Farmers who shift away from water-intensive crops, invest in high-tech watering systems and irrigate only at precise times in the growing cycle could save between 600,000 and 3.4 million acre-feet of water each year, Gleick said.So if saving water is so easy, why haven't farmers already implemented these ideas? Are they dumb? Probably not
"The idea that farmers are not seeking more efficient ways to do business is an insult to California agriculture," said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, a group aimed at helping farmers boost water efficiency. "Changes are occurring when it's cost-effective and when the technology is available."Wade has his head on straight, but Gleick et al. appear to have lost theirs. Besides calling for a "realignment" of subsidies to discourage farmers from growing low-value crops -- something that makes no sense when farmers grow the most-profitable crops they can -- they think that farmers should get "tax breaks for water-saving irrigation systems." Those tax breaks would change the profitability of certain practices, which means that farmers are bound to react to them -- but at what cost? (Remember ethanol!)
Wade said the market - not policymakers - drives crop choices.
"It's like saying to a restaurant, 'You have to be a shoe store because it uses less water,'" Wade said.
Just to back up my initial impression, I took a deeper look at one scenario in the report -- the one in which farmers shift from lower- to higher-value crops. The report claims that such a shift can reduce water use by 1.1 MAFY (total ag water use is 26.5 MAFY in their baseline scenario) BUT also notes that, first, farmers are already making such a shift, and, second, that such a shift would only occur if it was economically sensible. So what are they saying here? Farmers will use less water when it makes sense to do so. Gee. Thanks.
If you want farmers to use less water, raise prices. One way to do so is by allowing farmers to market their water to each other and cities.* (My all-in-auction design maximizes the "liquidity" of such a market.)
Bottom Line: Farmers are not dumb. This report -- which simulates behavior without paying attention to basic economics -- is.
* Addendum: These solutions assume that farmers' rights are defined. Neither markets nor irrigation will work when farmers can just take more water from surface or ground sources.