Time to stand up for water rights and the right to farm

If you’ve never written or called your state legislators, it’s time to let them know you oppose the Pacific Institute’s “More With Less” report. CAFA and other organizations have been on the offensive since the report was released on Sept. 9. “More With Less” stands for more regulations, an erosion of water rights, less water, and less freedom to make crop selections. The report claims growers can grow more with less water and should shift to “high value” tree and vegetable crops.

The Institute wants courts and regulators to “apply California’s water-rights laws more rationally to ensure water is being used reasonably and beneficially.” Another recommendation: “Redesigning misguided federal and state subsidies that encourage wasteful use of water.”

The report (available at www.pacinst.org) is a blueprint for the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta, but it should concern all regions in California. If implemented, it would set a dangerous precedent. CAFA’s letter below, sent to the California Department of Food & Agriculture, provides key points to use when writing or e-mailing state legislators.

The California Alfalfa & Forage Association, a statewide organization, is in agreement with the California Farm Bureau and other groups that oppose the Pacific Institute’s “More With Less” report released on Sept. 9. Alfalfa was falsely singled out by the Institute in May, and its report again demonstrates that it understands neither agriculture nor market dynamics. If implemented, their recommendations would disrupt markets, cause severe hardships and have a negative impact on the environment.

The report is flawed and overly simplistic. All field crops are lumped together and their value per acre is compared to tree crops and vegetables. The comparisons are meaningless since researchers didn’t evaluate each commodity separately, calculate return on investment, and assess market dynamics and environmental factors.

Furthermore, the report only looks at farm gate values. For instance, alfalfa’s farm gate value of more than $1 billion is only part of the picture. Alfalfa is an essential component of California’s dairy and beef cow industry, with combined farm gate values of more than $7 billion. There’s added value due to factors such as a canopy that prevents soil erosion, improved soil tilth, wildlife habitat, and the ability to manufacture nitrogen. Alfalfa is also a vital rotation crop for low-input sustainable agriculture.

The report’s “crop shift” recommendation is troublesome since soil types, drainage, equipment requirements, and other factors dictate crop selection. Alfalfa is mistakenly referred to as a water-wasting crop, yet a scientific analysis based on UC data demonstrates that water use efficiency rivals other commonly grown crops. A shift to other crops would create more hardship for California’s $4.2 billion dairy industry and for livestock producers. Though alfalfa is California’s largest acreage crop, demand far outstrips supply. Record high prices are impacting profitability for dairymen who rely on alfalfa for milk production and herd health.

California hay buyers are searching for alfalfa as far away as Montana and Wyoming. Transporting over long distances adds to higher fuel consumption and impacts the environment. The Institute’s report overlooked many other environmental factors such as: which crops have lower pesticide loads, prevent soil erosion, are less labor intensive, and are wildlife friendly.

– Any attempt to constrain crop selections and erode water rights and availability is a blow to the free market and to consumers. The Institute’s claim that growers are not using water efficiently is debunked by the statistic that food and fiber production has increased by 89 percent from 1967 to 2000, but applied water has increased by only 2 percent.

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