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Raw Milk Bill Brought Back in America’s Dairy State

Buoyed by the partial acquittal of Sauk County raw milk producer Vernon Hershberger, a Wisconsin state senator is going to try again to make it legal to sell unpasteurized milk and milk products in the Diary State.

West Bend Republican Sen. Glenn Grothman has dropped a bill into the Wisconsin Legislature that would allow limited sales of raw milk and raw milk products, which he claims are recommended by nutritionists and chiropractors for health benefits.

“Unfortunately, there is a law on the books where technically it’s still illegal to sell raw milk in the state of Wisconsin,” says Grothman. His bill would permit the sale of unpasteurized milk from farms registered with the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The same farms would sell buttermilk, kefir, yogurt, ice cream, butter and cheese made with raw milk.

Grothman’s bill, which won’t go to a public hearing until Fall, would allow on the farm sales directly to consumers, but would continue to ban retail sales in stores or farmer’s markets.

A dairy farm that sells raw milk directly to consumers would risk losing their license. The Grothman bill sets up an exemption to that possibility by allowing those interested in selling raw milk to register with DATCP.

The Senator claims farms that register will be under the same requirements, as they would normally have for producing grade A milk regarding cleanliness, temperature, and other safety requirements.

The bill also sets up criteria for clean containers, proper labeling, a posted sign, and compliance with all state rules. As Wisconsin is the nation’s largest dairy state, Grothman will face strong opposition by the multi-billion dollar pasteurized milk industry, which claims raw milk’s frequent outbreaks gives their product a bad name.

A spokesman for the Wisconsin Safe Milk Coalition say it is impossible to make raw milk safe. The Wisconsin Legislature passed a raw milk bill in 2010, but former Gov. Jim Doyle vetoed it. Attempts by Grothman and others since then to permit raw milk have since failed to go anywhere. A task force appointed by Doyle outlined what it would take to make raw milk both safe and legal in Wisconsin, but Grothman has ignored those stiffer requirements and other raw milk advocates.

Scott Walker, the current governor, has indicated he could sign a raw milk bill with sufficient safe guards in it. Unlike most state legislatures in the Midwest, the Wisconsin Legislature meets periodically throughout the year.

Food Safety News

How Silicon Valley could revolutionize America’s farming capital

How Silicon Valley could revolutionize America’s farming capital

The perfect storm of “smart farming” is about to be unleashed, with the world’s population expected to surpass 9 billion people by 2050, and the middle class expected to grow from 1.5 billion to 4.5 billion. At the same time there is an increasing emphasis on fresh food and healthy eating, and food production is expected to explode.

According to Norman Borlaug, the Nobel laureate who has been called “the father of the Green Revolution,” “agriculture’s greatest spokesperson” and “The Man Who Saved A billion Lives,” “In the next 40 years, farmers will have to grow as much food as they have in the last 10,000 years — combined.”

Salinas Valley, just an hour south of Silicon Valley, is the fresh food capital of America and home to agricultural giants such as Dole Foods, Chiquita, Driscoll Berries, Taylor Farms, Ocean Mist Farms, JV Smith and Tanimura & Antle, to name a few. Salinas Valley agriculture is an $ 8 billion business and it is here that more than 80 percent of the nation’s lettuce is produced and other top crops, including strawberries, broccoli, artichokes and wine grapes. This is a highly competitive industry that has been refined over five generations, taking out every element of cost, and now it is ripe for innovation.

Brian W. Kocher, Chiquita’s Chief Operating Officer, says,  “We have experienced substantial changes in growing conditions over the last years. It is clear that time-tested agricultural practices are no longer sufficient for an expanding population and we must be smarter and more efficient using increasingly scarce resources such as water. The intersection of agricultural and technical science is rapidly improving yields and efficiencies, and we believe the initiatives to link agricultural innovators with technology innovators will yield substantial benefits for both the population and the planet.”

In Silicon Valley there is a technology revolution taking place with the impact of sensors, big data, mobility, the cloud, drones and the Internet of things (IoT) and it expected that more than 50 billion devices will be connected by 2020. According to new research from International Data Corporation (IDC), a transformation is underway that will see the worldwide market for IoT solutions grow from $ 1.9 trillion in 2013 to $ 7.1 trillion in 2020. IDC defines the Internet of Things as a network of networks of uniquely identifiable endpoints (or “things”) that communicate without human interaction using IP connectivity – be it “locally” or globally.

“Like many industries today, the agriculture industry is being transformed by the use of data, in all its variety,” said Deborah Magid, Director of Software Strategy in IBM’s Venture Capital Group. “Data is everywhere, and over the next few years, innovative new uses of information in all aspects of farming — from yield optimization, to food safety and quality, to distribution, to water management, fertilizer management, connected vehicles and even whole new methods of growing food — will be adopted. It’s already happening. For example, Georgia’s Flint River Partnership and IBM recently announced a collaboration to use Data-Driven Agriculture Solutions to enhance agricultural efficiency by up to 20 percent.”

So the perfect storm is about to be unleashed, with Salinas Valley joining forces with Silicon Valley to make farming “Smart.” This major initiative called Steinbeck Innovation is a breakthrough concept conceived by SVG Partners and developed in conjunction with the City of Salinas to drive Agriculture innovation and technology. To date, the focus has been on driving entrepreneurship through the Kauffman fastTrac program and innovation with leading universities such as UC Davis, ASU, CSUMB and Hartnell College. SVG Partners is now launching a strategic venture fund and accelerator program called Thrive in partnership with major agriculture corporations to drive investment in disruptive new technologies in AgTech.


Publication date: 7/10/2014

US (CA): America’s golden state runs dry and farmers are struggling to survive

US (CA): America’s golden state runs dry and farmers are struggling to survive

At Harris Farms in California’s Central Valley, it is not difficult to discern the effects of the state’s continuing drought. Fields that in previous years would have been lined with tomatoes or broccoli now contain nothing but brown earth. Around two thirds of the farm’s 14,000 acres are fallow, and for the first year since it started to grow salad leaves more than three decades ago, the farm has planted not a single head of lettuce.

In a normal year, said its executive vice-president, William Bourdeau, Harris Farms plants 3,000 acres of lettuce. “On a good yield you get about 1,000 cartons of lettuce per acre. On 3,000 acres that translates to about three million cartons of lettuce.

“And each carton contains 24 head of lettuce, which equates to around 72 million heads of lettuce that we didn’t grow and put into the market this year. And that’s just one of our crops. And we’re just one farm.”

California grows almost 70 per cent of America’s lettuce, which has gone up in price more than any other fruit or vegetable this year. It is no coincidence that in its regular forecast, the US Department of Agriculture estimated last week that fresh fruit and veg prices would rise by 6 per cent this summer.

The three-year drought afflicting America’s South-west has already affected California’s farming communities, but it is now beginning to be felt by consumers in the US and beyond.

The whole state is officially in “severe drought”, and up to a third of it is in “exceptional drought”. In 2013 less rain fell on California than in any year since it achieved statehood in 1850. The region’s rivers and reservoirs are at their lowest ebb ever. Outside the state capitol in Sacramento, the lawns have been allowed to grow brown, while the Getty Museum in Los Angeles recently drained its water features and turned off its fountains.

While the drought may dent some aesthetics in the big cities, it is most deeply felt in the Central Valley, California’s agricultural backbone. The state’s $ 45bn (£26bn) farming industry produces almost half the fruits, vegetables and nuts grown in the US, and to do that it uses 80 per cent of California’s water. Almonds alone account for 10 per cent of the state’s water use – not surprising, given that California produces 80 per cent of the world’s almonds.

With water becoming more and more expensive, California farmers have allowed 500,000 acres of land to lie fallow this year. The consequences of the drought are stamped on signs at the roadside up and down the Central Valley. They read: “No Water = No Jobs”, and “No Water = Higher Food Costs”.

The California Farm Bureau has estimated that the average American family should expect to spent $ 500 more on food in 2014, because of the water shortage.

Professor Richard Howitt, an expert on the economics of water management at the University of California, Davis, believes the impact of the drought on food prices will be modest this year, but could become more pronounced in 2015 if the climate fails to improve. “Fruits, vegetables and nuts are all such valuable crops that farmers will pay up to $ 1,000 per unit of water – about 10 times more than normal – in order to keep growing them,” Professor Howitt said. “But if we don’t get a good El Niño this winter, then the groundwater will get so low that some wells will start to go dry. That would cause a great deal of heartache and significant crop loss. I don’t expect big drought-induced shifts in food prices this year. But next year, yes.”

Environmentalists have accused California’s agricultural industry of damaging coastal ecosystems with its unquenchable thirst, but the farmers blame their water woes in large part on what John Harris, the chief executive of Harris Farms, described as “unreasonable” environmental restrictions. “We’d like to see more attention paid to human needs versus the fish needs,” Mr Harris said.

In February, President Obama’s administration announced a $ 200m drought aid package for California. But that will be of little use in combating the effects of what some scientists fear may be a “mega-drought”, lasting as long as 200 years.

“On average, it was 15 per cent drier over the last 1,000 years or so than in the 20th century,” she said. “Even if it reverts to that norm, it will be a hardship. But if we look back to medieval droughts, the region was 40 to 50 per cent drier.”

Meanwhile, man-made climate change exacerbates the effects of cyclical drought: “On top of the drought we have warming, which is going to cause yet more dryness,” Professor Ingram said.

So what will California’s farms do if the present conditions continue, or worsen? As Mr Bourdeau put it: “I’m not sure how you have a farm, if you don’t have any water.”


Publication date: 7/4/2014

America’s ‘first pear’, the Bartlett, to begin harvest July 7

America’s ‘first pear’, the Bartlett, to begin harvest July 7

The first Bartlett pears of the season are set to harvest in California’s Sacramento River growing region July 7. According to the official crop estimate set by the California Pear Advisory Board at its June 12th meeting, the state’s total crop of Bartlett pears is expected to be just over 2.6 million 36-pound packages, slightly down from the four-year average crop size of 2.9 million packages.

The majority of the state’s Bartletts, 1.5 million packages, will come from the early harvesting Delta River growing district, with harvest in Mendocino County expected on August 4 and on August 11 in Lake County.

California pear farmers are expecting an additional 550,000 packages of other pear varieties this season including 220,000 Golden Russet Bosc and 80,000 Starkcrimson along with smaller quantities of Bosc, Sunsprites, Comice, Forrelle, Seckel, French Butter and other red varieties.

In addition to setting its official crop estimate and harvest dates during its most recent Board meeting, the California Pear Advisory Board (CPAB) adopted a new brand positioning for Bartlett pears from California calling them “America’s First Pear.”

“We realized that Bartlett pears from California are unique because they have been produced in California since the very beginnings of the state’s commercial fruit industry dating all the way back to the California Gold Rush in the 1850s,” said Chris Zanobini, Executive Director of the CPAB.  “California Bartletts are also the very first pear of the season to be harvested in the U.S. each year and consumer research shows Bartlett pears are the first choice of consumers when it comes to selecting a flavorful pear variety.  The title of ‘America’s First Pear’ just seemed to be a good fit.”

“California Bartlett pears fit a highly desirable image because they are produced by the kind of artisan farmers that today’s consumers want growing their food,” said Zanobini.  “California Bartletts are grown by about 60 pear farming families, most of whom have been growing pears on the same land for generations.  The average size of California pear farm is 130 acres and the average age of the orchards are between 30 and 100 years.

“California Bartletts provide consumers with an heirloom experience because this is the same product people can find in their local farmers market.  They have been sustainably-grown for over 100 years by smaller, family farmers who are trusted and safe,” said Zanobini.

The California pear industry’s claims about sustainability are not just marketing hype, but are backed by research.  During the past three years, the CPAB has participated in a program with the independent sustainability program design firm, SureHarvest, to assess the level of sustainable farming practices utilized by farmers. SureHarvest has found an exceptionally high level of adoption amongst California pear farmers of sustainable practices like non-chemical treatments for pests.  According to the SureHarvest assessment, well over 90 percent of California pear farmers utilize practices like pheromone-mating disruption, scouting for pests and other Integrated Pest Management practices.

CPAB plans to launch an initial trade education effort this summer to communicate with grocery stores the benefits of selecting and staying with California Bartlett pears for the duration of the California pear season.

For more information:
Chris Zanobini
California Pear Advisory Board
Tel: +1 (916) 441-0432

Publication date: 6/26/2014