1 Feb 2009

Weekend Discussion: How Will Farmers Cope?

NOTE: This post will stay here until Sunday night. Posts for Saturday and Sunday morning go below this post.

Dear Aguanauts,

Discussion posts allow you to discuss your beliefs on a topic -- to share your understanding, experience and opinions -- without worrying about what's right or what others think. (Check out last week's discussion on river restoration.) Most important, the discussion allows us to learn from each other. So...

How will farmers cope with less water due to drought, changing policy and/or climate change?


  1. The long term trend in agriculture has been towards a more knowledge based, capital intensive business. Merely knowing the craft of farming is not enough. Times of adversity intensify this, as the weaker players are weeded out. Tragically, the subsidy system, and the general sob-sister nonsense & hand-wringing over "preserving family farms" allowed a lot of great hardworking farmers to become business dopes (much more the case in the Midwest than CA, however). There are going to be a fair number of bankruptcies, I'm afraid. The crop mix might change some, but other than winter grains, which are rarely economic, most crops still need 3-4 feet of water.
    There will be some good to come out of the drought. The public will become more aware of the many useful things California agriculture grows, because they'll be getting them from God knows where for a while. Unless the world is completely insane, more water marketing should occur. Finally, the drought will force all of us to make tough choices about how to capture, store, conserve, and use the water we do have in this State.

  2. Interestng ... No farmer or farm group has ever inquired about a new fresh water non-tributary Source that could provide a million acre feet of water EACH YEAR for California.

    Because the new water is non-tributary, it could be utilized for all sorts of exchanges and drought "emergencies".

    For example ... Keep Lake Mead FULL and generating 1800 - 2000 megawatts of renewable energy. A 150 megawatt windfarm will cost about $300 million.

    When it gets dry enough ... waterrdw@yahoo.com

  3. I think Philip pretty well nailed it. Marginal farming operations will (hopefully) call it quits. The water used by those farmers can then shift to other higher valued uses. It's somewhat unfortunate that this might quicken the pace of corporatization of farming operations, but profitability should be the key. Don't bail out marginal farmers because of some sense of cultural identity (no "irrigation aid" from Neil Young and John Mellencamp needed). But also don't allow Cargill and ADM to skew markets by lobbying.

  4. CJ, I would not worry too much about agriculture losing its soul. Growing crops is a calling, like music or medicine, that either lights your fire or it doesn't. It is a real problem getting young people interested in production agriculture. That's partly because if they go work for a "Real McCoy's" Ma & Pa operation, there is no opportunity for promotions, vacations, health care, or pensions; just a chance to get yelled at by some irascible old turd who ran his sons and sons-in-law off the farm years ago. Outfits like Boswell, Paramount, Boathouse, and many smaller ones, offer all these things, and have a dedicated workforce. The bigger companies can also understand and afford to observe the many environmental and safety laws that protect the public and workers. Even the giants, like the companies I named, are tiny by comparison with most of American industry. It is nice to be sentimental about obsolete business forms, but like the demise of the general store with a cracker barrel and pot bellied stove, on balance competition makes businesses evolve and improve.


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