6 Aug 2008

TP3: Make Farmers Pay

The third episode of the Teal Pumpernel's opinions:
There is some kind of insanity in Sacramento these days. The budget is missing $14.5 billion dollars from being balanced. And that doesn’t even include cutbacks in state support for fire fighters, police, teachers and students. A horrendous fire season will start soon, gang wars in Los Angeles seem out of control, California teachers are leaving the state at an alarming rate to find better paying jobs. Only 2/3rds of the students in the Los Angeles school system graduated this year and California is on course to rival Mississippi for under funded education.

In the face of this looming disaster, the legislature and the governor want to spend billions of dollars we don’t have to build dams, reservoirs and a truly bad idea, the Delta canal. All of this to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, e.g., California’s “water problem”. In fact, the Department of Water Resources is spending $2 million just to get a few people to think about the “problem”.

Here are the facts: California agriculture uses 80% of all the water in California and they waste 60% of that water by irrigating water thirsty crops in basically a desert. What do we get for our huge investment of water in California agriculture? The answer is very, very little. California has a $1.5 trillion economy and agriculture contributes a miniscule 2% to that total. So 80% of our water is invested in producing 2% of the states economy. Does that sound like a good deal to you? It sure doesn’t to me.

Why does agriculture waste water so egregiously? The answer is because water for agriculture is so CHEAP! Farmers pay as little at $2 an acre foot (AF is about 326,000 gallons and a common water metric). Households in California pay $1,000, or more, for exactly the same water. How did this dreadful situation come about? The answer is very simple. The California legislature doesn’t have enough political courage to re-price water. If water were sensibly priced, farmers would switch to higher value crops that require less water, and install drip irrigation to deliver that water with minimum waste.

The entire solution to California’s water problem is just that simple, direct and fast. It would save billions of dollars that would not be spent on unneeded dams and canals, the value of California agriculture would increase significantly, and California’s citizens would not have to take showers with friends. That sounds like a win-win deal to me.

Write, email, call your representative in Sacramento and tell them to get busy and re-price our water, and solve the water problem right now.
Although I agree that agricultural water is very cheap, my solution is the integration of agricultural and urban water demands into a single market. I also don't agree that the peripheral canal is a waste of money. According to the experts, it is a necessary means of managing water circulation under the triple-threat of global warming (rising sea level), earthquakes, and ecological collapse.


Anonymous said...

WOW! I don't know where Teal lives, but a huge percentage (probably the majority), 50- 75% of the produce (organic and non-organic) in my grocery store came from California agriculture!

Apparently Teal doesn't EAT!

As Wendell Berry said, "Anyone who consumes food is a part of agriculture."

And therefore anyone who eats (California produce) is a recipient of these water subsidies.

The bottom line is it's scary to realize that most people have disconnected themselves from agriculture and have no idea what it takes to farm. Most people don't have a farmer in their family anymore or even a friend who is a farmer. They lump us all into one big mass, family farms with industrial farms and constantly call foul! Meanwhile they have their three square meals a day for a mere investment of 10% of their income the lowest percentage in the western world. And if that's not enough we'll subsidize them with food stamps, WIC programs, senior food programs all coming out of the the "Farm Bill".

A fellow farmer made the decision this past year to stop growing "high value crops" due to labor issues - the labor isn't there.

His friends asked him "What are you going to do?"

He chuckled and shook his head, "I'll be fine, the Question is, What are you going to do?!"

He grows hay now and his profit margins remain close to the same. He has far less headaches and people to deal with.

Do you know how often we get burned...the times we've taken a truck load of product and never got paid for it?

I personally had the experience of sending a truckload of my green chile to Wild Oats store in Colorado. A few weeks later I had them call and say they never ordered it and therefore they weren't going to pay, fortunately I had the message on my answering machine from their regional produce man requesting the order. This was Wild Oats "the community market". I can tell you more stories about them.

The next year their headquarters sent all of us purveyors of local ag products a letter saying that any product we brought them would be considered a donation.

I hate to think what the "Big Chain" grocery stores do...

If water were sensibly priced, farmers would switch to higher value crops that require less water, and install drip irrigation to deliver that water with minimum waste.

What high value crop uses less water?!

Don't forget "high value crops" typically require intensive labor, that's one of the biggest reasons farmers grow lower value crops. The farmer with a couple of workers can manage 200-300 acres of grains or hay, lower value crops. High value crops can require 1-3 workers per acre per day. Who's going to do that, as a farmer I can tell you, it's not going to be American citizens. And as someone who grows high value crops you've got to move that product daily, you are dealing with fragile perishables! (I'd like my tomatoes to be in somebody's belly within 3 days. You can lengthen that time with chemicals, fungicides and picking unripe hybridized tasteless products.) High value crops can't been thrown in the hay barn and maybe even hold onto it until the price goes up.

In my numerous visits to California, I HAVE NOT seen a huge embracing of their immigrant population!

Something else for Teal to Whine about.

The entire solution to California’s water problem is just that simple, direct and fast.

The problem is Teal thinks in dollars and cents, which is too simplistic. You can't measure everything in dollars and cents! There are many more layers that need to be considered or the result can create unfortunate unintended consequences.

I actually feel sorry for Teal...

Teal Pumpernel said...

I LOVE your readers! The two so far seem to have skipped class the day Logic was covered. Anonymous is really good. He/she feels sorry for me because Wild Oats tried to stiff him/her over a truck load of chilies. I think that is what the word "nonsequitur" was invented to cover.

But best of all are those damn ol economists who want to measure everything in dollars and cents. You might want to point out to anonymous that behavioral economists are now using Cat Scans to study the pleasure consumers get from different behavior. I suppose that those ol economists will spoil even that by placing a dollars and cents price on different pleasures.

Anonymous said...

Teal's another one of those anti-ag screamers in the water context. 80%, yadda yadda, the most abused statistic out there. And the old "ag is not me, it's THEM" dichotomy.

Simple truth is that yes, your average Californian devotes about 80% of his daily consumptive use of water to his food supply, through the market system. It would be that way if he had to grow his own food in his backyard, rather than Safeway: his vegetable garden and chicken coop and pig pen and whatever would constitute about 80% of his consumptive use, with the other 20% being his laundry, toilet, sink, etcetera. Yeah, growing food takes water, because fundamentally it is the act of watering the landscape to grow plants! Duh! Do you drive by a forest or a meadow and say "look at all those trees (or all that grass) and look at how much water it uses!"? Of course not. Why is a field cultivated for human use all that different?

And the 80%, by the way, is what we call "applied" water. It does not measure rainfall that is absorbed and used by, say, the Lassen National Forest. It does not count the water that flows through the streams and out to the ocean. There are a whole bunch of things that make that 80% look much bigger than it is, if you consider the overall water budget of the entire California environment.

And the whole anti-ag thing really brings out some other points. Sure, you can squeeze California agriculture so that a lot of it goes away. You know what you get? It's sort of like squeezing a balloon: you squeeze the supply one place, and it just reappears in another place if the demand is the same. What that means is that now your (take your pick) blueberries, lettuce, alfalfa, onions etcetera are offshored to Chile, Argentina, wherever...and does anyone really thing that those farmers are subject to a less intense system of environmental regulation, that they use water more efficiently? Heck no! Grow blueberries in Chile and you'll get less efficient methods of irrigation, and laxer standards with respect to ag runoff, etcetera.

That's right, get mad at ag! And let's truck in another 10 million people to California over the next 20 years, most of them of course environmentally conscious (in their minds if not actions!), and heck, you don't need to bring water with them, the water's already here! All you have to do is scream at ag to give up some of theirs!

tyler k said...

for one farmers dont waist the water. they use on their crops. the crops absorb the water that is irrigated onto the field if the plant dont absorb the water it goes back into the aquifers and you say they should use drip irrigation that uses the same amount of water with out the water the farmers would have bad yields. lets face it farmers feed the world. im proud to be a farmer. and god made a farmer.

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