California drought to leave 500,000 acres unplanted. Growers in the Central Valley of California, including the Sacramento Valley, were told by federal officials to not expect any water allocation from water runoff of the snowmelt that comes from the Sierra Nevada and other mountain ranges.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced the water shutoff to agriculture for California.

This follows the State Water Project also predicting its agricultural customers would receive no water this year. Primary crops affected are rice, corn and tomatoes. The lost acres represent about 6% of California’s 8 million irrigated acres.

A new initiative to provide solutions to agricultural water challenges was announced last week by Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will make $6 million in grants available this year, and up to $30 million total over the next five years. The grants will be used to develop management practices, technologies and tools for farmers, ranchers, forest owners and citizens to improve water resource quantity and quality.

The new NIFA funding is in addition to existing USDA efforts to help farmers, ranchers and forest landowners mitigate the impacts of drought, including implementation of the livestock disaster assistance programs provided through the 2014 Farm Bill and $40 million in additional conservation dollars. Building on its investment in water research, NIFA will also fund projects through the National Integrated Water Quality Program (NIWQP), which addresses critical water resource issues including water quality protection and water conservation.

Other news from Washington:

  • The 2012 Census of Agriculture preliminary results held some key findings for Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack in a review released this week. Among those he highlighted in an address this week:
    • "We have slowed significantly the loss of farmland totaling 72 million acres since 1982 and new tools in the 2014 Farm Bill will help further slow and reverse this trend.
    • A bright spot in the data is the slight increase in numbers of young farmers and the stable number of small farms and large-scale farms.
  • It took four years, but USDA finally proposed guidelines for local school wellness policies last week. The bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 mandated that USDA set such guidelines for what needed to be included in local school wellness policies in areas such as setting goals for nutrition education and physical activity, informing parents about policy and periodically assessing progress. Beginning July 1, 2014, more than 22,000 schools across the country (serving primarily low-income students) will be eligible to serve healthy free lunches and breakfasts to all students. (USDA cites research showing kids served breakfast in the classroom perform over 17% better on math tests and have fewer disciplinary problems.
  • $3 million in technical and financial aid for interested farmers and ranchers will provide to help improve the health of bees. It’s available under USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), administered by its Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and targeted to five states: Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Recent studies have shown beekeepers losing approximately 30% of colonies each winter; double the historical norm prior to 2006. The program offers guidance and support to farmers and ranchers willing to implement conservation practices that will provide safe and diverse food sources for honey bees while reducing erosion and increasing soil health. Applications are due at local NRCS offices by March 21, 2014.