Archive for the 'crop selection' Category

Oct 10 2008

The debate over “More with Less”

The Pacific Institute was quick out of the gate in October to advise the next president (whoever it is) on matters of water – suggesting revisions on policy concerning water use, conservation and crop development.

Its proposal is available on its web site. It calls for developing a national water policy, and spotlighting the impacts on national security and international relations.

Among the suggestions: ” Refocus U.S. international aid spending priorities toward meeting basic water needs in conjunction with efforts of international nongovernmental organizations and the private sector. . . . Work with Congress to establish incentives for improving water efficiency and reducing wasteful use of water in federal legislation, such as the Farm Bill, trade laws, plumbing codes, and tax code revisions. Establish a process for setting and enforcing environmental flows for all major river systems.”

Some reaction was critical.

The California Alfalfa & Forage Association issued its own rebuttal on October 10:

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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