Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Enviros Have A Choice to Make

Enviros Have A Choice to Make
By Paul H. Betancourt
May 2016

Which is our biggest problem? Climate Change? Or, the Delta Smelt?

My fellow farmers and I can lower the carbon footprint for 38 million Californians by growing their food locally. But, we will need some water to do that. If not, you are going to have import boatloads of food every day to feed our people. What’s that going to do to your carbon footprint?

Look down the road- where will our food be coming from five or ten years from now? We will have more people and fewer farms. When is that ever a good equation?

The basic formula, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, is that it takes 800 gallons of water per person per day to produce their food. Multiply that number by 38 million Californians and you need 31 million acre feet of water per year to feed California. You know what is interesting? That is basically how much irrigation water California has used for the past few decades.
You can wiggle and squirm, fuss and fume all you want about farmers and water, but that is the basic number. It takes 31 million acre feet of water to produce food for California. Even if you import our food it wills till take that much water and now you are adding the carbon foot print of cargo ships chugging bunk fuel back and forth across the ocean.

For those who say ‘both’, that you want to protect the smelt and lower our carbon foot print the ball is in your court. Show us how.
            The thesis of my book Ten Reasons: Finding Balance on Environmental Issues is that we need a healthy environment and a healthy economy. Current policy leans everything against the economy and I think we can see both the economy and the environment and the economy have suffered. We have cut water to our farms for decades now and fish populations continue to decline.

Again, for those who say ‘both’, that you want to protect the smelt and lower our carbon footprint the ball is in your court. Show us how.
            I don’t think you can do it. The hard reality is that it takes 31 million acre feet to feed California: 800 gallons of water per person per day to produce food. Every gallon of water you cut to farms means more food you will have to import to feed our people. We are not talking about an optional industry here. We are talking a basic necessity. We can live without our smart phones or the internet. We lived without them only a few years ago. If I took away your phone for a day that would inconvenient: If I took away your food for a day that would be uncomfortable. If I took your food away for a week…

This really is not that hard. California’s farmers and farmworkers are great, hard working people. Farmers are constantly making improvements in how they manage their water supply. Tens of thousands of acres of drip systems are going in every year. But, there will never be enough drip systems to lower that number- 31 million acre feet of water to feed California.

            My fellow farmers and I are proud of what we do, growing food for a hungry world. We will be glad to continue growing your food, but we are going to need some help. Until the enviros decide really are serious that climate change is their number one issue and back off on water we will all suffer. They have a choice to make. Which is our biggest problem? Climate Change? Or, the Delta Smelt?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Regulate Does Not Mean Micromanage!

That was some weird weather yesterday. Heck, it's been a weird weather week. Does anyone remember it was 90 degrees the other day?
   Cotton is planted and coming out of the ground. The ups and downs in the temperatures are a concern. Cotton is temperature sensitive and very susceptible to cold. Fingers crossed. Prayers offered.

Regulate Does Not Mean “Micromanage”
By Paul H. Betancourt
Copyright April 2016
President Clinton famously looked silly trying to dodge a question with his answer,’ It depends what the meaning of “is” “is.” That would be a lawyer’s trick.

On a much more serious note, I do not think many in the government know what the term “regulate” means and this failure is the cause of endless mischief.

The Constitution does give Congress the power to “regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states” (Article 1 Section 8 Clause 3). Here is where I do not think today’s regulators know what “Regulate” means. Take a look at the Federalist Papers. You remember them from your Civics class. In the Federalist Papers Hamilton, Jay and Madison made their argument, point by point, for the proposed Constitution. The original Constitution only runs six to ten pages depending on your type. It’s not that long or complicated. My copy of the Federalist Papers runs over six hundred pages of fine print. They spent a lot of time discussing each point of the proposed Constitution in detail. So, what do they have to say about Article I Section 3? Madison writes on the issue in Federalist 42. For the Founders regulation was about trade! It wouldn’t be much of a unified country of they could raise import taxes against each other would it? We are supposed to be one big happy family.

So, what happened? How did we get from power to regulate trade to micromanaging business today? In his “Age of Jackson” Schlesinger writes how Jax was the first President to use power of government to control a business, in his case, the Biddle’s Bank of the United States. Schlesinger’s conclusion was, “the public conscience in the form of the democratic government had to step in to prevent the business community from tearing apart society in its pursuit of profit” (510).
So, for those who think business people want to go back to some wild, no regulation world, that is just not true. We have accepted the power of government to regulate in the modern sense for over 170 years. What we object to is the heavy hand of micromanagement, especially by people who have no idea what they are doing.

One argument for the blizzard of new regulations is that the government is acting for the ‘common good. The result, however, is not the common good. Manufacturers are micromanaged to the point where they send their factories overseas, and then they are vilified. Apple’s fans are manically supportive. Do you realize Apple does not make anything in the US? Patagonia outdoor clothing is popular with cool people. They don’t make anything in the US either. Hollywood roots for all sorts of causes, then they make their movies overseas because it is too expensive to film here because of the regulations. Do you see the pattern? My last year as Farm Bureau President I had regulators, academics, electeds and journalists tell me repeatedly, if farmers couldn’t work under the proposed rules then we could just import our food. Really Sparky? That’s your best plan?
                  We are strangling California’s farmers to take care of the fish and the fish keep dying off anyway. How is that the greater good? Both farmers and fish are suffering.
If you want to run my ranch, it’s for sale. You buy it and you can run it any way you want. Until then, in the immortal words of Yosemite Sam, “Back off.” You really don’t know what you are doing.

There are alternatives. In Japan business and the government work together to solve problems and build the economy.

I have said in my book, “Ten Reasons: Finding Balance on Environmental Issues” we need a healthy economy and a healthy environment. Right now we have neither.

We need to take another look what we mean by ‘regulate.’ Right now we are killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. We are crushing small businesses and family farms so all that is left is big business and then we criticize big business for pushing their production overseas. As a farmer, I expect to fight bugs, weeds and the weather. I didn’t expect having to fight my own government.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

An Open Letter to State and Federal Water Managers

Another interesting week on the farm. We got over an inch and a half of rain last night. [The forecast called for a tenth to a quarter inch. If these guys can't get the forecast for one day correct can you understand why we question their forecasts for the next century? But, I digress.

It's hard to remember it was 90 degrees three days ago isn't it? How about trying to decide when to plant cotton? There are only two things I know for sure about growing cotton- if you plant it dry it will not sprout and if you plant it cold it will get sick. So, we planted a little and stopped until Monday to see if things are going to clear up. Can you see why going to Vegas holds no real interest for me? That's not gambling. It's over in a few moments. Try laying a million bucks out in the dirt for six months in the wind and weather. Now that's gambling.
An Open Letter to Felicia Marcus
And all the other state and federal water managers.
By Paul H. Betancourt
April 2016

I have a question for you-

You all don’t seem to take water conservation very seriously- why should we?

After two years of lecturing us about water conservation.
Two years of brown lawns and buckets in our showers state and federal regulators have sent over 872,975 acre feet out to sea!!! That is enough water for over 1.6 million California families for a whole year!!!

Since last summer you have telegraphed the drought wouldn’t be over even if we had an El Nino winter. Actually, that is what it means. Actually, that is what it means. Droughts are when it doesn’t rain. Droughts are over when it starts raining again.

You all favor Australian drought management methods. I think I know why- it uses centralized government command and control. The problem is you guys are not very good at this. Why not take a lesson from the Israelis. Two years ago Prime Minister Netanyahu was in California and suggested Israel had learned some lessons about water management that could help California. From the Governor on down you gave him the cold shoulder. I have visited Israel. They have will about water. They don’t dither and do studies- they get the job done.

J’accuse-You all have mismanaged our water system and we must pay for your politically correct failures.

Do you want a way out? Stop thinking one dimensionally. There are wet years and there are dry years in California. We need to save the water from the wet years like this for the dry years. This isn’t going to happen if you all keep blowing water out to sea.

We need a healthy economy AND a healthy environment. Please try and work on solutions with that in mind. We are at the end of our ropes here. We can’t live with too many more of your mistakes.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Why Fight the Government?

Spring is in the air, or at least the vineyards.
Why Fight the Government?
By Paul H. Betancourt
March 2016

Over the years I have spent a lot of time away from the farm and my family in Sacramento or DC fighting one proposal or another. I am starting to think maybe I have been doing it all wrong. Why fight them? If I am going to spend so much time going to government mandated training session and filling out forms I might as well go to work for them. What was the old ad campaign? “If you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em.”

The nice thing about being a government employee is I would have regular hours, regular pay, benefits and federal holidays. No more fourteen hour days during harvest. No more worrying about paying the employees or if I was going to get paid. How many federal holidays are there? That’s like getting two weeks off during the year. And, no more worrying if Sheryl and I were going to be eating cat food when we retire, or even if we can retire. This idea is looking better and better all the time.
With my experience and years of experience I would be somewhere between a GS-12 and a GS-14. I would be willing to start at the lower end and I sure would appreciate the security.

Now for those of you who this is a ridiculous idea I have one modest request- back off a little bit. Farmers already work 50-60 hours per week. When you add another day or even a half day for yet another training session or wad of forms to fill out, where is that time supposed to come from? How would you like me adding another half day of work to your week? Yeah, not so funny now is it?
On top of that I make my living growing things, not filling out forms. We have lost the idea of the means and the ends. Producing food is the end. Meetings and paperwork are means to the end, not ends in themselves.
I get it, a certain amount of paperwork is needed. Continuing education is an important part of professions such as nursing and there is some benefit for farmers. My concern is the continued encroachment the demand for more and more training and more and more paperwork. If we are going to do this, let’s make it user friendly. Let’s be honest, a lot fo these forms do not conform to logic and plain English. Please remember, you spend all day every day in your paperwork. I might see it once a year. On top of that each bureaucracy has its own system. 

A little history lesson- There are three sections to the Declaration of Independence. The first section says what the Founders are doing. In the second section Jefferson makes the case against the King for abusing their rights. And, in the third section they declare their independence.
Let’s take a look at the second section for a moment. Jefferson has a long list of abuses like taxation without representation. My particular favorite is-

 “He has erected a multitude of New Offices and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.”

Do you see it? In a supposedly free country we are doing the same thing. I have to pay fees to various government agencies so they have the funds to police me for this and that. These government employees have secure jobs, secure benefits, secure retirement and usually no clue what I am doing in the field. One time I had to show an ag inspector what he was supposed to be inspecting.

I don’t know of any of my farming neighbors who would really want to be government employees. But, most of us would appreciate a little slack. We are working our rear ends off in a difficult profession trying to make a living growing food for you all. If you have an idea of how to do my job better please come and show me, instead of threatening me with fines and lawsuits. Or, offer me a job. If you really want to run my farm, let’s nationalize the farms, make me a government employee and let’s see how that works. I don’t think you will like the results because it has never worked anywhere else. China starved thirty million of its people through centrally planned farming. The Soviets had bread lines. The North Koreans can barely feed themselves today. The genius of our system is free people whose prosperity overflows to the benefit of all.

The guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence believed our freedoms were based in a strong system of free and independent farmers. He said-

“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country, and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds.”
(Letter to John Jay August 23, 1785)

I think there is a better solution than farmers becoming government employees, as tempting as that is some days. How about we take a page from Hippocrates when it comes to government- “First do no harm.”

Monday, March 7, 2016

I Took a City Girl to the Farm Show

This always amazes me. A month ago the trees were dormant and now we already have little nutlets.

I have hired a literary agent to help me sell books. She is so 'city' one of her nicknames is "Hollywood." As part of her education I took her to the Farm Show in Tulare last month. I thought you would enjoy hearing what she thought.
For the record, she really liked the ice bream from Superior Dairy. Apparently they don't have ice cream that good in Hollywood. 
Go Superior and COS! 

You Can Teach A City Girl New Tricks
by Dana Kennon
Guest blogger

If you had told me that one day I’d attend the World Ag Expo, I would have asked, “What’s an Ag?”  As a bona fide city girl, my entire exposure to life on the farm had been limited to watching Green Acres and just driving past them on California’s Interstate 5.  We’d pass farm after farm with nice neat rows of green and I’d try to imagine what life was like and why people always said that farming was such a hard life.  I mean, how hard can it be?  You drop seeds into dirt, the rain waters them, workers do the picking and then you get a check, right?

So here I was, riding along in a white pickup truck, waiting in a never-ending line of white pickup trucks to park in a giant field of white pickup trucks to visit my first Ag event, The World Ag Expo in Tulare, California.  Thank God I had a private tour guide, local farmer Paul Betancourt, who was patient enough to also act as Ag expert and farm-speak interpreter. On to the show. 

My first lesson that day… AG BOYS LOVE TOYS and SIZE REALLY DOES MATTER.  As we entered the Expo, we found ourselves face to face with machinery that could comfortably house a family of four.  It was like being in the middle of a Transformers movie.  The tires alone on these mega-contraptions were bigger than my friend’s Manhattan apartment.  Paul showed me the inner workings of one of the enormous hay machines.  These monsters now come complete with air conditioning, a stereo system, GPS, walk-in closets, fully stocked bar, swimming pool and a putting green.  So I thought to myself, if these things can drive along, cut the hay, scoop it up, smoosh it, tie it and then spit it out again in a tidy little bundle, what the heck do farmers do all day?  Have country folk become slackers?  Perhaps the tough part of farming these days was all about the care and feeding of livestock.  So, onto the dairy exhibits…

What I knew about dairy cows you could fit into the head of a pin.  In the MOO section, booth after booth was set up and gizmos and gadgets displayed.  I listened to people speaking in their native tongue, I call it “farm speak” which I understand is only marginally different than “ranch speak”, but it was all Greek to me.  Thank goodness I had that Betancourt automatic translator by my side.

As we worked our way through the crowd I realized the multitude of milking machines displayed began to resemble terrifying mid-evil torture devices.  When curiosity got the better of me, I paused to ask my guide some questions about these wicked looking things and the poor moos that had to endure them.  Not having been a dairy farmer, Paul deferred to the nearest expert, Wilford Brimley.  No, not the real Wilford Brimley, but a great look-alike (you know… the Quaker Oatmeal guy who also starred in Cocoon with the round head and big hairy handlebar mustache).  My question, “When the cow’s utters stop giving, does the machine stop pulling?  Does it stop yanking, squeezing and sucking????  Does it understand NO MORE MEANS NO MORE???  I suddenly realized I was frightening my little Wilford who was attempting to give a polite response while I stood there crossing my arms in front of my chest as if it was Fort Knox.  Apparently I had subconsciously been protecting the little ‘B’ cups the good lord had given me.  Who would have ever thought I’d be empathetic to a cow?

So what did I learn at the Ag Expo?
Forget about, “Neither rain nor sleet nor gloom of night…” you sissy postal workers.  The American farmer is on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through all weather, their spouse’s mood swings and even teenager’s drama.

They have a partnership with God yet they have to compete with Mother Nature and sometimes Mother Nature wins.  So the rest of us, who when we do a good job, follow all the directions and do it on time, we are rewarded, but for farmers, despite their tremendously hard work, it’s a crap shoot.  Every season, every crop and threw every major storm, freeze, and bug disaster they push on.    But, despite these odds, they continue to feed every darn one of us multiple times a day, 365 days a year.  So what did I learn about farmers and AG?  I learned they are truly unsung heroes. 

 God bless them, everyone.