This chart neatly illustrates my continuing gripe about one of the media clichés about California agriculture. You can justify California ag’s water use, but you cannot justify it based on the ubiquitous quote: ‘California grows half the nation’s fruits and vegetables‘. California does do that, but in this chart, that’s only 4% of agriculture’s water use. (I can’t tell from this chart whether “Orchards” includes table fruit, in which case, it would claim some of the 34% in the bar above.) I’ve been especially disappointed to read the Brown administration’s representatives using that cliché to lump all of agriculture’s water use into the most sympathetic sliver of ag water use.
From the top down:
I view a large portion of this bar as resource extraction and privatization in classic colonial style. The proceeds from sales of tree nuts abroad go to already wealthy people who don’t live in the regions they farm. Ironically, the worst of them won’t be in this chart, since they’ve planted their nuts and vines since 2010, the data-year for this chart. This is the segment of agricultural water use that outrages people, since almonds are not more important than a snack and the profits go to billionnaires. Wine is also in this bar. I’m personally no more fond of wine than almonds, but I generally don’t rail against it because I recognize that wine has deep cultural importance. The only argument for this category of water use is basically ‘the market really likes it’. Mr. Wenger expands on that to say that it would be ‘un-American’ to deny resource extractors’ desire to follow the market.
The next line, Truck and specialty, is the part of ag that is easy to support. It is your salad in winter and provides farmworker jobs like picking and handling. I too support this segment, possibly with more policy fervor than you might suspect. If I thought we were ever going to be so water short that this ag sector were in danger, I would be advocating for strong food security measures. But IT IS NOT VERY MUCH WATER. Even with climate change, instream flows and SGMA, I believe we will have enough water to provide for this type of agriculture for the foreseeable future.
Four of the next five lines are animal fodder. (Please, lets skip over rice until next paragraph. Also, that corn is not table corn. It is corn grown for animal feed.) There’s a lot of water in those lines; it adds up to half. Not much revenue either. I understand that this category provokes scorn; it looks like a poor use of water. But this category of water use is the underpinning for cheap meat. The scornful soul is in danger of hypocrisy. However you feel about eating meat more than once a month is how you feel about this category of water use.
Next is rice. I see that rice is weighted to the right, a relatively high water user for the revenue. However, like wine, rice is an important food for humans with deep cultural importance. Further, rice growing worldwide is endangered. I’m not opposed to using water for this.
Last is cotton. Cotton is a pretty useful product. There isn’t that much of it, a couple hundred thousand acres. I can’t get riled up about cotton.
The way I look at ag water use is twofold: does it produce an important food for humans, and do the proceeds from that use do good work in the ag valleys? I don’t believe tree nuts meet either criteria (because they don’t generate many jobs; the proceeds go to very rich people; they’re just fucking snacks), so I complain about them a lot.
I resent that all of California’s agricultural water use gets defended on the basis of table crops, because THAT ISN’T VERY MUCH WATER (or acreage). I definitely agree that they’re great; table crops meet my criteria of being important food for humans and supporting farm communities.
I would object to wine/vine plantings and cheap meat, but I’ve been convinced that they’re really important to other people, so I save my strength for taking cheap shots at ACWA.