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January 2013, Volume 19, Number 1

California: Commodities, Water, AB 32

California farm sales were $43.5 billion in 2011, up from $38 billion in 2010. There were 11 commodities with farm sales of over $1 billion in 2011, including two billion pounds of shelled almonds worth almost $3.9 billion. California had 760,000 acres of almonds in 2011.

Raisins. California growers harvested 290,000 tons of raisins in 2012, 20 percent less than the 2011 crop. Growers received $1,900 a ton for raisins, up from $1,700 a ton in 2011.

Piece rates for harvesting raisins rose about 20 percent in 2012, from about 26 cents per tray to 31 cents per tray. Over half of the raisin crop utilized some form of dried-on-the-vine harvesting, which involves cutting the canes that have clusters of grapes and allowing the grapes to dry into raisins while still on the vine.

Some growers allow grapes to dry completely into raisins and harvest them with a modified wine grape harvester that can cover 12 acres a day.

Olives. Fewer harvest workers are renewing interest in mechanical harvesting of olives. One method involves shaking tree trunks to dislodge olives that have been loosened with abscission chemicals, while the other involves rotating fingers in the branches. In both cases, olives fall on a catching mat.

Mechanical harvesting is much faster and cheaper than hand picking and, when it harvests at least 80 percent as many olives as hand harvesting, it is more economical. Trunk shaking machines in Fall 2012 were able to harvest 100 trees an hour at 75 percent efficiency. Most newly planted trees are dwarf varieties that are more amenable to mechanical harvesting.

Prop 37. Proposition 37, an initiative to require that genetically engineered foods sold in California be labeled, was rejected on a 46-54 vote in November 2012. Prop 37, which attracted almost $50 million in spending for and against, would have made California the first state to require labels on genetically engineered crops or processed foods in supermarkets and on food packages. Proponents emphasized the right of consumers to know more about their food, while opponents stressed that required labeling could raise food prices.

Prop 37 would have required processed foods with GMO ingredients to have labels that read "partially produced with genetic engineering" or "may be partially produced with genetic engineering" by 2014. The federal government does not require that foods with GMO ingredients be labeled.

Water. The 80-mile All-American Canal brings water from the Colorado River to the Imperial Valley. In November 2012, Mexico and the US agreed on a plan to provide $10 million to help Mexico fix its earthquake-damaged canal system in exchange for more Colorado River water for US cities. The US will provide more water for the Mexican delta on the edge of the Gulf of California, and provide a way for Mexico to receive Colorado River water via the All-American Canal.

San Francisco voters rejected a proposal to consider removal of the O'Shaughnessy Dam, which dams the Hetch Hetchy valley north of Yosemite to supply water and power to the city. Restore Hetch Hetchy advocated removal of the dam against the advice of city leaders.

Cap-and-trade. California's cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which began January 1, 2013, sold emission permits November 14, 2012. Emitting firms can use the 23.1 million permits that they received from the state government, buy permits, or buy offsets from projects that remove carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The minimum price is $10 per metric ton of emissions, and the November 2012 auction price was $10.09.

Instead of $1 billion a year from selling emissions permits, California may receive less than $150 million.

AB 32, enacted in 2006, aims to reduce California's emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, a reduction of about 30 percent. President Obama in 2009 proposed a national cap-and-trade program to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but it was dropped in Congress after being labeled cap-and-tax. The European Union's Emissions Trading System, the world's largest, has struggled with an oversupply of emission allowances, fraud and low prices.