Oh, nuts

Sixty workers are losing their jobs as part of a new plan to rethink the “business model” at the grower-owned cooperative Blue Diamond. Susan Brauner, director of public affairs for Blue Diamond, said none of the few, seasonal employees at the Chico almond processing plant will go. It’s all people in in Sacramento, where the average length of service is 14 years.

Brauner also said the layoffs­about 5 percent of the 1,200-person workforce—are not a “big deal.”

She said the employees weren’t surprised: For months Blue Diamond has been open about its desire to direct more attention to ventures with a high profit margin and less to those that don’t generate a lot of money.Schoolchildren milked cows and pet lambs in the morning and ag communications experts spoke in the afternoon on Ag Day, held March 15 at Chico State University’s Free Speech Area and hosted by Students for Responsible Agriculture. The speakers were Bob Krauter, assistant manager of communications for the California Farm Bureau Federation, and Seth Stoddard, a high school ag teacher from a coastal town.

Krauter told the ag students it should be their duty and privilege to tell people of the importance of agriculture to their day-to-day lives. “Each of you is an ambassador, really, to the industry,” he said.

Stoddard had a similar message, though his words were a bit stronger. He said there are many misperceptions that hurt agriculture, especially the idea of anthropomorphism. “When you put a face on something that you eat, you stop eating it,” he said, and that’s one less consumer. And don’t call young animals “babies,” Stoddard cautioned.The very next day, I met three baby calves. Emily, Marti and Nat (named after the Dixie Chicks) were born March 9 at Chico State’s University Farm. They’re so cute! They’re also clones; their embryos were recreated at a Kansas lab before being transferred into surrogate cows with the help of student researchers here.

Professor Cindy Daley, who coordinated the project, said it will help the industry to learn how cloned animals will perform in real-life applications. A generation of cloned cattle could mean milk or beef of consistent quality and amount from predictably hearty animals. “You take out the variability due to the random nature of genetics,” Daley said.

“There’s no genetic modification,” explained Charles Crabb, dean of the College of Agriculture. Two of the Charolais calves were carried by one surrogate mother and the third by another; they were delivered by Caesarean section. The moms are Herefords. They’ve bonded like traditional cow families, Daley said.