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.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Today’s Drought and the Bay/Delta Conservation Plan

Water and Politics, Again...
Yes, I know, that is a big surprise. But, first a quick update on the farm.

It has been an interesting week. It was warm and sunny earlier in the week. Then the rain and wind hit.
The picture below is a young orchard in bloom.

It hasn't looked like that for a few days. The bees really like weather like in the photograph. When it is raining and windy then don't get out and fly. The problem is, as I was taught, that each almond blossom last only three days. If the blooms don't get pollinated in those three days they will not produce nuts. So, while we really appreciate the rain...I wish it had happened last month. That being said, we need rain so bad we will take it whenever it comes.

   The answer is...yes, we did get our fertilizer on the wheat and the oats. We also got a fungicide on the trees to prevent fungus caused by the rain. 

Below is an op-ed I wrote for the Fresno Business Journal. There are no silver bullets in water policy. We need rain. We need infrastructure and we need good policy. The best bet in infrastructure comes from the Bay Delta  Conservation Plan. Some Aggies are hesitant to support it because Governor Brown supports it. Frankly, as I see it, we don't have enough friends that we can afford to ignore anyone who says they want to help.

Today’s Drought and the Bay/Delta Conservation Plan
By Paul H. Betancourt
Copyright February 2014

This drought is a multi-year problem and it will require multi-year solutions. Some day it will start raining again and many people with think, “Drought over, problem solved.” The problem is we do not have ‘average rainfall.’ We have wet years and we have dry years. We are fools because we do not capture rain in the wet years for the dry years. Drought has happened before, it is happening now, and it will happen again.

Our state faces a huge challenge - three fourths of the state’s rainfall falls north of Sacramento and three fourths of the people are south of the Tehachapis. This problem will not go away until we start using our heads to the benefit of all Californians.

The key component in Governor Brown’s water action plan that would enact the fundamental reforms needed to enable all the other parts to work together smoothly is known formally as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). It would provide the funding to expand natural habitat and protect endangered species in the Delta. And at the same time it would install the twin tunnels under the Delta that are needed to keep the water for the state's residents flowing reliably.

The reason I can support the BDCP is that it is a balanced plan to provide water to our farms and cities as well as care for the environment.  I, like most Californian’s, am a big fan of balance. The subtitle of my book ‘Ten Reasons’ is “Finding Balance on Environmental Issues.” Gone are the days when business can run roughshod over the environment. But, we must also acknowledge that you cannot have over thirty five million people in this state without some environmental impacts. The answer is found in balancing these concerns and the BDCP seeks to do that.

Sorry, but many of my farmer friends are suspicious that the BDPC is being driven by the environmentalists.  And some are just suspicious about anything that comes out of Sacramento or DC, or that is supported by our Governor.

Those who are willing to sacrifice agriculture in the name of the environment have a choice to make. Environmental activists want everyone to lower their carbon footprint by buying food grown within a few hundred miles of where it is consumed. Guess what? Where can you grow food within a few hundred miles of the thirty five million Californians in the Bay Area and Southern California? That’s right-- here in the Central Valley. So instead of trying to hamstring farmer’s water supplies environmentalists should be helping us secure our water supplies so we can help you lower your carbon footprint. BDCP will help protect the environment in the Delta and globally by helping over thirty five million Californians lower their carbon footprint because they can buy locally produced food.

My real concern about the BDCP is that when it is said and done the water will be too expensive to use to farm. You may have noticed, but government programs tend to get a little out of control. That being said, any serious plan to stabilize our water supply is worthy of our consideration. When a bi-partisan pair of Governor’s – Governor Schwarzenegger and Governor Brown - talk about a two-tunnel solution to our problem it is worth our while to listen.

Even though agriculture would be a major beneficiary of the plan's implementation, some agricultural leaders are reluctant to speak out in support of BDCP because they are concerned it doesn't do enough for storage. The drought is helping us all to make it clear that more storage is needed both north and south of the Delta.  But those new facilities cannot fulfill their potential if we cannot move the water through the Delta to keep them full and later to deliver that water to the places where and when it is needed.  Currently that's not possible because of the Delta's decline and the regulatory roadblock that has been erected there.

People who are concerned about storage in general need to appreciate that the governor's plan is comprehensive. Yes, we need it all. But we can’t let the portfolio be the enemy of the project. And of all the solutions on the table right now, the BDCP is the project that would help California deal with these weather extremes by fixing the state's broken water system and restoring reliability to the water deliveries that Central Valley agriculture desperately needs.