April 4, 2014

Farm Beat: Assembly bill aims to lasso cattle thieves

A bill in the state Assembly would toughen penalties against livestock theft.

A cattle-ranching lawmaker goes after rustlers in this week’s episode of the Farm Beat.

State Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, whose district takes in Tuolumne and eight other mountain counties, introduced a bill that would toughen penalties for livestock theft. It passed the Assembly Agriculture Committee unanimously last week.

The measure, Assembly Bill 1722, would bar anyone convicted of such theft from holding a registered cattle brand in California for five years. It also would keep people from applying for a new brand if they were convicted of the crime in the previous five years.

Those marks on the animals’ hides still play a key role in preventing theft in this high-tech era. The state Bureau of Livestock Identification uses them to track cattle as they are sold and transported.

Bigelow, a Republican who runs cattle in the Madera County foothills, said the bill is especially timely because of the high beef prices these days. The industry is enjoying a boom in demand while also dealing with reduced supplies because of drought.

A committee staff analysis said 1,317 head of cattle were reported stolen or missing in California in 2012, an increase of 22 percent since the last recession. “The author states that cattle thieves must be accountable for their crimes and stronger deterrents must be in place,” the report said.

The bill, sponsored by the California Cattlemen’s Association, has moved to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. No hearing date has been set.

Another bill from Bigelow, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, increased the share of livestock theft fines that went to the bureau’s enforcement work.

Elsewhere on the Farm Beat:

Saving water

An April 18 meeting near Modesto will give farmers a look at a new state program providing $10 million for water conservation.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture will explain the program, part of a $687.4 million drought relief package signed by Brown last month. The money can go to improvements in water-use efficiency and to well pumps that reduce energy use.

The meeting will be from 9 a.m. to noon in Harvest Hall at the Stanislaus County Agricultural Center, 3800 Cornucopia Way, off Crows Landing Road. More information is at

Saving blackbirds

Tricolored blackbirds nested in massive numbers before San Joaquin Valley wetlands became farms and cities. This spring, a few farmers can help them out by delaying harvest of the grain fields they have come to favor.

The federal Natural Resources Conservation Service is again seeking growers of oats, barley and other feed crops that are planted in winter. Some of them become spring breeding grounds for the blackbirds, which could be wiped out by the harvester blades.

The agency will compensate qualifying farmers for the reduced feed quality resulting from the delayed harvest. Audubon California is a partner in the effort, which last year protected an estimated 65,000 birds, about a fifth of the total population.

Farmers must apply by May 2. More information is at

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