Reply to An Argument for Eliminating “Some” Ag
Recently, an op-ed was posted in the Madera Tribune describing a scenario where agriculture in California is a bigger drain on California’s GSP (gross state product) than an overall gain, and that the state’s bottom line would benefit if agriculture as an industry was reduced by 30-40% and higher grossing industries were allowed to fill the niche. Pause for introspection is a good thing whenever the greater good is in question –this was no exception. However, allow me to retort from a perspective that includes taking into account that all Americans –not just Californians, would actually like to eat food grown domestically and safely.
It is difficult to measure the GSP of agricultural products because of the nature of our national food supply and its dependence on interstate and intra-border conveyance. Because California is THE global hot spot for border-to-border agricultural transactions (from how many other states in the entire nation can one purchase avocados year round –or grapes or blueberries?), the very nature of attempting to isolate and quantify the sales of agricultural goods compared to, for example, technological sales, is an impossible task. The clearest picture of an agricultural GSP would require one to net out “imports” from other states and other countries –AND THEN, including “exports” to other states. Conversely, as the op-ed pointed out, factors associated with agriculture as economic generators, like labor and industrial facility –are also greatly skewed if the border-to-border consideration is not taken into account in any finite GSP calculation.
This said; it is an entirely accurate statement to say that production agriculture does not provide the highest monetary value to our State’s economy. We simply cannot command an ounce of gold for every ounce of almonds. This top fiscal commander is reserved for a less publically pervasive activity called TRADE. Trade of goods, largely due to agricultural goods, accounts for over ¼ of the State’s economy. California exports more than $150 BILLION worth of goods. Farming-related exports account for nearly HALF of that figure (the other half is devoted to computers and electronic products). This statistic is staggering considering the fact that famers are facing a 15% decline in acreage devoted to farming and a chronic water supply problem.
The unique thing about agriculturalists is that they don’t usually stop to bother themselves with statistics that don’t affect their bottom line (please thank them for not doing so). They’re usually occupied with trying to make their operations increase outputs and efficiencies by using less energy and less water and less fuel (those things cost real money). After all, unless you grow program crops (corn, barley, rice, and cotton) you don’t receive subsidies from the government. In California, program crops account for just less than 1% of all Federal agricultural subsidies. That’s another astonishing statistic since California’s the Number 1 agricultural producer in the nation –to think that we do it all on our own!
It’s true enough that we use water though. Food grows where water flows, and we typically don’t argue with this law of Mother Nature. Not that we need to argue with Her anyhow, there’s lots of other folks around to argue with over water –the real liquid gold. But allow me to provide you with just one more statistic. Since 2006, agricultural use of water in California has declined by over 38%. Being an honest statistician I can tell you there are many reasons for this; increased efficiency in technology being the chief reason, but also the marked decline in new agricultural acreage going into production (a sad reality) contributed as well. But the practical reason is that it’s just too darn expensive to get something so expensive to maintain an expense. We don’t use what we don’t need –we can’t afford to.
Farmers and ranchers don’t work to feed just one state- they farm and work to feed the world. Please thank them for your fare today.
Anja K. Raudabaugh