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HONEY BEES POLLINATE TRADE OPPORTUNITIES

honey

HONEY BEES POLLINATE TRADE OPPORTUNITIES

Harvesting season in the Central Valley

Stretched across some 500 miles throughout California’s Central Valley, almond hulls are splitting open, signaling the beginning of harvesting season.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is forecasting that California’s almond growers are set to produce a bumper crop this year of about 2.5 billion pounds, about 70 percent of which will be exported around the world.

It’s an industry that drives about one-quarter of California’s farm exports and generates about $21.5 billion in economic output for the region including growing, processing and manufacturing activities.

A productive crop must be nourished

California is blessed with the perfect climate for almond production, but it must import one of its most important ingredients: pollinators for the almond blooms.

Every February, two out of every three commercial bee hives in the United States are transported to California, their bee residents pressed into service of the almond bloom.

In fact, it’s just the start of an annual food pollinating bee tour. Anywhere from 60 to 75 percent of the bee population kept as livestock crisscross the United States foraging on the blooms of crops that will eventually make their way into our grocery stores and into overseas markets.

Pollinated crop acreage

First stop, almond orchards

For most commercial bees, the pollinating season begins with almonds, California’s largest crop. To provide a sense of scale, Scientific American estimates it takes some two million hives – more than 31 billion honeybees – to pollinate the Central Valley’s 90 million almond trees during their two-week bloom. It’s a symbiotic relationship: the bees gather nectar and pollen to feed their colonies, enabling them to triple their population.

Once almonds bloom in January, hives are moved to other spring-blooming orchards such as cherries and plums in California or apples in the Pacific Northwest. Some head to Texas to pollinate squashes, others to citrus fruit orchards in Florida, and others are dispatched to pollinate cranberries in Wisconsin and cherries in Michigan.

In all, these busy bee travelers pollinate over 90 different crops and then sweeten the deal by shifting into delicious honey production by the end of summer, which they will nourish themselves on over winter while we get to consume the rest. Americans consume a staggering 1.6 pounds of honey per person every year. Even though U.S. beekeepers produced 148 million pounds of honey in 2017 and exported 9.9 million pounds, we imported 447.5 million pounds to keep up with demand from consumers and food producers.

Mobile beehive on trucks
Millions of bees are “exported” state to state to pollinate 90 different American crops.

One in every three bites of food

From cucumbers and citrus fruits to watermelon, kiwis, berries, cherries, apples, melons, peaches, figs, tomatoes, pumpkins and almonds, one-third of the U.S. food supply relies on pollination by the hard-working honey bee.

And, of course, since the United States is a major exporter of agricultural crops, we could say that honey bees help pollinate our trade opportunities. That’s true globally for hundreds of billions worth of crop production and internationally traded food that depends on pollinators.

$15 billion in value for 90 crops

Healthy bees, healthy trade in food

When bees get sick, the health of the U.S. agriculture economy and agricultural exports is imperiled.

Although honey bees are not the only pollinators supporting U.S. agriculture, they are the most important, adding more than $15 billion in value to U.S. agricultural crops each year according to the U.S. Pollinator Health Task Force.

Colony collapse disorder over the last few years drew widespread attention, but the decline in North American honey bees is a long-term trend. In 1947, there were about six million colonies but today we are down to about 2.5 million.

Sharp declines were seen following the introduction in 1987 of an external parasitic mite, aptly named Varroa destructor, that feeds on the blood of honey bees. Loss rates over the winter have been averaging around 31 percent since 2006, far exceeding the 15-17 percent that commercial bee keepers say is economically sustainable.

The rise of monoculture agriculture with increased reliance on pesticides and reduced use of cover crops is thought to add stress on bee health. The bees are struggling to maintain a varied and high-quality diet – they need protein from pollen and carbohydrates from the nectar of flowering plants. Without adequate nutrition, they are also more vulnerable to viruses.

1 in 3 bites

Experts have organized into research consortia, working groups and task forces to try to determine what can be done. The factors negatively impacting bee health are multiple, complex, and interacting, requiring a similarly comprehensive approach to combat them, including restoration of habitats, dissemination of best practices in hive management, and investments in research to better understand how to prevent colony loss.

We are all invested in their success, and when you see honey bees buzzing around your garden this summer, think about the humble but essential role their busywork plays in U.S. food production and agricultural exports.

This article is adapted from “Honey Bee Health is Serious Business” by Andrea Durkin for Progressive Economy.

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Andrea Durkin is the Editor-in-Chief of TradeVistas and Founder of Sparkplug, LLC. Ms. Durkin previously served as a U.S. Government trade negotiator and has proudly taught international trade policy and negotiations for the last fifteen years as an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s Master of Science in Foreign Service program.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

farm

A SHORTAGE OF FARM GUEST WORKERS COULD THREATEN AMERICA’S HARVEST

Harvest season is here

Right now, acres and acres of lettuce sit ready to be picked in California’s Salinas Valley – an area known as the Salad Bowl of the World. But who will harvest it?

The Golden State is an agricultural powerhouse, producing more than 400 commodities, including one-third of all U.S.-grown vegetables and two-thirds of our fruits and nuts. In 2019, California’s agriculture exports totaled $21.02 billion, ranking first among all states in the value of farm exports for the last twenty years. California’s almonds are a favorite of the European Union, its dairy products ship to Mexico, California pistachios travel to China, and the state’s high-quality rice is increasingly popular in Japan.

Spring means harvest season is here – or will be soon – for many crops in California and around the country, from asparagus to cucumbers to tomatoes and more. Thousands of workers are needed to pick these crops. And over the years, those workers have become harder and harder to find – a challenge that is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Labor shortages cause farm losses

The American Farm Bureau Federation says that U.S. agriculture needs 1.5 to 2 million hired workers. These challenging, often seasonal, positions are essential to food production – but few U.S. citizens are willing to fill them. A California Farm Bureau Federation survey found that 56 percent of California farmers have been unable to find all the workers they need during the last five years.

While some farmers are shifting to labor-saving technologies, others can’t afford the expense of mechanization. And many of the high-value fruits and vegetables that California is known for must be harvested by hand to ensure their quality.

Given this chronic labor shortage, immigrants – most from Mexico – play an increasingly crucial role in our food system. Foreign-born workers can legally come to the United States to perform short-term farm labor under the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Worker Program, often referred to as the H-2A visa program.

56 percent cant find workers needed

Temporary labor through H-2A program

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 established the agriculture-focused H-2A program and a separate H-2B program for skilled workers in industries like healthcare and tech. The H-2A program is the primary way that U.S. farmers can legally hire immigrant labor from countries deemed eligible by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The process requires several steps and fees.

To participate, farmers must first receive a temporary labor certification for H-2A workers from the Department of Labor (DOL). This should be submitted 60 to 75 days before workers are needed. Then, farmers must file a petition to the DHS U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). After USCIS approves the petition, prospective H-2A workers outside the U.S. apply for a visa through the U.S. Department of State at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate and seek admission to the U.S. with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at a U.S. Port of Entry.

Open positions unable to fill

Rules are in place so that the H-2A program does not take jobs from domestic workers or lower the average wage. Before hiring H-2A workers, farm employers must demonstrate to the DOL that they are unable to recruit U.S. citizens for their open positions. They are also required to pay a state-specific minimum wage that may not be lower than the average wage for crop and livestock workers in their region during the prior year, known as the Adverse Effect Wage Rate.

Once approved, H-2A visa holders are allowed to work in the U.S. temporarily. The visa can be re-approved annually for up to three years. A worker loses their H-2A status if they leave their job. After a worker has three years of H-2A status, they are required to leave the United States for at least three months before applying to receive a H-2A visa again. The H-2A visa does not apply to a worker’s family members and does not give workers a way to gain permanent legal status. Unlike the H-2B program, there is no cap set on the total number of H-2A visas that can be granted each year.

number farmer workers exceeds visas

Greater need than visas

In 2019, nearly 258,000 immigrant workers were granted H-2A visas, with most working in Florida, Georgia, Washington, California, and North Carolina. Participation has jumped from 48,000 positions certified in 2005. However, the number of farm workers that are needed each year far surpasses the number of H-2A visas that are granted. Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shows that the percentage of farm workers who are not legally authorized to work in the United States grew from 14 percent in 1989 to more than 50 percent in recent years.

While the H-2A program has grown in size, both farmers and farm worker advocates are critical of it. Farmers say it is a complicated, expensive process to navigate. Furthermore, year-round agriculture sectors like dairy farming, pork production or even mushroom farming can’t use the program since it is only available to seasonal industries. Labor groups argue H-2A needs reform to provide more protections to workers.

Agriculture’s workforce challenges recently received some attention on Capitol Hill. In December 2019, the full House of Representatives passed the bipartisan Farm Workforce Modernization Act (H.R. 5038). Among its many changes, the bill would make H-2A more flexible for employers and establish a new, capped program for year-round workers. It would also provide a pathway to permanent resident status for farm workers and include new enforcement measures. While the House’s passage of H.R. 5038 marks the first time that body has approved immigration legislation since 1986, the bill has not received a vote in the Senate.

The Trump Administration has also shown interest in updating the H-2A program, streamlining the application process on the USDA website. DOL issued a proposed rule in September 2019 that would update how the Adverse Effect Wage Rate is calculated, among other provisions. That rule has not yet been finalized. Additionally, in October 2019 the DOL issued a final rule to modernize the market labor test by allowing farmers to advertise jobs on a central online registry rather than a local print newspaper.

critical industry

COVID exacerbating labor shortage

Travel restrictions and government closures due to COVID-19 are adding to the concerns about America’s shortage of farm workers. The U.S. stopped processing non-emergency visas like H-2A in Mexico on March 18, 2020 out of health concern for U.S. Embassy employees. This immediately led to calls of alarm from agriculture stakeholders who are looking ahead to a busy spring and summer season.

The State Department later said it would continue processing H-2A applications and granted new flexibility so both new or returning workers would not be required to go to a U.S. consulate for an interview according to social distancing protocol. The DOL announced additional, temporary H-2A flexibilities in April 2020 to help prevent a labor shortage. However, governments around the globe continue to enforce travel restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus, potentially keeping workers from the harvest.

Some farmers are reporting that they are unable to get workers on time. In Canada, foreign workers have been delayed by border restrictions and canceled flights. Once they arrive, the Canadian government requires workers to be quarantined for 14 days (with pay) before they can begin work. The United States does not have a similar quarantine requirement but American farmers are concerned that fruit and vegetable harvests will still be impacted. Workers who have arrived are in the fields for longer hours due to the labor shortfall. Abad Hernandez Cruz, a Mexican farm worker in Georgia, told Reuters why he is working 12+ hours a day: “if the farm doesn’t produce, the city doesn’t eat.”

Agriculture is a critical industry

Agriculture has been deemed a critical industry during the pandemic. Americans are seeing firsthand the strengths and vulnerabilities of our complex food supply chain. One paradox is that farmers across the country have been forced to dump millions of gallons of milk and destroy millions of pounds of fresh food while some grocery store shelves go bare. The widespread closure of restaurants, hotels and schools has left farmers with no market for half of their crops due largely to the differences in Americans’ eating habits while quarantined at home.

So far, a lack of labor has not been a major force behind this food dumping. However, the situation could change if the pandemic persists longer into the harvest season or if farm workers begin testing positive for COVID-19. Farmers are also concerned that fewer workers will apply for H-2A visas over fears of catching the virus. Without enough workers, leafy greens, berries, and cucumbers would likely be the first crops to be left fallow, followed by peaches, plums, nectarines, and citrus.

The important role that guest workers play in ensuring America’s food supply during the pandemic underscores the interconnected nature of global agriculture trade. In reality, without H-2A and other immigrant labor, that romaine lettuce in Salinas would never make it to your salad bowl, or to other dinner tables around the world.

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Sarah Hubbart provides communications strategy, content creation, and social media management for TradeVistas. A native of rural Northern California, Sarah has melded communications and policy throughout her career in Washington, D.C., serving in government affairs, issues management, and coalition building roles in the agricultural sector. She is an alum of California State University, Chico and George Washington University.

This article originally appeared on TradeVistas.org. Republished with permission.

growers edge

Growers Edge & CropX Partnership Addresses Farming Challenges

Savings for water, fertilizer, energy, and labor costs are just some of the many added benefits farmers can anticipate following the announcement of an agriculture-focused partnership between Growers Edge Financial, Inc. and CropX. The strategic partnership addresses farming challenges head-on and solves complex issues through advanced technology solutions, including soil-sensing technology designed to eliminate crop-input costs through accurate, reliable data.

“The financial instruments available today do not meet the needs of farmers who want to embrace new ways to improve the profitability and sustainability of their operations,” said Joe Young, president and chief operating officer, Growers Edge. “Working with strategic partners like CropX, we are providing the incentive a farmer needs to confidently adopt new technologies that can drive their long-term sustainability and business success despite rising environmental and business challenges.”

Through a careful process utilizing CropX cloud-based technology and integrated in-field sensors, soil data and management is optimized and implemented based on analyzed data determining the precise amount of water specific to plant needs, ultimately boosting crop yields while maximizing opportunities in cost-savings and waste reduction.

“Giving farmers direct access to all of the intelligence below the ground empowers them to sustainably cultivate more profitable and productive farms by accurately predicting and managing crop needs. However, many farmers are hesitant to invest in soil sensing technologies after being burned by complex, expensive – and often even ineffective – technologies in the past,” said John Vikupitz, president, CropX. “Our partnership with Growers Edge will help farms of all sizes and budgets confidently embrace in-soil data technologies to modernize farm management.”

Beginning in 2020, the two companies will host a pilot program in which farmers can participate in that includes a Growers Edge money-back guarantee and irrigation practice prescription.

farmers

Yield Guarantee Program Supports Farmers While Mitigating Financial Risk

Farmers and enhancement opportunities are the primary focus of the latest partnership announced this week between Growers Edge Financial, Inc. and GROWMARK, Inc.

While some might associate the agriculture sector with outdated operations, the two companies will offer farmers an opportunity for enhancing efficiencies while maximizing profits through the Yield Guarantee Program from Grower’s Edge.

“In today’s stressed farm economy, farmers are incredibly wary of taking on more financial risk – even when taking that leap could boost profitability. They need guarantees,” said Joe Young, president and chief operating officer, Growers Edge. “Working with strategic partners like GROWMARK, we are providing the financial incentives farmers need to confidently adopt the new technologies that can ultimately drive their long-term sustainability and business success.”

Through carefully and strategically combining AI from Growers Edge’s Growers Analytic Prediction System (GAPS) and information gathered from GROWMARK’s Product Yield Trials, farmers can now rely on the predictive performance and exactly how to benefit from the technology, minus the increased risk for wasted resources and costs.

GROWMARK is committed to helping our customers grow their bottom line with new ag technologies, which makes Growers Edge an ideal partner for us,” added Lance Ruppert, director of agronomy marketing technology, GROWMARK. “The Growers Edge team is removing some of the risk and creating a new value stream for both the farmer and our technology providers. We think the yield guarantee program will help customers deploy the technologies needed to improve profitability, and we are eager to see it in action.”

To read more about how this is changing farming strategies, please visit: Growers Edge Financial or GROWMARK.

GLOBALG.A.P. SUMMIT BRINGS FARMERS AND RETAILERS TOGETHER FOR SAFER FOOD

The GLOBALG.A.P. Summit 2018 that took place Nov. 5-7 in Lima, Peru, marked the first time the event was held in the Americas. That was by design as the summit aims to build long-term ties for a global sustainable future for Peru and neighboring countries.

GLOBALG.A.P. (Good Agricultural Practice) certification connects farmers to brand owners around the world to ensure the trade of safe and responsibly grown food in times of disruptive change. It opens markets and provides ongoing assurance for buyers to mitigate food-borne risks, according to organizers.

“Consumers around the world have the right to food that is safe and responsibly grown,” says Kristian Moeller, CEO of GLOBALG.A.P. “We need a common industry response and the GLOBALG.A.P. Summit is the perfect place to discuss our responses on farming and agriculture.”

For instance, on Nov. 7, GLOBALG.A.P. and the World Banana Forum presented a global action plan to save bananas from the threat of Tropical Race 4, a variant of a fungus that is considered to be the greatest threat to producers and workers in the global banana industry. Already present in the Asia Pacific region, the pathogen is continuing to spread westward and has already reached certain regions in Africa.

“The GLOBALG.A.P. Summit introduces opportunities to educate our industry,” says Donna Lynn Browne, director of Food Safety and Social Responsibility with Naturipe Farms, a Florida-based grower-owned producer and marketer of premium berries and avocados. “We are at the point where produce companies grow globally. This summit helps bring together many key decision-makers from all over the world to discuss how the industry can move towards responsibly grown produce.”