Calif.- 2008 was a wild ride for agriculture
pests, cage laws, more are upcoming challenges
Capital Press 12/24/08
California's agriculture industry had the ride of a lifetime in
From the terrifyingly high fuel and fertilizer prices producers
faced in the spring to the incredible drop in fuel prices at fall
harvest, it was all they could do to hold on. Prices for many
crops also rose to record levels.
Farmers and ranchers struggled all year with high production costs
for fuel, fertilizer, wages and other supplies and services, said
California Farm Bureau Federation spokesman Dave Kranz. Fuel
prices have dropped in the last few weeks, but relief came after
peak harvest season. Commodity prices had dropped too, Kranz said.
Crude oil, the source of most of our energy and fertilizer, soared
to a record $147 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange on
July 14. As the year comes to an end, so does the ride as prices
have fallen 69 percent over the past five months and trading
closed Dec. 22 at $40 per barrel.
While the energy picture has brightened somewhat, water outlook
Early January storms were encouraging, but hope for a wet year
faded by February. Surface water supplies also dried up due to
environmental rulings by the courts.
Water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to
farmers and urban users have been blamed for the decline in Delta
smelt, a fish considered a bellwether species in the estuary.
New federal rules to protect the smelt were announced Dec. 15 and
cuts could be as deep at 50 percent of water deliveries in some
Other court decisions may add to those cuts. In 2008, about
250,000 acres of farmland in the Westlands Water District were
fallowed due to water shortages caused by court decisions. Many
farmers used their scarce allocations, plus lower-quality
groundwater, to keep permanent crops such as almonds growing.
Growers who depend on water deliveries from the eastside Friant
Kern canal stand to lose some of their supply from the San Joaquin
The 2006 deal to send water down a riverbed and restore a salmon
fishery included a goal to return a portion of the water. However,
legislation to implement the decision stalled in Congress.
Sponsors said effort would be renewed early in 2009.
Friant water district officials remain adamant the settlement is
the best chance growers have of retaining some of the water supply
behind Friant Dam east of Fresno. Others, including Kole Upton,
the former head of the Friant Water Users Authority board of
directors and one of the negotiators of the settlement, insist
that water losses will be larger and chances of its return are
Which pest has more potential to impact California agriculture in
2009? Take your pick. The Asian Citrus Psyllid, which can carry a
deadly virus that attacks citrus trees, came knocking in late
August. The light brown apple moth that can infest multiple plant
hosts has spread to several counties and we have new Mediterranean
fruit fly infestations.
The psyllid comes with a track record. It was first discovered in
Florida and several years later, the disease it vectors spread
throughout the state causing millions in lost fruit production.
Growers here voted to assess themselves to fund the fight to
eradicate the pest, which was trapped in San Diego County in
September. More finds have since been reported in Imperial County.
None have been found to carry the disease.
The light brown apple moth, with its huge range of hosts, has the
potential to cause more than $600 million in crop damage and
control costs annually if it spreads to agricultural production
During 2008, control efforts in urban areas were stymied when the
public opposed aerial treatments of a pheromone to disrupt moth
mating. Trapping efforts continued and were expanded to Sonoma
County when a male moth was found there in February.
One Mediterranean fruit fly infestation was successfully knocked
down this year but a new one recently surfaced. Parts of Santa
Clara and Sonoma counties were under quarantine due to
infestations detected in 2006. State and federal officials ramped
up the trapping efforts and also released sterile flies in an
effort to stop the pest, which mainly affects exports of
agriculture products. After three life cycles passed, the
quarantine was lifted.
A 107-square-mile quarantine zone was declared Dec. 2 due to new
Medfly finds in the El Cajon area of San Diego County.
While pests were moving in, cattle were told to stay put.
California's second bovine tuberculosis outbreak in five years was
detected in June when three Fresno dairies had confirmed cases of
the disease. Two were depopulated and the third continues to
operate under quarantine.
The outbreak caused the state to lose its 'TB-free status" a
change that affects the beef cattle industry. With a lower TB
status, other states demand cattle be tested for the disease
before they can be moved. The beef industry, which moves feeder
cattle to feed lots in other states and cowherds to pastures
throughout the West, appealed to the USDA and was allowed
One of the hot-button issues in 2008 was a California ballot
initiative, sponsored by animal rights activists, targeting
battery cages for poultry and crates for veal calves and sows. The
measure passed by a two-thirds majority and now producers have
until 2015 to decide if they can live with the law that demands
they give those animals enough room to stand, lie down and extend
It was the tomato's turn in 2008 to be a target for food safety
issues. A salmonella outbreak in 17 states was linked to tomatoes.
Chili peppers were also implicated, but the Food and Drug
Administration never found the source. California growers were hit
with lost sales during the investigation.
The California Leafy Greens Handler Marketing Agreement marked its
first year in March with more than 500 food safety audits and no
illnesses associated with leafy greens.
Congress again failed to enact any comprehensive labor reform in
2008, but pressure eased for ag labor employers over "mis-match
letters." Changes to the nation's agricultural guest worker
program, aimed at easing farm labor shortages, had only minimal
effect on California growers.
State legislation that would have had more effect was vetoed by
A second "card check" bill was introduced to allow workers to
check off a box to indicate if they want to join a union.
Opponents said the measure would do away with the secret ballot, a
cornerstone of the early farm worker movement.
Fires and floods did some damage to crops in 2008
January storms slammed northern California counties and did
serious damage to trees in Butte, Glenn, Tehama, Sutter, Yuba and
Colusa counties. Winds in some areas reached 70 mph and caused
losses in almond, walnut and plum orchards.
Fires struck the north state in June and July, burning precious
rangeland. Drought, high temperatures and lightning storms
contributed to more than 680 square miles being charred statewide
over a period of two weeks last summer.
Cecilia Parsons is a staff writer based in Ducor. E-mail: email@example.com.