Saturday, July 4, 2015

Love of Country, Love of Family

This still chokes me up.

Sullivan Ballou passionately loved his wife and sons. He also loved his country in a way few of us could express.

I'll see you all next week after we all get back to work.

Happy 4th Everyone!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Farm for Sale

It's been another busy week on the farm. We have been cultivating weeds, spraying for bugs and getting ready to water again. We've already had our first bloom. It would have been earlier, but the lygus bugs really devastated the early crop. Still a long way to go til harvest, but it sire looks pretty for now.
   For the record, please notice we are irrigating every other road. I have had three reporters from Europe on the farm in the last two weeks. They are asking a lot of questions about the drought. I try to explain we have never had water to waste. We are always careful with every gallon.

I got a surprise looking down this morning. We've been so busy I didn't realize I was creeping up on another milestone- 440,000 miles. Not only am I cheap, but I really like this truck. We've got a lot of miles together. The seat is comfortable, the air conditioning works and the radio is fine. It's starting to show it's age, but I really don't want another truck. It's like a favorite shirt or old ball cap- it just fits.

Farm for Sale
By Paul H. Betancourt
Copyright June 2015

            Last summer a friend brought his family out to the car. He’s a great guy. I met him and his wife traveling in Israel a while back. I showed them the fields and equipment. I showed them how we measured soil moisture to schedule irrigations and how I swept the field for bugs and how we decided to whether to spray or not. As he was getting into the car Doc looked back at me and said, “ Too many moving parts.” Doc is a pretty smart guy. He is a pediatric anesthesiologist. He added, “Give me a body to take care of.” As I said, Doc’s a pretty smart guy. If farming is too complicated for a pediatric anesthesiologist, maybe it is complicated.
Maybe it is too complicated, but somebody’s got to do it or we don’t eat.

Like most farmers, my ground is precious to me. Some of it has sentimental value, it was farmed by Sheryl’s grandfather. I have sweated over all of it for most of my life. I used to think I would never sell an acre. But, I am re-thinking that.

            There are a lot of people who seem to think they know how to farm better than I do. The environmentalists are sure they know how to take care of things. Government regulators are glad to tell me how to run my farm.
            I have had people tell me, ‘why don’t you just put in drip irrigation? That will solve all your problems.’ Really? I usually ask, ‘Do you have drip in your yard? How much time do you spend fiddling with that each week?  Can you imagine doing that on a hundred acres?’ Usually at that point I get some head nodding. Drip irrigation is great, but it is not a magic wand. It is expensive to install and it is labor and management intensive.

            For the record, nothing I do in my life is above question. I appreciate the concern people have about where their food comes from and how it is produced. I want you to be confident that the food and fiber we sell is safe.

            I could not believe, my last year as Fresno Farm Bureau president how many politicians, journalists, regulators and academics said, “If you can’t follow these rules and produce we will just import our food.” Really? What makes you think foreign producers are going to be any better, or more committed to safe food production? We have already seen what happens. Do you remember? It wasn’t too long ago we had issues with tainted dog food and milk products from China.

            I have written before about the Social Contract. I teach ethics. In its simplest form the social contract asks- What does society expect of the individual? And, what does the individual as of society? I have been in meetings where people start saying what they want from farmers in terms of environmental regs and other things. Twice I have stopped that conversation and explained the social contract. Then I ask them- So, you want us to pay the workers a living wage? Yes, yes- gotta pay the workers. And, you want me to save water? Yes, yes- gotta save water. And finally, you want me to use less pesticides? Yes, yes- pesticides are bad. Then I tell them, that is fine. California farmers will be glad to do what you want, but we have one request. You have said what you want from California farmers, that is only half of the social contract. We have an expectation also- please buy food from us, instead of our foreign competitors just because it is cheaper. The room usually drops dead quiet when I do that. It is a fundamentally broken contract if society has expectations of us as individual farmers, but does not live up to its own expectations. Fair enough?

            The smart-alecky part of me wants to say, “If you think you can do this better, my ranch is for sale. You come and take a stab at doing this and see how complicated it is. If a pediatric anesthesiologist thinks it’s too complicated, maybe it is too complicated. The more reasoned part of me understands your concerns. I am proud of what I do because I know we produce the safest, most, varied and most affordable food supply in the history of the world. My fellow farmers and I will continue to hold up our half of the social contract, all we ask is you hold up your half.

Saturday, June 20, 2015


Well, parts of this were a full three ring circus. Wheat harvest kicked in. There were problems getting the windrows right to bale straw. We were replacing and underground line. The welders were great, but that took forever. Ok, three days. The solar guys finally got started and then there was paperwork.
Well, that's behind us. 

I was talking on Facebook with an old friend. She commented that organic had gone mainstream. Really? Maybe in her neighborhood. Yes, Costco is now the biggest provider of organic food now. I can even get organic goodies at Wal Mart. I don't think that means it's mainstream, at least in our neighborhood. 
   I still like Michael Pollan's recipe- "Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly fruits and vegetables."
That's a good recipe. [ It would be good news for California's farmers if people would followed his advice. :-D ).

Three Cheers for Modern, Conventional Farming!
            2012 was a good news year for conventional farmers. Three academic studies came out supporting the benefits of modern, conventional farming.
            The Stanford School of Medicine reviewed almost three hundred studies. Their conclusion? One researcher is quoted as saying, “There isn’t much difference between organic and conventional foods”(New York Daily
            The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote, “in the long term, there is no direct evidence that consuming an organic diet leads to improved health or lower risk of disease.” Their recommendation? Kids should eat more fruits and vegetables, less processed and fast food.
            Oxford University’s Journal of Environmental Management concluded, “organic products such as milk, cereals and pork, generate more greenhouse gases than their conventional counterparts.”
Predictably, the true believers in organic food went on the warpath, that’s OK. We need to keep talking about how to create the best food system possible.
I am proud of what I do. We grow food and fiber for a hungry world. These studies confirmed what we have known all along. What we do is good for our customers and good for the planet.
                                                                     February 2013
Stanford School of Medicine-
University of Oxford-

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Water Is Life

Want to see what $30,000 looks like?
Yeah, that's it. Most ag wells are turbine wells. We put in a submersible because we have had problems with the well casing. Hopefully this will hold. It is only a third the capacity of the old turbine well, but a third is better than zero- and another repair bill. 
   There is a long running debate about the definition of 'sustainable' or 'sustainability.' One farmer from Australia said something to the affect of, 'sustainable means me and my family on the farm in the future." I can live with that. We will do what it takes to keep our farm productive.

Riding around Idaho a week ago I was reminded of something I wrote a few years ago. The bottom line is- Water is Life.

Irrigation, Native Americans and Us
By Paul H. Betancourt
copyright May 2012

                  One of the things I have long wanted to see is a liberal watching a Native American hunting an endangered species. Which side would they root for? They support Native Americans’ right to their culture and they want to protect all the critters.
            Well there’s a real life case similar to that. On April 30th NPR reported that Native Americans in Montana won a court case that requires the federal government to build them a $400M irrigation project. Imagine that- irrigation isn’t all bad after all.
            One of the tribal elders interviewed for the report said, “In our culture, water is life.” Guess what? Water is life in our culture too!
            I know Native Americans have suffered at the hands of government bureaucrats far longer than I have. But, I hope their case helps as a precedent here in the Valley. Irrigation cannot be good for them and bad for us.

            Water is life. Our bodies are over 60% water. You can live longer without food than you can live without water. Water is the precious resource of life and we are foolish when we fight over it. We need to learn to treasure water as life, and care for it as the precious resource it is. Water is life.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A Road Trip to Idaho: Pioneer Spirit

Took a road trip up to Idaho this past week to visit old friends and meet new ones. I was really impressed with agriculture in Idaho. In the midwest you can drive through five states and only see three crops, corn, wheat and soybeans. Idaho farmers are busy growing everything. I rode by mint fields and they smell great. There were miles and miles of hops. I visited an onion operation run by a family that has been there over a hundred years. Those guys blew me away. They know onions from seed to market. Wow. 
Idaho is full of can-do pioneer spirit. In fact on the road there I crossed trails with the old Pony Express trail, the California Trail, Lewis and Clark and the Oregon Trail. All that history reminded me about some radio pieces I did a few years ago about Pioneer Spirit that I thought I would share with you.

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.

Four states.
Almost 1900 miles.

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
but I have promises to keep."

Robert Frost

I could road a lot longer, but is was time to come home and go back to work.

I hope you all have a great week.