California Drought Seriously Reducing Crops

I’ve seen many conflicting reports on the size of the almond crop in California. A few have stated that despite the most egregious drought the almond growers are harvesting a bumper crop. I find that difficult to believe. It looks to me like the drought seriously affecting food supply levels and prices is a great indication of the problem with not only monoculture, but the massive consolidation and centralization of our food supply. If you have a yard at all, even ten feet by ten feet, you can grow a lot of food in a small area. The other thing about everyone jumping on the growing wagon is that it is a hedge against hunger and poor nutritional quality. 

Recently, I have been investigating biochar and it looks to me like it is a potential miracle for soil ills when combined with compost. Intensive gardening is the future of life here in the US. I’d recommend that anyone who can see the systemic problems with our food supply, poor nutritional values, soil depletion, genetic pollution, centralization of markets, consolidation of sectors, cease trying to fix what doesn’t work and set about creating a different system that actually heals land, animals and people. We could grow enough food in the US to feed the entire planet if only greed, politics and control didn’t get in the way. And we don’t need to do it in giant scale. Bigger is not generally better. And bigger is definitely more problematic if it breaks! I don’t mind people growing their businesses, and I don’t think the answer is a to go against large farmers, but to shift the paradigm and buy directly as much as possible, and GROW YOUR OWN.

Please read the following article. I think it is important information and that it isn’t getting enough general attention from the MSM:

 

California harvest much smaller than normal across crops

Published: Sunday, Sep. 28, 2014 – 12:00 am

It’s harvest time in much of California, and the signs of drought are almost as abundant as the fruits and nuts and vegetables.

One commodity after another is feeling the impact of the state’s epic water shortage. The great Sacramento Valley rice crop, served in sushi restaurants nationwide and exported to Asia, will be smaller than usual. Fewer grapes will be available to produce California’s world-class wines, and the citrus groves of the San Joaquin Valley are producing fewer oranges. There is less hay and corn for the state’s dairy cows, and the pistachio harvest is expected to shrink.

Even the state’s mighty almond business, which has become a powerhouse in recent years, is coming in smaller than expected. That’s particularly troubling to the thousands of farmers who sacrificed other crops in order to keep their almond orchards watered.

While many crops have yet to be harvested, it’s clear that the drought has carved a significant hole in the economy of rural California. Farm income is down, so is employment, and Thursday’s rain showers did little to change the equation.

An estimated 420,000 acres of farmland went unplanted this year, or about 5 percent of the total. Economists at UC Davis say agriculture, which has been a $44 billion-a-year business in California, will suffer revenue losses and higher water costs – a financial hit totaling $2.2 billion this year.

Rising commodity prices have helped cushion at least some of the pain, but more hurt could be on the way. With rivers running low and groundwater overtaxed, the situation could get far worse if heavy rains don’t come this winter.

“Nobody has any idea how disastrous it’s going to be,” said Mike Wade of Modesto, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, an advocacy group based in Sacramento. “Is it going to create more fallowed land? Absolutely. Is it going to create more groundwater problems? Absolutely.

“Another dry year, we don’t know what the result is going to be, but it’s not going to be good,” Wade said.

Central Valley residents don’t have to look far to see the effects. Roughly one-fourth of California’s rice fields went fallow this year, about 140,000 acres worth, according to the California Rice Commission, leaving vast stretches of the Sacramento Valley brown instead of their customary green.

“We’d all rather be farming, as would everybody who depends on us – the truck drivers, the parts stores, the mills,” said Mike Daddow, a fourth-generation rice grower in the Nicolaus area of southern Sutter County.

Daddow opted to fallow 150 of his family’s 800 acres this year and counts himself lucky. “We did better than a lot of people,” he said.

Last week, Daddow was gearing up for the harvest, which begins Monday. It was pleasantly warm, but the faint smoky smell from the King fire was another unwelcome reminder of the parched season of discontent.

“It affects me, yes, I will have less profit,” he said. “It affects hourly workers. If there’s no ground to till, I can’t hire them to do anything.”

Daddow hired just six workers during spring planting, instead of the usual nine or 10.

Three boxes, not two

Calculating total job losses related to the drought is difficult, especially in an industry in which many workers are transient and much of the work is part time. The state Employment Development Department, drawing from payroll data, said farm employment has dropped by just 2,700 jobs from a year ago, a decline of less than 1 percent.

But experts at UC Davis say they believe the impact is more severe. Richard Howitt, professor emeritus of agricultural economics, said he believes the drought ultimately will erase 17,000 jobs. He bases that, in part, on the increased number of families seeking social services.

The human cost shows up at rural food banks, which are reporting higher demand for assistance from farmworkers and their families. At the Bethel Spanish Assembly of God, a church in theTulare County city of Farmersville, the number of families receiving food aid every two weeks has jumped from about 40 last year to more than 200. Farmersville, a city of 10,000, is at the heart of a region that grows an array of crops, from lemons to pistachios to grapes.

“Some of them are working … but they’re not putting in the hours,” said the Rev. Leonel Benavides, who is also Farmersville’s mayor. Thanks to state-funded drought relief, the church has been able to meet the increased demand – and then some.

“Instead of just two boxes, we give them three,” Benavides said.

The effect goes beyond the farm fields. N&S Tractor, which sells Case IH brand farm equipment throughout the Central Valley, has seen business tail off as farmers conserve cash.

“It’s not just our dealership,” said N&S marketing director Tim McConiga Jr., who works out of the company’s sales office in Glenn County. “You talk to John Deere, you talk to Caterpillar, everyone is going to tell you their numbers are down.”

The drought has had varying impacts on different areas of the state, depending in part on who has first dibs on the dwindling water supply. Some growers have stronger water rights than others. Generally speaking, Sacramento Valley farmers have had it easier than their counterparts south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where the cutbacks have been more severe.

The Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts are delivering about 40 percent of their usual amounts. The Merced Irrigation District is far worse off, as are many of the West Side areas supplied by the federal Central Valley Project. The Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts have not had large cutbacks, but leaders worry about a dry 2015.

Regardless of geography, many growers have had to make difficult choices about which fields to water, leaving portions of their farms idle.

Bruce Rominger of Winters, chairman of the California Tomato Growers Association, made the decision to push ahead with his tomato crop at the expense of other commodities. With tomatoes selling for a robust $83 a ton, vs. about $70 a year ago, it was a matter of simple economics.

“Other crops are not getting the water,” said Rominger, who owns and leases a total of about 5,000 acres. “We sacrificed some alfalfa, we sacrified some sunflowers, we sacrificed quite a bit of rice. We fallowed 25 percent of our farm.”

Much of the processing tomato crop goes to canneries in Modesto, Oakdale, Escalon and Los Banos.

Almonds, citrus affected

Choosing to focus on one crop doesn’t guarantee victory. Even the $4 billion almond industry – the great success story of California agriculture in recent years – could not be shielded from the drought’s effects.

As worldwide demand for almonds has boomed, prices have soared past $4 a pound and farmers have responded with more supply. Orchard plantings have continued unabated, even this year. With water supplies running low, many almond growers set aside other commodities to keep their orchards going.

Even so, the almond yield declined. Blue Diamond Growers, the big farmer-owner almond cooperative based in Sacramento, predicts that production in California will fall this year to around 1.9 billion pounds when the harvest is complete in a few weeks. That compares with the 2 billion pounds harvested last year and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s forecast, released in late June, that this year’s crop would total 2.1 billion pounds.

What went wrong? Almonds are one of the thirstiest crops around, and there wasn’t enough water to generate big yields.

“I don’t think there was anyone who used as much (water) as they normally do,” said Dave Baker, director of member relations for Blue Diamond. The hot spells in June and July “stressed the trees even further” and curtailed production, he said.

With California accounting for 80 percent of global almond supply, Baker said he’s worried about being able to meet demand. “We have a growth industry,” he said.

Blue Diamond has plants also in Salida and Turlock, and several smaller processors are in or near Stanislaus County.

The lack of water last spring likely also has stunted navel orange production in the San Joaquin Valley, where harvest is expected to begin in a few weeks.

“We’re expecting some kind of damage to the crop,” said Alyssa Houtby, spokeswoman for California Citrus Mutual, a grower-owned association based in Tulare County. “We didn’t have the water in those key months.”

Economist Vernon Crowder, a senior vice president with agricultural lender Rabobank, said farmers went into this difficult season with a couple of advantages: Most commodity prices have risen in recent years, and most growers are in pretty good financial shape as a result. But another dry year could bring more serious hardship, he said.

“They have a little bit of cash to withstand this,” Crowder said. “They’re going to get through it. The real question is what is going to happen next year.”

Similar questions are being raised in the California wine industry, which produces much of its volume in the Modesto area. The last two grape harvests were extraordinarily strong, leaving an overhang of product that should help offset the slight declines in this year’s harvest. “Pricing should be steady,” said industry consultant Robert Smiley, a professor emeritus of business at UC Davis.

That doesn’t eliminate fears that next season’s crop could shrink substantially. Craig Ledbetter of Vino Farms, a Lodi grape producer, had enough water this year but said he’s afraid he’ll receive “curtailment notices” from the state signaling significant cutbacks in next season’s water supply.

“I’m very nervous about water,” said Ledbetter, who also raises wine grapes in Sonoma County. “If we don’t have a rainy winter, I can pretty much guarantee we’re all going to be receiving curtailment notices. If that happens, we’re going to be concerned about keeping the vine alive rather than harvesting it.”

 

US Wastes Billions of Dollars of Food

The USDA has done a report on the amount of food wastage in the US. Interestingly, this is at a time right before food prices are going to sky rocket. One thing that has apparently not been addressed in this report is the regulatory and insurance side of the profligate waste we appear to have.

Morningland Dairy was forced to waste about $250,000 dollars of cheese that hadn’t made one person sick in over 30 years. Fast food restaurants throw out huge amounts of food at close and are prohibited from allowing people to getting it even out of the dumpster. People who want to feed the homeless are routinely fined, punished or prevented from doing so because they don’t have permits and licenses that prove they prepare food in a permitted and licensed kitchen.

It could be readily argued that a vast amount of our food is garbage anyway, and therefore going where it should go, but truly not having enough to eat is about to become a reality for a larger percentage of our population than in anytime in recent memory.

There is a massive drought in California, there are 25% of greenhouses that heat with propane that have either shut down or significantly scaled back, the vast majority of chicken houses heat with propane and most of those growers finished what they had and held off on losing everything due to either being unable to afford or in some cases even acquire the propane to heat with. Brazil, the highest global producer of beef and a major exporter of food in many categories is in a drought where rationing of water is occurring in 142 cities. And don’t forget that South Dakota lost around 100,000 cattle and we have cattle populations in the US at 1951 levels.

While we’re throwing all of this away, or being forced to throw it away, we’re looking at massive rises in food costs. Time to learn how to preserve whatever excess we have.

Here’s an article about the USDA wastage report:

Americans trash about 1/3 of their food, worth $161bn – USDA

Published time: February 25, 2014 08:56

AFP Photo / Spencer PlattAFP Photo / Spencer Platt

About 30 percent of the 430 billion pounds of food produced in the United States is wasted, an incredible statistic, especially given the lack of landfill space, not to mention the global menace of world hunger.

The shocking statistic gives a new meaning to the term ‘junk food,’ as Americans are sending 133 billion lbs (60 billion kg) of food to the garbage dump each year. To put it another way, 141 trillion calories annually – or 1,249 calories per capita daily – went uneaten in the United States, according to a report by the US Department of Agriculture.

The top three food groups in terms of the amount of total food loss cost are ranked as follows: meat, poultry, and fish (30 percent); vegetables (19 percent); and dairy products (17 percent). Retail food waste, for example, in grocery stores and restaurants, accounted for 10 percent (43 billion lbs), while consumer losses amounted to 21 percent (90 billion pounds) of the available food supply.

The issue of food loss is becoming a serious topic not just in the United States, but across the world as countries struggle with mounting levels of garbage, while food scarcity among an exploding world population demands a new way of thinking about eating habits.

In 2010, the average American spent $4,016 on food (both for at-home and away-from-home consumption) out of an average disposable income of $36,016, the report, titled ‘The Estimated Amount, Value and Calories of Postharvest Food Losses at the Retail and Consumer Levels in the United States’, noted.

Meanwhile, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of US adults (35.7 percent) are obese, which is perhaps the best argument that Americans can offset a large part of the food waste problem by simply eating less. The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the US was $147 billion in 2008; the costs of providing medical assistance for individuals who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight, thereby placing an enormous strain on healthcare costs.

At the same time, the problem of global food scarcity is gaining the attention of world leaders.

“The United Nations predicts that the world population will reach 9.3 billion by 2050, and this will require a 70 percent increase in food production, net of crops used for biofuels. Currently…the number of food-insecure people reached 802 million in 2012,” the report stated.

The USDA warned that developed countries like the United States – where 49 million people lived in food-insecure households out of a total population of over 305 million – should not take their current level of food security for granted.

“Although most of this population growth will occur in developing countries, developed countries like the United States also face issues of hunger and food insecurity,” it said.

In an effort to attract attention to the problem of food waste, the USDA and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last year kicked off the US Food Waste Challenge. The United Nations’ Environment Program’s (UNEP) World Environment Day’s central theme was also food waste.

 

AFP Photo / Spencer PlattAFP Photo / Spencer Platt

The report acknowledged that tackling the problem is no easy challenge given the many diverse places where food is distributed, consumed and disposed of.

There are an estimated 119 million households, over a half a million dining establishments, including fast-food outlets, and numerous other locations where people gather to eat, such as schools, institutions, and prisons across the United States, it said.

Eco-hazardous habits

A largely ignored problem associated with our intensely urbanized lifestyles is how to get rid of our food waste in a way that does not inflict long-term damage on the environment. Discarding uneaten food into plastic garbage bags and burying them in landfills only exacerbates the problem.

According to statistics by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), food waste accounted for 34 million tons of some 250 million tons of municipal solid waste in the United States in 2010, with a price tag of about $1.3 billion.

After recycling a number of materials, like metals, plastic and paper, food waste came out on top in terms of what is overloading our garbage dumps, with 21 percent of the total, according to the EPA.

The most worrying problem with landfilling food waste is that it generates methane gas as it decomposes anaerobically. Methane is 21 times more powerful in accelerating global warming than carbon dioxide, according to the EPA as cited in the USDA report.

Landfills account for 34 percent of all human-related methane emissions in the United States
The report pointed to a growing human footprint on the planet as a good reason for nations to start addressing this issue.

The report offered some suggestions on addressing the issue, including expanding on community composting programs, of which there are around 3,510 such initiatives in the US that allow neighborhood residents to leave food scraps and yard trimmings at the curb for a special collection.

At the same time, companies will work to offset food waste if “it is economically justifiable, that is, if the benefits outweigh the costs.”

The report suggested the potential advantages of building “consumer goodwill” for business, using by way of example “a sandwich shop donates uneaten yet wholesome food to a community feeding organization at the end of each day.”