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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

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Farmers say Obama's drought relief misses the mark

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - Farmers in California's drought-stricken Central Valley said the financial assistance President Barack Obama delivered on his visit Friday does not get to the heart of California's long-term water problems.

Amid one of the driest years in the state's recorded history, Obama came to the Fresno area to announce $100 million in livestock-disaster aid, $60 million to support food banks and another $13 million toward things such as conservation and helping rural communities that could soon run out of drinking water.

Obama told reporters in the rural town of Firebaugh, where he met with community leaders, that he wasn't about to wade into California water politics. Yet the president gently warned California's leaders to find common ground rather than thinking of water as a "zero-sum game."

"We're going to have to figure out how to play a different game," Obama said. "If the politics are structured in such a way where everybody is fighting each other and trying to get as much as they can, my suspicion is that we're not going to make much progress."
 
In his three-hour visit to the Central Valley, Obama also toured a farm in Los Banos to see the drought's impact firsthand.

Another farmer, Sarah Woolf, a partner with Clark Brothers Farming, said anything will help, but the federal government needs to better manage the state's water supplies so farmers have enough during future droughts like the current one.

"Throwing money at it is not going to solve the problem long-term," she said.

The Central Valley produces nearly one-third of the nation's fruits and vegetables, and Fresno County leads the nation in agriculture. Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, estimated that 25 percent of the county's irrigated land will go unplanted this year.

The drought has caused Democrats and Republicans in Congress to propose dueling emergency bills. Led by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, the House passed one that would free up water for farmers by rolling back environmental protections and stop the restoration of a dried-up stretch of the San Joaquin River that once had salmon runs.

Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer proposed their own version that pours $300 million into drought-relief projects without changing environmental laws. The bill would allow more flexibility to move water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to farms in the south and speed up environmental reviews of water projects.

Mark Borba said he wasn't invited to share his story with the president. His family's Borba Farms won't plant one-third of the 11,000 acres of almonds, tomatoes, garlic, lettuce, onions and much more they typically grow. Borba said the president could ease this year's drought hardship on farmers by relaxing federal environmental regulations within the boundaries of the law intended to protect endangered fish.

"We don't want money," Borba said. "We don't want a handout."

Not everybody dismissed Obama's announcement. Rick Palermo of the Community Food Bank in Fresno said he expects that the drought will lengthen lines in three Central Valley counties he serves. The Fresno food bank expects to receive some of the president's money, but his worry is that the donations they get from farmers may be lacking.

About half of the 30 million pounds of food they distribute each year is grown in the Central Valley, he said.

"If folks aren't growing it, there's a good chance we're not going to get the type of donations we need," Palermo said. "It's a dual impact on us."

Members of least one environmental group converged on Fresno to voice their positions on California's divisive struggles over water. Members of Restore the Delta, a grassroots environmental organization based in Stockton, oppose Gov. Jerry Brown's multibillion-dollar twin-tunnels proposal for diverting water around the delta for use on farms.

Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla said her group didn't come to protest, but rather to try to educate the president.

"President Obama should not be misled," she said. "We implore him not to support this boondoggle."

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California wine growers toast another bumper crop

(Modesto Bee) MODESTO, Calif. -- California agriculture officials reported good news for wine lovers and vineyard operators alike: a record harvest of wine grapes.

Growers in the nation's premier wine region brought in a bumper crop last year, thanks to expanded acreage and overall favorable weather.

Wine brokers told The Modesto Bee that two back-to-back years of large harvests will mean wine aficionados should find plenty of bargain bottles on grocery store shelves.

"Consumers are in a great position, because of the amount of wine that is coming out of California," said Erica Moyer of Riverbank, a grape and wine broker for Turrentine Brokerage in Novato.

Wine grapes are one of California's top commodities, a crop worth $3.16 billion last year, according to the California Association of Winegrape Growers.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture's preliminary figures show that the crop of red and white varieties combined weighed in at 4.23 million tons in 2013, up 5% from 4.02 million tons in 2012.

The industry is well positioned to take advantage of the large crops, said Heidi Scheid, chairwoman of the growers' association.

"After short crops in 2010 and 2011, growers delivered two remarkable vintages, with record-sized harvests and exceptional quality," she said.

While Napa County's vineyards carry international cache, the San Joaquin Valley, stretching for 220 miles from Stockton to Bakersfield, is the U.S.'s most prolific grape-growing region and home to 44% of the state's crop.

Along with raisins and table grapes, vast tracts of wine grapes are mechanically harvested for popular labels such as Gallo's economy brands and Bronco's popular Charles Shaw, a.k.a. Two Buck Chuck, and blended into higher-end wines.

Large growers in the valley are poised to profit from the higher volumes, analysts said.

"We had a good-quality harvest, and heavier than expected," Fred Franzia, CEO of Bronco, said in an email. Bronco is California's largest vineyard owner.

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Cargill to reject export crops with GM corn trait

(Reuters) - Cargill Inc, the top exporter of U.S. grain and oilseeds, on Friday said it will reject crops containing a new genetically modified Syngenta AG corn trait that are delivered to its grain elevators for export contracts.

Corn seeds containing Syngenta's Agrisure Duracade trait are available for planting in the United States for the first time this year after U.S. authorities cleared the trait in 2013. The trait has not been approved for import by China or the European Union, both major buyers of U.S. crops.

Duracade has import approval from some other big buyers, including Mexico, South Korea and Japan.

"For export contracts, we will not accept delivery of any commodity containing the Duracade trait," Cargill told Reuters in an e-mail.

"Cargill reserves the right to reject and/or require testing of deliveries and any acceptance, rejection or testing for the presence of Duracade will be determined by Cargill in its sole discretion at the time of delivery," the company said.

The commercialization of Duracade has split the U.S. farm sector and pitted global grain merchants against Swiss-based Syngenta, the world's largest crop chemicals company. Some U.S. growers say they need access to the new trait, which is engineered to fight pests called rootworms, while exporters warn it threatens to disrupt trade.

Bunge Ltd, one of the world's top agricultural trading houses, on Thursday signaled it will refuse to handle crops containing Duracade unless the product is cleared by China.

Since November, China's authorities have rejected more than 600,000 tonnes of U.S. corn and corn products containing another unauthorized genetically modified Syngenta corn trait, Agrisure Viptera. Known as MIR 162, the trait has been awaiting Beijing's approval for more than two years.

China has begun testing imported U.S. soybean cargoes at the southern province of Guangdong for contamination with the MIR 162 strain of corn, traders said this week.

"At our grain elevators, we will continue to ask farmer customers to give us advance notice if they will deliver Viptera," Cargill said. "This coming crop year, we are asking the same for Duracade."

The National Grain and Feed Association and North American Export Grain Association last month asked Syngenta to suspend the commercial use of Duracade and MIR 162 in the United States until China and other U.S. export markets have granted regulatory approval.

Syngenta has declined the request, saying Duracade will be available in limited quantities and that growers need new technologies.

The company has said it commercializes corn traits in line with industry practices, once it has approval from countries with "functioning regulatory systems."

Even if corn containing Duracade is planted on a small number of acres, it could accidentally be shipped to China, exporters have noted. Varieties are often mixed with each other because they are grown in fields close to each other and then harvested, transported and stored together.

The United States is expected to export 1.6 billion bushels of corn in the marketing year that ends on Aug. 31, accounting for 11 percent of the last harvest. The rest of the crop will be used domestically to feed livestock and produce ethanol.

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Don't blame fructose for obesity, new study says

(JournalStar) -- Fructose, especially that derived from corn, has gotten a bad rap in the obesity epidemic, says a University of Nebraska-Lincoln scientist whose research shows fat and starches are the primary culprits.

From 1970-2009, obesity rates in the U.S. increased from 13 percent of the population to 34 percent. Dietary fructose has been blamed as a possible contributor to the increase.

Nutrition scientist Tim Carr found that's not the case, though. While the total energy availability in Americans' food increased 10.7 percent over that period, his research showed consumption of fructose did not increase.

Carr based his findings on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Loss-Adjusted Food Availability Database and its Nutrition Database for Standard Reference.

Those resources, rich in data about Americans' eating patterns over the years, show that the energy available from total glucose increased 13 percent. The main source of glucose in the American diet is starch, the research says. Also, glucose availability was more than three times that for fructose. Energy available from protein, carbohydrates and fat increased 4.7 percent, 9.8 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively.

"It is a misconception that fructose is a unique contributor to obesity," said Carr in a news release. He chairs UNL's Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences.

Some of that misconception may stem from the fact that the consumption of one type of fructose -- high fructose corn syrup -- has increased significantly over the last 40 years, but it has replaced another source of fructose -- table sugar -- leaving total consumption steady, Carr said.

"We're focusing the spotlight in the wrong place," Carr said. "Fructose turns out to be a relatively small contributor to the overall food supply."

In 1970, fructose availability was 63.2 grams per day, the research says. It has fluctuated in the years since, but stood at 62.4 grams in 2009.

"We conclude that increased total energy intake, due to increased availability of foods providing glucose (primarily as a starch in grains) and fat to be a significant contributor to increased obesity in the U.S." wrote Carr and graduate student Trevor Carden in an article outlining their findings in the December 2013 issue of Nutrition Journal, which can be found at go.unl.edu/bt40.

The research was supported by the University of Nebraska Agricultural Research Division with funds provided through the Hatch Act.
 

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