Telling farmers what to plant is not the solution

Telling farmers what to plant is not the solution

As the debate heats up over water in California it was only a matter of time before someone recommended a shift to complete authoritarianism on the part of Sacramento (some might argue we’re already there, but that’s another discussion).

An LA Times columnist recently suggested that our government ought to force its way into the business decisions of farmers by legislating what can be planted where and when based on how much water it takes to grow a crop.

Such suggestions have no part in reasonable debate because they are simply ridiculous.

The writer suggests that California government “consider regulating crops based on their water needs.” Taken to its logical conclusion this would set up an entire cabinet-level department where bureaucrats rifle through permit applications requesting permission to plant everything from artichokes to zucchini.

The argument suggests that because we require developers to identify sources of water before building residential neighborhoods and industrial parks that farmers should be required to gain similar permission to plant a crop.

This line of philosophical thinking is fraught with problems and false premises. The suggestion that “a farmer can plant whatever he pleases” ignores the whole concept of free markets of global proportions.

Recently I was on the farm of a California farmer growing pretty much everything it takes to load up a salad bar or salsa dish. Not include on his farm, as has been common in the past, was cotton. That’s because the money is elsewhere, and not just in tree crops like pistachios and almonds.

According to one grower, now that cotton acreage in California has shrunk like a cotton T-shirt washed hot water and dried in a blast furnace, the focus has shifted from cotton as the evil crop to almonds. This completely ignores the free market, which after the recent USDA announcement of an even smaller California almond crop, reacted by sending almond prices even higher (that’s how free markets work).

The continued cries from city dwellers that agriculture uses far more water than urban landscapes, as if curbing urban watering is unnecessary and insignificant, ignores the fact that California farmers have had their surface water sources completely cut off.

As such, the percentage of California’s surface water earmarked this year is not the 50-40-10 ratio of environmental, agricultural and urban that the California Department of Water Resources has up on its web site, but is in all practicality 90-0-10.

We’ve already talked about the complete pass in accounting that the environmental community must give for its use of surface water, so we’ll skip that for this discussion.

We all understand that pumping groundwater to irrigate crops is not sustainable for California, but given the alternative, there is no choice for farmers in years like this.

Knee-jerk reactions calling for government approval to plant a crop are not the answer when the proven solutions of dams, surface storage and water banking are there for all to see.

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