The study is the first to estimate how much protein consumption contributes to excess nitrogen in the environment through human waste. It also indicates that coastal cities have the largest potential to reduce nitrogen excretions headed for their watersheds.

“It turns out that many of us don’t need as much protein as we eat, and that has repercussions for our health and aquatic ecosystems,” said lead author Maya Almaraz, a research affiliate with the UC Davis Institute of the Environment. “If we could reduce that to an amount appropriate to our health, we could better protect our environmental resources.”

Read more at https://www.ucdavis.edu/climate/news/balancing-protein-your-diet-could-improve-water-quality

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , ,

California vineyard laborers wanted wildfire safety. Then came a shadowy counter-movement

Alleen Brown, THE GUARDIAN


As harvest season becomes riskier, workers are pressing for safer conditions including disaster insurance and hazard pay

But in recent months, a slick website has appeared under the name Sonoma Wine Industry for Safe Employees, or Sonoma Wise, featuring counterpoints to demands from North Bay Jobs with Justice.

When Margarita García, a 39-year-old mother from Oaxaca, Mexico, picks wine grapes during a wildfire, the sky is red and thick with smoke. Ash falls on her face, irritating her throat and eyes. The hot, fast work makes N-95 masks too suffocating, so she and her colleagues opt for bandanas.

In this part of northern California, the grape harvesting season has been transformed by fire. Sonoma county is known internationally for its pinot noir and – increasingly – for intense wildfire seasons made worse by the climate crisis. That has created new economic threats for both grape growers, who can lose an entire season’s harvest in a matter of hours, and for workers, who must operate in increasingly dangerous conditions without replacement income if work is called off.

Now, vineyard laborers like García are pressing officials to enact stronger worker protections during wildfire seasons. They want hazard pay, disaster insurance and safety trainings translated in Indigenous languages – García’s first language is Mixteco. They are also pushing for community safety observers to be allowed to monitor working conditions in evacuation zones and for clean water and bathrooms, even when the ash is falling.

It’s an example of a type of climate-driven labor organizing that is growing across the US, as workers face new climate hazards, such as exposure to extreme heat and hurricane disaster zones littered with dangerous materials.

In turn, a surprising counter-movement has arisen – one that has the veneer of being worker-led, but is driven by the wine industry itself.

Labor organizers say it’s a familiar tactic – one that’s long been used by powerful industries to curtail movements for worker’s rights.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jun/11/california-vineyard-laborers-wildfire-safety

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food SystemTags , , ,

Planning commission works on new rules for Sonoma County winery events

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The Sonoma County Planning Commission on Thursday made some progress to finish new rules to regulate winery events that have triggered disputes between neighborhood activists and the wine industry over past years.

The panel revisited the draft that it initially considered last June, and again in February, in its quest to find a balance between rural neighbors who have complained about traffic and noise among wine tourists, against the local industry that contends the need for visitors.

But after five hours of debate, commissioners said they realized they had more work to do and would reconvene June 7 in attempt to finish the proposal. The Board of Supervisors is slated to take up the proposal on Sept. 27.

The rules would apply to only new and modified event applications. There are more than 460 winery permits in Sonoma County and roughly 60% have visitor components, such as tasting rooms, according to county staff.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/business/planning-commission-works-on-new-rules-for-sonoma-county-winery-events/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Sustainable LivingTags ,

Bay Area ranchers open their own mobile meat processing plant, filling key gap for local industry

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Bay Area livestock ranchers, including 24 in Sonoma County, are welcoming this week’s opening of their own slaughterhouse that fills a critical gap created more than two years ago.

The $1.2 million mobile processing plant, with a gleaming white 36-foot-long trailer purchased and set up at an area ranch by the 39-member Bay Area Ranchers Co-op, puts farmers producing beef cattle, pig, goat and sheep meat in control of their industry.

“It’s a big game changer in our food system,” said Duskie Estes, co-owner of the Black Pig Meat Co. and a co-op board member. “We are opening up the business place for small-scale animal husbandry.”

The co-op “exists solely for the benefit of the ranchers themselves who now have a guaranteed place to process their animals,” said Vince Trotter, sustainable ag coordinator at the Marin County UC Cooperative Extension, who helped the co-op get started.

“This is for ranchers who want to sell meat under their own label,” he said, noting that farmers will no longer need to share their revenue with a commercial slaughterhouse.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/bay-area-ranchers-open-their-own-mobile-meat-processing-plant-filling-key/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Water, WildlifeTags , , ,

Critics rip ‘half-baked’ federal plan to save California salmon

Nick Cahill, COURTHOUSE NEWS SERVICE

Both conservationists and water suppliers are upset with a proposal that federal and state officials say is aimed at ensuring Chinook salmon survive the California drought.

Fishing groups and water suppliers fighting the Biden administration’s proposed drought rules for California’s water system told a federal judge Friday the emergency plans won’t stop the demise of endangered salmon.

With California trudging through another disappointingly dry winter, the federal government and state officials have agreed upon a set of temporary rules they claim are necessary to preserve enough cold water on the Sacramento River for Chinook salmon this spring and summer. The rules call for new water temperature targets and improved collaboration between federal and state officials on the management of California’s two main water conveyance systems.

But the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and other conservation groups cast the “interim operations plan” as a half-baked measure that will lead to a third consecutive year of salmon die-offs. They want the feds to hold off on upcoming water deliveries and subsequently store more cold water behind Shasta Dam in the event hydrological conditions remain dreadful.

In addition, a group of water agencies claim the interim plan was untested and, if implemented, would likely violate their contracts with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The overarching issue are endangered species permits or biological opinions adopted by the Trump administration in 2019 that critics said severely weakened protections for salmon and water quality in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Read more at https://www.courthousenews.com/critics-rip-feds-half-baked-plan-to-save-california-salmon/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & EnergyTags , , , , ,

California subsidies for dairy cows’ biogas are a lose-lose, campaigners say

Michael Sainato, THE GUARDIAN

The state pumps millions into methane produced by manure – but advocates argue it increases greenhouse gas emissions and encourages factory farming

A coalition of climate, environmental and animal welfare groups is calling for California to remove the huge subsidies provided to dairy farms to turn animal waste into a form of energy called biogas.

Manure, which emits the potent greenhouse gas methane, is a big problem for US farms, and is particularly stark in California, where the dairy industry accounts for nearly half the state’s methane emissions.

Since 2011, California has been running a policy called the low carbon fuel standard (LCFS), which now includes incentives for dairy farms to convert methane into energy to fuel vehicles by enabling them to sell offset credits. This is intended to be a win-win: reducing farm emissions while allowing fossil fuel companies to mitigate their own greenhouse gas emissions by buying these offsets. The number of anaerobic digesters used to produce the biogas has surged in the state especially among large dairy farms.

But environmental advocates argue that the environmental benefits of biogas are exaggerated, and that the LCFS encourages the expansion of factory farms and could end up increasing emissions and pollution.

In a petition to the California Air Resources Board (Carb), the state government’s clean air agency that runs the LCFS, six environmental groups called for dairy farms to be excluded from the policy. In January, Carb turned down the request but said it would continue to engage with the petitioners.

Read more at https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/feb/04/california-subsidies-biogas-dairy-cows-emissions-climate

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Plan to acquire Mendocino County power plant unravels

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Plans to acquire an aging power plant in Mendocino County to ensure continued flows of Eel River water into Lake Mendocino and Sonoma County have unraveled.

A coalition of organizations from Sonoma, Humboldt and Mendocino counties abandoned their quest to acquire the century-old Potter Valley hydroelectric plant, saying it could not meet an April 14 deadline for submitting a federal license application.

The plant, about 80 miles north of Santa Rosa, is owned by Pacific Gas & Electric, which in 2019 announced plans to abandon it and surrender its license.

Water users downstream maintained the plant was critical because Eel River water is diverted through its turbines into Lake Mendocino and the Russian River. That, in turn, supplies users as far south as Sonoma and northern Marin counties.

Without the option of acquiring the plant, stakeholders predict years of uncertainty, quarreling and, ultimately, higher costs to water users.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/news/multicounty-partnership-yields-on-potter-valley-power-plant-license-scramb/

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Sustainable LivingTags , , , , ,

California is about to witness its biggest change to trash since the ’80s. Hint: It’s all about composting

Chase DeFeliciantonio, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

Dawn has just broken over Recology’s vast Blossom Valley Organics composting facility, about 70 miles east of San Francisco in Vernalis (San Joaquin County). The cold fall air hits like a slap to the face as orange light creeps over the horizon.

As the sun rises over the site, one of six the company operates statewide, a fine grit rides on the air, which is thick with the smell of earthy decomposition.

Operations Supervisor Clifford Reposa casts a wary eye on a 25-ton trailer of organic waste as it is hoisted on a hydraulic lift almost vertically against the pale and reddening sky.

“Not good. Lots of plastic bags,” Reposa mutters, his arms crossed as he watches a flood of pumpkins, apple cores, bits of wood and piles of leaves trucked in from San Francisco tumble out, adding to the towering piles of refuse that dwarf huge bulldozers moving it around in a deafening, mechanical dance.

This load of refuse is just a fraction of the roughly 1,500 tons of compostable material the 120-acre facility takes in every day from San Francisco and parts of the East Bay and South Bay. It comes here to be reborn as natural fertilizer used on vineyards and farms, and in varietals that are crafted specifically for different types of soil.

After those plastic bags and nonorganic materials are plucked out by men, women and gargantuan machines with names like The Titan, what remains will be placed into heaping piles that eventually break down into dark compost some farmers call “black gold.” Those heaps that stand higher than a person are spritzed with water and heated and cooled for two months to help trillions of microorganisms turn the solid waste into rich food for hungry crops.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/projects/2022/california-compost-law-climate-change-effect/