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Agriculture briefs

Two North Coast farm groups have received nearly $750,000 in federal grants to promote specialty crops.

The Sonoma Valley Vintners Association received $357,000 for a marketing and social media campaign to increase consumer awareness of Sonoma Valley wines.

North Coast Opportunities of Ukiah received $390,000 to create a growers’ Food Hub for distributing eligible specialty crops from Lake and Mendocino counties. The goal is to make products from those crops more easily available to institutional and commercial buyers, including schools.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, last week announced the grants, part of more than $18 million received to promote specialty crops from California. The USDA nationally awarded $52 million in such grants.

Clover Stornetta products certified as GMO-free

Petaluma-based Clover Stornetta Farms has received certification that eight of its Clover Organic Farms products are free from genetically modified organisms.

The products, including organic milks, half and half and heavy whipping cream, have been certified by the Non-GMO Project, a nonprofit that provides third-party verification for GMO avoidance.

“GMOs are an issue our customers are thinking a great deal about, and this verification allows us to show our commitment to meeting their needs for the cleanest milk available,” said Clover President Marcus Benedetti.

Clover, whose milk comes from Sonoma and Marin counties, previously had been the first dairy west of the Mississippi to verify that its milk was free of the growth hormone rBST.

Some farmers experiencing labor shortage

With harvest in full swing on the West Coast, farmers in California and other states say they can’t find enough people to pick high value crops such as grapes, peppers, apples and pears.

The shortage has meant delays or smaller harvests for growers. But farmworkers, whose incomes are some of the lowest in the nation, have benefited, their wages jumping in California to $2 to $3 over the $8 hourly minimum wage and even more for those working piece rate.

The shortage has been driven by a struggling U.S. economy, more jobs in Mexico, and bigger hurdles to illegal border crossings.

About half of California farmers are experiencing worker shortages, according to a preliminary survey by the state farm bureau federation. Many of the growers say their workforce has decreased by up to one-third.

“This year, it has become even more challenging to find agricultural employees, and it’s going to get worse in the next few years,” said Noe Cisneros Jr. of Freedom AG, a Kern County labor contractor who manages a crew of up to 300 workers.

— Staff and wire reports. Submit item to robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com

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