Top agriculture official issues warning in visit to Upvalley

Big threats to state farmers
2010-03-12T09:28:00Z Top agriculture official issues warning in visit to UpvalleyBy MIKE TRELEVEN Register Staff Writer Napa Valley Register

This is not a fun time to be a farmer.

Pests in the field, climate change, insufficient food inspections of travelers and a tightening of the state budget are among the pressures bearing down on the state’s agricultural industry.

California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura came to the Yountville Community Center Wednesday and spoke briefly at a pest workshop sponsored by the Napa Valley Grapegrowers.

His visit came one day after the state agriculture department and the U.S. Department Agriculture announced a 162-square-mile quarantine in and around Napa Valley against the European grapevine moth for Napa Valley. The quarantine means growers, vintners, and those transporting grapes will have to receive special certification and follow specific safety guidelines and inspections before moving or crushing grapes.

The European grapevine moth is just the latest tiny pest, no larger than a speck, that comes from a foreign land and can bring farmers to their knees.

“The biggest threat is from invasive species. We are hemorrhaging,” Kawamura said. “And, it’s not just California, but across the nation.

“You don’t want these pests on your farms,” he said.

Kawamura, a third-generation strawberry grower in Orange County, said growers need to connect with residents about the risks presented by the invaders.

“We need to connect with (the general public). If they find (an unknown) pest, they need to send it to a lab.”

State budget constraints are making it more difficult to adequately deal with threats to agriculture, he said.

He encouraged farmers to make their voice heard with state lawmakers. No one wants the cuts, Kawamura said, “because it makes you more vulnerable. You have to be vocal. Don’t be afraid to send e-mails and letters.”

On the topic of climate change, Kawamura is concerned about increasing number of days of both freezing and scorching temperatures.

He said he recently met with German vintners and growers visiting the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena. “They tell me bud break is occurring two weeks to

20 days earlier than it historically has,” Kawamura said.

His agency is pushing the federal authorities to focus more on people bringing foreign foods illegally into the states.

The unchecked spread of pests could undermine all sorts of crops in the Golden State, he said.

“You wouldn’t want to imagine how bad that could be for our state,” he said. “It would be a $1 billion lesson to learn.”

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