Putting things in proportion.

South Carolina Senator DeMint must have watched Hannity; he suggests waiving the ESA for a year to restore farming on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.  He’s from one of those teeny states that are far away, so maybe these numbers sound big to him:

A revised University of California-Davis study recently found that up to 40,000 San Joaquin Valley jobs will be lost by the end of 2009 and 500,000 acres of productive farm land will be fallowed because of water rationing — a direct result of these Biological Opinions. The same study also concluded that Central Valley could lose $1.6 billion to $2.2 billion as a result of this unnecessary drought.

OK, folks.  Here are some other interesting numbers.

The salmon industry that needs those Biological Opinions to recover is worth about $1.4B.

500,000 acres sounds like a lot, but the state’s total irrigated acreage is about 9 million acres.  You’re talking 5% of the irrigated acreage of the state, which is relatively not so much.  The state’s almond acreage is 710,000 acres, and so long as we’re growing luxuries like almonds, I’m not listening to worries about national food shortages.  Further, the state’s alfalfa acreage was 900,000 acres in 2009, and while I don’t hate alfalfa the way most people do, so long as we’re growing fodder for animals, I will not think we’re on the verge of a food shortage for people.

The majority of the idled acres are in Westlands Water District and on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.  As a reminder, if those acres are returned to production, gathering and treating their selenium-poisoned farm run-off is predicted to cost $2.6B.


I do feel bad for idled farmworkers on the west side (there is considerable active controversy about their number), but while this drought hits junior water rights holders like Westlands hard, it isn’t hammering all of CA agriculture evenly and CA agriculture is BIG.  Our best option is to use this drought as the start of a conscientious phazing out of west side agriculture, with support for transitioning growers and farmworkers.  That smacks of socialism, so of course we won’t do it.  I guess we’ll let it happen the hard way.

UPDATE 10/8: Saw the  USDA Disaster Declaration Requests for 51 counties for 2009.   I can’t find a link for them yet, but I’ll tell you that the total USDA drought reported losses are at $875M.  The better part of a billion dollars sounds like a lot of money, but the total value of California ag is about $36.6B.  Declared drought losses come out to 2% of the annual value of California ag.

UPDATE 10/16: Truly, this is too fun to stop. From here:

Lawmakers from the San Joaquin Valley have likened the economic devastation to their Hurricane Katrina.

Shall we?  Wikipedia says that Katrina cost $89.6B dollars.  Right now, the disaster relief funds to California agriculture from the drought are at $875M.   When the drought is a hundred times as bad, it’ll be roughly like Katrina.  Of course, for what Katrina cost, you could buy all of California ag for two years straight.

The only thing under the fold is the most trivial insider gossip about ag econ modeling.  Truly, virtually all of you aren’t interested.

I’ve been thinking that  it is a shame that Howitt is such a dominant name in California ag econ modeling.  I like the dude and I like the grad student of his that I know, but I stopped trusting his models when I heard that one of the assumptions underlying SWAP is that per-acre crop yields will go up 30% by 2050.  That sounds like crazy talk to me.  I cannot believe that agronomy in CA can improve yields by another 30% on every acre, mostly because I think growers do a very sophisticated job now.  I can’t believe that our commercial crop plants have the potential for substantially higher yields than we are getting.  Further, climate change is expected to decrease crop yields considerably, which last I heard (a year ago) isn’t in SWAP.  Further, I heard a bunch of farmers laughed Howitt out of the room for suggesting that growers would be interested in carbon soil sequestration at $4/tonyear.  I wasn’t there, so I can’t vouch for that story firsthand.  But I’m starting to think that his authority in the field shouldn’t be so absolute.  I’m starting to wonder at his sense of proportion.  It doesn’t match mine very well.  I wish there were more people doing the types of things Howitt does so that I could compare them.


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2 responses to “Putting things in proportion.

  1. onthepublicrecord

    Hey, ieatfood, farmer2 and fisherman. Dude, I can see you. You made good and interesting points in your comments and the retaliatory use of CAPS was pretty funny. But sockpuppeting is bullshit and I won’t have it in my comments. Be an identifiable persona here, please. Also, if you have paragraphs and paragraphs to say, you should start your own blog.

  2. I’m enjoying your blog, having recently discovered it via a link from Emily Green’s blog.