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Western United Dairymen

  • CDFA begins second round of applications for water efficiency program

    The CDFA will begin accepting applications on Sept. 29 for a second round of funding for the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program (SWEEP), authorized by emergency drought legislation (Senate Bill 103).
    SWEEP is an opportunity for growers to receive financial assistance to install water distribution systems that save water and reduce greenhouse gases. Up to $150,000 will be provided directly to agricultural operations for water and energy conservation projects that benefit all Californians.  The funding can support a broad range of irrigation-related projects such as pump improvements, equipment to facilitate water saving measures and other quantifiable water distribution and greenhouse gas reduction management practices.
    Prospective applicants must access the “Application Guidelines” at www.cdfa.ca.go/go/SWEEP for detailed information on eligibility and program requirements. To streamline and expedite the application process, CDFA is partnering with the State Water Resources Control Board, which hosts an online application using the Financial Assistance Application Submittal Tool (FAAST). All applicants must register for a FAAST account at https://faast.waterboards.ca.gov.
    Growers will be able to access the FAAST application system on Sept. 29 at 8 a.m. Applications must be submitted electronically using FAAST by Friday Nov. 10 at 5 p.m.
    CDFA will hold three application workshops and one webinar to provide information on program requirements and the FAAST application process (see below). There is no cost to attend the workshops or webinar. Individuals planning to attend should email grants@cdfa.ca.gov with their contact information, number of seats required and workshop location.
    The workshops will be held in Fresno Oct. 6 from 1-3 p.m. at the Fresno County Ag Commissioner Office, 1730 S. Maple Avenue, West Wing Conference Room #1, Fresno; San Luis Obispo Oct. 8 from 1-3 p.m. at the San Luis Obispo County Ag Commissioner Office Auditorium, 2156 Sierra Way, San Luis Obispo and on Oct. 13 from 10 a.m. to noon at the CDFA auditorium
    1220 N Street, Sacramento.
    A webinar will be held on Oct. 16, from 10 a.m. to noon.

    Sept. 26, 2014 WUD Friday Update



  • La Grange Dam relicensing public hearing set for Oct. 6

    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has determined that the La Grange Project falls under its jurisdiction and ordered the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts to apply for a license.  The districts strongly disagree with FERC's determination and are appealing the decision.  In the meantime, the districts are required to follow the steps to apply for a license for La Grange.
     
    There will be a Proposed Study Plan meeting on the La Grange license process on Monday, Oct. 6 at MID’s downtown office, 1231 11th Street, beginning at 10 a.m. At this meeting state and federal agencies and interested parties will discuss proposed studies they believe the Districts should perform in order to inform the FERC record on project conditions and future license requirements.  Most of the current proposed studies are related to providing fish passage facilities for salmon and steelhead at both La Grange and Don Pedro dams and determining the suitability of habitat in the Tuolumne River upstream of Don Pedro Reservoir for salmon and steelhead. It is important to recognize that La Grange isn’t part of the Don Pedro Project, but is a separate facility that pre-dates Don Pedro.
     
    At this meeting the public will have the opportunity to hear firsthand what others believe should be studied and required, as well as the Districts’ responses to these study requests.   There will be an opportunity to ask questions about the appropriateness of the studies and their costs and discuss their potential impacts to our community.

    Sept. 26, 2014 WUD Friday Update



  • WUD continues opposition to water board fee hike following hearing

    The State Water Resources Control Board on Tuesday, Sept. 23, after hearing testimony from Western United Dairymen and many concerned dairy producers, decided not to include North Coast dairies in the Confined Animal Facilities (CAF) fee program and to not put a cap of $2,500 on the discount given to dairies that have qualified under the California Dairy Quality Assurance Program (CDQAP.)
    However, the board voted to move forward with a 31% CAF fee hike for existing permits, drawing vehement objections from WUD and dairy producers.   In a letter sent to Felicia Marcus, chair of the SWRCB, following the hearing, Western United Dairymen CEO Michael Marsh said WUD “continues to oppose drastic increases in fees and specifically charges to dairy farmers for costs not related to dairy regulatory programs. We look forward to a productive stakeholder process where we can provide our members relief on this issue.”
    Marsh noted that WUD has participated in the stakeholder process discussing the fee issue since the adoption of fees in 2013. “It is vitally important that this stakeholder process be able to address the actual amount of fees paid by the regulated parties and how fees can be reduced,” said Marsh.

    Sept. 26, 2014 WUD Friday Update



  • Air board offers ag exempt truck deadline of Jan. 31, 2015

    Owners of agricultural trucks that qualify for an identifying AG sticker will have until Jan. 31, 2015, to register with the California Air Resources Board. Mileage limits have been streamlined and increased slightly. CARB is reopening the registration period for those farmers who have not reported and claimed their ag exemption.  Farmers who already have the exemption do not need to take any further action.
    The agricultural vehicle provisions include:
    * Delay compliance for vehicles that operate less than specified mileage thresholds and for a limited number of specialized trucks.
    * Apply to diesel trucks and buses with a manufacturer gross vehicle weight rating greater than 14,000 pounds, thus excluding pickups.
    * Include agricultural vehicles such as trucks and buses owned by log harvest operations or farming businesses and certain trucks that are not farmer owned but are dedicated to supporting agricultural operations.
    * Do not apply to truck tractors that enter ports or intermodal rail yards or transport marine cargo. These vehicles must comply with the Drayage Truck regulation.
    Additional fact sheets and information are available by contacting your local WUD field representative or online at www.arb.ca.gov/dieseltruck,   by calling (866) 6DIESEL (866-634-3735) or email 8666diesel@arb.ca.gov.

    Sept. 19, 2014 WUD Friday Update



  • California mandates sick days for workers

    Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Wednesday that will require most California employers next year to provide up to three sick days for millions of workers, a policy long-sought by labor unions and opposed by business groups. "This is the least we can do," Brown told reporters after signing the bill at a ceremony in downtown Los Angeles, alluding to a growing income gap that has left many Americans struggling to make ends meet. Supporters said as many as 6.5 million workers — including temporary and part-time employees — will benefit from the law that takes effect next July. (more) Sept. 12, 2014 Sacramento Bee



  • Increased attention on I-9 discrimination

    By Anthony P. Raimondo

    Agricultural employers continue to struggle with compliance under a hopelessly broken immigration system that criminalizes employers for hiring the workers who are available and willing to work, and criminalizes immigrant employees who just want to work and try to make a better life for their families.  As Congress continues to fail to act on immigration, the pressure on both employers and employees in agriculture continues to grow. Now, a new pressure has been added.

    The U.S. Department of Justice is increasingly scrutinizing employer I-9 practices for discrimination against immigrant workers.  Conduct such as failing to provide the I-9 instructions with the form, specifying which documents are needed (i.e., “bring your drivers’ license and Social Security Card”), or requesting more documents than required (i.e. a Permanent Resident Alien Card and a Social Security Card) can lead to allegations of discrimination.  

    When completing an I-9, employees are entitled to choose to present any one document from List A, or any List B document and any List C document.  An employer may not refuse to accept documents that reasonably appear genuine on their face and then request other documents from the employee.  It is very common for employers to take a Permanent Resident Alien card (List A) and also take a Social Security Card (List C).  If a List A document is provided, no further documents are necessary.

    It appears that the federal government may be taking a greater interest in document abuse and immigration discrimination cases. In April 2014, a Dallas area concrete company agreed to pay $115,000 in civil penalties, undergo training on the anti-discrimination provisions of immigration law, revise its internal policies, and be subject to government oversight for one year to resolve a federal government investigation.  The investigation started because of a referral from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), likely because of information uncovered in an I-9 audit.  The government concluded that the company subjected non-citizen new hires to unlawful demands for specific documentation, while U.S. citizens were permitted to present their choice of documentation.  The employer also selectively utilized E-Verify to confirm the employment eligibility of individuals they knew or believed to be non-U.S. citizens or foreign born.  
    “Employers cannot create discriminatory hurdles for work-authorized non-U.S. citizens or naturalized citizens in the employment eligibility verification process, which includes the E-Verify program,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division.  “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting U.S. citizens and all work-authorized immigrants from document abuse.”

    In June, the Department of Justice negotiated a settlement with a Colorado janitorial company that resolved claims of immigration related discrimination.  Specifically, the company required more documentation from non-citizens than was required of citizens.  The settlement included payment of more than $50,000 in civil penalties and $25,000 back pay to compensate individuals who may have lost wages due to the discriminatory practices.  The government also demanded the right to monitor the business’s employment eligibility verification process for one year.

    Of greatest concern, the DOJ found in a separate investigation that a nursing home engaged in document abuse because required lawful permanent resident aliens to present a new green card after the old one expired, even though such reverification is unlawful.

    Permanent residents have permanent work authorization in the United States that does not expire when the cards expire, much like a citizen’s work authorization does not lapse when a passport expires. While a permanent resident alien card must be valid at the time of hire, the form does not needed to be updated when the card expires.  The nursing home also required permanent residents to produce proof of citizenship if they became naturalized citizens, even though this practice is prohibited by law. The case was settled for $14,500 in civil penalties, training on the anti-discrimination provision of the INA, establishment of a back pay fund, and two years of government oversight.

    Employers must be sure to understand how the I-9 works, what documents are required (and what are not), and should make sure that employees processing new hires are properly trained.  A great resource is the USCIS “I-9 Handbook for Employers” (Form M-274), available at www.uscis.gov   Employers must be careful not to specify what documents are needed, and must be careful not to reverify documents that do not require reverification.

    The goal of this article is to provide employers with current labor and employment law information. The contents should not be interpreted or construed as legal advice or opinion. For individual responses to questions or concerns regarding any given situation, the reader should consult with Anthony Raimondo at Raimondo & Associates in Fresno, at (559)432-3000.



  • Court affirms obligation to pay employee cell phone costs

    By Anthony P. Raimondo

    A California Court of Appeal has affirmed that that when employees must use their personal cell phones for work-related calls, Labor Code section 2802 requires the employer to reimburse them for the use of the cell phone.  In Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service, decided August 12, 2014, the court ruled that whether the employees have cell phone plans with unlimited minutes or limited minutes, the reimbursement owed is a reasonable percentage of their cell phone bills as represented by the work related calls.  

    Employers must be cautious when calling employees on their personal cell phones.  If the employer decides not to issue company phones to employees, it should have employees acknowledge a reasonable percentage of the bill as work related calls in writing and should revise the percentage as cell phone usage changes.

    Expense reimbursement cases are on the rise.  Employers should be alert to covering expenses that employees incur in the course and scope of their employment.  In agriculture, it is common for employees to move from field to field during the day.  In construction, employees may move from work site to work site during the day, or may check in at a shop or office and then go to their work site.  Employers must keep in mind that they must reimburse employees for any use of their personal vehicles that occurs after they arrive at the first place where they report to work.  The standard method of reimbursement for use of a personal vehicle is mileage at the IRS rate. Given the increase in these cases, employers should be sure to reimburse employees when they use their personal vehicles during the workday.

    Generally, employers do not have an obligation to reimburse employees for travel to and from work.  But if the employees bring tools or other equipment in their vehicles, they may be entitled to pay for their commute time and reimbursement for the use of their personal vehicle.

    The goal of this article is to provide employers with current labor and employment law information. The contents should not be interpreted or construed as legal advice or opinion. For individual responses to questions or concerns regarding any given situation, the reader should consult with Anthony Raimondo at Raimondo & Associates in Fresno, at (559)432-3000.



  • Dairy Margin Protection Program enrollment ends Nov. 28

    Dairy producers began enrolling in the new Dairy Margin Protection Program (DMPP) Sept. 2. Enrollment ends on Nov. 28, 2014, for 2014 and 2015. Participating farmers must remain in the program through 2018 and pay a minimum $100 administrative fee each year if they choose to participate.

    The voluntary program, established by the 2014 Farm Bill, provides financial assistance to participating farmers when the margin – the difference between the price of milk and feed costs – falls below the coverage level selected by the farmer.

    DMPP gives participating dairy producers the flexibility to select coverage levels best suited for their operation. Producers have the option of selecting a different coverage level during open enrollment each year.

    Dairy operations enrolling in the new program must comply with conservation compliance provisions and cannot participate in the Livestock Gross Margin-Dairy (LGM-Dairy) insurance program. Farmers already participating in the Livestock Gross Margin program may register for the Margin Protection Program, but the new margin program will only begin once their Livestock Gross Margin coverage has ended.

    To sign up, go to your local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office. There are two forms that must be completed:
    • CCC-781 will establish a dairy farm’s production history
    • CCC-782 will document the coverage level, or how much milk you want to insure

    The DMPP final rule was published in the Federal Register on Aug. 29, 2014. The Farm Service Agency (FSA), which administers the program, also will open a 60-day public comment period on the dairy program. The agency wants to hear from dairy operators to determine whether the current regulation accurately addresses management changes, such as adding new family members to the dairy operation or inter-generational transfers. Written comments must be submitted by Oct. 28, 2014, at www.fsa.usda.gov   or www.regulations.gov.

    Aug.29, 2014 WUD Friday Update



  • Fish and Game Commission declines to list tri-colored blackbirds

    The California Fish and Game Commission recently considered an emergency listing of the tricolored blackbird as a threatened or endangered species in response to a statewide survey showing its population has plummeted 44% since 2011. However, at its meeting held in San Diego, the Commission took no action after listening to statements supporting and opposing the listing.
     
    Western United Dairymen’s Director of Environmental Services Paul Sousa told the commissioners that there was no need for an emergency listing as the harvest season is past and the birds were in no immediate danger. Under the California Endangered Species Act, the commission may list a species under an emergency petition when there is an imminent danger. If approved, the birds would be fully protected for six months, after which time the listing may be renewed for another six months.
     
    The commissioners felt there was no need to take action on the emergency petition at the meeting, according to Sousa. It is anticipated that there may be a future request for a listing of the blackbirds as a threatened or endangered species under a normal petition.

    Aug. 15, 2014 WUD Friday Update



  • Tillage Equipment Rental Program Boosts Profits, Soil Health in San Joaquin Valley

    By Cecilia Parsons on behalf of Sustainable Conservation

    The inaugural year of a conservation tillage equipment rental program started off in high gear.

    Dairy producers and other forage crop growers are taking advantage of a program that allows them to get their feet wet in conservation tillage and determine if the practice will fit into their operations.

    Conservation tillage is minimal disturbance of soil between harvest of one crop and planting of the next crop. The practice is much more common in the Midwest, but California growers, led by dairy producers double cropping forage crops, are rapidly adding conservation tillage acres.

    sustainable conservation ct rental program 1In order to introduce more growers to conservation tillage, Sustainable Conservation and California Ag Solutions collaborated on an equipment rental program that provides not only delivery and specialized tillage and planting tools, but agronomic support and advice. Sustainable Conservation's program representative, Ladi Asgill, said conservation tillage reduces the number of passes per field and allows growers to plant more acres in a smaller time frame using fewer implements and drivers. Earlier planting of corn silage can mean extra winter soil moisture for seedlings, Asgill said. Growers who have ground in conservation tillage for several years report the added advantages of improved soil tilth and water holding capacity.

    Strip tilling a recently harvested winter forage field in preparation for silage corn planting. Hanford, CA

    Due to the specialization of conservation tillage equipment, implements like strip tillers, finishers and precision planters are rarely available for rental. Growers who want to see how the equipment works in their operations can now sign up for the rental program and try conservation tillage before making a decision to purchase their own equipment.

    Rental costs per acre are $20 for strip tilling, $10 an acre for strip finishing, $5 an acre for border maker and $18 an acre for planter.

    Two Orthman 1 tRIPr strip tillers and a John Deere 1700 planter with specialized attachments have been on the road for the past month, delivered to farmers for conservation tillage and precision planting. The strip tillers prep the ground by working eight-inch wide strips of ground prior to planting. Using a GPS system on the tractor, the planter’s precision capabilities place the seed at the correct depth and spacing in the strips.

    Demand for the equipment has been higher than expected in this first year, limiting equipment availability to the northern San Joaquin Valley. Asgill said the partnership is considering adding more equipment and technical support to expand to Tulare and Kings counties.  

    Mikel Winemiller, customer account manager for California Ag Solutions and project field leader, provides support for growers who are making their first attempt with conservation tillage.  

    “We want to get them started right. With 10 years’ experience in conservation tillage we know what they need to do to succeed. The grower supplies the horsepower and operator and we are here to take them through the process.”

    Winemiller said they expect to see about 1,000 acres strip tilled and planted this season for 12 producers. The plan isn’t to strip till all of the producers’ forage crop acres, but to show them how the process works on one of their fields.

    The grower is responsible for prepping the field – a process that begins after the summer crop is harvested in the fall.

    “The big thing is to get the check spacing right and to match the borders with the equipment,” Winemiller said.

    sustainable conservation ct rental program 2A tour last summer of conservation tillage programs drew a number of interested growers. Sponsored by Sustainable Conservation, the tour highlighted growers who successfully transitioned their forage crop ground to conservation tillage and either customized tillage tools to fit their operations or purchased the tools. Winemiller said growers on the tour who are participating in the rental program “paid attention and set up their fields right for CT to work.” Preparation plus the opportunity to learn about equipment needs and timing of field work without the initial investment in equipment gives growers the opportunity to see if conservation tillage is right for them, he added.

    Application of “pop up” fertilizer and planting of silage corn in strip-tilled rows on the same day using GPS technology. Hanford, CA.

    Variations in soil types, irrigation practices and forage varieties determine what growers need to do to be successful with conservation tillage.

    For instance, achieving a consistent stand and maximum tonnage with corn silage is easier in sandy loam than in heavier ground. Growers can make adjustments on their tool bars, adding implements to break up clods and smooth the seedbed if needed.

    Helping growers be successful with conservation tillage crops will lead to more ground conversion, Winemiller believes. Once growers see the benefits – both in labor and fuel savings – they will be more likely to invest in their own equipment.

    Probing the soil in a field being planted to corn silage, Winemiller picked up a handful of soil and noted that the long-term benefits are in his hand.

    “The organic matter, the moisture holding capacity all encourages better root growth, which means less stress on the corn plants. The crop residue on the ground shades the soil and keeps the temperatures cooler, giving the corn a better start.”

    To reserve equipment, contact Winemiller at 209-626-6440 or mike@calagsolutions.com.



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