Saturday, May 23, 2015

How Much Water Do We Consume in Our Food- Part II

First I'll give you an update on last week's Death of Common Sense Experience.

 I cleared the first hurdle. Our home is on Williamson Act ground, which protects farmland. The Williamson Act people liked my letter. I had to certify we owned the house and the solar project was for our home and not as a commercial project. Of course my signature was not enough,the letter had to be notarized. But, now they say we can put up the solar system. Yay.

Hoop Two-The cargo container is now earth quake proof. We got the footing and the man door in. So, I went to finish the permit. Then they told me I have to submit a letter and a site plan. WHY DIDNT MENTION THAT WHEN I WAS IN LAST WEEK? Geez. So, I have to go back on Tuesday.

So far I have about ten hours and a few hundred dollars into this.
I'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, back at our water consumption-

The state of California is arguing about the couple of hundred gallons of water we use in our homes each day. Apparently we now shaming people about lawns. Geez.

Below is a link for calculating your personal water use.

I suspect I may disagree with these folks on some things, but I support careful water use.  This is a worthwhile effort.
   You will need one piece of information. The magic number is 264. There are 264 gallons per cubic meter.

There is another number to remember- 800 gallons per person per day to produce your food. That number is from the UN Food and Agricultural Organization.
     Again, we are going quibbling over a couple of hundred gallons per day for our lawns. That is not the issue. In California we have a water system designed for 19 million people and we now have 38 million people. There are not enough low flow toilets to solve this problem. We need 800 gallons of water per person per day just to produce our food! We need a larger and more stable water supply.

Hope you all have a good week.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Death of Common Sense

I wish I could tell you how pretty this is to me as a farmer, watching the cotton pop up in rows. We worry and pray during planting seasons because we really only have one shot. Sure, we can replant if there are problems, but it would never be the same. Getting a good start is critical to making a good crop. There are so many variables, so many things that can go wrong that are out of my hands. This view is the morning after the recent rain and hail storms passed. Rain is no problem, but just a little bit of hail can crush seedlings at this tender stage. So, it is really nice to see them happy and strong.

This week I had another ‘Death of Common Sense’ experience.
Paul H. Betancourt
May 2015

We are trying to put solar on our home. As part of the permit process the County found out I have a cargo container in back of the house. We put is out there years ago when I got tired of the garage being cluttered with farm tools and supplies. There is no water or electricity to it. The county says we need a permit AND we have to make it EARTH QUAKE PROOF. Take a look at the picture. It is eight feet high and eight feet wide. Any earthquake that rolls that over will leave California about six inches tall.

            Not only do I have to make it earth quake proof, which will take about a half a day and four sacks of cement, I have to install a ‘man door.” I don’t really object to the man door. That would be handy. I have just been too cheap to do it for my convenience. Yes, I really am that cheap. What got me was there is an exemption for the ‘man door.’ Take a look.

Can you see where it says there is an exemption if your door does not close automatically and you have ventilation? Well, our door does not lock automatically and it does have the appropriate ventilation. When I brought that up all they could say was, “it has to open from the inside.” OK, that makes sense. But, their paper work does not say that. It says, ‘automatically lock .’ They just dug in their heels.  SMH. I keep telling Sheryl I come from that funny world where words mean things. Apparently the permit department does not come from there.

I’ll put in the door, dig the footings and jump through all the hoops. But, can you see why we get a little cynical and skeptical about the system? I was prepared to go down and pay a permit fee and be cheesed off about that. Now I have to spend a few hundred dollars and at least a half day’s worth of work to no real end.

Phillip Howard wrote a book years ago titled, “The Death of Common Sense.” He illustrates case after case like this. My favorite was when New York City drove Mother Teresa out of town because they insisted she put an elevator in a building that would never get used. The nuns would use the stairs and the clients would never go upstairs. New York City insisted on the elevator. Mother Teresa wouldn’t waste the money and she left. Don’t you think New York would rather have the Sisters of Charity doing their good works for the poor rather than have us tell this story decades later?

OK, rant over. I hope you all have a great week.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Farmers As An Endangered Species

It is hard for me to tell you how good this looks to me as a farmer. 
For over twenty years we had trees around the house. A year and a half ago we took them down. Last year we had open ground as we let the ground rest. In February we planted these trees and it looked soooooo much better just having sticks in the ground. Now they are growing out. It is looking more like an orchard every day.

Farmers As An Endangered Species
By Paul H. Betancourt
Copyright July, 2012
                  I’d like to talk about another endangered species—our farmers.
            There are fewer and fewer of us every year. For example, this past year dozens of dairies in our area have been squeezed out.  And, while I hate to admit it, some of us are getting older. Many of our kids have looked at what we do for a living and said, “No thank you!”
            One of the biggest surprises my last year as Farm Bureau president were the number of academics, politicians, regulators and journalists who said, “If we can’t grow our own food, we’ll just import what we need.” Seriously? We’re over a barrel importing oil, Do we really want to import our food too? These are the same guys who say they support family farmers and want to make farming harder by piling on new rules and regs for this and that.

            Farmers don’t need much—just an opportunity. If we see a chance to farm and keep our noses above water we will work our fannies off. But, right now, the mix of increased regulations and tight economics make farmers an endangered species.

This piece was written three years ago. Since then more farmers have gone out of business. Tens of thousands of acres have been fallowed with the drought.
   The one thing I would add to this piece is the story of one of our neighbor families. The father went to high school with Sheryl's Dad. His three sons farmed with him. They were good farmers. Thirty years ago they looked at what was happening and made a decision as a family. They quit farming. 
   Two sons went into law enforcement and one went into education. The eldest has already retired with a secure pension. That is something he would not have done at this age, if ever, if he stayed farming.
   I can't argue with this family's choice. They made the right choice for themselves. But, look what happened to the rest of us. They went from being producers and taxpayers to government jobs. No, there is nothing wrong with government jobs. But, can you see the difference? We lost some good people who otherwise would have been increasing prosperity for all of us. Just another example of farmers as an endangered species.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Real Value of Farming to California's Economy

Yes, it is cherry season in our neighborhood. While last week's rain was welcome, it cost the cherry growers dearly. Any rain near harvest is a problem. The cherries will split because of the moisture. One neighbor figures he lost 10% of his crop.
   We need the rain so bad we will take rain anywhere, any time. But, please remember that someone is harvesting something every day in Fresno County. So the answer is- rain will affect someone's crop.

The Real Value of Farming to California’s Economy
By Paul H. Betancourt

            There has been a fair amount of chatter the last few weeks that agriculture is only 2% of California’s economy. It looks like they want to say if Ag dries up and blows away it will be no big deal. Really? If we stop making surf boards there may be some disappointed surfers, but everyone will get fed. If we stop growing food…

When I was Fresno Farm Bureau president UC Davis came out with a report that 1 in 3 jobs in the Valley were directly related to Ag; 1 in 10 jobs state wide. A recent UC Davis report says the number is 6.7% of jobs state wide are directly related to Ag. What would happen if those jobs were lost? UC Davis reports there are over 450,000 jobs in Southern California alone that are directly related to Ag. What would happen to the So Cal economy if another 450,000 people lose their jobs?

            As I said a few weeks ago, Farming is not an optional industry. At the risk of repeating myself, once again here is an 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.”

Look up the details yourself. You can find the data at-

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Killing the Goose That Lays the Golden Eggs?

Well, the onions are coming along. Boy, is that slow. I'm used to cotton. If you don't have cotton up in two weeks you are in deep trouble.
Speaking of cotton- it's up. Yay! The mornings have been cool, so it has taken a little longer than the last two years. But, the roots are healthy. We are off and running.

Here is another piece from the archives. This was published in the Fresno Bee in June of 2003. The only edits I made were taking out a paragraph on trade and workers comp. I think it stands the test of time. What do you think?

Killing the Goose That Lays the Golden Eggs
By Paul H. Betancourt
Copyright June 6, 2003

            The old child’s tale reminds us how the foolish king killed the goose that laid the golden eggs. I think many of the critics of modern agriculture have forgotten that lesson.
            While there are fair and legitimate concerns about farming we often forget the amazing benefits of farming. Fewer and fewer of us are required today to grow food for more and more people. Fewer than 2 percent of our population grow enough food for the other 98 percent and still leave a large surplus for exporting.
            Much of this amazing increase comes from harnessing science and technology. New varieties of seeds and plants have increased production. New chemistry in pesticides and herbicides increase productivity and are gentler on the environment. New computers and technology in tractors and farm equipment increase productivity in the field, use less fuel and help air quality. New management and techniques increase productivity in livestock and dairy production.
            Yet there are many critics of modern agriculture, some legitimate and some not so. The potential burden of some of the proposed policy changes are enough to radically change the face of agriculture and none of them will increase productivity. In creasing productivity is the key to farming’s future prosperity just as it is the key for any other business.
            An ongoing problem is our well intentioned regulations and environmental policy. Yes, government has the right and responsibility to protect the common good through regulation. But, that has to be balanced. We don’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.  It is business and labor that create jobs and wealth, not government.
            Regulations should show they are needed to solve specific problems. One example of failed regulatory policy

            Another are of concern is environmental policy. The media often pitches business and economics against the environment. That is a false dichotomy. Dr. Patrick Moore, one of the founders of Greenpeace, makes the argument for balance in environmental policy. “Many environmentalists convey the simplistic and wrong impression to the public that the choice is between preservation and devastation.” Vernon Crowder, an economist here in Fresno, has long made the point that whatever criticism of our economic system it does allow the resources to deal with environmental problems. What we need is leadership and policies that balance our need to protect the environment and promote progress. That is the only safe and sane approach. An example is in the current crusade to clean up the air here in the Valley. We do have an air quality problem that needs to be dealt with. We need more solutions like the diesel pump motor exchange program that helps the air without shutting down farming.

I hope Y'all have a good week.


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,