MERCED The deadline is fast approaching for farmers to sign up under the state's groundwater-quality management program, which requires growers to keep "nitrogen budgets."Preliminary data suggest that hundreds, if not thousands, of commercial agricultural landowners have yet to sign up under the program.
FRESNO More than 200 people crammed their way into Fresno City Hall on Thursday, making the most of their chance to tell the California High-Speed Rail Authority how they feel about plans for a statewide high-speed train system and proposed routes through the San Joaquin Valley.
ATWATER About half of Atwater High School's student body is involved in the school Agriculture Department's semi-annual plant sale coming next month, followed by the entry of plants in the Merced County Fair's horticulture exhibits in June.
Already reeling from a paltry allocation of federal water from the Central Valley Project, farmers on the west side of the valley were stung last week when their anticipated supplies were cut even further.
CHOWCHILLA Area residents got an up-close look Wednesday at the High-Speed Rail Authority's plan for the "Chowchilla Wye." Authority officials held a public meeting to discuss several alternative routes for the Y-shaped junction, all of which would fork off south of the city heading west to San Jose and north to Merced.
Snow-surveying crews across the Sierra are seeing bad news up close this week. California has about half a snowpack. Skiing, snowshoeing or riding helicopters, the crews are making their way to high-elevation meadows for the most important snow measurement of the year.
Officials responsible for delivering water and energy to city dwellers and farms punched holes Thursday in a state plan to give more Sierra Nevada runoff to fish. Speakers told a state board in Sacramento that a game-changing Bay-Delta Plan threatens to stymie hydroelectric power during heat waves, would devastate farms in the Northern San Joaquin Valley and could create water shortages for Bay Area customers.
SACRAMENTO Politicians, farmers and irrigation district officials on Wednesday warned of severe economic damage to the valley from the state's proposal to send more water down the San Joaquin River and its salmon-bearing tributaries. At the same time, environmental regulators joined the commercial-fishing industry at the public hearing to criticize the plan for not going nearly far enough in helping the salmon fishery.
FAIRMEAD What was once called a "spaghetti bowl" of 14 potential high-speed rail routes in and around Chowchilla has been narrowed to four, and residents got their first close-up look at how their town could be affected during a workshop Wednesday. More than 100 people showed up at the Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Fairmead, five miles south of Chowchilla, for the event hosted by the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
MERCED Merced residents woke up to wet roads and moderate rainfall on Wednesday, but not nearly enough to make a dent in this year's below-average precipitation, officials said. Wednesday's burst of rain brought about 0.19 inches within 24 hours, according to Jim Andersen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford.
MERCED The Merced Irrigation District board of directors approved a package Tuesday designed to deal with the ongoing water shortage. Included in the sweeping motion is an early start to the irrigation season, a limit on water deliveries and a new program that will allow growers to buy additional groundwater.
MERCED When people call in sick, co-workers might try to pick up the slack. Almond growers hope the same is true for the worker bees in their orchards. The 2013 pollination seems to have gone well despite a shortage of bee colonies for rent to growers. Credit the mostly mild weather over the past week and a half, ideal for getting bees up into the branches.
MERCED Merced-area farmers and others throughout the valley are preparing to receive significantly less water this season with the Sierra snowpack well below average. "What I've got to do is plan for the worst and hope for the best," said Merced rice farmer Frenchy Meissonnier. "I'll plant half of my fields. It's a big financial hit."
The San Joaquin Valley should sharply reduce its appetite for big homes on large lots to meet housing needs of empty-nesters and growing minorities, says a recently released study. Although apartments, town homes and condominiums make up 29 percent of the valley's housing stock, up to 45 percent of new homes in the next four dec-ades should fit that category, the study says.
TULARE Faced with continued low milk prices and high feed costs, California dairy operators are increasingly being wooed by states offering cheaper costs and expanding markets. Texas, Nevada, South Dakota, North Dakota, Illinois and Kansas were among states at the World Ag Expo in Tulare this week trying to entice California dairies and anyone else interested in relocating.
WASHINGTON New plans for a big European trade deal put President Barack Obama and Republican Congressman Devin Nunes of Visalia on the same page, for now. Obama wants the deal covering trade and investment with the European Union. To get it, he must navigate the House of Representatives' trade panel, part of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, led by Nunes. What happens next will test the cooperation of two men who have rarely agreed on anything.
MERCED Water diverted to Central Valley farms boosts rainfall in nearby states and may exacerbate periodic flooding in some regions, a study suggests. The phenomenon may be happening elsewhere in the world, as well.The valley -- where farmers raise more than 200 crops, including apricots, asparagus, cotton and grapes -- is one of the largest irrigated regions in the world.
MERCED Those looking to enter in this year's Merced County Fair for the market beef exhibition must register on Feb. 14 in Turlock. All market beef exhibitors, including 4H, FFA and independents, are required to bring their animals to the livestock yard at 10430 N. Lander Ave. from 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday to participate in the fair.
When it comes to rain and snow in California, this winter began with great promise. But hopes for a bountiful year appear to be evaporating. The Sierra Nevada snowpack is at 93 percent of the historical average for the end of January, according to the state Department of Water Resources survey completed Tuesday afternoon.
Rising commodity prices and scarce land for sale are pushing Valley farmland values to record levels, economists and land appraisers said Wednesday. And it isn't just the best farmland that is fetching top dollar. Marginal land with limited water is also in demand as investors see great potential to make big bucks growing some of the region's new hot crops.
MODESTO Home construction has paused in the San Joaquin Valley, a farmland preservation group said Thursday, but it will get back to devouring precious acres if policies do not change. A new report from the American Farmland Trust says valley growth plans still direct too much development to the best soil and fall short of the housing density needed to keep farming strong.
Leaders of a farmer coalition that watches over water quality are urging nonmembers to get on board soon. The group, the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition, can help farmers meet standards at a much lower cost than direct regulation by the state, it says. A new round of sign-ups started Monday and will run through May 13, executive director Parry Klassen said.
WASHINGTON High-speed rail skeptics gained new traction Wednesday with the promotion of Rep. Jeff Denham to chairmanship of the House panel that oversees railroads. A sharp critic of California's high-speed rail plan, the Turlock Republican can use his post to challenge one of the Obama administration's top public works priorities.
MERCED Freezing weather through the weekend is bad news for many Valley farmers but not in Merced County, where many nut growers welcome the frosty conditions."For us out here the cold nights are good," said Maxwell Norton, University of California Cooperative Extension adviser. "We fare quite well because we don't grow subtropical crops like citrus and avocados."
There are more than 3 million farmers in the U.S. and very soon they will be asked to accomplish a very important task: fill out the 2012 Census of Agriculture. The 24-page document should arrive in mailboxes in early January. Similar to the U.S. Census, the agriculture census collects a mountain of data that is used to help shape farm policy, influence investment decisions and target services in rural communities.
SONORA The fascinating and fragile ditch system that supplies water to much of Tuolumne County will be the topic of a Jan. 10 meeting. The Tuolumne County Historical Society has invited Tom Scesa, chief engineer for the Tuolumne Utilities District, to talk about the future of the system.
MERCED The Merced Irrigation District on Thursday will discuss a major legal battle concerning a dispute with Mariposa County over revenue from the New Exchequer Dam hydroelectric project. Attorneys for the MID will meet in closed session with the board of directors to discuss the case, which is currently in Merced County Superior Court.