Saturday, April 19, 2014

Something to Think About

   Well, it's been one of those weeks. We started irrigating the oats on Monday and late Monday afternoon the electric meter burned up. The electrician and the lady from PG&E were great, but it still took until late Friday morning to get the pump going again. Arrrgh.
The oats are heading out, and they look beautiful. The cotton is coming out of the ground and that looks beautiful too. The warm weather sure helps make for healthy little cotton seedlings.

    I thought I would share some famous quotes on agriculture with you. The last one is especially important in light of our water situation in California. I am hearing too many activists, politicians and reporters who think farming is optional

            “When tillage begins the other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization.”
            Daniel Webster

            “No other occupation opens so wide a field for the profitable and agreeable combination of labor with cultivated thought as agriculture.
            Let us hope that by the best cultivation of the physical world, beneath and around us, and the intellectual and moral worlds within us, we shall secure an individual, social and political prosperity and happiness, whose course shall be onward and upward and which, while the earth endures, shall not pass away.”

         Abraham Lincoln
          Address to the Wisconsin Agricultural Society
          September 30, 1859

            “Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are toed to their country, and wedded to its liberty and interests by lasting bonds.”

             Thomas Jefferson
              Letter to John Jay
              August 23, 1785

 “I am one of the class of people that feeds you all, and at present is abus’d by you all; in short I am a Farmer.”
         Ben Franklin
         On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor
“The cultivation of the earth is the most important labor of man. Unstable is the future of the country which has lost its taste for agriculture. If there is one lesson of history that is unmistakable, it is national strength lies very near the soil.”

             Daniel Webster

            “It is the marriage of the soul with Nature that makes the intellect fruitful, and gives birth to imagination.”

              Henry David Thoreau

            “Of all the occupations from which gain is secured, there is none better than agriculture, nothing more productive, nothing sweeter, nothing more worthy of a free man.”

              Marcus Tullius Cicero
              106-43 B.C.

“Sometime in the future, when all the accomplishments of the 20th century are recorded for posterity, it will finally be acknowledged that our greatest achievement by far has been the introduction of high-tech, high-yield agriculture. Measured in terms of benefit to human society, an adequate diet of nutritious, abundant and affordable food eclipses all other developments of this most remarkable century. Neither computer technology nor transistors, robotics, advances in communication and transportation, life saving antibiotics and modern medicine, nuclear energy, synthetics, plastics and the entire petrochemical industry rank as high in importance as the advances in food production. And all these other wonderful breakthroughs probably would not have happened without a well fed population.”
    Dixie Lee Ray            Environmental Overkill

            “Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons,
            It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.”

            Walt Whitman
            Song of the Open Road

            “Farmers are the only people I know that buy high, sell low and pay freight in both directions.”

              John F. Kennedy

            “If you want to behold a truly religious man in action, go to Fresno and watch a farmer watering his trees, vines and plants.”
              William Saroyan

            “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from a cornfield.”
                Dwight D. Eisenhower

“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.”
                William Jennings Bryan
                Cross of Gold Speech

                Democratic National Convention
                July 8, 1896

Blessings this Easter.


Friday, April 11, 2014

It's not just about WATER...

   That's my boy! Indy loves running through the oats every morning. There is always something new to smell. He looks like a black dolphin diving through a sea of green when he gets into the tall oats.

   We got the cotton planted this week. We have never had conditions like this. The soil temps are up over nine degrees since Monday morning. The cotton is sprouting fast. We are knocking the caps off already. It will be a long season and I won't relax until the last bale is picked and ginned. But, we are off to a good start.
   You can see the oats. The wheat is started heading out and is already starting to fill with milk. It is a beautiful sight. This weeks warm weather is a reminder that this month's green wheat fields will start turning golden by the end of next month.
   There was a little hiccup in the orchard. They were supposed to finish installing the drip system this week while we were off planting cotton. The original order for the drip lines was lost. Short end to the story: New drip line has been ordered and is supposed to be installed next week. I will keep you posted. 

Reason 10 in my book, "Ten Reasons:Finding Balance on Environmental Issues is about natural resources.

Reason Ten: Natural Resources

#10-I’ll start believing San Francisco environmentalists when they stop taking their drinking water from a national park.

               This chapter is about more than water. What is at issue is             the use of natural resources. In the American West one of               the largest natural resource issues is water; water
            for farms and water for cities. There are other natural                       resource issues we must address on a national and global                 scale such as; coal, natural gas, timber and even rock                       quarried for road construction.

       One of the biggest ironies in environmental policy, that I              have personally experienced, is that San Francisco takes                  over eighty one billion gallons of water out of a                                national park, transports it hundreds of miles across our                    valley, uses it once and flushes it out to the ocean. Then I                have had San Francisco environmental attorneys lecture                  me about water conservation and how if we were more                    careful with our water supply we wouldn’t have the water                quality issues we have in our valley.  Unbelievable. I could              solve some real water quality issues here in the San                          Joaquin Valley if I could have that quarter
             million acre feet that San Francisco uses to utilize our                      area...

                 Natural resource issues are important to all of us, even if              you have never been on a farm. Because we all have a                      stake in natural resource issues it is important we pay
            attention and get them right. This is important public                       policy and we have this amazing
            system of self-government where we have a say in what                   happens...

                 I digress a bit, but my point is to highlight the                              importance of what is at stake. Water policy is not just a                  fight between the farmers and the environmentalists, water
             policy is not just a California or Western issue. Water                      policy is not, in a real sense merely an American issue. If                we can get water policy in California right we not only
             solve the problem on my farm, we have also created a                      model of natural resource use for the whole world.

It is ironic and scary that there was an editorial in this week's San Jose newspaper calling for the state control of groundwater through regulation. What gets me is that the same people who took away our surface water now want to take away our groundwater.  The only solutions they offer are cutting off our means of production and raising taxes.When will they think of something new? If they win how am I going to farm? and where are you going to get your food? We have to find a better way to manage our natural resources!

If you are interested, you can find the book on and Barnes and Nobles website. Locally A Clovis Book Barn and Barnes and Nobles carry the book.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

If They Really Believed in Climate Change...

   OK, don't panic. Yes, that is a prayer. No, it is not spraying evil pesticides. It is an experiment in nutrition.
   The land where our main orchard is, is pretty rough dirt. I friend calls it, "Dragon excrement." We have been reclaiming it form alkali for years, but the trees still struggle. So, we are trying something new. We are pulling leaf samples for analysis, then we are applying foliar nutrients. This way the nutrients go straight into the plant, instead of the dirt where the roots have to wrestle it out of tough ground. It is expensive. First, we bought a used sprayer. Then foliar fertilizers are the most expensive way to fertilize. But, this dirt is so tough it is going to take extreme measures to make these fields as productive as they can be.

Now back to my opening title- If they really believe in climate dear environmental friends have some choices to make.

First- if they really believe in climate change they should support building more reservoirs in California. Our precipitation will not becoming in the form of snow. When it comes in rainfall it will rush down the mountainsides, into the rivers and out to the oceans faster than ever. So we need reservoirs to do the job snow did before and capture some of that rainfall for our thirsty cities and farms.

Second- if I understand correctly, the number one remedy to climate change is to lower our carbon emissions. When it comes to food, activists want us to buy food grown within a few hundred miles of where it was grown instead of shipping water all over the planet. Guess what? Where can you grow food within a few hundred miles of the millions of people who live in the Bay Area and Southern California? That’s right! Here in the Valley!

So, if they really believe in climate change, environmental friends should be helping farmers get more water, not strangling us slowly. But, I suspect they have other concerns.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

How Much Water Is In YOUR Food?

How water goes into your food?
According to Mother Jones, not known for being a pro-Ag website, says it takes 1.1 gallons of water to grow ONE almond. That is one almond, not one pound of almonds! And, we eat a lot of almonds.
 You can look it up on the February 24, 2014 article in Mother Jones.
   The article also shows how one tomato takes 3.3 gallons of water to produce and a head of broccoli takes 5.3 gallons of water to produce. Other sources show it takes 8 gallons of water to produce a single orange.
     Look at it this way, one report shows it takes over 4,500 gallons of water to produce ONE lunch of a hamburger, fries and a soda. We can argue the merits of that choice for lunch, but the point is over 30 million Californians had lunch today! That is a lot of water and that is only one meal on one day!

   You can take a food and water quiz on the US Geological Survey website-
   Can you figure out how much water each of those items take?

   Now one thing the Mother Jones article misses is the consequences of our short-sighted policies. The writers in Mother Jones say, Oh Well, that food production will just move to other states. Really? If they could grow what we grow wouldn't they already be doing it?
    We have talked before about how the San Joaquin Valley has one of five Mediterranean growing areas in the world, and the only one in North America. If we do not solve this problem, and solve it fast, we are not going to export our food production to Kansas, we are going to export our food production, those jobs and control of our food supply overseas.
   The bottom line is we all have a stake in solving our water issues. This is not an Ag problem only.
    Farmers are not the end users of the irrigation water we use. If you eat in California you are part of the equation. We are all in this together.

Monday, March 24, 2014

"Droughts may not be avoidable, but their affects can be." Dr. Amartya Sen. 1998 Nobel Prize in Economics

It has been another beautiful Spring week here one the farm. The neighbor's cherries have been blooming. You know what that means? Fresh cherries in a couple of months! That will be nice.

I want to follow up on something I said in my Open Letter to the President last month. The 1998 Nobel Prize for Economics was won by an Indian economist named Amartya Sen, who for proving that governments cause famines. You read that right-governments starve their people to death by bad policy.
   I wrote about this in my book, Ten Reasons: Finding Balance on Environmental Issues. Dr. Sen showed, at a world class level, how government policies mis-managed food and natural resource policy and managed to kill their own people in the slowest possible. I bring it up in Ten Reasons to show the importance of our government policy. There is a lot at stake here.
   I bring it up here because what Dr. Sen said about applies to what we are going through in California right now. Dr. Sen writes, "Droughts may not be avoidable, but their affects can be." Remember, this is not some political hack. This guy won a Nobel Prize in Economics for his research on this.
   Here is a link to Dr. Sen's Nobel Acceptance Speech.

 The title of his speech is "The Possibility of Social Choice."He talks about how poverty and famine are related and they are social choices. Well, we have some choices to make about our water policy. Our current policy is crippling our economy and is not helping the environment. We allowed ourselves to get trapped in an either/or scenario. In my book Ten Reasons I make the point we need a healthy environment and a healthy economy. We are dangerously close to having neither.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Water, Water everywhere, but not a drop to...iririgate.

The most common questions I get asked these days are about how the drought is affecting our farm. I appreciate your concern. It is beginning to look like this year's blog is going to be focused on the drought and its consequences. To that end I will try to give you front line reporting on this 'epic' drought.

One surprise has been that the nearby Tranquillity Irrigation District was cut off by the state about ten days ago. This was a surprise because they have per-1914 water rights which are among the most secure water rights in California. A director for the district told me someone is Sacramento said, 'the cities need the water.' Wow! I tell my students that water goes to votes. This proves that.

This is going to be a problem in Tranquility. They can sue. But, as one farmer said, "by the time this is settled in court we'll be broke." The immediate problem is that some crops have already been planted. Fields have been prepared for planting. Hundreds of dollars per acre of tractor work, water and fertilizer have been invested in anticipation of this Spring's planting. [Note- one of the reasons our goofy government policies are hard to live with is farmers have to make decisions months ahead of time. I can't wait until April to plant a cotton crop. I have to prep ground and order seed months ahead of time. More about that in a future post.]
   Tranquility Irrigation District only has enough wells for about 40% of its ground. So, 60% of the district will have to be fallowed. How many jobs will be lost? How much food and fiber will not be produced? How much work wasted? The co-op cotton gin is looking at a ten thousand bale loss of production. Remember, this is one small district. Multiply this across the heart of California's farm country.

The bureaucrat's comment, "the cities need the water." reminded me of my first op-ed, twenty years ago. Here are some excerpts-

Water Supply is Everyone's Concern
by Paul H. Betancourt
The Fresno Bee
October 12, 1993

   Before we try to solve California's water problems by taking water from farmers, we must ask ourselves, "Who is the end user of agricultural water?...
   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...
   There are three ingredients to any sane water policy in California:
   First, we must conserve what water we have...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 [developed] water, we cannot solve our water problems if only agriculture conserves water.
   Second, we must develop our water supplies to meet the needs of our growing population. California has grown fifty percent we built out last reservoir. We cannot let a minority environmental activist community continue to cripple appropriate water development. We must solve present problems and prepare for the future.
   Finally. we must deal with the issue of water transfers. Many in the urban and environmental community see this as a cure-all for supply problems. Many rural people are scared that productive areas such as the San Joaquin Valley are going to be stripped of the Owens Valley...Water-rights holders must not be robbed of these 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.

Did you see the date of this piece. Maybe Solomon was right and there is "nothing new under the sun." Here we are twenty years older and no closer to a solution.

See Y'all next week.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Spring is in the Air

   It amazes me each Spring how the orchards go from dormant to full bloom to leafing out in the matter of a few weeks.
   Can you see the little nut lets? Look and the little red crown area. That is where the flower petals were. When the flowers are fertilized by pollen from the bees they start forming the little buds that will become yummy almonds. You can imagine how fragile these little nuts can be. They can still be crushed by frost. If it was raining they would be susceptible to molds and funguses, fungi? Hat is why we are constantly watching our fields and watching the weather.

   In this picture you can see a honey bee at work. They really like warm, sunny weather so they have been busy as...bees this week.

  The fields were pretty wet after last weekend's rains. I'm not complaining. We need rain so bad, we'll take it any time. The wheat and the oats loved the rain. They are lush and green with a fresh drink of water and some fresh fertilizer. We just had to change gears on some of work this week. We put some replants in an old field of almonds and killed some weeds. We will finish pre-irrigating the cotton ground this coming week.

Man Does Not Live on Cheese Puffs Alone-I
By Paul H. Betancourt
Copyright January 2014

            Have you ever noticed the common ingredients in most diets? Eat well and exercise. It is that simple. Talking with a regional rep for a pharmaceutical company a while back he said they would lose seventy five percent of their business if we would just follow those two simple rules- eat well and exercise.

            The obesity epidemic doesn’t have much to do with food as it leaves the farm. Food is healthy when it leaves the farm. When we turn corn in to cheese puffs or potatoes into chips is when we start to have a problem.

            Michael Pollen, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has three simple rules for eating well: “eat real food, not too much, mostly fruits and vegetables.” That is great news for the Valley. We grow real food and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.

            We humans were not designed to live on cheese puffs. Please don’t get me wrong, I love cheese puffs, and those little donuts with the white powder coating, but a steady diet of that stuff will kill you. Enjoy a treat once in a while. But, please remember-the road to health is eating well and a little exercise.
    My neighbors and I can help, we love growing fresh fruits and vegetables for you all.