Western agriculture’s voice sounded, heard on real water use

Western agriculture’s voice sounded, heard on real water use

There is truth to comments made in recent months implying that California agriculture’s voice on water use during the mega drought has not been heard well by intended receivers. Yet agriculture’s vocal cords and keystrokes are finally reaching the eyes and ears of the John Q. Public and mainstream media.

University of California forage specialist Dan Putnam said recently in an article that the alfalfa industry is typically the “whipping boy” in public perceptions of over water use in agriculture.

Yet when verbal attacks in recent months targeted the 800-pound gorilla – the California almond industry - agriculture’s ‘spinning machine’ (public relations efforts) shook off the gloves and went viral with strong, positive messaging about the real use of water by agriculture.

Currently, agricultural public relations teams are kicking butt in communicating essential crop water use information to consumers who have momentarily removed their ear buds to listen.

It’s not been an easy road to get to this turning point. A California mainstream journalist earlier wrote a seething story condemning the almond industry for its perceived water use sins.

This was followed by footsteps of an almond farmer through the newspaper’s front door as he shared a dose of reality about almond farming and water use with the journalist. Afterwards, the writer basically penned a retraction of sorts citing his newfound understanding about almonds and water – albeit eating crow at the same time.

Several e-mails of late also point to agriculture’s ‘go-get-em' attitude. Among the groups messaging the public include the California Farm Water Coalition (CFWC).

The CFWC released a ‘California Agriculture Drought Fact Sheet’ with a dozen or more statements which provide good information for consumers about agriculture’s water use in the Golden State – some citing specific state and federal agencies for the claims.

First on the CFWC’s drought sheet is a very clear picture of California agriculture’s real water use. Instead of the incorrect and convoluted 80 percent figure often tossed around like a beach ball at a concert, the CFWC cites data from the 2013 California Water Plan.

It says 50 percent of California water is used for environmental uses, 40 percent by agriculture, and 10 percent by urban users.

Keep in mind that the 40 percent of water used ‘by’ agriculture is not consumed by agriculture. The issue rightfully is that agriculture uses water to grow food and fiber for people to consume and wear later.

It’s the consumer who uses agriculture’s water at the end of the day. Without food, everyone dies.

Another CFWC statement cited amazing efficiencies in agricultural water conservation. California farmers increased yields by 43 percent from 1967-2010 using the same amount of water, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service and the California Department of Water Resources.

Agriculture is performing yeoman’s work in producing more food and fiber with less water. This is quite a story to share with a public which for now, at least, has open ears.

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