Agri-Musings: Who Will Feed Us?

In 2017, CDFA Reported the following:

  • The average age of a California farmer was 56.8 years in 2002 and was 60.1 in 2012.
  • The average California farmer is 1.5 years older than the national average age.
  • In 2002, 61.7% of farmers listed farming as their principle occupation, however, in 2012, only 54.4% considered farming their primary work.

CDFA did not offer explanations for last stat. Do growers need extra-farm work for employer-supplied health insurance? Or because farm profits are not sufficient? Or because farming is no longer a self-sustaining enterprise for smaller growers?

The California Association of Pest Control Advisors Reports Aging Pest Control Advisors

In 2006, Western FarmPress quipped:

“The graying of America is on a collision course with the feeding of America.”

The Western FarmPress article proceeded to discuss the aging of Pest Control Advisors (PCAs) in California. Out of the 3,100 PCAs who were members of the California Association of Pest Control Advisors (CAPCA) in 2006, 40% were older than 55 years old, 35% were 45-55 years old, and only 17% were 44 years or younger.

Today, in 2019, CAPCA claims to have 2,875 sustaining members. The average age is 57 years old.

As PCAs retire, they may continue to work on a part-time contractual basis or they may leave the industry completely. Increasingly, growers, vendors and other companies are having difficulty backfilling jobs vacated by retirees or finding qualified candidates for newly created positions. Over the course of the next few years, the absence of retiring PCAs will be keenly felt as today’s average PCA has worked an average of 30 years as a PCA. Their knowledge and experience is not immediately replaceable.

The Future of Farm Extension

These demographics are mirrored at the University of California. Cooperative Extension Farm Advisors and University Specialists are the researchers who find solutions in order for California’s agriculture to evolve and prosper. Between 2009 and 2012, UCCE lost 86 farm advisors and specialists for a variety of reasons. Twenty-five of those lost positions were scheduled to be replaced in 2013 and 2014. However, in 2013, about 60% of County Farm Advisors and greater than 60% of University Specialists were over age 54; and therefore, losses to retirements are expected to occur on an ongoing and accelerating basis.

As we move into 2019, it is unclear what plans exist for replacing retired Farm Advisors and Specialists. Their losses will acute as fewer resources are dedicated to the research that has resulted in California being one of the largest global agricultural powerhouses.

Johnson, Hans. Many of California’s Highly Educated Workers are Retiring. Public Policy Institute of California. (January 24, 2019) https://www.ppic.org/blog/many-of-californias-highly-educated-workers-are-retiring/?utm_source=ppic&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=blog_subscriber

Office of Public Affairs, CDFA. Farms + Data: Most California Farms are Family-run, and Farmers are Aging. (June 56, 2017) https://plantingseedsblog.cdfa.ca.gov/wordpress/?p=10909

Cline, Harry. Pest Control Adviser Workforce Aging, Dwindling. Western Farm Press.(October 31, 2006) https://www.farmprogress.com/pest-control-adviser-workforce-aging-dwindling

PCA Demographic Survey Results. CAPCA Media Kit, Reader Profile/Circulation. (2019) https://capca.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/2019-Media-Kit.pdf

Omert, Cliff. The Future of Farm Extension. Clients and SureHarvest in the News. SureHarvest. (August 5, 2013). https://www.sureharvest.com/article/153/The_Future_of_Farm_Extension.html

Agri-Musings: The Effects of Retirement

In 1975, I wrote a high school paper on population dynamics. Who knew what an impact that paper would have on my life? From that point on, I looked at everything though the lens of demographics. After I married, my husband and I made financial, family, and work decisions based on how we thought society would be shaped by the age distribution of our population.

Much of what we predicted is coming to pass. Globally, there are competing interests for natural resources. Nationally, the impacts of population growth and increasing urbanization are changing our landscape and the fabric of our society. And the impact of aging baby boomers retiring, en masse, is changing the job market, health care, financial markets, volunteerism, tourism, and how society looks at careers and aging.

In California, rapid retirement of baby boomers will be felt acutely because of over-committed pension funds, the impacts of a rapid “brain drain”, and high-levels of California emigration among retirees.

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPCI) Reports:

  • Retirees grew from 3.8 million in 2008 to 5.2 million in 2018 (38% increase).
  • Compare this 38% increase in retirees to the 8% population growth.
  • Retirees were, on the average well-educated. From 2008 to 2018, the education levels of retirees were:
    • ~700,000 people with college degrees
    • ~250,000 people with associate degrees
    • ~ 300,000 people with high school education
  • There are more than 70,000 new retirees with bachelor’s degree each year for the last decade.
  • Only 55,000 new bachelor’s degrees are awarded by the entire University of California system each year.
  • California could see a shortfall of college graduates of 1.1 million by 2030.
  • PPIC claims that the state is increasing funding for increased enrollment, graduation rates, and degrees awarded, but provides no substantiation for these claims.

Johnson, Hans. Many of California’s Highly Educated Workers are Retiring. Public Policy Institute of California. (January 24, 2019) https://www.ppic.org/blog/many-of-californias-highly-educated-workers-are-retiring/?utm_source=ppic&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=blog_subscriber

Event: California Rangeland Summit (1/15/19)

This is an annual Event.

The California Rangeland Conservation Coalition (CRCC) and University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCD ANR) co-sponsored the 14th California Rangeland Summit in Stockton.

Information about the 2019 Summit may be found on the Califorin aRangeland Conservation Coalition web-site http://www.carangeland.org/2019-summit/

This year’s Summit focused on the role the grazing community plays in fire management and prevention.

2019 Summit Presentations may be found at http://cestanislaus.ucanr.edu/Agriculture/Livestock_and_Range_Management/2019_Summit/

Agri-Stats: Strawberries

Consumer demand for strawberries has driven an ever-expanding market in Florida, California and Mexico over the past decades. See Stats below (Santani).

  • U.S Production :
    • Was nore the 3,015 million pound of strawberries in 2011.
    • Is the second largest volume in the world.
    • Is 20% of the world’s strawberry crop.
    • Has the highest productivity per unit area.
    • Farmgate economic value was between $2.3 billion and $2.9 billion from 2014 to 2017.
    • The fresh market value of berries is second to the fresh apple market.
    • Has increased about 17% since 1990. Most of the increases were in Florida and California with inverse decreases for smaller producing areas that could not be as competitive.
    • Is showing increases in small acreage and urban production to meet consumer demand for direct-to-market, local, and organic production.
  • Percent U.S. Strawberry Production by Growing Region:
    • California – 91%
    • Florida – 8%
    • All other states (North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington) combined + about 1%. (Note: this 1% is produced on about 17% of the available acreage and by 85%, >9,000, farms.)
  • California Production:
    • Is mostly concentrated in three primary coastal prodution regions: Salinas/Watsonville, Santa Maria, and Oxnard.
    • 2017 and 2018 acreage declined about 17% from previous years due to pressures to eliminate Methyl bromide fumigation, labor shortages, drought, urbanization, and exorbitant land lease rates: 38,937 (2014) to 33,791 acres (2018)
    • It appears the downward trend will continue in 2019 with a reduction of ~6% fewer fall planted strawberry acres in California. The majority of acreage reductions are located in the Salinas/Watsonville growing region, which has decreased about 12% from 2018 acres.
    • Most of California berries are annual plantings with 27,804 acres planted in the fall of 2017 for winter/spring/summer harvests. These fall plantings are started using bare-root plants from Northern California nurseries.
    • 5,988 acres are planted in the summer for fall harvest. These are “frigo” plants, which are dormant, leafless, strawberry plants thata have been in cold-storage for months.
    • In 2018, organic production was 3,023 acres of fall-planted and 968 acres of summer-planted berries.
    • About 75% of acres are harvested for fresh market and about 25% are harvested for the frozen foods market.
    • About 16% of harvested berries are exported to Canada, Mexico, Japan and Hong Kong.
    • About 59% of acres are planted with University of California cultivars and the remaining acres are planted to proprietary varieties.
    • 100% of strawberries are hand-picked; however, the industry is investing heavily in development of robotic strawberry pickers in response to unrelenting labor shortages.
  • U.S. Consumption
    • Has increased from 2 lb. per capita in 1980 to 8 lb. per capita in 2013.
    • During the U.S. off-season, berries are imported from Mexico. This represents about 11% of the total market share. Mexican imports have increased in recent years and over 800 million pounds were imported in 2012 and 2013.

Consumption is expected to continue to increase as a result of health awareness, year-round product availability, and improved cultivars. In 2019, Florida and Mexico acreages appear to be roughly equal to previous years. Acreage losses in California (mostly in the Salinas/Watsonville production area) are expected to be off-set by the planting of more productive varieties so that overall U.S. volumes will remain mostly unchanged. The anticipated volume of U.S. berries is expected to meet demand. (Winiecke)

Samtani, Jayesh, B. et al. The Status and Furture of the Strawberry Industry in the United States. In HortTechnolgy, American Society for Horticultural Science. (January, 31, 2019). https://journals.ashs.org/horttech/view/journals/horttech/aop/article-10.21273-HORTTECH04135-18.xml#B23

Winiecke, Dan. California Strawberry Acreage in 2019. TreeTop. (December 11, 2018). https://foodingredients.treetop.com/fruit-ingredients-blog/Post/California-Strawberry-Acreage-in-2019/

Agri-Stats: Farmland Losses

American Farmland Trust is a dynamic NGO focused on agricultural issues. They lead on the subject of farmland loss and conversion to development. The continued viability of our agricultural industry is linked to overall economic prosperity. Ag land is linked to many different types of natural resource protections.

In 2018, American Farmland Trust published a detailed report, Farms Under Threat, which provided “hard evidence that America’s farmland is disappearing”. Great maps are provided that illustrate the report’s finding such as correlation between land productivity and development, distribution of Ag lands, combined productivity, versatility and resiliency of Ag land, and the best land for intensive crop production. Recommendations for conserving farmland are included.

Some key findings include:

“- Nearly twice the area of farmland was lost than was previously known. 

– Between 1992 and 2012, we lost nearly 31 million acres of land. That’s 175 acres an hour, or 3 acres every single minute.

– 11 million of those acres were among the best farmland in the nation—classified as the most productive, most versatile and most resilient land.

– Development disproportionately occurred on agricultural lands, with 62 percent of all development occurring on farmland.

– Expanding urban areas accounted for 59 percent of the loss.

– Low-density residential development, or the building of houses on one- to 20-acre parcels, accounted for 41 percent [of the farmland losses].”


National Advisory Committee, American Farmland Trust. Farms Under Threat, The State of America’s Farmland. (2018). https://www.farmland.org/initiatives/farms-under-threat




Food Safety Outbreaks: Stay Informed

Getting information from the Center for Disease Control

We often feel that our food supply is not as safe as it once was because we hear more about food-borne, pathogenic outbreaks. This is a function of many factors such as better reporting, more thorough followup investigations, and building public awareness. The best ways to keep safe are to eat food that is in season, eat domestically grown food, and stay informed.

Please find information about outbreaks at the following Center for Disease Control Web-site: https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/outbreaks/multistate-outbreaks/outbreaks-list.html

Event: Santa Lucia Highlands Sun, Wine & Wine Gala (5/18/19)

It is that time of year for this annual event!

“Join the preeminent producers of the Santa Lucia Highlands for an afternoon of delicious wine, gourmet delicacies from the area’s finest restaurants and food producers, a silent auction that benefits a local charity, live music, and more. Mer Soleil Winery generously opens its doors for the day, allowing fans of the region a peek into the beautiful property that’s not open to the public.

More than 40 vintners personally pour their most sought-after Santa Lucia Highlands bottlings, paired with bites by chefs from exceptional Monterey Peninsula restaurants and food purveyors like Basil Carmel, Carmel Valley Ranch, La Balena, Schoch Dairy, Village Corner, The Monterey Plaza Hotel and many more.”

For event information: http://www.santaluciahighlands.com/event/sun-wind-and-wine-gala/

Water-Musings: Drinking Water

An article in the May 2018, issue of Harper’s Magazine discusses drinking water issues in Pretty Prairie, KS.

Many aspects of the situation described in this article are ubiquitous to rural communities throughout the country. These issues are summarized below. I have expanded on solution options based as per my experience with drinking water issues on the Central Coast of California.

  • What are some of the farming issues?
    • Market conditions and/or government policies favor farm consolidation; therefore, there are fewer people to address the issue.
    • Market conditions and/or government policies may promote over-production.
    • Margins are tight; therefore, every farmable acre counts.
    • Consumption of nitrogen fertilizers has substantially increased since the 1960s.(Note: An assumption would be this is fueled by over-use; however, this is also the result of increased agricultural efficiency per acre.)
    • Crop plants cannot utilize all of the fertilizer applied; therefore, it is present in the soil to leach into groundwater or run-off into surface water drinking supplies.
    • Growers are risk averse and fear yields losses or reduce quality if they reduce fertilizer use.
  • What are some of the potential farming solutions?
    • Delay decisions until circumstances demand action or technology improves to remove barriers.
    • Biotechnology may increase crop nitrogen use efficiency; thus reducing fertilizer application rates.
    • Biotechnology may better manage when nitrogen is available for plant uptake through slow release fertilizers or nitrification inhibitors or management of plant metabolism.
    • Improved technologies may control mineralization and eliminate the need for cover crops. For example, the University of California Cooperative Extension, Monterey County, is trialing carbon sources such as almond hulls and glycerol to tie up over-wintering nitrogen and is release it in the spring when crop plant are present.
    • Increasingly, states are imposing nitrogen use and/or nitrogen management regulations.
  • What challenges exist for municipalities and/drinking water systems?
    • The nitrate in drinking water is persistent and nitrate levels may be increasing.
    • Globalization has moved business out of town and reduces tax revenues.
    • The size of the problem may be too large to be addressed locally.
    • Previous federal programs are shrinking to provide funding for drinking water.
    • Funds for building a drinking water system or treatment plant might be procured but the local government may not be able to afford ongoing operation and maintenance (O&M) costs.
    • Local technical resources may not be available.
    • Technical expertise might be more than the local government can afford.
  • What are some of the solutions that exist for municipalities or drinking water systems?
    • The short-term solution is to provide drinking water to vulnerable members of the population.
    • Traditionally, treatment created a waste stream. However, this may be ameliorated with improving biological treatment technology; thus, reducing this barrier for treatment.
    • Drill additional drinking water wells in aquifers with clean water.
    • Abandon wells with unacceptable nitrate levels.
    • Blend water from impaired wells with clean water to meet the EPA drinking water numeric standard of 10 ppm Nitrate as Nitrogen (NO3-N).
    • Use creative well-testing to meet EPA standards (Note: this is not recommended.)
    • Levy Municipal, Regional, or State taxes on ratepayers, businesses, and/or growers to pay for impaired drinking water systems.

Royte, Elizabeth, Drinking Problems, A Kansas Town Confronts a Tap-Water Crisis. Harper’s Magazine, (Archive May 2018): https://harpers.org/archive/2018/05/drinking-problems/

About Food Insecurity

The US has a great deal of food insecurity, which means that people live in households without consistent access to adequate food.

Millions of Americans continue to worry about the next meal: either because they cannot afford it or because food is not locally available. This article presents alarming facts:

  • Overall, food insecurity ranges from 4-36% by county.
  • Child insecurity ranges from 6-40% by county.
  • However, food insecurity is found everywhere. A county may have high average food security (e.g., Los Angeles County), but have population segments with high rates of food insecurity.
  • Food insecurity is often correlated with other negative indicators such as high unemployment, higher than average poverty rates, and/or lower than average home ownership.
  • In 2016, 25% of the people who were food insecure were unlikely to qualify for most federal nutrient programs.
  • USDA estimates that 41 million people are food insecure.
  • USDA estimates that 13 million children are food insecure.
  • One in eight individuals live in a US household without consistent access to adequate food.
  • One in six children live in a household without consistent access to adequate food.
  • Rural counties are 69% of all US counties but represent 79% of the counties with the highest rates of food insecurity.
  • 85% of counties with high child food insecurity are rural.
  • Rural Insecurity is especially concentrated in the Southern part of the US.
  • Two states that I particularly track are Oklahoma and California. Oklahoma has the 7th highest rate (22.7%) and California has the 20th highest rate (19%) of child food insecurity.
  • $3.00 is the national average meal cost. However, this cost varies across geographies. Some counties have lower average costs. Other counties, which tend to be found in metropolitan areas, have higher meal costs (e.g., average meal costs in Manhattan, New York County, are $5.70).
  • A food secure person is estimated to spend $273 on food per month.
  • There is an increase health issues such as diabetes, obesity, and disabilities in the most food insecure areas.

This article begs a few questions:

  • For example, these statistics were derived when the economy (assessed by traditional measures) is robust; however, what are the projections for food insecurity during an economic downturn?
  • What are the projections for food insecurity if California’s focus on water sustainability results in a decrease in supply or an increase in costs for domestically grown fresh fruits and vegetables?
  • The article is silent about the source of food. Is food security estimated solely on the ability to purchase food? In some areas of the country, particularly in rural areas, people produce their own food or barter for food. It is unclear whether this food source is considered.

Map the Meal, A Report on County and Congressional District Food Insecutiy and County Food Cost in the United States in 2016. Feeding America. https://www.feedingamerica.org/sites/default/files/research/map-the-meal-gap/2016/2016-map-the-meal-gap-all-modules.pdf

Event: The Use of Geophysical Methods for Groundwater Evaluation and Management (10/5/16)

Presented by Rosemary Knight, Stanford University. Sponsored by Supervisor Frank Mecham, District 1, San Luis Obispo County

Over the past ten years, the Groundwater Evaluation Management Centerhas partnered with water districts and agencies to explore and demonstrate novel ways of acquiring, processing, and analyzing geophysical data to obtain information about groundwater systems. Three examples were of aerial collection of geophysical data were presented.