Three years ago, Jennifer, the kids and I had the opportunity to travel to California with Kansas Farm Bureau. The trip was to Southern California and it was a chance to go somewhere much warmer than Kansas. While in California we toured many different farms and learned about where some of our produce comes from, but I learned much more than how the strawberries, avocados and lettuce got to my grocery store shelves. I saw what could be the future of agriculture in Kansas and it was not a good thing.
So why go back to a trip I took three years ago? This week, in response to a prolonged drought, the governor of California proposed further water cuts including agriculture. For those of you who might not be familiar with California, the largest vegetable and fruit producing areas are very dry places and rely on water coming out of the mountains for irrigation. Many of the producers have already cut back drastically and further cutbacks in water allocation would be devastating.
The decrease in water allocation had already had a great impact on almond growers. Many have had to find other crops because of the loss of irrigation and it has had an impact on us at the grocery store. Have you tried to buy almonds lately? Be ready for some sticker shock if you have not. This comes on top of some of the most intrusive and burdensome rules, regulations and government oversight imaginable. I am not sure how or why farmers and ranchers in California put up with it all.
Actually I do understand why. It is in our DNA to persevere no matter how difficult the challenge, but I fear that the burden California agriculture community is under will become too great and crush many of my fellow farmers. I have not toured East Coast operations but I suspect the same could be said for them also. I also fear that mentality and mindset will continue to travel into our heartland from the coasts.
Farmers in California have had to deal with restrictions on pesticides, herbicides, dust, labor and immigration, all issues that they have learned to adapt. However, water is a different kind of issue altogether and one that is much more difficult to find solutions for. The ever growing urban population demands more and more of the limited water resource. Couple that with environmental groups insisting on protecting endangered and threatened species and those growing food are squeezed in the middle.
What will happen in California? I am not sure, I hope common sense will prevail and farmers will be protected. After all we all have to eat and the fruits and vegetables produced by Southern California farmers are critical to a balanced, healthy diet. I also know that water is the most precious and limited resource we have. I think we have been spoiled and lulled into thinking it was an unlimited resource when that is not the truth. The answer has to be somewhere in a balance of the demands. Household water usage is important, but I believe more water can and must be conserved. I also think that agriculture should take a serious, hard look at how they use water. I can tell you that farmers in California have worked very hard at stretching or limiting their water usage and are incredibly efficient.
The water crisis brings home something that we have been doing here in Kansas with the 50 Year Water Vision. I have had the privilege to serve on the Goal Setting Committee for the Kansas River Basin and we have taken a pro-active approach to have a vision of what we want our water situation to be in 2065. It was hard and only time will tell if we came up with the right goals, but the important thing was we had the discussion. I also know that our task was not as difficult as those looking water in Western Kansas.
The message I want to drive home with all of this, is that we need to be visionary and look at what may face us in the future. We have a daunting task in agriculture; we must grow more food than we have ever produced, with fewer resources while under more scrutiny. That will take more forethought and planning and we must adapt to change. However, in the face of what could be an impending dark cloud I see a glimpse of sun. Farmers and ranchers have never failed to rise up to a challenge and meet it and I don’t see any reason for that to stop now.