We got a call today from the BBC World News Service and they asked very important questions about the water crisis of California.
BBC: Are you suffering from the drought?
No: having anticipated the rainfall, we planted only those crops which naturally grow in desert conditions. Because our customers desire those crops which they are culturally used to, those plants which like lots of water, we also grow in areas which have more water, transporting the crop with fuels that burn with zero or negative carbon gain. To do this, we use techniques like renting land and contract-farming (in which we specify how the crop is to be grown).
BBC: Are other farmers suffering?
We don’t know: most other farms are private entities and do not publish financial or other information. However, they ARE complaining greatly and we notice they are inefficient with their water, allowing vast quantities of the water to evaporate before feeding the crops. Other farmers are more efficient. It varies by region and the technical skill of the farmer.
BBC: How are water rights allocated?
In the United States, each State owns all the water. The State then decides how to allocate the water resources. In California, the State cedes authority over the resources to both public (County) and private corporations. When publicly administered, as is the case usually with wells, a County grants permit, either unlimitedly or limitedly. If it is limited, the amount of gallons or the time which those gallons may be withdrawn or both are directed by regulations developed through undemocratic methods. If privately administered, shares in the right granted to the private corporation are bought and sold.
In both cases, the wealthiest farmers and cities and individuals get more water than the poorest. Whether limited or not, the water is not freely accessible and requires expensive wells and infrastructure to access, or the shares are expensive. Thus, instead of serving the public interest, right is made by financial might and the largest farms are able to acquire more water.
This would be a problem if the only crops that could be grown required water. While it is true that the wealthiest farmers grow wealthier because crops that require water have higher profit margins, the poorest farmers can afford to grow cash crops using only rain water - even in desert conditions. Different varities of plants and technical skill allow for more efficient water use.
In example, American Spinach (Lambsquarter) is more water efficient than European Spinach. It also sells for a premium because it is more nutritious and delicious. Dates, lemons, and other luxury foods all do better with water, but produce adequate yields without water (even under these drought conditions). Mounding - whether using moldboards or spades - and tillage in aisles and ditch planting reduce water need, and allowing weeds and other vegetation to grow increases water retention.
Are there crop failures because of lack of water?
Yes. Some farmers either don’t know how to grow without water or won’t. In Colorado, a vast number of wells were recently shut off, ruining the State’s potato harvest. However, other staple foods can feed the Coloradoans beside potatoes - wheat requires little water, millet and oats require even less. But if tubers are desired, there are plenty of native tubers! Palm vegetable, squash, beans and other starchy vegetables and fruits can also fill the gap in people’s diets left by potatoes.
It is not up to the suppliers of food - the farmers - to alter their crops. They must sell things to make a living and serve market demand. It is up to the consumer to demand those crops which grow in their new home. Though some of us have lived in North America for many generations, we are reluctant to give up those ties to our ancestral homes and those foods of our fathers and mothers. Yet we are in a new land now, and we ougth to learn to eat like natives if we are to remain here.