Saturday, September 13, 2014

Do We Really Want to Import Our Food?

Do We Really Want to Import Our Food?
By Paul H. Betancourt
Copyright September 2014

Frankly I was shocked, the last year I was Fresno County Farm Bureau President, by how many people suggested that if we couldn’t farm profitably under the increasing rules and regulations that we could just buy our food from overseas. Academics, journalists, regulators and elected officials would just shrug their shoulders when we fought them on rule or regulations and say, “If you can’t succeed, we’ll just import our food.” Really?
            We don’t like being over a barrel importing our oil, just how do you think it would be if we had a food embargo? Do you really think foreign suppliers are going to follow your pesticide rules? Think about China with their recent milk and dog food problems. It was so bad they executed some of their dairy officials.

            Even more important than that is the idea that Agriculture is the foundation of a healthy economy. If our Ag economy is weak, can the rest of our economy ever really be strong? Almost a hundred and twenty years ago, in his “Cross of Gold Speech”, William Jennings Bryan said,

“Burn down your cities and leave your farms, your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city of the country.”

Now fast forward to the 21st Century, have things really change?

            About the time I was Fresno Farm Bureau President, an economist from UC Davis came out with a book arguing that our economy is so advanced that we as a country do not need to grow food anymore than a city needs to grow its own food. I think this is where the journalists, elected, regulators and other academics were getting their information. In addition to the question of food safety I will add another argument- how about the carbon footprint?
            Today’s enviros are all worked up about the issue of climate change. When it comes to food the solution is to grow food closer to where it is consumed. I am pretty sure when it comes to California the Central Valley is closer to LA and San Francisco than anywhere else they can get their food.
            This is not merely an academic argument. Let’s think about this in terms of water policy. Water for our farms is being strangled off by environmental policy. I am all for taking care of the environment. But, we need to look at the whole picture. Californians still have to eat. If we zero out farming here in the Valley- where will food from California come from? What will be the environmental impact of producing and transporting that food?
            destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city of the country.”

            We often hear, “We ought to do things like the Europeans.” OK, what do the Europeans do about food policy? Their food policy is very generous and encouraging to farmers. Why? Because people in policy making positions were alive after WWII when they economies were wrecked. I talked to one trucker in Italy who ate polenta for breakfast lunch and dinner for three years after the war. Polenta is a nice side dish for a meal, but do you really want to be eating corn meal cakes for breakfast lunch and dinner every day, for three years? A German journalist who visited our farm said as a child they received C.A.R.E. packages for ten years after the war. Their economies were so crippled they couldn’t feed themselves decently for years. So, what did the Europeans learn? Take care of your farmers.

destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city of the country.”

            We all have a stake in healthy farm policy. Yes, we have to take care of the environment. I try to make the argument in my book, Ten Reasons: Finding Balance on Environmental Issues, if we are going to do this, let’s do it right. Strangling our farms is not a good idea for us, or for the environment.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Farmers in the Sierras

Farmers in the Sierras
By Paul H. Betancourt
Copyright September 2014

            Twenty years ago Sheryl’s Dad and I did the John Muir Trail in the high Sierras. Her Aunt joined us for part of the trip.
            We took horses which was fine with me. Sheryl’s Dad was worried about an old knee injury. I walked most of the way. It was great to have my horse Ben carry the gear. A camera and a note pad are a pretty light load.

            The high country is beautiful. There is nothing like a starry night at 10,000 feet or sunrise in the mountains.
            We talk about the San Joaquin River down here. Up there we saw the deep canyons near Mammoth where the San Joaquin River is born.
            Time takes on a different meaning in the Wilderness. There are no appointments to keep. We use time to measure distance; so many miles from the lake to the pass.
            Life is reduced to the essentials in the wilderness: food, shelter, water. You find out how little it takes to get from day to day. You also learn to be prepared and self-reliant. You cannot just run down to the store. If it rains and you don’t have gear, you are going to get wet.
            If you haven’t learned it before you learn to respect Nature in the wilderness. She has home field advantage. For example, if you leave food out, the bears will get it.

            My old pastor in San Diego would say at the altitude of the high country you are already closer to God. There is also a sense of being closer to the Creator. We live in our man-made world with all its modern conveniences. [I like washing machines and air conditioning. I am negotiable on TV and the internet.] But, in the wilderness of the high country we can be closer to the world as it came from the hand of the Creator. There is something about that that puts things in to perspective.

            Hiking in the Sierra high country was the adventure of a lifetime. The beauty is overwhelming: cathedrals of trees, roaring rivers and peaceful lakes, crisp air and sharp sunlight, soaring eagles and top of the world vistas.

            While the high country is amazing, sadly we do not live there. While I make my living here in the flatlands, knowing the mountains are there enriches my life.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Covering Up

When I first moved up here my Dad, with his fatherly advice, even though he’d never lived in a climate like this, said, “Make sure you wear a floppy hat and long sleeves.” I always have because we started working cattle so I wore cowboy hats and long sleeved western shirts.
            It’s easy to tell the difference between the people who work outside and those who play outside. People who work outside do cover up. People who play outside wear tank tops and shorts.
            Years ago my son asked, “Dad, why don’t you wear t-shirts to work. You would be much cooler. That week he actually came out to work for us.  After his first day out in the field he came home, BBQ’d,  and even before he took a shower he went upstairs took two of my new works shirts out of my closet. I never did get those shirts back.

            There’s nothing wrong with playing or enjoying the sunshine. You just have to remember sunshine in our area is strong. The same sun that turns grapes in to raisins can turn us in to raisins too. So, if you don’t want to turn into a raisin- cover up and keep hydrated.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

When It Comes to Farmers- One Size Does Not Fit All

   Another busy week on the farm. The almonds are all up. Yay! We are done irrigating the cotton. Now it is time to wait for the crop to mature. It is looking good. We already have open bolls which is early for Pima. It won't be too long before we fire up the picker.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All
By Paul H. Betancourt
Copyright June 2012

            You want diversity? Then come on down to the farm.
We have-boy farmers and girl farmers
            Short farmers and tall farmers
            Smart farmers and, well the system has weeded out the dumb ones.
We have farmers from different ethnic groups.
We have farmers on big farms
            And farmers on small farms
            Part time farmers and full time farmers
            Farmers who only grow vegetables and farmers who only grow meat.
And, therein lies the problem. We have folks in Sacramento and DC doing one size fits all farm policy. It doesn’t work because of the diversity we have in California agriculture.

            I have to admit, there is another side to the diversity among farmers. You may have noticed this yourself. We are kind of an independent bunch.  If you have three farmers, you can get five different opinions. Not only are we diverse in size, crops, gender and ethnic background. We differ on politics, sports and just about everything else.

I hope you all have a good week.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Pioneer Spirit

Some friends and I rode our bikes up past Shaver Lake as part of a fundraiser for Valley Children's Hospital. It was a nice day for a ride, until we headed home. (The air conditioning on my motorcycle wasn't working.) We took the back we around Huntington Lake. The scenery was beautiful and the air was cool. The route is called Big Creek Road and goes past the old electric power generating plants.
These plants are amazing if you think about it. Without modern computers they designed, installed and operated hydro power plants generations ago. Do you think these plants would ever get through the permit process today?
   This reminded me of a couple of radio pieces I did last year.

Pioneer Spirit
By Paul H. Betancourt
Copyright February 2013

            Can you imagine the heroes in John Wayne movies if they saw what is happening in the country today?
            My hat’s off to those of you who still have that can do, pioneer spirit. This country was built, at least in the West, by those who faced enormous problems and made a go of it.
            Can you imagine a John Wayne character going to the government after problems with a cattle drive?
            Yes, I know life isn’t like a movie. Got it. That’s just an illustration. What I want to commend is the pioneer, ‘can do’ spirit that built this country. Yes, I understand all the criticisms of Manifest Destiny, etc.  I am not addressing that. I am saying there is an enormous, qualitative difference between the people who built this country and us today. In that comparison I’m not sure we look all that good.
The immigrants who came to this country in the 19th Century faced tremendous hurdles just getting here. Can you imagine putting all your worldly belongings on a boat and sailing for nine weeks just to cross the Atlantic? That was only the beginning of the trip. Then they had to load up and start walking across the country. I’m tired thinking about it.

I think we still need some of that pioneer spirit to solve the problems we face today.

Pioneer Spirit II
By Paul H. Betancourt
Copyright February 2013

Recently I talked about the Pioneer Spirit.
The contrast is today’s response—one minor hiccup and people are suing each other or running with their hands out for government help. John Stossel criticizes himself and the government. Being a famous and rich reporter he has a beach front home that has been damaged twice by hurricanes. Each time the government---that means you and me---have helped him rebuild his beach front, luxury, second home. This is crazy. Even Stossel admits this is crazy.
            I get it. We are not a society of lone rangers. We live in community. Our high-tech world is more complex and inter-dependent than the world of the 19 Century. But, I think that calls for more, not less, of the pioneer spirit that made this country great.
            The world makes fun of Americans being a bunch of cowboys. People vote with their feet. Have you noticed where people all over the world are migrating to? They are not migrating to China or Cuba. People all over the world want to come to the U. S., not because it is like home, but because it is different. Today’s immigrants still see the U. S. as the land of opportunity.