How Much Are You Willing to Pay for Drought?

Friant-Kern Canal in California
Photo by Dennis Silvas (Shutterstock.com)

President’s & Executive Director’s Shared Message

Romeo Agbalog
Kern County Farm Bureau Executive Director, Romeo Agbalog

This past July millions of Americans joined friends, families, and neighbors to celebrate our nation’s Independence Day. This year’s Independence Day took on additional meaning, marking the first time in over a year and a half that we could gather free of restrictions, social distancing, and the looming specter of quarantine and lockdowns.

As much as a tradition as the fireworks are that illuminate the skyline and every neighborhood block, are the backyard barbecues, cookouts, and potlucks featuring hamburgers, steaks, baked potatoes, mixed green salads, and sweet and savory fruit. In fact, many of the delectable items featured on picnic tables across the country came from California and from Kern County, in particular. For example, Kern produces 80% of the country’s carrots, 44% of our nation’s grapes, 17% of citrus, and 10% of the world’s pistachios, to name a few, and much like the streamers that lit up the sky, we are seeing a new trend in a different item skyrocketing. This time it’s food prices. But why you might ask?

The answer can be summed up in one word: drought. What does drought have to do with spikes in food cost? Well, put simply, it’s a matter of supply, and agriculture is a case study in supply and demand. As water becomes increasingly unavailable for irrigation, farmers must make a difficult decision to take land out of production, also known as fallowing. The decommissioned land no longer produces goods for public consumption, thereby decreasing supply and subsequently increasing cost to the end consumer. This regulatory-driven supply constriction produces no winners as farmers are price takers and not price makers, so the typical producer doesn’t realize the increased costs. The supply-demand component coupled with increased fuel cost for vehicles that transport produce from farm to market and a spike in crop protections materials and inputs results in higher food prices for the consumer.

How do we fix it? Yes, Mother Nature can help by producing an abundance of rain and snowpack. Though we cannot always predict nature’s next step, we can mitigate the effects of a historically dry California climate. State and federal public officials can help protect the region immensely. For years, unelected bureaucrats at both the state and federal levels have used flawed data and consistently misinterpreted policies restricting the amount of water flow down two of the state’s water conveyance systems depriving farmers, municipalities, and disadvantaged communities of the much-needed resource to grow the food that feeds the world.

John Moore
John Moore, President, Kern County Farm Bureau

Kern County Farm Bureau President John Moore recently took to the television on Fox News’ America’s Newsroom to explain this phenomenon. He noted that in addition to decreased water flows, the state’s water delivery infrastructure is sorely needing improvement. Built in the 1960s, the canals, reservoirs, and dams were intended to serve a population considerably less than the population of California today. The system could only work under the premise that farmers and the communities they support would receive contract surface water rather than have that surface water diverted to scientifically devoid uses under the Golden Gate Bridge. Additionally, of the $138 million bill paid in full by farmers for 978,000-acre feet of water, only 5% will be sent to our region. The system is failing because the system is not being utilized to its intended use.

The Kern County Farm Bureau understands the importance of water and the need for investment in water infrastructure, and thankfully the voters do too. Californians passed a water board bond (Prop. 1) several years ago, and the state of California has been slow to act. In addition to higher food prices when farms go fallow, unemployment increases, and rural communities struggle. Australia has seen devastating impacts on their rural communities based on water mismanagement and the same could happen here. An unemployed population with very little to no money plus skyrocketing food prices is a deadly combination. We will continue to pray for Mother Nature’s intervention. In the meantime, we expect our federal and state officials to act now. We cannot afford inaction, lest we’ll soon be unable to afford to put food on the table. Visit the Kern County Farm Bureau to find out how you can help.