Thursday, March 31, 2016

USDA Prospective Plantings Report Bearish for Many Row-Crop Farmers

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 31, 2016 -- The Agriculture Department’s Prospective Plantings Report released today suggests low prices for corn and rice will continue, extending the current, two-year farm downturn through the end of 2016, if not beyond.
“The report really highlights how challenging the market is right now for major crops,” said John Anderson, deputy chief economist of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “We currently have adequate supplies both in the U.S. and globally in these commodities. It doesn’t look as though that will change. If we have normal yields, that supply side pressure will not ease up much.”
The 93.6 million acre prospective plantings figure for corn is up from 88.6 million acres planted last year, or close to three times the expected increase of 2 million acres.
The December corn contract on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange dropped by about 15 cents to approximately $3.70 per bushel within a few minutes of the report’s release.
The soybean prospective plantings figure came in at 82.236 million acres – on the low side of expectations, but still above some forecasts that had predicted just under 82 million acres.
Wheat acreage was also smaller than expectations. Winter and spring varieties combined were reported at 49.559 million acres. Pre-report estimates covered a wide range but averaged around 51.5 million acres. None of the publicly-released estimates were below 50 million acres. Wheat, like soy, however, will not likely increase greatly in price as long as corn surpluses remain.
Rice prospective plantings were well above market expectations at 3.064 million acres vs. USDA’s projected rice plantings at 2.8 million acres. If this projection holds, it will be the first time since 2010 that rice acreage has topped 3 million acres. Recent tightening of world rice supplies may limit the damage from today’s report, but forecasts still suggest significant price drops are on the way.


(Sacramento, CA) The California State Fair has announced the recipients of its prestigious awards, including Agriculturalist of the Year. The State Fair annually recognizes the accomplishments and service of key individuals or organizations through a series of awards that are publicly recognized and honored at the Friends of the California State Fair Gala, which will be held this year on Thursday, June 23.
The 2016 AGRICULTURALIST OF THE YEAR AWARD will be presented to Sarbjit “Sarb” Johl. Johl first came to Sutter County from India in 1966, at the age of 13. He began farming with his father in 1976, after graduating from Yuba City High School and Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. He served as Chairman of the Sacramento Growers Cooperative, a cling peach co-op, from 1986 to 1993 and has also served as a board member of the California Canning Peach Association. He was founding partner of the Sacramento Valley Walnut Growers LLC., a walnut processing and marketing enterprise, and has served as Chairman of that organization since 2006. In addition to serving on the Northern California Growers Association, for 12 years, he has been a Trustee of the Butte-Yuba-Sutter Water Quality Coalition, and is currently the Chairman of the Cling Peach Board.
The 2016 GOLDEN BEAR AWARD is presented to Gail Kautz. A member of the California State Fair and Exposition Board of Directors from 1987 to 1995, Kautz is actively involved in her family’s farming operation, John Kautz Farms, in Lodi, California. She was the first woman Chair of the California State Fair Board in 1993, and received the Ag Progress Award in 1996 for her outstanding contribution to Agriculture. The Ironstone Concours Foundation, which Kautz started, donates $5,000 annually to the California State Fair Scholarship fund. She has consistently devoted her time to several organizations through the years, including the California State Fair Agricultural Advisory Committee, for which she served as Chair in 2006-07. Her active involvement in the agriculture industry has earned her many awards, including Lifetime Honorary Member of the California 4-H, Lifetime Honorary State Degree from the Future Farmers of America, and the California Farm Bureau Bountiful Award. She is also a member of the San Joaquin County Agricultural Hall of Fame.
The 2016 AGRICULTURAL PROGRESS AWARD is proudly presented to Judy Culbertson, Executive Director of the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom. A native of Courtland, California, where she grew up on a 5th generation pear orchard, Judy gained firsthand experience in the industry managing her family’s packing plant. She also worked for the California Farm Bureau, assisting with the development of agricultural education projects and activities prior to joining the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom. Her current vision for the foundation is to ensure that every student develops an appreciation and curiosity to learn about where their food and fiber comes from. Culbertson is a current member and past chair of the California State Fair Agricultural Advisory Council.
The 2016 WINE LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD is granted to G.M. “Pooch” Pucilowski. A nationally-known wine educator and consultant, Pooch has devoted more than 30 years to the pursuit of educating consumers and trade members alike in all aspects of the wine industry. He has served as Chief Judge and Consultant to the California State Fair’s annual Commercial Wine Competition and has judged several of the most prestigious wine competitions throughout the country. He is widely regarded as a wine industry expert and has given lectures and seminars on the subject throughout North America. He is also President/Owner of the University of Wine, in which capacity he has trained restauranteurs, wholesalers/distributors, retailers, and winery personnel.
The 2016 VINEYARD OF THE YEAR AWARD is deservedly bestowed to Vineyard 1869/Original Grandpere. Located in Amador County, Vineyard 1869/Original Grandpere is the oldest Zinfandel vineyard in America, as documented in a deed from a U.S. Geological Survey dated in 1869. Initially planted from hardy stock, its ancient vines survived catastrophe inflicted by both man and nature over the course of the ensuing 140+ years. Purchased in 1984 by Scott and Terri Harvey, the vines have been lovingly coaxed back into producing small yields of elegant, complex, first-growth Zinfandel by Scott, a highly regarded California winemaker who was trained in Germany.
The 2016 TECHNOLOGY CHAMPION OF THE YEAR, INDIVIDUAL, is awarded to Eric Brown, President and CEO of California Telehealth Network, an organization that increases access to acute, primary and preventive care in rural America. Eric’s 15 years of experience in the cable television industry have included valuable contributions in the field of network affiliate relations and the management of multiple broadband system marketing and operations. He has previously served as Chairman of the California Cable and Telecommunications Association (CCTA) and is a recipient of the prestigious National Cable and Telecommunications Association Vanguard Award for excellence in cable operations. He has also received the cable industry’s CTAM Chairman’s Award for excellence in cable marketing.
The 2016 TECHNOLOGY CHAMPION OF THE YEAR, ORGANIZATION, is awarded to Emergency Call and Tracking System (ECaTS). ECaTS is the first universal 911 Call Reporting System that leverages the ubiquitous nature of the Internet to provide secure, real-time reporting to the 911 industry.  In developing a product that gathers data on more than 350,000 calls per day to produce insights that not only identify the data, but establish how that data was produced, the company has brought private sector business intelligence analytics to the public safety industry, epitomizing the virtues of what it takes to confront the challenges of “Big Data” within the 911 industry.
These awards will be presented at the annual Friends of the California State Fair Gala on Thursday, June 23, 2016. Funds raised from the Gala support Friends of the California State Fair student scholarships. Prior to the dinner and awards ceremony, the Best of California Tasting will feature award-winning wine, beer, cheese and olive oil from the State Fair competitions. To support the celebration please email

Lawsuit challenges FDA’s approval of genetically engineered salmon

Coalition of fishing, consumer, and environmental groups say first-ever approval of laboratory-created food animal violated laws and ignored risks to wild salmon and fishing communities
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — A broad coalition of environmental, consumer, and commercial and recreational fishing organizations today sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approving the first-ever genetically engineered -- GE -- food animal, an Atlantic salmon engineered to grow quickly. The man-made salmon was created by AquaBounty Technologies, Inc. with DNA from three fish: Atlantic salmon, Pacific king salmon, and Arctic ocean eelpout. This marks the first time any government in the world has approved a GE animal for commercial sale and consumption.
The plaintiff coalition, jointly represented by legal counsel from Center for Food Safety and Earthjustice, includes Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, Golden Gate Salmon Association, Kennebec Reborn, Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, Ecology Action Centre, Food & Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Cascadia Wildlands, and Center for Food Safety.
In approving the GE salmon, FDA determined it would not require labeling of the GE fish to let consumers know what they are buying, which led Congress to call for labeling in the 2016 omnibus spending bill. FDA’s approval also ignored comments from nearly 2 million people opposed to the approval because the agency failed to analyze and prevent the risks to wild salmon and the environment, as well as fishing communities, including the risk that GE salmon could escape and threaten endangered wild salmon stocks.
AquaBounty’s GE salmon will undertake a 5,000-mile journey to reach U.S. supermarkets. The company plans to produce the GE salmon eggs on Prince Edward Island, Canada. The GE salmon will then be grown to market-size in a facility in Panama, processed into fillets, and shipped to the U.S. for sale. That complicated scheme is only for the initial approval, however. AquaBounty has publicly announced plans to ultimately grow its GE fish in the U.S. rather than Panama, and sell it around the world. Despite this, FDA’s approval only considered the current plans for the far-flung facilities in Canada and Panama, leaving the risk of escape and contamination of U.S. salmon runs unstudied.
The lawsuit challenges FDA’s claim that it has authority to approve and regulate GE animals as “animal drugs” under the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Those provisions were meant to ensure the safety of veterinary drugs administered to treat disease in livestock and were not intended to address entirely new GE animals that can pass along their altered genes to the next generation. The approval of the GE salmon opens the door to other genetically engineered fish and shellfish, as well as chickens, cows, sheep, goats, rabbits and pigs that are reportedly in development.
The lawsuit also highlights FDA’s failure to protect the environment and consult wildlife agencies in its review process, as required by federal law. U.S. Atlantic salmon, and many populations of Pacific salmon, are protected by the Endangered Species Act and in danger of extinction. Salmon is a keystone species and unique runs have been treasured by residents for thousands of years. Diverse salmon runs today sustain thousands of American fishing families, and are highly valued in domestic markets as a healthy, domestic, “green” food.
When GE salmon escape or are accidentally released into the environment, the new species could threaten wild populations by mating with endangered salmon species, outcompeting them for scarce resources and habitat, and/or introducing new diseases. Studies have shown that there is a high risk for GE organisms to escape into the natural environment, and that GE salmon can crossbreed with native fish. Transgenic contamination has become common in the GE plant context, where contamination episodes have cost U.S. farmers billions of dollars over the past decade.  In wild organisms like fish, it could be even more damaging.
The world’s preeminent experts on GE fish and risk assessment, as well as biologists at U.S. wildlife agencies charged with protecting fish and wildlife heavily criticized the FDA decision for failing to evaluate these impacts. FDA ignored their concerns in the final approval.
Statements from counsel and plaintiff coalition:
“FDA’s decision is as unlawful as it is irresponsible,” said George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety and co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “This case is about protecting our fisheries and ocean ecosystems from the foreseeable harms of the first-ever GE fish, harms FDA refused to even consider, let alone prevent. But it’s also about the future of our food: FDA should not, and cannot, responsibly regulate this GE animal, nor any future GE animals, by treating them as drugs under a 1938 law.”
“FDA has not answered crucial questions about the environmental risks posed by these fish or what can happen when these fish escape,” said Earthjustice attorney Brettny Hardy and co-counsel for plaintiffs. “We need these answers now and the FDA must be held to a higher standard. We are talking about the mass production of a highly migratory GE fish that could threaten some of the last remaining wild salmon on the planet. This isn’t the time to skimp on analysis and simply hope for the best.”
“Atlantic salmon populations including our endangered Gulf of Maine fish are hanging on by a thread– they can’t afford additional threats posed by GE salmon,” said Ed Friedman from Friends of Merrymeeting Bay, one of the parties who successfully petitioned to classify most Maine Atlantic salmon as endangered. “The law requires agencies like FDA, who aren’t fisheries biologists, to get review and approval from scientists with that expertise. FDA’s refusal to do this before allowing commercialization of GE salmon is not only irresponsible, it violates the law.”
“On Prince Edward Island and across Atlantic Canada, indigenous peoples, anglers and community groups are working hard to protect and restore endangered salmon populations and rivers. Genetic contamination threatens all this work and in return there is little or no economic benefit to the region,” said Mark Butler, policy director at Ecology Action Centre in Nova Scotia.
There’s never been a farmed salmon that hasn’t eventually escaped into the natural environment. Why should we believe that long term, these frankenfish won’t be the same?” asked Golden Gate Salmon Association executive director John McManus.
“Once they escape, you can’t put these transgenic fish back in the bag. They’re manufactured to outgrow wild salmon, and if they cross-breed, it could have irreversible impacts on the natural world,” said Dune Lankard, a salmon fisherman and the Center for Biological Diversity’s Alaska representative. “This kind of dangerous tinkering could easily morph into a disaster for wild salmon that will be impossible to undo.”
“FDA’s action threatens and disrespects the wild salmon ecosystems, cultures and industries that are treasured here in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska,” said Gabriel Scott, Alaska legal director for Cascadia Wildlands. “These folks think a salmon is just a packet of protein, but we in Salmon Nation know better. From Alaska to California, Americans are intimately related with diverse runs of salmon and we’ve learned their unique attributes and incredible value. We’ve worked very hard to be good stewards of our natural heritage, and refuse to allow that to be undone by one company’s irresponsible experiment.”
“The FDA has failed to adequately examine the risks associated with transgenic salmon,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The long term effects of people eating genetically modified foods have never been adequately addressed—and this GE salmon is no exception. This fish is unnecessary, so why take the risk?”
“It’s clear that the market has rejected GE salmon despite FDA’s reckless approval,” said Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner for Friends of the Earth. “Major retailers including Costco, Safeway and Kroger won’t sell it and polls show the vast majority of people don’t want to eat it. Yet under this approval it won’t be labeled, violating our fundamental right to know what we are feeding our families.”