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.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Almond Planting and Lessons from the Drought

BOY!! Does that feel good!!

We got the almonds planted in the field behind the house. I know they are only sticks right now, but it is soooooo nice to have trees back there. It already feels like an orchard, instead of a open ground.
     I can hardly wait to see these trees grow!!

On a side note, can you see the water? We watered the trees in. The field was lasered dead flat and the rows are 600 feet long. We cut the water off and you can see it is perfectly flat. 
     Why is that important? We can irrigate with almost perfect efficiency without a drip system in these conditions.
     Why is that important? Drip systems are not a silver bullet. They are a tool. Drip systems are energy intensive, because you have to pressurize the system. Drip systems are also labor intensive, because you have to check every emitter, every day. In this field we are as efficient with our water, without the costs. Not bad.

We have never had water to waste as long as I have been here. Even before this current drought we were always careful with our water. Not only is that proper conservation of a precious resource, it is good farming. If you over water plants you can drown them. If you under water plants they stress. In neither case do they produce the quality or quantity.

Below is a piece I wrote four years ago. It is hard to believe that only four years ago people were asking me if that drought was over. I stand by my closing comment here-

Is the Drought Over?
A logical question after our heavy rains and snow last winter and the fact people were snow skiing on the 4th of July- is the drought over?
The answer is Yes... and No.
The fact is we have wet years and dry years in California and they tend to come in bunches. I have looked at the historical data back to the 1860’s and every twenty years or so there is a two or three year drought. John Steinbeck mentions the pattern in his novel ‘East of Eden.’
This past winter we had 160% normal rainfall. Millions of acre feet of flood water ran out to the ocean. (An acre foot is approximately 325,000 gallons). Meanwhile, on the west side of the valley, farmers are only getting 80% of our full allotment.
So, Yes the drought is over—for now. We have had two winters of heavy rain and snow.  But, No, the drought is not over because we haven’t learned to save water from the wet years to use in the dry years.                                                          

Please Don't Forget- This next week is my reading from "This Week on the Farm" at Peeve's Public House in downtown Fresno, Thursday night at 7pm. Come hoist a local craft brew and enjoy the evening.
      You can find directions at    

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Farmers and Paperwork

Farmers and Paperwork
By Paul H. Betancourt
Copyright August, 2011

            It is no secret that farmers hate paperwork. Do you know why? Because we make our living growing things, not filling out forms.

            Have you noticed we have this huge cadre of intelligent, educated people in this country whose job is to regulate the producers. I understand that we have to have regulations. But, do you see my point, we have some of our brightest and best who spend their days not helping us be productive, but actually slowing us down from what we do best- produce food and fiber for the rest of you.

            My favorite example was when I called to find a poster the state wanted me to post at our work site. The guy who answered the phone didn’t have one, couldn’t mail me one, but he wanted me to shut down the farm until we had his form posted. Am I the only one who thinks this is crazy?

            I know we need regulations. But filling out forms is not an end in itself. Let me and my neighbors do what we do best – grow food.