AM Live Ag Report

FRESNO, Calif.

Ten Marine officers heading to Afghanistan are first being trained in agriculture at Fresno State.

The university says the training is the first-of-its-kind for U.S. troops. Since Monday, the officers from the 11th Marine regiment have been learning about crops, storage, irrigation and livestock. The week long training will help them in their mission to help Afghanistan farmers.

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The U.S. department of agriculture is giving California growers, a million-dollar boost to help fight the destructive European grapevine moth. Six of the moths were found in Valley vineyards last month.

Over 7,000 traps have been set in Fresno County vineyards. No new finds of the European grapevine moth have been reported. The moth may be smaller than a dime but it is a voracious eater.

In Fresno on Wednesday the U.S.D.A.'s Natural Resources Conservation Service announced it has set aside a million dollars to help Valley growers. The money will help fund pesticide treatments in Valley vineyards, including those which have been abandoned by landowners.

"We estimate the cost to this about $208,000 an acre to interrupt these next two flights, depending on what they're using so we're offering $104,000 an acre if they put a conservation plan together," said State Conservationist Ed Burton.

"These kinds of dollars can really help that they stay small and more importantly, we get to the point where we eliminate them from this area," said the State Food and Ag Secretary A.G. Kawamura.

Under the program, growers must use environmentally friendly growth regulators.

"It's not a broad spectrum pesticide where it would wipe out all the natural predators that would be in the area," said Fresno County Ag Commissioner Carol Hafner.

A 93-square mile area of Fresno County is under quarantine because of the European grapevine moth. Other countries want assurances produce grown here is free of the destructive pest.

"Obviously there's a lot of fruit that moves from Fresno to Mexico and so we're having ongoing negotiations about that. We also have quite a bit of fruit that moves to Canada," said State Plant Health Director Helene Wright.

The pesticide funding program is not county-wide. Right now growers within 400 meters of one of the six confirmed finds take priority, followed by those within a thousand meters.

"It's an early infestation so that's like a biological fire. It's smoldering as opposed to roaring out of control," said Kawamura.

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The federal government is now looking for ways to tighten the oversight of produce.

F.D.A. officials have unveiled new rules designed to track how growers, packers, shippers and distributors handle produce as it travels from the farm to the table.

Stricter federal guidelines could help catch less scrupulous growers and give the rest of the industry more consistent regulations to follow.

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