Saturday, December 13, 2014

Remember When the President said...?

We got a good soaking this week. I have had over 2.7 inches this season. We only had 3.3 all of last year. Things could change, but we are off to a good start. 

   Do you remember last February when President Obama came to the Valley? He said the drought was caused by climate change, shrugged his shoulders and flew off to Palm Springs to play golf with the King of Jordan. The President gave the King a billion dollars in aid while we, the tax payers, were left to twist in the wind.

   The National Oceanic and Atmospheric  Administration, NOAA, caught something I hadn't noticed. A NOAA report this week says our current drought is not caused by climate change. It was caused by a La Nina weather pattern. 
   The NOAA report builds on another report. In September, "the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, which found no conclusive evidence linking human-caused climate 

change and the California drought."


   In the past advocates claimed that under climate change California will actually get more rain, not less. I remember reading those reports and never put two and two together.

   In my book, Ten Reasons: Finding Balance On Environmental Issues I make the point that liberals politicize everything. The example I use is when the President Obama promised his daughters an dog and that promise set off a national debate about rescue dogs, pure bred dogs, etc. It was a promise from a father to his daughters. Even the Mafia leaves your kids alone. My point was, if they will politicize a pet dog, they will politicize just about anything. I think climate change may another of those issues and the NOAA report supports my position.
   If you want me to care for the environment, I'm in. You don't have to scare me with the boogey man, or threats of global catastrophe. Let's stick to the facts and a little common sense when we make public policy. 

A reminder-If you are looking for Christmas gift ideas, my books "Ten Reasons: Finding Balance on Environmental Issues" and "This Week on the Farm" are available at the Clovis Book Barn and online at They fit well in Christmas stockings.
[Yes, that was a little shameless self-promotion. But, as I tell people, if you don't toot your own horn, no one will toot it for you.]

I hope you all have a great week.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

So, What Happens with the Recent Election

   I love Fall colors. I took the bike in to town this morning and all the vineyards were glowing.
This is a photo of the wisteria in the back yard. 

   On the farm, the wheat is sprouting. We are working in the orchard and getting ready for the holidays.

So, What Changes With the Recent Elections?
By Paul H. Betancourt
Copyright December 2014

            A lot of money was spent campaigning and a lot of ink was spilled analyzing. The question still remains-What changes with the  recent elections? Probably not much.
            Yes, the Republicans now have the House and Senate. The Republicans have a majority of the governorships. But, the fact is the public is still very evenly divided. If the Republicans think they have a massive mandate they are going to be surprised.
            The Republicans won, in large part, because one thing voters agree on is that our government is not looking out for our concerns. The Republicans have two years to show they can work on behalf of the public or they will face voter frustration themselves in two years.

A Quick Reminder About the Constitution-
            The most common word to describe Congress in recent years is ‘gridlock.’ There are a lot of comments about how they don’t get along with the President and how bad the partisan bickering has gotten.
            For starters, if you remember back to your high school civics class the system was created this way on purpose. Founding Fathers designed the separation of powers because they had lived under a king and the really, really, really did not like the king. More specifically, they did not want a system where one person had all the power.
            Now to this notion that Congress has grown more partisan, I don’t know how that could possibly be true. I have a picture in my files of a political cartoon showing President Lincoln with the face of a baboon. If you remember your Congressional trivia before the Civil War one Congressman almost beat another Congressman to death on the floor of the House with his cane. That’s pretty intense and we haven’t had anything like that in quite a while.
Now, if you are concerned that these people seem to be working for their own interests instead of the greater good, I agree with you whole heartedly. But, you have to realize their number one job is to get reelected not get along. A key part of my education when I ran for the Legislature ten years ago is there are two parts to being a politician; one is campaigning and the other is doing policy. There are those who can get elected, but may not be any good at policy. There are those who may be good at policy, but we will never know if they can’t get elected.

Back to 2015

            So, what changes in the coming year? We actually have a small sliver of opportunity. The 2016 campaigns for the Presidency and Congress will begin about this time next year. We do have a few moths for ‘Them’ to get something done before they go back into campaign mode.

The President has fired off the first salvo in the next round of immigration reform. There are really two issues in this case. First, the obvious need to reform a broken immigration system. The public wants to see reform. If we do not get anything done this year it will be 2017 before we have another chance.
The second issue here is the use of Executive Orders. Each side hates when the other team’s president does it. The Constitution clearly allows the President this power, but changing laws cannot be done by the President alone.

The next step in National Health care takes place this year and with divided government will cause fireworks.

            Water-we are still out numbered. Getting a national Congress to focus on something important to farmers in CA is a long shot.
            We did pass the water bond. We’ll see if they can implement that without squandering all the money.

In California we face a news fuel tax. I am kind of expecting a firestorm when fuel prices go up January 1 to cover AB32’s carbon tax. IT’s all fun and games until some one has to pay for Sacramento’s foolishness. Like the choo choo AB32 is another mandate sent from on high that has not caught the favor of the general public who is just trying to survive day to day.

I’m sounding a little cynical aren’t I? I don’t mean to. Just realistic. These are complex issue with many different interests.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

   Even pomegranates have Fall colors. I never noticed that before. Fall is definitely in the air. It's hard to remember that it was 90 degrees last month while we picked cotton.

   The cotton ground has all been worked. The wheat is in and coming up already. We hope to have it all watered before we break for Christmas. 
   The onion beds are furrowed out. We won't plant until February, but we are getting things ready now. I guess February is going to be busy. We will plant trees behind our house and get the onions planted, along with everything else we do.

   I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving. We went to Phoenix to visit our son, Jonathan. We had a great time. We had a nice ride and a good meal. We got silly like only family can.

We even got Sheryl on my bike, but there is no photographic proof of that.

   The disturbing news this Thanksgiving is apparently now there are Black Friday sales in in Europe.

    I'm not sure this is our finest moment. Some folks are worried about proselytizing religions. We had a national debate ten years ago about whether we can share democracy. And here we are shipping our worst crazy materialism overseas. The day after we give thanks for what we have, we go into a shopping frenzy for more. Is it just me??? 

    I'm pretty cheap. Making a buck is hard in my line of work and I like a good deal. But, a wise man said there is a time for everything. This is a time for me to stop, give thanks, and catch up with friends and family after the harvest rush. If shopping is your thing, ,y hat is off to you. For me, this is a time for family, friends and some good food. Oh, and of course, to give thanks. We have much to be thankful for, and Someone to be thankful to. This is the kind of holiday that puts things into perspective for me.

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving
and I hope you have a great week.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Faces of the Drought

There is a great Facebook page called Faces of the Drought. This week they featured a farmer from Kerman.

I have been farming here since 1981. My wife’s family has been here for 100 years. We own land here and are invested in the community. Farming isn’t portable. I love California but I hate seeing what we are doing to her. Something most non-farmers don’t understand is that we’re making plans now for next summer’s crop and we have to roll the dice on the water situation. The people who buy my crops don’t care about the uncertainty; I take on all the risk as a grower.#mydroughtstory

Monday, November 17, 2014

An Auction and Entropy on the Farm

There's an old joke about a minister visiting a farmer for Sunday dinner. The farmer had spent years reclaiming some land pulling stumps and leveling the land. Now there were fertile fields in every direction. The minister said tot eh farmer, "You and the Lord have done some pretty nice work here." The farmer's response was, "You should have seen it when the Lord had it to himself."
Ba dump bump.

I live with the miracles of farming on a regular basis, but I can appreciate what that old farmer said. It takes a lot of energy to make a farm go. It reminds me of the Laws of Thermodynamics: there is the tendency of things to go from order to disorder. It takes a lot of energy to keep things from going to disorder and chaos on the farm.

The picture above is from an auction last week. Some neighbors sold out after a lifetime of farming. These guys were excellent farmers who put a lot of energy and intelligence into their farm. In one sense it was sad to see it end. On the other hand, they retired by choice. I have been to auctions after the owner has passed away or lost the farm. There is a sense of real sadness at those auctions.

Next week we will talk about the recent elections and if they make any difference on the farm.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

2014 In the Rear View Mirror...

   We got the first wheat field planted this week. We are rocking and rolling to get the next one ready.
   In this picture we are land planing the field. This smooths the bumps and ruts out so we can irrigate more efficiently. Next we will disc, the furrow out.

2014 in the Rear View Mirror
by Paul H. Betancourt
copyright November 2014

            “What would [the drought] have been like if we did not have access to ground water?”
                                                          Dr. Richard Howitt
                                                          Professor Emeritus UC Davis

            The dominant issue in California agriculture this year, of course, has been water. Former UC Davis professor Dr. Richard Howitt reported that this year 17,000 jobs have been lost and there have been $2.2B in production losses. Howitt;s question is, “What would [the drought] have been like if we did not have access to ground water?” That is a key question.
            I find it frustrating and ironic that the same year the cut off surface water activists and our friends in Sacramento discover, “Oh, you have a groundwater problem.” Excuse me, THAT”S WHY WE PUT IN THE SURFACE WATER SYSTEMS DECADES AGO! (Sorry, I told you I was frustrated.) We realized a long time ago we could not increase production with the risk of over drafting the groundwater aquifer. With amazing foresight and working with slide rules those guys created an amazing and effective surface water system.
            We did pass a water bond this year. Now we will see if we squander that opportunity, or build for the future.

Other Issues
            Of course there have been other issues in Ag this year. At the conference hosted by Fresno State’s Center for Agricultural Business earlier this month two other issue were highlighted: Immigration Reform and Food Safety.

            Regarding food safety, let’s be clear: our food supply is safe. The issue is documentation. The government and buyers are demanding more and more documentation from growers.  While food safety is everyone’s concern, the pendulum is starting to swing too far. One friend is doing the right thing. He and his wife are growing organic produce. She spends her summer selling at various farmer’s markets in the area. But, he is ready to quit because he is spending over five hours a week just filling out paper work. Another neighbor grew his first crop of cherries last year. He was given three, three inch thick three ring binders to fill out.
            As I said above, the pendulum is swinging too far. An organic food activist from the Bay Area asked what he could do to help farmers. I said, “Get the documentation  down to one binder.” We know we are going do have to do reports. But, how many of you have time to fill out repetitive reports? I thought so.
            Food safety is a serious concern. As a farmer I want you to be confident that the food you are eating safe. Paper work is not reality. Reality is what happens in the fields.

            Immigration reform is a political hot potato in Washington. President Bush tried to make reforms, but was shot down by members of his own party. President Obama is getting criticized for supporting the Hispanic community on this issue during election campaigns, but failing to make any serious effort after elections. The good news for the Ag community and workers here in the Valley is that this is no longer a farm issue. When the Immigration and Control Act of 1986 passed the issue was agriculture and it was focused in Florida and the states that border Mexico. Now it is an issue in all fifty states, many industries and immigrants from countries other than Mexico. Hopefully with more people and more states involved we can find a solution.

Looking Back and Looking Forward
            So meanwhile, taking a look at 2014 in the rear view mirror. If you have water farming is fabulous. Commodity prices were strong. Production was down in many crops. Almonds, for example, were down 20-30 percent. But, prices pushed up. The real restriction for prosperity on the farm was the issue of water.

            In 2001 Fresno State celebrated the one millionth volume at the Madden Library. California State Historian Kevin Starr spoke at the event. He said the history of the last hundred years in California was the development of the coast and the history of the next hundred years will be the development of the Valley. This year has shown us that If we don’t figure out this water thing, that future will be dry and dusty.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

We Got a Little Rainfall...

   That may not look like much to you, but it is a pretty picture for me. Each of those modules contains about thirteen and a half bales of cotton. Since they are safely picked and out of the field it can rain and not hurt the crop. Yay! That feels good. We got grades back on the first bales to be ginned and quality looks fantastic.
   Speaking of rain, we got half an inch at the house last night and three quarters of an inch at the other ranch. That won't break the drought, but it will settle the dust and clear the air.

   We still have another full week of heavy tractor work to do. We got the first wheat field furrowed out before the rain. We will plant that on Monday. Then we have the last wheat field and the onions to prepare. Then we will slow down to full speed. 

Please remember to Vote Tuesday! If you are in my school board district I would appreciate your vote. But, vote vote vote. This all works better if we participate. Our voice is important. I know all the reasons people don't vote and I get it. But, think of these two reasons to vote-

   -"they" think your vote is important. Why else would they raise and spend all that money trying to get your vote?

   - if you do not vote, you give more power to those who do vote. Mathematically their vote has more weight if we don't vote.

So please get out there and vote.

See you next week.