The Other Gulf Coast Oil Spill – Agriculture in California Part 1

Fallow Farmland

                The Gulf Oil Spill literally exploded onto the scene and into our lives in a dramatic explosion that resulting in 11 deaths and 17 other injuries.  It was an event of catastrophic proportions that will be felt economically and environmentally for decades.   The same is true of the eventual elimination of agriculture in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys of California as well as other farming areas in the state.  The difference is that there was no explosion; no fanfare in the press; no outrage by politicians in Congress or the past and present administrations.  It started with the Federal Reclamation Act of 1902 and has slowly progressed to the point where today hundreds of thousands of acres of prime farmland lay idle.   The laying fallow of the most fertile valleys on this earth was caused, not by callous big business or careless oil giants, but by our own State and Federal Governments aided and abetted by relentless environmentalists.  

               This travesty goes virtually unnoticed by the American public today but the long-term impacts of the Federal and State water policies will impact the average American much more than the Gulf Oil crisis.   Why?  California is the sole (at least 99% of the total US production) of Almonds, Cling Peaches, Figs, Persimmons, Raisins, Sweet Rice, Artichokes, Dried Plums, Olives, Pomegranates, and Walnuts.  California also produces 95% of the nation’s canning tomatoes; over $7B (22% of the US total) of dairy products, $3B of grapes; over $2B (73% of US) of lettuce; and the list goes on.  California exports to 156 countries with an export value of over $11B.  California farmland is only 4% of the nation’s total but it produces over 13% of the nation’s total value.  The total value of the California agricultural output was $36.6B in 2007.  The real tragedy is that this amount could exceed $50-75B with a more enlightened federal and state water and land policy.  We have the land and the water; we just do not allocate them to agriculture. 

               Why?  Agriculture has no voice because there are too few farmers and thus too few votes to matter in Washington and Sacramento.  This travesty that has been caused by the Federal Government is not only hurting farmers, but generations of farm workers.  Fresno County is treading water at almost 20% unemployment with many of its smaller cities where the farm workers live peaking above 40%.  Other farm counties are tracking the same or worse.  Merced County is at 22%, Kern Country is over 18%, Stanislaus County is at 19% and so on.  

               The primary driving force behind the demise of California agriculture is the Federal Government’s water policy and lack of water allocations for the richest farmland in the world.  In upcoming installments we will explore the evolution of these and other policies that are     impacting California agriculture.  So far, the only real national news coverage has been by Sean Hannity.  My hat is off to Sean and we hope he returns… 

RD Pierini

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