First term keys on providing new resources, rapid response to pests and diseases
SACRAMENTO, CA – Since his appointment in January 1999 by Governor Gray Davis, California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Secretary William (Bill) J. Lyons, Jr. has led the agency through a historic series of opportunities and challenges for California agriculture.
From the unprecedented marketing opportunities of the Buy California Initiative, to the challenges of pest infestations and livestock diseases, the agricultural community has seen its share of peaks and valleys over the past four years. CDFA is responsible for promoting and protecting California’s food supply, an assignment that encompasses activities as diverse as enforcing quarantines, inspecting import shipments, and funding promising research projects.
“The day-to-day work of CDFA is largely concentrated on preventing, detecting and responding to threats to California’s food supply,” said Lyons. “Our people and resources respond effectively when a new pest or disease arrives, and we’ve rapidly deployed these resources on several recent occasions, including Exotic Newcastle Disease in Southern California and the Mexican fruit fly infestation in San Diego County.
“We believe we also have a responsibility to create new opportunities for the producers of California agriculture, and to keep an eye on the long-term prospects of this state’s leading industry. That’s why Governor Davis created the Buy California Initiative, to promote our state’s unmatched offering of specialty crops; and that’s why we helped create the NFACT coalition, which combines the influence of some of the nation’s most productive agricultural states, New Mexico, Florida, Arizona, California and Texas, in the arena of federal policy.”
California is widely regarded as a world leader in agriculture, and that reputation extends to CDFA’s work in food safety and security issues. In 2001, when the United Kingdom was grappling with a foot-and-mouth disease emergency in its cattle industry, Secretary Lyons agreed to send eight CDFA veterinarians to assist.
“We were in a position to offer considerable expertise and experience during a truly worldwide agricultural crisis, and we also gained invaluable training for our personnel,” said Lyons.
Food safety projects, such as the creation of the new Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, housed at U.C. Davis, have been another staple of the leadership of Governor Davis and Secretary Lyons. While the security of the state’s food supply has long been a concern, the events of September 11, 2001 brought security concerns to a heightened level for many industries, including agriculture.
“For many years, CDFA and our colleagues in private industry have done a great deal to educate and encourage our producers to police their own facilities against threats of contamination,” Lyons said. “Before 9-11, though, the perceived threat was primarily accidental or internal. Now, producers have added provisions and policies to protect against intentional acts, including terrorism. Research and information-sharing by the Western Institute for Food Safety will give our producers the tools to further protect their businesses and our food supply.”
The following review highlights several notable projects from Secretary Lyons’ first four years at the helm of CDFA.
SPINOSAD AND THE MEXICAN FRUIT FLY
As a matter of policy, CDFA has always strived for environmentally-friendly treatments in its efforts to eradicate exotic pests. The current Mexican fruit fly incident in northern San Diego County brought about a historic moment. CDFA introduced the organically-friendly compound Spinosad for its aerial treatment protocol on citrus and avocado orchards. This is a first in the history of American agricultural exotic pest eradication.
BUY CALIFORNIA INITIATIVE
Governor Davis has created the $70 million Buy California Initiative, a multi-faceted promotional campaign aimed at increasing the demand for California agricultural products. As demand increases, additional jobs will be created, a key component of the governor’s economic initiative.
HOMELAND SECURITY AND AGROTERRORISM
CDFA has assisted California in making significant strides in shoring up defenses against foreign animal diseases like foot-and-mouth disease and “mad cow” disease. Eight CDFA veterinarians were sent to the UK in 2001 to assist with the foot-and-mouth emergency there. In addition, Secretary Lyons agreed to make State Veterinarian Dr. Richard Breitmeyer available for a special assignment to advise the federal government on foreign animal disease preparedness. Secretary Lyons directed an allocation of more than $5 million from the USDA for surveillance and rapid detection and diagnosis of animal and plant disease. Governor Davis directed $5 million in federal funds to help establish the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security at UC Davis. The institute is conducting research enhancing food security throughout the process, what is known as “farm to fork.”
GLASSY-WINGED SHARPSHOOTER/PIERCE’S DISEASE
Governor Davis has led the fight against the glassy-winged sharpshooter, helping to raise more than $50 million in state and federal funding. Secretary Lyons and CDFA have put that funding to use with an effective program to stop the spread of the pest while researchers search for a cure for Pierce’s disease.
RED IMPORTED FIRE ANT
CDFA is in the midst of an aggressive five-year, $40 million eradication program against this exotic pest. While there have been isolated finds in Northern California, CDFA has been successful in limiting generally-infested areas to Southern California.
CDFA helped to organize the NFACT coalition: New Mexico, Florida, Arizona, California and Texas. All of these are border states with a high volume of specialty crops, and all desire more consideration in the formulation of national agricultural policy. Governor Davis provided $500,000 over two years as start-up funding for the coalition, which works through NASDA, the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, to weigh-in on policy. Secretary Lyons has recently been named chairman of NASDA’s Specialty Crop Task Force.
FEDERAL BLOCK GRANT
The efforts of NFACT helped secure a $64 million federal block grant in 2001 for the benefit of California specialty crop producers. Following a series of hearings throughout California, where more than 300 Californians shared ideas for distribution, CDFA released a plan that directed funds to the Californian Grown ad campaign for domestic and international market promotion for agriculture, for nutritional promotional programs, for pest prevention, and for a wide variety of research projects.
STRENGHTENING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CALIFORNIA AND MEXICO
Under the Governor’s leadership, collaboration on issues like trade development, pest control, food safety and animal health flourished, including a signed agreement of cooperation in 2002 with Baja California, and collaboration on preparedness in the event of a foreign animal disease outbreak. Secretary Lyons has served as co-chair for two years on the Agricultural Work Table, which is part of the ongoing Border Governor’s Conference between 10 states within the two countries.
THE 1998 FREEZE
Shortly after taking office in 1999, the Davis Administration encountered nearly $700 million in crop damages from a four-day freeze in the Central Valley. With great speed, the governor redirected $4.5 million in job assistance funds to aid unemployed farm workers, and urged federal officials to assist growers with a disaster declaration and an extension of the 1998 Crop Loss Disaster Assistance Program. In addition, the governor signed legislation to assist growers and employees with payment plans for their energy bills.
EXOTIC NEWCASTLE DISEASE
A team of 700 state and federal employees continues the battle in Southern California against Exotic Newcastle Disease. Eight counties are currently under quarantine for the disease, after a number of cases affecting both backyard flocks and commercial egg-laying operations. More than two million birds have been depopulated thus far. California’s entire poultry industry is at risk, with potential estimated farmgate damages at approximately $1 billion. To date, there haven’t been any cases north of the Tehachapis.
California is at potential risk of losing its TB-free status after an outbreak of Bovine TB at a Tulare-area dairy. There is an additional suspected case at another dairy in the area; final test results are still pending. Also, veterinarians continue to trace the origin of a third incident, a case detected at a Fresno meat packing plant. In the meantime, testing for additional cases continues among thousands of animals and dozens of herds throughout the Central Valley.
California Department of Food and Agriculture Office of Public Affairs
1220 N St., Ste. 214, Sacramento, CA 95814