Monthly Archives: June 2018

Have a great weekend!

In December 2016, I wrote:

Thought 3:  I am not sure that water policy will be the dominant force on CA agriculture this year.  Immigration and labor could be big.  But I’m looking hard at trade.  Trump seems to be going out of his way to offend China and India, who are large markets for tree nuts.  If Trump provokes a trade war, or a real war, with China, I’m thinking that this post of mine will seem prescient.  Almond orchards are all the same asset; holdings in tree nuts are not a diversified portfolio.  If there’s an overseas market bust, there will be an unbelievable surplus of harvested almonds, with more new orchards coming into bearing years.  Although the instream flow proposals are being touted as a terrible pressure on northern San Joaquin Valley economies, after a China/India trade bust, it may be that land prices collapse and easiest ways to get flows back in the river are to simply buy up abandoned almond orchards.

And today we get Indian tariffs on almonds.  This comes a month after the Chinese tariffs on almonds.  We should not be surprised if land prices for almond orchards collapse.  We should be considering how that land can be used next (rewilding) and who will bear the costs of cleaning up abandoned orchards.

It was always clear that Trump destroys everything he touches.  Californian growers may be blinding themselves to that, but the destruction he causes will come for them anyway.  He was never on ag’s side; he is a New York developer.  To the extent that agricultural voters chose him, they were choosing this.  If we escape the Trump presidency without a nuclear war, for the rest of my life, I will always boggle that he caused more damage to Nunes/almond growers/Valadao than my advocacy ever could.

UPDATE 6/28/18:  Naw. Valley Republicans are in thrall to Trump.  I never worry that the current version of Republicans will take sensible preventative measures that would avert a disaster for their constituents.


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Become very precise.

I searched the archives and it does not appear that I have written about my genuine fondness for Mr. Todd Fitchette, Associate Editor at the Western Farm Press.  I find that he is nearly always thinking about the very same topic as I am, only completely opposite.  I had great sympathy with one of his op-eds saying, more or less, ‘I just don’t want to think about water for a while’.  I hear you, brother.

This past week, Mr. Fitchette has been asking, plaintively, why he is forced to defend the need for food and water.  Usually, I have no solace for Mr. Fitchette, since he and I have the opposite policy prescriptions.  But this time, I can help Mr. Fitchette with his dilemma.  In fact, I can assure Mr. Fitchette that this problem is entirely under his control, and that he can resolve it whenever he chooses.

It would be very peculiar to defend the need for food and water, so it is fortunate that no one is attacking the need for food and water.  I like to believe that I am among the urban cognoscenti calling for drastic changes to agriculture.  Even among my snide acquaintances, there is none who stands outside restaurants mocking the diners for having to eat.

Mr. Fitchette is using a rhetorical technique that has long distressed me.  In his piece, he conflates a criticism of ‘some externalities of some types of agriculture’ to an attack on ‘all of agriculture’ to an attack ‘the human requirement for food and water’.  I have often found this type of synecdoche puzzling, because I, an ignorant city person, understand that there is a great range of agriculture, both by practices and location, and when I say that I’d like to see the end of huge corporate tree nut businesses, I am not saying that I want all agriculture to end in the state.  Moreover, I can tell the fucking difference between those two statements.

Mr. Fitchette, it seems, has trouble with this concept.  I’ve seen that problem elsewhere, at CDFA board meetings for example, during the 2006-2009 drought, when they kept saying that “agriculture is getting no water”, when an accurate statement would have been that some farms on the west side of the Valley were not getting delivered water. And here is where I can offer Mr. Fitchette some help.  Mr. Fitchette can instantly solve his mental anguish by returning to specificity.  This is under his control! Rather than trying to find a way to defend the human need for food, he could be listening attentively to the specific critiques of some practices of some kinds of agriculture from a small town mayor.  Then, he could be having conversations about whether those specific practices are necessary, or wise, or widespread.  Those conversations could be interesting and useful!

It is clear why large ag proponents want to conflate all agriculture.  They are hoping to tap into the American affection for the romantic vision of the family farm.  But in the Trump era, I think ag proponents have pushed too far.  Poppy Davis tweeted this in April:

That was insightful and prescient.  To the extent small farmers were Trump voters, they forfeited our sympathy for their labor problems and international trade woes.  They chose what they got; my concerns will go towards the victims of Trump policy that didn’t choose to be in our situation.  So big ag wants to hide behind the image of small ag, and much of small ag just took their historical American goodwill and fucked it sideways.  Mr. Fitchette will have his work cut out for him in the next couple years.  I am happy to advise him any time he likes.







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I applaud the SJVWIA for their nice use of natural light.

Twitter served me a slow, sweet softball this morning.  Behold, two pictures of very recent meetings on the Friant.

I did not attend either meeting.  But we can discern some things, just from the pictures.  First, shall we note?  The picture of the SJV Water Infrastructure Authority includes no women, and by appearances, perhaps three men of color.  Also, they’re all old.  Without counting, I can say the Water Solutions Network meeting looks to be half women; youth and people of color were throughout.  They are still all listening to an old white dude (Snow), but they’ve got a man at one of the easels (countering the ‘chicks are secretaries’ bias), so I’ll let it pass.

Notice the different room set-ups.  The SJV Water Infrastructure Authority reinforces hierarchy.  The panel is set up behind a raised dias, listening to (appears to be) a couple technocrats, seated physically lower than the panel.  The Water Solutions Network is in a circle set-up without a favored “head” end.  I actually tend to find ‘circle of chairs’ a bit exposed and prefer ‘circle of tables’, but it is a physically egalitarian set-up.

I can make predictions from the pictures alone:

The results of the SJV Water Infrastructure Authority will be to double down.  They will come out of that meeting decided to do whatever they were doing before (lobbying politicians who look like them, spending money), only MORE.  They have not created a meeting that will bring them new ideas, because they have not included the kinds of people who think different things from them.  Those technocrats behind the table likely think that their jobs are to predict what the men on the dias want, and to find evidence or means to support what the panel wants to do. Our current system is so good to the men who sit on that dias that they are forced to think that it is a good system, and they will only work to do MORE within their old concepts and structures.

The Water Solutions Network meeting will produce a lot, and a lot of it will be diffuse and hard to implement.  I am sure that a lot of the work on those easels will be broad statements of preference (that I almost certainly agree with, but).  There will be suggestions that are so different from our current system that it is very difficult to think of policy or technical bridges to that endpoint. Some of the ideas will contradict each other.  And, importantly, the concept that will end up doing the work is included in there.  A lot of what these participants bring will not get used, but that is not time wasted.  Participating builds capacity for the attendees; their input tells the currently powerful in the room where the field is heading.

The organizers of both meetings will get what they wanted from their own meeting.  The meeting structure is not neutral; it replicates the forms of societies the organizers want to see (the kinds of participants, hierarchical or egalitarian). I believe the organizers of the SJVWIA meeting should be asking themselves a different question: “will this meeting bring us what we need to advance our project in today’s world?”.  But if they were capable of asking that question, they already wouldn’t be holding their meetings in a hearing room.





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