We're having a drought in California. The governor has ordered cities and communities to reduce water usage by 25%. Some people have complained that agriculture uses the biggest share of water so the cuts should be made there. Take a look at this slide presentation by a UC Davis Professor who's interested in irrigation. It's technical and designed to accompany a lecture so it's not the easiest thing to follow, but there's good info in it. One of the questions asked is, "How do we balance the demands for water by the urban/industrial, environmental, and agricultural sectors with the water supply?" The honest answer is that no one appears to have the answer. He has found that It is unlikely that increasing irrigation efficiency will have a large impact in supplying the predicted future water needs of the urban/industrial and environmental sectors. The price that society has to pay for food is the water and land required to produce the crops needed for food.
When we truly look at all of the real life variables involved, it's a complex issue (and it hurts my head). Although I am self-motivated to take the side of the farmer, I try to look at it in a balanced and rational manner. We have a limited supply of water. Where should WE and how should WE use it? All of us need to make that decision together. It is important, however, to fully understand the ramifications of that decision and live with the consequences if we do not choose wisely.
On my farm we irrigate with ground water. Way before it became a hot topic on the news we've tried to use our water supply as efficiently as possible, even during non-drought years. It costs a lot of money to pay for the electricity to run our pumps. Not only are we aware of the dwindling water supply, but there's a cost involved in acquiring it that plays a big role. I've heard negative talk about how much water goes into growing almonds (compared to grapes). I can't help but feel that the media latched on to a snippet of info without looking at a larger context. The land we are growing almonds on was formerly used to grow alfalfa and corn which uses far, far more water than almonds. So there's a net savings we've personally contributed. We've also put in drip irrigation systems along with some hi-tech ground moisture monitoring systems so that we can use the drip system even more efficiently. Almonds make more money than alfalfa. Good for us. But what about the cost to society? Someone needs to grow the lower cost, more water demanding crops like alfalfa, corn, winter forage and rice. Dairy cows produce milk and eat alfalfa, corn and winter forage. Dairy farmer's are already struggling with high feed costs. The drought has pushed prices up even higher because less feed is being grown. Many have gone out of business because it's too costly to operate. Milk is an important food product and it is used in a LOT of other food products and it's components (e.g. casein, etc) are also used in various food and non-food products. When dairies go out of business supply and demand drives up the cost of milk and milk products.
It takes water to grow plants. If we reduce the amount available to farmers, who are already trying to conserve because it is a good business practice, then fewer agricultural products will be produced. The cost of food and fiber will increase. People don't eat lawns, or rose bushes, or ornamental plants, or iPhones. They need the food that farmers produce. Cutting back water to farms directly cuts back the food available for people. Farmer's aren't selfish people who are trying to gobble up a resource. They are trying to use water to grow food and fiber that benefits all of us, and they are trying to make a living in the process.
In many ways, farms are our nation's most valuable resource. And farms need water.
The disconnect that exists between the consumer and food production worries me. As farmers become more efficient at what we do it takes less of us to get the job done and our numbers dwindle. At the same time the consumer becomes farther removed from the process of food production (and many times this leads to ignorance and misconceptions). We live in a democracy and the voice of farmers has become woefully underrepresented compared to the importance of the products and services we provide. This scares meet and is the reason that I continue to rant about water and agriculture. It is easy for the majority to pass laws that are not well thought out and can harm farming and ultimately society as a whole.
Now I don't want to sound all doom and gloomy, so I'll also point out that the ease at which people can purchase/acquire food has freed them to pursue other endeavors (i.e. specialize) that have benefited society immensely. Engineers, scientist, philosophers and poets (just to name a few) have made innumerable advancements in the lives of peoples. These are really good things that I have both benefited from and marvel at. It's important to remember that we have been able to achieve these great things because the majority of our population does not have to worry about growing their own food. In this way, farming is the foundation of civilization. I hope it gets the respect that it deserves. #drought #californiadrought #water #irrigation #farming