Saturday, April 18, 2015

You Don't Get More With Less

Sunrise this morning while I was walking the dogs was fabulous.
The cotton is coming up. The onions are also up. We have been busy tending to the almonds and knocking the caps off the cotton beds. Just another busy Spring week on the farm.

You Actually Get Less with Less
By Paul H. Betancourt
                  The Hippies of the 60’s had a mantra, “More with Less.” Sheryl and I even have a “More with Less Cook Book.” While it makes a pretty good cookbook, that is not the mantra for progress. You usually get less with less.
            I thought the “More with Less” mantra was a thing of the past. But, a few weeks ago I was in Portland for a sustainable cotton conference and one of my new environmental friends went on and on about how we will get ‘more with less.’ These guys haven’t had a new idea in forty years.
Yes, - I am all for conservation. I believe in the careful use of our resources. But, eventually you get less with less. We didn’t get more when our water supplies were cut back to ten percent a few years ago. UC Davis reported 40,000 people lost their jobs that summer. That’s not “More with Less” that’s a lot less.
This foolishness has to stop. We have not been getting more with less water the past two years. We have been getting much less. Tens of thousands of more jobs were lost in the past year as even more acres were fallowed. Food prices are inching up. That is simple economics. If you have less of a product with even demand price will go up.
Farming Is Not An Optional Industry

     This past week I have seen more comments about how the drought will not hurt the California. Let me remind you of what three time Democratic candidate for the Presidency William Jennings Bryant said a century ago-
“Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and 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 in the country.”

         Because everyone has to eat, every economy is built upon a strong farming sector. My last year as Fresno Farm Bureau president I heard countless politicians, academics, journalists and regulators say, “If California farmers can’t produce under these rules, we will just import our food.” Really? Do you think foreign producers are going to follow your regulations? Didn’t we have a poisoned imported dog food problem a few years ago? If they can’t even produce safe dog food do you think your food would be any safer?

We Are 25 Years Behind
            In 1992 the Governor’s father, Gov. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown said they built enough canals for the future, but not enough reservoirs. “Additional works were scheduled to be built to increase project yield in an orderly fashion as more water would be needed (starting around 1990).” We are 25 years behind schedule. No wonder we have a problem. We have a water system built for 19 million people and a population of 38 million. Sure we need to conserve. But, there are not enough low flow toilets to solve this problem.

The Cold Hard Number
            As I pointed out in a recent column, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization calculates that it takes 800 gallons of water per day to produce food for one person. In California that means it takes over 30 million acre feet per year to produce enough food for each Californian. This is an irreducible number. You will not get more food with less water- you will get less food.

                  In general you don’t get “More with Less”, you get less. We won’t have progress with less, but by carefully building on the foundation of the past.

Brown, Edmund G. “Pat”, Achieving Consensus on Water Policy in California,
                  Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs, Los Angeles, 1992.

Howitt, Richard, et al., Measuring the Employment Impact of Water Reductions,

Jennings, William Bryant, Cross of Gold Speech,

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Who Is the End User of Irrigation Water?

Please note- this was the first op-ed I had published in the Fresno Bee, over twenty years ago. Sadly, with few changes it still applies today. We have not really increased our water supply in the succeeding years, but we have added millions of new Californians. When will we ever learn?

Water Supply is Everyone’s Concern
By Paul H. Betancourt
Published in the Fresno Bee on October 12, 1993

Farmers have become the bad boys of California water policy. The state’s water supply has been tightened by the recent drought and rapidly growing population. Many have looked at agriculture’s water supply with a covetous eye.

Before we try to solve California’s water supply by taking water from farmers, we must ask ourselves, “who is the end user of agricultural water?”

Many people and agencies have noticed that agriculture uses 40 percent of the state’s total water supply (which is 80 percent of the developed water supply). Groups such as the Bay Area Economic Council reason that a ten percent reduction in agriculture’s water supply would free enough water for all of our municipal and industrial uses for decades to come. There are numerous problems with this approach.

A ten percent cut in agricultural water supplies would free up only about 2.85 million acre feet. That is about half our current water use. But at our current population growth those are rats that will only suffice for the next twenty years. Then what? We will have more people with less water to grow food to feed them.

According to the Water Education Foundation it takes 14 gallons of water to produce a single orange and 48 gallons of water to produce a single gallon of milk. Multiply this by 30 million people eating three meals a day and it becomes obvious that it takes a tremendous amount of water to produce, transport and prepare our food.

Dixie Lee Ray, former governor of Washington, has noted that the greatest achievement of this phenomenal century has been the introduction of high-tech, high-yield agriculture. For the first time in history we have a stable supply of high-quality, healthy, safe and affordable food. We have taken this agricultural miracle for granted. We no longer can afford to support policies that cripple  this incredibly productive food-producing system.
There are three ingredients to any sane water policy in California: First, we must conserve the water we have, Second, we need to develop water to meet the needs of our growing population. And third, we must allow for the free transfer of water that does not cripple our agricultural economy and communities.

It may sound like a platitude, but water conservation is everyone’s responsibility. This is not just a rural or an urban problem. While agriculture uses the most water, we cannot solve our water problems if only agriculture conserves water.

Second, we must develop our water to meet the needs of our growing population. California has grown by more that 50 percent since we built our last reservoir. We cannot let a minority environmentalist activist community continue to cripple appropriate water development. We solve the present problems and prepare for the future.

Finally, we must deal with the issue of water transfers. Many in the urban and environmental communities see this as a cure-all for supply problems. Many rural people are scared that productive areas like the San Joaquin Valley are going to be stripped of water and left to wither-like the Owens Valley. If there is “excess” water to transfer from rural to urban use, we must find a way to do it fairly.  Water-rights holders must not be robbed of the contracted rights.

It is very short sighted to try to solve the state’s water supply problems by just taking water from agriculture. We are all in this together. We must work it out together.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Enviros Have Sold California Down the River

The Enviros Have Sold California Down the River 

               Gov. Brown's historic announcement of 25% mandatory water cutbacks makes our failed water policy real for millions of Californians.
               We have been balancing the equation on the necks of farmers, farm workers and their communities. For years we have taken water from our farms to help the Delta Set and now they are saying the smelt may go extinct anyways.  Now this has hit home for the rest of California. Yes, I know we have had a few years of low rainfall. but that is kind of the point. There are wet years and there are dry years in California. We are foolish because we do not save water from the wet years for the dry years. We are foolish because paved over the largest river in Southern California so their rainfall runs out in to the ocean instead of recharging the ground water. Heck we don’t even save the water from the dry years. Do you remember that first big storm last December? There was flooding in Northern California. Then we let fifty thousand acre feet of water run out into the ocean. Who thought that was a good idea? 

               Now we will have to play this out. Things were so bad last year voters approved a $11 billion water bond. The Governor has fast forwarded the first $1Billion of that money. ( of course that  doesn't include an single drop of new water, but that's another story.) 

               25% water cutbacks will force city folks to re-thinks their water use. I think plumbers and plant nurseries will doing box office business. People are not going to let their property values collapse just because Sacramento can’t get things right.

Hopefully, when the dust settles from all of this we will end up with a more reliable water supply.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

How Much Water Do We Each Consume in Our Food?

If you look carefully at the hills in the background you can see some patches are green and others are brown. Old habits die hard. We haven't run cattle in over twenty years, but I still keep track of condition of the grass in the hills. The northern and eastern slopes are green. The southern and western slopes are starting to turn brown. We got off to a good start with the heavy rains in December, but things are drying up now. Just a glimpse of things to come.

How Much Water Do We Each Consume in Our Food?
By Paul H. Betancourt
Copyright March 2015

The Cold Hard Numbers

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reports that it takes nearly 800 gallons to produce food for one person. This is a global number. This applies to the developing world as well as the developed world. It does not matter if your food is produced through irrigation or dry land farming. 800 gallons per day, per person. Let’s run that number out-

800 gallons per person per day x 365 days=  292,000 gallons per person per year.

It takes almost 9/10ths of an acre foot of water per year to produce your food.

Let’s apply that number to California since that is our immediate concern-

292,000 gallons per person per year x 38 million Californians= 11,096,0000,000,000  You are reading that right, over 11 Trillion gallons of water to just produce the food to feed California. [I always encourage people to check my math. The link for the FAO report is below.]That turns out to be just over 34 Million acre feet.

34 million acre feet turns out to be about to be the amount of water California’s farmers use to produce our food. Interesting.

            There are some people throwing a fit about how much water it takes to grow an almond because we export almonds. Their accusation is we are exporting natural resources to make some people rich. Actually, exporting almonds increases prosperity for all Californians. That is how trade works. [In the interest of full disclosure I have proudly grown almonds for years.]
            But, for a moment let’s just take a look at the concern about farm water use. No matter how you slice it takes over 34 million acre feet of water to grow food to feed California. This number does not include the cotton and wool we wear in our clothes. Even if we imported all of our food it would still take 34 million acre feet of water to grow our food. And, what would that do to our carbon foot print?

            Speaking of carbon foot print- what is the big concern in environmental circles these days? Climate change. What is the one thing they want us to do to lower our carbon footprint with regards to our food? Buy food grown closer to home. California’s farmers can grow food for 38 million Californians, but we need a stable water supply to do it.

            Whether Vegan or Junk food junkie each of us averages 800 gallons of water a day to produce our food. 292,000 gallons of water per person per year.

So what do we do?

            We need to be increasing our water supply. We are not going to conserve our way out of this. There are just not enough low flow toilets.

            We need more water storage, especially if you are concerned about climate change. One of the problems with the water bond we passed last year is only 30% of the funds go to increase our water supply-if that ever gets built.

The cold, hard number is it takes 34 million acre feet just to produce the food we eat in California and we need to add 292,000 gallons of supply for each new person that comes to California, just to feed them.

note- it is will get you the toy company