Saw this in Matt Weiser’s story on farms getting surplus water this year:
The abundant water has dramatically changed the fortunes of the San Joaquin Valley farm economy.
Shawn Coburn, a farmer near Firebaugh, planted processing tomatoes this year on 500 acres that had been fallowed the last two years due to water shortages.
This will yield about 40,000 tons of a relatively high-value crop, which also required a substantial investment on his part, including the purchase of a new tractor and harvesting equipment.
“In essence, it’s another $2 million that I’m going to spend (on equipment) that I wouldn’t spend if I didn’t have the water,” said Coburn, who also grows almonds and wine grapes. “It’s definitely a year where it’s pretty easy to convince us that water equals prosperity, and not just for the farmer but the overall farm economy.”
I’m sure that’s what Mr. Coburn said, but I don’t think it is true. I suspect Mr. Coburn said that to the nice reporter to help bolster the argument that more water equals more economic activity in the San Joaquin Valley. Maybe he needed a new tractor and harvester this year anyway, and the tomatoes helped. But if Mr. Coburn bought a new tractor and harvester to support his most marginal 500 acres of land, he is so fucking stupid he deserves to lose his farm. Mr. Coburn knows from the past two years that he doesn’t get water for that acreage every year. How many wet years does he need to amortize $2M worth of equipment on 500 acres? Right now he’s burdened those 500 acres with $4,000 per acre worth of machinery, because in the wettest year in recent memory, he got some surplus water? I’d worry about that grower, except that I don’t believe the explanation he gave. It was just a political talking point.
This is the danger of setting the expectation that the San Joaquin Valley’s economy should be size it is in freakishly wet years. Most years won’t be freakishly wet, and in the average and dry years, there isn’t water for those 500 acres. Growers shouldn’t buy machinery for them; picking in those fields gives an occasional extra jobs, not reliable ones every year. It it great for farmers and farmworkers to get the occasional boost of a very wet year. But that year doesn’t instantly peg the new baseline, compared to which everything is an economic contraction.