Saturday, March 21, 2015

Consider the Lowly Mango

Consider the Lowly Mango
By Paul H. Betancourt
Copyright June 2012

            There are food activists who want to mandate changes in our food supply. They are concerned about America’s diet, climate change and other things. I understand their concerns. My point is that markets change things with demand from below, not commands from above.
            Consider the lowly mango. Thirty years ago you had to hunt all day to find a mango around here. Now they are two for a dollar at the local grocery store. What changed? Demand changed! There is new demand for mangoes and the system responded. How about ginger? Have you noticed the mounds of ginger in the stores in recent years? Where did that come from? Changing tastes now that we have more new neighbors from India.
            Growers, shippers and marketers make their living selling stuff. They wouldn’t do very well if they tried to produce and sell things people don’t want would they?
            The lesson to be learned is-
            We don’t have to mandate changes to our food supply

            When consumers change what they buy markets will respond.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Taking the Dogs for a Walk

Indy and Toby rather insist we take our morning walks. When I used to run or ride my bike, if I felt sick or it was raining I would skip. Indy and Toby are ready for their morning walk every day, like the old saying goes, "Rain or shine." The upside is I get to see some really nice sunrises. The neighbor's cherries are blossoming this week and this was dawn a few days ago.

When I turned around, this is what I saw in the other direction. 
[My Facebook friends have all seen the second photo, but not the first.]

Meanwhile on the farm we did get the onions watered, so they should start sprouting fast in this weather. The almonds are growing fast. I can see the growth difference compared with the photo I posted last week. And, we got the first pass done working the cotton beds.

 In other news- my book, "This Week on the Farm" will be at All Things Fresno downtown starting Monday. Tell a friend.

I hope you all have a great week.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Beautiful Sight on the Farm

It is hard for me to tell you how good that looks to me. These are the almonds we planted behind our house last month. They are sprouting and they are gorgeous. These trees will be here for the next twenty years and they are off to a good start.

Spring is in the air. I noticed while walking with the dogs this morning that Herr Mocking Bird has settled into the back yard. I don't mind his endless chatter, except in the early morning. I also saw the first Tri-Colored Blackbirds in the wheat fields. I look forward to their visit more than the visit of Herr Mocking Bird. Unfortunately the Blackbirds will only be here until early summer. Herr Mocking Bird will be singing to us until nearly winter.

Elsewhere on the farm we have started working cotton beds. We could be planting in a month. The onions are in and we started the water. We are trying something new. Instead of using sprinklers we are trying to germinate the onions with the drip system. It could save even more water.

The wheat is about three weeks ahead of normal. That is good news, I guess. I pulled leaf samples to adjust fertilizer. The problem is how to decide what the results mean. If I read the results by the calendar date then we are high. If I read the results by the plant condition then we are about right on the nose.

I hope you all have a great week!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Failure of Politics

   With the chance of rain a lot of farmers were spraying fungicides this week. Almond blossoms are very delicate. The frost the beginning of the week is enough to toast some blooms. Wet weather causes mold and fungus. Bees don't fly in windy and wet weather.

It's always something. We need the rain, but when it comes this time of year it has consequences.

Speaking of rain...the Feds announced zero allocation for water deliveries this year. That reminds me of the story about the two French Foreign Legionnaires. They are deep in the desert and their canteens are empty. One looks at the other and says, "What do we do now Pierre? 
(Think phonetically- "Pee air." Ba dump bump)

We can control for some things, but not everything. Most fungicides are copper based, and many are used for organic production.

In other news-
   The onions are mostly in. They didn't quite finish. That will get done on Monday and we will start stringing sprinkler lines. There is more rain on the way. If we do this right we will not have to run sprinklers at all.

The op-ed below is not quite a 'farm' piece. But, sadly farmers spend a lot of time involved in politics. Something finally struck me last summer. As much as I like politics, politics has its limits.

The Failure of Politics
By Paul H. Betancourt
Copyright March 2015

The Failure of Politics from the 60’s.

            There was a lot of optimism in the 60’s. There were also a lot of drugs in the 60’s and there may be a connection her, but I digress.

            I have lived with the naive idea that my daughter lives in a world with more opportunity than her grandmothers had. She is a bright and beautiful young women and rising in her profession.  Recently I was talking with my niece, another bright and beautiful young woman. She is finishing her degree in engineering at one of our fine state universities. She was telling me that if one professor can tell you are a woman while grading papers the highest grade possible for that female student will be a ‘B’. What? This is a professor at one of our politically correct universities! How can this happen? The university knows it is happening, but they can’t fire him because he is tenured. They hire extra teaching assistants so he can’t mark down the women in his class.
            There is so much wrong in this situation it is hard to know where to begin. First, tenure was given to protect academic freedom, not allow people to be sexist piggies. Second, what is the bureaucracies solution to this problem? Hire more staff. Third, how can this kind of blatant sexism exist in an institution like a state university with all of its high minded rhetoric about equality. If this happened in some Midwestern private school politically correct Californians would mock them for being behind the times. It is happening here and now in the People’s Republic of California.

            Lest we think this is an isolated incident, I mentioned this story to some young professional women I know and they started with their own stories of sexism in the workplace. I thought we had dealt with these issues a generation ago.

            Wherever you stand on the issue of what happened in Ferguson, Missouri last summer, it is obvious racial tensions are high in our country.

Recently former President Clinton was quoted as saying racial and gender issues are dividing the nation. You don’t need a PhD in political science to see that. But, hasn’t government been at the forefront of dealing with these issues for decades?

The War on Poverty was declared by President Johnson in 60’s and we now have 47 million people on food stamps. [Excuse me, they are EBT cards which you can use at fast food joints, but don’t get me started.]

Matters of the Heart

What does work are basic civil liberties and basic civil rights. What does not work is socializing society. It hasn’t worked here and it hasn’t worked in Europe.

These issues are issues of morality and faith and they cannot be addressed by politics. We have tried to take faith out of the equation but that has not worked either. These are moral issues that will never be solved by mere politics.

            We were going to end racism, and we did legally. But, we are still as segregated a country as we ever were. Racial tensions in some areas are still high.
            We were going to make equality an issue and yet forty years after passage of the first equal pay law we are still arguing about equal pay.
            The War on Poverty has been going on for almost fifty years and we have more people than ever on food stamps, or excuse me, EBT cards.

            What does work in politics are basic civil liberties and basic civil rights. What has not worked is social engineering. Not that we haven’t tried. The reason is basic civil liberties and basic civil rights are definable and enforceable. Prejudice and equality are matters of the heart and mind. You cannot force a change of heart.

            Emile Durkheim, the founder of the academic discipline of sociology, famously said, “If men are moral, no laws are necessary. If men are not moral, then no laws are sufficient.”

            It is an axiom of public policy that you cannot legislate morality. It is an axiom we ignore, but there is a lot of truth to this idea. We cannot legislate morality because morality is an issue of the heart.

            We are trying to take religion out of the public arena. I understand how religion has been a divisive issue over time. But, that fact is the solutions to our societal issues will not be found in politics. These are matters of the heart, these are matters of who we are. In faith we can find the better angels of our nature.
            In faith we can see our common humanity. Without faith we forget we are children of the same God. If we can start from the point of our common humanity we can rebuild our social fabric.
            Of course there are those who say that religion is a source of problems not solutions. I agree, that is why I use the word ‘faith’, instead of religion. In addition, take a quick peak back at 20th Century history. There were numerous attempts in different countries and cultures and they were each complete disasters in terms of social equality and peace. The Soviet government killed over 25 million of its own people. The Nazis exterminated those it considered ‘other’. The Chinese communists plowed over the lives of its own people.


If Politics is Not the Answer…

We Have Not Lived Up to Dr. King’s Dream           

     What Lincoln said to a nation at the brink of civil war can be said today,

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature
Mere politics cannot live up to Dr. King’s dream. The Founding Fathers set up a framework for basic freedom from government and opportunity, but we have to work out the details. We cannot legislate better race relations anymore than we can legislate a good marriage or a good neighborhood. A generation ago Dr. King shared his dream-
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!

            The news of the past year makes it clear we have not lived up to Dr. King’s Dream. We still have work to do. Will you join me?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Well, Spring Was in the Air...

Dad always said you could hear the suitcase latches snapping shut when the East Coast was having snow and the sun was shining in California. The poor folks in Boston were getting pounded...again while our almonds were blooming.
   It has been nice and we have been getting some chores done, like painting equipment, that we normally cannot get done this time of year.

While hate to complain---I really wish the almonds wouldn't bloom this early. There is still bad weather ahead and our little almond blossoms are tender. If it gets cold the bees won't fly. If it gets wet, fungus and mold will try to kill those blossoms before we really get going.

But, here we are. It has been nice. We will adapt, innovate and overcome when the weather changes.

Meanwhile, we will be replanting some trees this week. The onions should get planted...finally. If it stays dry we will start working cotton beds in a week, It is only five or six weeks until planting time...depending on the weather.

I hope you all have a great week.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Bee Pastures and Three Strikes for the Choo Choo

If I hadn't seen it myself I wouldn't believe it. As I drove to Mendota on Monday I passed these wildflowers alongside the road. I was reminded of John Muir's description of the Valley floor as Bee Pastures in the Spring. (If you haven't read Muir's "Mountains of California I would recommend you put it on your reading list. It is delightful.)
What I couldn't believe is when I drove by on Friday---they were already gone. That was quick.

The week was so full I didn't even make it down to the Farm Show. Droughts are bad for the water supply, but great for getting work done. We have been servicing equipment in the shop. Ruben finished rebuilding the front end of a small tractor we use in the orchard. We also got the forklift serviced.
   That forklift sure is handy. We bought it used last year. In the past few weeks we unloaded a dozen bins for the planting at the house. And, last week I unloaded four pallets of cinder block. That was a lot more fun with a forklift than it would have been by hand.

   The almonds have been watered and fertilized. The newly planted almonds have gotten a little extra tender loving care. We hand fertilized them with some phosphate and humic acid to help their roots grow. ( I have a friend who is a retired agronomist and he recommends humic acid for everything. It is full of all sorts of organic goodies and it does make things grow. I asked Rod if there were any limits to this miracle treatment. Both of us are going bald and the bad news is that humic acid will not be helping with that. But, it does a great job on plant roots. )

I am going to be stepping on the toes of some friends here, but I call 'em as I see them.

Three Strikes for the Choo Choo
By Paul H. Betancourt
Copyright February 2015

            I like trains. I travel by train to visit my family in San Diego. I wish it was a three hour trip instead of an eight hour ride. That being said, I can no longer support high speed rail. I supported it ten years ago when it was a $30 billion dollar project. Then it went to $100B and back down to $65B. I suspect that $65B number will grow. But, that is not why I reluctantly withdraw my support. I have three main problems with high speed rail, and in baseball it’s three strikes and you’re out

Strike One: Eminent Domain
            Eminent domain doesn’t mean much to most people. But, I hope at least you can understand that when you threaten a farmer’s land you are threatening his livelihood. For the record, I do not have land near the high speed rail corridor. But, there are a lot of people who are surprised by the strong negative reaction from farmers on this issue. We are a pretty patriotic bunch and we generally support the greater good. But, it is fairly obvious the government does not have our confidence on this project. When you threaten people’s means of making a living with the blunt force of eminent domain you should expect a reaction like this. (If, on the other hand, they wanted to build a canal, we might even donate the land.)
            Please remember, the Founding Father’s had read John Locke who said the purpose of government was to protect “life, liberty and property.” Instead of protecting our property our government is taking our property and with it our means to make our living.

Strike Two: What You Can Get for 10% of the Cost of a Choo Choo

            For less that 10 cents on the dollar I can help every Californian. The cost of the high speed rail is supposed to be $65B. I’ll ignore the likelihood of cost over runs. Even if it comes in on budget and on time, it will help relatively few Californians---at a cost of $65B! I can help every man, woman and child; every farm and every business in California for the bargain price of $5Billion. All we have to do is fix the water system! We can increase water storage and reliability for a fraction of the cost of high speed rail.

Strike Three: The Price of a Train Ticket            
              The other problem on cost will be the cost of a ticket. My wife road the bullet train in Japan and it was the cost of an airline ticket. Are people really going to live in the Valley and commute to the Bay Area or LA if they have to pay the equivalent of an airline ticket every day? How many jobs pay enough for that? One advocate told me that was OK since it would be more convenient than an airplane ride since we won’t have to go through airport security. Isn’t $65B a high price for that kind of convenience?

There Are Even More Issues-
            These three strikes don’t even include serious issues like conflict of interest, or incomplete funding. Should Senator Feinstein’s husband’s company even be eligible to bid on a government contract?
            How can we start a project if this size without all the funding in place? Either we will throw money down a rat hole that gets’ stopped part way, or we’ll be held hostage with the logic, “ It’s already half done, we only need X billion dollars to finish. The Governor often reminds us he was once a seminarian. Did he remember to read Luke 14:28-33?

            High speed rail would be nice. If I could afford a ticket I would ride it. I just think we have to put first things first. A water supply might not be sexy, new and exotic for our politicians, but without a stable farm sector can California ever really be strong? Let’s secure our foundation before we start building expensive trinkets that will only benefit a few. As I see it, three strikes and you’re out.

I hope you all have a great week.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Speaking the Truth to Power

Speaking the Truth to Power-2010
by Paul H. Betancourt
copyright January 2010

            For a generation liberals and progressives have protested just about everything with the battle cry that they were, “Speaking the truth to power.” You may have noticed recently that liberals and progressives are the ones in power in Sacramento and DC and things are not going real well. It is time to use their tactic against them. As a citizen, a taxpayer and a conservative I would like to speak some truth to those in power today.

            Let’s start with a reminder-the country is pretty well split down the middle. Neither party in this country has a majority. A significant number of voters are independent. Neither party has a mandate for anything- except the people’s business. Stop acting like the voters have you given you a mandate to carry out your agenda.

            Speaking of agendas- would you please stop blowing all our tax dollars on your pet projects. We pay our taxes at the barrel of a gun and we expect our tax dollars to be spent on things like good roads. Y’all squander our tax dollars trying to buy votes or appease the special interests. Then you come back to us saying you have to raise taxes to pay for schools and public safety. Knock it off! Don’t start releasing jail inmates while you ring your hands and tell us the only alternative is raising taxes.
            You already take over 40% of our income. The sales taxes alone are approaching ten percent. This is ridiculous. And that Oliver Wendell Holmes quote about, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization,” does not mean you have a blank check. Our tax dollars are a trust and a responsibility you have on the part of the citizens of the United States. Please treat our tax dollars with respect and restraint. We work hard to earn those dollars.

            You were elected by us to represent us, not the special interests. Look, I have been involved in politics long enough that I know the pressure you are under. You have to raise money to get elected and re-elected. You have people coming at you constantly with this or that issue. Please keep your eye on the ball. This is still a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.” The people are looking for statesman- leaders who look at the big picture. Why are statesmen and women so hard to find? Because, too many elected leaders have forgotten they are elected to serve all the people,  not just the special interests.

            Don’t politicize everything- just because you are in politics 24/7 doesn’t mean the rest of us are. President Obama promised his daughters a dog. That was not a an invitation to start a national dialogue on animal shelters or spaying and neutering. It was a promise from a father to his little girls. Heck, even the Mafia leaves the family out of their fights.
            One problem of politicizing everything is it shows how out of touch you are with most people. The average American spends their day going to work and taking care of their family. If they are real community minded they might coach a little league team or volunteer at the kid’s school. Politics is something they think about every two to four years when elections come up. As political animals you are in almost constant campaign mode. You see everything in the light of the next election. Knock it off. What is good for your next election is making the right decisions for you constituents today. The elections will take care of themselves.

            While I am at it I need to rewind and take a shot at our Republican friends. You had the House, the Senate and White House. You had the keys of power, and you gave us the Abramoff Scandal? That’s it? One of the reasons Obama, Pelosi and Reid are where they are is that we did have not have conservative Republican values in operation when you were in control. Now you have to work up hill to gain a measure of control again before you can implement your ideas.

            I can go on, but I am running out of space. You get the idea. To those of you who are in power right now- things are not going well. Ten percent unemployment is not a good thing. We don’t see you offering solutions. We see you bickering among yourselves. Knock it off.